Before people overreact and jump to the Sykes, let me build the case why now might be the right time for the Ottawa Senators to re-evaluate their team. They could easily trade captain Daniel Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar and Craig Anderson for future assets. As always, you’re free to disagree, but it’s essential to keep a sense of honesty about the team’s prospects for this season versus their prospects for next season and beyond.
If last night’s edition of the “Battle for Ottawa”* proved anything, it’s that the Sens lack the depth necessary to compete on a regular basis. The twin loses of Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson have essentially neutralized their offence and no one else on the team appears capable of picking-up the slack. This shouldn’t be read to deny that the Sens have other good players on their team. I think Kyle Turris was an absolute steal, every team would love their own version of Chris Neil and Alfredsson deserves constant respect.
At the same time, however, these aren’t the type of players who can win you hockey games against the odds. Turris remains a work in progress; Neil is a dependable role player at best; and Alfredsson is past his “best before” date like spoiled milk.
The Sens can actually look at the Leafs to see how strong depth can help teams win tough hockey games. Though the loses aren’t exactly comparable, it’s important to keep in mind that the Leafs played last night without their top goaltender, James Reimer; their second top scorer from last season, Joffrey Lupul; their second top goal scorer this season, Matt Frattin; their power play quarterback, Jake Gardiner; and their best defensive-defenceman, Carl Gunnarsson.
Toronto has also seen little goal production from sniper Phil Kessel, relying instead on the unexpected likes of James van Riemsdyk (8 goals, 2 assists), Frattin (7 goals, 3 assists) and Tyler Bozak (5 goals, 5 assists) to lead the team in goal production.
Role players like Colton Orr, who played close to 13 minutes last night, have equally risen to the task. In fact, the game’s first goal went to the dynamic trio (?) of Frazer McLaren, Mark Fraser and Jay McClement against none other than the hottest goalie in the league right now, Anderson. McClement is even wearing one of the team’s “A’s” in the absence of Lupul.
Two seasons ago the Senators found themselves out of the playoff picture early. Instead of deluding themselves with thoughts of making some type of historic comeback, they made the bold decision to ship Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly out of town in exchange for three future draft picks. It can be argued that the moves saved general manager Bryan Murray’s job and that they helped pave the way for the Senator’s surprise playoff appearance last season.
As one of the league’s weakest franchises, the Senators could certainly use the same type of bold foresight right now.
Alfredsson is likely to retire this off-season, ending his illustrious career in Ottawa. However, there’s enough gas left in his tank to peek some interest from playoff-bound teams this season. I’m sure the Pittsburgh Penguins, for one, would love to add another talented winger to play alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The loss of Alfredsson would be especially hard on Senators fans though it could also strengthen the team moving forward.
Of course, Alfredsson won’t be moving anywhere unless he’s fully behind the decision, but looking back on the Mats Sundin debacle as a Leafs fan, such an opportunity shouldn’t be wasted due to indecisiveness. A trade would present Alfredsson with one final chance to help improve his team and it would only add to his storied career. (Jarome Iginla and the Calgary Flames may find themselves quickly moving into the same type of situation.)
Sergei Gonchar is also a free agent at the season’s end. His departure would likely cause little heartbreak in Ottawa. The Penguins may be interested in reacquiring his services and other teams starved for offence from the blueline like the Washington Capitals (another former team of his) might be interested in Gonchar’s services as well.
The idea of trading Anderson will likely prove the most controversial, but it would likely produce the greatest dividend as well. The 31-year-old American goalie is playing well above expectations right now and the Senators have him signed until 2014-2015 under very favourable conditions ($3.2 million annual cap hit).
Behind Anderson, the Sens have Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop. Lehner is expected to dominate the Sens net in the future while Bishop has the size and skills to serve as a decent backup at the NHL level. The Sens could push this tandem into the spotlight now by taking advantage of the length and cost of Anderson’s contract.
A number of teams would love to acquire the services of Anderson under the conditions that the Sens can offer. The Capitals, Flames, Columbus Blue Jackets, Tampa Bay Lightning and many other teams are desperate for a good goalie. Thus, Ottawa could command a significant return for Anderson.
This is only a suggestion, but it could reposition the Sens for years to come. It would allow them to cut some of the current dead weight from their team and transform it into new potential. It would also help the team consolidate a young core around the leadership of Spezza and Karlsson – the true future of the Senators.
Such a decision would require boldness, but it would help the Sens to boldly go where no Ottawa team has gone before: all the way.
*I refuse to call it the “Battle of Ontario”. It’s quite clear that Ontario belongs to the Leafs. A better name is the “Battle for Ottawa” and like all three-ways, this one is split awkwardly between the Leafs, Habs and Sens. If the analogy is correct, I believe this would make the Sens the base in a certain famous French landmark.
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