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)
- Maple Leafs (Neate: "Tank for Tavares!" ... "Let it go to hell for Hall!")
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.)
October 21, 2008