While Senators coach Cory Clouston likely will lose his job in an attempt to salvage the season, it’s the players who are the problem in Ottawa.
Down years from a number of them have conspired to sink the team, but it’s a group with flaws; a cap team with few big-money workers worth their wage. And that’s GM Bryan Murray’s fault.
He’s had to deal with some tough circumstances during his tenure and has done some good work. But it’s time someone else is brought in to make changes; though big-money contracts and no-trade clauses assure change won’t be easy.
Murray’s signing of Alex Kovalev to $10 million over two years in 2009 has been a flop (luckily, he comes off the books after this season). And though 35-year-old, $5.5-million man Sergei Gonchar can still run a power play, his defensive deficiencies are glaring and were when he was signed last summer.
Jason Spezza has all the talent in the world, but counts for $7 million per season and is stagnating in Ottawa with a no-trade clause. Mike Fisher’s $4.2-million cap hit is affordable, but nagging injuries or no, he’s underachieving and also has a limited no-trade clause.
In all, next season there’s more than $20 million in salary cap space promised to players who are in their late 30s and guys who can control, to one extent or another, where they play.
Even local saint Daniel Alfredsson is finally slowing down and, at 38, isn’t quite worth his $4.875 million cap hit. Although at $5.5 million in actual salary owed the next two campaigns, Alfredsson has value on the trade market. But if the captain is willing to leave the nation’s capital, that’ll mean a total rebuild.
Not that a total rebuild would be a bad thing.
Learning-on-the-job Erik Karlsson along with Jared Cowen, Patrick Wierioch and David Rundblad – other young blueliners in the system – bode well for the future of Ottawa’s defense corps, while rookie pro and World Junior Championship star Robin Lehner looks to be the real deal in goal.
So there is some talent to look forward to in coming years, for which Murray deserves a tip of the hat. But should anyone on the current NHL roster outside of Karlsson be untouchable? I don’t think so.
Thing is, the chances Murray will be the guy to blow it all up are next to nil. This is the team – and to a large extent the organization – he built. Murray has his allegiances and, naturally, is partial to his players.
But something big must be done with the direction of this team. So as calls for Clouston’s head get louder, owner Eugene Melnyk would be well advised to give some hard thought to putting the Sens in the hands of someone other than Murray.
If that doesn’t happen, expect more of the same next season. No matter who’s behind the bench.
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.