Picking a winner from day one of the free agent signing period is a lot like getting married – sure, the union may seem like a great fit at first, but let’s check back two or three years later and see if the magic’s still there. Picking a loser, on the other hand, is much easier.
Case in point: The Ottawa Senators. Spectators for the 2016 post-season after a disappointing regular season schedule in which they wasted a historically remarkable individual performance from Erik Karlsson, who managed an astonishing point-per-game pace through a full 82 games, big changes were expected to be made to the roster.
But to this point in the still-young off-season, GM Pierre Dorion has done little to enhance his roster in the two periods that tend to see the most action: the lead up to the draft (and draft day itself), when teams jockey for better draft positioning via trade; and in the early stages of free agency, when the biggest – and often best names – find employment.
Instead he has opted to bolster his AHL lineup through a number of transactions, including the trade of underwhelming and underachieving forward Alex Chiasson to the Calgary Flames for depth defenceman Patrick Sieloff. He compounded that with the signings of Mike Kostka, Phil Varone, Casey Bailey, Max McCormick, Chad Nehring and Michael Blunden to two-way deals.
Ensuring the cupboard is stocked is important for any organization, but for a team that seems hell bent on reclaiming a playoff spot, it’s lack of activity is more than a little curious. One has to wonder if the strategy is simply to take advantage of full, healthy seasons from Marc Methot, Clarke MacArthur and Kyle Turris who all missed significant time in 2015/16.
But even with those players in the lineup the Sens won’t miraculously stop surrendering shots at an alarmingly high rate – something that plagued the team last season – and there will still be holes to fill up front. Even more concerning than the mere fact of their inactivity is that it comes during a summer in which Atlantic Division teams have already been incredibly active.
The Florida Panthers, coming off a first place finish in the Atlantic in 2015/16, ensured they remain frontrunners for the division title by signing a number of key pieces. Included among these were Keith Yandle (seven years), Jason Demers (five years) and James Reimer (five years). The team also extended Aaron Ekblad and Vincent Trocheck for eight and six years respectively.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Montreal Canadiens, looking to rebound from a disastrous season, added stability at the expense of flair when they flipped PK Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber – the move sandwiched between the acquisition of Andrew Shaw, as well as the signing of Alexander Radulov.
Aside from the Panthers and Canadiens, every team in the division except the Sens made at least one significant move on or before July 1: David Backes to the Boston Bruins; Kyle Okposo to the Buffalo Sabres; Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen to the Detroit Red Wings; Steven Stamkos to the Tampa Bay Lightning; Frederik Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Suffice it to say that when your most bitter rival – a team whose mantra does not include the phrase “win now” – is adding a piece with the end goal being to win more games, there’s a problem. The summer is long, and there remains plenty of time for action, but at the moment the Sens are losing the public relations battle in a landslide.