Todays SlapShot

Ottawa Senators

Column: Owner Melnyk deluded about state of Senators

March 12, 2016: Ottawa Senators Defenceman Dion Phaneuf (2) [3507], Ottawa Senators Right Wing Alex Chiasson (90) [7459] and Ottawa Senators Left Wing Mike Hoffman (68) [6734] prepare for a face off during the NHL game between the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tires Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Steve Kingsman/Icon Sportswire)

The Ottawa Senators are one of the few NHL teams that operates on an internal budget, with owner Eugene Melnyk working to save money when it comes to player spending, and still win hockey games.

Not many teams in the league operate on an internal budget, mainly due to the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to win if the owner isn’t willing to spend money on the team. As Sportsnet’s Dimitri Filipovic so eloquently says,

Put it this way: spending money doesn’t ensure you’ll win, but not spending money essentially thwarts your chances of legitimately competing. It’s as if there’s a requisite cover charge that you need to pay to enter the VIP area of a club and that’s where it’ll ultimately be decided who gets to go home with the Stanley Cup.

Eugene Melnyk seems to have a blatant misunderstanding of this concept, given his recent statements to the media about the current state of affairs in Ottawa. There is a lot to dig into, but, let’s focus on one quote that shows, with certainty, that Melynk needs to let other people be making the hockey decisions for Ottawa.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

“This team should have been in the top five or six in the NHL, but it is what it is and we’re going to correct things.”

Wait. What?

It’s one thing to be confident in one’s own players; it’s quite another to believe that one’s team should be top five in the NHL, with no prior evidence to make that claim. Here are the top five teams in the NHL this season.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 11.51.22 PM

 

All five of those teams have rosters that are absolutely loaded with star talent. The Washington Capitals have an abundance of riches at the forward position, and an elite netminder in Braden Holtby. The Dallas Stars have the Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin duo, as well as Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, and John Klingberg. The St. Louis Blues have Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, and many others. The Los Angeles Kings have Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jake Muzzin, and Jeff Carter. The New York Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, and Ryan McDonagh.

The point is, if you want to be a top-five team in the league, you need to have a ridiculous amount of talent on your roster.

The Ottawa Senators have Erik Karlsson, which is a good start. He’s probably the best defenseman (if not the best player) in the league right now, and he averages 29 minutes a night; you can play Karlsson about half the game, and expect the results to be positive more than negative.

After Karlsson though, the Senators’ talent level is ridiculously low, especially on defense. Marc Methot has been a solid defenseman for most of his career, but at the age of 30, is no longer the player he used to be. In the 2015-16 campaign, Methot has posted the lowest Corsi For percentage and lowest relative Corsi For percentage of his four-year tenure with the Senators.

Outside of Methot, the team has relied on Cody Ceci, Mark Borowiecki, Chris Wideman, Patrick Wiercioch, Jared Cowen, Dion Phaneuf, Frederik Claesson, and Michael Kostka. Of those eight defensemen, only Wiercioch has managed to have a Corsi For percentage over 50 percent and a positive relative Corsi For percentage from 2013-2016.

(It should be mentioned that 7 million dollars per year will be going to Phaneuf for the next 5 years. Definitely not a good way for a budget team to be spending money).

19 April 2015: Ottawa Senators Defenceman Erik Karlsson (65) [6758] during game 3 of the first round of the NHL playoffs between the Canadiens and Senators at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, On.

Erik Karlsson may win the Norris Trophy this year, but is he enough to carry his team into the upper echelons of the NHL?

The Ottawa defense is literally the Erik Karlsson show. It would take a stacked forward group to propel this sad defensive corps into the “top five” status.

The forwards, however, are just as bleak as the defense. Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, and Mike Hoffman are all excellent players, but they aren’t elite. Turris would be a number two center on almost all of the playoff teams in the Western Conference and a number three center on some. Stone and Hoffman wouldn’t exactly be go-to guys on the wings, not when there are players such as Jamie Benn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrick Kane, Filip Forsberg, Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry, and others.

Behind those three skaters is a whole bunch of average. Sure, there are some middle six NHL players there, such as Mika Zibanejad, Bobby Ryan (though Ryan is certainly not worth the 7 million he’s being paid), Curtis Lazar, and Zach Smith. But, on the whole, the Senators lack top-six forwards, and don’t have the forward talent needed to be considered an elite team.

Some teams can make do with a below average group of skaters, if they have an elite netminder. The Senators have Craig Anderson, who is an NHL-calibre starter. He’s also 34-years-old, and nowhere near as good as he used to be.

So, one excellent defenseman, a couple of good forwards, and an average goalie. This is what the Senators have.

Eugene Melnyk looked at this team and thought, “this is one of the best five teams in the NHL”. That should be concerning.

It’s not like the Senators are coming off of a great season last year, either. It took a miraculous run over the last 25 games of the season to get the team into the playoffs. Even then, they barely slipped in, and bowed out in the first round.

The fact that Melnyk thinks his team should have been one of the few elite NHL teams is absurd, and points to huge flaws in his methodology and thinking. There are plenty of reasons why his team is currently bad, and why they have failed to meet expectations.

Right now, what Ottawa needs most is a complete re-thinking of the organization’s philosophy. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a team full of big, fast, hard-working players. There is a problem with passing over skill and hockey sense in order to get that team full of big skaters.

This is what Ottawa has done.

This is how they might end up chasing Mike Hoffman, arguably their second best offensive player, out of town. This is how they’re going to end up in the bottom of the league standings for a couple of seasons until management figures out that they need to get skilled, fast.

The Senators are not in a good situation. Eugene Melnyk doesn’t appear to be helping, and if he truly believes they’re currently a top-five team, he needs to step back from hockey operations, and just stick to paying the bills.

Statistics courtesy of war-on-ice.com, and are score adjusted at 5-on-5 unless specified otherwise

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