As the saying goes, sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make. For the Ottawa Senators, it couldn’t be more relevant.
Rather than overpay for players like Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner or Martin Hanzal in a bid to keep pace with or artificially widen the gap between their divisional opponents, the Sens have stood on the sidelines for much of the off-season. Aside from a few depth moves and a potential arbitration hearing, it’s been a pretty quiet summer for Pierre Dorion and co.
Often teams get caught in the trap of making a move simply because the teams around them are doing so. But, as Dorion recently told Postmedia, the Sens were only “an overtime away” from winning their second Stanley Cup Final berth last season. Translation: the Sens are fine where they are and don’t need to do anything.
Senators Opt for Consistency
There’s something to be said for the kind of restraint shown by Dorion and the rest of the Senators front office, who refused to make a knee-jerk transaction out of fear that inaction would result in missing the playoffs next season.
But frankly, the Sens have neither the need nor the financial acuity to bring in a player who will command a big contract. And as Dorion said, the roster the Senators are poised to trot out for the 2017-18 season is almost a carbon copy of the one they rolled out last season, save for the departures of March Methot in expansion and Viktor Stalberg who left for Switzerland.
That team was one of the best in the league as a defensive unit – as they demonstrated in the playoffs – and thrived in the face of adversity. Despite Craig Anderson missing extended time, as well as injuries to Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan and, towards the end of the regular season and into the postseason, Erik Karlsson, the Sens still carved out a path that took them to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Beyond the performance of last year’s team, the value in keeping the core intact cannot be understated. Say what you will about chemistry and its utility when gauging success in the Big Data world of 2017, but having a group of players who are familiar with each other and get along (as they apparently did last season) goes a long way to creating an environment conducive to success.
Active Atlantic Division
Many teams within the division splurged this off-season – some more than others – in hopes of changing their fortunes. The Detroit Red Wings spent just over $3 million per year for three years to get Trevor Daley; the Tampa Bay Lightning gave $6 million over two years to Dan Girardi (and $2 million for one year of Chris Kunitz); but the biggest moves by far came from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.
This summer the Habs acquired Jonathan Drouin from the Lightning, signed Alzner and Ales Hemsky and re-signed Alex Galchenyuk (but paid the price, letting Alexander Radulov walk). Then they dropped the bombshell of all bombshells, locking up Carey Price for another eight years at $10.5 million per year.
In Toronto, meanwhile, Lou Lamoriello was throwing around money like it was no object. He gave Patrick Marleau $18.75 million over three years, Nikita Zaitsev got $31.5 million for seven years and Ron Hainsey got $3 million per year for two years.
For the Leafs, it’s a case of bringing in some veterans to continue to mentor their large crop of young players while also securing one of those young players long-term. For Marc Bergevin and the Habs, it’s about getting over the playoff hump and reaching the elusive Stanley Cup Final (though a defensive Alzner, aging Hemsky and inconsistent Galchenyuk hardly address Montreal’s offensive woes).
Smart Strategy or Bad Business?
With the Habs making only modest improvements, the Leafs looking to be on an upward trajectory and the Lightning and Buffalo Sabres figuring to be much better with full seasons from Steven Stamkos and Jack Eichel next season, picking favourites in the Atlantic is no easy task. Could the Sens’ inactivity actually hurt them by the time the calendar turns to February or March?
Logic says the Sens should be about as successful next season as they were last season, given the lack of roster turnover, but sports are never that simple. Still, with a full season from Anderson (hopefully) – and, by extension, a lightened workload for Mike Condon – as well as a healthy Karlsson and the same stifling defensive play, the Senators stand a good chance of reaching a second straight Conference Final.