A Wholly Successful Off-Season: 20 Years in the Making
The success of the Senators’ 2012 off-season can only be described as mixed. The holes which require filling on the Senators’ roster are not difficult to determine. We are not the Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks or the Senators of yester-year; we are not a team searching for the intangibles of winning, but rather a team that requires the very necessities of any competitive squad.
Although mixed thus far, it must be said that this off-season could become what many Senators supporters have long sought and yet have never seen achieved: a successful one.
The objectives for the off-season are uncontroversial based on the overt deficiencies this team has. They are: (1) additional defensive depth, with regard to both prospective and proven NHL caliber players; (2) the acquisition of additional skilled-forward depth to assist in the transitory period concerning the development-curve of our high-end prospects and the eventual retirement of our beloved icon; and finally, (3) the restocking of Binghamton with quality AHL veterans to assist in the development of the medium and long-term prospect projects.
- Moves Made
Without doubt the acquisition of Marc Methot was a shrewd maneuver. The Senators opened up space for a prospect on the third/second -line, and in doing so were able to acquire a World Championship Team Canada level defensive talent. Although many are unaware of the style of game Methot plays, due to the obscurity that engulfs the Blue Jackets market, it can be said his abilities are not unlike former fan favourite Anton Volchenkov. A very steady defenceman, capable of playing in the top-four, who opposing forwards will be wary of entering corners with, and will on most nights be up for the Team 1200’s Hardest Working Senator award. Admittedly the stat-sheet will never be weighed down by the ink used to print his offensive totals, but the acquisition addressed our need for a top-four caliber defenceman who plays with a bit of jam and who is willing to lay everything on the line every night
The other defensive acquisition of Mike Lundin solidified the sixth/seventh defensive position by allowing Paul MacLean to insert a NHL caliber defenceman into the lineup when whichever prospect who makes the team out of camp struggles, and would benefit from watching the game rather than participating.
Guillaume Latendresse is a player that if healthy has a proven record of goal-scoring and size to match. At only twenty-five years of age, it is not unfathomable that he may regain some of his previous offensive acumen and contribute on what could be a very solid third-line for the Senators. It may be that he is capable of filling in on the second-line as well, while Jakob Silverberg (the inevitable forward prospect to make the team out of camp) adjusts to the North American game.
The Binghamton roster is beginning to be filled out nicely as well, and while little fanfare is made of such organizational depth acquisitions, the success of last season underscores just how winning is something learned, and success in the development process can greatly assist the transition of prospective NHL players as they begin their careers.
- Future Considerations
However, there still are glaring needs. There is a void on the right side of Jason Spezza that would be unfair to expect a rookie to adequately fill. It would also be unfair to Spezza to continue to provide him, in what should be his most productive years, with stop-gap players to play with. Greening is a fantastic third-line player, with speed, size, and enough skill to occasionally chip in offensively, but he is certainly not a first-line player on a team with second-round ambitions.
While the defensive core has been strengthened, and the prospect pool refilled through the draft with the very exciting acquisition of offensive OHL stud Cody Ceci, the immediate defensive prospect pool is thin, and the addition of another proven NHL defenceman would help solidify the position and allow more time for our defensive prospects, which typically have a longer developmental-curve than their forward counterparts, to enhance their skills in the AHL and play more insulated minutes at the NHL level.
It is not difficult to see where the Senators should be looking to address these two issues. The trade market appears closed, and for good reason. Bobby Ryan is a first-line player, but the asking price is sure to be nearly, or equally, as steep as it was for Nash, and with Ryan too it appears his heart lies elsewhere, specifically in Philadelphia.
Thus, as has been stated elsewhere, Alexander Semin is the most logical target.
A former forty-goal scorer, and proven point producer, Semin’s skill-set, alongside those of Milan Michalek and Spezza, would certainly provide our top-line the potency it has lacked for some time. Signing Semin would also address the unfortunate reality of replacing the production lost when the last Senator to wear eleven on the back of his jersey retires – this year or the next. It makes sense for other reasons as well. With such a lethal first-line, opponents would be forced on most nights to match their best units against these offensively gifted talents, creating a bit more space for an aging Daniel Alfredsson, a developing Kyle Turris, and potentially a rookie who is still acclimatizing himself to NHL hockey.
The cost of such an acquisition would appear to be more amenable to Ottawa’s future Stanley Cup ambitions. The ability to acquire a first-line talent without losing a single prospect or draft pick is not an opportunity that often makes itself available. Further, as may be indicated by the fact Semin has yet to sign anywhere, the offers he has received must not yet be adequate. Perhaps offering even a second year of term may be enough to lure the player, and it would be that second year where the need to replace Alfredsson’s offensive productivity would be in all likelihood the greatest.
Cap space is not an issue, although real dollars are. But if Senators’ management was given the green-light to take on Nash’s salary and cap hit, of which the former is in excess of $7.8 million, while also losing valuable prospect depth, it seems intuitive that this move could be given the green-light as well.
Although many question Semin’s character, it should be mentioned that in giving his acceptance speech for the Hart Trophy, Evgeni Malkin referenced current Senator defenceman Sergei Gonchar as playing a large part in his development as an NHL player. It also should be noted that MacLean appears to understand offensive talent – being a modest one himself not all that long ago – and as evidenced this previous season by the play of Spezza and Turris, has the ability to get the most out of these players in all zones of the rink.
While Semin would solidify a glaring need at forward, another UFA, Cam Barker, has gone somewhat under the radar due to injury and underperformance (in what can only be described as difficult circumstances), but would greatly help solidify the Senators’ blueline this coming season.
Barker is another player, like Semin, who will most-likely be underpaid in their next contract relative to their talent. Drafted third overall in 2004, the shine has slightly rubbed off this once budding young star after years spent in Edmonton and Minnesota, along with time spent playing behind – and being compared to the likes of – Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Brian Campbell in Chicago. While Barker may not be the stud defenceman many hoped for, he is a capable NHL defenceman who can certainly play in Ottawa’s top-six, and would provide further depth to a squad who appears one injury away from being forced to play an unproven talent at the sixth defensive spot, and two injuries from digging further into what are rather baron defensive coffers – at least baron in terms of players proven to be able to compete against NHL talent.
- The Outcome
With these two acquisitions, which combined would almost certainly be had for less than or equal to Nash’s salary and cap hit, the Senators lineup would look somewhat like this:
This lineup certainly looks more the playoff bound team Senators supporters now expect, and allows MacLean a great deal of flexibility concerning the composition of the lineup each night. It also provides additional depth should the Senators not be quite as lucky as they were last year concerning injuries.
At every position, including goalie, there is a player ready to be called-up that should be able to contribute meaningful minutes, and may in some cases out shine those they are replacing, putting Ottawa in the enviable position of possessing a surplus of NHL ready talent that could be converted at the deadline to further enhance the team immediately, or allow for the acquisition of additional prospects and draft picks.
While this off-season hasn’t been the franchise defining time many supporters were hoping for, it has the potential to solidify this team as a contender for many years to come, with the low cost acquisition of quality NHL talent without subtracting promising young players.
This management team has done a tremendous job thus far in this “rebuild”, and has made it possible for perhaps only the second time in Senators’ history for an off-season article to be written without once referencing the need for a quality goaltender (we have three), and thus the benefit-of-the-doubt must be provided with regard to any direction this group decides to go.
But from this perspective, at least, the voids are overt and easily discernable – as are their solutions.