As the Senators are all but mathematically eliminated following last night's 2-1 regulation loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, I have started to reflect on the 2008-09 season and some of the things that have gotten under my skin.
Accountability. Craig Hartsburg, it was said at the time of his hiring, was brought on to make the players accountable. The problem was that the players that were left on the roster following Bryan Murray's post-season purge last year were not trouble-makers. The problem children of the dressing room had already been banished to Siberia, released or dealt at the previous trade deadline. So bringing in the "bad cop" coach to crack down on players who were already with the program was not only unecessary, but counterproductive. Hartsburg tried to install a defensive system without the requisite parts. He failed to recognize he had an offensively gifted team on his hands and that he needed to play to his roster's strengths, not to his system. This was why he was ultimately fired, not for this B.S. "accountability" issue. The team looked like it had no direction because he had people trying to fill roles that did not suit their skills.
The phrase I NEVER WANT TO HEAR AGAIN: puck-moving defenceman. What? Defensive-minded defenceman are incapable of making a pass? It's such a misleading term. The Sens do not need a "puck-moving defenceman," what they need is a little more speed on the blue line and one or two D-men who are more offensive-minded. If Erik Karlsson cracks the line-up next season and with Chris Campoli and Filip Kuba still around, they will definitely have this element to their defence next season. That leaves the stay-at-home roles for Phillips, Volchenkov, and Jason Smith. The Sens are going to have to decide what they want to do with Christoph Schubert, Brendan Bell, Alexander Picard and Brian Lee. I can't help but think one or two of these guys will not be back.
I have always liked Christoph Schubert, and I was surprised Murray did not try to work out a deal for him at the deadline. There are a lot of teams that would give him regular minutes on their blue line. Contenders? No. But Schubert seems to want a chance to prove himself at his natural position, and he is constantly caught in a numbers game in Ottawa.
The one thing Bryan Murray took care of pre-emptively this spring is eliminated the annual summer griping about the Sens' lack of a #1 goalie. Pascale Leclaire is the best netminder Ottawa has had coming into a season since Dominik Hasek. He may have some injury history, but the emergence of Brian Elliott is a nice insurance policy, although he may have to start next season in Binghamton with Alex Auld still under contract. Of course, Elliott is a Restricted Free Agent this summer, so it's conceivable that he could get an offer sheet. If Brian Burke wanted to make life uncomfortable for Bryan Murrary, he would do just that this summer. The Leafs do need good goaltending...
The Sens only other free agent this summer is Chris Neil, which means there are very few roster spots available for the prospects in Binghamton. The organization, which a year ago appeared to have depleted its depth, now appears solid. Ottawa may miss out on the post-season dance this year, but it should only prove to be a one-year hiatus. If the team (and it should) takes the interim tag off Cory Clouston, they should pick up where they left off this year. And with a full off-season in which to rest, the team should come back hungry for the 2009-10 season.