Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Eyes On The Prize

One of the news feeds my Google Reader is subscribed to is the Senators Top Stories news feed. Mostly it has blindingly obvious stuff like Sens Must Pull Together Now.

But yesterday, this gem comes across the feed:

WJC memories pure gold for Hartsburg
Senators coach led Team Canada to pair of triumphs at 2008, 2007 events

...and all I can think is dude, that's like bragging about being valedictorian in middle school while you are flunking out of university.

Monday, December 29, 2008

-10 and sinking

Dear Mr. Melnyk,

I'm sure you need no alert from the deep cheap seats, as it were, but as of today nhl.com has Your Ottawa Senators a cheerful 10 points out of a playoff spot, with a logjam of teams closer to the coveted spot.

One of which is Toronto, but at this point Your Ottawa Senators can hardly be fussy about which teams are ahead of the them. As of today, this lofty distinction is shared by the elite of the entire Western Conference.

Further adding to the outlook is that the swing through the west is unlikely to bring much in the way of wins, while our competition is busy racking them up -- some of them not very quickly, granted, but at a rate which is probably faster than we are.

So how did we get here?

We have to start at the top. While I'm sure their work wasn't perfect, the fact of the matter is that the team which went all the way to the final was built by John Muckler and run by Jacques Martin. Brian Murray sure helped seal the deal, pushing the team to overachieve mostly on the back of a surprisingly good backup goalie in Ray Emery.

But what has happened since? The top line is now either neutered or split up. Secondary scoring has gone from practically non-existent to totally absent. The defense core that helped give the offense a chance to work has been gutted, and enough ink has been spilled on the subject of the goal tending to float a large boat.

All told, the team was probably flattered by the top line's production and the unbelievable performance of Emery. While good enough to go a round or two, the team was one with potential, not one which required a mere tweak, a dash of "character", and the confidence gained of a nearly-successful run at the cup.

In any case, the team has been "tweaked" in the wrong way. Instead of competing for the top, we're in a race to the bottom -- and it looks like we are going to beat the Leafs there.

I'll close with a not-so-veiled threat: Ottawa is a fickle town when it comes to sports franchises. Ottawa is in when you win; and out when you lose. The Senators do not have the luxury of being the only team in a three hour radius of the densest population in Canada; nor do they have a storied history which has the glory to match the lows. Toronto could continue to sell out the ACC even if they did nothing but draft Tim Bit hockey players; Montreal has an incredible history of accomplishment.

(Not to mention arenas within the metropolitan core.)

Ottawa has nothing to carry the fans through the wilderness. And that means that there will be fewer paying fans to carry the team through that same wilderness. And that means the bedrock of this team is going to be you, sir.

I won't presume to tell you what needs to be done, of course. This is your team, and it should have your mark on it. But it is time that an eye was cast to the future -- and by "the future" I don't mean the 2009 playoffs; that ship has sailed.

It is time for more than just words of hope from the bedrock of the Ottawa Senators.

Thanks for listening.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


The problem is one of wins -- specifically, the lack of them, and the diminished likelihood that further wins will come in sufficient numbers to make an appreciable difference.

Overall, the Senators are 26th of 30 teams in the league. In the Eastern Conference, the Senators are 12th of 15 teams, now 8 points out of a playoff spot, albeit with between one and three games in hand over those teams ahead of them.

Put together that means that the Senators have to win four games more than any team between them and 8th place, between now and the end of the year. Given the standard of play we have seen thus far, this isn't terribly likely -- especially with two monster road trips on tap, including a brutal-looking swing through the west which is not likely to deliver many wins.

And although most people are not thinking that far ahead, there is the consideration that there is a difference between making the playoffs and doing well in the playoffs. Even if the team can do the former, it is unlikely that they will accomplish the latter.

Alternatively, they could decide to give up on this year, and race to the bottom in the hopes that there would be useful players available in the draft to rebuild around. Further assets could be gained by trading valuable players to contending teams in exchange for more future development.

There is a lot of upside potential on the Senators. The problem is a lack of depth. Spreading your top line through three lines only makes it harder for them to produce, while doing nothing to avoid the opposition's abilities to shut down your scoring players.

On the blue line the depth is almost non-existent -- while we have solid third-, and maybe second-line defense, we still need one of those elusive "puck moving" defense men to be able to get the puck out of the zone to the forwards without making them have to fumble around for the puck.

And back in goal we have the under-performing Gerber and the over-achieving Auld. I think Gerber isn't as bad as his numbers suggest -- much of the fault for the early stumbles this year can be attributed to the almost total lack of defense coverage in front of him. Auld I think has potential, and is playing above what we could otherwise expect of him... but he's not a #1 goalie. Not yet.

Is it time to blow up the team? It is increasingly looking like 08-09 is going to be an exercise in futility. If the team is looking at missing the playoffs, that question has to be seriously considered. There's no value in coming in 9th in the conference. The question has to be how do we spend today's assets to encourage better results in the future.

Saturday, November 22, 2008



So all good things must come to an end; today Ottawa finally notches a regulation win, a win against one of the best teams in the East. That this win comes partially thanks to an uninspired Ranger team perhaps diminishes some of the relief that the win gives us, but at the end of the day two points is two points.

(It might have been nicer if these two points had accompanied a Toronto regulation loss, but we can't have everything.)

The last three games have shown more promise than those before. More offense, more discipline, and getting some breaks are putting the team in a position where if the opposition isn't on their game, the Senators can win.

Have they turned the corner? It is far, far too soon to say either way -- although they are still too close to the bottom of the standings for there to be much more time to wait.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chilly at the bottom

So here we are at the bottom of the East. The good news, if it is good, would be that we are only 3 points out of the last playoff spot. The bad news is that this means there are six teams which are also within one or two points out of the last playoff spot. Past years have shown that this log-jam at the bottom is only likely to get worse, not better, as the season draws to a close, and the team really needs to be well up the standings in order to have the luxury of preparing for the playoffs rather than having to fight to make them.

A couple of years ago I wrote that the Senators' performance was due primarily to a sea of mediocrity in the East. It has become obvious that this team's loss in skill (and perhaps motivation), plus the improvement in skill in the rest of the East, has swamped the Senators. Gone are the days when we could win without trying.

For all the stick that John Muckler and Jacques Martin took about having an under-producing team, one could make the convincing argument that Murray rode the tails of both Muckler's and Martin's accomplishments to the cup final; since being granted the opportunity to place his own stamp on the team, the results have become somewhat poorer.

While too early to panic, I think it is time to consider that the team can no longer be "tweaked" into becoming a contender and longer term plans (along with appropriate, lower expectations) be put in place. This is a shame considering the top-line talent that the team has in long-term contracts in Heatly, Spezza and Alfredsson; if the team does go into a rebuilding phase, there is a question as to how productive these players will be once the rebuilding is complete. The problem is that right now the rest of the team can't support the three top players.

Again, I don't think it is time to throw everybody out and start from scratch; merely time to start considering it should things not improve.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

OTT 1 NYR 2 (SO)

So, on the one hand, it is a loss. On the other hand, it is a shoot-out loss, which means that the Senators kept one of the East's best teams to one goal in regulation and blanked OT. Coming off of two back-to-back, arguably blow-out losses to one of the East's worst teams, this is a step forward.

Or at least it will be if they can keep it up.

Ottawa needs to ensure that they keep this kind of work ethic up when playing lesser teams -- including (especially!) the upcoming game against Toronto Montreal, and then again when the Rangers come back to Ottawa on the weekend.