OTTAWA ON - OCTOBER 26: Sergei Gonchar #55 of the Ottawa Senators along with his family acknowledges the crowd during a ceremony to celebrate his 1000th NHL regular season game before a game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Scotiabank Place on October 26 2010 in Ottawa Ontario Canada. The Ottawa Senators defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 5-2. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
We're told that there's always a magic bullet. That one missing piece that will put the Senators over the top.
In the early 2000s, when the Ottawa Senators ruled the regular season, it was a supposed lack of grit and leadership that kept them from winning when it counted, then the lack of a truly outstanding goaltender. Years later, Daniel Alfredsson is cemented as an untradeable franchise great, and the contenders of the league are going with cheap options in net and hoping for a hot-streak.
The team then lacked a true second-line center, we were told, the commonly held belief being that Mike Fisher is one of the best third line checking centers in the league, but can't put up the points required of a playmaker, and that Antoine Vermette wasn't consistent enough to take over the role. (Today he centers Columbus' top line, playing with Rick Nash.)
Then it was Muckler's inability to add that crucial extra piece at the trade deadline. Muckler became perhaps the only GM in league history to lose his job just weeks after his team went to the Finals. Today, you'd be hard pressed to find a team that would give up more than a second-round pick for a rental, and even then only if it gives them an edge in re-signing the player long-term, as has happened with Ilya Kovalchuk and Jay Bouwmeester. Murray hasn't hesitated to pull the trigger on deadline deals, adding Mike Commodore, Cory Stillman, Andy Sutton and Matt Cullen in recent years, and though not all of these deals can be considered busts, he's declined to re-sign any of his deadline acquisitions.
Then it was the mythological puck-moving defenceman, the one that would allow the team to regain its offensive dominance. Murray traded for Filip Kuba and Alex Picard, then traded a late 1st rounder for Chris Campoli, then drafted Erik Karlsson and David Rundblad. The team has since signed Sergei Gonchar, but too late: the magic bullet had moved on. Now, as the team bleeds goals, it's the lack of a shutdown defenceman and, inevitably, goaltending again. The team's lack of scoring is also cited, leading some to believe that if the team could only obtain that perfect top six forward, then all will be solved.
These questions are important for two reasons: first, that the lack of any one magic bullet for this version of our Ottawa Senators indicates the extent of the problems throughout the lineup. And second, because with a sizeable amount of cap space in the offseason, the team will most likely go in one or two of several possible directions in an attempt to right was is becoming an increasingly wobbly ship.
If they want to adhere to a system of building from the net out, they could try to sign Tomas Vokoun, a goalie who's put up stellar numbers on some bad teams, and combine him with the team's prospect depth on the blueline.
They could continue Murray's oft-quoted desire to have the other team blocking our shots for a change, and pursue Brad Richards (who would also provide the second line, 1-A center magic bullet) or Alexander Semin.
Or they could ignore the magic bullet conversation, build through the draft and demonstrate patience, signing cheap, complementary players when the opportunity presents itself and when the risk is low.
Ultimately, the idea of the magic bullet simplifies a complex process, and in a cap league, no team will ever have a solution to every possible gap. Even the Washington Capitals, a team with so much prospect depth that they have up-and-comers at every position (and a generational talent up front), are told they lack true goaltending and a shutdown defender, and they just experienced an eight-game losing streak. Vancouver is often described as a complete team, but have been outplayed so far by a Detroit Red Wings team featuring a 40-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom and a 38-year-old Chris Osgood. Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators loses talent every single year and continues to make the post-season on the strength of their coaching and team play. As Ottawa seeks that single solution to their season, the truth may be that the problems run too deep.
Varada also writes for The Cory Clouston Fashion Review
What is the magic bullet for the Senators 2011 offseason?
Goaltending. They should pursue someone like Vokoun (36 votes)
Defence. They should sign a shutdown defender to replace Volchenkov (25 votes)
Scoring. They should sign a top three forward, or at least a top six (61 votes)
None. They should build through the draft, and sign affordable, complimentary players when they can (128 votes)
250 total votes