Mendes on Sens: Rebuilding routes

January 13, 2011, 6:33 PM

If the answer for Eugene Melnyk was clear and simple, we would have most certainly heard from the Ottawa Senators owner by now.

But rarely in the hockey world are answers as simple as we portray them in the media. Should the Ottawa Senators re-build now? Should they fire Bryan Murray and Cory Clouston?

My colleague Mark Spector wrote a terrific piece on the Senators struggles for the website this week. He hit the nail on the head with most of his observations.

And yet, at the end of his column, you’re left wondering what direction the Senators will head. And that appears to be Eugene Melnyk’s dilemma: Just where is this team headed in six weeks, six months and six years?

Blow it up or keep it together? It’s not that simple – more options exist for Melnyk.

There are actually 10 different directions that the Senators franchise could go from here:

The Method: Make The Playoffs

Perfected By: 2009-10 Ottawa Senators

How It Works: Last January, the Senators were also in a virtual free-fall, until they suddenly won 11 consecutive games. Perhaps they can pull this off again, but even the most passionate Senators fan would have to admit the odds of this happening are extremely slim. But if they somehow make the playoffs with a miraculous run, it would squelch any talk of massive changes around here.

The Method: The Fake Playoff Run

Perfected By: Toronto Maple Leafs (2006-2009)

How It Works: This turns out to be an exercise in futility. The team wins 20 of the final 30 games, to make a fake charge to the playoffs- which ultimately falls short. You end up costing your team draft position and you create a false hope that the momentum will carry over into next season, which limits the number of changes you make in the summer. The fake playoff run would be the worst possible outcome for the Senators from a big picture perspective.

The Method: The Complete Tank: 3-Year Plan

Perfected By: Pittsburgh Penguins & Chicago Blackhawks

How It Works: The Edmonton Oilers are following this blueprint, which has led to Stanley Cups for both the Penguins and Blackhawks in recent years. Your fan base needs to be patient, but there is an upside: Entertaining hockey involving young players, with relatively low expectations for the team to win. There seems to be a growing sentiment in Ottawa that the fans would like to see the team head in this direction. But what would happen with players like Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza? Would they just get moved for draft picks? All of them have significant term and money left on their deals, so trading them is not as simple as you think. And would three years of losing hockey sit well with Ottawa fans?

The Method: The Cyclical 3-Year Plan

Perfected By: New York Islanders

How It Works: For those people who think that constantly finishing near the bottom of the standings will lead to better days ahead, they should remember the New York Islanders. This franchise hasn’t won a playoff series in 18 years – despite landing a top-five draft pick in a whopping seven times during that span. The three-year plan in Long Island is now on its sixth run. Finishing with a lottery pick every year does not guarantee you success.

The Method: Keeping The Core

Perfected By: Calgary Flames

How It Works: Believing that you are still a piece or two away from returning to the Cup Final, you refuse to enter a re-build mode. The Calgary Flames, who reached the Final in 2004, should serve as a cautionary tale for the Senators. The Flames have not won a playoff series since then and appear to be on the verge of needing a total overhaul. But there are some members of Ottawa’s core like Jason Spezza, who is just 27-years old. Perhaps Spezza just needs a talented winger to play with and a lot of Ottawa’s scoring woes would disappear.

The Method: The Goalie Change

Perfected By: New York Rangers (2006 – present); Phoenix Coyotes (2009-2010)

How It Works: It’s amazing how a goalie can mask a lot of your team’s shortcomings. The New York Rangers were an organization in disarray, having missed the post-season in seven consecutive seasons leading into the lockout. But suddenly, Henrik Lundqvist burst onto the scene and the Rangers have been a contender ever since. Ilya Bryzgalov did the same thing for the Phoenix Coyotes last season, instantly transforming them into a 100-point team. If the Senators got some legitimate goaltending from Robin Lehner, would they suddenly look a lot better? If Lehner is the answer, there would be a lot fewer questions about this team.

The Method: The Mini-Overhaul

Perfected By: 2007 Philadelphia Flyers

How It Works: The Philadelphia Flyers finished dead-last in the Eastern Conference in 2007. But within a year, they were in the Eastern Conference Final and three years later they reached the Stanley Cup Final. How did they do it? They perfected the mini-overhaul, by keeping core pieces like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, whom they acquired with shrewd drafting. They traded away the likes of R.J. Umberger and Peter Forsberg. That summer, they made a splashy free agent signing of Danny Briere and they were headed in the right direction. The Senators have a very strong core of good young defencemen, like Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen and David Rundblad. Perhaps they could trade one of those guys for an impact forward to play with Spezza and a mini-overhaul could start in Ottawa, building around the players who are in their 20s.

The Method: The Regime Change

Perfected By: 2010 Tampa Bay Lightning

How It Works: After missing the post-season in three consecutive years, there was talk that the Lightning needed to trade the likes of Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Instead, they decided to drastically overhaul the front office. The hiring of Steve Yzerman and Guy Boucher has brought a much-needed culture change to the Lightning dressing room. Landing Steven Stamkos with the first overall pick in 2008 didn’t hurt either, but the front office changes have re-defined the Lightning more than anything.

The Method: Get Rid Of Your Best Player

Perfected By: 2010 Atlanta Thrashers

How It Works: The Atlanta Thrashers spent the better part of a decade trying to build around Ilya Kovalchuk. And what did it get them? Zero playoff wins. So they decided to trade him near the deadline last season and acquire as many assets as possible. Then during the summer, they acquired a handful of other role players – refusing to build around one single superstar. The result? A team that appears to be headed to the playoffs.

The Method: The Ken Holland Approach

Perfected By: Detroit Red Wings

How It Works: Nobody is quite sure, but it seems to involve drafting Nicklas Lidstrom and then sitting back for 20 years

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