In the worst kept secret in Ottawa, the Senators formally announced this morning that the organization has signed GM Bryan Murray to a four-year contract extension that will keep him with the Ottawa Senators for the foreseeable future.
On top of his General Manager title, Murray now holds the new title of President of Hockey Operations.
As part of his agreement, Murray will remain with the organization as its GM for two more seasons before moving into a senior advisory role. In other words, cue the rampant speculation for who will be his successor now that the most obvious candidate just left to become the GM of an Atlantic Division rival.
Tim Murray’s departure did however create an opportunity for internal promotion, and as expected, Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee have been promoted to Assistant General Managers from their roles of Director of Player Personnel and Director of Hockey Operations and Player Development respectively.
Thanks to the Senators’ press release, the duties for Dorion and Lee were outlined by the organization:
Dorion will be responsible for contracts and salary arbitration as well as managing the Senators professional and amateur scouting staffs. Dorion will also oversee all facets of evaluation for players both inside and outside of the organization.
Lee’s new role will see him become General Manager of the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Binghamton Senators. Lee will also be responsible for contracts and a variety of tasks involving player development, including the management of the hockey team’s budgets and overseeing the development of players throughout the team’s system, including prospects at the AHL, collegiate, junior hockey and European league levels.
Throughout the Senators’ press release, the organization has unmistakably emphasized the importance of player development and drafting – two areas in which not surprisingly, Dorion and Lee have played a large part of.
“I am very pleased to have Bryan remain here in Ottawa for the next four years. Without question, Bryan stands among the best general managers in the National Hockey League,” said Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk. “Our drafting success and the emergence of so many young, dynamic players within our organization is a testament to Bryan’s leadership and wealth of hockey knowledge.”
“In addition, Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee have made significant contributions to our club’s many achievements in scouting, drafting and player development,” said Melnyk. “Bryan and I believe both Pierre and Randy have more than earned the opportunity to take on more senior roles in hockey operations. I want to congratulate Pierre and Randy on their expanded mandates serving together as our team’s assistant general managers.”
It really sounds like the organization is embracing that small market mentality and realizes that for the Senators to compete and a develop into a contender, it will have to do it essentially through its internal growth.
Which in retrospect, will make the Bobby Ryan contract extension talks so intriguing. In parlaying Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a 2014 first rounder to Anaheim, the Senators traded away a number of future assets with controllable contracts for what simply could amount to two seasons of Bobby Ryan.
The decision to make the move at the time was defensible and to this point, it still is. The only way to get elite offensive talent in this league is to draft and develop it, or acquire it by means of trade. I’m sure the organization was influenced to act somewhat by Daniel Alfredsson’s decision to depart as an unrestricted free agent, but the Senators elected to make the Ryan deal.
To this point, I think Ryan has lived up to and even exceeded expectations thanks to the chemistry that he has forged with Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur, however, with the clock ticking down on the expiration of his contract, his clouded future with the organization has put the organization into a precarious position.
With a strict internal budget, a depreciating Canadian dollar and a salary cap ceiling that will increase markedly when he hits unrestricted free agency, the question of whether Ryan would be willing to negotiate a contract extension with the Senators and pass up the opportunity to test free agency is a pivotal question that could setback this franchise.
I know I’ve been repeatedly banging the drum on this, but the organization will eventually have to make difficult decisions on players like Ryan, Jason Spezza or really any of this team’s veteran players who will hit unrestricted free agency over the course of the next few years.
As a small market team that can only afford to be a low to mid-cap team, the reality of Ottawa’s situation is that their margin for error will be smaller. They literally can’t afford to invest, lockup and crippled the team’s payroll budget by erring on one of its veteran players.
The NHL has become a young man’s league and in watching this team over the course of the past few seasons, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the ones carrying this club are the team’s youngest players.
Somehow the organization has to be able to spend efficiently (which to their credit, they have done to this point) and augment their young core while still allowing enough financial flexibility to retain this young core when it comes time to negotiate their next contracts.
It can be done, but it will take more than player development and good drafting. It will require difficult and shrewd decisions.
Can this group do it? It remains to be seen, but perhaps the difficulties facing this franchise are overstated.
I mean, if Bryan Murray decided to stay on as GM, things can’t be that bad, can they?
Note: I penned this before this morning's conference call. Expect a post on that later today.