Revisiting the Senators Rebuild of 2011
By Gregg Kennedy | The Sens Report
As Senators fans suffer through the rebuild of 2018 (for historical purposes, I have chosen 2018 and the Hoffman and Karlsson trades as the starting point), I am reminded of the first such endeavour by Senator management. You may want to describe the 2011 rebuild as a "mini-rebuild" but with the trading of a number one goalie, two top-six forwards, heart and soul leaders, a second pairing defenceman and a serviceable forward in six separate transactions over the course of 18 days, make no mistake, it was a rebuild.
For some background...
On January 12, 2010, the Senators dropped their fifth straight game, a 6-1 decision to the Thrashers in Atlanta, and were 22-21-4 This was good for third in the Northeast Division; trailing Boston by three points and division-leading Buffalo by 13. Then came a team record 11 game winning streak. Not even The Hamburglar Run of 2015 produced 11 straight wins. Suddenly, on February 4, the Sens had a record of 33-21-4 for 70 points and were only one point behind the Sabres for first in the division and a whopping ten points clear of Montreal who had climbed into third.
By the Olympic break on February 14, the Senators had caught and surpassed Buffalo and were atop the standings. In a crazy stretch drive that would see the Sens lose nine of ten after the break, and then win six in a row, they eventually finished the season 44-32-6; good for 94 points, second in the Northeast, six points behind Buffalo and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. This meant a first-round match up with the Pittsburgh Penguins who finished second in the Atlantic Division, seven points and three wins ahead of the Senators. This was the series with the must-win game five triple-overtime goal from Matt Carkner and the game six series-clinching OT winner from Pascal Dupuis.
Okay, so maybe that paragraph doesn't seem all that relevant to you when we're supposed to be discussing a flurry of trades that didn't happen until ten months later, but it is important for a couple of reasons. First, Erik Karlsson tallied 26 points in 60 games while playing 20 minutes a night in a fine rookie season and then put up a point a game averaging a team-leading almost 26 minutes a night in the playoffs. Second, Mike Fisher and Alexi Kovalev were third and fourth in team scoring making up two-thirds of the club's second line. Third, Chris Kelly came into his own as a dependable third-line centre and penalty killer and produced six points in the six playoff games. Fourth, Brian Elliott started four playoff games, finished three and had a record of 1-2, with a GAA of 4.14 and a save percentage of .853, including a .789 when he allowed four goals on 19 shots in an eventual 7-4 loss in game four at home.
So, the bottom line - Sens finished the season with 94 points and lost a playoff series to a very good Pittsburgh Penguin team providing optimism and expectations for a strong showing in 2010-11. Their only weakness possibly being in goal.
Due to that optimism, few changes were made to the roster for 2010-11. Anton Volchenkov left for New Jersey via free agency on the same day the Senators signed his replacement, Sergei Gonchar. Matt Cullen, who came over at the 2010 deadline chose to sign in Minnesota and Zack Smith became a full-time Senator. Oh, and Jonathon Cheechoo was bought out.
The 2010-11 results ended up much poorer than anticipated. By Christmas Day of 2010, the club was 15-17-4 and already six points out of a playoff spot. Rumours of a house cleaning and the firings of GM Bryan Murray and Head Coach Cory Clouston had been swirling. They managed to beat the Pens on Boxing Day, but then came a stretch of futility unseen since perhaps the inaugural season. From December 29, 2010, through February 9, 2011, the Senators played 18 games and managed to win just one of them, including a stretch of 11 straight losses (0-9-2); a complete 180 reversal of the club record 11 straight wins from the same month just one year earlier. In the Ottawa Sun on January 22, owner Eugene Melnyk in a "clearing of the air" interview with Bruce Garrioch stated he had no intention of firing Murray and/or Clouston but had given up on the season and was working on a plan for the future. There was no mention of any unparalleled success.
Just two days later, Roy McGregor, writing in The Globe and Mail, stated Melnyk's plan included moving Murray upstairs at season's end, hiring a new GM before the draft in June and allowing that man to make a decision on Clouston. Pierre Maguire, McGregor reported, had already been interviewed. In a press conference that same day, Murray said he would like to remain GM, had Melnyk's full support to make any moves and the players were now going to be judged on their performance as the trade deadline approached. It was January 24, 2011. The Senators had played 49 games and were 17-25-7, last in the Northeast and 14 points out of a playoff spot.
Cue the rebuild!
On February 10, 2011, Bryan Murray traded long time fan favourite Mike Fisher to the Nashville Predators. Five days later he shipped out Chris Kelly to the Boston Bruins. On the 17th and 18th, it was Jarkko Ruutu to the Ducks and Brian Elliott to the Avalanche. After a couple of days to catch his breath, on February 24, he moved Alexi Kovalev to the Penguins and, finally, on the actual deadline day of February 28, he sent Chris Campoli to the Islanders. In total, 18 days, six players and one conditional draft pick that was never exercised out and two players and six draft picks in.
In the final 20 games played after the deadline, the Senators posted a record of 11-8-1 thanks to some very good goaltending from Craig Anderson, whom they quickly resigned before the season had even ended. The Senators ended up 32-40-10 and in the Northeast basement, 26th overall in a 30 team league. On April 8 with one game remaining on the schedule, Bryan Murray signed a three-year extension to remain as GM and following the season's final game the next afternoon in Boston, he fired Clouston.
With the February housecleaning and the search on for a new coach, the club was definitely in a rebuild. But just how did Murray do in that housecleaning? Let's go through the great haul the Senators received, shall we...
For Fisher, the Senators received a 2011 first-round pick which they used to select Stefan Noesen and a conditional pick which ended up being a third in 2012 which the Sens used to select Jarrod Maidens. Noesen, of course never played a game for the Sens and was shipped out in a package with Jakob Silfverberg and a 2014 first-rounder (Nick Ritchie) for Bobby Ryan. Maidens, who was rated a potential first-round pick at the start of the 2011-12 season, suffered a season-ending concussion in November of that season while playing with Owen Sound of the OHL. He fell to the third round, where the Senators drafted him but never played another game. By taking some liberties, I guess we could say Fisher out, Bobby Ryan in?
For Kelly, the Senators received a second-round draft pick which they used to select Shane Prince. After three full seasons with the Binghampton Senators and a whopping 44 games with the big club, Prince was dealt to the Islanders with a seventh-rounder for a 2016 third-rounder. At the 2016 draft, the Sens sent that Islander third-round pick and their first (12 overall) to the Devils for their first (11th overall). In other words, the Sens moved up from 12 to 11 and the price was a third-rounder who turned into one Brandon Gignac, career NHL games with the Devils - 1. But, with that 11th overall pick in 2016, the Senators selected Logan Brown. Shall we continue taking liberties and say Kelly out, Logan Brown in?
For Ruutu, the Senators received a 2011 sixth-round draft pick which they used to select Max McCormick. After five pro seasons bouncing between the Baby Sens and the big club (71 NHL games and 6-4-10), McCormick was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in February of 2019 for centre JC Beaudin who remains in the organization and is presently an RFA. Therefore; Ruttu out, Beaudin in.
For Brian Elliott, the Senators received goaltender Craig Anderson. I cannot find confirmation that Bryan Murray also used a mask and gun for this deal. Elliott out, Anderson in.
For Kovalev the Senators received a conditional 2011 draft choice; either a sixth or a seventh depending on the performance of both the Penguins and AK27 in the 2011 playoffs. The pick ending up being a seventh-rounder which the Senators used to select Ryan Dzingel. As any good Sens fan knows, the club would trade Dzingel in the current rebuild to the Columbus Blue Jackets, with a seventh-round pick, for Anthony Duclair and two second-round draft choices; one in 2020 and one in 2021. I cannot confirm that Pierre Dorion used the same mask and gun that Bryan Murray left behind or a different one. Kovalev out, Duclair and two future second-round picks in.
For Campoli, the Senators received forward Ryan Potulny and a 2011 second-round pick; either the Blackhawk's own pick or the Flame's or the Jet's all of which they owned. Poltulny ended up playing 13 games in Bingo and seven with the big club and signed with the Caps that June. The Blackhawks chose to give the Sens their own second-round pick (48th overall) which the Sens packaged with their own second-round pick (35th overall) to Detroit for the Red Wings first-round pick (24th overall). The Senators then used the pick to select Matthew Puempel. After five plus seasons of accomplishing essentially nothing, he was claimed on waivers by the Rangers. Campoli out, nothing in.
In the final analysis, the Senators traded Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, Brian Elliott, Alexei Kovalev and Chris Campoli and to this day (with some liberties taken) have Bobby Ryan, Logan Brown, JC Beaudin, Craig Anderson, Anthony Duclair and two second-round picks to show for it. Not too bad, but I think it's safe to say the present rebuild looks considerably better. With Hoffman, Karlsson, Duchene, Dzingel, Stone, Ceci, Smith and Pageau out and some fine assets in not only is the 2018 rebuild bigger than 2011 but a lot better too. But that story can wait for another day.