Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Allard: Captain Alfie's toughest task is staying blameless

From time to time during hockey season Jean-Pierre Allard will favour us with his unique take on Ottawa pro sports, namely the Sennies ... it's early yet, but he already has some concerns about the Ottawa professional hockey concern, and he has truth and fun on his side.

Only five games in and it is already panic time for the Ottawa Senators and their fans. A new coach, five new players and a new so-called attitude can’t mask the obvious about the Senators. It is not yet a gang who can manage to play 60 minutes of hockey, game in and game out. Maybe these dudes have been hanging around way too long in this government town.

Things could change in a hurry if all the players buy into Craig Hartsburg's message at yesterday’s practice in which he bluntly declared they have to start competing harder because the reality is that they’re not more talented than any other opponent. No word yet if the media members choked on their pompoms upon being informed of this shocking revelation. Nor was there any advanced intelligence of Jason Spezza still smiling like he’s already won three Stanley Cups upon being unceremoniously advised by his coach that he was being demoted to second-line duty on Craig's List.

Still, these players have been called on the carpet previously. Why would this year be any different?

Sooner or later, the finger must be pointed at Captain Daniel Alfredsson, seeing that virtually everyone else but The Mighty SOPO and SpareMeCat have been blamed since 1999.

No one will ever question his tremendous hockey skills, offensive consistency, durability and high level of devotion. One must wonders how truly inspiring he is in the dressing room. Consider.

He has bounced back miraculously from injuries and surgeries, yet he cannot get his Spezza to stop playing like a selfish little bantam, to make the switch Steve Yzerman made midway through his career. He has scored huge playoff goals, yet he could not get the team to come out and play 20 minutes of spirited hockey in their most crucial period in the Cup finals two years ago. He leads an exemplary life as a goodwill ambassador for the team, yet he failed to display any noteworthy influence in last season's self-destruction. He has a perennial all-star, yet he’s made curious on-ice decisions over the years (aping Mats Sundin, shooting the puck at Scott Niedermayer, etc).

In Ottawa’s only other run at a Cup in 2003, he was a non-factor in the Eastern Conference finalswhen his team fell one late lousy goal short against the Devils.

Ever wonder why you seldom read quotes from Alfredsson in the Ottawa papers? And when you do, they’re usually of the one-line, terse variety, not to mention never earth-shattering. So like, if he can’t feed the paparazzi, then how can he strike some nerves in the room? It’s only been four years now that our friend John Muckler alluded to the need for Ottawa to fix their dressing room.

Daniel Alfredsson is a great hockey player but I’m not entirely sure he is the right man to captain the Ottawa Senators, especially in these turbulent times.

So let’s see if I got this straight.

In addition to having a questionable captain, the Sens have never had a No. 1 goalie in their 15-year reincarnation, nor have they benefited from a head coach with a killer instinct. They’ve also never had a true quarterback on the power play since the early days.

They ran their best player ever out of town by painting him as a villain and never tried to sign the defenceman that is the most feared to play against in the NHL because they preferred overpaying Wade Redden, the big softie, for two years and getting then get zilch in return when he became a free agent this summer. They have another defenseman who is still looking for his first NHL fight and a third-line centre who is getting paid $6 million this year and who shows up at training camp and quickly pulls his groin.

They have also turned their backs on recruiting francophone players when everyone else, even the Ducks, know the great majority of these players have what it takes to win a championship. They don’t even have enough smarts to get the type of solid plumber that every other team seems to have or an enforcer that can actually skate and score the odd goal.

And people still wonder why they haven’t won a Cup. Meanwhile, the suits keep on smiling while it seems like some of the media know it's better to serve up more Mlakarery®, lest they get treated like young David Berry from Covered In Oil.

I predicted the Sens would miss the playoffs before the season started. After seeing a few periods here and there in their first five games, I’m even more convinced.

To see how hard a task it will be for Ottawa to be in the final 8 come April, let’s look at the teams that are sure bets to make it in the East and work our way towards the maybes, shall we?

SURE BETS (in order of the highest chance)
  1. Penguins
  2. Canadiens
  3. Capitals
  4. Flyers
  5. Bruins
  6. Rangers
  7. Devils
  8. Sabres
MAYBES (same order)
  1. Hurricanes
  2. Senators
  3. Panthers
  4. Lightning
  5. Thrashers
  6. Islanders
  7. Maple Leafs (Neate: "Tank for Tavares!" ... "Let it go to hell for Hall!")
Scary, ugh? I just can’t imagine the Hurricanes missing the playoffs a second season in a row. Or the Lightning for that matter. One of these years, the Panthers will start their annual drive in December instead of March and it may well be this year. Atlanta cannot be discounted as long as it has Ilya Kovalchuk and a Southeast Division schedule.

So which of the above eight teams will Ottawa have to beat in order to slip in the backdoor? Stay tuned, but don’t mortgage the house on getting playoff tickets.

(Editor's note: At least in Ottawa, you only have mortage your hourse for playoff tickets -- in Toronto, you have to do it in the regular season.)

Jean-Pierre Allard
Ottawa, Ontario
October 21, 2008


Tao of Stieb said...

"So like, if he can’t feed the paparazzi, then how can he strike some nerves in the room?"

Wow. That's some real sound reasoning there, J-P.

We somehow doubt that stitching the captain's C on to the jersry of any of the usually mentioned good Canadian boys is going to make that much of a difference in this team's performance this year.

Alfie's too good for this town.

Mikey said...

Argh. Unless he's injured, Alfie is the least of the Sens worries this season.

I'm tired all of all this mythical 'C' worship that Cherry and other Canuck thumping pundits rail on. Bury it with the Mark Messier man-love and his Frito-Lays Cup sell-outs.

JPA, Stevie Y was a better captain because his numbers went down in the second half of his captaincy career?

You clearly love Bell's Corners' finest export too much to notice that Wings cups came when the entire team was made better in the 90s through good management, something O-Town has been sorely lacking and the cap isn't making easier.

What the Sens need is a real goalie, a scoring defenceman, "Call me Spezz" to stop laughing at his own jokes, and some more games under their new coach. I like the losing streaks to be early in the year when they build the team better, unlike starting strong...Ah I don't miss those Sens/Habs from the 70s Citizen comparison articles from last fall.

Anonymous said...

When do Spezza and the rest of the underachieving Senators take responsibility for their own play? It would be like me, a 28-year-old man, blaming my mother for not inspiring me to greater levels.

There is only so much a captain can be expected to do, and Alfredsson has done it all. It's time for the other players to step up and follow his lead.

Dennis Prouse said...

The average fan would be surprised to learn that the players really aren't all that concerned about who the captain is, or isn't. These guys are pros, and the notion that the captain is in there giving inspirational speeches every night is laughable. You will note that the so-called greatest captain ever, Messier, was unable to lead either the Canucks or the Rangers to the playoffs in the last few years of his career. Alfie is a good leader because he leads by example - comes to play every night, works hard, is accountable, etc. Chris Phillips is another guy whom you can be certain commands a lot of respect in the room. Still, it would be a rare day in an NHL room to see anyone publicly calling out his teammates, or giving a maudlin Win One For The Gipper speech. The game gets played on the ice.

Anonymous said...

As the Heatley fiasco demonstrates, the game is also played off the ice.

Where is Alfredsson's leadership now?