Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Crime Scene Investigation

After another embarrassing defeat with only one meaningless goal scored against Atlanta, all eyes in Ottawa will now be turning to general manager Bryan Murray.

Unfortunately for Murray and head coach Craig Hartsburg, this brutal loss comes on the heels of Eugene Melnyk going on Toronto sports radio and predicting that the Senators would storm back and finish in the top four of the Eastern Conference.

Sorry Geno, but that's about as likely as Bill Muckalt getting his Senators jersey retired.

At this point in the season, it's become pretty clear that the Senators just don't have the skill to compete in the new high octane NHL and like it or not, Bryan Murray has to take the responsibility for this dramatic drop in team fortunes.

Murray was the one who thought he could get away with a trio of minor leaguer's to boost his offense from the back end after losing the likes of Wade Redden and Andre Meszaros. Now his team looks like it couldn't break out of Mooney's Bay let alone their own end of the ice to execute simple offensive plays that were once taken for granted.

He also hired a coach who now seems to be panicking in a way that only John Paddock managed to surpass. Hartsburg has stopped playing four lines and has somehow managed to find a reason to play energy forwards Shean Donovan and Jarkko Ruutu just over 5 minutes a game, despite the rest of his lines looking like they're skating in mud (an apt description of the heavily criticised ice surface at Scotiabank Place this season).

Hartsburg has also instituted the dreaded "win and you're in" philosophy when it comes to the goalies, despite already having a bonafide number one in Alex Auld. After 2 months of steady play, Hartsburg bizarrely decided to banish Auld to the bench in favour of Martin Gerber who has already done irreparable damage to this team in the past. Now he's got a genuine goalie controversy on his hands and it's his own fault. Auld should have been given one game to rest and then put back in, regardless if Gerber played the game of his life.

Now nothing is certain. The forward lines change from game to game, shift to shift. Shean Donovan was a folk hero a week ago, now he's basically warming the bench.

It's a complete mess and now Bryan Murray has to fix it.

What's clear is that these players are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Big 3 look worn out and defeated and it's not even Christmas.

Murray needs to make a move to spark some life into this team. But with the holiday roster freeze going into effect this Friday and a huge road trip coming up, things might actually get worse.

And not to look too far ahead, but Filip Kuba is an unrestricted free agent after this season. In my mind, he's not even worth keeping at what he's getting paid right now but Murray will be forced to overpay just to try to keep an NHL worthy defense roster. That sort of defeats the purpose of the Meszaros trade in the first place doesn't it, especially with Picard looking like he's a marginal player at best.

Merry Christmas.


For some reason, when I look at the above picture of Heatley exploding off of Garnet Exelby, I keep hearing the opening of C.S.I., as if upon their explosive impact you hear Roger Daltry of the Who screaming "Yaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!"


For those of you who had the (dis)pleasure of listening to the latest installment of Over The Edge (Tuesday morning), you were treated to nearly 3 hours of Kulka and Versage railing against what the Senators players wear on their way into the rink from the parking lot.


They took Don Cherry's now infamous "thug" comment and ran with it, saying that the players toques and winter coats (worn in minus 20 weather) are not allowing the players to get into the "proper mindset" to succeed. They seemingly had no explanation about how past Ottawa teams with the same dress code managed to be so successful and overcome their toque problems.

This show, easily the lamest in Ottawa sports radio history, has sunk to a new, once unthinkable low.

At first they told us that it was just "hard work" (ad nauseam) which was the sole criteria for winning games in the NHL. Now it has been expanded to include whether or not the players wear toques and appropriate winter jackets as they pass through the rear shipping doors at the rink.

Over The Edge caters exclusively to the type of fan who feels the inner need to "punish" professional athletes for whatever reason, be it money, fame or whatever it is they don't have themselves.

These types of fans project unrealistic expectations onto athletes which they know can't be fulfilled, giving them an excuse to call them lazy and unprofessional, whether it's based in fact or not.

Kulka and Versage specialize in this type of crap and substitute meaningless (but usually slanderous) chatter for real, informed hockey talk. And if someone calls in and disagrees with them, they get slaughtered live on-air by a raging Kulka who seemingly hasn't grasped the simple fact that talk-radio is supposed to be a two-way platform.

These real "thugs" should get a one-way ticket to the cold street and they better not be wearing toques and winter jackets either.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up on the Melnyk interview. I just listened to it.

My take on it is that Geno is either being a "good soldier" and backing up his GM and coach, or he needs to join the NHL substance abuse program. I am going to choose to believe the former, otherwise I will be on the road to joining the NHL substance abuse program.

Of note, he said that Spezza has been an offensive player that hasn't played defense for 15 years, so he needs to be de-programmed; and it's working. I almost fell off my chair. You think it's working, Geno??? What's working??? You wanna de-program one of the top offensive talents in the league???

Nah, he's just being a good soldier...right?...right? That's what I'm gonna to choose to believe.

By the end of the interview, even Millard and Kipper seemed taken aback by his assertion that the Sens will turn it around and finish top four in the conference.

I don't know what to say. I've said it before. I believe that the problems start at the GM level. We need a new GM. The players have tuned him out, and rightly so. He has shed talent, and not done a good job of replacing the talent he has shed. That has had a demoralising effect on the roster.

They used to play a high octane offensive game that won hockey games. They have been told to change and play a defensive game. Now, they don't win anymore. They don't look like they are having fun. They're no longer fun to watch. This is truely a disaster.

I really believe that firing the GM will change the atmosphere around the team. It will clear the air. That is the first step to recovery.

Anonymous said...

Another great post Milks. Presenting just the facts minus all the hysterics makes for a nice format. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

If you can hold out with temporary measures ... Steve Yzerman may be available after the 2010 Olympics and ready to be a full-time GM.

If that happens, Ottawans had damn well better treat him properly, or Red Wings fans will kick your collective butts. :)

Unknown said...

Glen Kulka is astonishingly stupid. I remember when that show first started, he didn't know a thing about hockey. Now he knows ALMOST nothing about hockey, which is worse, because he pretends to be an expert.

I think a lot of the people who call in to OTE are unemployed and angry about it. Why else would they be calling a radio show at 10 in the morning?

After all, it's too early to crack the first 40 of Olde English...

Oman said...

Thank you for acknowledging that Paddock... I mean Harstburg has switched back to the "Win and you're in" strategy. Combined with his line shuffling and the fact that he preached accountability and now refuses to bench players make me thing he is becoming a lame duck.

I think in some real ways Murray did address the rot that was eating the team last year (eg. bad attitudes and substance abuse). However, his current problem might be his over compensation in the character and defensive defense department. Now we have too much leadership and not enough skill and speed. My hunch is that there are about four coaches wearing skates on this team.

They need younger players with skill and speed that take direction, don't second guess the coach and respond to limited ice time and benchings.

Anonymous said...

I disagree Hartsburg has adopted a "win and you're in" approach. The truth is Auld hasn't carried the full load since his days in Vancouver and we was beginning to look tired and hadn't been as sharp. Hartsburg was looking to give him some rest and Gerber gave him an opportunity with decent play in the Carolina, Chicago and T-Bay games. I'm sure Hartsburg and the rest of the staff have recognized Auld's the guy and he'll get the majority of the starts for the balance of the season.

As for BM, I think his results have been mixed for sure, but the club's current struggles can't all be laid at his feet. He didn't lose Chara, trade Havlat for nothing or sign Gerber to starter's money. Further, this club was built on the strength of it's draft which eroded considerably during the Muckler era. BM's last draft, his only one in which he had his talent evaluation team in place, seems to have been pretty solid.

The truth of the new NHL is parity, with every team able to poach other team's talent generated from their draft success. Only Detroit has bucked the trend thus far and they've been fortunate some of their younger guys have really panned out and guys like Hossa have wanted to play for them.

This won't last forever, but regardless, Detroit has shown the way. You have to be continuously better at finding young (and cheap) talent to fill out your roster. The Sens have virtually none right now and that isn't BM's fault. If we don't have a strong pipeline of young talent after the '09 draft, however, then he should be shown the door.

- Jalen

Oman said...

I think Harsburg is definitely showing signs of being a lame duck. It's not too late for him, but he'll have to do something drastic and get results to keep his job.

I do agree Jalen, with your take on Murray re. young talent. Though he is also at a critical point now. Basically he has to decide how big his re-build needs to be and act soon.

The sens definitely are lacking young, cheap, talent and speed. The question is how much. They could try a small blow up now in the hopes of contending this spring, or a bigger blow up and major rebuild from a combo of prospects, top picks and a few key free agents.

Anonymous said...

Amen, the buck stops with Murray and he needs to go. The sooner the better IMO. If we can get Yzerman then fantastic, but the main point is Murray needs to go.

Anonymous said...

Jalen, how can you say that it is not Murray's fault? He's got his hands on the steering wheel. He's in his second year and has repeatedly said that we have more depth and that we are a better team.

We made it to the finals without Chara and Havlat. This team can win without them.

Murray was given a gift, with the priviledge to be the GM of one of the best teams in the NHL. He has destroyed team.

He should be dismissed.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:31am:

I said the team's struggles can't all be laid on BM, that's not to say he hasn't made errors.

Yeah, the team went to the finals without Chara and Havlat, but that was two years ago. With few changes upfront since then, we can't score and have little or no scoring prospects in our system.

Teams winning now weren't built in the last year and a half.

Q: How many players on the roster came from the team's 2002-2006 drafts?

A: One - Foligno.

Prospects in the system - Lee, Zubov, Bass and Elliot.

In five consecutive drafts, not one top 6 forward or top 4 d-man.

That dearth of drafted talent would tie any organization's hands and is one key reason this team is struggling.

Tell me what moves BM has made that you disagree with? The Carolina trade? Not a good deal for sure, but Eaves is struggling badly and Corvo wanted out. The Meszaros trade? Yeah, with his no goals and 8 pts we would be much better. Maybe you wanted him to re-sign Reds at that ridiculous contract?

Or maybe it's the moves he hasn't made that you're pi$$ed about, like signing Campbell or trading for JBo. Trouble with those is it takes two sides to make a deal. It's not fantasy hockey guy.

- Jalen

Anonymous said...

Mehhh, Murray might yet pull off some magic, but I doubt it given the pieces in front of him. Who is playing at a level that will attract much interest, or at least provide anything decent in return? Failing to make some move to shake things up should cost BM his job at year end.

The scary thing is that the farm system has grown increasingly mediocre. I just don't see a lot of future stars coming from within the system. I have no choice but to optimistically consider Brian Elliot to be an exception. Haha.

A nasty comparison perhaps - as until now, the Sens have consistently been a playoff team - but out here the Kings have had many similar issues in recent years yet seem to be turning the corner. Questionable coaching, a few good offensive players, lame defense, poor goaltending... but Lombardi made the farm system a major priority for the last few years. The callups & depth of the organization have measurably improved over the last two years, while sadly I think that the opposite is happening with Ottawa.

Bad record = high draft pick obviously helps greatly, but still, much more should have been done wrt Bingo & beyond, even though it isn't front page news. Next year worries me more than this year. /rant

Anonymous said...

Jalen, I normally agree with your comments, but not your most recent one.

I think most of Murray's moves have not improved the team. He gave Fisher a NTC with an overvalued contract. I want Fisher on the team, but he should have paid less.

The Carolina deal was bad. The argument that Corvo did not want to be here is lame. Yashin did not want to be here, but we made him honor his contract then traded him for Spezza and Chara. Corvo was still producing and he was locked up for 2 more years at a very affordable $2.6M. Corvo was feeling the media heat, that's why he didn't like it here. Why didn't Murray defend him in the media like he does for Gerber? I bet that would have gone a long way. Eaves was our first rounder from 2003. He hit 20 goals one year. We gave up on him too early. Mez was our first rounder in 2004. We dumped him too early as well. Just because those guys are struggling now does not mean it was a good deal. I believe that they are both talented and that under better coaching they will be good players. They are both on teams who have fired their coaches this year. Besides, I like how Eaves fit on our roster. I think that we were the perfect team for him.

We gave up Corvo and Eaves for free. When Kuba leaves UFA, that deal will leave us with a borderline minor leaguer in Picard. Lee is not being mentored, so that pick will rot also. Redden signed for $6.5M but he said that he would take less to stay in Ottawa. We don't know how much less, but I'm guessing that if you told him that you would give him Alfie money, it would have been enough. A good puck mover will cost at least Alfie money.

I haven't even got into the Richardson, Lapointe and Robitaille acquisitions.

Murray has had his chance. He has produced a boring, losing team. I'm a big time Sens fan, and more than that a hockey fan. I have to admit that I can't help but change channels during the game. I never used to do that.

Anonymous said...

Another good post JM.

I love the Muckalt reference - can we bring him back? We could use his scoring!

The OTE clowns are idiots and embarassments to local media. They should stick to subjects they know something about though not sure what that is.

I think it's wrong for the blogger above to claim Murray gave Fisher an overvalued contract based on his play this year and using the benefit of hindsight. Nobody complained when the deal was signed and virtually everything I've seen and read suggests Fisher would've gotten at least as much if not more on the open market.

As for the Carolina trade, I agree it turned out bad for us, but Murray was trying to load up for a playoff run by getting another top six forward in Stillman and a physical d-man in Commodore, both of which were missing in the prior year's Final. It didn't work out but it was exactly what everyone was screaming be done.

Only time will tell if Eaves and Meszaros become good players, but their play here before leaving and their play since being traded doesn't indicate they will. Eaves is injury prone and benefited from playing on a high scoring team. Meszaros has declined each year since his rookie year when he benefited from playing with Redden.

I definitely think our lack of prospects hurts our flexibility in maneuvering under the cap. At least the last couple of drafts have produced decent prospects - the Muckler drafts were bad. Wouldn't Marc Staal or Anze Kopitar help right now?

Anonymous said...

While I do agree with a few things u said, Anonymous at 1:21, I think you are wrong on a few others. Redden, for one is not nearly the player we once knew. Now, im not a redden hater but you can clearly see that his play has tailed off to the point where perhaps he isnt worth more than 4 million a year. Personally i thought he would get better after last season due to the lack of a stanley cup hangover and new surrondings. He's actually got worse.
As for brian Lee, he had a chance, did not play well in camp and actually took a step back from last year. Im not sure how much "lack of mentoring" had to do with it.
Im also not sure how you can coach patrick eaves into becoming a natural goal scorer. It should be noted that carolina is a very offensive oriented team with lots of good offensive defencemen (just like ottawa was in his tenure). While i understand his value as an excellent forchecker this is not what ottawa needs at the moment. While I dont agree with the corvo eaves trade there are not many things a GM can do other than trade a player who badmouths his own city (for good reason or not) when his job is clearly on the line. Its easy to be an armchair GM but much more difficult when the owner is breathing down your neck. Would he have been canned if he didnt make some kind of move at the deadline?
Do we have any inside information aside from the fact that melnyk was really pissed off? Hell no. Did murray make a lot of mistakes? of course he did. Do most teams who are great for almost a decade have a collapse of some kind after getting low draft picks over and over again? Raised expectations year after year + increasing salaries +Salary cap + low draft picks = disaster for any GM.

If he did keep all those players would ottawa's blueline of a worse redden and no preissing be able to compete the way they did with every other team moving forward? I sincerely believe that this team has had their time at the top and should be rebuilding. Anyways, to say that murray is mostly responsible for this disaster is a little bit silly.

Ben said...

There is no goalie controversy. Auld handled the goaltending on his own for a month. Gerber played two games to allow Auld to recover. Let's get a little perspective on the situation.

Anonymous said...

anon @ 2:18pm

Just for the record, I did not like the Fisher deal back in September 2007, when it was signed. I was not commenting on blogs back then, but I assure you there is no hindsight involved. Brendan Morrow, who is a captain and who scores more, and who is more valuable to his team, signed for less than Fisher. He signed for $4.1M.

I also did not like the Carolina deal, at the time. I thought that it was shortsighted. I thought Corvo was a valuable contributor. I don't care that he didn't like the city. All I care about is how they perform on the ice. I have friends who live in Ottawa who don't like the city. I'm not offended by their opinions of the city either.

I agree with you that Staal would look great on the Sens. Muckler screwed that up. But, I'm a little sensitive about the Muckler bashing, because we reached the finals under his tenure. When he left, the fan base still felt great about the team, at least I know I did.

Anonymous said...

Mickey, I respect your opinion. A lot of the facts that you put forth are true.

Redden is not the player he was.
Brian Lee appears to have taken a step back.
Patrick Eaves is not scoring goals.
Teams go through cycles.

Here's where I differ. I do not know Bryan Murray, and I do not have any inside info, but do know a bit about how management works, in general.

Any skilled manager, can make a good player look bad. Ovechkin is an oustanding talent, but if a GM wanted to get rid of him, he could do things behind the scenes, that fans would not be aware of, to frustrate and irritate the player. That frustration often results in poor play.

Two years ago, Redden was good enough to be selected to the Olympic Team. Everyone knew that Redden had a NTC, yet there were constant leaks that Murray was trying to trade him. That was clearly affecting Redden's play. Why was Muuray leaking that info to the media? Even Doug Wilson was upset when the media asked him if he was in discussion for acquiring Redden. He said that he never discusses deals publicly. I think Murray did whatever he could to make Redden feel unwanted, even though it was affecting his play. Redden is not a Murray type of player.

Ron Wilson had a bad relationship with Marleau last year. Marleau's production was awful. Since a new coach took over, Marleau is on fire. Doug Wilson has said that Redden reminds him of Marleau in that they both internalise things that bother them. This affects their play.

Redden has clearly not found his game yet, you are right. But, he has had to leave the franchise he loves, it will take time. Trevor Linden was not the same player either, when Mike Keenan traded him from Vancouver. I think that Redden will find his consistency next year.

My opinion on Brain Lee is that he needs to be brought along like Picard and Winchester. He has more talent than both yet Murray punishes him sending him to the minors. Keep him on the big club and let him learn from the pros. He will make mistakes, but his learning curve will be sharper in Ottawa if he gets the icetime that Picard gets.

Eaves is not working in Carolina, but I thought that he was getting it together in Ottawa.

You're right about cycles, but our core is too young for us to be in a downward cycle.

Anonymous said...

ANON Above:

A GM can rarely be jufged solely on what his team does while he is in charge. Muckler's true legacy is NOT having made the finals, it's what he left behind. Which is pretty much NOTHING.

Murray will likely be let go if this mess isn't cleaned up. 3-4 years from now when Zack Smith and Eric Karlsson are tearing it up and giving us fans something to cheer about, people will regret losing Murray.

Anonymous said...

Anon @3:53pm:

I don't think the Morrow comparison makes sense. Morrow re-signed a year earlier than Fisher and makes basically the same money. Morrow's a better point producer, but Fisher's slightly younger and arguably a bit better defensively (Selke finalist). Like Fisher, Morrow took less money than he could have gotten on the open market.

If you like comparisons, try Ribeiro making $5M per year taken one spot later in the same draft as Fisher and similar goal production (he'll never be considered good defensively). Deal signed 4 mths after Fisher's.

I wasn't bashing Muckler - I know we went to the finals with him - but whether you're sensitive to it or not, the downard spiral that has the team where it is today started on his watch. He made bad decisions (Chara, Gerber), his drafts were terrible, and his trades failed (Havlat, Arnasson, Saprykin, Bondra). But the team he inherited was winning, so fans like you want to give him a pass.

Anonymous said...

anon @ 4:57pm

He made it to the finals. What more do you want? Are you suggesting that we would have been better off had he held off on trades and not made the finals?

I never thought that Muckler gave up any substantial picks in his trades.

He should have gooten more for Havlat, I agree.

His first round drafts were Klepis, Eaves, Mez, Lee, Foligno. Klepis was a bust. Eaves was the highest rated propect available when they took him #29. Patrice Bergeron and Shea Webber were taken later, but they were not rated as frist rounders at the time. Lee was a mistake, it should have been Staal, as Staal was rated higher. Foligno was rated around where the Sens took him.

Morrow is a much better player than Fisher. He has played for Team Canada, and is constantly on the Olympic Team radar. He's the "go to" guy for the Stars, Mr. Clutch.

Fisher did not take less money than an open market deal, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

anon @ 4:57pm

No team ever regrets losing Murray. Check the record. After he left Detroit, they won the Cup. After he left Anaheim, they won the Cup.

The common factor is "after he left".

Anonymous said...

Yea, good point about the San Hose/Redden dynamic, if it was indeed the case that information was leaked then that is pretty shameful and was definately not needed at the time given the team's fragile state. Redden seems like a great guy. (For the record,
Marleau actually played great under wilson in the playoffs last year. Frankly I think that marleau was rejuvenated during that time.)I think that Murray is still under the "win now" philosophy set down by melnyk (probably not the best direction for this team atm) which goes towards explaining Lee's lack of playing time in comparison to Picard who definately doesnt have as high a ceiling as Lee.
The main thing that im getting at is that the firing of murray is nothing more than a gut check reaction that will not fix anything in this season. This team doesnt really have any assets and would have to pull off some highway robbery to get back to the contending position. firing murray is not going to somehow change the culture of this team and suddenly return it to the run and gun offense we all fell in love with.