As an Ottawa Senators fan for the past 20+ years and self proclaimed armchair analyst I would like to share my thoughts on how I believe the team should handle itself in the 2014 offseason. Comments and feedback are highly encouraged!
1. DO NOT part with Jason Spezza unless the deal is astoundingly good.
My greatest summer nightmare is the Ottawa Senators trading Jason Spezza away for less than what he's worth. I hear people jumping in the "Trade Spezza!" bandwagon all around me and I can't really understand why. Jason Spezza has always provided a tremendous amount of the Ottawa Senators offensive production, and while he does have his defensive downside, point a game players are nonetheless very hard to find. I can easily see a Spezza-less Sens squad a few months into the season plagued by inconsistent scoring and the Ottawa media crying for a player who can create goals... Ugh. While I agree with the general consensus that Spezza's captaincy/leadership abilities are certainly not those of Daniel Alfredsson, he is nonetheless an invaluable piece of the Senators roster and given time I think he can still be a good captain. If the 2014-15 campaign does happen to fall apart (I don't think it will), Spezza can still be traded at the deadline to a playoff contender to to reel in an even more lucrative deal than can be achieved in the current market that he may very well be sharing with Joe Thornton.
2. Lazar. NHL. Now!
Seriously, have you guys seen this kid play? At only 19 years of age Curtis Lazar skates with the poise of an NHL veteran. Already possessing a highly developed two way game, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him with a letter on the front of his Sens jersey a few years down the road. This kid really caught my eye at the 2014 World Juniors creating space for himself and his line-mates all over the ice. While Canada placed a disappointing fourth at the tournament, a silver lining for Ottawa Senators fans was the strong play of Curtis Lazar who racked up an impressive 7 points in 7 games. Lazar's exceptional two way game also comes with an offensive upside. He scored 41 goals and provided an additional 35 assists in 58 games for his Edmonton Oil Kings this season as well as helping to lead them to their first Memorial Cup win since 1966.
3. Have faith in Mark Stone.
It's taken him a while to get here, but I strongly believe that Mark Stone has what it takes to become a force at the NHL level. Stone has an exceptional hockey IQ, a nose for the net, and more importantly a strong work ethic and willingness to go into the corners and grind. Stone's strong offensive presence was demonstrated when he led team Canada in scoring at the 2012 World Juniors with 7 goals and 3 assists in 6 games. While Stone's hands and mind have been NHL ready for some time, his legs have held him back as he adjusted to the pace of professional hockey. What we saw from Mark Stone at the end of last season was a player coming into his own. Stone racked up 6 points in 12 games (of which Ottawa won 9) but more importantly Stone finally looked comfortable in the NHL. Alongside a play-making center like Jason Spezza (assuming we keep him), Mark Stone can cause a plethora of problems for NHL goalies next season.
4. No tears for Hemsky.
It has been reported that the Ales Hemsky camp has broken off contract negotiations with the Senators who are unwilling to pay his asking price of $5.5 million. Yes, crazy uncle Eugene is cheap. We all know this. However, even I would have to agree that Hemsky, whose career has been plagued by inconsistency is not worth a contract that is only $1 million shy of Erik Karlsson's. Yes Hemsky did show some flare during his stint as a Senator, putting up an impressive 17 points in 20 games playing along side Spezza and Michalek, but the fact remains that Hemsky hasn't cracked the 50 point mark since the 08-09 season due to both inconsistent production and injuries. I wish Ales the best. Someone will pay him the $5.5 mil he wants. It just won't be Ottawa.
5. Gotta go: Michalek and Phillips.
While I thank him for his services, I fully expect Milan Michalek to depart via free agency this summer. His inconsistent production combined with his knee issues aren't worth the trouble of the contract he will undoubtedly be looking for. As for Chris Phillips; It pains me to say this because I believe no other player aside from perhaps Daniel Alfredsson has given more to the Ottawa Senators that the stalwart defensive defenceman, but as they say, all good things must come to an end. I was really hoping that Chris Phillips would retire at the end of this season, but instead management signed him to a 2 year $5 mil contract extension. Of all the times Ottawa has re-signed Phillips, this was the first time I wished they hadn't. Chris Phillips is not the player he once was when he and Anton Volchenkov shut down the Eastern Conference during Ottawa's run to the 2007 Stanley Cup finals. That was 7 years ago now, and as much as I appreciate what Phillips has done for us, he simply doesn't have the speed to keep up in the NHL anymore. With his defensive abilities waning (a combined -41 in his last 4 NHL seasons), and little to no offensive upside, I would advocate trading him for a pick. Perhaps a third rounder at the 2014 draft?
6. Find a top 6 winger through FA. Trade for a top 4 D man.
With the moves proposed thus far it would stand to reason that Ottawa will need to acquire a top 6 winger as well as a veteran defenceman to replace Phillips and Michalek. Upcoming UFA`s include the likes of Matt Moulson, Radim Vrbata, and Mike Cammalleri. Bringing any one of these three into the Senators lineup would fill the void of a Michalek departure with a player who can produce consistently and whose knees don`t require stitching to hold them together. On the defensive side of things there are fewer options available in free agency that will come at a price tag Ottawa will be willing to work with. This is where I suggest Ottawa trade away a prospect or two (we`ve got plenty) to land themselves a veteran defenceman with strong positional play and skating ability.
Proposal: Mike Hoffman +J.G. Pageau and a late pick for NJD`s Andy Greene.
7. Give Lehner the starting job and trade Andy before his stock dries up.
While I`m sure there are many who won`t agree with me, I believe that Robin Lehner should be Ottawa`s starting goaltender come October. I shall explain: Lehner, prior to the rough stretch he endured through December-March has performed well above average when called up into the NHL role. The reason things went wrong for Lehner last season is that the 22 year old Swede is not a natural BACKUP goalie. Lehner had never played second fiddle behind anyone before. Even as Ottawa`s third string behind Ben Bishop last season Lehner was still the guy in Binghamton, finishing the season with an impressive .938 SV%. In 2011, his first season of professional hockey, Lehner led Binghamton all the way to the Calder Cup, acquiring the Jack Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP in the process. I attribute much of Lehner`s struggles to the simple fact that he spent much of the season collecting rust on the bench behind Craig Anderson, occasionally being thrown to the wolves with the team playing porous defence in front of him. Lehner didn`t see enough consistent work last season to remain sharp, and that was reflected in his numbers. What did impress me was Lehner`s ability to regain his composure and finish strong going 4-0-1 in his last 5 starts. Robin Lehner should either be splitting time as a starter, or carrying the mail all by himself. Either way, Lehner needs to play hockey, not sit on a bench.
Craig Anderson on the other hand has always been an up and down goalie. While he is no stranger to handling a heavy workload and winning his fair share of hockey games, his career numbers are mostly average, save for the 2013 season where they were very much inflated by a the fact that the season was halved by a lockout, and then halved again by Anderson suffering a sprained ankle. Last season Anderson came (not surprisingly) crashing back down to earth, and although I like him as Ottawa`s goalie, I fear his stock will continue to diminish the further away we get from 2013. With a capable Robin Lehner waiting to take the starting job, I feel that if Anderson can be traded for a serviceable backup goalie and a decent pick/prospect, I wouldn't hesitate to make that deal happen. There is also the possibility that he could be used in a trade to bring in the Phillips replacement mentioned above.
Ryan - Turris - MacArthur
Stone - Spezza - (Molson)
Neil - Zibanejad - Lazar
Condra - Smith - Greening/Kassian
Karlsson - Methot
Ceci - (Greene)
Weircioch - Cowen/Gryba
After factoring in the shallow pockets of the Ottawa Senators ownership I feel that the departure of Hemsky, Michalek, Phillips, and Anderson gives the Senators more than enough cap room to work with in order to bring in Molson ($6 mil range if we actially want to get him) and Greene (currently signed to $3.5 mil although UFA next summer). As long as the leadership on this team continues to grow, and Maclean can help the younger players find their stride, there's no reason that this Senators team can't find itself back in the playoff picture come next April.
Thanks for taking the time to read!