The past 24 hours has seen a big groundswell of anxiety over the direction of the Ottawa Senators among the vocal fan base. There are a number of issues at the fore that have combined to create a black cloud worse than the ones that have dumped record rainfalls on the city.
First off, the big issue is the perception that the Senators are nickel-and-diming Captain Daniel Alfredsson and the fact that it is taking too long to get the contract, whether it be a one year or two year deal, done. Rumours are flying that the Senators are not coming close to what he is asking for, and some journalists, regardless of the source, are speculating that if Alfredsson becomes a free agent on Friday, that the Senators might not be able to keep him, as far fetched as it may be.
Frankly, I don’t see it happening. Even though as of midnight Tuesday night any team can pick up the phone and make him an offer, I think Alfie is loyal to the Senators and the city of Ottawa. However, he has every right to feel he is owed a little bit extra for playing last year for a pro-rated $1M. He is the face of the franchise and the go-to guy when questions arise in the media. That counts for something. Rumors are that he could be looking for upwards of $6M per season, whether it be on a one or two yea deal. Now, basing it on on-ice performance, the 40 year old isn’t worth that. For a media member to say that another club (the Bruins for example) would step in with a $6M or more offer would be silly for another team. However, the goodwill that he has in the city of Ottawa pretty much leads to having the club over a barrel. If the Senators somehow lose him and he goes elsewhere, then the backlash against the club would be enormous. It would be a PR nightmare that I don’t think Bryan Murray nor Eugene Melnyk want to consider going through.
Which leads me to the next point.
Melnyk is taking a lot of criticism over the internal $50M budget he has set. With Alfredsson, Patrick Wiercioch, Erik Condra all in need of new contracts as well as Andre Benoit a pending UFA, the Senators have $43M in cap space already committed. However, the actual dollars committed are $3M less. So depending which number they use to set their budget, it will be less than $10M left to spend. If Alfredsson comes in at $5, that doesn’t leave room for bringing in some scoring help or a top 4 defenseman.
Senschirp and Travis Yost at Hockeybuzz have published articles earlier today addressing the Senators spending. Give them a look because they are dynamite and I don’t want to take anything away from them. They are not easy reads for Senators fans, and some points are tough to get your head around. Melnyk came in with the promise to do what it took to bring in a winner. That is working to a degree, but being a low budget club won’t get them over the top. At some point they need to throw down the gaunlet and go for it. The time could be now, while the group is growing together to add a piece or two to put them over the hump and compete with the Boston’s and Pittsburghs of the league. You don’t have to spend to the same level, but you have to allow your brain trust (ie Murray) to make the moves needed to build the winner. You can’t build a winner through free agency and trade exclusively, but you can’t do it strictly internally with cheap players either.
How can the team that according to Forbes Magazine was the 8th most profitable team in 2011-12, justify having the 25th highest payroll in 2013 and still claim to be trying to build a winner? Melnyk has been outspoken about doing what is best for the team, as you can read in the article from SensChirp. If Melnyk is indeed in a bit of financial trouble, as is rumored, then that is an explanation for the budget. It is his team, and if he wants to treat is as a cash cow for the moment that is his prerogative. However, tying Murray’s hands without an explanation to the fan base could Melnyk very quickly from one of the most beloved individuals in the City to one of the most villified, as in Alexei Yashin-Dany Heatley territory.
And the key to avoiding the mess will be getting Alfredsson under contract. A.S.A.P.