Around two weeks ago, Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray said he was looking to make a trade to shake things up. Since then the Senators have gone 4-2, easing the pressure put on the panic button through the city, but there's little doubt that the Senators could use some help somewhere in the roster. Once Milan Michalek and Filip Kuba return, the Senators should be able to dress their full NHL lineup (pending other injuries, of course), and at that point--which may come as early as next week--the Senators and their fans will be able to see what we've really got on our team.
Even then, though, it's likely only a matter of time before another injury comes along. Consider the age (Daniel Alfredsson, Alex Kovalev, Sergei Gonchar) and injury history (Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Filip Kuba, Pascal Leclaire) of some of the Senators' key players, and it becomes pretty easy to see that the team's likely to see at least a few more man-games lost to injury this season.
So at what position is the Senators' greatest need?
Far and away the most discussed position on the team, and if rumours are to be believed, the one area Murray is most looking to address. He's apparently looking to add a defensive defenceman to balance the pairings (and likely to replace David Hale on the depth chart, who himself has replaced Brian Lee on the depth chart). But the pickings are slim, and it seems to be a sellers market today (unless you're interested in Sheldon Souray or Mike Commodore).
But once Filip Kuba returns, the Senators will have a more balanced defence corps with Sergei Gonchar (who appears to be finding his offensive touch), Chris Phillips (who, if last night is any indication, is solidifying his game and becoming comfortable with Gonchar), Erik Karlsson (who seems to have gotten over some early-season jitters and is putting up points again), Chris Campoli (who hasn't dazzled, but hasn't disappointed), Matt Carkner (who, like Phillips, has simplified his game for the better), to go along with Lee and Hale as two spares. Is there room for another NHL defenceman? Can we afford to wait and see if (or when) one of the top-six defenders goes down to injury?
Ottawa goal scoring seems to come in spurts: They've been shut out twice already this season, and have been held to just one goal twice more. But they've also scored five goals in two different games, so their goal scoring appears skewed because of its inconsistency. Although only three forwards have yet to score a goal this season, two of those players--Peter Regin and Nick Foligno--were expected to provide reliable supportive offence for the likes of Daniel Alfredsson (six goals), Milan Michalek (four goals), Alex Kovalev (three goals), and Mike Fisher (three goals). Instead, Ryan Shannon (two goals) and Chris Kelly (two goals), along with five goals from the defence, have offered the secondary scoring.
Are Senators brass ready to perhaps admit Nick Foligno has been miscast as a top-six forward? Is Foligno ready to prove that he is, in fact, a top-six forward? Is Regin having a sophomore slump, or was he just playing over his head alongside Spezza and Alfredsson last season? Most importantly, are there any top-six forwards available out there, and--if there are--are the Senators willing to pay the price to get them?
Given how well Brian Elliott played last night against the Maple Leafs, people in Ottawa might remember how insecure this city was about Ottawa's goaltending heading into the season. Pascal Leclaire didn't have a single win in his three starts, but still looked good, while Elliott has filled in well when Leclaire was injured, winning five of nine starts.
But Elliott still has a GAA of 3.22 and a SP of .900, and both of those not-very-good numbers are better than Leclaire's. Can the Senators afford to wait and see if Elliott can keep playing as well as he had, or as well as he was for parts of last season? Can they afford to ever put any faith in Leclaire, considering how injury-prone he is? Do they want to risk picking up another goalie, likely one under contract for a few seasons, and keep their minor-league talent--most notably Robin Lehner--in the minors for that long?
The reality is that it will be hard to impossible for the Senators to make any trade of actual significance without getting rid of a player who is providing something for the team right now. The salary cap space Ottawa has is negligible, so salary will have to go out for salary to come back in, and all the players making any significant amount of coin are either contributing to this team's success, or virtually untradeable (see: Leclaire and Kuba). The good part of that, though, is that Murray won't be able to dump draft picks for rental players, because he won't have the cap space to pick them up.