The All-Star Game is behind us, and we are unofficially in the second half of the NHL season. Between playoff hopes, or lack there of, and the LeBreton Flats saga, there was a lot to talk about for Sens fans this week.
Since the LeBreton Flats bids went live last week, we've seen Senators owner Eugene Melnyk make his rounds with the Ottawa media. This week he spoke to Ian Mendes on TSN's The Drive, and shared his thoughts on selling the team should his side lose.
The short story: He's not selling the Sens. And he won't let the team play in a rink at LeBreton Flats unless he owns it. Well, that's what he says. The DCDLS group has made a few comments about their interest in purchasing the Senators if their bid is successful, or at least letting Melnyk and his group build the arena on their site. But again, Melnyk emphasizes that he has "zero interest" in selling the team.
According to Melnyk, the DCDLS group only says this to divert attention from the Senators' bid. But let's be honest, he has to say these things. Insinuating that he would sell the team devalues his bid. It's very likely that if DCDLS were to win, Melnyk would have to talk to them about (at the very least) allowing the Sens to play there. I can't blame Melnyk for saying all this. As I mentioned, he's saying what he has to say to right now. But I'm not worried too much about his ability to cooperate with another group in regards to moving the Sens to LeBreton Flats.
Melnyk went on to say that he would develop a new arena in Kanata if need be. But with the LRT not moving out that way until stage three, and the possibility of another "events centre" being located centrally, this seems very unlikely. In another interview, he said that moving to LeBreton Flats was the key to the Senators' success in the future. So clearly most of his comments about building in Kanata are just to keep focus on him being in control and not letting anything interfere with his team's bid.
Overall there's not much to take away from Melnyk's comments, other than the fact that he is going out of his way to make everyone believe that there is no way the Sens will play downtown unless his team wins the bid. We all know the circumstances would change if that were not the case.
Bryan Murray's future with the Senators
Among Melnyk's many comments in his TSN 1200 interview, he also talked about General Manager Bryan Murray's future with the Sens. Murray's contact will end with this season, and it's widely speculated that this will be his last season as GM. Murray and Melnyk are scheduled to discuss this in more detail later this month, and Melnyk expects them to have a decision made in time for the NHL Draft.
Last night, Bryan Murray told TSN's Tessa Bonhomme that he is going to consult with his doctors shortly and make a decision. He expects to be involved in the team somehow, whether it's in the role of a GM or something else, he's not too sure yet.
It sounds like Murray is also in the midst of succession planning. Which of course means that the next GM will likely be hired internally (Pierre Dorion). But is that the right move?
Many people, myself included, feel that a change in philosophy might not be a bad thing. I have a lot of respect for Bryan Murray, as I've outlined here many times. But since 2007 when he took over as GM, the Sens have only made it to second round of the playoffs once, and are currently on the fifth coach in that time period. Sure, they've made the playoffs six times in the past eight years, but that's five first-round exits. This team has been good at times, but not great. What's keeping them from getting to that next level? Maybe a change in overall management would find out.
Again, I have the utmost respect for Murray and everything he's done during his time here, and throughout his career, but hiring the next GM internally may not be the best route. I'm interested in seeing what a fresh perspective would bring to this team. And that comes from an external hire.
Trade Deadline approaching
As we pass the NHL All-Star Game, the natural progression of hockey discussion moves us into the NHL Trade Deadline. We're just a few weeks away, and of course the trade talk is heating up. So what are the Sens going to do?
Murray told Bonhomme on Thursday that he is talking to other GMs in the hopes of "addressing some needs" that he feels they have on the team (cough, defence, cough). But whether the Sens are buyers, sellers or staying put all depends on where management thinks they're going this season. Are they trying to make the playoffs, and therefore looking to add players in order to win now? Or are they beginning to accept their fate (more on that later) of not making the playoffs, and moving some assets to make the team better in the long-term?
If the goal is to address some of the team's needs, which is presumably defence, then bringing on a top-four defenceman should be a priority. But as I've mentioned before, they are not exactly on sale right now. And the Sens would have to give up something very valuable if they want to add a player who is going to make a difference on the blue line. So I'm going to bring up something that causes me physical pain, but... Will they look at trading Mike Hoffman?
The real answer is "not likely", but in reality they probably should. We've talked about it a few times here. The simple fact is that we have an issue on defence, and it's not getting better anytime soon. Erik Karlsson is the only legitimate top-four defenceman this team has. Marc Methot is not having a great year (although he probably will improve), Patrick Wiercioch is struggling to show what most of us believe(d) he is capable of. The same can be said for Cody Ceci. Jared Cowen is Jared Cowen. Must I go on?
I hate the idea of trading Hoffman just as much as you probably do, but he's one of our most valuable assets who would be on the trading block. He's also becoming on RFA at the end of this season, and if the team wants to afford a top-four defenceman (as we all know, they're a budget team), saving some money might make the trade more appealing.
If someone has to go, as much as I hate that it might be Hoffman, as long as we keep one of either him or Mark Stone, I will be a little happier. And between the two, I can see the Sens looking to move Hoffman first. Of course, all of this depends on where management thinks this team is going. Which brings me to my next point...
Will the Senators make the playoffs?
As of Thursday, the Sens sit five points outside of a playoff spot. In order to make the playoffs, they would have to go approximately 24-6 for the rest of the season. Given the way this team has played recently (and all season) I really don't see this happening. I'm not saying it's impossible. They were in a very similar position one year ago, but we all know that a run like we saw last year is very unlikely.
The Sens have an average shot differential of -5 per game this season, the worst penalty kill percentage in the league and second worst shot attempts differential (-285) in the league. The fact that they are only five points out of the playoffs is shocking, really. This is a bad team with a mediocre record. They've managed to win, or at least get a point, in games where they had no place even competing. For example: Generating only 14 shots in regulation against Florida. It may be time to face the facts, this team probably isn't making the playoffs.
At this point, I don't want the Sens to make the playoffs. In an absolute best-case scenario, they string together a couple of wins and squeak into a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season only to get knocked out in the first round. Sounds familiar doesn't it?
Making the playoffs tends to lead management to believe that there aren't many areas that need improvement on a team. That certainly is not the case with the Sens. Things need to change, and they need to change now. Not making the playoffs might be the wake-up call that management needs to see that.
I'm not saying they need to tank and go for Auston Matthews, but their record should reflect what they're capable of, and this team is not capable of making the playoffs.
Where do we go from here?
So if the Sens don't make the playoffs, which they probably won't, what's next? I realize that as I write this, the Sens are down 6-2 to the Edmonton Oilers (wait, make that 7-2), and everyone is hitting the panic button. But surely another "rebuild" cannot be in order already, can it?
Right now, it feels like half of our team belongs in the AHL, and some of our prospects in the AHL could probably step in and help clean things up. But questionable coaching decisions and line-up combinations are holding this team (and development system) back. Which is why, as I mentioned earlier, a change in management philosophy might be a good thing. Of course, a change like that usually comes with a change in coaching too. You see where I'm going here.
I don't think we need to clean house and rebuild the whole team (again). But I do think a change in coaching may be in order. With all due respect to Dave Cameron, it's hard to make sense of his decisions sometimes. Zack Smith is on the second line. Mark Borowiecki is still on the team. Shane Prince isn't getting nearly as much playing time as he deserves. No one can make sense of these decisions. And there are pieces of this team that have shown signs of being pretty good. I can't help but wonder what they would do under another coaching system.
Of course, changes need to be made on the roster too. Players like Jared Cowen, Mark Borowiecki and Chris Neil need to be moved in order to make room for prospects who deserve a chance in the NHL, and who might actually help improve the team. So while I don't think a rebuild is in order, I think we need to make a coaching change, dump some of the less effective players and bring up players like Matt Puempel and Tobias Lindberg more often to give them a chance at a roster spot.
Do we need to see big changes? No (not on the roster anyways). Do we need to see some changes? Of course. Whether or not that actually happens all depends on where management thinks this team is going.
Thanks for reading!