It’s hard saying goodbye. Ottawa Senators fans learned that last February when the team parted ways with fan favourite Mike Fisher, signaling the beginning of a youth movement.
Now it’s time for the unthinkable: to trade long-time captain Daniel Alfredsson.
The relationship between the Senators’ fan base and their captain is an emotional one and their love has been unwavering. It’s why in 2008, Murray signed Alfredsson to a contract that would keep him in Ottawa for the rest of his career.
Alfredsson says Ottawa is the city he loves – it’s where he wants to stay forever. Many people believe he’ll wind up in the Senators’ front office when he retires. But the first year of a rebuild is critical to success and letting talented players leave or retire without getting any assets in return creates a problem.
Before his recent concussion, Alfredsson had four goals and three assists in the first 10 games of the season.
There’s little doubt that the super Swede can still compete at a high level, not only on the score sheet, but as a team leader.
He’s also affordable, earning $4.5 million this season and only $1 million next season before becoming a free agent.
There are a lot of teams on the brink of winning the cup that would love to add a player like Alfredsson to their roster.
The Senators’ rebuild up to now lacks the type of wholesale overhaul required to be successful.
With last season’s fall to the bottom of the standings, the game plan should’ve been to clear out names like Chris Phillips, Filip Kuba, and Sergei Gonchar.
After missing the playoffs in 2009, the Senators tried a rapid rebuild by injecting into the lineup goaltender Pascal Leclaire and defenseman Chris Campoli.
That was only good enough to fall to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs the following year, before dropping to the bottom of the Northeast division the year after.
Leafs fans can attest to the sad fact that these short-term rebuilds never work.
Before hiring Brian Burke as general manager, Toronto tried recycling veteran NHL players for four years to no avail. Six years later, they still haven’t been in the playoffs.
In 2008, with the Leafs spiraling out of playoff contention by February, Mats Sundin caused a ruckus when the team asked him to waive his no-trade clause and he refused.
Even with Sundin in the twilight of his career, rumours were that Vancouver was willing to deal current NHL superstar Ryan Kesler and a prospect to acquire the Swede.
The same thing happened with Leafs’ veteran blue-liner Tomas Kaberle, who vetoed a trade that would’ve sent him to the Flyers for Jeff Carter.
Luckily for Brian Murray, he has a number of valuable assets that can be moved freely and have manageable salaries that other teams would be willing to take on. Alfredsson is at the top of that list.
The Senators don’t need to learn the hard way that a long-term rebuild will have a far more rewarding outcome.
Instead of leaning on Craig Anderson and Alex Auld in net, why not give moe starts to 20-year-old Robin Lehner?
He’s one of the top goaltending prospects in the game and after getting a taste of NHL action, he’s ready to get more starts.
Signing Anderson – a journeyman goaltender who would only serve as a backup on most NHL teams -– to a new contract extension doesn't send the right message.
Is a rebuild really a rebuild when three of your blue-liners are 30 or older? It’s time to let blue-chip prospects Jared Cowen and David Rundblad lead from the back.
There’s no shortage of youth up front with the likes of Bobby Butler, Stephane Da Costa, Nick Foligno, Zack Smith, Peter Regin, and Colin Greening. Yet with Kaspars Daugavins and Nikita Filatov spending most of their time in the minors, there’s potential to get even younger there.
So far Murray has made the right moves, but he shouldn’t sit back yet.
Milan Michalek has shown enough to be part of the solution, while Jason Spezza is primed to become the team’s next captain.
But if the Senators really want to contend for a Stanley Cup in the near future, they need to commit to the original plan.
The team won’t be burning any bridges by trading Alfredsson. He’d get a chance to win a cup with a contending team before retiring and joining the Senators’ head office.
It’s time for the Senators to stop worrying about people’s feelings and start building to be the best.