The Wikipedia page for the Ottawa Senators lists the rebuild as taking place from “2011-present”. It’s kind of funny that now in the sixth year of the three-year rebuild, we still don’t have a new name for this era of the Sens. We’re supposed to be excited about pieces like Colin White and Logan Brown and Thomas Chabot, but not that long ago we were waiting for Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg and David Rundblad.
Way back in 2011, Bryan Murray announced that the Senators were going to trade some significant pieces and start a rebuild. Gone were Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, Brian Elliott, Alexei Kovalev, and Chris Campoli. The team committed to going younger, and getting better by the draft. The coaching staff were let go, and in came the moustachioed, amusing Paul MacLean as coach. The Sens traded to end up with three first-round picks, selecting Mika Zibanejad, Stefan Noesen, and Matt Puempel. In all, the Sens took 10 picks that year, and many hoped it would feed into the future.
Looking back, I think the worst thing that could’ve happened to the Sens was making the playoffs in consecutive years after declaring a rebuild. It gave both fans and management a vision that this team was ready to compete. Suddenly, a “rebuilding” team was trading a plickspect to acquire 25-year-old Bobby Ryan. It was a far cry from the trade of a couple years earlier, acquiring the young Kyle Turris for David Rundblad and a pick. Even Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher (and a 3rd!) made sense in a rebuild context, no matter how that trade ended up working out. I’m not one of those people who thinks Silfverberg is a better player than Ryan, I just think that trade showed some impatience.
Impatience was really the name of the game this summer, when the Sens traded Mika Zibanejad and a 2nd (that’s right, we included a pick!) for Derick Brassard. Zibanejad had been inconsistent throughout his NHL career, and the Sens traded for someone who was done his development. Again, that’s not a bad trade, and I’m not going to re-open that argument, but it really doesn’t fit with a rebuilding team. Maybe the rebuild was considered done by this summer, but you’d think you’d at least have to make the playoffs before making that call.
I really got thinking about this with the waiver claim of Matt Puempel yesterday. Ottawa has now lost their three first-round picks from the 2011 draft, and they have Ryan and Brassard to show for it. Both good players, but players that are past the age of improvement. The Sens also traded their lone second-rounder from that draft in Shane Prince. The team still has players from 2011 - Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Fredrik Claesson, Max McCormick, and Ryan Dzingel have all played games for the team this year. Pageau and Dzingel in particular are valuable players, but not the kind of players you build a team around. Not the kind of players that you hope to get by committing to a rebuild.
It’s not all doom and gloom. The Sens are still in playoff position, and that’s with three top-six wingers out. I’ve just been thinking about the hope I felt in 2011, and how that hope never really turned into anything. I feel like we’ve been spinning our wheels for a few years, hovering right around the playoff bubble. This team traded Ben Bishop to make room for Robin Lehner, and then Lehner to make room for Andrew Hammond, and now just waived Hammond because Mike Condon has two wins. By the time guys like Brown or White are ready to compete, Ryan and Brassard and Phaneuf (and Anderson?) will have aged enough for their contracts to be problems. I’ve taken flak for saying this before, but I’ll still say it: this team doesn’t have a long-term aim. The team is putting an egg in every basket it sees, hoping at least one hatches.
Maybe a bigger question is why this team has whiffed on so many first-round picks. Bringing up 2011 also brings up the point that both Noesen and Puempel ended up pretty disappointing. Curtis Lazar and Cody Ceci both aren’t where I hoped they’d be. Jared Cowen is currently suing the Maple Leafs for his right to be a healthy scratch. That would be another post for another day though, and for someone with a lot better prospect knowledge than me.
I know many people will just want to criticize this post and its negativity, but if possible, I’d like to hear people’s opinions in addition. Was the 2011 rebuild successful? Where are the Sens now - are they still rebuilding? What is the long-term vision of this team? I know I don’t really have answers.