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The Hockey News

We here at THN took some heat over our 2010 Yearbook predictions, not the least of which came from Ottawa. Senators fans were pretty upset we picked their team to finish 10th in the East and let it be known fairly vociferously. I wonder what they’re saying now?

Ottawa sits 29th overall, with an offense at No. 29 (2.00 goals per game) and a defense at No. 24 (3.25 goals-against per game). The team’s lone bright spot had been the play of top netminder Pascal Leclaire, who’s currently nursing a groin strain and doesn’t look like he’ll be able to stay healthy enough long-term to be the go-to guy.

Now, I’m not suggesting it’s time for the Senators to hit the panic button - it’s early yet - but the team simply hasn’t looked good and GM Bryan Murray made it known last week he’s looking to make changes. My question is, just what does he think he can do? lists the Senators as having less than $350,000 of salary cap wiggle room, meaning they’ll have to move significant dollars to make any significant changes. Center Jason Spezza was rumored to be on the block during the summer. He comes with a $7-million cap hit and a penchant for playing a game closer to that of a shinny star than of a responsible NHLer.

There’s a team a few hours west on Hwy. 401 in need of a No. 1 center, but would the Sens be willing to deal with the archrival Maple Leafs – and would the Leafs even be interested in a guy signed at that price through 2015? Few other teams can afford Spezza’s stipend, under the cap or within their individual operating budgets. Expect him to stay where he is.

Alex Kovalev counts for $5 million and is the poster boy for what ails Ottawa. The Mercurial One has a lone point and has looked as disinterested as ever this season. I literally forgot he played for the Sens while watching the Oct. 9 Ottawa-Toronto game from the Air Canada Centre press box until late in the contest. There will be no takers for the aging Russian.

Captain Daniel Alfredsson is a lifer in the Canadian capital and isn’t overpaid at $4.9 million. Milan Michalek ($4.3 million) and Mike Fisher ($4.2 million) are the team’s most marketable players, but Murray would be crazy to part with either. Doing so would indicate a rebuild, not a tweak.

Youngsters Erik Karlsson, Nick Foligno and, to a lesser extent, Peter Regin would net some here-and-now hope, but moving them would set the franchise’s future back a few drafts. Same goes with junior blueliners David Runblad and Jared Cowen.

All of which takes me back to my original point: Just what does Murray mean when he says, as he did the other day, “It’s not the coaches or players only, it’s me doing anything I can.” Other than moving spare parts for other spare parts, there doesn’t seem to be much he can do short of waiving underachievers or sending them to American League Binghamton. Problem is, there isn’t anyone ready to promote in their stead.

And, really, what did he expect of the squad he’d put together? Putting your eggs in the baskets of guys like Spezza, Kovalev, Sergei Gonchar and Leclaire is a recipe for disaster. The Senators may again put together an 11-game winning streak to vault themselves into the post-season, as they did last year, but I’m not counting on it. It’s been a pretty precipitous slide from 113 points coming out of the lockout to where the team is now.

And I just don’t see it getting better any time soon.

John Grigg is a copy editor and writer with The Hockey News and a regular contributor to with his blog appearing Sundays and the Monday Top 10.

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