Late last night after much of the hockey news had died down for the day, the Ottawa Senators released a video of defenseman Mark Borowiecki and owner Eugene Melnyk discussing the future of the organization. Touching on subjects from dressing room leadership to overcoming the low expectations for 2018-19, Melnyk made clear he would be staying with the franchise for a long time and will not move it from Ottawa. He also noted an interesting point about roster construction, explaining how quickly the rebuild will get underway:
This coming year we’re going to have 10 out of the 22 players are going to be new. Meaning they’re either rookies or they’ve played maybe under 10 games last year. Then the following year, it’s going to go up to about 15 of the 22, maybe 16. So that’s a total turnover you know, which is exactly what should be in a rebuild.
Stripping your roster down to the studs and letting a group of young players grow and mature together is often a strategy for struggling teams who want to rebuild, and the Senators saw a similar situation play out just down the road in Toronto a few years ago. In fact, when the Maple Leafs traveled to Ottawa to open the season in 2016 they had seven rookies in the lineup including Auston Matthews, who scored four times despite the loss. That would appear to be the blue print for Melnyk and the Senators as they look to pull a similarly speedy rebuild.
The question though becomes how do they achieve the goal of having 10 rookies on the roster at the beginning of the year. The team currently has at least 19 players—Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan, Matt Duchene, Zack Smith, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ryan Dzingel, Tom Pyatt, Magnus Paajarvi, Max McCormick, Colin White, Marian Gaborik, Erik Karlsson, Cody Ceci, Chris Wideman, Ben Harpur, Thomas Chabot, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon and Borowiecki—who played more than 10 games for the organization last season and should at the very least be battling for roster spots. While perhaps Melnyk was exaggerating and players like White and Chabot would still be considered “rookies” given their relative youth and inexperience, it seems likely that there will be substantial turnover in the rest of the group.
We’ve heard for months that Karlsson may be on the block, speculation that will only increase given his complete absence from this video, but other players including Stone and Duchene are both heading into the final years of their contracts and could be shipped out for prospects and picks. If the Senators are committed to a full scorched earth rebuild, they are powerful assets in trade.
At the very least, we should expect the Senators to be involved in trade talks all season. Even though Melnyk and Borowiecki seem excited about playing the underdogs this year, the amount of roster turnover that the owner mentions isn’t possible without some transactions coming through the pipe quickly. Camp starts in just a few days and Senators rookies should be licking their chops on the opportunity that is apparently there for the taking.