Reviewing Ottawa’s First Day of Free Agency

There was no Ryan Suter. There was no Rick Nash. There was no Zach Parise walking through that door.

For anyone who was expecting the Ottawa Senators to make a splash through free agency or a trade, you probably went to bed last night disappointed that the organization didn’t improve itself exponentially over the course of one day.

It’s the dreadfully naïve and unrealistic notion of the free agent market that some fans have. Rather than consider the external factors that go into any free agent’s decision or trade negotiations, fans clamour for that impact player (or two!) that makes Ottawa a better team today than they were yesterday. Irrespective of the organization’s budget, a short-list of teams that a player would waive a NTC for, or the payroll ramifications that would be created in the long-term (a point in time in which many of the team’s best young players will hopefully develop and require extensions and increases in salary), some individuals have a difficult time accepting the fact that overpaying in money/term or future assets will be limiting the organization’s future flexibility.

Instead, the Ottawa Senators sent a clear message to their fans: if it is going to make significant improvements to its on-ice product next season, said results are going to be accomplished internally – through the emergence or continued growth and development of its young players and prospects.

It’s a weird turn of events for an organization that has regularly overpaid Plan B’s (read: past-their-prime veterans) to complement the team’s core. While players like Mike Lundin, Marc Methot, Andre Benoit or Guillaume Latendresse may not be the ‘big name’ players that fans had been hoping for; they’re cost-efficient alternatives who have an excellent chance of outperforming their contracts. In Benoit’s case, he’s a known commodity who will be able to provide some veteran talent and leadership on a very young Binghamton Senators team.

Free Agents Fleeing

Of course there is a concern that Ottawa lost some of its veteran grit. With Nick Foligno, Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka leaving town, the Senators certainly lost some individuals who played with an edge and were willing to drop the mitts. More importantly however, it looks like management has placed an emphasis on shedding individuals who were renowned for their undisciplined play. For a team that averaged the second-most PIMs per game (14.0), the Senators shed three regulars who were amongst the team’s worst offenders in penalties taken per 60 minutes of ice-time (note: Konopka led team with 2.7 penalties per 60. Carkner led the defencemen with 1.3 penalties per 60 and Foligno was third amongst forwards with 1.5.)

Over the interwebs, there have been a number of fans lamenting the loss of these players because their leadership and character within the room. For whatever reason, without knowing the actual locker room dynamics, there has been this public tendency to proportionately equate pugilism and being good with the media to leadership. For me, I have always found it pretty funny to read or hear people making such claims without having ever stepped foot within the room themselves.

At the risk of dismissing fighting skills, I believe the only real skill set that was lost this weekend was Zenon Konopka’s faceoff ability. Without another good faceoff option behind Jason Spezza, one of Turris, Smith, Regin or O’Brien need to step it up and develop into a viable option. I would hate to see Spezza be used like he was during Cory Clouston’s last season – exerting so much energy being called upon to take the bulk of the team’s important defensive zone draws, gaining puck possession and then exiting the zone.

Regarding the Foligno for Marc Methot trade, I do have another concern regarding management’s comments regarding Methot as a potential partner for Erik Karlsson. Looking at Methot’s numbers, he’s never been an exceptional puck possession talent. In fact, in Columbus’ clusterfuck of a season, Methot’s relative corsi was an abysmal -16.3. (Note: what makes that number even worse is the fact that James Wisniewski and Rick Nash were his most common linemates when he was on the ice at 5v5 last season.)

There is some hope however, Columbus was a terrible puck possession team. Methot also finished with the fourth highest quality of competition metric amongst Columbus’ defensive regulars and he did not benefit from a high percentage of offensive zone faceoff draws either (46.1%).

Losing out on Justin Schultz

In his media interview that wrapped up Ottawa’s first day of free agency (Scott linked to it in a post yesterday), Bryan Murray had some interesting comments concerning the media and how it played into Justin Schultz’s decision to pick Edmonton.

“I really felt we had a great interview with him. He really liked what we did. They got a lot of support from their alumni in Edmonton. Their media really applauded him big time. He made a comment about that, about a couple of things that happened in Ottawa vs. Edmonton. I don’t know what all played into it, but at the end of the day he made the choice to go to Edmonton, which left us disappointed somewhat, because as I told (Oilers GM) Steve Tambellini (Sunday), good player for them.” (Via Don Brennan, The Ottawa Sun)

The comment about the media strikes me as odd. There’s no question that the Edmonton coverage of Schultz was exponentially better than it was in Ottawa but it bordered on being obsessive. I’d hate to think that Dave Staples’ daily blogs about the prospect were a difference-maker, but should the local media be expected to act as a recruitment tool for the organization?

It’s an interesting question and one that I would like to see discussed in the comment thread, so have at it.

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