When the National Hockey League’s 2013 free agency period opened at Noon on July 5th, the Ottawa Senators were expected to be involved and be an interesting watch for a variety of reasons. With that being said, nobody could have foreseen what was about to unfold and predict that when the day was done, the Sens would end up being the talk of the league. Ottawa has always been considered a small market team and while the Sens have been a very successful organization with a dedicated fan-base, they have often preferred to operate out of the limelight. Now for the first time since the very public Dany Heatley trade saga, both to and from the team, the Sens were at the forefront of the NHL’s offseason spectacle again. The only place an organization could be really, after losing the face of the franchise to free agency and then acquiring one of the league’s best young talents in a blockbuster deal.
Daniel Alfedsson: Would He Stay Or Would He Go?
The obvious story leading into the off-season for the Sens was the status of long-time Captain Daniel Alfredsson. The 40 year old Swede and 14 year leader of the franchise, entered the shortened 2013 season playing out the last of a four year deal he signed prior to the 2009-2010 season. Despite the cap hit on the final year stinging the Sens for nearly $5 Million, Alfredsson himself earned a modest $1 Million for the campaign. A very respectable campaign that saw the Sens leader tally 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points in 47 games played. Add to that his 4 goals and 6 assists in 10 playoff games and his invaluable leadership and it is easy to see why Alfredsson was still one of the Sens most valuable pieces. That combination of his unquestioned leadership and still productive play was all the reason the Sens organization and their fans needed to want to see Alfredsson back in their jersey again next season.
First thing was first however as Alfredsson needed to decide whether he would return for his 18th National Hockey League season or whether he would perhaps announce his retirement. Though retirement seemed unlikely after another productive season and reported interest from multiple teams, there were those who thought it may happen. With the draft rapidly approaching and the Sens along with other suitors very interested and needing to know, Alfredsson’s agent J.P Barry contacted Ottawa GM Bryan Murray and perhaps in hindsight a couple other teams as well, letting him and maybe them know his client was interested in playing in the NHL next season.
The draft came and went and though there had been other teams mentioned, particularly the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins, it seemed any rumblings about Alfredsson deciding to join another team were only that, pre-draft and free agency speculation and talk. Most experts and pretty much every fan for that matter felt that when Alfredsson returned it would certainly be to the Sens. GM Bryan Murray certainly had that belief as well after talking with Alfredsson’s agent.
However as July 5th continued to near and with no deal between Alfredsson and the Sens in place, the once unthinkable notion of the Captain leaving became more and more a potential reality. The Alfredsson story had been front page news in Ottawa since the late stages of the team’s playoff run back in May and when Noon hit last Friday, the Sens Army was ready to finally see the ending. Most of them as previously stated were merely waiting to see what term and amount the Sens and their Captain had agreed on, so when the news broke that Daniel Alfredsson had signed a one year, $5.5 Million deal with the Detroit Red Wings, it rocked the hockey world.
At the risk of engaging in hyperbole, it was a devastating blow to not only all Sens fans but to Sens Owner Eugene Melnyk, General Manager Bryan Murray and the entire coaching staff as well. For a young and improving team coming off its second straight playoff appearance and first playoff series win since the franchise reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2007, it was certainly a disappointment to have their leader choose another team to continue his pursuit of a championship with. It could have been a potential stumbling block right out of the free agency gate for the Sens, but Murray, Melnyk and the rest of the Sens brass righted the ship quickly.
Senators Acquire Bobby Ryan For Steep Price
Only a couple hours after the Alfredsson departure had been announced and with the shockwaves still reverberating through Ottawa, the Sens pulled off their biggest trade since the Dany Heatley acquisition. Perennial 30-plus goal scorer Bobby Ryan, often the subject of trade talks in Anaheim over the past couple seasons, was finally made available and the Sens were the first to pull the trigger on a deal. Ryan, the talented American winger, had been primarily a second liner and often described as the team’s third fiddle with veterans Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry leading the Ducks. With the aforementioned stars recently each signing 8-year extensions at over $8 Million per season to stay in Anaheim, the Ducks knew they likely wouldn’t be able to keep Ryan and remain strong elsewhere moving forward.
As is most often the case, you have to give up quality to get quality and the Sens certainly did so, sending burgeoning young star Jakob Silfverberg, highly touted prospect Stefan Noesen and the team’s First Round Draft Pick in 2014 the other way. Silfverberg was the biggest piece going the Ducks way, for the time being anyway. The 22-year old Gavle, Sweden native had impressed many Sens fans this season in his first opportunity as a full-time NHLer, tallying 10 goals and 9 assists while playing in all 48 regular season games and being a plus player. He added another 2 goals and 2 assists in the playoffs and had most believing he was on his way to developing into the quality top-six if not first line forward mainstay the Sens hoped he may become.
That being said, projections, prospects and draft picks are never certain and the chance to get a routine 30-plus goal scorer isn’t an opportunity you get every day. Bryan Murray reportedly beat many other teams to the punch when he acquired Ryan and although he had planned to make this move before the Alfredsson departure, hoping to keep the Captain and add Ryan, the move brought quick and much needed positivity to the Sens and their fans, not to mention some much needed scoring ability as well.
Certainly nobody will suggest or is suggesting that Bobby Ryan can replace Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa, even with him choosing to leave, you won’t find a more popular athlete in the city’s sports history. However with all due respect to Alfredsson, Ryan is the young and prolific scoring winger the Sens have needed for a few seasons now and while the line-up decisions will be in the hands of Sens Head Coach and recent Jack Adams Award winner, Paul MacLean, most agree that Ryan should be a natural fit on the top-line alongside Sens All-Star Center Jason Spezza. A potentially dominant number one line should Milan Michalek stay healthy and return to peak form.
Sens Add More Quality Under The Radar
Those two stories and moves alone had the Sens amongst the most talked about and followed teams on day one of free agency, so much so that the signing of a former two time 20-goal scorer from a division rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs, somewhat slid under the radar. The Maple Leafs had decided not to re-sign winger Clarke MacArthur and so when the free agency period opened, the Sens made one of the first moves of the day signing him to a new 2-year deal worth $6.5 Million. Picking up MacArthur may not have been the team’s biggest move of the day but it may well turn out to be vitally important. It gives growing young talent Kyle Turris a proven goal scorer on his wing and if the two can find chemistry on the second forward unit it would give Ottawa two legitimate scoring lines again. A point of interest for a team that ranked 27th in goals per game last season. The team also brought back defenceman Joe Corvo on a cap friendly one-year deal as well. The veteran Corvo spent the entire 2006-2007 and the majority of the 2007-2008 season with the Sens before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. He will help fill the hole left by the departure of Sergei Gonchar and should platoon nicely with the strong group of veterans and young talent on the backend in Ottawa.
All in all, it’s been one of if not the most eventful off-season in Ottawa Senators history. The loss of the team’s most beloved player and the franchise leader in nearly every category was an enormous blow that will be felt for some time. His leadership and meaning to the team, the city and the fans was immeasurable and he was a player that earned every penny with his skills, intelligence and intangibles. He will always be a legendary figure in Ottawa and rightfully so, but whether he played in Ottawa or somewhere else for one or two more years, eventually his tenure with the Sens had to come to an end. Whether you believe it was a financial decision, a decision based on winning a title or a combination of both, he earned that right and it will be interesting to watch him this coming season.
As Bryan Murray said when asked what he thought of his team going forward “it’s hard for me to say we’re better today because we haven’t started playing yet, but I think we’re equally as good.”
The Sens GM knows he got a star in Bobby Ryan, a top-line caliber player who he hopes will continue his high scoring ways and help this young team take the next step. There is no question at this point in their careers Ryan is a more productive player than Alfredsson and will be an immediate improvement from a scoring standpoint, but it’s never that simple. The trade for Ryan will not be able to be fully analyzed for some time until it can be seen what type of players Silfverberg and Noesen become as well as what the Ducks do with the draft pick.
Around the NHL and all sports for that matter, fans, coaches and front office personnel alike know that losing a team icon, whether to free agency, retirement or what have you is tough, but that it is the reality of sports. The names on the front will be there long after the names on the back have come and gone. For the fans in Ottawa they know this is an exciting time to watch their Senators. This is a team that has grown faster than perhaps anyone anticipated. They are clearly on the rise and it appears that this off-season has done nothing but continue that upward trend. Time will tell how the loss of the Captain and the Bobby Ryan deal will be perceived and what their impacts end up being, but for the people in the Nation’s Capital, one thing is certain, it should be pretty special watching their Sens to find out.