The San Francisco Giants, meanwhile, made the worst mistake a GM can make after winning the World Series -- they're overpaying one of the guys who got them there just because he got them there. After pulling a left-for-dead Huff off the scrap pile last offseason and getting far more than they paid for from him in 2010, the Giants reupped Huff for two years and a vesting option at more than twice the annual salary they gave him on the just-expired one-year deal.
Sound familiar? It should. It's the same lock up the guys who got you there trap that the Ottawa Senators fell into following their 2007 Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Over the next two seasons, players like Heatley, Spezza, Kelly, Fisher, Neil and Ray Emery were rewarded with new contracts and raises. At the time, we didn't know any better. The salary cap was still a new entity. Not enough time had passed for us to determine what successful building models were. And to be brutally honest, no one in Ottawa cared. All we knew was that all of our previous playoffs defeats were a thing of the past. The Sens had finally gotten over the hump. We didn't think that Bryan Murray was mismanaging the cap, he was just locking up the "core" of the team. How were we supposed to realize that our time as a Stanley Cup contender would be cut so short?
Fast forward to today. Ottawa are losers of six of the past seven games. As the losses continue to mount, my faith in the organization and its core continues to wane. For the past three years, this team has been afforded every opportunity to right the ship and as it currently stands, the story is the same: the offence is too inconsistent and can't out-produce their contract value; each defenceman too one-dimensional; and the goaltending... will the goaltending problem ever get resolved?
Under Murray's watch, we've already endured the coaching firings of Craig Hartsburg, John Paddock and Eli Wilson. And now that the Senators are struggling to find some consistency under Cory Clouston, fans are starting to question his decisions. Like a single professional hockey player living in Ottawa, Clouston has juggled line combinations like they're phone numbers. The rate at which he has moved guys around has become comical but I don't necessarily fault him for being guilty of micro-managing this team. The question needs to be addressed: when is it appropriate to start looking at the personnel of a team that has won 2 playoff games in the past three seasons?
As I alluded to in an article this morning, the Toronto Star did the due diligence - only 54 teams have made the playoffs in the past 15 years once they're outside the playoff picture by American Thanksgiving. With 21 points in 23 games, Ottawa currently resides in 10th spot in the East. If this was a young team that was trying to find its way and learn the ropes, I wouldn't be concerned. But this is the third oldest team in the NHL. Teams of this age shouldn't be bubble playoff teams. A playoff spot, to borrow a line from Stevie Wonder, should be signed, sealed and delivered. (Note: Ironically, as of today, of the seven oldest teams in the NHL, only two are currently in a playoff position - Phoenix and Detroit.)
Bryan Murray supporters will maintain that he has done a good job replenishing the farm system and prospect cupboard. Pundits will argue that every trade that he has made that involved a NHL-calibre player, he has lost. When Erik Karlsson - the closest to a sure prospect that Ottawa has - was scratched for two games this week, it hit home. If he's not ready to be the difference maker that this team needs in his second professional season, how can one reasonably assume that the likes of Bobby Butler, Jared Cowen, Patrick Wiercioch, Eric Gryba, David Rundblad and Robin Lehner will be able to big contributions in the next year or two?
With the trade deadline moves and veteran free agent signings that Ottawa has made over the past three years, I just feel like Ottawa's veteran core has been afforded every opportunity to get back to that 2007 level and it just hasn't worked out. With the way that the salary cap system is structured, Ottawa should be trying to add as many young pieces to the aforementioned prospect pool to augment its future. With a veteran laden lineup and approximately $16-million coming off of the books this on July 1st, the next few months are going to quickly decide how this franchise .
Tough decisions have to be made and they're ones that I no longer entrust to Bryan or Tim Murray (the likely incumbent GM once Bryan steps down). Given Bryan's contract status, the bias that he developed for these players when he coached them and his perpetual ability to make reactive transactions, I no longer have the faith in the current brain trust to do the right thing. Even when this team is winning and things are going well, most fans that I know are guilty of waiting for the other shoe to drop. We've grown wary of these guys.
My philosophy has always been that to build a hockey team through the draft into a Stanley contender and then wait for the one year when you get hot at the right time and everything falls in your favor. As such, I'd prefer to see a candidate who has had experience working in the modern cap era. Someone who has been involved with the process of taking a veteran team and turning things around through their strong player development and amateur scouting. Someone who has been involved in some tough decisions and most importantly, someone who has no loyalty to this current group.
My suggestion is for The Euge to avoid a name candidate. To avoid that old boys network that has characterized the NHL hierarchy. (Note: Although with the way that Stephen Walkom called yesterday's Penguins game, maybe having Colin Campbell on our side wouldn't be such a bad idea.) I'd suggest a guy like Craig Billington, the Vice President of Hockey Operations and Assistant General Manager of the Colorado Avalanche. According to the Avalanche's website, Billington works closely with GM Sherman in running the day-to-day operations of the franchise. The London, Ontario native has been a part of the Avalanche front office for the past six years, starting as the club’s goaltending consultant before being named Director of Player Development. He added the title of vice president in the summer of 2008. In his previous role, the former Avalanche goaltender oversaw each of the major junior, college and minor league prospects throughout the organization.
Since the Joe Sakic era came to a conclusion, the Avalanche have: drafted well; made some free agent signings - both of the bargain and high-profile variety; and made some tough decisions on trades. Whether it was recognizing an expensive mistake in Ryan Smyth or moving an impending free with exorbitant salary demands in Wojtek Wolski for a controllable but underachieving asset in Peter Mueller, the Avalanche organization has never been afraid to roll the dice. And really, it's just an added bonus that Billington played for the Senators and is familiar with the city.