Now that Canada’s gold medal winning performance is over, inevitably there has been this massive shift in attention from the Olympics to the NHL’s trade deadline on Wednesday, March 5th.
As this week’s purported Martin St. Louis for Ryan Callahan trade discussions suggest, we’re the NHL’s silly season wherein the landscape is riddled with rumours, speculation and clickbaiting topics that drive website traffic and fuel the major networks’ deadline coverage programs.
Here in Ottawa, the fan focus is two-fold: 1) we’re primarily concerned with what the Senators’ philosophy is as they approach the deadline; and 2) how this philosophy will shape what the Senators will actually do.
Opinions around the city vary on what the Senators should do. Should they sell? Stand pat? Pursue rentals or players with more term left their contracts? If they add, should they target a power forward or a defenceman? Perhaps they should proactively explore the market on their impending UFAs? Or maybe they should just simply trim the fat?
Here is a look at the factors that will weigh on the mind of Bryan Murray as we approach the deadline:
I’ve already written another blog post during the Olympic break detailing the point thresholds and the records that will essentially put the Senators in a position to clinch a playoff spot, so I won’t re-run the whole thing now.
All that you need to know is that the Sens sit one point back of the Detroit Red Wings for the second wild card spot (note: the Red Wings do have a game in hand) and despite this proximity in points, the Senators sit fifth in the congested Eastern Conference’s wild card standings.
The 93 to 94 point range is likely going to be the threshold that determines whether the Senators are in and in order to accomplish that, the Senators essentially cannot afford to lose more than seven or eight times in regulation the rest of the way.
It’s a high standard but considering the crowded playoff standings and the NHL’s system of awarding points, if the Senators play inconsistently, they’re going to be in tough – which makes Bryan Murray’s decision a little more difficult considering he only has three games to evaluate his club before the deadline.
With such a fine margin of error, is Murray going to be comfortable wagering some of this team’s current and future assets adding players (ie. rentals) to what ultimately could be a fruitless attempt to make the playoffs?
What Will Their Competitors Do?
It’s a seller’s market right now thanks to the influx of teams that are competing for a playoff spot. The expectation is that with fewer teams selling, there will be more demand for rentals like Matt Moulson, Ales Hemsky and yes, even Mike Cammalleri (blech).
The Senators have made it publicly known that they’re willing to make a deal, however, we’ve also seen a number of teams currently in playoff positions deride the suggested asking prices on the market.
Boston GM Peter Chiarelli has balked at the premium prices that are out there and perhaps more interestingly, it’s widely been acknowledged that the New York Rangers would prefer to trade assets like Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi than simply lose them to unrestricted free agency (UFA) at the conclusion of the season – potentially submarining their own Stanley Cup odds in the process. Hell, the Rangers even granted a team permission to speak with Callahan’s agent on terms of a prospective contract extension.
Of course in both situations, this could simply be posturing designed to create leverage – to embolden their trade stance or create leverage in contract negotiations – but if they hold true to their word, it certainly is a step in a different philosophy than the one that the Senators have put forth.
It’s also worth mentioning that while the Olympic trade freeze was in effect, one of the teams that Ottawa is competing with for a wild card spot, the Washington Capitals, are set to receive a boost without having to make a trade.
Their highly regarded Russian prospect, Evgeny Kuznetsov, announced via Twitter that he would be leaving Russia at the conclusion of his season – as early as March 4th — so that he can join the Capitals at some point this season.
Kuznetsov was Corey Pronman’s fourth highest rated prospect in Pronman’s top 100 drafted prospects rankings from this past September.
If other teams drive up the market prices and the Eastern Conference’s elite make moves to improve, how will that impact management’s perception of whether the Senators will have enough talent to overcome their puncher’s chance of sneaking in as one of the two wild card teams?
Following the respective announcement of the Canadian national broadcast agreement with Rogers and the team’s regional broadcast deal with Bell Media, it felt safe to presume that this boost in revenues would eventually trickle down into the team’s player payroll.
Eugene Melnyk has made it abundantly clear however that success isn’t predicated upon this team simply investing this cash intravenously into the team’s payroll. (Moreover, it’s not like the organization can snap its fingers and instantly acquire a player or players who can immediately help this club without having to sacrifice anything but cap space in exchange.)
It’s unquestionably a difficult pill for fans to swallow.
Since this summer, the organization has harangued the City of Ottawa for sole sourcing the casino bid. As justified as they are for criticizing the lack of an open competition and due process, an unintended consequence of their fervent search for additional revenue streams to support the club created some jaded fans and shook confidence in this team’s ownership.
Fans don’t want to hear that the only thing that is important is the team’s “cost per point”. They want to know that this team is being run and operated in an efficient manner that gives them the confidence that the people in charge have best available resources to give the fans hope and bring a Stanley Cup to Ottawa.
I think most fans would agree that they don’t want to see the organization spend frivolously and waste large sums of money simply for the sake of it. If anything, the past few years in the cap era have created an environment in which fans are smarter and have better and wider access to information and the implications of the cap system thanks to websites like Capgeek. In due respect to the fans, I think the vast majority are cognizant of the importance of finding good value and spending money wisely.
If Melnyk can do that, he’ll have our confidence.
Besides, there are other ways of investing the cash – ie. investing in scouting, player development, facilities and etc. – that can have positive effects on the future of the Senators without fans ever having a real pulse on where or whether this money is actually being spent. And therein lies the rub, now that the organization has a larger pool of revenue, there is no transparent way of knowing where the money is going. Without access to the team’s books, it’s either you take the organization at its word or you don’t. It’s that simple.
The team doesn’t have to spend to the cap threshold every season, but if the team is in contention, fans will want their owner to have the team’s back and give the go-ahead to use the financial resources necessary to bring in someone who can help put this team over the top.
The problem lies in the Senators believing they’re placating fans by telling fans that when the circumstances are right, they’ll be willing to take on salary to make the team more competitive, but until the Senators actually follow through, fans will have no tangible way of measuring ownership’s commitment.
As a result, we’re caught in this cyclical state in which fans are trying to balance: 1) this superficial and simplistic perspective that wants to sees the organization add something of substance so that it can restore some of our wavering confidence in ownership; with 2) weighing what personnel decisions might actually be the best interests of the team (ie. is this the appropriate time to be trading assets at the deadline for rentals or other short-term options?).
As important as it is to send a message to the fan base, there’s a proportionate response that may have to be sent to the players as well.
Cyril Leeder discussed the boost in the players’ morale following the announcement of the aforementioned Bell Media deal and with a number of players heading towards unrestricted free agency, the players are human, they’ll want a commitment from the organization as well to show that it is serious about winning too.
Selling off assets while the team is in the thick of a playoff race doesn’t exactly send the best message to its players, especially when many of its veterans are at a stage in which the organization can explore negotiating extensions.
Since the moment the ink dried on Bryan Murray’s two-year extension, the names linked to the Senators in prospective trade scenarios have been those of impending UFAs who wouldn’t necessarily cost the organization an exorbitant amount in return.
In an interview yesterday at the Bob Guertin Arena, Murray mentioned that he’s ideally looking for a player with term left on his deal.
“That’s more of what I’m looking at, really,” Murray said. “If I can make the right deal to get a guy that’s played in the league, that has a little term in his contract, then we would get a chance to get to know him and he’d get a chance to get to know us, and maybe then keep him around, that’s the ideal thing for me.
“What’s the price a team like us would pay for a guy to come in here and play 20 games and in all likelihood move on?” Murray asked, rhetorically. “It’s a dilemma and a consideration and something we are daily talking about. I’m talking to GMs and we’ll evaluate each individual case as it comes along if it does come along, and hopefully make the right decision.”
There’s something to be said about overvaluing your own prospects and perennially building for the future – Flags Fly Forever – yet, in consideration of the uncertain future that the organization faces with a number of the team’s veteran players, does it make sense for the Senators to be flipping assets for what could simply amount to a two-year window, especially when this current group has not proven it can be anything more than a playoff bubble team?
The Senators may ultimately decide to sell over the course of the next few weeks ago, but they won’t be alone…
Sorry if I'm late. Erik Karlsson, on what the silver medal is worth to him (via Olympic News): "You will see when I put it out on eBay."
— SeanFitz_Gerald (@SeanFitz_Gerald) February 23, 2014
Whether the Senators decide to move impending UFAs like Chris Phillips or Milan Michalek (note: the Senators apparently haven’t had negotiations yet with Michalek’s agent on new contract) remains to be seen. Although the loss of both players can probably be absorbed without much noticeable effect, as mentioned earlier, it’d be tough to message to send to
but another player that the Senators will have to make a decision on is Colin Greening.
After turning in a strong performance versus the Pittsburgh Penguins in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals, Greening inked a three-year extension in the offseason that prevented him from becoming an UFA at the end of this season and a potential rental option for a playoff bound team.
What is interesting about Greening’s new extension is that it contains a modified no-trade clause and is set to pay him an average annual value of $2.65 million.
Coming into this season, Greening’s metrics depicted a player whose production has dropped each season since he’s entered the league and now that he’s struggled to produce this season, the question of whether he’s a third or fourth line talent whose was propped up by a healthy Jason Spezza is one that Bryan Murray is going to have to ask himself.
And if Greening is, does it make sense for a mid-cap team to be devoting $2.6 million to a player putting up replacement level numbers when that person can be replaced internally by someone earning one-third the cash – allowing the organization to reallocate that money to a position of need like the blueline.
With a number of expiring contracts to a number of players who are either injury plagued, in decline or just expendable, the Senators have a unique opportunity to get creative with their roster.
Complacency has often plagued the Senators teams in the past decade. Too often, the franchise was comfortable retaining known commodities rather than sell high and maximize on their value.
With the exception of the Kyle Turris trade, everything felt reactive instead of proactive.
They have an opportunity to change that. To the player development and amateur scouting staff’s credit, they’ve found and cultivated a number of prospects – all of whom cannot play for the Senators – and thereby have afforded the Senators the opportunity to do some creative things.
That shouldn’t necessitate throwing these prospects away for strict rentals, but packaged with the right player or two, they may be able to bring in better long-term options who align with a more realistic window of contention than going all in for the next two seasons.
Moreover, there’s an argument to be made that the Senators could make moves like last year’s San Jose Sharks team that dealt away Douglas Murray and Ryan Clowe rather than lose them for nothing. The Sens could trim their fat while adding a player or two that doesn’t necessitate mortgaging the future.
With so many difficult decisions to be made on potential extensions to Bobby Ryan, Jason Spezza, Marc Methot, Craig Anderson, without knowing what the fallout will be, it doesn’t make sense to offload too many prospects or future assets now so that the organization is guarded against their potential departures. It’d be irresponsible to add to this current core without knowing whether it can retain some of these aforementioned guys.
And even if they add a Matt Moulson, a Steve Ott, a Mike Cammalleri or a Ales Hemsky, is that really the kind of difference making player who can transition the Senators from a bubble team into a contender? Given the circumstances, that kind of move might not even get this team into the playoffs in the first place.