Sunday, January 23, 2011

Where Did It All Go Wrong For Ottawa?

ottawa senators suck sens
Since the Ottawa Senators entered the league as an expansion team in 1992-1993 they have won four division titles, one President’s Trophy, and made one Stanley Cup Final. They consistently topped 100 points a season and were a league powerhouse, albeit one that routinely fell short of expectations in the playoffs (“here’s Nieuwendyk again…scores again!”). Think of them as San Jose East.

However, the Sens put all that playoff baggage behind them when they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007 before being ousted by the Anaheim Ducks. In a little less than four years the Senators went from a Stanley Cup finalist to the disaster you see before you. What happened? Where did it all go so horribly wrong?

Choosing Wade Redden over Zdeno Chara

After the 2005-2006 season the Senators were forced to decide between Chara and Redden, both unrestricted free agents. Redden was coming off a career high 50 points and impressive +35 while being named to the horrible 2006 Canadian Olympic team. Chara was coming off a 43 point, +17 season, while generally being regarded as one of the most physically daunting defenceman in the league.

The Sens ultimately chose Redden, giving him a two-year, $13 million deal with a no-trade clause. Chara signed with the Bruins for 5 years and $37.5 million.

The Sens made the Stanley Cup Final without Chara, but he eventually proved the better defenceman, winning the 2008-2009 Norris Trophy, while Redden struggled under the weight of his new contract and provided the Sens with two underwhelming years where he twice nixed deals that would have sent him to Edmonton and San Jose (for Matt Carle and a pick). Then Glen Sather gave the bad version of Wade Redden a huge deal to play in the AHL.

Trading Dany Heatley for a bag of garbage

Heatley twice topped 100 points in Ottawa, while scoring approximately 257 goals against the Leafs, but was coming off a “disappointing” 39-goal, 72 point season in 2008-2009. Before the start of the season Heatley demanded a trade out of Ottawa despite being only one year into a freshly signed 6-year deal. Heatley cited being unhappy with his role in Ottawa under head coach Cory Clouston who (according to Heatley) was limiting his minutes, while dropping the sniper to the second power-play unit.

The Senators had a deal in place with the Oilers which would have sent Heatley to Edmonton in exchange for Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner, and Ladislav Smid. But Heatley refused to waive his no trade clause, despite being the one who demanded a trade in the first place. This was the second douchiest thing Heatley has ever done in his life (…ahem).

The Senators eventually received Milan Michalek’s overpaid and lengthy contract, the ghost of Jonathan Cheecho, and a second round pick from the Sharks in exchange for Heatley. A douche for a bag of crap.

Believing in Pascal Leclaire

In 2008, Leclaire injured his ankle (foreshadowing!) which prompted the Bluejackets to call up eventual Rookie of the Year Steve Mason. This goaltending change made Leclaire expendable and the Sens traded Antoine Vermette for him with the hope that they were getting the 2007-2008 healthy version of Leclaire that had a 2.25 GAA and .919 SV%.

Instead, the Sens got a frequently injured goalie that hasn’t been good when he was healthy. He’s only managed to play 48 games for the Senators in parts of two seasons. For this they gave up a pretty good two-way player in Vermette, who scored a career high 65 points last season.

I think it’s fitting that the picture of Leclaire on Wikipedia is one where the other team is scoring.

Panic signings

In 2009, the Sens signed Alexei Kovalev to a two-year, $10 million contract which included a NTC. They gave this to Kovalev despite watching him frustrate Montreal fans with years of inconsistency. Sure, Kovalev was a fan favourite in Montreal, but he had a tendency to produce one great year followed by a junk one. The Sens were hoping Kovalev was due for a patented good year after bad, but they just got bad.

In 2010, the Sens, deluding themselves into thinking they were still a contending team, signed a 36-year-old Sergei Gonchar to a three-year deal worth $5.5 million per season. The Sens hoped Gonchar would help the powerplay, which maybe he still can, but they didn’t realize that he can’t really play defence anymore. He’s a -17, which amazingly isn’t a team worst (that would be Chris Phillips at -22).

Everyone makes a point to say that Brian Burke didn’t create the cup winning Anaheim Ducks, pointing out that it was under Bryan Murray that the team drafted their young core which led them to a championship. It’s true the Ducks drafted well under Murray, but it was Burke who aggressively acquired the pieces required to actually win the cup. Anyways, nobody ever mentions that this same infallible Bryan Murray destroyed a Ottawa Senators team that was consistently at the top of the Eastern Conference and turned them into the bottom feeders they are today.

Let the fire-sale begin.


Anonymous said...

The Sens used the second round pick they got from CBJ to pick Robin Lehner, so they might get a goalie out of the deal, just not the one they expected.

Ted Rigby said...

This is the most uplifting article I've read since the Leafs traded away Blake and Toskala... Unfortunately, there are entire novels based on similar failings of the Leafs but it's always nice to know we're not alone.

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