The Ottawa Senators have taken a corporate decision to pull the plug on the 2010-2011 NHL season and move full force into a rebuilding program the likes of which the Edmonton Oilers are currently undertaking.
The decision was taken in the days before the team's latest embarrassments on the ice: a 7-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Friday night and a 6-2 defeat by the Philadelphia Flyers the previous night.
Quietly, the franchise has solicited key members of its fan base and corporate support and subsequently concluded that disgruntled fans are eager for a shift in direction. They are sick of the losing.
A decision was made to have faith that the often-fickle Ottawa fan base will enthusiastically embrace a re-building program, even at the cost of this year's faint hopes - and perhaps even at the cost of some of the team's most beloved veteran players.
Owner Eugene Melnyk broke his silence on his team's season from hell on Saturday when he told the Ottawa Sun that, "The time has come to make some of the most difficult decisions that any owner can make."
Melnyk said he has a plan "in motion" but refused to elaborate.
The Globe and Mail, however, has learned certain aspects of the plan.
- General manager Bryan Murray will finish out the year in his position but will move on to a senior advisory role similar to that held by coaching legend Scotty Bowman with the Chicago Blackhawks. Murray, who stayed on this season at Melnyk's request, is open to this change as friends say the results of this season have left him "sickened."
- coach Cory Clouston will also play out the year, but is highly unlikely to stay on as head coach. The new GM will have full responsibility for naming the coach of his choice.
Murray's immediate task will be the "selling off" of player assets heading into the Feb. 28 NHL trading deadline. If playoff-bound teams are interested in the likes of forward Alexei Kovalev or defenceman Sergei Gonchar, two unhappy and underperforming expensive veterans, deals could be forthcoming. It is even possible that longtime stalwarts such as captain Daniel Alfredsson and defenceman Chris Phillips could be moved it they agree to the deals.
The team is not planning any announcements, but rather to let actions speak for themselves.
The new general manager - tentative interviews have already taken place, with deeper interviews to come - would be in place for the June entry draft. At the moment, the presumption is that the team will finish low enough to qualify for the lottery that determines the first five picks. A top pick is considered a priority for the rebuilding process.
Over the summer, the new GM, with Murray acting as consultant, would be expected to re-calibrate the team by chasing prospects rather than expensive free agents, as has been the case in past summers. Re-signing veterans whose contracts are expiring is no longer a priority.
Nor is saving this season.
It is, as of this weekend, considered a lost cause - and the first step toward a necessary fix.