If there was one thing that highlighted Ottawa's fall from grace, it was the state of the defence at the end of the Muckler era. Hell, even the cup year's defence was not world shattering, they simply played well both individually and in the system. But the year after, it was quickly apparent gone were Zdeno and Wade and in its place were Richardson and Jason Smith, great defenceman individually.....but long past their prime. Who were the heir apparent's to the Senators defence? Brian Lee, Derek Smith (whoever wants to pick a point when Calgary should of started the rebuild...it was when your depth is so bad you have to sign the castoff of another rebuilding team's defence) and a recently drafted player called Eric Gryba. Truly these were the darkest of times.
Clearly the Murray's and their scouting staff understood this organizational black hole, in their first draft (2008) with the Dorion group Erik Karlsson (1st round), Patrick Wiercioch (2nd round) and Mark Borowiecki (5th round) were all brought into the fold and though it would take roughly 6 years, saw the beginning of the managements retooling.
At the NHL level, the play of veterans Filip Kuba and and to a far greater extent Sergei Gonchar provided Ottawa with generally competent (though rarely exceptional) outside help to give the organization time to develop internally. The NHL defence was not without hiccups however, just ask Picard/Campoli/Lee and a brilliant move in hindsight of letting Anton Volchenkov walk. Andre Benoit and Matt Carkner were nice stories but marginal players.
The 2009 Draft saw another key piece added to Ottawa, Jared Cowen. Although his actual sealing is still up for debate, he projects at minimum to be a top 4 defenceman for the foreseeable future. Two more defenceman Chris Wideman (4th) and Michael Sdao (7th) provided the organization with depth going forward. I personally doubt the latter two amount to anything but marginal NHLers if at all.
2010 would see the Rundbland trade which eventually amounted to Turris but at the time was seen as yet another piece to a growing pool of young talented prospects.
In the 2011 draft, which even by the org's admission was offence focused, saw only one defenceman of note taken. Fredirik Claesson (5th round), whom after Borowiecki appears to be the most NHL ready of Ottawa's defensive prospects. He is noting special (and I actually mean that in the most complimentary way possible), has consistently performed well in whatever role he has been given. Expect him to get big minutes this year in Bingo. Jordan Fransoo (7th) was also picked but his future is still up in the air for the team. (Appearing to be a bust at this point)
The 2012 draft is rather hard to judge for this article as it may turn out very well down the road, or cynically produce only decent defenceman for Ottawa. Cody Ceci (1st round) was drafted to fill the loss of high talent in the defensive pool after the graduation of the Cowen/Karlsson and as his health was still in doubt at this point Wiercioch as well. Tim Boyle (4th round) has chosen the college route and will be 3-4 years away from making any mark. Mikael Wikstrand (7th round) has shown signs of great promise but will be in Sweden for at least one more year and until he plays in North America its hard to gauge how he will do for the org. Shortly after this draft, Ottawa boosted its NHL roster with the acquisition of Marc Methot.
2013 had Ben Harpur (4th round), he is a ways off and clearly a project.
In 6 years under the Murray's and Dorion Ottawa has drafted 12 defenceman with only Gryba and Ben Blood remaining as holdover prospects from the Muckler era. What does this have to do with the 2013-14 season? Observe:
Karlsson- Methot (acquired by Murray)
Phillips-Corvo (2nd time around)
Borowiecki/Claesson/Ceci as those next in line.
The Murray's have drafted 3 top four defenceman who for appearances will form the team's core for at least a decade. Both the veterans Phillips and Corvo have internal replacements on their heels with Borowiecki's contract all but guaranteeing he will be on the roster no later then next year. Corvo was very blatantly signed as depth and a stop gap to give another year for Ceci to develop. Depending on how Phillips is handled (questions of money and term), an entirely Murray group of 6 defenceman could exist by next year:
Claesson as the spare. (Alfie's negotiations make me hesitant with Phillips, especially given his depth role under Maclean.)
^It will have taken the Murray's about 7 years at that point, but in all likelihood will have created a core group which will form the back end of the Senators until the 2020's. 6 year's to rebuild and will have completely overtaken in 7 (possibly) 8 years, its about damm time.
Author's note: It is only after writing this article that I appreciated just how long it takes to rebuild a team through the draft (assuming competence of the staff) It also makes it so much easier to appreciate how teams like the Islanders and Flames have been mediocre for so long if you have little to bridge the gap.