With his team on the verge of elimination, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk promised on Tuesday morning that changes are coming to Ottawa.
Speaking to reporters at the Canadian Tire Centre, Melnyk said, “I’m looking at all of it, right across the board, nobody is safe when you have a year like we just did. The status quo would just get us there again next year and this team cannot survive not making the playoffs."
Melnyk suggested there wouldn't be "a lot of changes—but [there will be] key changes.”
What might that mean for the Sens moving forward? It seems likely that the biggest moves will be made off-ice.
As the architect of this middling array of talent, general manager Bryan Murray deserves scrutiny, but he seems to have a role moving forward. While he may not remain in the same position--remember, the 73-year-old is fighting Stage 4 colon cancer—Melnyk suggested he's counting on Murray's input for any moves he makes.
“We're grooming people, we're looking. I think after the season is done, you'll see fallouts everywhere. There's going to be a lot of changes in the NHL with coaches and general managers, but right now I leave it to Bryan,” Melnyk said.
That could mean he's allowing Murray to pick his successor. The favorite would seem to be Pierre Dorion, the team's current assistant GM and the man long expected to take over when Murray leaves. But it might also be an outsider like Tampa Bay AGM Julien BriseBois. Or even Daniel Alfredsson, the legendary former Sen who has served as Murray's senior advisor to hockey operations this season. Dorion has more experience, serving 11 years as a scout with the Canadiens and Rangers before joining Ottawa's front office in 2007. Brisebois would be a sexy hire coming from a successful franchise. Alfredsson though would generate more goodwill with a frustrated fan base and would be seen as more of a break from this losing tradition.
Whoever holds the job will almost certainly select a new coach. Dave Cameron has struggled to push the right buttons this season and the team has failed to achieve any consistent success as a result. Melnyk also put him on notice by second-guessing an early decision. “I go back to the very first game" he said. [Cameron] puts in [rookie goalie Matt O'Connor]. What was that about? On opening night and the guy gets clobbered. It’s not fair to him, not fair to the fans. Just a lot of little tiny mistakes that all of a sudden escalate and get serious and get in people’s heads.”
There would be plenty of options to replace Cameron. Binghamton coach Luke Richardson would be a favorite. Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford, both back from successful stints in the Swiss league, would get consideration. And there's likely to be another big name or two available in the event of early playoff flameouts (Ken Hitchcock and Bruce Boudreau, in particular).
There could be several changes to the on-ice product as well, although those will be tougher to orchestrate.
Restricted free agent Mike Hoffman could be the biggest piece to move. The 26-year-old scored 27 goals last season and is likely to top that with 26 already on his ledger. He's due for a significant raise, one the Sens are disinclined to pay ... but another team looking for a boost up front certainly will. Ideally Ottawa would like to add a top-four defenseman in exchange but Hoffman also could be packaged as part of a different type of deal. If, for example, Edmonton is serious about moving on from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ottawa would be the perfect landing spot. And Hoffman's finishing touch might be a nice fit alongside Leon Draisaitl on the Oilers' second line.
There might also be an opportunity to cash in center The Stars will clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Blackhawks or get one point tonight while the Wild lose to the Kings. Dallas in the Jason Spezza trade.
Other assets could be shuffled as well—no one, outside of captain Erik Karlsson, can be considered truly untouchable, even top prospects like Colin White and Thomas Chabot, and no move would be considered shocking. And there might be unexpected opportunities that will arise as other teams prepare their rosters ahead of an anticipated expansion draft next summer.
But reshaping the roster in any significant way is unlikely, simply because of cap considerations and Ottawa's own internal budget. The team is spending $65 million on salaries this season, and that should be enough to ice a competitive roster. Adding splashier, more expensive pieces doesn't seem to be an option.
Still, change is coming to Ottawa. We'll know soon whether that will be as dramatic as Melnyk suggests or something more more akin to rearranging the deck chairs.
The numbers game
• The Capitals will clinch the Metropolitan Division and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference if they beat the Senators tonight.
• The Stars will clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Blackhawks or get one point out of their game while the Wild lose to the Kings.
• The Ducks will clinch if they get at least one point against the Canadiens or the Coyotes lose to the Oilers. A Coyotes loss can also plant the Sharks in the playoffs if San Jose beats the Blues or at least grabs a point.
• Even if they don't win the draft lottery, the Arizona Coyotes might have what it takes to land Auston Matthews in a trade.
• The CEO of the Islanders expressed surprise that fans are upset about obstructed-view seating at Barclays Arena. Imagine that.
• The owner of the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads (and someone with a decent on-ice résumé, to boot) makes the case that eliminating fighting would not make hockey safer.
• All you kids out there, listen up. Among the other fascinating facts revealed in this head-to-head comparison of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel's rookie seasons is this: McDavid has yet to take a slap shot this season.
• You will never see a worse example of positioning by a referee than where T.J. Luxmore got caught on Monday night.
• A former NBA star believes eSports will be bigger than the NHL within two years. Pardon me while I go look up what “eSports” means.
• The KHL has abandoned its annual amateur draft because of failure.