The Ottawa Senators are stuck between being a good team and a really bad team, so they have to decide which end they want to move closer to this season. The team has some options, but each has its benefits and each has its costs. Ultimately, the organization needs to decide quickly about how they want this year to end.
Thus, the weekly question is: What road should the Ottawa Senators take?
As far as I'm concerned, there are four paths that the Senators can take this year: 1) they can trade some players to better their team in hopes of making the playoffs, 2) they can trade players for picks and enter into a rebuild again, 3) they can fire MacLean and hope that a new coach can tap into the team's potential, or 4) they can do nothing.
Option #1 - Make Some Trades and Try and Squeak Into the Playoffs
Despite what might be coming out of the mouths of the team's figureheads, this roster is not playoff-worthy, in my opinion. So what do they need to do to get into the playoffs, if that's the mark of a good season? I truly believe this team, at it's best, is two top-6 forwards and a top-4 defenseman (maybe two) away from being a solid team. As it stands, however, the team lacks both offensive fire-power and defensive prowess.
Who do they trade to make the team better? The obvious trade pieces that Ottawa has are Colin Greening, Erik Condra, Zack Smith, Patrick Wiercioch, and Jared Cowen. Those are the players that I think Ottawa is willing to give up. Marc Methot may be an option if he's not re-signed, but I hope not. I feel that Zibanejad could potentially be traded as well if the right offer came around. Rumours have also swirled that Anderson could be had, but I don't put much stock into that. Altogether, the Senators don't have the most attractive players to package together, but some general manager might see the diamond in the rough like Murray did with Turris. Undoubtedly, Murray is going to have to try for a never easy "quantity for quality" trade.
Edmonton has a few attractive pieces that could be had, but I'm not sure Ottawa is willing to give into Edmonton's demands. The Sens have been after Chris Stewart for a while, but he won't make the team better. Altogether, there doesn't seem to be a lot of players that Ottawa needs who are on the market (or who Ottawa could afford). I'm sure there are more available than we're privy to knowing, but at what price? I feel that dealing away solid prospects and draft picks is near-sighted and that's where making these blockbuster trades becomes tricky. Will that one player push the team over the edge and make them better? You never really know and you could end up trading away assets that could have helped more in the long run.
Option #2 - Move Bodies for Picks and Begin Rebuild Phase 2
This year's draft class is a pretty deep one. Now, there are players like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel who are predicted to be the top picks this year, but I don't think Ottawa is going to fall to the absolute bottom of the heap. Is Ottawa bad enough to even draft in the top 5? I'm not so sure about that, either. They could be, however, if they traded some pieces for draft picks (which is beneficial in a deep draft anyways) and get some of the Bingo boys up here for a shot. I don't like calling it a tank and I'm never a promoter of tanking on purpose, but if that is the only way to secure elite talent under a shoestring budget, maybe letting this year become a write-off isn't the worst thing that could happen. It certainly worked for Pittsburgh and Chicago in the past.
Option #3 - Fire Paul MacLean
I'm going to start by saying MacLean can only work with what he has been given. However, while the team may not be star-studded, there have been moments that have made me sit back and say, "Who are these guys? They're amazing." Those moments are few and far between though. The point I'm trying to make is that there is certainly potential on this team, but it doesn't appear 100% of the time. You could argue that that is the inexperience of the team and while that is probably a factor, the coach is supposed to be the one to work a roster so that every player is used correctly and can succeed consistently. I'm not sure MacLean has been doing that. His line juggling doesn't allow for chemistry to build and his player usage is sometimes baffling. Does David Legwand really need to be on the first line powerplay unit? Is Alex Chiasson really suited to be up against Sidney Crosby in the dying minutes of a tied hockey game? I imagine you're shaking your head "no" to both of those situations.
I've recently been questioning MacLean's ability to motivate his players. I find the team comes out flat, especially after intermissions and they often play half-hearted, at least in my opinion. That's not only on MacLean, it's certainly on the players to be self-motivated, but he plays a big part in it too. Coaches need to have their players buy into what they're saying and need to get the team enthusiastic about playing. If that's not happening, then you have a problem.
Finally, some of the systems MacLean plays are suspect. For example, this team has struggled defensively for a few years now. Yes, MacLean can only work with what he's given, but he can adapt his systems to suit his defense more optimally. MacLean plays a man-on-man system in the defensive zone for the most part. This is a great system if you have quick moving defensemen. Karlsson can play it, Methot can play it, Ceci can somewhat play it. After that, the defense are too slow and can't keep up to quick forwards who can cycle the puck. A zone-oriented defensive system may work better for this particular team because it involves less chasing. It's easier to play and, to me, better suited to the types of players the team currently has. MacLean doesn't seem to tweak the defensive system ever, though. We see the same thing game in and game out and nothing ever changes. Coaches need to adapt to be effective and I'm not sure how much MacLean likes to adapt.
Option #4 - Do Nothing
Perhaps the team is just in a funk right now. It's possible. As I've mentioned, the team has some talent on it and when they play to their potential like they did against St. Louis, they're a tough team to play against. Maybe all they need is a little winning streak to gain their confidence back.
So Many Maybes
I'm not necessarily sure what the best option to take here is and I'm glad I'm not the one calling the shots. Indeed, you never want your team to fail and you want them to try their best each night, but at what point do you have to stop and admit that it's not working? If management can make some solid trades, this team could finish in a wildcard spot, maybe. This team could, alternatively, benefit from finishing lower in the standings, but how low can they actually go? They're certainly not the worst team in the league. Is getting a 5-6-7th overall pick going to help? That's another maybe. Would firing MacLean help boost the team? It might, but that too is a maybe. Perhaps the team is just in a slump and can pull themselves out of it, maybe. Ultimately, there is a lot of uncertainty circling around the team and the organization soon has to take a chance and make a decision.
Thank you for reading.