The rebuild has officially begun for the Senators.
Mike Fisher was the first to go. He won’t be the last.
More players will be shuttled out of Ottawa in the coming weeks. Defenceman Chris Phillips and winger Jarkko Ruutu will almost certainly be dealt.
Centre Chris Kelly and winger Chris Neil are both drawing plenty of interest on the market. There’s a chance both could also be elsewhere by the Feb. 28 deadline.
GM Bryan Murray noted he could clear as much as $20 million off the books by moving the club’s pending unrestricted free agents.
“There’s lots of conversation at this point,” Murray said in a conference call from Edmonton, where the Senators are preparing to face the Oilers on Saturday. “We think there will be other things happening as go forward to the deadline.
“Very definitely we have a plan in place and an idea that we want to restructure the hockey team to be a competitive club again.”
So, the rebuild is on?
“That I guess is the right word,” said Murray. “We know you have to make changes when you perform like we did this year. A variety of things have to happen. I would imagine some drafted kids will get a chance to play (down the stretch).”
The word on the street is the Senators are looking for draft picks, not NHL roster players. They’ll take strong prospects, but the organization is stockpiling picks, starting with the Nashville deal.
If you want to see what the Senators got for dealing one of their most popular players in Fisher, check back in three years because that’s when those draft picks might play.
While there was shock in the community over the trade, the only real surprise is the Senators didn’t get at least one young prospect in return.
The trade signals that owner Eugene Melnyk is now ready to take his lumps in the standings while building through the draft. This can’t be easy for Melnyk, who is driven to win in the short term but switched course with his team plummeting to the bottom of the NHL ranks.
“(The plan) is to be seen. Getting the first-round pick (for Fisher) gives us another chip to play,” said Murray. “Whether it’s used for something to move up or whatever the case may be.
“We certainly have an idea what we would like to do with a couple of people and what we’d like to get back for them. We’ve got some kids that we’d like to open the door for and give them some games. We think we have a core of young, very good prospects.
“We’re going to get younger. I think we’re going to open the door for some more enthusiasm because I think we’ve lost that edge a little bit with this hockey team.”
The organization did Fisher a favour by sending him to the Predators. They weren’t the only option. Sources say the Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals all showed interest.
The Senators might have been able to get a better deal for Fisher, whose no-movement clause had expired. But he’s been a good soldier for the organization and they wanted him to be comfortable.
The fit with wife/singer Carrie Underwood is perfect for Fisher. It could be different for guys like Phillips, Ruutu, Kelly and Neil, who must be wondering if they will be the next to go.