If you were the General Manager of the Ottawa Senators, would you leverage the future in hopes of acquiring the right pieces to field a favourite and win it all? Or, would you be content in sitting back and field a contending team, who, without a bit of luck, won’t get past the first couple of rounds? For one, I’m sick of getting so close to winning, only to lose. My choice is easy. After all, the Stanley Cup is the reward that all teams strive for at the start of the season. Why not cash in all your chip at the opportune moment and take a shot at winning.
Unless the Ottawa Senators’ scouting team hits a gold mine down the road when the team is competing for the Stanley Cup, and produces top level talent with later round picks, there will be a time where the team will need to restock the cupboard. A time where the window of opportunity to win the Cup closes. Why does this matter in the second year of our rebuild? It doesn’t. Not much anyway. While the team is one of the youngest in the league, some important players of the core are middle aged. To truly compete and have a chance at winning the Stanley Cup, a team has to have three major components. A number one defenceman capable of slowing the pace of a game, a number centre with game breaking abilities and a goaltender that steals games. Today, we have all 3 pieces. Tomorrow– is a different story.
On defence, Ottawa has a young Norris winner in Erik Karlsson, who will continue to get better as the team improves. He will lead from backend for the foreseeable future. Because of his age,we should be set now and in the future. In nets, we have Craig Anderson, who, while middle aged, is our current solution to the opposing teams snipers. For the future, we have Robin Lehner. He has the attitude, drive and talent to become an elite puck stopper. If there is a problem down the road, it is at the centre position. We don’t have a young trophy winning centre man like we do on defence, nor do we have a young centreman with the ability to become a number one centre. We only have Jason Spezza.
Some people will argue that the middle is the most important part of a Cup winner. Hard to argue with them as recent cup winning teams have proved. The Kings had Richards and Kopitar in the middle while the Hawks had Toews and Sharp. Those team not only had one number one centre, but two. While the Sens don’t have the luxury of two number one guys, I really believe that Turris will eventually become a fantastic and premier 2nd line centre. The problem is this: Spezza is 29 years old. He isn’t getting any younger. As he ages, injuries will take a bigger toll on his body. Then there’s his chronic back problems. Once he calls it a career or begins to rapidly decline, the team will have a huge hole to fill. It turns out that replacing an elite centre is not an easy task. Some teams have spent years looking for one. As a result, top six centres are being well paid while elite centres are being paid outrageous sums of cash.
As it currently stands, the Sens are a top four defencemen and a top six winger from becoming true contenders. We have the depth and a key player at all three key positions. Whether or not we go far this year, the rookies and young guys will all have gained some valuable experience. Sophomore slump aside, expect guys like Zibanejad, Silfverberg, Conacher and Wiercioch to take on a bigger role next season. With those guys a little more experienced, look for us to gear up for a run in the near future.
Looking at the UFA crop, there isn’t very much available in terms of young or quality talent. In fact, the only player that would make much sense is Nathan Horton as he fit the bill as a legitimate top six guy. Do however, expect him to be signed by the Bruins. On defence, Mark Streit is an option, but at the age of 35, he isn’t exactly young. If the team is to acquire a top four defencemen and, or, a top six winger, look for it to be via trade. Picking up solid veterans and trading for quantity for quality is also an option given our depth and the 50 contract limit. A lot of players will not be resigned, not because they are not good enough, but because the Sens are limited by he number of players they can have under contract. Our guys have,for the most part, established themselves as NHL players. Trades are the only way to cash out on them as Bryan Murray risks losing them to UFA.
With a pipeline full of young and talented prospects, incredible depth and rookies with experience. It would make sense for us to go all in within the next couple of years. We have a bunch of solid rookies on their first contract contributing. This in turn allows us to acquire the more established, but expensive players while operating within the salary cap.
When is our window? Expect it to be within the next 2-3 years as we transition from rebuild to contenders. We have guys at all key position, incredible depth and young and cheap talent. If Murray wants to make a move and acquire a star, the time is now. The rookies and second contracts should negate the more expensive star contracts should we acquire said player. As soon as our rookies demand real coin, we’re going to have to make tough decisions and our window will begin to close. There’s that and there’s Spezza. He is the key to winning a cup. Unlike Anderson, we don’t have anyone to replace him. He goes, and our best window for winning goes too.