Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Senators Could Use A Little Shakeup At The Quarter Pole

I like to think that Black Aces is occasionally a calm oasis amongst the raging inferno of opinion out there on the Ottawa Senators. A place where Jason Spezza can put his feet up and not get hit in the head from flying beer cans. A place of sober second thought, like the Senate on Parliament Hill, without Mike Duffy throwing those very beer cans (most of them already empty).

That’s not the case today.

Today is a day where I think it might be fun to see a little hell break loose around this team. A day where I finally think some changes should be made to this inconsistent, sloppy Ottawa Senators team that played one of their worst, uninspired games of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, falling 5-0 to the lowest scoring team in the NHL in front of another less than capacity – and bored to tears - crowd in Kanata.

It was rough to watch. Much like it’s been rough all season long, win or lose. It’s not like there’s been many real gems over the course of the first 18 games which is almost a quarter of the season. I get that this team is coming off a 3 game winning streak and a 5-game streak where they earned at least a point. Panicking now seems like a useless tactic, and in fact it is. But making a decisive move is not panicking. It’s proactive.

This just feels like a team begging for a trade. Not a major one with any of their core players, but something that will jar the room a little bit and make some guys feel less safe than they do. I’d guess GM Bryan Murray has been talking trade with a lot of GM’s after seeing the terrible October they had. I’m also sure he felt he could back off a little with the recent wins but every GM has something on the backburner that they might be able use when they decide the time is right.

Trades seem to transpire from months of off and on talks. Maybe Murray feels like taking a risk after watching this team long enough to know this is pretty much it. The Senators are what they are. Major improvement in their own zone defensively seems like a wish that may never come true. More speed, puck-possession and hitting from their forwards is not going to happen with the wingers they have now. Colin Greening, who management was hoping would turn into a real power-forward, is playing more like ex-Senator softie Colin Forbes than the guy we saw in the playoffs. Cory Conacher has the spirit but not the size. Milan Michalek is a shadow out there.

If somebody could or should get moved, I’d look to the wings. Not that teams would be beating down Murray’s door for these guys, but you can idly fantasize that some of them could be packaged for a fast, physical winger like Wayne Simmonds or somebody with a similar skill set to play with Spezza. I know, Milks, keep dreaming.

I also keep wondering when MacLean comes around to trying Bobby Ryan with Spezza again, a pairing that never really got a chance after being broken up when Spezza was struggling early with a groin injury and the team wasn’t scoring. Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur are playing so well that they could afford to use a different winger there and maybe spread the offense around a little. But right now, that line seems sacrosanct while all the others get the blender treatment.

Jason Spezza has performed well considering he’s been saddled with the hardest struggling wingers on the team. You could say Spezza isn’t making the likes of Michalek, Greening and Conacher any better either, but those same players struggled just as bad playing with Zack Smith or Derek Grant.

To me, they don’t need to do anything about their one true strength, which is goaltending. Craig Anderson got lit up last night but it had more to do with the near catatonic team in front of him than it did with the quality of his play. Paul MacLean is no doubt feeling the heat by making the decision to switch out the hot hand of Robin Lehner, but that’s a decision a lot of hockey people would have made. Most nights, you’re going to get elite goaltending from either Lehner or Anderson.

Instead, it’s everything from the net on out that needs a jolt.

The defense pairings are constantly in flux because no one is playing well enough to for MacLean to keep them together. Jared Cowen, a player I wrote about just last week needing time and patience, is regressing even further and may need to be scratched to let it really sink in. You can see him thinking out there – should I jump up in the play?... should I hold the blueline or fall back?... should I hit this guy along the boards or cut off his passing avenues?

It would seem to be an easy decision, but if you sit Cowen that means you have to play Patrick Wiercioch more minutes and that could be even uglier with the passive way he’s performing. It’s a domino effect and one they may not like.

Again, this all seems like an overreaction when put in the context of their recent success, but anyone who’s watched hockey for more than a few years can see this team isn’t as good as they looked on paper coming into the season. When vets and youngsters struggle alike for close to 20 games, it’s time to shake things up a little.

Whether that’s a trade (which I think is appropriate right now – easier said than done) or a surprising scratch or minor-league demotion, this team could use the sense of urgency those kind of moves can create.

I just get the feeling something is around the corner. We’ll wait and see.


phil said...

i'd like to see them make a move too, but how can you improve through a trade without gaining salary?

before the season even started eugene said they were already 'over budget' and that he'd only think about adding salary if they were in a good position at the deadline. the murrays are still left with the impossible task of improving the team without spending money.

Anonymous said...

I thought that the whole point of acquiring Bobby Ryan was to give Spezza a winger who could finish. In Spezza, we have one of the premiere playmakers in the league. In Ryan, we have a guy with a great shot. Seems like a match.

The Turris-Ryan-MacArthur line are producing. That's great, but the team's not winning. That's the important thing.

There's a quote from Bobby Clarke on a Sportsnet feature about Bobby Ryan, where Clarke says that Ryan is a really good player on the verge of being a great player, and that with Spezza they could be a dominant pair in the East. That quote was before the season started.

I don't understand, how after 2 games, the Sens make a decision to break that pair up. As a hockey fan, not just a Sens fan, I want to see what that pair can do. Two highly skilled guys with creativity could produce some pretty special moments.

Seats at CTC will stay empty unless the Sens start winning, or unless there is some other reason to show up, like a pairing that regularly shows up on a highlight reel.

I don't know why the team is performing below expectations. But, I do think that you want to put your leaders in roles where they are comfortable, so that they can lead with some authority.

Otherwise, if your leaders are feeling unsettled, you have to wonder if that energy filters right through the lineup.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of a trade, but who (as fans) are we willing to part with? Michalek, Conacher, Zibanejad, Kassian, Gryba? I think they can all play their role.

If we aren't in the playoff race I say we trade Anderson. Lehner's ready!

Anonymous said...

I'd trade a core player. Pretty sure Phillips or Neil's no-trades expire in January of next year. If we're still struggling then, move Neil to a team needing toughness for a good puck-moving D, we need more of that.

Neil goes? Like a bomb in the dressing room. They'd be shaking in their boots. And with that fear? Results in the offing.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and the lauded Anderson?
.903 or so save percentage.
Anderson has always been an average, backup level goaltender. Lehner really is our #1 guy. It's just taking MacLean a while to see it.

Andy's numbers last year were a confluence of events. A lot of the prime shooters weren't in game shape so they couldn't score as much; Karlsson and Spezza out meant the team could play a chipppy game that made him look better. It's time to move on.