A few weeks ago I thought about a concept---what if I took a bunch of regrettable moves the Senators made over the past several years and pretended like they didn't happen? What would the current Senators lineup look like? In this alternate universe, everything is of course perfect, which is the point.
This exercise isn't meant to lambast Senators management, because I think we have done a fair share of that. In fact, of the seven moves listed, five of them I agreed with at the time. Many of the moves made sense, but looking back they clearly did not work for various reasons.
Now, I am not going to pretend like this team should actually be the current lineup, since every move that didn't happen would have had a domino effect on so many other things, plus the team would be much too expensive for Eugene Melnyk's pockets, and even for the cap.
However, if we took out a bunch of bad moves from the past decade, what players would conceivably still be on the roster? The end result was quite surprising. So let's do some revisionist history and undo seven moves.
Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher and a 4th
When Ottawa was heading into the playoffs in 2013, they had an elite veteran starting goaltender, a goalie of the future, and a tweener 26 year old who had yet to completely prove himself. Trading Bishop was the obvious choice, and I don't remember a single person saying they should keep him. There was a case to be made that Anderson should have been traded, but they weren't going to trade him in the middle of a playoff push.
The Senators needed scoring, and Conacher looked like a great acquisition to play on the second line. Three years later, and the deal is probably the best Steve Yzerman will ever make. Bishop is a legitimate top 5-10 goalie in the league who has a .922 SV% with the Lightning, while Conacher is playing in Bern (and leading the team in points by a mile). Hindsight is always 20/20, but this one looks really bad on the Senators, especially since Anderson is getting up there in age.
Bishop's play wouldn't be a massive upgrade over Anderson right now (although it would help), but he's also five years younger, so that would put a lot less pressure on the team to find an eventual replacement.
Letting Zdeno Chara walk
When GM John Muckler had Chara and Wade Redden as free agents in 2006, everybody knew they could only keep one. Whoever was going to agree on a contract first was going to stay essentially, and it seems that Redden was more willing to stay. Apparently Chara wanted to walk anyway, so perhaps there is no scenario in which he stays in Ottawa.
However, can you imagine how different the teams history would have been? They may have won the Cup in 2007, plus even in 2016 he would be a big upgrade on the first or second pairing. He was a top 3-5 defenseman in the NHL for years in Boston, and he was a player that was sorely missed before Erik Karlsson came onto the scene. Having him for this season wouldn't be as big of an upgrade as it would be 10 years ago, but a top-four of Karlsson, Chara, Phaneuf, and Methot would still be very good.
It's hard to entirely fault Muckler if Chara didn't negotiate much, but if he actually did value Redden more, then that was some bad asset evaluation. Chara could've made Ottawa's defense go from bad to great.
Marian Hossa and Greg de Vries for Dany Heatley
This was another move that seemed great at the time---and even two years after. Heatley was a part of one of the best lines in the league with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, and he scored 50 goals each season. Hossa was good in Atlanta as well, putting up 92 and 100 points in his first two seasons. But Heatley seemed to be the better fit, and even in a down-year in 2007-08, he still had 82 points in 71 games.
Ever since those first two or three years though, Hossa has been light years better than Heatley, and that is mostly due to the fact that Hossa is still playing in the league. Since 2012-13, Heatley has a measly 49 points, whereas Hossa has put up 182. Much like Chara, imagine how much better Ottawa would have been in the post-2007 years? Perhaps he wouldn't have had as big of an impact that Heatley did in his first two seasons, but Hossa's career production has been remarkably steady, as he has averaged 66 points in his Chicago tenure. It sure would be nice to have a potential Hall of Fame player who can still contribute on the right wing this season.
Jason Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson for Alex Chiasson, Nick Paul, Alex Guptill, and a 2nd
Let's just pretend this one never happened. At the time of the Spezza rumours, I was completely on board with trading him, despite the fact that I had loved him for years. He was on the wrong side of 30, seemed to be declining, and his upcoming contract in a years time was going to be too expensive (and ended up being $7.5 million). He still had a year left on his contract, so the thought was that the Senators would be able to get a decent package back.
In the end though, it's remarkable that they couldn't even get a first round pick in the deal. Chiasson was the main part of the deal, but his tenure in Ottawa has been forgettable, with just 39 points in 144 games. Nick Paul may be a decent third line player, but he doesn't have a high ceiling. The 2nd round pick Gabriel Gagne still has time to figure it out, although a 36 points in 42 games as a 19-year old (turning 20) in the QMJHL isn't anything too impressive.
If we're being honest, there was no way that Spezza could stay here because of his injury concerns, his high salary, and his age. But he's still a good player in Dallas, and having him on the team would make the Senators much better. Kyle Turris as a second line centre would be such a luxury as well. I could stomach Spezza leaving, but the fact that the return turned out so terrible hurts quite a bit.
Shane Prince for a 3rd
Not everyone hated this trade, although I did. I just found it as so unnecessary, since it's not as if they needed to get rid of Prince, plus his value clearly wasn't very high in the market. Ottawa's system isn't exactly loaded, and the left-side looks a lot thinner right now, especially with Milan Michalek gone too.
I'll try to move on from this and it's not the end of the world, but I am certain that the team would be better with Prince in the lineup, even if it is in the bottom six. This probably won't be as regretful as some of the other trades, but I can see Prince being a productive ~40 point player.
Letting Erik Condra walk
Condra was let go because Ottawa didn't want to give term to a bottom six player while they wanted to give chances to players like Shane Prince and Matt Puempel...oops. Yes, he's still being scratched ocassionally in Tampa Bay, but he could certainly be used in Ottawa considering that the bottom six depth has been an issue the entire season.
I love what Condra can bring with his defensive-first play and his solid penalty killing, but I'm not going to say that losing him was horrendous. It was ill-advised since his salary is a mere $1.25 million, but it isn't a fireable offense to let him walk. But in a year when Alex Chiasson is playing on the second line, don't you wish we had a consistent 3rd/4th liner like Condra on the right side? Along with trading Prince, this was the only other move that I did not like at the time (and still do not like). It's funny how if you simplify things, I didn't want to see Condra go, but was fine with star centre Jason Spezza moving on.
Brian Elliott for Craig Anderson
Woah woah woah, hear me out before you throw me in the Rideau Canal. Anderson has been the best goaltender Ottawa has ever had, unless you count 2/3rds of a season from Dominik Hasek. He has given the team a chance to win ever since he got here. However, when Ottawa traded for him in 2010-11, they were in 2nd last place and were "fighting" for the last spot overall with Edmonton.
But after the Anderson trade, the Senators played fantastic hockey with a 14-9-1 record thanks to his .939 SV% in 18 games. Without that stretch from Anderson, the Senators surely would have finished 3rd last, and probably even 2nd last since they would have only needed three fewer wins to "pass" Colorado in the standings.
So what would have happened in this alternate universe? The Senators would have taken Gabriel Landeskog as they seemed to adore him (and rightfully so). He has been fantastic for the Avalanche, as he has been their captain for four seasons now, and averages 57 points a year. Mika Zibanejad is getting better every season, but Landeskog has the higher ceiling and most of us would take the latter.
The thing is, this sort of move would only work if all the other hypothetical moves don't happen either. For instance, if Bishop is still traded, then not trading for Anderson would have backfired because then Ottawa would have no good goalie. Also, if Ottawa still had Spezza, then not having Zibanejad would be no big deal. Landeskog is basically a Swedish Mark Stone, so could you imagine having two of him? Plus, Ottawa would maintain the status quo with the number of Swedish players.
This isn't a huge "ouch, that hurts" moment, but if Ottawa was able to keep Bishop and Spezza while drafting Landeskog instead of Zibanejad, they'd be in a much better position. It's hard to complain about a trade that netted a franchise goaltender, but it'd be interesting to see what would've happened without Anderson.
So after all that, what would the lineup look like?
That's a legitimate contender in my eyes, even if they might be a step below a few teams. They have star players, the 3rd and 4th lines can score, and the defense has few holes. Like I said before, there is no way this team would be able to exist, simply because of how much money all the players would be making. Still though, there are a few moves that are quite regrettable. That doesn't mean that every move has been bad, because just imagine if the Kyle Turris trade had never gone through.
It's also tough to project this as the exact roster, since if Hossa had stayed, then Michalek would have never been a Senator. He was involved in the Dion Phaneuf trade, so perhaps Phaneuf would not be a Senator either. However, Michalek was only involved to make the dollars cancel, so I kept Phaneuf on the hypothetical roster.
It's interesting to dream about this, because in this alternate universe, the Senators would probably be a beast in the East. Hopefully this doesn't get you more depressed about the Senators than you already are.
Are there any other moves that you would like to do-over?