Ottawa is the NHL’s third “least improved team?”

I’m a frequent reader at SBNation’s Ottawa Senators blog, Silver Seven Sens and they posted an article which really caught my attention this morning which was a link to The Hockey News’ feature on “The NHL’s Five Least Improved Teams” this off-season and how #3 on the writer’s were the Ottawa Senators. This was the explanation for it:

Speaking of total disasters, have you seen what currently projects to be Ottawa’s second forward line? Its 2011 first round draft pick Mika Zibanejad centering Nick Foligno and Bobby Butler. I’m surprised schlock movie director Michael Bay isn’t lobbying to film that trio.

Then there’s the Senators’ defense, which is comprised of two slightly mobile turnstiles (Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba), a 21-year-old up-and-comer in Erik Karlsson, and a depreciating asset named Chris Phillips.

Given that information, it is nothing short of baffling to think of what GM Bryan Murray did this summer. He signed Zenon Konopka to toughen up Ottawa’s fourth line when the team already had a tough guy in Chris Neil. And he signed Alex Auld to back up Craig Anderson in net. This is akin to someone who is burdened with a Jimmy Durante schnozz opting for laser eye surgery and a pedicure. See you at the draft lottery, Sens fans.

Seeing how the only notable free agent signings Bryan Murray made this off-season were Zenon Konopka and Alex Auld to cheap contracts, I can see why one would say the Sense aren’t much improved compared to last season. The problem I have with this article is that the writer feels it’s “baffling” that Murray didn’t go out and spend a lot of money this summer to “improve” his team. When you’re a team in rebuild mode like Ottawa is, spending money on players who aren’t going to help your team that much (especially with this year’s UFA class) isn’t what you want to do. Trading away under-performing players for draft picks and letting your young talent play instead is the way to go and that’s what Murray is doing. Look at the trades he made over the last several months; He got picks in return for Chris Kelly, Mike Fisher, Chris Campoli Jarkko Ruutu and Alex Kovalev along with another first rounder from Detroit in exchange for two of their second round picks (they had three in that round anyway). Not to mention he also traded away goalie Brian Elliott for Craig Anderson who proved to be a huge upgrade in net for the Sens.

It should also be noted that the Sens were 11-9-1 after the trade deadline last year after they shipped away most of their players and some of their younger players like Bobby Butler and Erik Condra performed really well during that time. The better idea would be to let them play more and see how they develop instead of throwing money at someone like Tomas Fleischmann, Raffi Torres or Marco Sturm. Yes, their defense is a concern but with prospects like David Rundblad and Jared Cowen in the system, it’s better to call them up when their ready instead of overpaying for someone like Ed Jovanovski, especially when they already have too much money tied up in Sergei Gonchar. I also have a problem with how he refers to Konopka as a “tough guy” in the way that Chris Neil is. Konopka is a tough, gritty player but he’s also an excellent face-off man and can actually be a useful player with fourth line minutes unlike most enforcers.

This team isn’t going to compete next year and Bryan Murray knew that so he is electing to rebuild through the draft and let the younger talent on his team grow (especially if Zibanejad starts the year with the team) instead of wasting money on players who likely won’t make the team much better than they are now (i.e. what he had last year in Kovalev, Ruutu, etc.). Ottawa is rebuilding and Murray’s doing it the right way, unlike Dale Tallon in Florida. It wouldn’t shocked me that Florida is referred to as “the most improved team” because they look better on paper but they won’t even sniff the playoffs.