The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

A Comprehensive Senators Season(s) Review

Posted by Blake Murphy on April 21, 2008

This article has been submitted by Don Allan.

As I watched in utter disgust, I wondered what more the Senators franchise could do to line the pages of the ‘Leaf Nation Encyclopaedia of Chirps.’ Chapter 2007-2008 is not particularly out of place in this book, but was certainly a surprising follow up to the single sentenced 2006-2007 chapter that solemnly read: “You didn’t win the cup.” The following is a ‘Senators State of the Union Address,’ whereby I attempt to make sense of what is going on in Ottawa from a personal standpoint. I will rant, pant and attempt to educate you all on the phenomena that are the Ottawa Senators.

The other day, I tuned into The Score to watch the press conference starring Senator’s GM Bryan Murray, CEO Roy Mlakar and owner Eugene Melnyk. Though many like to immaturely and mistakenly label Murray as a poor orator, I will credit Melnyk with being the plug of the day. Listening to him fumble around awkwardly and half-heartedly defend his franchise made me want to smack the patronizing smirk right off his face. He momentarily symbolized the irresponsibility and blatant arrogance that so perfectly summates what has crippled the Senators this season and others past. I like to defend the Senators for all of their great accomplishments, but once again it is this success that likely boosted egos to a point of disunity and eventual failure. Big heads, mismanagement, rash decision making and heartlessness overtook any setbacks injuries may have bestowed upon this team once again this season. Fortunately, I see a glint of hope for the future. We still have a good team, and with the right moves we can be back on track come October. I must admit that I have been relatively impartial to Melnyk, and was likely reacting out of sweep frustration. I simply did not appreciate his tone, and can rightfully demand a more stern and apologetic address after being swept for the third time in 11 playoff appearances. Murray stole my heart on this day, and gave me hope for the future. He has always been somewhat of a straight shooter, who gets to the point articulately and with confidence. I like his potential. However, what I liked a lot more was the way things were a year ago today. The 2006-2007 Senators had a winning formula. We accomplished everything that had kept us from the cup in the past; decent goaltending, competent coaching, physical play, heart and team cohesion. Sure, we didn’t win, but we came close - closer than we have ever been. So, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I cannot truthfully state that I was not upset when the Sens lost to Anaheim in 5 last year. It was heartbreaking after steam-rolling over formidable opponents the likes of New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The Eastern conference was a softer one, but considering that Buffalo were cup favorites from September, and Pittsburgh had the top second-half regular season performance record (alongside the high-flying Senators), Ottawa faired valiantly as they took each series in 5 games. The Sens lost in the end, but by little fault of their own, in my opinion. Anaheim simply outmatched them. They were harder, faster, and stronger (see: Kanye West) with superior goaltending. If the Senators wanted to make changes to mimic those of Anaheim (which they clearly did with the promotion of Murray to GM), then they would need to do a lot more than they did. I think they should have stuck with a winning formula, and simply gone for a ‘practise makes perfect’ scheme for 2007-2008. I understand that heads usually need to role after a disappointing loss in the finals, but management also needed to appreciate their accomplishments. Finally, after a decade of playoff disappointments, the Senators had reached the grand stage of playoff finale. This was a dream that Ottawa had been favored to accomplish time and time again, but only ever produced disappointment and embarrassment. Why then, with a formula that works, would the Sens want to disrupt things on the scale that they did? I understand and celebrate what Murray did in building the Ducks during his tenure in Anaheim, but he also did a great job behind the bench in Ottawa. I have always credited incompetent goaltending, coaching and lack of heart to Ottawa’s demise since their beginning. In 2006-2007, all three of these liabilities were absent. We had a coach that could take us somewhere, a goalie that could do what we needed him to, and a team unity that would bring some grit come playoff time. Honorable mention going to Alfy, who led the way with a Conn Smythe level performance after years of being labelled a Euro-flake come playoff time. Ottawa made it to the cup and did so extremely impressively and in the face of early-season adversity. Say what you will about Muckler’s age and relationship with Melnyk or Murray, but we needed him to hang around just one more year. We needed Murray on the bench for stability. We needed the team chemistry that we had. We needed to replicate the previous year in a ‘stick with what works’ strategy.

Now what? Tough question. Hopefully Melnyk and the rest of the front office management elite frequent The ODC and like what I have to say. Hopefully they tell Murray that the need him to coach again, and perhaps run the show from up top as well. Too much work? Pay him more or bring back Muckler. It would never happen, but it’s fun to dream. The guy has a stunning resume with his work during the 80s in Edmonton, the early 90s in Buffalo, and the 2000s in Ottawa. Signing Hasek was smart, and it was the Olympics and not Muckler’s competence that screwed that keynote Muckler mishap. They should have won the Cup that year, and I’d blame lack of heart long before Ray Emery or Muckler. Gerber is not what kept the cup out of Ottawa last season as I will continue to establish. He’s old and grumpy, but he also built our team that dresses an impressive amount of its own draft picks each night, wins President’s trophies, and makes Cup final appearances. Back to reality – the bottom line involves keeping Murray on the bench, or acquiring an EXPERIENCED head coach with an impressive resume (the more likely of the two options). Settle for nothing less, because as we all remember, coaching in Ottawa is a focal point when dissecting the past. We all bore witness to Paddock’s reaffirmation of this unfortunate truth and its consequences.

Trades anyone? Let’s discuss the obvious. Emery is gone. No one in the Sens organization is shying away from this truth. Emery spent the season making the rest of the team look heartless and spoiled. Had he not gotten injured prior to the season, things would have been a lot different. Fewer temper tantrums and punctuality issues would have been likely. Emery showed promise last year, but unfortunately I think it got to his head. His contract was too flattering and undeserving for a guy that was good but not great. Emery did an above average job, but was far from becoming the Conn Smythe candidate he seems to think he was. This year, he let himself down by selfishly disregarding the necessity of sacrifice. Gerber was hot, Emery was not. You are good buddy, not great (but you have some potential). Nurse your injuries and ride the pine for a while until you can compete. Patience is a virtue, and you clearly are no saint. Aside from his inconsistency, I thank Gerber for an impressive start, perseverance and a surprisingly impressive playoff performance. Going forward however, Ottawa once again needs to solve their goalie woes. I feel this is accomplishable by moving Emery out and freeing up some cap space in regards to Wade Redden. Redden signed a huge 6-million’er that has, after 3 seasons, shown few dividends. Redden is still good, but is getting increasingly sloppy and lazy. I know he likes Ottawa, and I like him in Ottawa, but only if he is willing to take a substantial pay cut. Offloading him and Emery seem like sensible ways to afford the goaltending the Sens will need if they can not draft someone with Price-esque qualities.

Murray claimed in the press conference today that he has no intentions of trading hotshot Jason Spezza, who has the team’s, if not the entire league’s, most valuable trade potential. His 7-millionish blockbuster contract deal in the fall was a clear statement of where the organization tends to go with the young superstar. Murry stated that he more-or-less wants to build around Spezza and his counterpart Dany Heatley. Perplexing to many, but my dislike of the flagrant Spezza allows me to support trade talks. The guy is one of the most frustrating players to watch. I believe that Jaques Martin felt the same way that I do before he was fired as head coach. I know Don Cherry dislikes him too, or did at one point. He turns the puck over 5-10 times each night, refuses to dump, floats to the bench and stars in the most ridiculous Jubille Fine Jewellers commercial I have ever seen. My housemates and I have even chosen to refer to him as ‘Spezcoli,’ after the ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ character Spicoli (played by a young Sean Penn), who was a pizza loving surfer with an IQ of 7 or 8. Watch an interview with Spezza and you’ll know where I am coming from. Watching him play also suggests that he’d rather be out on the beach smoking a joint and killing a pipin’ hot cheese wheel. However, I am quickly shut up when I am reminded of his league-topping numbers every year, and his placement on one of the most prolific offensive lines in recent NHL history. His future potential is another reason why I might be a little hesitant to let him go just yet. I used to fault him for not scoring enough, and attributed his success solely to linemate prowess. However, he is showing that he can be a playmaker and point producer no matter where he is. For now, I will leave this one up in the air and open to debate. I will say that I would surely entertain the idea of making a groundbreaking Pronger/Thorton/Luongo style trade for a hot goalie or star defenseman in the near future.

Aside from the previous, there are only a few other little things Ottawa needs to do to its roster. The real challenge is finding some cohesion, renewed leadership and heart. Hopefully that can come with a solid coaching acquisition. Lapointe, Alfreddson, Stillman, Commodore, Phillips and a few others should provide the veteran leadership this team needs going ahead from the players side of things. A consistent and reliable (but not necessarily stellar), blue line in Mezaros, Phillips, Volchenkov (the most underrated asset this team possesses), Commodore and a promising Lee will more than suffice for now. The loss of Corvo has already been felt. I loved the guy, and it was a shame to hear that he did not like Ottawa. I do not really need to mention offensive strengths, we have those in spades and I would not recommend too many offensive changes at this point with the return of Fisher and Kelly. Special teams are phenomenal and one of Ottawa’s only major positives aside from the record-setting season prelude. The Sens have Neil and McGratten to handle the rough stuff, the rest I’ve already covered.

Lastly, and almost most importantly, is the side of the Senators few of us really know much about, but is likely causing some serious problems. One reporter today asked about the ‘lifestyle’ choices of players in Ottawa. Murray confessed that he knew of ‘one’ particular story or individual causing problems, but said little else on the issue. I’m sure we all have our own coke-head Senator story from a friend of a friend who one time heard about Redden or Spezza taking home some 17 year old from Gracies on a Tuesday night after doing lines off their Hummer’s steering wheel. Regardless of the legitimacy of these individual stories, it can be agreed that the Senators are having a little more off-ice fun than they should be. These types of things happen everywhere as we all know, but it is easier to label as a detriment to team performance when 15-2-0 starts are followed by dropping 30 of 48 games after Christmas. Respect is earned and not given, and the Senators have lost my respect for now. They have looked hung-over since Christmas, and perhaps there is more legitimacy to this in-jest comparison than we all realize. Getting the players under control will need to be a priority task for management after the shabby level of play displayed in the season’s finale.

On paper, the Sens are relatively sound to make their twelfth playoff appearance next season. If they can address those three issues that have been their cancer for over a decade, the partying, and make some smart moves come draft time, they will have just as good a chance as any of brining a Cup to the nation’s capital in the near future.

This article has been submitted by Don Allan.

2 Responses to “A Comprehensive Senators Season(s) Review”

  1. Erik Says:

    Really well said Donny. Almost makes me feel bad for the Sens…. almost.

  2. Stu P S Says:

    I was in the stands for Game 4 when my Pens completed the sweep, and I can definitely speak to the frustration of some fans. “Spezza” was like a swear word up in the nosebleeds. Him, Redden, and Phillips are all in the doghouse with the Sens fans who were sitting near me.

    Gotta say that I thought the Ottawa fans were mostly classy and almost 100% of drunken and disorderly conduct in Scotiabank Place was from gentlemen wearing either Leafs or Pens jerseys.

    That said…SWEEP!

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