Reign of error costly for Sens

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

The question now is not whether Senators GM John Muckler can sell his past record with the Senators (spotty) and vision for the future (questionable) to the fans.

For the next little while, it's whether or not he can sell it to free agents like Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara.

That's a slightly tougher job than getting the fans, who want to believe, back on side after another disappointing playoff performance.

Both Redden and Chara can become unrestricted free agents July 1.

If it's not all about the money for those guys -- and it won't be, because there will be lots of it from more than a few teams -- then a team's plan for the immediate future is what is going to tip the decision.

Muckler met with the media yesterday and made it clear that this team is never going to be one to live for the moment, to make the bold play, but one which will always make a move with an eye on the future.

In what is the "28th market" in the NHL, according to Senators president Roy Mlakar, it seems there is a fear that any dip in regular-season performance is going to result in a disaster at the gate.

So, the Senators will always try to be very good most of the time instead of absolutely great once or twice.

That's fine, if they feel like that's the way they have to go.

Problem is now, in this salary- cap era, the guys who made you very good all the time, like Redden and Chara, have to be happy with that, too, and when they have the chance, won't want to go to a team where the approach is more bold.

CAUTIOUS PHILOSOPHY

The Senators' cautious philosophy was reflected in their lack of activity at the trade deadline, dealing for Tyler Arnason, who wound up being a healthy scratch in the playoffs, and goaltender Mike Morrison on waivers.

With goaltender Dominik Hasek, who has a history of injury and not playing at less than 100%, on the shelf with that groin injury, Muckler opted to go with rookie Ray Emery.

"You have to look at the future of the organization. Are we going to go out and spend draft choices and players to obtain a goalkeeper that might become an unrestricted free agent? If you don't win the Stanley Cup, you're not in as good a position. You have to protect the future of the organization," said Muckler.

The GM wound up spending much of his time yesterday justifying his decision to pin the Senators' season on Hasek's wonky groin and his deadline acquisition of Arnason.

He said the team signed Hasek, at a bargain price, because that freed up money to sign "better defencemen and better forwards."

Who were those forwards and defencemen, exactly? From what I remember, they saved money up front, too, when they traded Marian Hossa because they didn't want to pay the average $6 million (all terms US) a year he won in arbitration. They brought in Dany Heatley, who made $3.5 million this year.

Muckler spun the Arnason deal yesterday as a deal for the future and not for help down the stretch to the playoffs, though the Senators, with young Jason Spezza, journeyman Bryan Smolinski, Mike Fisher and rookie Chris Kelly at centre, were clearly in need of support down the middle.

Muckler said yesterday that in his estimation the Senators were good enough to win the Stanley Cup without help at the deadline.

BIG MISCALCULATION

That, as it turns out, was a big miscalculation, too.

"The reason we lost the Stanley Cup is not because of goalkeeping here. This hockey club didn't score an even-strength goal after the first game (vs. Buffalo)," said Muckler. "With the talent that we had, the defence and the forwards, you'd think we'd be able to accomplish that."

The Senators actually scored three even-strength goals after Game 1 against the Buffalo Sabres (by Chris Phillips in Game 2 and two by defenceman Brian Pothier, one each in Games 4 and 5).

Even if you concede Muckler's point about the goaltending, he was wrong about this team being good enough up front.

But in what surely has to be the most ridiculous pronouncement to Senators fans and surely some of the players themselves, Muckler left the door open for a return by Hasek next season.

"I'll have to have a discussion with Dominik first before a decision is made," said Muckler.

Sure.

Why not?

The risk associated with bringing in Hasek in the first place -- a 41-year-old with a history of groin trouble -- is what happened would happen.

Now maybe it's a better idea with a guy who is coming off an injury and will be 42?

"We're being criticized because he was injured," said Muckler yesterday.

Exactly.


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