Analyzing the Senators' 2011 draft

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Of course it's silly to "analyze" players who have not yet set foot on the ice as Ottawa Senators. Evaluating these selections is something we will only be capable of doing years down the road, when we've seen how their careers have gone. For now, we only know that Senators General Manager Bryan Murray and his staff liked the guys they drafted better than any of their other options.

Does that mean we can't do any analysis? Nope! In fact, looking at the decisions made in this draft, it appears what we're seeing is the culmination of a plan hatched back in the summer of 2007.

How did we get here?

In general, the accepted threshold for a successful draft is about 19%. This is the equivalent of one or two players drafted each year developing into full-time NHL players. The fact that such a low conversion rate is considered acceptable speaks volumes about just how hard it is to become an NHL player. There are leagues around the world littered with players who had the talent to succeed but lacked the mental fortitude or work ethic to succeed, or just got unlucky with injuries.

Because the chances of success are so tenuous, there is always a talent imbalance in the NHL. Teams exceeding the draft success threshold consistently generally enjoy long stretches of success, while teams unable to meet this success threshold generally struggle to compete unless they are able to acquire top-flight talent via free agency or trade. The structure of the NHL Draft, as in most sports leagues, seeks to offset this pattern by giving the worst teams the best opportunities to acquire new talent--parity across the league being the ultimate, if unachievable, goal.

During John Muckler's six-year stint at GM, the Senators had 43 draft selections. Of those, 7 developed into NHL players. Patrick Eaves did not develop into an NHL player for the Senators, so he cannot be counted towards the Senators' fortunes. Generously including Colin Greening because of his one-way contract means the Senators under Muckler had s a success rate of 13.9%, which is well below that 19% threshold. If Greening does not pan out, the number drops to 11%. However, if both Greening and Erik Condra earn full-time roles with the team, the final number rises to 16%--still below average.

The merits of Muckler's handling of the franchise are not being examined here, so that stat is not an indictment nor an endorsement of the former GM. It is simply a fact.

That success rate meant that Muckler's successor, current GM Bryan Murray, had no room for error when making changes to the team. He literally had no cushion to cover injuries or free agent busts. As we know, Murray's tenure has been far from error-free, despite the critical need to avoid mistakes while attempting to restock the team's depth.

And so, here we stand. Senate Reform is the result of failures by both men.

Where is here, anyway?

There aren't many things more frustrating than being the architect of your own destruction, and as we watched the Anaheim Ducks grind away the more skilled Senators in five games, it's easy to imagine Murray fuming as the foundation he previously laid put the screws to the team he was currently coaching.

It's also easy to imagine Murray making a mental catalog of the weaknesses exposed by the thrashing, and how to fix them. When Muckler was subsequently dismissed and Murray rose to the GM position, he had the opportunity to do just that.

Murray had already lost Zdeno Chara, and he knew he was liable to lose Wade Redden soon as well. Plus/minus leader Tom Preissing was going to leave via free agency. Andrej Meszaros would soon be a restricted free agent. That left him faced with a defensive corps of Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, and Joe Corvo. Corvo, of course, would request a trade the very next season.

Meanwhile, Muckler's big free agent signing, Martin Gerber, had yielded the job to talented but eccentric youngster Ray Emery--and Emery needed significant offseason surgery to his wrist.

Up front, Murray had one of the league's most potent lines in Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson. The second line was solid with Mike Fisher and Antione Vermette as strong counterpunchers.

It's no wonder, then, that Murray chose to build his team from the back end outwards.

Ascending to the role with less than a month to prepare, Murray had to trust Muckler's scouting team at the 2007 draft. But in 2008, he began to put his own stamp on the team:

His first two picks, Erik Karlsson and Patrick Weircioch, were puck moving defensemen, and he added two more, Filip Kuba and Alex Picard, via trade. The losses of Redden, Corvo, and Meszaros would be replaced.

2009 saw him continue to address the back end, as behemoth Jared Cowen was drafted and Antoine Vermette was traded for what turned out to be two goaltenders: Pascal Leclaire and Robin Lehner.

In 2010, Murray continued to add defense--still a need with the diminsihing play of Kuba and impending departure of RFA Chris Campoli--by adding David Rundblad via trade. He then spent the remainder of the draft on offense--Dany Heatley's loss needed to be addressed. Seeing that the play of his two current goaltenders, Leclaire and Brian Elliott, was not nearly the level he expected, Murray traded for Craig Anderson, whose play was a revelation.

To the chagrin of Senators fans, Murray has actively resisted adding forward depth through the draft. It was only when he was confident in his defensive and goaltending situations that he was willing to address the forward situation. This year, we saw that play out, as three first-round picks were used on fowards, and a former first-round pick, Nikita Filatov, was added as a fourth forward.

So while we can't say with any certainty that the players selected this year will be successful, it appears this draft is the continuation of an effort to rebuild the team from the goal outwards. Senators fans should consider such a heavy investment at the forward position a strong indication of the scouting staff's opinion of the team's future in goal and on defense.

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