Ottawa Senators 2008 Offseason Report
A lot can change in a year, just ask Ray Emery. One year ago, Emery was coming off a season in which he stole the #1 goaltending job from Martin Gerber, thoroughly dominated the best teams the East had to offer in the playoffs with a sparkling 12-3 record, put up a strong performance despite
losing in the Cup Finals, and earned himself a nice new contract to backstop the Senators for years to come. Now one year later and his contract was bought out and he ’s now playing in Russia, mainly because he doesn’t have a place as a starting goalie in the NHL anymore.
It ’s hard to explain, but so is the 2007-2008 Ottawa Senators team as a whole since things seemed promising at the beginning. Emery had undergone wrist surgery so Martin Gerber was called upon in the pre-season. To say that he filled in admirably would be an understatement.
Gerber was undefeated in the pre-season, and the Swiss net minder went 13-2 to start the season. The Senators were getting excellent production from their elite top forward line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson and sat very comfortably at the top of the East.
Problems started boiling under the surface of this seemingly cup-destined team as soon as Ray Emery came back. Gerber was playing better than anyone could have asked for, but Emery wanted to be the starter. After all, it was Emery who led the team to their first cup final in modern franchise history the previous season and saw his new contract essentially as promising him the starting job. But to head coach John Paddock, there was no reason to tamper with Gerber ’s success, so Emery reluctantly backed up Gerber for the first third of the season.
This may have been the beginning of the end for Ottawa.
Gerber hit a cold streak and Emery was given another chance but he didn ’t fare much better. Frustrated with constantly battling for the job that he felt was his to begin with, Emery seemingly lashed out by showing up late for practice several times and even fighting his own teammates at practices. As both Gerber and Emery struggled, the team started losing.
The media was all over Ray Emery and things started getting blown out of proportion. Emery was labelled as a locker room cancer and trade rumours started flying.
General Manager Brian Murray tried everything he could to salvage his ailing team. He fired John Paddock and took over behind the bench himself and he made a splash at the trade deadline by trading Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves for Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore while assertively naming Gerber as the team’ s official starter in net.
Despite all of that, the Ottawa Senators limped into the playoffs as the 7th seed and quickly exited as they were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
Brian Murray had a big task ahead of him this offseason and one certainly can ’t criticize him for not doing enough. It became obvious that nobody wanted to make a trade involving Ray Emery so Murray simply waived him and bought out his contract. Emery is off to Russia now to try and prove
himself yet again as a capable goaltender half way across the world. Gerber isn ’t really an elite goalie but he has proved that he can stay hot for long streaks and that is all the Senators can really ask for.
Out of the net, there have been some big shakeups as well. Commodore and Stillman quickly left the team via free agency, so trading away Corvo and Eaves looks even worse now. Wade Redden was the team ’s heart and soul on defence for so many years but he signed with the New York Rangers for a big time 6-year, 39 million dollar deal. Also, Senator’s enforcer Brian McGrattan was also let go to sign with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Murray has tried to fill in some of the missing pieces but it is a gargantuan task at that. He signed goaltender Alex Auld to a two year deal to back up Gerber. Auld was able to fill in when Tim Thomas was hurt in Boston last year and all the Sens really want out of him is the ability to step in occasionally. Jarkko Ruutu, a mean and agitating forward, was signed to bring some extra grit to the club. Finally, veteran defenseman Jason Smith was signed to bring some experience and leadership to the blue line that needs his presence.
It ’s not all gloom and doom for Senator fans though.
Heatley, Spezza, and Alfredsson are still around and all three of them should easily score at a pace higher than a point per game. Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly, and Chris Neil are all also important players that fill their roles nicely and have room to get better. Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips, the duo that shut down the entire Eastern Conference in the 2007 postseason are also still playing for Ottawa.
There are some young talents who could make the big club as well, specifically forward Mike Foligno and defenseman Brian Lee. They showed plenty of promise in their NHL stints and seem ready to take on a full time role. Brian Elliot is one of the better goaltending prospects in the league and could be ready to step in to the NHL sooner than one would think, possibly even seeing some time this season.
Also, Murray hired Craig Hartsburg to coach the Sens in hopes that Hartsburg can turn out to be more capable than John Paddock. Hartsburg resume’ brings something Ottawa needs; championships. He won two gold medals behind the bench of the Canadian junior team.
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Notable top players staying for the Ottawa Senators:
- Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, Antoine Vermette, Mike Fisher, Anton Volchenkov, Chris Phillips, Andrej Meszaros (probably), Martin Gerber
- Restricted free agent Andrej Meszaros has not been signed yet but is expected to remain a Senator.
Ottawa Senators - Players added via free agency:
- Alex Auld, Jason Smith, Jarkko Ruutu
Ottawa Senators - Players lost to free agency:
- Ray Emery, Wade Redden, Cory Stillman, Mike Commodore, Brian McGrattan
What Ottawa has:
- A top line of elite offensive talent from all three members.
- A solid defensive group and a good supporting cast of forwards.
- The talent that launched them to the top spot in the East last season. They could do it again, if the conditions are right.
What Ottawa needs:
- A goaltender who they can be confident in.
- More scoring consistency outside of Heatley, Alfredsson, and Spezza.
- Better overall team play. They are more talented than a team that gets swept out of the playoffs.
Expectations for the Senators next year:
- Hopefully they shook off whatever was plaguing them at the tail end of last season not named Emery. You can ’t blame it all on Emery and the players need to take responsibility for their play on the ice. They were Stanley Cup favourites after 16 games into the season but fell off the radar afterwards. Montreal seems like the favourite to win the division in their 100 year anniversary but things are tight so you never know.
- Expect Ottawa to finish second in the division and 4th-6th in the conference. Gerber may be shaky at times but when Ottawa ’s offense is firing, it doesn’t matter who is in net.
By Scott Obrocta
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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