It starts at the top

First, I have to make a confession. I woke up this morning very disgruntled. Watching the highlights of last night's collapse only frustrated me further. I was far too kind on this team in my wrap-up last night. I was blinded by the fact that the effort was improved, from embarassingly bad to just alright. There is NO excuse to let a three goal lead slip away like that.

And it seems as if a lot of you feel the same way. I haven't seen the fanbase this rilled up in many years. There has been discontent, even disapproval, but nothing like this. As a result, a lot of you are calling on a move of some significance, and the popular theory seems to be that a major trade is just what the doctor ordered.

I don't disagree. At this point, I'm open to any trade that makes this team better. With the exception of, perhaps, Andrej Meszaros, no player should be viewed as untouchable, and if you can truly get a good return, and are not simply trading for the sake of it, then anyone and everyone should be fair game. Jason Spezza? Make your best offer. Dany Heatley? What are you gonna give us? Wade Redden? Hey, I'll listen.

But there's one sort of significant problem: the Ottawa Senators GM is a moron.

If you want to see a trade, don't you want to make sure the guy deciding who to trade and what to get back knows what he's doing? Don't you want to feel a level of trust with that individual? How many of you trust John Muckler to do the right thing?

I felt, and still feel, that Muckler's head should have been on the shopping block after the Sens fell apart in the second round against Buffalo. I said as much at the time.

Nothing that's taken place this season has swayed me from that stance.

Muckler narrowly avoided the axe two years ago because the thirst for Jacques Martin's blood was so severe everyone, myself included, sort of overlooked his errors. But we've driven every other potential scapegoat besides the captain out of town already. Gone are Radek Bonk, Patrick Lalime, Zdeno Chara, and coach Martin. I'd hope the fingers would finally be pointed at the right man by now.

Let's, quickly, review the major moves John Muckler has made as the general manager of the Ottawa Senators that have made me question his ability to guide this team in the right direction:

Bryan Smolinski for Tim Gleason and the contract that followed
Made in the spring of 2003, when the Sens were the best team in the NHL, gearing up for a Cup run. Smolinski was supposed to bring scoring depth and a veteran presence, having played 60 career playoffs. Smolinski was paired with Daniel Alfredsson and Todd White on the second line and as a result tallied some points, but was never really a major factor. And that would be the best way to summarize his entire two-and-a-half seasons in Ottawa. On paper, it might seem like was very effective based on the fact he put up 94 points in 161 games after that. However, Smolinski was a floater on most nights and his major contribution, sound defensive play, wasn't enough to justify his salary. A salary John Muckler gave him. It was thought that Smolinski was a rent-a-player when he was traded for because his contract expired at the end of the season. Nope. Muckler signed the then 32-year-old to a four year contract worth more than $10 million. A contract so bad that, a year in, after the new CBA, the Sens came *this* close to buying him out entirely. Smolinski was basically a throw in in the Martin Havlat deal this summer, the same way Greg de Vries was a summer earlier. If the Hawks wanted Havlat as made as they said (and the equally ridiculous contract they gave him said they wanted him BAD), they'd have to take Smolinski off the Senators hands. Meanwhile, the guy who we gave up for those two magical seasons of Smolinski, Tim Gleason, has emerged into a top four d-man so competent he was the major piece the Carolina Hurricanes got back for Jack Johnson. 20 years old when they let him go, Ottawa essentially gave Gleason away. Yeah, they had (and still have) good depth at D, but can you ever have too many NHL calibre blueliners?

Vaclav Varada for Jakub Klepis and the contract given to Varada
The only thing that makes this trade not look absolutely awful is the fact Klepis has never developed into the solid NHL the Sens appartently thought he would when they picked him 16th overall in 2002. Varada, traded for the same spring as Smolinski to add some grit and toughness to the squad, achieved short-term success with Ottawa. He played with Marian Hossa and Radek Bonk on the top line (think about that for a second) and was effective in the superpest role. But as time went on, his role diminished, as did his contribution. Last season, he was one of the league's highest paid fourth liners. Who signed him to that deal? Oh, right. Perhaps the President of Varada's fan club. Muckler threw a charity deal his way. A two-year deal signed just before the lockout, it ended up being $1.2 million after the rollback. Varada. One year of it withered away due to the lockout but we still had him taking up that cap space while playing six minutes a game for much of last season. If he wasn't on the fourth line, Varada was up in the press box, a healthy scratch, a spot he occupied for two of the team's playoff games this past April and May. No NHL team wanted him so now Varada's in Switzerland.

Peter Bondra
Another move that was salvaged because Brooks Laich, the guy who went the other way, has yet to materialize into much of a player. This one is hard to criticize because it would be insincere. I don't think too many of us thought this would go so badly. Surely no one thought a guy who'd scored over 450 career goals, widely considered one of the best pure snipers in recent NHL history, would struggle so badly once in a Sens uniform. In his 30 games, regular season and playoffs combined, with Ottawa, Bondra scored a total of six goals. None of them came in the seven playoff games the Sens had that spring. Bondra was held scoreless entirely for that series loss to the Leafs. While I'm sure everyone of us would have made this trade if it was an option, ultimately, a GM has to be held responsible for his failures, even if they were wise ones at the time.

Greg de Vries for Karel Rachunek

Rachunek, then 24, had found his way into Jacques Martin's doghouse. Despite having a very good season the year before, mostly as Wade Redden's partner, he fell out of favor with the coach, which is a surefire way to get traded. I was disappointed that Muckler gave up on the kid so soon but everyone seemed to think de Vries and his 94 career playoff games would bring a calming veteran influence, what with his Cup ring, to the team. Wrong. De Vries played 20 games as a Senator, and while he collected one more point in the postseason than Bondra, he had one of the worst series I've seen a supposedly credible NHL rearguard have. He was awful, and as I said above, was a throw in the Hossa-Heatley did, mostly because he was paid over $2 million, a New York Rangers Glen Sather contract. He's since rejuvinated his career in Atlanta, but his run in Ottawa was the definition of a clusterfuck.

Dany Heatley for Marian Hossa
This is one that a lot of people are taking Muckler to task for right now, and with Hossa at the top of the NHL's scoring race, it's easy to see why, but I don't think this one is as bad as some of the other brainfarts our fine GM has been a part of. The reality is, Marian Hossa wanted too much money for him to stay in Ottawa. He wanted to be paid like Jarome Iginla and Vinny Lecavalier. I don't blame him, because when he's on his A game he's every bit the player they are. However, Ottawa just couldn't make that salary work within their salary structure, and something had to give. He's struggling badly now, but let's not be so quick to forget all the things Heatley did for this team. He's not the complete player Hossa is, and never will be, but he can score with the best of them, and comes at $1.5 mil cheaper. Meaning, for the price of Hossa, we get Heatley and Mike Fisher.

Signing Dominik Hasek
Another one that looked good at the time, it's since been rationalized by the handful of Muckler defenders still left in this city (most of them work for The Team 1200 it seems) because Hasek got hurt, which was out of his control. This is sort of true. He did get hurt, but he got hurt how we all thought he would. This was the primary reservation when he was inked to a deal. They could dress it up as an abductor, but we all knew he hurt his groin. This was a guy who had a history of pulling the chute when he was hurt, and the odds of him getting injured had to be considered pretty good considering his history. So counting on him, with no real back-up plan, was asking for trouble. I think anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows I'm a big Ray Emery fan, and I came to his defence when the blame for the loss to the Sabres was placed at this feet by far too many people, but he wasn't ready to be Plan B. And worse than having no Plan B, Muckler turned a blind eye the obvious until it was too late.As soon as Hasek when down, a call should have been made to Doug Riseborough in Minnesota, or some other GM with a competent veteran netminder, and made something happen. Instead, he convinced himself that Hasek was a week away from coming back. He was always a week away. By the time they realized Dominik Hasek might just be done for the season, it was too late, and apparently, the best option was Mike Morrison, a goalie less talented and qualified than the rookie they already had. John Muckler had Hasek in Buffalo and saw firsthand what he's capable of, both good and bad. If Hasek would have stayed healthy and the Sens won the Cup, Muckler would have been proclaimed a genius. But when it didn't, he has to be held accountable.

Tyler Arnason
Does this even need an explanation?

The Martin Havlat trade
I'm not the biggest Martin Havlat fan. Let's get that in the open first. I think he's an immensely talented player but when the going gets tough, he has routinely gotten going. I don't believe he can be counted on and I don't think he's an elite player all things considered. So when it looked like he was on his way out of town, I didn't shed the tears many of you did. At the time, I even defended the return, because at the time I was under the impression Tom Preissing was a good defenceman, an assumption that has thus far proven itself to be false. Even with Havlat not having a contract and asking for a big payday, and Muckler's options being pretty limited as a result, I have to think he could gotten than all that. It might be unfair to judge this trade so soon, having not seen what kind of NHLer John Hennessy becomes, but it sure doesn't look good now.

Jason Spezza's new contract
How much of Spezza's apathy is linked to a level of comfort he got when he got the new deal? I didn't like the contract when it was signed and I sure don't right now. It was signed just days after Eric Staal got the same contract from the Hurricanes and one couldn't help comparing the two. Staal has just led to his team to a Cup and played like a seasoned veteran during their run while Spezza performed an impressive disappearing act in the second round against Buffalo. It's carried over into this season. He had a couple of good games to pad his stats and give the impression to those who aren't watching the game that's it's not all bad, but trust me, it is. When you're paid what Spezza is, $4.5 million, there are certain expectations, and Spezza has shown no ability, or willing, to play at that level. The excuses about his age are bullshit. He's 23 now, and having played 179 games in the NHL, is no longer the greenhorn he was five years ago when he first came to the city. The mistakes that were easy to overlook when he was 20, 21 are no longer acceptable. You'd expect some maturity as a player, and every now and then it emerges, but he continues to be crippled by the same mistakes that made him ineffective as a rookie. The contract didn't make a lick of sense. Spezza had no arbitration rights and his only leverage was holding out. So why throw the bank at the kid, and not even get a long-term deal out of it?

So what have we learned tonight class? Point blank, John Muckler is an incompotent GM. He's shown little ability to decipher the right trade, and the right fit, from the wrong one. This is the man you want making this blockbuster trade?

Before a single player gets ship in or out, the trigger puller has to changed. As long as this man is the primary decision maker for this organization, the Ottawa Senators will continue to underachieve and disappoint when it matters most.

A sweeping change is needed, and it's long overdue. Hand this old, tired, washed up relic his pink slip and in his place put someone who has a vision, who's contemporary, and who isn't so stubborn that, years later, he still defends his mistakes as if they were something else.

Fire John Muckler.