I don't know what to think of the Ottawa Senators. In this league there are maybe three desirable categories of teams: serious Cup contenders like the Blackhawks, Lightning, and Kings; teams that are trying to be serious Cup contenders, like the Penguins, Ducks, and Capitals; and teams that are rebuilding, like last year's Sabres or this upcoming year's Maple Leafs. Sometimes teams are in transition from one zone to another -- there have to be teams that miss the playoffs but aren't tanking -- but the important part is that they transition. The problem with Ottawa is that they seem to have been stuck in No Man's Land for several years.
A little history for you. In 2011, Ottawa's season was in free fall. The team traded most of the vets who could earn something back at the deadline, and committed to a three-year rebuild. The problem was that just one year into the rebuild, the team made the playoffs. This was great as a fan, but meant that Ottawa didn't get another high draft pick to help in the rebuild process. A year later, the Sens made the playoffs and even won a round. Suddenly Ottawa's rebuild appeared to be ahead of schedule. Nobody would have mistaken the
2012-13 Senators as a Cup contender, but they appeared to be on track. A year later the team went for it, trading the future for Bobby Ryan and Ales Hemsky, and missed the postseason, but not badly enough to earn a high pick.
This year, Ottawa went on a miracle run to make the playoffs and lose in the first round. By my watch, that's four years straight of Ottawa not being a Cup contender or a rebuilding team. And by my estimation, Ottawa is headed for another year of being a team stuck in No Man's Land - not bad enough to draft a strong player, not good enough to make waves in the playoffs.
Ottawa is a team with an internal budget. We all know that. As fans, we've been promised for years that the money would be there when it was time for Ottawa to compete. This seemed like the year it was going to happen: big raises for Ryan and Clarke MacArthur, an extension for Marc Methot, rookies Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman ready to cash in on promising seasons. Instead, we've been hit with more cheap moves: refusing to sign Erik Condra for a third year at $1.25-million, refusing to buy out Colin Greening, tempering the return in a goalie trade by trying to throw in a poisonous contract. (Thankfully we were saved from the third one by the Sabres still giving up a first-round pick for Robin Lehner when David Legwand was in the package.)
What I find frustrating is that Ottawa has made some moves to compete now: keeping aging Craig Anderson over the developing Lehner, or making moves to keep Ryan and MacArthur in the fold at the risk of future regret. But lots of moves haven't been short-sighted: moving Eric Gryba to make room for Jared Cowen's development, or letting Erik Condra walk. Teams that win the Stanley Cup have guys like Condra in their bottom six. I can understand letting Condra walk to make room for someone like Shane Prince to have a role in Ottawa next season. That would help with Prince's development, no question. I just don't understand how that fits with keeping Anderson. One move says "We're developing our prospects", the other says "We have a two-year Cup window." Ottawa isn't putting all their eggs in one or even two baskets. They're throwing a few eggs at every basket they see, hoping that some of them land without breaking.
Obviously, spending money doesn't guarantee a Cup win. Any Flyers or Leafs fan can tell you that. But not spending money pretty much guarantees no Cup win. I wrote an article a year ago in which I pretty much concluded that you win the Cup in two ways: spend to the salary cap, or have a bunch of great players on ELCs. I guess there's a third option of doing both, as the current cap-ceilinged Blackhawks have had to trade Brandon Saad and could still lose Marcus Kruger.
I just wish I would see Ottawa commit to something. Ottawa is setting themselves up to be a bubble team both this year and three years down the road. The playoffs appear to be the ultimate goal. The primes of Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone and Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan are being wasted on a half-hearted attempt at competitiveness. Either this team should commit to going all-in on this roster, and spending like it, or admitting that they are still years from competing, and off-loading the veterans who don't fit with that timeline. Right now it looks like the Sens are promising us fans a perpetual case of Stealers Wheel syndrome, because we are stuck in the middle with them.
- The Sens made three minor moves in free agency, signing Mike Kostka, Zack Stortini, and Eric O'Dell to two-way deals [Kostka, Stortini, O'Dell]
- Additionally, the Sens said goodbye to the oft-blogged Erik Condra [Silver Seven, SensChirp]
- B_T wrote a bit about Condra for Raw Charge, SBN's Lightning blog [Raw Charge]
- Darren has his say on the Sens' moves during free agency. He's not sure what to think [Silver Seven]
- Jeff has his say on how the Sens' moves during free agency help out Binghamton. Expect Bingo to be a lot better next year. [Silver Seven]
- Jeff brings you the first-ever edition of Weekly Bingo Bites (mmm, tasty!) looking at the Wideman and Mullen signings, among other things [Silver Seven]
- In other news for Binghamton, Cole Schneider has been signed to a one-year, two-way deal [Silver Seven]
- Callum had this morning's Five Thoughts [Silver Seven]
- Trevor Shackles goes on a longer, more passionate rant than me about the Sens' complacency [SenShot]
- Jack Leiper took on the fun exercise of guessing who Ottawa would protect in case of an expansion draft [SenShot]
- Jack also found some NHL comparisons for each of Ottawa's first- and second-round picks from the draft [SenShot]
- After the Gryba trade, Luke Peristy composes a tribute to his beard [WTYKY]
- Sens development camp got underway on Tuesday; here are Randy Lee's comments on physical testing day [Senators]
- A pair of FanPosts, one from jnewman68 saying that Melnyk needs to spend because Ottawa's Cup window is now, and one from Marvellous with his first impression from development camp [Silver Seven FanPost 1, FanPost 2]
- The Hockey News's Ken Campbell made a comment about the Panthers needing Marc Savard's contract to hit the cap floor. When it was pointed out that the Panthers were already $10-million above the floor, he mocked the Panthers for not making the playoffs [Litter Box Cats]
- Martin St. Louis retired yesterday. He leaves behind a legacy of being possibly the best undrafted, under-sized player ever. However, the feeling is tempered by his shocking, selfish "trade me to the Rangers or else" demand in 2014. [NHL]
- TSN's free agency coverage averaged four times as many viewers as Sportsnet's [TSN]
And finally, here's the awesome Jonathan Pitre delivering his address to Sens Development Camp: