Where do I even begin?
Honestly, I’m at a loss for words. When the most satisfying point of the Senators 1-6-1 post-Olympic record is the demotion of Brian Lee, things are pretty glum. It’s a sickening feeling having to draw comparisons between the current play of the goaltenders and Darrin Madeley. The team’s defensive zone coverage has been sloppy. Thanks to the en vogue headshots and the accompanied mass hysteria, Andy Sutton can’t even hit an opponent without drawing a penalty. The top six forwards can’t fill the net with any sort of consistency. And when I mention yesterday that it might be a good idea for Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza to be split apart, Milan falls into the opposing net’s goalpost and injures his leg. Due to Michalek’s injury, the Senators have now played a game and a half this season with a completely healthy roster. To add insult to injury, the only thing more tiresome than the way Ottawa is playing out the string is the way that the Interwebs have become inundated with Thrash references. (Ed. note: Read the headlines here, here, and here.)
After sticking with the team through the past two tumultuous seasons, watching this team unravel after it looked like it had turned the corner, has been one giant kick in the nuts. These Senators are squandering points and an opportunity to advance deeper into the postseason. The more the team slides in the Eastern Conference standings, the greater the inevitability that they would have to face either of Pittsburgh or Washington in the first or second round.
As the team continues to play out the string, it’s difficult not to look at Ottawa’s assembled roster and wonder whatever happened to that resilient group of players who overcame adversity and won 14 of 16 games. During that stretch, the team was never carried by one or two players. Instead, in a rather likable quality, the Senators made due through the collective efforts of their players. But now that the team is losing games, that collective effort and cohesion has disappeared. As a fan, I can’t help but get the impression that this team is waiting for one or two players to step up and carry this team. I’m just not sure that Ottawa even has these types of players on their current roster.
Daniel Alfredsson used to be that guy. But after accumulating the third most amount of points in the NHL from 2000 to 2009, he’s starting to look human at 37 years of age. Despite his salary, Jason Spezza has never demonstrated that he can be anything but an offensive numbers guy who can make the players around him better. While they make for fantastic complementary players, Mike Fisher and Milan Michalek do enough cock teasing to make you think that they’re better than they actually are. Like with his plane, Alexei Kovalev has put the remainder of the season on autopilot. Matt Cullen looks like he’s trying to do too much. And it really doesn’t help matters that Cory Clouston has juggled line combinations more often than Don Brennan has juggled angles to shit on Ottawa’s goaltending.
As we talked about with Lee Versage on the latest episode of the podcast, if Ottawa falls short (again), where do they go from here?
Versage suggested that the only change that Ottawa would likely do is retool their blueline — since it’s expected that both Patrick Wiercioch and Jared Cowen will make a push to make the roster.
For me, that statement depressed the hell out of me. If Ottawa fell short, it would seem like one giant leap of faith to invest that heavily into two rookies to make a difference on the roster. For a roster chalk full of uncharismatic, overpaid underachievers, that wouldn’t be good enough. And ultimately, within the next 5 or 6 months, we will finally be able to truly evaluate Bryan Murray’s tenure thus far. With his spotty trade history and his Muckler’esque willingess to move draft picks for rentals or shitty players (Ed. note: My apologies to Chris Campoli and his family and friends), Murray can’t afford to let Volchenkov walk and have one or both of Cowen and Wiercioch pan out. For years, this team has tried to augment its core by supplementing the roster with depth players and it’s never worked out.
As Ian Mendes mentioned on his blog yesterday, Ottawa’s not as good as they were during their win streak and they definitely aren’t as bad as they are now. When Ottawa made that Stanley Cup Finals appearance, management got complacent and fell into that trap of overpaying to keep the team together. (Ed. note: In retrospect, the biggest condemnation of the character of the core was demonstrated when Murray overpaid to keep Chris Neil in the fold because they felt they could ill afford to lose his leadership within their room. What more do you need to know about the fragility of the rest of the roster?)
Unfortunately, it’s human nature to look at this team and wonder how they’ll be able to get better when management has the core of this team locked up long term and they’ve never given any indication that they’re willing to make some difficult business decisions. Every move has been reactive, not pro-active.
What we’ve been left with is a middle of the road NHL team, that’s become so obsessed with just getting back into the postseason that we’ve forgotten that the ultimate goal should be to win the Stanley Cup. As a fan, I’m concerned that Melnyk is too hands on with management — From the whispers that he was solely responsible for bringing in Kovalev to today’s news via Team 1200’s Twitter that he spoke directly to Bryan Murray some players today. Fair or not, I can’t help but worry that he’s some overbearing cross between George Steinbrenner and Mark Cuban.
Like it or not, games are running out on the season and there’s this misconception that there’s an inherent pressure for this team of overpaid underachievers to get their shit together. There isn’t. Ownership and management have never put the onus of blame on the players and I’m starting to lose confidence that they ever will.