So long Ales Hemsky, we’ll always have those 20 games in an Ottawa Senators jersey to fondly look back on.
A report last night by the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch suggests that the Senators have broken off talks with Hemsky because the right winger is “believed to be looking for a deal in excess of $5.5 million per-season from the club.”
It would easy to praise the Senators’ fiscal restraint here if Hemsky asking for top six money as a legitimate top six forward was not realistic, especially when the cap is expected to keep rising thereby making Hemsky’s demands look more reasonable by the season. Oh, there’s also the fact that the salaries the Senators are inexplicably paying to two of its most redundant and easily replaceable players in Chris Phillips and Colin Greening accounts for 93.6 percent of what Hemsky is asking for.
It’s asset and roster management at its finest…
Should the Senators lose Hemsky, it will be a tough pill to swallow considering the team acquired Hemsky as a last ditch shot in the dark for a playoff spot (note: Sportsclubstats.com had Ottawa’s playoff chances at 14.39 percent at the time of the trade) that never materialized.
There was also the possibility that by bringing Hemsky in, the Senators would also get an exclusive window of opportunity to sign him to a discount and get him to pass up his first opportunity to test unrestricted free agency. Think of the deal in the same vein as the one that landed the Senators Craig Anderson.
Unfortunately for the Senators however, there’s not a hometown discount to be had and worse, Garrioch’s sources suggested that the Senators “were not prepared to make that kind of offer and there was also concerns he’s determined to test the market.”
One would imagine that this would be the kind of conversation that you would have with the player before pulling the trigger on a move when the odds are stacked so heavily against you, but hey, that’s the “We’re going for it and if we get into the playoffs and get a favorable matchup, anything can happen!” sort of groupthink that pervades the organization. (As an aside, sometimes I can’t help but feel that there’s a room at the Canadian Tire Centre that is reserved specifically for the team’s playoff revenue. The room is probably adjacent to the jail where Melnyk holds unruly Leafs fans. I keep envisioning Melnyk going into this revenue room when he’s feeling blue, to swim in the piles of money that come in.)
It has been suggested elsewhere that the move to acquire Hemsky was made to satiate Jason Spezza because the captain had asked management to explore a trade.
I think part of the reason for the Hemsky deal was to get Spezza a winger and maybe convince JS to stay. Didn’t work. Now both likely gone.
— SensChirp (@SensChirp) June 4, 2014
Let that thought marinate for a second…
If true, the Senators flipped two future assets to bring in a player to satiate its captain, a player that the organization probably shouldn’t even humour retaining because of his age, salary demands, health, style of play and the risk of diminished returns.
I’ve always viewed the move as more of a show me to the fans that the Senators were “going for it” and trying to put a winner on the ice. Eugene Melnyk even bragged publicly on the radio last season that the Hemsky trade was proof that the organization would take on salary to make the team competitive – ignoring the fact that Sens fans are smart enough to realize that Bryan Murray loaned Joe Corvo to the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, waived Cory Conacher, knowing that Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres would claim him, and had the Edmonton Oilers pick up half Hemsky’s salary to neutralize the monetary cost to acquire him.
Fans could see through the spin and so could Spezza. After years of being saddled with lunch pail guys like Colin Greening or plugs like Bobby Butler, not to mention the fact that he only played in a handful of games with Bobby Ryan before it was determined that that duo could never work, you couldn’t blame the polarizing center for wanting out. The damage was done and the Hemsky trade was simply a matter of being too little and too late and now fans are faced with a situation in which the team is destined to lose its most productive line.
With only a year left on Spezza’s deal and reports suggesting that the Senators are steadfastly holding onto the hope that a team will move parts similar to what the Senators moved to acquire Bobby Ryan, there’s growing concern that the demand for Spezza may not be as large as the organization had hoped.
The problem is that this Spezza situation was foreseeable back in 2011. The Senators’ window of contention never existed because there was never an overlap between the productive years of its veteran players and the growth and prime years of its young core.
It’s all revisionist history, but had they elected to move Spezza then, at a younger age with more term left on his deal (and with one fewer back surgery in his medical history), the Senators assuredly would have taken a step back in the standings, but the package that they received for him then would inevitably be larger than whatever it is that Bryan Murray gets now.
Of course, moving Spezza back then would have meant biting the bullet, gutting the roster of the team’s best veterans and actually rebuilding – as opposed to this faux-rebuild while trying to stay as competitive as possible plan that lacks a sense of direction and appears destined to piss away the prime years of Erik Karlsson’s career.
I have seen a number of people pan the price — a 2014 fifth round pick and 2015 third round pick –stating that the risk was nominal. On the surface, these individuals are right. I would however like to point out that since Bryan Murray’s first NHL Draft in 2008 when he had a larger scouting staff and his own personnel in place, the Senators’ strength has been its amateur scouting.
Their draft record speaks for itself. By my count:
- 28 of 44 draft selections have played professionally at the AHL or NHL level (63.6%)
- 14 of 44 draft selections have played at least one game in the NHL (31.8%)
These numbers will only continue to improve as prospects from the 2012 and 2013 drafts graduate to the North American professional ranks.
As a small market organization that is unable and/or unwilling to spend, scouting and player development are its lifelines. Even parting with mid-round draft picks for the unlikely chance to satiate a disgruntled captain and clinch a wild card playoff seed, isn’t smart. Draft picks and future assets are currency that the organization should be using itself to draft or use to acquire other organizations’ young talent.
Looking back, the Senators should have taken their lumps and continued to load up their nucleus of young players. In choosing to go for it, the Senators relayed a message to its fan base that it valued a playoff race and the chance for playoff gate revenues over the opportunity cost of the veteran for prospect trades that they weren’t making.
The best NHL GMs have an innate ability to time the market and whether it is management or the pressures put on management by ownership, since Melnyk purchased the team, the Senators have been unable to master the art of timing a deal. By acquiring Hemsky while holding onto expendable impending UFAs like Milan Michalek and Chris Phillips, the organization only hurt itself in the long run.
But hey, credit to Eugene Melnyk for piggybacking the success of his predecessors and bringing on what’s become almost a decade of mediocrity.
As a city that accepted and patiently endured the expansion era rebuild that took place through the better part of the 1990’s because it saw light at the end of the tunnel – thanks to the years of shrewd trades, drafting and player development – fans embraced the ushering in a new era and the promise of a rebuild.
As it turns out, the rebuild was nothing more than a façade. As the Alfredsson and Spezza fallouts demonstrate, there is no long-term plan or strategy. Everything is being done to keep the team as semi-competitive as possible because ownership cares about gate revenue and the team’s bottom line and as a by-product, they keep baiting fans with the “don’t worry, when the time is right and the right opportunity presents itself, we’ll invest in payroll” tale in hopes that season ticket holders will keep investing their hard earned cash into this beleaguered franchise.
There’s a popular refrain that asks “can Ottawa support a loser?”
Well, I just want to know, how much longer will Ottawa support Eugene Melnyk as an owner?