I’m not angry, I’m despondent.
Making sense of yesterday’s swap that featured the Ottawa Senators acquiring Alex Burrows in exchange for 2016 second round pick (42nd overall) Jonathan Dahlen is easy when you view it through the prism that this is simply extension of the same team-building philosophy that has plagued this organization since Bryan Murray inherited the general manager’s role in 2007.
The Senators have spun their tires over the past 10 years; repeatedly electing to pursue its short-term interests at the expense of its future.
The organization’s decision to help push Bryan Murray out the door and replace him with assistant general manager Pierre Dorion was met with optimism because it was seen as a move to facilitate change and help modernize the hockey operations department.
For many, it didn’t matter that Dorion has been part of the organization since 2007 when he was their chief amateur scout or that he was complicit in a lot of the decision-making as a director of player personnel and as an assistant general manager in the years that followed, fans clung to the idea this represented much-needed change.
At the time of the hire, Dorion said all of the right things and deserved time to prove that the new boss was different from the old boss.
Driven by the pursuit of gate revenues, Eugene Melnyk’s toxic playoff mandate has enabled this team’s general managers to make glaring and easily avoidable transactions that never necessitated the benefit of hindsight to assess as terribly short-sighted mistakes. The Senators repeatedly ignore league-wide trends and evidence-based approaches that could help refine their process and work in concert with what the eyes of the smallest hockey operations department in the NHL tell them. (As an aside, I’m sure there are good, competent people working within the Senators’ front office, but they appear to have no sway in the decision-making process.)
So here we are.
Ignore the fact that the Senators moved one of their few coveted prospects for a 35-year old winger, who will turn 36 years old this April, and signed him to a two-year extension carrying an average annual value of $2.5-million.
Ignore the fact that the Senators organization is praising Burrows’ character.
And while you’re at it, ignore the fact that writers in Vancouver are referring to an inept Jim Benning “(swinging) what is arguably his most impressive deal in his time as Canucks GM.”
All of yesterday’s complaints and consternation about this deal are wrapped up in the fact that this trade is a microcosm of the real problem facing the Senators: this organization’s philosophy of irresponsibly living in the present and hoping for the best down the road isn’t working.
This organization repeatedly sells assets for diminished returns and it’s mitigating the positives that come from the development and performance of players like Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Erik Karlsson.
Sure, proponents of the deal will look at the Senators’ second place standing in the Atlantic Division, but it’s not like they are sitting comfortably in that position either. If anything, they’re there in part because of the fact that they play within the weakest division in the NHL.
To this point, they’ve been incredibly fortunate to avoid a significant losing streak, but if that lull comes down the stretch, the Senators could easily find themselves in a wild card position or on the outside looking in.
It’s not that far-fetched of a reality.
The Senators’ underlying numbers aren’t particularly flattering.
Their offensive numbers rank among the worst in the NHL and their possession, scoring chance and expected goal percentages aren’t much better.
It’s probably not a wise decision for this team to be “going for it” by throwing more future assets at a band-aid solution, especially when other and probably better alternatives could have been acquired for less. It certainly isn’t a good idea to extend Burrows for another two years and justify it by stating that the move was necessary because the Senators have to meet the expansion draft’s exposure criteria. (As it currently stands, the Senators can expose Curtis Lazar and Bobby Ryan up front.)
Sure, there’s no guarantee that Dahlen fulfills his projected ceiling as a prospect and other prospects like Nick Paul have seen their development stagnate as professionals after having good World Juniors tournaments as well, but a few writers have rationalize this trade by saying, if you’re looking at how teams like Florida, Buffalo, Toronto are built for the future, this may be Ottawa’s best chance to do some damage, especially with only two guaranteed seasons left on Erik Karlsson’s contract.
First, I hate this motivation out of fear because of Karlsson’s uncertain future. As of now, there’s nothing to suggest that he’s going anywhere and the Senators have a track record of re-signing their own. Maybe Karlsson doesn’t re-sign, but that’s a bridge to cross on another day.
Secondly, saying teams like Florida, Buffalo and Toronto were built for the future kind of ignores the fact that Ottawa’s vaunted 2011 rebuild preceded each of these respective teams’. Impatience and shortcut solutions put the Senators on this path. That was the time for Ottawa to invest in its new direction, fill their front office with qualified personnel who can keep up with the best demonstrated practices of the team’s competitors. Right now, it’s like the Senators are back in 2009, desperately trying to cling to a window of contention that closed years ago. Only this time, the Senators’ window of contention hasn’t arrived. It’s not even real.
Finally, if the Senators are going to go for it, overpaying and giving term to soon-to-be 36-year old winger who has depended heavily on Bo Horvat to drive his performance this season probably isn’t the best use of desirable assets. If you are going to flip these kinds of commodities, dream bigger than a “character guy” who’s going to be featured prominently in a third or fourth line role.
The Burrows deal does not reflect a “go for it” moment. It’s a massive overpay a player who fills a role that could have been addressed at a cheaper cost. It is just the latest example of the Senators thinning an already depleted farm system to feed Melnyk’s cyclic machine.