Breaking down the Ottawa Senators ahead of NHL Trade Deadline Day.
The Ottawa Senators will be: Buyers
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This season has been as surprising as the last one for the Senators, only this time in a nasty sort of way. The plucky, injury-ravaged team that wildly outperformed expectations last season came into 2013-14 viewed as one of the most dangerous squads in the East thanks to key off-season acquisitions — and they promptly fell flat on their faces. Bobby Ryan just didn’t click into place as the winger Jason Spezza badly needed and the Kyle Turris-Clarke MacArthur combo has turned out to be the most reliable scoring line, while the others have wobbled.
On the blue line, Erik Karlsson is once again on fire, but if the Ottawa defensive corps were a 1950s band, they’d be Erik & Seven Other Guys. Karlsson’s usual defensive partner, Marc Methot, has been healthy scratched a few times — he’s struggled, but probably didn’t deserve that treatment — and the rest are young, too old, a mess or two out of the three.
No. 1 goalie Craig Anderson has been just okay, though the defence in front of him certainly hasn’t helped, but his brash young understudy, Robin Lehner, has provided reliable enough backup services. Ottawa looked to be completely out of the playoff conversation through the first half of the season, but a post-Christmas resurrection had them sitting 10th in the Eastern Conference and just one point out of a playoff spot going into the Olympic break.
They lost their forever captain and de facto mascot when Daniel Alfredsson bolted for Detroit over the summer, and they’re dominated by young talent developed in-house — players who have so far shown a disturbing tendency to crumble when any positive expectations are muttered in their direction. Ottawa won’t be a powerhouse no matter what kind of shopping they do at the NHL Trade Deadline, but the right piece clicking into place could well boost them into playoff position, set them up well for next year and erase the sense that this season was one big, baffling disappointment.
The most pressing need is the one that was supposedly solved last summer: a winger to play with Spezza, who has struggled on and off all season. That player was supposed to be Bobby Ryan and that line was supposed to be unstoppable, but, well, it’s tough to predict in-season chemistry in July. GM Bryan Murray has been up-front about the fact that a shooter for his new captain to set up is the first item on his trade-deadline shopping list. Just before the Olympic break, he said he had been in talks with a few teams, but nothing had come together.
Fans — and the severely shelled Anderson and Lehner — may disagree, but Murray insists the defensive corps is serviceable as is, even if he concedes their collective youth leads to more turnovers than anyone wants to see. Bringing in an experienced d-man would shore Ottawa up at the other end — they’re 28th in the league for goals against per game — but Murray’s priority is clearly a forward. In a recent Hockey Central interview, he suggested such a move could have a symbolic, as well as a practical, purpose for his struggling team. “I’d like to find another forward to at least send the message to our team that management and coaches are trying to help you,” he said.
The situation is complicated by the fact that owner Eugene Melnyk has instituted an internal cap because of his own financial difficulties. So while on paper, Ottawa has $8.3 million in annual cap space to play with, the purse strings are not loose enough to make use of that. If Murray is going to bring in a top-six forward, he’s going to need to rifle through the bargain bin.
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