Senators Winners and Losers post-Free Agency
Now that the dust has settled, let's look at who came out ahead and behind this weekend.
In the wake of the most eventful day in Senators history, it's time for some snap judgments. Everyone knows an instant opinion is always the right one, so it's not worth waiting any longer to look at the new Ottawa Senators. From where we sit today, here's who should be happy and who should be pissed.
Losers: Ottawa Senators fans
There's no getting around it: The stunning abruptness with which the Daniel Alfredsson-Ottawa Senators marriage ended significantly added to the emotional trauma it delivered. That trauma was multiplied thanks to the euphoria of his announcement that he'd be returning for another season just a week before. It was then amplified by the assumption that that season would be with Ottawa. Finding out that wouldn't be the case was like having the world drop from underneath you, or being told, "Not so fast." Finding out the reasons it wouldn't be the case was like kicking a man when he was down.
Winners: Ottawa Senators fans
On the other hand, the team replaced a 40-year-old Alfie with a 26-year-old Bobby Ryan, which, in terms of sheer point production, is an upgrade. The loss of Alfredsson hurts because of what he meant to the team, city, and fans, and his intangibles can't be replaced. However, in terms of on-ice talent, the Senators are a better team than they were on July 4th. They're more likely to beat a second-round opponent with this current roster than last year's. The team's success is not necessarily tied to Alfie, and it looks poised for more--and greater--success in the near future.
Loser: Jim O`Brien
The man affectionately known as JOB might be out of one starting this year. The fourth-line center spot might be the most contested in what is now a highly-competitive bottom six. The additions of Ryan and Clarke MacArthur are likely to flood the bottom six with what was top-six talent last year. Guys like Colin Greening (who played on the first line with Jason Spezza two years ago, and wherever needed last year) and Cory Conacher (who played in Guillaume Latendresse's spot when he was scratched) are now likely to move into permanent third-line roles. Mika Zibanejad could anchor them from the center position, which would mean O'Brien would be getting squeezed from above via Z. Smith, and below via Jean-Gabriel Pageau. O'Brien was already unable to hold off Pageau last year.
Winner: Kyle Turris
Probably the biggest winner in this whole ordeal is Kyle Turris. Turris was setting up for a monster season in the second-line center role behind Jason Spezza last year: In the eight game Spezza skated, Turris had 8P (6G, 2A), three multi-point games, and a faceoff win percentage of 48. In the playoffs, after spending a season taking faceoffs as a top center, Turris was winning 55.6% of the faceoffs he took with Spezza in the lineup. That should translate into better numbers next season, and his already-gaudy point totals will likely be bolstered thanks to the addition of MacArthur, who is an upgrade over Latendresse in every aspect of the game. Who will be on Turris' right wing has yet to be determined--it could be Zibanejad, Conacher, or someone like Mark Stone. Either way, Turris, who was already having a good season last year, approaches this year with a year of experience against top competition, upgraded linemates, an offseason to train, and finally a training camp to actually work on things like timing, schemes, and chemistry. Watch out.
Loser: Craig Anderson
So far, the Senators have made no moves to improve their defense. Last season, the Senators were 23rd overall in the league for shots against, with an average of 31.3 per game. The year before, they were 29th, with an average of 32 shots allowed per game. It's a good thing Anderson likes a high workload because he's going to see a lot of rubber again this year. A drop in his stats from this year is inevitable, and this will almost certainly lead to criticism and calls for Robin Lehner to take over. Statistically speaking, Anderson is being set up to fail.
Winner: Patrick Wiercioch
On the other hand, the Senators have made no moves to improve their defense. That would seem to imply that the fourth defenseman spot, behind Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, and Jared Cowen, is Wiercioch's to lose. Wiercioch, who recovered from a career-threatening injury (a puck to the throat) through a much-talked-about offseason commitment to strength training with best friend Turris, had a very strong rookie campaign. He was second in rookie defensemen scoring behind the Edmonton Oilers' Justin Schultz with 19P (5G, 14A) in 42 games to Schultz's 27P (8G, 19A) in 48. Wiercioch was a plus-9 to Schultz's minus-17, and skated only 15:41 on average per game to Schultz's 21:26. Wiercioch was sheltered by head coach Paul MacLean and scratched for most of the playoffs (he only played a minute in his lone appearance before suffering an injury), but another strong offseason could put him in position to be a more trusted defenseman. So far, it looks like he'll get that chance.
Loser: Bobby Ryan
Unlike Clarke MacArthur, who simply has to show up on a nightly basis to make fans forget Latendresse, Ryan will face tremendous expectations from the minute the puck drops next season. Fair or not, Ryan will be considered Alfredsson's replacement. He'll be placed on the Senators' top line, and expected to produce surrounded by players like Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, and Erik Karlsson. Ryan says he's prepared for the scrutiny, but he has no idea what he's in for. And though Ottawa's media aren't as caustic as Toronto's or Montreal's, it wasn't long ago that they turned on Dany Heatley for posting a 39-33-72 line. Heatley stopped speaking to the media that season, further fueling criticism; that criticism reached fever pitch when news broke that Heatley had requested a trade in the ensuing offseason. Ryan doesn't know it yet, but if he's not a 50-goal savior, he's dog meat. If he puts up two goals and two assists in seven playoff games, as he did this season, the city will likely suffer a pitchfork and torch shortage. No pressure, though.
Winner: Jared Cowen
Lost in all the turmoil was that Jared Cowen is up for a new contract. He is now an RFA, per Bruce Garrioch:
League lists Jared Cowen as RFA. Confirmed with team and @RickJValette Cowen has RFA status. #Sens— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) July 6, 2013
How did this happen? It's not a matter of games played this time, but of Cowen's age. Despite being drafted in 2009, when he was 18, Cowen did not sign his ELC until he was 19, in March of 2010. (Cowen's birthday is January 25th, 1991.) Under the CBA, players aged 19 at the time of signing can only have their contract slide one time. Because Cowen's contract was signed in the 2009-10 season (March 2010, remember), it counted towards the 2009-10 season. The contract slid for that season, meaning that it could not slide again. The NHL and NHLPA agreed that Cowen's ELC covered the 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2013 seasons--despite not playing any NHL games in 2010-11, Cowen's contract could not slide again.
Cowen was tendered a qualifying offer, so the Senators do own his RFA rights. Fortunately for the team, Cowen's limited playing time this year should keep his contract numbers reasonable this time around. Cowen does not have a large body of work to draw on for large salary demands. It's the perfect opportunity to lock up a young player on a reasonable deal, similar to what the New York Islanders did recently with Travis Hamonic--but for less money.
Loser: Jakob Silfverberg
Poor kid. Does everything the Senators ask of him just to get traded. Who knew the foreshadowing this humorous event actually contained:
Jakob, you are the odd man out. It sucks to see such an exciting young prospect get moved before he even had a chance to develop, but that's the name of the game sometimes. A player like Stephane Da Costa wasn't going to bring back a player like Bobby Ryan, and the Senators needed a player like Bobby Ryan. Silfverberg demonstrated his value and then got moved for demonstrating his value. Talk about a catch-22.
Winner: Milan Michalek
Since the departure of Heatley, Michalek has been looked to as the goal-scorer in Ottawa. Who could forget the Sun's "Dany Who?" headline during Michalek's early success here? That euphoria quickly faded, and now Michalek, at the age of 28, is regarded by fans as a player with two bad knees who is completely incapable of staying healthy or generating his own offense. His 35-goal season is dismissed as a fluke, and his ability to hit 30 goals is still debated. His two-way abilities and outstanding penalty-kill work fall by the wayside in these conversations.
Regardless, Michalek is in the last year of a six-year deal paying him $4.333M per season. With the addition of Ryan, he has now become a complementary piece on the top line. A player "dependent on others for offense" suddenly gets a chance to take pucks from Spezza, Ryan, and Karlsson. He could probably score 30 goals just by keeping his stick on the ice this year. Much like Filip Kuba did after having a good year alongside Erik Karlsson, Michalek will be in good position to get paid well if he hits the UFA market after this season. It's likely his stats are going to reflect the talent surrounding him, and that should translate into a quality paycheck no matter where he signs.
Ultimately, there are more winners than losers here. Guys like Spezza and Karlsson will obviously benefit from the addition of Ryan, and someone like Lehner is a winner thanks to having locked up the backup job through his play the past season. MacLean is a winner by virtue of getting an even more talented roster to coach. It's harder to find losers after this weekend because no matter how you slice it, as a team, the Ottawa Senators are better today than they were before the events of this weekend. The losers are the guys with increased expectations or the ones feeling pressure to keep their jobs, and there's not too many of those on what seems like a pretty solidified roster--and even that generates its own winner, as it gives the Senators more time to develop their prospects at the right pace. Drafted players are more likely to join the team as forged hockey players rather than kids needing to add muscle. With an objective eye, it's hard not to see a bright side to the moves that were made this year.