Thoughts on the Senators Handling of its AHL Team

A conversation I was having about the upcoming season for the Belleville Senators got me thinking about roster decisions made by Ottawa under its current apparatus (which is to say, since John Muckler was fired).  No one would argue that Ottawa has struggled to properly support the development side, so I thought I’d go through that looking at both the good and the bad.  This isn’t about drafted players and free agent prospects, rather the pieces that are put around them to support development.

Bryan Murray/Pierre Dorion AHL Seasons
07-08 25-32-23 225 248 missed playoffs
08-09 31-30-19 232 238 missed playoffs +9pts, +7 GF, -10 GA
09-10 32-35-13 251 260 missed playoffs -10pts, +19 GF, +22 GA
10-11 42-30-8 255 221 Calder Cup +11pts, +4 GF, -39 GA
11-12 24-40-12 201 243 missed playoffs -27pts, -54 GF, +22 GA
12-13 38-24-14 227 188 first round +31pts, +26 GF, -55 GA
13-14 42-26-8 206 185 first round -4pts, -21 GF, -3 GA
14-15 24-34-18 242 258 missed playoffs -16pts, +36 GF, +73 GA
15-16 31-38-7 204 241 missed playoffs -7pts, -38 GF, -17 GA
16-17 28-44-4 190 266 missed playoffs -9pts, -14 GF, +15 GA

AHL GM’s (from 07-08 to now)
Tim Murray (07-14)
Left mid-season to become Buffalo’s GM (since fired)
Randy Lee (14-present)
Has littered the media with comments about toughness (tide goes in, tide goes out, eh Randy?)

AHL coaches
Cory Clouston (07-08 to 08-09)
Mid-season NHL replacement in Ottawa (Craig Hartsburg!), then failed out of two orgs in the WHL (Brandon and Prince Albert) before winding up in the DEL (Kolner Haie)
Curtis Hunt (09)
Mid-season replacement for Clouston when he went up to Ottawa; wasn’t retained and bounced from Regina (WHL) to Fort McMurray (AJHL) to GMing Prince Albert
Don Nachbaur (09-10)
Came from the WHL and went back subsequently (still coaching Spokane)
Kurt Kleinendorst (10-11 to 11-12)
Left after losing the Ottawa job to Paul MacLean
Luke Richardson (12-13 to 15-16)
Left the org when Guy Boucher got the Ottawa job, becoming an assistant for NYI
Kurt Kleinendorst (16-17)
After he left he went to the NCAA (Alabama, fired), AHL (Iowa, fired), then a mid-season DEL replacement (Ingolstadt) before returning to Binghamton

None of the above are superior coaches and I think you could argue that Clouston, Hunt, and Richardson are poor ones (while Nachbaur was out of his depth at this level). Kleinendorst has had his own struggles, but he’s at the least competent (and I say that after the BSens got annihilated this season).

Roster Additions (those acquired by trade are in italics, veteran signings are in bold; in brackets next to their numbers are what they did the previous season; grades are based entirely on how well the players fulfilled expectations)
16-17 – 28-44-4 190 266
Jason Akeson (re-signed after failed KHL jump) 57-20-31-51
Phil Varone (re-signed) 65-15-36-51
Casey Bailey (re-signed) 62-21-16-37
Mike Blunden 67-14-15-29 (49-21-17-38)
Mike Kostka (re-signed) 46-1-11-12 (traded)
Chad Nehring 50-3-15-18 (76-22-26-48)
Brandon Gormley 17-2-3-5 (39-4-2-6)
Zack Stortini (second year of his deal) 22-2-1-3 (traded)
Guillaume Lepine 54-1-2-3 (re-signed)
Marc Hagel 27-0-3-3 (53-4-15-19)
FA’s: Grade C-
Trades: Grade F
Best move: Akeson
Biggest flop: Nehring

Only the top two had solid seasons (you can read my full review of the season here), with both slightly above their career averages (by 0.06 and 0.02 respectively); all the rest underperformed to varying degrees (some catastrophically), with neither of the “big” FA signings (Nehring and Blunden) coming close to what was expected of them.

15-16 – 31-38-7 204 241
Eric O’Dell 50-18-19-37 (37-14-15-29) (traded)
Mike Kostka 50-5-24-29 (63-5-25-30)
Phil Varone 21-6-17-23 (55-15-29-44)
Jason Akeson 21-5-17-22 (57-23-30-53)
Casey Bailey 30-7-14-21 (NCAA 37-22-18-40)
Zack Stortini 66-8-8-16 (76-13-12-25)
Patrick Mullen (re-signed) 36-1-15-16 (traded)
Ryan Rupert 30-7-6-13 (57-15-12-27)
Guillaume Lepine 69-4-9-13 (38-1-3-4)
Jerome Leduc 22-4-6-10 (76-6-19-25)
Travis Ewanyk 66-5-4-9 (69-3-5-8)
Michael Keranen 21-4-3-7 (70-10-27-37)
Mark Fraser 60-2-5-7 (NHL 34-0-4-4)
Conor Allen 17-1-4-5 (71-11-23-34) (traded)
Nick Tuzzolini (AHL contract but spent the season with the team) 27-1-0-1 (36-1-2-3)
FA’s: D-
Trades: C
Best move: Akeson/Varone
Biggest flop: Stortini

This is an even weaker assemblage of talent (my full season review go here). Only the garbage time numbers from late acquisitions (Akeson, Varone, Bailey, and Leduc) exceeded expectations, but as can be seen in the next season the three who were retained regressed to the mean (Leduc had a disastrous season in the Czech league). Kostka and O’Dell (before he was traded), performed as expected, but Stortini and Fraser were expensive busts (both were obviously terrible signings (eg)); Mullen’s production was never replaced when he was moved, and various acquisitions completely bombed (Ewanyk, Keranen, and Allen in particular).  Tuzzolini was kept on the roster almost the entire season for perceived “toughness” which served no purpose whatsoever.

14-15 – 24-34-18 242 258
Carter Camper 75-15-37-52 (60-12-49-51)
Aaron Johnson 73-6-29-35 (75-4-36-40)
Alex Grant (re-signed) 58-6-27-33
Patrick Mullen (re-signed) 54-5-24-29
Brad Mills 34-4-10-14 (28-8-6-14)
FA’s: C
Trades: N/A
Best move: Johnson
Biggest flop: Mills

Subpar year for Carter, while Grant and Mullen both struggled to stay healthy and PED-user Mills was inexplicably given ice time over actual prospects (my full review here).

13-14 – 42-26-8 206 185
Patrick Mullen 20-1-11-12 (69-13-28-41)
Alex Grant 19-2-8-10 (46-4-16-20)
Tyler Eckford (second year of his deal) 32-0-4-4
Nathan Lawson (re-signed) 3.05 .908
FA’s: F
Trades: B+
Best move: Mullen/Grant
Biggest flop: Eckford

Both vets who started the year were terrible (Eckford) to below average (Lawson); deadline acquisitions were good, but nothing could overcome Richardson’s incompetence as a coach (my full review here).

12-13 – 38-24-14 227 188
Hugh Jessiman 68-10-19-29 (67-27-17-44)
Andre Benoit 34-9-16-25 (KHL 53-5-12-17)
Brett Ledba 32-3-15-18 (NHL 30-1-3-4)
Tyler Eckford 59-7-6-13 (75-10-15-25)
Nathan Lawson 2.19 .938 (2.57 .914)
FA’s: C
Trades: B
Best move: Benoit
Biggest flop: Eckford

Benoit and Lawson were good signings for this season, but Jessiman and Eckford were awful and while Ledba was a decent acquisition, “veteran savvy” didn’t do anything for the team in the playoffs when it mattered.  My full review is here.

11-12 – 24-40-12 201 243
Corey Locke (second year of his deal) 38-10-31-41
Rob Klinkhammer 35-12-33-35 (76-17-29-46)
Mark Parrish 51-15-15-30 (56-17-34-51)
Tim Conboy 53-2-9-11 (70-0-12-12)
Josh Godfrey (AHL contract) 38-2-6-8 (ECHL 49-15-12-27)
Mike Bartlett 58-3-4-7 (72-8-10-18)
Francis Lessard (re-signed) 43-1-1-2
Shaun Heshka
10-0-1-1 (Austria 50-6-18-24) (traded)
Lee Sweatt DNP (41-5-9-14) (retired after getting his signing bonus)
Mike McKenna 2.98 .918 (3.61 .886)
FA’s (Sweatt not included): D
Trades: A
Best move: Klinkhammer
Biggest flop: Heshka/Sweatt

Klinkhammer was an inspired acquisition and Locke performed as expected, but otherwise this is a complete mess (as is reflected in the team’s results–my full review here).

10-11 – 42-30-8 255 221
Corey Locke 69-21-65-86 (76-31-54-85)
Ryan Keller (re-signed) 71-32-19-51
Andre Benoit 73-11-44-55 (78-6-30-36)
Ryan Potulny 13-3-5-8 (NHL 64-15-17-32)
David Hale (demoted from Ottawa) 36-2-4-6
Francis Lessard 36-2-1-3 (61-2-2-4)
Barry Brust (AHL deal) 2.53 .925 (2.46 .908)
Mike Brodeur (re-signed) 2.96 .903
FA’s (Hale not included): B
Trades: A
Best move: Potulny (lead the team in playoff scoring)
Biggest flop: Lessard

The Calder Cup season!  I wasn’t blogging regularly at the time, so there’s no retrospective review to link, but the only questionable things here were the signing of Lessard and retaining of Brodeur.

09-10 – 32-35-13 251 260
Martin St. Pierre 77-24-48-72 (61-15-51-66)
Ryan Keller 72-34-34-68 (Liiga 54-21-34-55)
Denis Hamel (re-signed) 73-22-29-51
Jonathan Cheechoo (demoted from Ottawa) 25-8-6-14
Drew Bannister (D) 57-4-10-14 (DEL 34-2-15-17)
Paul Baier (D) 62-2-8-10 (62-3-8-11)
Jeremy Yablonski (re-signed) 27-1-0-1
Chris Holt (G) (AHL deal) 2.95 .905 (1.73 .931)
Andy Chiodo (G) 3.28 .901 (KHL 3.66 .866)
Mike Brodeur (G) 3.06 .899 (2.45 .920)
FA’s (Cheechoo not included): D+
Trades: N/A
Best move: Keller
Biggest flop: Chiodo/Brodeur

Forwards performed as expected (although retaining Yablonski was pointless), but the defense choices were obviously terrible before the season began; signing Chiodo was puzzling and Brodeur underperformed.

08-09 – 31-30-19 232 238
Greg Mauldin (re-signed) 80-24-27-51
Denis Hamel (re-signed) 63-25-25-50
Marc Cavosie 64-10-13-23 (ECHL 41-12-18-30)
Matt Carkner (D) (re-signed) 67-3-18-21
Drew Fata (D) 68-7-9-16 (71-3-11-14)
Brendan Bell (D) 15-6-9-15 (69-7-24-31)
Chaz Johnson 48-1-5-6 (ECHL 60-23-24-2-47)
Jeremy Yablonski (re-signed) 64-1-2-3
Geoff Waugh (D) (re-signed) 27-0-2-2
FA’s: C-
Trades: C
Best move: Mauldin
Biggest flop: Yablonski

Bell’s acquisition would have been great if he’d stayed on the roster; as-is retaining Yablonski and Waugh were obviously bad decisions, acquiring Fata was pointless, and neither Johnson nor Cavosie added anything meaningful to the roster.

07-08 – 25-32-23 225 248
Denis Hamel 67-32-23-55 (NHL 53-5-3-8)
Lawrence Nycholat (D) 77-12-37-49 (29-3-25-28)
Niko Dimitrakos 64-20-20-40 (62-19-23-42)
Justin Mapletoft 78-18-22-40 (DEL 10-2-3-5)
Greg Mauldin 71-15-18-33 (Allsvenskan 32-6-10-16)
Matt Carkner (D) 67-10-15-25 (75-6-24-30)
Matt Kinch (D) 73-9-16-25 (DEL 51-4-20-24)
Jeremy Yablonski 76-3-10-13 (ECHL 41-3-3-6)
Geoff Waugh (D) 71-3-3-6 (ECHL 56-1-12-13)
Greg Amadio (D) 50-0-2-2 (previous season 58-3-5-8)
FA’s: B-
Trades: N/A
Best move: Nycholat
Biggest flop: Amadio

Tim Murray’s first stab at the gutted Muckler system, most of the decisions were solid, albeit none performed above expectations; Yablonski, Waugh, and Amadio stand out as head-scratching decisions.

Going through all this let’s briefly break it down by GM:
Tim Murray
FA’s: B-, C-, D+, B, D, C, F, C (avg C-)
Trades: n/a, C, n/a, A, A, B, B+, n/a (avg B+)
Randy Lee
FA’s: D-, C- (avg D)
Trades: C, F (avg D)

While both men struggled to sign appropriate free agents in the off-season, Murray has a much better track record of adding useful pieces during the season.  A problem both share is (or was) the need for an enforcer, “toughness” in the lineup, and the belief that veteran leadership was as important as finding skilled vets.  I’ve long thought the Sens pro scouting was poor and this is evident here–while good players have been signed, it seems largely a matter of chance with the org going back to familiar faces (or attempting too) over and over again (Benoit’s two tours of duty, Akeson’s return, the attempt to bring back Mullen, retaining Brodeur, etc).  What bothers me are the obvious poor decisions–terrible players signed because of “character”.  No GM is going to have a perfect track record, but the BSens are particularly awful in setting themselves up for success. While you want to credit Murray for the Calder Cup, you have to call it a fluke given the results of all his other seasons and Lee has been worse.

This attachment to toughness is something Tim Murray may have overcome, as this season’s Rochester team lacked a pugilist.  It doesn’t appear Randy Lee has learned this lesson–Kleinendorst forced him to move Stortini (by not playing him), but given how often Lee brings up fighting as a positive that clearly continues to matter to him.

What does all of this mean for the 2017-18 Belleville Senators?  If history repeats itself we’ll likely get middling to poor free agents with at least one “character” signing who is of no use whatsoever.  Hopefully Lee can get with the times and do better than expected.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Advertisements

1 Comment

  1. […] the upcoming season for the Belleville Senators (from a pre-draft look at its potential roster, to Ottawa’s history of AHL veteran signings, and finally assessing this year’s free agents). Providing content for the AHL-franchise […]


Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s