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After talking about five positive developments to take from the 2018-19 season, I wanted to look on the other end of the spectrum: five negative developments. This list was certainly easier to compile, that’s no surprise. I decided to focus on things that happened from the beginning of the season until the end, so the Erik Karlsson trade doesn’t count (especially because that was only a matter of time over the summer). Furthermore, we already knew that they weren’t going to have their first round pick in 2019, so that doesn’t count as a new “development.” Here are the most disappointing and negative things about 2018-19:
1. Mark Stone not being a career Senator
Everybody knew it was a possibility that Stone would be gone by the end of the season, but seeing it happen was still incredibly depressing. Yes, Erik Brannstrom is a good consolation prize, but Stone would have been the perfect player to keep around during a rebuild in order to help the young players. His impact on Brady Tkachuk was obviously huge, and he would have been guaranteed to be the captain next season if he stayed. He is someone that does everything correctly, both on and off the ice, which is why he was such a fan favourite.
He is finally getting league-wide recognition as one of the best wingers in the game, and his coming out party in the playoffs with Vegas is painful to watch. If Vegas does deep in the playoffs, he is going to be in the Conn Smythe discussion, as he already has 10 points in 4 games. Just look at the joy he exudes after scoring, it makes me miss him already:
He is turning 27 this year, and he will still be an effective player when Ottawa is ready to contend. Not keeping him around is an absolute travesty, and you could make the case that it is more of a fireable offense than not being able to keep Erik Karlsson around. He should have been a career Ottawa Senator, but instead he will be remembered as an amazingly talented Golden Knight.
2. Holding onto Cody Ceci...for now
It looked like there was a possibility that Ceci was going to be traded before the deadline, as he was scratched for precautionary reasons just in case they got a deal done. Despite not showing any progress, Dorion decided to keep him as one of the “veterans” on this team, and according to Bruce Garrioch, they could be looking to give him a long-term extension this summer:
With Ceci making $4.3M this season, I would assume a new deal would have him making even more per season. I have no idea why Ottawa would want to commit that kind of money and term to a player who has proven that he is well in over his head for the role that he plays. Will signing him long-term cripple the franchise forever? No, but consider the poll results from Steve Warne last week:
I’m honestly surprised that many people voted yes, but still, 19% is a tiny minority. Most fans are done with Ceci, and for good reason. It’s ironic that the only player Ottawa might sign long-term is the one who almost nobody in the fanbase wants. Any deal longer than three years could have an impact when Ottawa is actually good, because they can only spend so much with their internal budget. Furthermore, I can almost guarantee that at some point during his next contract, there will be rumours about Dorion shopping him in order to get rid of his contract. A long-term deal for Ceci would also signify that Dorion isn’t the man for the job, because that kind of mismanagement is just baffling.
3. LeBreton falling apart
I was somewhat skeptical back in 2016 that a Melnyk-backed group was going to be able to seal the deal at LeBreton Flats and bring the Senators downtown. Three years later, we know there was a reason to be skeptical, and it appears as if it was incredibly difficult to work with him. It’s hard to say what the future holds for LeBreton and for the Senators arena situation, but one thing’s for sure: if they are going to end up playing in a different arena, it might not be for another decade now.
The process of land development takes years to finalize, and even if Melnyk brings in a minority owner or two in order to try to build on LeBreton, they can’t simply start from where they left off last year. Melnyk has said that he is fine with staying in Kanata, but what else can he say? He has no leverage in this situation, and he has to pretend like the CTC is an ideal situation or that LeBreton isn’t
an absolutely perfect piece of land to build an arena on considering how close it is to downtown. I think the Senators can still be a viable franchise in Kanata, but it would also help them very much financially by moving downtown, and that dream keeps being pushed further and further back.
4. Front Office in flux
For as long as I can remember, Ottawa has had a front office that is too small. Their external hires over the past 12 years has been embarrassing, honestly:
Ottawa brought on Peter MacTavish on the off-season to be the AGM, although he isn’t even supposed to be focused on player acquisitions very much. The point is, hardly any new voices have entered the room for over a decade. It was announced that the Senators will be bringing in a President of Hockey Operations, although I have a feeling that the NHL twisted their arm in order to make this hire.
Having a POHO above Pierre Dorion is a great idea because it gives them another prominent voice in the room, but it also lets Dorion not worry as much about press conferences. The only thing is, nobody seems to want to work in Ottawa, and that is a massive indictment on the organization. People such as Steve Yzerman, Joe Nieuwendyk, Mike Gillis, Dean Lombardi, Trevor Linden, and potentially others have declined interest in the job for various reasons. Some of those people would rather just stay at their comfortable job, but I’m sure part of that is also a desire to not work with Melnyk.
At this point, I have no idea who will end up being the POHO because they are running out of options. Former Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger has left Southampton FC of the Premier League and could be an option, although I’m not sure about his credentials for the position. It’s not a good sign that Ottawa will probably have to hire somebody who isn’t an ideal fit for what the organization wants. Despite saying that he now “loves” analytics, Dorion still makes decisions that blatantly go against advanced stats, and with a bigger front office, he could avoid making bad mistakes that are obvious at the time.
The Senators have done well scouting over the past decade, but I have almost no faith in their front office for professional scouting.
5. Top talent up-front is unclear
At the beginning of the season, Ottawa had three sure-fire top-six players in Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel, plus Bobby Ryan could potentially fit in there as well. Brady Tkachuk fit in there right away, and Colin White ended up being a fringe second line centre. However, after trading their big three UFAs, Ottawa’s only bona fide top-six player is Tkachuk. Others such as White, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Josh Norris, Rudolfs Balcers, etc. have some potential, although none of them project to be top-tier talents, besides maybe Batherson.
Obviously Ottawa’s rebuild is far from over and they have a ton of draft picks over the next few seasons, but they are really lacking in high-end talent up front. Tkachuk should be penciled in on the first line, but other than that, Ottawa can’t bank on anybody being a first line player. Could one of their prospects develop into that? Of course, but it’s more likely that most of them settle into second or even third line players. Their defense at least has elite young players in Chabot and Brannstrom, but the Senators definitely need some higher ceiling forwards.
Hopefully someone such as Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield will change that next season.