Five Thoughts for Friday

PULL LEHNER. - Phillip MacCallum

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

1) Ottawa's inexperience was on full display in the first period of last night's game, wasn't it? First Cody Ceci makes a blind turnover, then Jared Cowen and Colin Greening combine for a turnover that doesn't resemble hockey so much as a clown car plowing into Slinky factory, and then Robin Lehner gets worked by Johan Franzen and Tomas Jurco--not that Lehner had much help from his defense, as both shooters were uncovered.

Gotta think GM Bryan Murray's first instinct after watching that is to act like a used car salesman and SELL SELL SELL! And yet, I can't help but think that's the wrong move. After all, isn't the cure for inexperience... experience? It feels obvious that this group isn't ready to win a Stanley Cup, but that doesn't mean they never will be. The team made their philosophy under Murray very plain when they had their chance to choose between Mika Zibanejad and Sean Couturier. I wanted Couturier; I think most of us did. Couturier was appealing. He had the size and the pedigree and the top prospect ranking at one point. Murray and staff went with Zibanejad. Why? Because they didn't want the best player, they wanted the best player five years from that point. And while five years out is too far for this group in my opinion, two or three years isn't.

I'm positive we don't know who most of this roster really are yet. I've mentioned before that we've watched Kyle Turris blossom. Zibanejad is beginning that process as well. The same can be said for almost all of the defense, whipping boy Cowen included.

So, let's say you want to go for a Cup in the near future. You're stocking up on more experienced players, because you don't have guys who are ready yet--and that means shipping out those guys to get the guys you want. But, I wonder, what would you rather have in three years' time: One shot at the Cup in your recent history or a young core of talented players just hitting their prime and under cap-friendly contracts? I know my answer.

2) Uh, I don't think the team can afford to trade Craig Anderson just yet. My faith in Lehner isn't shaken--especially since Anderson hasn't been some kind of magical barrier himself this season--but man, you hate to see a kid turn in a game like that. The good news is that the team plays back-to-back games against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames next week, so Lehner won't have to stew over this performance for too long. He should get the start against Calgary, and that should help him get his mojo back.

3) I think anyone who's too upset over the back-to-back losses to Boston and Detroit should be grateful they're watching a more talented team than the one on the ice in the inaugural season. There was a stretch from February 9th-23rd where the team was outscored 37-15 over the course of 6 games, bookended by an 8-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and an 8-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. What's worse, being a young team that gets manhandled by a Cup contender like Boston and looking at the loss as a measuring stick, or being nothing but a lamb led to slaughter night after night?

It's never cool to watch the Senators lose, but at least with this group, there's hope they can play better. Watch some of those old games if you want perspective for what a bad loss really looks like.

4) Booing Daniel Alfredsson on Roger's House night? Come on.

5) Good game from Mike Hoffman. Enjoyed seeing his linemates try to feed him once the game was out of hand to at least try and salvage the night for someone. Still, even if Hoffman plays like that for the rest of the season--a big if--it exposes the team's biggest problem: Too many bottom-six guys. Erik Condra didn't look great playing alongside Turris and Clarke MacArthur, Colin Greening was unremarkable next to Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. Cory Conacher, unsurprisingly, didn't really jive with Chris Neil and Zack Smith. Including Matt Kassian, the Sens have two full lines' worth of bottom-six guys. They also only have two-ish lines' worth of top-six guys. The problem with having that distribution is that it's too top-heavy and not balanced enough to support the defense as it is now.

The team can't fix its defensive situation via trade. There are eight defensemen on the roster right now. They'd need to move more than one defenseman and only get one in return to somehow make that work. And right now the available defensemen don't have any trade value.The team gambled on Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch making a step forward in their development this season; they didn't. The Senators are sleeping in the bed they made this year. They can take another shot next year. But there's not some sucker GM who's waiting to take the team's castoffs to help solve its logjam on defense with an upgrade. Those moves only happen in video games. And even if it were possible, as I mentioned in point #1, I'm not so sure dumping young players is the right direction for the team anyway.

We see the same situation for the team at forward. Let's say you want a player like Evander Kane, mostly because I want Evander Kane. It's a a monkey trap. The team would be trying to add a top-six guy to create three scoring lines without subtracting any equivalent talent. We know the pairings we want: Turris-MacArthur, Spezza-Michalek, Zibanejad-Conacher, and Z. Smith-whoever. You play Ryan, Kane, and Hoffman wherever you like and give the fourth line nine minutes a night. No bad combinations there, right? But who did we give up to make this beautiful team? Condra, Greening, and Neil.

Of course, just about any Sens fan would trade those three for Kane (or their forward of choice) but no one is going to accept a trade like that. Trades are dependent on quality for quality, not quality for quantity, with rare exceptions forced by limited movement clauses. The Senators can't get the guy they need with the bait they have. They've got to give to get, and that winds up being a lateral move.

I think there's no way around it: This year's roster is pretty well locked in. The best strategy is to ride the storm out, let the kids take their lumps, and then make your adjustments in the offseason. Youth remains the majority on the roster, and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. If that means we squander the last years of Spezza's contract, so be it. I'd rather do that than watch some team pluck a Kyle Turris from us.

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