In his most recent article for The Hockey News, Adam Proteau posed a question or two that each of the NHL’s 30 organizations will have to answer during the 2011-12 campaign.
Some questions are fair. Some are crafted with the intent to spur laughter. Others, like the one directed to the Ottawa Senators, is emblematic of the Toronto media’s fascination with Daniel Alfredsson’s future in a Senators jersey.
Can the rebuilding Sens really expect to challenge for a playoff spot with a second line that would be stellar if it were in the American League? If not, can Daniel Alfredsson maintain his always-classy veneer or instead look to be moved late in the year for a Ray Bourque-like shot at a championship?
Umm... seriously? Playoffs!??! Trading Alfie? For reals?
Not to begrudge Proteau, but anyone who has a thumb on the pulse of the Senators knows that: a) management and ownership have reiterated that the captain will not be traded; and b) this team seems prepared to give a number of players who struggled last season every opportunity to develop into marketable assets.
It’s somewhat of a unique opportunity that Ottawa has. Unlike the situations in Florida, Calgary or Columbus, the organization is not concerned with generating fan interest in a non-traditional hockey market. Nor is it interested in some feigned attempt to push for the 8th overall playoff seed. Nor is the job security of its hockey ops people influencing its player personnel decisions. Head coach Paul MacLean was brought in from the vaunted Detroit Red Wings and general manager Bryan Murray signed a 3-year contract extension in April. With Eugene Melnyk having bought into the philosophy of “rebuilding the right way”, Ottawa can afford to give players like Nikita Filatov and Peter Regin extended opportunities without having to worry too much about how it may affect the win column in the interim.
I assumed that this was common sensaren’te but judging from another one of Proteau’s offseason articles entitled, “The NHL’s Five Least Improved Teams”, I’m hopeful that other Senators fans won't echo Adam’s sentiment...
Speaking of total disasters, have you seen what currently projects to be Ottawa’s second forward line? Its 2011 first round draft pick Mika Zibanejad centering Nick Foligno and Bobby Butler. I’m surprised schlock movie director Michael Bay isn’t lobbying to film that trio.
Then there’s the Senators’ defense, which is comprised of two slightly mobile turnstiles (Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba), a 21-year-old up-and-comer in Erik Karlsson, and a depreciating asset named Chris Phillips.
Given that information, it is nothing short of baffling to think of what GM Bryan Murray did this summer. He signed Zenon Konopka to toughen up Ottawa’s fourth line when the team already had a tough guy in Chris Neil. And he signed Alex Auld to back up Craig Anderson in net. This is akin to someone who is burdened with a Jimmy Durante schnozz opting for laser eye surgery and a pedicure. See you at the draft lottery, Sens fans.
In watching yesterday’s Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and then the Toronto Blue Jays game that followed last night, Rogers’ play-by-play man Buck Martinez alluded to an interesting Pat Gillick anecdote about how to build championship teams. To win championships, you need great players.
Its premise is so simple but it’s a concept that is so often lost.
In the NHL, how does one acquire great players?
Are they found on July 1st when the NHL free agency period opens?
No. (Shhhh! Don't tell the Rangers!)
Are they acquired via trade?
Great talent is drafted and therein lies the duality of Ottawa’s situation. They get criticized for eschewing a shitty free agent market; preferring instead to favour internal player development and give themselves better odds of drafting a high-impact player in next year’s NHL Entry Draft. And it’s this kind of big picture, savvy asset management philosophy that should be applauded. Not criticized.