Memo to Eugene Melnyk: The Time to Spend is Now
While Ottawa's top players are playing fantastic hockey right now, the teams depth has not been good at all. Eugene Melnyk needs to open up his check book and take on some salaries if they want to make a push this year.
It is no secret that the Senators are a budget team. Ottawa has not spent to the cap since 2009-10, and ever since then they have been hovering around ~$10 million in cap space. While they are unable to frivolously spend money, owner Eugene Melnyk has said that the team will spend when the time is right. I can remember him saying that several years ago, and that always had me thinking: when is it the right time?
I have to say that the 2015-16 season represents the perfect time for Melnyk to open up his check book and take on some contracts, and here are a few reasons why:
1. Craig Anderson is not getting younger
I had mentioned this point in the summer, and yes, he is still getting older by the day. Anderson has been stellar once again, posting a .917 SV%. At the age of 34, Ottawa has to capitalize while they still have a solid number one goalie. Behind him, there is a lot of uncertainty. Andrew Hammond is 27 and he's more likely to be a backup or a 1B type goalie, Matt O'Connor has been terrible to begin his pro career, Chris Driedger is a total wildcard, and Marcus Hogberg is still playing in the SHL.
Ottawa doesn't have an immediate replacement for Anderson, and nobody knows when his play will begin to deteriorate. While the core of the team is very young, Ottawa's window may not be open very long if Anderson regresses like most goalies do.
2. The depth is a trainwreck
Ottawa's top players have been sensational this year. Despite winning two Norris Trophies already, Erik Karlsson is having a career year while having the 4th most points in the league. Mike Hoffman is on pace for 50 goals in just 78 games, Mark Stone is on pace for 77 points, Kyle Turris is on pace for 69, and Bobby Ryan is on pace for 82. Those five players can legitimately contend with any other team, as they all sit in the top 30 in NHL scoring. If the "HST" line gets reunited you could make the argument that it is a top line in the league.
While those five players (plus Mika Zibanejad sort of) have been fantastic, the rest of the bunch has not been very good. Take a look at the drop-off in point production after Zibanejad:
The team is desperately missing the forgotten man Clarke MacArthur. Jean-Gabriel Pageau is a good enough third line centre, and I like his play. Meanwhile, Shane Prince can also be a quality player, but he can't be the only winger that is going to be relied on to score. On good teams, players like Zack Smith, Chris Neil, Colin Greening, and Alex Chiasson probably wouldn't be in the lineup, and that's a problem for Ottawa.
The defence has been bad as well, with Jared Cowen and Mark Borowiecki showing their warts every game, plus Cody Ceci has yet to take a positive step forward and Patrick Wiercioch is back in the dog house (deservedly or not). Furthermore, Ottawa has been getting a few injuries recently, which they desperately cannot afford. If Kyle Turris had been badly hurt on Saturday then the Senators would have been in big trouble.
So what can fix the depth issue? Making a few trades and increasing the budget a bit. There are always forwards around the league that are available, and they can be had for just a draft pick. At forward, Ottawa needs a third line winger and perhaps even another one for the fourth line. Bryan Murray does not need to empty the farm to acquire a forward. But on defence, it could be more tricky. Still though, Murray definitely needs to address the blue line as the depth is terrible.
I would only trust the first pairing of Karlsson and Marc Methot right now, and perhaps Chris Wideman. Good teams have good depth, which is something that Ottawa does not have.
3. The East is not great right now
The Eastern Conference is wide open right now, and Ottawa could make a run if they acquire some extra pieces. They have proven that they can beat the Montreal Canadiens, the Tampa Bay Lightning have struggled mightily so far, the New York Rangers are not quite as good as their record indicates, and the Washington Capitals may actually be a very tough opponent. I don't like Ottawa's chances against those teams, but I may if a few trades are made to improve the team.
It's not as if they are having to face the Chicago Blackhawks in their division, so it's not impossible to get on a run in this conference. With the team assembled right now, they will not win a playoff round. But things can change quickly if Bryan Murray is able to make the team better.
4. When is there a better time?
If the time to spend is not now, then I am not convinced that Melnyk will ever spend more than he is right now. All signs point to the team being on the cusp of contention, but there are still major holes. The teams defensive play has been amongst the leagues worst, but I think that's fixable with a few shrewd depth moves. I don't see how it wouldn't be a good time to spend whilst having an extremely good young core but little help outside of them.
Perhaps the team will make some moves in the off-season, but they would be wasting an opportunity to make a run this year. I understand that the budget may be increasing next year because of Mike Hoffman being due for a huge pay raise and Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch getting more money, but if the team wants to win then they cannot keep the status quo. I am getting tired of waiting for moves to be made, and it is not as if a massive $10 million price tag has to come onto the budget. We have been waiting years for this team to take a step forward, and the time is now.
So let's see those dollar signs, Uncle Euge. I want to see some trades this year that make this team better.