Senators Blueprint For A Rebuild?

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The Ottawa Senators, their management and their fans need only look back a few years to see a team that found themselves in a similar predicament to that currently facing their club.

The Philadelphia Flyers finished the 2005-06 season with 101 points.  One year later, the team plummeted and finished DEAD LAST in the NHL with 56 points, a decrease of 45 points.  The following year, they bounced back and finished with 95 points,  returning to the playoffs.  How did they do it, and how can Ottawa make the same strides?

The answer lies in 3 different timelines – Trade Deadline, Draft Day and Free Agency.  By analyzing what the Flyers did at each of these stages might provide a blueprint for a quick Senators rebuild, and also provide examples of similar moves that Ottawa could make that would mirror what the Flyers accomplished.  I’m not suggesting the moves are what Ottawa SHOULD do, merely suggesting a similar move to what the Flyers did to create a winning environment.


AT THE  TRADE DEADLINE

Move # 1 –  Traded captain Peter Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent and 1st & 3rd rd picks

REASONING:  Trading a pending UFA to be for 4 assets.

HINDSIGHT:  Forsberg played sparingly and has been hampered by injuries, out of the league and back.  Upshall was a solid player before being moved to Phoenix, and Parent never really made a full time impact.  (See below for impact of the 1st rd pick)

SIMILAR OTTAWA MOVE?:  Trading UFA-to-be Alex Kovalev for whatever asset(s) they might be able to get.


Move #2 –  Traded veteran D Alexei Zhitnik to the Atlanta Thrashers for D Braydon Coburn

REASONING:  Trading away an expensive veteran contract to a team desperate for a playoff appearance, in exchange for a youthful prospect.

HINDSIGHT:  Zhitnik was aging quickly and played out the season and one more in Atlanta before bolting to the KHL.  Coburn has been a stalwart shutdown defenseman for the Flyers since the trade.

SIMILAR OTTAWA MOVE?:  Trading D Filip Kuba for a youthful prospect.


Move #3 –  Traded veteran winger and pending UFA Kyle Calder to the Chicago Blackhawks for D Lasse Kukkonen

REASONING: Unload a veteran player who is deemed unsignable, for a prospect.

HINDSIGHT:  Negligable move, as Kukkonen left for the KHL after playing 95 games over 3 seasons for the Flyers.  It didn’t work out but essentially cost them nothing.

SIMILAR OTTAWA MOVE?:  Trading W Jarkko Ruutu for a prospect and/or pick.


Move #4 – Traded a 2nd rd pick to the Buffalo Sabres for G Martin Biron

REASONING:  Pending UFA goaltender acquired for a draft pick, hoping to re-sign one of the better backups in the league to solidify a previously weak position.

HINDSIGHT:  Biron signed a 2 year extension with the Flyers, and won 59 games over his 2 full seasons before leaving as an UFA.  The player who was selected with the 2nd round pick that went to Buffalo has yet to play an NHL game.

SIMILAR OTTAWA MOVE?:  Depends who is available and at what price.  Ottawa has only 1 goalie signed for next season (Lehner).  J. S. Giguere or Thomas Vokoun may be available, depending on asking price and what Ottawa is willing to give up.


BEFORE/ON DRAFT DAY

More # 5 – The 1st rd pick previously acquired in the Forsberg deal traded back to Nashville for the negotiating rights to pending UFAs Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.

REASONING:  The Flyers have cap space and the moved worked as they were able to sign both players to long term contracts.

HINDSIGHT:  Hartnell and Timonen are both contributing to the Flyers to this date.  Timonen is an elite offensive defenseman and Hartnell is an excellent grinder on the 3rd line.

SIMILAR OTTAWA MOVE?:  It is too early to determine who will be available come July 1st. This is a move that can’t be made until a couple of days before Free Agency opens.


Move #6 – Drafted F James van Reimsdyk 2nd overall, behind Patick Kane.

REASONING:  Drafted what they thought was the best player available.

HINDSIGHT:  It took a couple of years, but van Reimsdyk is now a regular in the Flyers lineup.

SIMILAR OTTAWA MOVE?:  The Senators should look to draft the best Forward available with their pick which looks to be a top 5, if things remain as they are (Landeskog, Couturier, Nugent-Hopkins are possibilities).


OPENING OF FREE AGENCY PERIOD

Move #7 – Signed F Danny Briere to a long term deal.

REASONING:  The Flyers opened up cap space with previous deals, and used it on the diminuative but speedy centre/winger who was one of the top free agents on the open market that year.

HINDSIGHT: Briere provided an instant offensive impact for the Flyers, and despite an injury plagued 2008-09 season, has largely lived up to the billing.

SIMILAR OTTAWA MOVE?:  Signing C Brad Richards would be the ultimate impact move, but other noteworthy signings could include  Simon Gagne, Justin Williams, or Tomas Kaberle.


Move #8 – Traded D Joni Pitkanen and F Geoff Sanderson to the Edmonton Oilers for D Jason Smith and F Joffrey Lupul.

REASONING:  Dealing for experience and leadership

HINDSIGHT:  Smith was named captain before playing a single game, and taught Mike Richards how to lead an NHL team.  Lupul was a 20-goal man in two consecutive seasons for the Flyers.

SIMILAR OTTAWA MOVE?:  Trading D Brian Lee and F Chris Kelly for a veteran defenseman and younger forward.


***It must also be noted that the maturing of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter had a lot to do with the Flyers’ quick turnaround in 2007-08.  Unfortunately the Senators do not currently have any offensive prospects of that calibre in their system.


There you have it.  Eight impact moves that the Flyers used to turn a horrible season into a one-year abberration.  These aren’t all the moves that were made, but they were the most recognizable and meaningful.  Whether or not the Senators can mimic these moves remains to be seen, as the planets must also be perfectly aligned for some of the moves to be pulled off.

Whoever is tasked with the Ottawa rebuild (and it will be Bryan Murray who handles the trade deadline work, like it or not), will have to work some magic to be able to move some of the contracts that the team is currently saddled with, if that is the direction the club decides to go.

The Senators have expiring contracts for 6 UFAs totalling about $15 million (Kovalev, Ruutu, Shannon, Phillips, Hale, Leclaire).  Campoli & Elliott will be RFAs as well, with just over $2 million in cap space between them.   The Senators will have some flexibility, but will also need to fill key holes.  The majority of the Senators’ top prospects appear to be on the blue line (Cowan, Runblad, Wiercioch) as opposed to the forward ranks.

Lehner might be the goalie of the future, but he is not ready to carry the load in the NHL yet, so a veteran needs to be brought in (either by trade or free agency) at some point to  be the #1 man in Ottawa next year or two.  This should be a player who is willing to eventually hand over the torch to the young Swede, while still providing competition for playing time.

If nothing else, the rebuild should be interesting to watch, especially at the trade deadline, should there be enough buyers competing for players to drive up the asking price.  That could create the perfect storm for the Senators to get the most out of their assets, and perhaps move some contracts that were thought to be unmovable.   Desperation sometimes causes teams to do funny things, like overpay for mediocre talent.

The Senators could also go the way of the Atlanta Thrashers, and save some cap space for players who are on cap-burdened teams that may need to unload salary as the new season nears.  That is a game of musical chairs, however, and if they miss out on those players, there won’t be much left to pick from.

There, now you have my opinion.  What is yours?  What should the Senators do in the coming weeks to make the rebuild as quick and effective as possible?  Who are the untoucables, if any?

You can follow me on twitter @alfieisgod, or comment below.

(image source: www.arrowheadaddict.com)