GM Muckler might pay ultimate price for Sens' failure

Updated: May 16, 2006, 1:35 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Guess it wasn't Marian Hossa's fault after all.

Or Patrick Lalime's.

Ray Emery
Dave Sandford/Getty ImagesScott Burnside says that Senators goalie Ray Emery can't be blamed for not leading the Senators to a Cup.

Or Jacques Martin's.

Go on down the list of folks who purportedly stood between the Ottawa Senators and their destiny and, in the wake of another playoff gutting, it appears what separates the Senators and the Promised Land is a lot more complex than a handful of scapegoats.

Five straight one-goal games, four one-goal defeats against the Sabres, three in overtime. What does that tell you about the fabric of the Sens' dressing room?

Heart, the will to win, call it what you want, these qualities were AWOL in the past 10 days. But you'll find those qualities in a Sabres locker room populated by no-profile guys like Jason Pominville, who scored the shorthanded series clincher in overtime.

It's no longer a question of how Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Chris Phillips, Martin Havlat, Daniel Alfredsson, Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara managed to lose to the Sabres, but who will remain in the wake of this latest failing.

GM John Muckler was hired in the summer of 2002 to try to assemble the final few pieces needed to transform a talented team into a champion. But the Senators are no closer to success and might be further away given the changing NHL landscape.

Instead of bringing in veteran goaltending help at the trade deadline, Muckler traded for a puffy Tyler Arnason, who didn't even dress for the playoffs. It was an egregious error that likely will cost Muckler his job.

Chara's stock will remain high on the free-agent market, but he was abysmal against the Sabres. And when it comes to signing either Chara or Redden, the skilled Redden must be the priority.

Heatley, after enjoying a stellar regular season and a strong first round against Tampa, disappeared in the second round. In his first playoff run, he ran out of gas, scoring just once, his hands deserting him when the Sens needed him most. He will remain a Senator, but the deal for Hossa that many Sens fans thought was the linchpin to a Cup is now at the very best a saw-off.

Center Jason Spezza has matured, but remains inconsistent. He will become the voice of the Senators if they can deal Alfredsson.

Whomever owner Eugene Melnyk tabs as the man to rebuild from the latest debacle, the challenge will be in moving captain Alfredsson. Expensive at close to $5 million per season, but extremely marketable given his skills, Alfredsson's résumé is marred by nine straight seasons of playoff disappointment. For the good of both Alfredsson and the organization, it's time for a change. To keep him is to keep a constant reminder of unfulfilled promise.

It's hard to imagine anyone wanting a piece of Dominik Hasek (let alone the Sens) after he failed to return from an adductor muscle injury incurred Feb. 15.

Hasek's stand-in, Ray Emery, might likewise have grown up in the past few days, but a sophomore netminder can't be counted on to lead this team to a Cup. Not that anyone else in a Senators jersey has had much luck in that area.

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.