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Guelph, ON • Canada • 26 Years Old • Male

Ottawa Analysis

Posted 2:41 PM ET | Comments 1
As a Leafs fan you would expect me to have some pretty good insight into losing teams and what issues they face. The Senators, for whatever reason, can now be described as a losing team. They are in the bottom third of the league in goals for and against despite having decent power play and penalty killing numbers but they just look lost out there. What is wrong with this team? It still possesses prodigenous talent in Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Dany Heatley. It has sandpaper in guys like Chris Neil, Jason Smith and Jarko Ruutu and has some elite defensive defencemen in Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. Even the goaltending provided by Alex Auld has been solid if unspectacular. So really, why is this team playing so poorly. It would be easy to point at Craig Hartsburg, but from my view he is a very solid coach and frankly at the start of the summer one of my personal two favourites for the then-vacant Leafs coaching job (Peter DeBoer was the other). My expectation was that Hartsburg, with the acquisition of a solid starting goalie, would be able to take this team far. What has changed from last year's team?

Well Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros are gone from the defence, but anyone who has followed Ottawa (and New York this year) knows that Redden is a shell of the elite defenceman he represented 3 years ago. I would think his deletion along with the cap savings it represents would have actually helped this team. Meszaros hurts as he is young and has high upside, but in trading him, the Senators picked up a 1st rounder, Kuba and Picard (4th and 5th in team scoring respectively). The team also added a very solid veteran in Jason Smith, another guy I had hoped the Leafs would make an effort for. So at the start of the year I saw status quo offence, improved defensive depth and goaltending question marks. I have been very pleasantly surprised with Picard and Kuba but what the hell happened to Phillips and Volchenkov... these two are a cumulative Minus 33!! Hartsburg, or if rumour is to be dignified, his replacement need to find a way to get these two playing where they need to be, ASAP. For actual personnel moves, I'd be looking at an established puckmover on the cheap but this could stand pat if need be. For whatever reason Ville Koistinen from Nashville seems like a fit but feel free to call me crazy.

Goaltending has been pretty solid since Auld took over from the consistently shakey Gerber. While the two have nearly identical stats, I've watched Gerber, and I've watched Auld, and I'm much farther away from an Ulcer with Auld in the pipes. Gerber seems to have confidence made of glass and frankly I'd even take Andrew Raycroft over this guy. At least Andrew was a good dressing room guy with a positive outlook, even if his talent has evaporated faster than a puddle in the Sahara. I'd like to see a better goalie in Ottawa if for no other reason than to instill some confidence in the defence and to make THE saves. To explain, Auld makes saves, but he doesn't seem to make THE saves. If his defence makes a mistake it usually ends up behind him for a goal against, its not that this guy doesn't stop a lot, but that he doesn't come up with the game saving stops to pull his team out of the fire... and that seems to be what they need right now... they need a goalie that will stand on his head to really let the offence run and gun. I don't think this can happen until the summer when Gerber's contract is up, but I think a personal fave for this team would be Pascal LeClaire or maybe even Vesa Toskala.

The problem on this team is that the offence has been just brutal outside of Alfredsson, Heatley and Spezza, and frankly guys like Chris Kelly, Antoine Vermette and Mike Fisher are all being paid to contribute secondary scoring but have been completely AWOL on the scoreboard. Looking at the cap numbers on this team Vermette, Fisher and Kelly are making a combined 9 million to produce 31 points. That is not good value. They need the coach to somehow coax more out of these guys or bodies need to start flying out the door. Mike Fisher is a great dressing room guy and a relentless forechecker but where has his game gone? I never saw him as a 60 point guy like some might have forecasted, but instead as a defensively responsible 40-55 point guy who can provide you with 14-17 good minutes a night. Making 4.2m seems to have altered how he approaches the game and he needs to right himself upstairs or I would see him as a salary dump. When Jason Blake is bringing more to the rink, you have to work on a solution. Fast. Chris Kelly is a guy who the fans and team management seem to have too many expectations for and are hugely disappointed by his showings. This guy is a 3rd/4th line centre who can kill penalties and play solidly in his own end. If you were expecting 40 points from him, its not going to happen, never was. But its reasonable to expect him to continue his previous output or at least reach comporable levels. At 2.1m/yr he's not cheap either. And rivalling Fisher for biggest reason the Sens offense is slumping is Antoine Vermette, or as I like to call him, Ottawa's answer to Alex Steen. Why have Sens fans been talking about this guy like he's going to explode for years now? I see that he does have some very favourable attributes: he's fast, has fairly soft hands and is responsible defensively, but the guy has questionable offensive upside... I definitely see him as a serviceable second line forward, but you need other high level forwards to coax the kind of points out of him that you would need for making almost 3m this year and next. Vermette taking large steps backward is a huge reason the Sens are lacking in firepower. Murray banked on Fisher, Foligno, Vermette and Kelly all taking bigger roles when he allowed Cory Stillman to walk away as a free agent and dealt Patrick Eaves to Carolina to acquire Stillman... all but Foligno have regressed badly and as a result the Sens lack the secondary scoring to actually make some noise in the NHL standings.

If the solution for the Senators were easy, it would have already happened as this is not a team devoid of strong hockey minds (a la Toronto, Ferguson era). if Craig Hartsburg isn't the man to find a solution with the present roster, than I'm sure the Senators will give someone else the reigns. Either way, I think Eugene Melnyk will be dispatching bodies from both the roster and front office if things don't turn around as he was quick to pull the trigger on Muckler after a huge playoff run that ended in failure.

Quick analysis: If this team is to reload: I'd like to see a better goalie, one of Vermette, Fisher or Kelly moved to make some summer cap space for a legitimate top six forward to either play with Spezza and Heatley or to anchor the offence on the second line. Kuba should be retained if the price is logical.
If we are looking at rebuild, dealing Kuba, one of the big three (likely Spezza) and one of the little three (likely Fisher or Kelly) as well as any veteran players that could fetch future assets as the Sens farm system is not looking as strong as it has in years past.

I wish the Senators and their fans the very best luck in turning this around, if not for empathy than for the removal of competition for dreams of Tavares and Hedman.
Filed Under:   ottawa   senators  
January 8, 2009 6:58 PM ET | Delete
I agree with you they need secondary scoring. Really whom do they have that they can trade for secondary scoring other than Spezza. They need to find someone quick if they want a chance at playoff spot if not then give up and trade for the future. If they can pry Hejduk out of Colorado for lets say Vermette and Neil and a draft pick. Fisher has probably been there best "secondaru" scoring..is what he is doing worth 4mil.
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