Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Canada's Burning Tire Fire

While this article could probably have been alternately titled "How To Lose Sponsors And Alienate Fans", today was a solid stamp of approval from Eugene Melnyk that the Ottawa Senators are no longer a hockey team interested in competing for a Stanley Cup or even a playoff spot after it was announced that Zack Smith had been placed on waivers. Smith has admitted that last season's numbers - five goals and 19 points - was a down year from what he is capable of doing on the ice, but to waive the popular Smith might have been the last straw for a number of players in the Ottawa dressing room. If there was ever a time to abandon a sinking ship, now might be the time to grab a life preserver and head overboard off the good ship Senators.

Smith, who had been centering the team's second line in the preseason, has three years left on his current contract with an annual cap hit of $3.25 million. It's not like he's at the top of the pay-scale when it comes to under-performing earners on the Ottawa Seantors roster as both Marian Gaborik and Mikkel Boedker are being paid more, but apparently Smith was sacrificial lamb for GM Pierre Dorion when it comes to making changes with this club.

While it would be understandable that players would be shocked to learn the longest-tenured Senator was being waived, Matt Duchene didn't even bother to offer a clichéed answer when asked about the move.

"It's a kick in the balls for us," Duchene told reporters after practice. "We're hurting with him and for him."

Other Senators were less forthright in their assessment, but even they showed disbelief in this move.

"It sucks, for sure," defenseman Mark Borowiecki told reporters. "He’s a really, really, really good friend of mine, and a lot of guys in here. He’s universally loved and respected in this room."

The move also seemed to catch head coach Guy Boucher off-guard.

"Until further notice, his name is on my board," Boucher stated defiantly. "It's a management decision. Pierre is in control of player personnel."

You're probably asking, "so what gives? Why did this happen?" Well, there's a fairly reasonable explanation if you're an accountant. With Smith going down to Belleville in the AHL, the Senators would open up $1.025 million in salary cap relief with Smith in the minors. However, for a team with a projected $70.8 million salary cost this season, this move becomes more bizarre since they weren't even close to being near the top of the cap.

Most of the Ottawa Senators' current issues point to clear examples of rather foolish decisions made by previous and current management. The Senators will pay $2.5 million this season to have Alexandre Burrows sit at home in retirement after buying out his contract. The Senators are paying Dion Phaneuf $1.75 million to play for the Los Angeles Kings for the next three seasons. Clarke MacArthur is still earning $4.65 million per season for the next two seasons despite being on the injured reserve list for team after failing last year's pre-season physical. He didn't even bother to report to camp this season. Tack on one more incredibly idiotic deal that saw the team acquire Marian Gaborik and his $4.875 million contract in the Phaneuf deal whose herniated disc has yet to have him be cleared to play, and the Senators look like the Arizona Coyotes v2.0. Tally all that up, and the Senators have invested nearly $14 million in players who won't even wear a Senators jersey this season.

Injured players, of course, can't be waived aside from being moved to the long-term injured reserve list, so there may be some relief to the above number, but there's more than just $14 million worth of problems.

They have a modified no-trade clause and a no-movement clause with Bobby Ryan and his $7.25 million contract meaning there are ten teams he will not accept a trade to and he can't be waived if the Senators were unhappy with his play over any of the next four seasons. After failing to package him in a number of deals with Erik Karlsson, the Senators will move forward with the underachieving forward without any hope of relieving themselves of that salary cap-destroying contract.

They traded their most marketable star, their starting goaltender wants out, and there seems to be chaos swirling around this team with a new story of craziness emerging weekly. The Ottawa Senators, if it were a daytime TV show, would the highest-rated soap opera with all the drama they've gone through in the last 18 months since losing in the Eastern Conference Final in Game Seven in overtime in 2017.

So why would they cut Zack Smith, a guy who has toiled through it all to give the Senators everything he had in order to help the team? A guy who is popular in the dressing room with teammates and in the community with fans? A guy who admittedly was looking to get his game back on the rails by playing between Mark Stone and Brady Tkachuk after having a subpar season?

Honestly, it all seems like the Senators are sacrificing a solid forward to send a message to the team that underachievers aren't going to be given a second chance regardless of past performance and to offer themselves approximately $1 million of cap room they don't need. The reality is that they're removing a solid leader and dressing room presence who could potentially help them win games with this move. And for a team who traded its first-round pick to acquire Matt Duchene, they were already being predicted to finish at or near the bottom of the league.

2018-19 is going to be an ugly season for the Ottawa Senators. And let's be honest: after everything they've done in the last 18 months, it's pretty impressive to see karma come around and absolutely roll the Ottawa Senators for everything they're worth.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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