I’m thinking about the offseason today, despite the fact that the postseason is ongoing. In all honesty, I don’t really care that much about the playoffs when the Senators aren’t in them. Sure I’ll watch some of the games – particularly the series with heated rivalries – but at the moment I get more excited for upcoming Game of Thrones episodes than I do for the NHL’s Game of Cups.
So today my thoughts are about the Senators, and the bumpy road to the 2014-2015 season. I say "bumpy" because, given the state of the team and its finances (particularly the finances), it looks like there could be some tumultuous months ahead for the Senators franchise, and for the pitiful wretches that support it. Good players will leave, good players may come in, and somehow a (likely less talented) version of last year’s team is going to have to find a way to improve.
There’s a natural progression to the offseason, from looking back to looking forward. Today’s thoughts are a just bird’s eye view of the whole affair, and I’m sure each of them will be written about and discussed in far greater detail in the months ahead.
1. Season in Review: I have a tremendous fear that somewhere in Kanata Paul MacLean and Bryan Murray are hunched over a table littered with empty Tim Hortons coffee cups, trying to figure out how to fix the Senators’ deficiencies in leadership, compete level, and toughness.
The general impression that I got from end of season interviews with Murray and Eugene Melnyk was that the team was hoping to address perceived issues in some of these "intangible" areas. If that is actually how the team plans to move forward this offseason, I think we’re in a lot of trouble.
The 2013-2014 Senators didn’t suffer from a lack of intangibles. They suffered from bad coaching, poor discipline, inconsistent defence, and myriad other tangible issues. A lot of mistakes were made, both at the individual level and as a group, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned. Fortunately, there is a lot of information available about the mistakes that were made. I just hope that anyone on the team is paying attention to it.
Spend an evening on Twitter and you can find great information on all sorts of statistics that correlate with winning: shot location; possession; controlled zone entries; etc. Ary M’s excellent post yesterday showed how easy and intuitive some of these so-called "advanced" stats can be. Ary showed that the Senators have an easily-identifiable issue allowing too many shots in the immediate vicinity of the crease. I desperately hope that Paul MacLean spends more time in the offseason thinking about how to address that systemic issue rather than trying to figure out how to make Bobby Ryan play like Chris Neil.
2. The Draft: Draft speculation is usually one the great delights of the offseason, but not so this season for Senators fans with no first round draft pick to dream about. However, with all of the trade speculation surrounding the Senators – and Jason Spezza in particular – Senators fans might want to keep a vague eye on the scouting reports for a while yet.
Of course, a first round draft pick would be small consolation to Senators fans, given the very small likelihood that any player picked in this year’s draft ends up being a better NHL player than Spezza. Nevertheless, in the boring months ahead, this will be something to keep an eye on.
3. Trades: For me, this is going to be the worst part of the summer (aside from Eugene Melnyk interviews, because I die a bit more every time he shows up at a radio station). It looks an awful lot like there are some bad trades on the horizon.
I don’t love the idea of trading Jason Spezza, but I could live with it. There’s no question that such a trade would hurt in the short term, but that’s how investment works: you give up a short term asset in the hope of long term gain. I’m okay with investment, but it needs to be done right. My biggest concern is that the team has hurt the captain’s trade value by publicly questioning his leadership abilities and effectively announcing its intent to trade him.
Meanwhile, I’m worried that the organization is looking to sell pretty low on talented young players like Patrick Wiercioch (and maybe even Jared Cowen, who could hardly get much worse) and buy pretty high on a "hard" player like Chris Stewart. I can’t help but imagine Tim Murray rubbing his hands in unspeakably evil glee at the idea of pilfering our prospect cupboard in exchange for an overvalued veteran.
4. Free Agency: Ha!
5. Internal Replacements: With Eugene Melnyk unlikely to take advantage of Ottawa’s considerable cap space to bring in valuable free agents (or even retain our own), a lot of eyes will be turned to the Binghamton Senators, the most likely source of new blood in Ottawa next year (aside from any potential trades).
On that basis, we should all hope that Bingo can find a way to win tonight in a road elimination game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. It would be great if players like Mark Stone (for whom I have unreasonably high hopes), Jean-Gabriel Pageau (for whom I have some hope), and Mark Borowiecki (for whom I have almost no hope) could get some more valuable playoff experience. Binghamton’s 2011 Calder Cup run was unquestionably valuable to a then-sputtering Senators organization, and it would be nice to see something like that happen again.