Bryan Murray has been around this game long enough to understand how to approach and diffuse a situation, and in consideration of the public flack the Senators have received in the wake of Eugene Melnyk’s comments to the Ottawa Citizen, it shouldn't be surprising to see the organisation try to get ahead of the curve prior to Daniel Alfredsson speaking with the local media on Thursday.
Speaking with Arpon Basu of NHL.com, the Senators’ GM did his best to deflect attention away from the owner’s comments which flatly stated that the organization could not afford to absorb the salaries of both Bobby Ryan and Daniel Alfredsson - this was a binary choice, one or the other. (Which, you know, many thought conflicted with Murray’s previous statement that he tried to entice Alfie by mentioning that he thought he could bring Ryan into the fold.)
"I think Eugene's being a little hard on himself in that scenario. We had talked about a way of doing Alfie's contract and still making the trade for Bobby Ryan, both financially and in terms of player return for [the Anaheim Ducks]."
Now the immediate kneejerk reaction for some will be to claim bullshit, but Murray isn’t necessarily avoiding the truth here.
"We do have an in-house budget that we're trying to stay very close to, so I think [Melnyk] was just a little harder on himself in that regard in terms of what we could do and couldn't do. I'm not saying if Alfie stayed that we would have absolutely gone ahead and made the Bobby Ryan trade, but we had certainly talked about that scenario happening as well."
Had the organization wanted to make an effort to retain Alfie and acquire Ryan while remaining within their internal budget (everyone’s favourite two words!), they could have. Removing MacArthur’s $3.25M salary would have been a start. And assuming what they project to spend now is their absolute financial limit they'd need to shed about an additional 2M$ from the roster to accomodate Alfredsson's $5.5M and Ryan's $5.1M.
Whatever their plans might of been the way it shook down was trading for Ryan was a reaction to the captain leaving.
Fans can debate the merits of whether this inconsistent message from management and ownership is more cause for concern than it is annoying, this tease that eventually, money may be available to the team down the road could is the big takeaway to me though.
"I think we're in the process of being fairly successful at this point with young people, but I do think there's going to be a time where Eugene will say, 'We're where we should be, let's get above that now and here's how we do it,'" Murray said. "Then there might be an opportunity to trade for a higher-profile guy or a more-expensive guy, whatever the case may be."
With the team’s anticipated first line of Michalek, Spezza and Ryan expected to hit free agency by the end of the 2014/15 season, the time to reinvest in the payroll while the bulk of this team’s roster is on ELCs or cost-effective second contracts may be now.
If ownership doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to keep Alfie in the mix today, what guarantee is there that Melnyk is going to have the ability to resign the team's younger and better players when they need to be re-upped in two years? It's not like the cap will be any lower by then. And moreover, how is this situation going to be enticing for the team’s impending UFAs when they’re older and looking for a championship of their own? I kinow for a fact all this budget talk has the roster very excited about staying in Ottawa long term.
As others have pointed out before, in the salary cap era, teams that spend to win often tend to. And at some point, for Ottawa to take that next step in its development, they’re going to have to open the purse strings to make this team better.
Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting the Terry Pegula model of spending lavishly and foolishly on marginal free agents because ownership has the means to (Leino!); I’d simply prefer to see the Sens follow the Los Angeles Kings model. Like the Kings, they’ve drafted and developed the a wealth of young talent, but at some point, you have to move some young talent to bring in quality veterans (ie. Richards and Carter) who can help push your core to that next level, and push you closer to the cap.
Over the past few weeks, fans have been asking a lot of why questions and on Thursday, reporters will be asking a lot of those why questions to Alfie. But while they’re doing that, the rest of us should be left wondering ‘when?’ of Ottawa’s owner.
When are you going to reinvest in payroll to help push this team over the top?