I am just going to say it: there are a lot of dark clouds over the Canadian Tire Centre these days, and there are not a lot of silver linings.
I wish there were: I wish that the Senators’ numerous losses were anomalous; that the defensive frailties could be easily addressed; or that the team could be just one good trade away from a return to winning ways.
That is simply not the case. The team’s bad record is well earned: the Senators are a bad possession team (bottom 10 in the league in pretty much every useful stat). They also cannot fall back on the Toronto Maple Leaf excuse of "quality over quantity": a simple examination of post-game shot charts shows that the team is giving up a lot of shots in good scoring areas and taking a lot of shots long shots from bad angles. And the Senators are not losing because of bad luck: despite the bad results, they have actually been one of the luckier teams in the league so far (top 10 PDO).
Unfortunately, it might be just about time to acknowledge that the team is not a good win or two from "turning the corner" and instead accept that the only silver linings to be found are the ones that come with reduced expectations. And I hate that.
The unbearable thing as a fan is that this debacle cannot be painted as a rebuild or an investment that will pay off later.
First and foremost, the organization does not have a first round draft pick next year. That is not a knock on the Bobby Ryan trade: Bobby is very good and has played so well for the team that it is hard to pan the trade that brought him to Ottawa. Still, even if the trade was good the lack of a first rounder next year makes every loss hurt a little bit more.
Another terrifying aspect of the 2013-2013 season is that there does not seem to be a lot of individual growth occurring. If anything, save for a few notable exceptions (read: the Turris line) most of the team seems to be getting worse.
Some of this was to be expected, particularly for the older players on the downward side of their careers. But it is very difficult to cast a positive light on the seeming devolution of Jared Cowen, Patrick Wiercioch, and a number of other young Senators players. You might say these guys are gaining valuable experience, but I am not sure that getting destroyed every night for a season counts as that (or else Tyler Myers would be incredible).
And the absolute worst part is the money. It is impossible to see much hope for the future when the league salary cap is projected to rise and the team salary cap is not.
Spending to the cap does not guarantee success in the league, and I do not want to see the Senators go out and make a splash in free agency just to make a splash. However, the team has some glaring needs that are going largely unaddressed, and for budget-related reasons it is not using one of its most valuable assets to fix its problems.
There are a few ways for the Senators to fill the holes in the roster, and the best long term strategy would be to use some of the organization’s considerable cap space to acquire some players that are getting overpaid by other teams. However, with Eugene Melnyk consistently crying poor it seems very unlikely this is going to happen.
Unfortunately, the only other way the team is going to fill the gaps is to trade away existing assets such as draft picks and prospects. If that happens, the team is just going to be worse off in a few years when it does not have cheap talent coming down the pipeline and it still has no money to spend in free agency.
There are still plenty of silver linings. Bryan Murray and the rest of the Senators braintrust have given us cause to believe that the best decisions will be made for the team. Paul MacLean is a great coach going through a tough time with a relatively young team. The core of the team is unquestionably good. If a few guys like Patrick Wiercioch, Jared Cowen, or Cory Conacher could step up to complement that core, the team could suddenly find itself on a winning streak. Or maybe it really will just take a good trade or an effective call-up or two from Binghamton to get things going. And hey, maybe fans will actually start going to the games.
But right now I do not see it. I see a team that will finish in the 10th-13th range in the conference and that has no fix coming for next year. I desperately hope to be proven wrong. I will tune in every Saturday and Sunday afternoon just in case that happens. But as of right now it all feels pretty dire.