Well, the Sens playoff hopes are virtually gone. So this week, we will do what only comes naturally: Talk about next season!
1) Who will the Sens re-sign?
Luckily, the list of key impending free agents for this summer only consists of Matt Kassian, Milan Michalek and Ales Hemsky. Michalek has fluctuated throughout his time here in Ottawa. He's battled through nagging injuries and had career seasons. Despite finding moderate success this season, and I do mean moderate, it may be time for the Sens to part ways with Michalek and make room for another winger.
This does not necessarily mean that Ales Hemsky will be that winger. However, I find it hard to believe that Murray would bring him on this late in an already hopeless season without plans of re-signing him in the summer. It's not like the team needed a rental player to help them get into the playoffs. And if his time here has been an audition, it's safe to say he's a shoe in for the part.
The real challenge will be next year, when five key players enter the final year of their contracts: Jason Spezza, Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur, Marc Methot and Craig Anderson. That's a lot of money.
Despite what some Sens fans might think, signing the captain should be priority number one. Spezza has his first year as captain under his belt, and will only get more comfortable in this role. It would be a shame to see it all end for nothing. Bobby Ryan will likely be next on the list. Murray loves this kid, and if Ryan walks after two years, the price Murray paid will be way too high for what the team got in return.
It's easy to make a case for MacArthur, Methot and Anderson, but I think one of these guys will be on the trading block before it comes time to re-sign them.
2) Sens goalie next year
Speaking of Anderson, is it time for the Sens to reconsider the goaltending situation for next year? It's unlikely the Sens will re-sign him after next year, as we all know Lehner is the goalie of the future. So the Sens have two options: Let Anderson play his heart out for a contract throughout the year, or trade him this summer and finally allow Lehner to assume the role of starting goalie.
While Anderson's trading value isn't exactly sky high, it might be time to move him and show Lehner he is the starter going forward. This would do a world of good for Lehner's confidence.
This week, the Sens announced that Bobby Ryan has been playing with an injury and is to undergo season-ending surgery. In doing so, they also confirmed what many of us had speculated for a while. Why else would Paul MacLean let Ryan play third-line minutes?
Ryan's injury, and the criticism that came along with his play beforehand, brought up an interesting question: should teams disclose player injuries? On the one hand, it gives opponents obvious weaknesses to target. I hate to say it, but there are many players who would love to get their hands on that information. On the other hand, it prevents unnecessary criticism among fans and the media, which we saw in Ryan's case.
This criticism is seemingly unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But as a fan, I hate watching players take unsolicited blame. Despite this, there are too many players in this league who would take advantage of knowing a player is hurt. (Insert angry Matt Cooke comment here). Overall, it's an unnecessary danger.
4) First-round pick
There has been a lot of talk, and dismay, over the fact that the Sens do not have a first-round pick in the draft this year. Especially considering how high the team is likely to place in the draft standings. Many people think that Murray will try to make a move on the draft floor to get that pick back. But would it be worth it?
The price for a first-round pick would be a player like Jason Spezza or Bobby Ryan, neither of whom the Sens would be willing to give up. Let's not forget how we lost that pick in the first place. Based on the scouting abilities of Murray's staff, I think missing one round, even if it's the first one, would not be the end of the world. I'm sure they can find plenty of players they like in the later rounds, without sacrificing a key piece of our team right now.
5) Hoffman and Stone
Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone have both seen quite a bit of playing time recently. With the season winding down, now seems like a great time to evaluate their auditions on the team so far.
Both have come onto the team with higher expectations than you would expect from mid-season call-ups. Have they lived up to the hype? Despite a number of team losses, Mark Stone has proven his ability to score and set up plays in the NHL. If he can stay healthy, I have no doubt he will see some regular playing time next season.
Somewhat less impressive on the score sheet is Mike Hoffman. He's never been a point-per-game player, but I can see him one day settling into a solid second or third-line centre role with this team. However, he is far away from that place right now.
What are your thoughts on the play of Hoffman and Stone so far? Do you see them playing with the team full-time next season?