Its been baptism by fire for the new Senators GM taking over a team that was built for a playoff run that fell short last year. Being dealt some serious talent blows with the loss of Niklas Lidstrom to retirement, Mattius Ohlund not being retained do to
an uncertain future and career in jeopardy do to 2 consecutiveseason ending injuries and the difficult business decision not to resign the heart, soul and leader of last years team Shane Doan. The loss of these 3 skilled and valued players netted the Senators no assets in return so the hole they left in the roster was twice
With an idea what direction he wanted to take his team GM Jeff Miller went about filling a roster to ice a team that could compete without bankrupting the club. Re-signing key assets was the first task at hand. Locking up Ryan Kesler, Martin Havlat, Lauri Korpikoski, Blake Wheeler and Ryan Miller added to the existing foundation of Henrik Zetterberg and Brian Campbell.
The cost conscious Sens didn't make a splash in Free Agency instead choosing to make smaller, role type signings to fill the depth chart as illustrated by the high light signing of Jim Vandermeer.
Prospect cupboards being left bare and a draft class picked before the new regime took over, the Senators aquirred organizational prospect depth ranging from former first rounder Kendel McArdle to tough gritty Cody Bass. Veteran RW Mikael Samuelsson was dealt for checking forward prospect Phil McRae, defenseman in devolopment defenceman Dalton Prout and a 2014 2nd rounder. With the draft and trades the prospect poolis better than it was but is far from outstanding.
With the team essembled and the season about to start there wasn't alot of optimism or buzz league wide for the Senators and their new GM. The team had a few stars but lacked balance and skilled depth at most positions.The great loss of stars Nik Lidstrom and Shane Doan were starting to be felt.
Out of the gates the Senators suprised many with the competitiveness and stayed in alot games gaining valuable loser points if they lost. An expected but pleasant suprise was the Senators place among eastern teams, roaming nearthe top for awhile and even teasing the top teams with a push for eastern dominance. Closing in on the All Star break the Senators were sitting fourth and having a great season. Ryan Miller was voted in as starting Goalie for the Eastern team, Henrik Zetterberg was robbed of the All Star game MVP for his efforts in the mid season victory. Glaringly omitted from the team was the rock solid all round play of deffenseman
The Senatorians were riding high and full of hope for a playoff berth this year, to please both the fans and make a statement as GM some moves would be needed. The first dominoe to fall could be considered a step back move for a team with playoff aspirations but talented all round center Ryan Keslerwas moved in a blockbuster deal that netted the Senators young PK Subban on D and Wayne Simmonds on RW. PK instantly became the teams 2nd best dman. That deal left the Sens weak down the middle so a center was sought. Insert David Legwand, the speedy veteran seemed like a solid fit for the second line but the Sens would be taking on salary and this cost conscious team couldn't add much.In order to get Legwand it cost the Sens a couple decent long term prosects and impending FA Matt Stajan. Once management had decided to make a push and strengthen the team some more talented veterans were needed. Brian Gionta was targeted for his scoring and leadership. His arrival also brought with him promising D prospect Jamie Oleksiak and wildcard winger prospect Frankie Vatrano, out going were talented but oft injured Martin Havlet, RW prospect Colton Scissons and eventual Hobey Baker trophy winner Drew LeBlanc.
New blood transfused into the current roster was meant to strengthen and propell the team into a playoff spot. The desired result didn't take shape and the true weakness of the team had been exposed and needed to be addressed: THE DEFENCE. Aside from star D Brian Campbell the Sens lacked any true top 4 Dmen so capable personel were a must add. The trade deadline was the last chance to make moves so moves were made. Aquirring Andrej Meszaros, Bryan Allen and Carlo Carlo Colaiacovo upgrading the defence from porous to passable the cost: Korpikoski, prospects Keegan Lowe, Mikko Koskinen and Sens 2013 3 and 5 draft picks. Also added was Kyle Wellwood for added scoring depth and face offs for a fourth in 2014.
So locked, loaded and carrying a payroll higher than GM Miller envisioned for his team the Senators were as ready as they were going to be for a run to post season. That's whenthings went south. Having sat Fourth in the conference for much of the season to date the Sens seemingly surehold on a playoff spot began slipping. The Sens puck luck had run out and the worst patch of games for the team couldn't have happened at a worse time. While most other Eastern teams were heating up the Senators went Titanic iceberg sinking cold. Mere days away from the playoffs the Senators were on the outside looking in, all the wheeling and dealing had looked to have failed. Needing wins and valuable points in few remaining games and breaks
from other teams it looked bleak.
Low and behold even with a loss to end the regular season the Senators earned a playoff spot on the last day of games. Rookie GM Jeff Miller had acheived a goal he thought was years down the road.GM Miller should have set a goal of winning a playoff series as the Senators were bounced in 5 by the top seeded Devils despite 11points in 5 games from Zeterberg. The playoff revenue generated pushed the Senators bank account over 10 million on the year so no losses financially occured. An extra 5 million will be coming via endorsement money as the Sens topped the 90% attendance barrier.
So the First year in the Miller regime saw his team make the playoffs, win a playoff game, have an all star starter, be in on the trade deadline frenzy and suprise the fans in Ottawa with an enteraining group of hardworking players. Most importantly the team didn't go broke. Looking to next year the Sens have returning veterans Zetterberg and Miller to anchor the squad, Blake Wheeler and his new 4 year deal
entering his prime and Wayne Simmonds will man the wings, recent NOrris trophy nominee PK Subban will logall situation minutes. Drafting this year will be done with only 4 picks. As the lowest playoff seed and getting bounced in the first round has landed the Senators a top 15 pick. Playoffs and owning their own top15 pick is best case scenario in a non championship season.
Looking forward to guiding a draft for the first time in June and putting a stamp on the teams future.
The games are over for the Senators but the fun still remains as it has all year.
It was a surprising season to say the least, Jeff - kudos for making the most of your lineup, and for some judicious decisions to shore up thy roster for a playoff drive without breaking re bank (which you added to despite a financially challenging position). Well done all around!