Weekly Question: Sink or Swim

What kind of season are you wishing for in Ottawa?

Unpopular opinion: tanking is neat and teams should do it to their heart’s content. While I wouldn’t make a habit of trading the Erik Karlssons and Mark Stones of the world, I enjoy me a good ol’ fashioned tank. And so I preface this week’s question in saying that I will embrace a run for the 2021 draft lottery with open arms. If you can’t legitimately compete for the Stanley Cup then why not aim for first overall pick, right?

Well, as many of you will point out, there are plenty of reasons NOT to tank. So this week, let’s weigh out the virtues of having a competitive Senators team this season versus an abysmal record in 2021. Because, ultimately, every fan experiences the game uniquely and fandom, while it brings us together, also has a subjective and personal nature.

If you’ve followed our Top-25 Under 25 coverage then you know that the Senators have an enviable pool of youngsters and I spend as much time, if not more, getting stoked about Ottawa’s future as the next fan. We can’t, however, disregard the fact that this pool looks completely different without the unthinkable departures of some of the Senator’s most beloved former players. You simply don’t develop this kind of prospect pool without some serious sacrifice. Some could even argue that therein lies the futility of tanking when a team could just as easily hang on to its existing talent and compete immediately. We must consider many factors, though, including (sigh) finances.

And seeing as how we can’t change the past, and given our present, what kind of future do you hope for in Ottawa? Has the time come to stop the bleeding or do we squeeze out a few more drops before reaching for the tourniquet? Nate did a solid assessment of the state of the Senator’s rebuild in a recent article that provided an estimate of our current place on the trajectory towards Unparalleled Success. Assuming, as Nate suggested, that we find ourselves just past the midway mark, have you had enough of the losing or have you developed an immunity?

Somewhere along the way, the accumulation of assets need give way, either through impatience or opportunity, to the investment of capital. As we’ve seen through the acquisitions of Matt Murray, Evgeni Dadonov, and Alex Galchenyuk, the financial realties of professional sports during the COVID-19 pandemic (and the resulting flat salary cap) have created an uncommon opportunity for the Senators to participate in a market from which they may traditionally have found themselves excluded. To what extent would you like to see Pierre Dorion swing for fences here? Should he continue to sign free agents otherwise unavailable in a typical offseason? Should he package up some of the Senators’ pick- and prospect-capital for an established star or two? Or should the organization stay the course for one more season: selling assets at the deadline and stockpiling picks for one more big draft-day haul to completely round out this current pool of prospects? Do you trust Dorion will make the right call here? Where do you draw the line between opportunism and impatience?

As we’ve seen both with the Top-25 Under 25 series and with Trevor’s Long-Term Outlook series, the Senators have an embarrassment of young talent. Do you believe that Ottawa has their next franchise goaltender among the six currently in the system? Assuming all of Thomas Chabot, Erik Brännström, and Jake Sanderson reach their full potential, does Ottawa have one more wildcard top four defender in the system? How many bonafide elite forwards will Ottawa need to round out a top-six projected to include Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, and Drake Batherson among others? Or can Ottawa fill all of these roles without one more season in the tank to establish prime draft position?

Reminiscing about the springs of 2013, 2015, and 2017, it’s easy to get excited about the potential of watching a young Senators team squeeze its way into the wildcard picture. Organizations love to emphasize the value of a winning culture. Players, believe it or not, play the game to win. And teams in transition, like Ottawa now, have historically found ways to surpass the expectations of pundits by virtue of being such unknown commodities. In the salary cap era, windows of contention grow shorter all the time. Of course, pulling the trigger too soon also lends itself to the risk of becoming the next Edmonton, Buffalo, or Florida. At the risk of sounding dramatic, the Ottawa Senators now walk the razor’s edge between having a deep prospect pool and parlaying that into a contending NHL playoff team. Has the iron grown hot enough to strike?

As always, I don’t pretend to have the answers. Maybe I want to see the team tank due to my own cowardice and trepidation. Maybe fortune favours the bold in this scenario. And, ultimately, a very small group of individuals determine what happens next anyway. All the same, and in the spirit of the unique nature of sports fandom, what kind of season are you wishing for in Ottawa?

What kind of seeing are you wishing for in 2021?

One more season of tanking139
A competitive season125

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