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Randy Lee Speaks: What Went Wrong? Prospects, Ryan Negotiation Status

Missed this the other day(h/t to Ary from Silver Seven Sens for the link), but Senators assistant general manager Randy Lee made an appearance on Sirius XM to address a number of pertinent issues relating to the Senators.

To listen to the full interview, you can click here or you listen to the audio embedded at the bottom of the post.

As always, my thoughts are in bold.

On what went wrong last year…

“We did a lot of soul searching as an organization at the end of last season. I think we had pretty high expectations knowing that we were getting a lot of guys back from injury. We added Bobby Ryan. We thought things would be pretty strong, but you’re right. It just wasn’t a good year. So we talked to the players. We polled them. We got their feedback and I think we came up with some good insight to what happened – that we’ve got to be better, more competitive and I think as a group, we’ve got to be harder to play against.”

In losing Ales Hemsky and Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars, the Senators are hoping that fans will appreciate a less talented team that will work harder and be more committed to supporting the puck in the defensive end. In theory, it sounds fine and is probably music to the ears of the postgame radio callers who loathed Spezza’s game and believed he was emblematic of this team’s shortcomings.

So the Senators braintrust may believe that the Senators have a harder working team that will play a structured game and support the puck in key areas on the ice, but none of it will matter if the Senators aren’t successful on the ice. If the losses mount, it may only be a matter of time before fans clamour for more talented players.

On going from being one of the best defensive teams in the NHL to one of the worst…

“Definitely a team effort. Like we thought, we looked at a lot of aspects of our game and we weren’t as good defending as a group and that’s what hurt us. It wasn’t individuals and it wasn’t the goaltending for sure. And we had a lot of guys that sort of had off-years and it’s sort of a coincidence that we had so many guys having off-years at the same time, but that’s exactly what happened.”

For starter’s, I hated the host’s question. Just because the Senators finished with the league’s second fewest number of goals allowed, doesn’t necessarily mean that they were one of the league’s elite defensive teams. Incidentally, in the host’s next question, he questioned why the Senators gave up so many shots. As outlined in a piece for the Ottawa Citizen, the Senators’ defensive prowess last season was a mirage.

On addressing the number of shots allowed by the team…

“Definitely, that’s going to be our number one focus. We’re going to play better in our own end, compete a lot harder, be a tougher team to play against and we think we’ve got good goaltending, for sure and we’ve got a very strong defensive core, so I think there’s no excuse for that. But I think if we can get the whole team to buy in and commit to defence first that we’ll be much better off this season.”

I continue to be amazed by this team’s insistence that the Senators possess a very strong defensive core.

On how he goes into camp with respect to goaltending and whether there will be a battle for the starting job…

“I think so, yeah. Robin (Lehner)’s a young guy and he wants to learn from Craig and Craig’s a great veteran and a great leader on our team. So he pushes Robin, so I think it’s a great tandem. But, I think Robin’s going to get some more games this year and he’s going to try and take his game to the next level.”

Interestingly, Don Brennan reported yesterday that Senators assistant general manager Pierre Dorion has been in Chicago for the past number of days trying to work on an extension with Craig Anderson.

At some point, the Senators are going to have to turn the keys of the car over to Robin Lehner to see what they have in him and with that in mind, I don’t know if it’s in the team’s interest to retain Craig Anderson at what I’d believe to be a relatively expensive rate to platoon with Lehner for the foreseeable future. Given the volatility of the goaltending position and Ottawa’s strict financial constraints, maybe it’s not the best allocation of player payroll.

On how they fill the void left by Jason Spezza…

“Yeah, I think we’ve got some young guys that are ready to take up some of the center position – in terms of Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad. And we added David Legwand and we still have Zack Smith, so I think we’re strong down the middle. It’s going to be more of a team-first approach and from a leadership perspective, we’ve got a lot of guys on this team that are good leaders. I mean, Clarke MacArthur, as I said before, Craig Anderson, we’ve got Turris, (Chris) Neil, (Chris) Phillips and I think young Erik Karlsson is really in a position to step up and take his game to the next level. He’s really maturing and I think he wants to take on more of a leadership role with this team. So I think we’re well positioned, but it’s a big loss. I mean, Jason (put up) a lot of points. You can’t question that, but I think overall, guys are willing to accept a challenge.”

We’ve got a lot of good leaders in-house… except when we need to play up the angle that leadership was part of the problem for the team’s shortcomings last season so that the fan base was more amenable to the idea of us trading the captain because he no longer wants to be a part of the organization.

On Kyle Turris’ evolution and what he did well last year and what he can do next season…

“I think he’s much more competitive in his game. He’s better in both ends of the ice. His skating has really improved. He’s a lot more confident with the puck. He distributes it really well. I think he liked the challenge. When Jason was out when he’s had some injuries, I think Kyle really stepped up and he liked the challenge of being the go-to guy at center, so I think he’s ready to take on that big role.”

Turris has met every challenge that’s been put before him, so it would be incredible to see him surpass this latest challenge and establish himself as one of the game’s most underrated number one centers.

On Mika Zibanejad’s growth and whether it’s time for him to be a big-time producer at this point…

“Yeah, for sure. We think he can do that too and we have a lot of confidence in him. But, I think getting Legwand gives him sort of a buffer, so there’s not too much pressure on Mika. But we like him. He’s a powerful guy and when he’s confident, he’s a really, really effective player for us. So I think having Legwand as insurance is really good for our organization for depth down the middle.”

How the coaching staff manages the linemates for Zibanejad and Legwand will be one of the most compelling developments to follow in training camp. Personally, I’d love to see Zibanejad start the year with Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone, while Legwand gets Milan Michalek and Alex Chiasson, but part of that logic is because I’d love to see Mike Hoffman get a chance to play with other puck possession and offensively inclined forwards. My fear is that if Hoffman starts away from those types of players, his production will suffer and the Senators may lose faith in a player who’s posted some very intriguing underlying numbers – an indication that his lack of production was simply a by-product of some unfortunate luck.

On players within the system and what he might like to see this coming season…

“Well, we’ve got young Curtis Lazar who’s done very well. Myself and Pierre Dorion just went to see him at the world junior camp in Montreal and he was very strong. We’ve got a number of guys. Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Mark Stone were really good for us. They played games up, a lot of games up and they were both strong in the playoffs for Binghamton last year. We’ve got Mike Hoffman who came up and auditioned himself and showcased himself really well. He didn’t get the points that he thought he could get, but proved that he’s really close to being an everyday NHL player. And we’ve got a real competitive guy on the backend named Mark Borowiecki, who’s on a one-way (contract) this year. So he’s a real hardnosed, competitive kid – a local kid who we think really is going to be good addition to our backend.”

It’s inferred by me, but Lee struck me as not being as high on Hoffman as some of the other prospects – which in turn, has me a little bit more worried about his fate if he doesn’t produce right away. I suppose it shouldn’t be that surprising to hear Lee play up Borowiecki’s intangibles, but with the way that he brought up his contract situation, it certainly sounds like they project him to make the parent team this season. With four other left defenceman —  Patrick Wiercioch, Marc Methot, Chris Phillips and Jared Cowen – on the roster, I don’t know where Borowiecki fits on the depth chart. He’s an eighth defenceman or another inexpensive body that makes me revisit the team’s decision to bring back Phillips for two more years – especially if it helps push Patrick Wiercioch out the door.

On whether there’s an opportunity for Lazar to make the club in 2014/15…

“Well overall, we’re very patient with our guys, but we always put them in positions to succeed. If Bryan Murray thinks that’s the best bet for him to be up, he’ll be up. But if not, we’re more than willing to send guys back to make sure that they’re put in a good position, so their long-term development is never compromised.”

A fair answer… although I’m not entirely certain that the organization was pleased with how Mika Zibanejad was handled by Djurgarden when he was returned to his Swedish team.

On how great the challenge is for Ottawa knowing that it can’t throw money around like other clubs…

“Yeah, we just want to spend smart. I think if you invest and draft well – which we’ve done — I mean, we’re very proud of the drafting process that we’ve gone through and the young players that we have coming. If you draft well and you develop them and invest in these guys and give them support, then you don’t have to go out and overspend on free agency. I mean, there are very good players in free agency, but we sort of look at free agency as how to augment your team and complement what you have, rather than filling voids. So we really rely on drafting and developing.”

Sure, as the league’s lowest spender on player payroll, you have to rely exclusively on drafting and developing. Hopefully one day, the Senators will be able to speak proudly about how analytics plays a role in their success as well.

On how easy the Milan Michalek negotiations were…

“It was good because he wanted to be here. Milan’s a real quality veteran guy. He’s a good leader. He works hard every day. He’s one of those guys who’s a good influence on your younger players and that’s a good indication of the type of group that we have is that he really wanted to return and he was willing to take a fair contract that worked for both sides.”

Red flags abound on this deal. Can Michalek stay healthy with his history of knee problems? Can he be productive away from Jason Spezza or like Colin Greening before him, is he just a third liner who was carried by one of the league’s best playmakers?

On the status of the Bobby Ryan negotiations and whether he’s part of their long-term plans…

“Oh definitely. We like Bobby and we liked what he brings to the table and we have a lot of respect for what he did last year. I mean, he played injured for a number of games and he never said anything because he had a lower abdominal tear. Some people thought he was struggling, but that’s a real tough injury to play with and he wanted to help the team. And to his credit, he kept it to himself. He did whatever he could working with our doctors and therapists to see how he could get through the game. And finally, it just got too much, but that showed how much he cares and I think that’s a good indication of the kind of player that Bobby is and we’d like to get him wrapped up if we can get this done.”

If the Senators can’t get a deal done with Ryan, they’re going to have a lot of egg on their face from their handling of the Alfredsson situation to their inability to ink Plan B to a long-term extension. By this point of the offseason, most teams have already solidified their rosters and one has to wonder how good the trade market would be if the Senators have to consider moving him. If they can’t sign him or trade him, they run the risk of entering the season with an impending 2015 UFA – wherein the risk of injury, his play devaluing any prospective trade return, or teams being less willing to trade assets for a rental are very real.

At this stage, it’s like the only way the Senators can win this situation is if they sign him to an extension, but at the same time, it’s not like the organization can just blindly throw piles of money at him either. They have to get something done that’s fair to them and to the player, but if they can’t spend and support Ryan with more talent, the more I believe that this situation is not going to end well.

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