What a busy week. I’ve put off posting some commentary of two articles that were published this week by Damien Cox of the Toronto Star and Renaud Lavoie of RDS. Let’s take a look at Cox’s article first shall we?
As always, my comments are in bold.
The window of championship opportunity, it’s fair to say, has closed on the Ottawa Senators.
It existed, really, between 1999 and 2007, a run of strong seasons that culminated in a visit to the ’07 Stanley Cup final and defeat at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks.
It took Cox three years, two coaches being fired and an epiphony to realize that Ottawa has taken a step back since their Stanley Cup finals appearance.
One by one, the major pieces that made up that team have either departed or failed to continue to grow. Scoring winger Dany Heatley and goalie Ray Emery are gone, and not much was gained in return. Antoine Vermette was sacrificed in the Sens’ endless search for a bona fide starting goalie. Wade Redden went for millions to the Rangers and hasn’t been the same since, while Anton Volchenkov left last summer via free agency.
Heatley, Emery, Vermette and unmentionables like Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher, Chris Neil and Chris Kelly — all players who were resigned after that 2007 Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Saying that these guys didn’t grow is a half-truth. They may not have developed further but their bank accounts did. By paying these aforementioned players at market cost, they no longer were getting cost-efficient production out of them.
In fairness to the Senators brass, Dany effing Heatley is an all-star who asked for a trade and gave Bryan Murray no leverage in his trade negotiations. No one is missing Ray Emery. And Antoine Vermette? How many good third line centers does one team need? Wade Redden was washed up in 2006 and Anton Volchenkov is the one player on the list whose spot on the roster was filled by a better, albeit different, player.
Can anyone else see where Cox’s article is going?
Jason Spezza, meanwhile, remains in the nation’s capital, but was a player greeted by as many boos as cheers last season and an unsuccessful candidate for the Canadian Olympic team. At 27, nobody talks about him as one of the great young forwards in the game anymore.
Weird. His career path almost parallels that of Dion Phaneuf – who ironically was just named captain in Toronto. Let’s not kid ourselves here, if Jason Spezza played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the amount of gratuitous media fellatio for him would be overwhelming.
Of course, the process of window-closing probably really started back in the summer of ’06 when the Senators decided to let Zdeno Chara walk. These were Ottawa teams built from the dismal years of the early 1990s, and it almost resulted in a Stanley Cup.
Of all the players named by Cox in this article, only Wade Redden was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the first round during 1990’s. Every other player was either drafted after the first round or was shrewdly acquired via trade.
But not quite.
Here it comes. Wait for it… wait for it…
The Senators team that opened camp on the weekend (and will be in town for back-to-back exhibition games against the rebuilding Maple Leafs this week), meanwhile, seems to be a squad whose current direction and identity are somewhat overshadowed by the recent past.
The current direction and identity are overshadowed because because outsiders like Cox keep looking back at 2007 and wonder how the team we got here. (Ed. note: How did we get here? One name: John Muckler.) Looking at the team’s moves over the past few years, you can see that an emphasis has been made to address the character issues that have plagued this team in the past.
This is a club, after all, that finished an impressive fifth in the Eastern Conference last season, and still has longtime stalwarts like Chris Phillips, Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher around. The optimistic might suggest a conference title wouldn’t be completely out of the realm of possibility, and it was that thinking by Ottawa management that led to the decision to sign big-name defence free agent Sergei Gonchar during the summer.
Then again, it also seems to some that Ottawa might do well to recognize its chance to win it all has evaporated, and that a step back with a major rebuild is in order.
A step back with a major rebuild is in order? With any due diligence, it’s apparent that management’s philosophy has followed that old adage about building a team from the net out. With prospects like Lehner, Rundblad, Karlsson, Cowen, Wiercioch and Gryba in the system, there’s already a solid base to build upon. While the forward core may lack a can’t miss blue chip prospect, there’s an overwhelming abundance of depth guys who look like they can be players (TM Bryan Murray) at the NHL level. When names like Kovalev and Alfredsson move on, who’s to say that the money dedicated to these players won’t be re-allocated via free agency to replace their offensive production?
They’re better than the Leafs, this we know. But are the Leafs better off for having taken a wrecking ball to the remnants of the John Ferguson era and recognized the need to start again, while the Sens keep believing they have what it takes to win now?
Ah yes, there it is! A parallel has been drawn between the Senators and Leafs and begs the question – Who’s doing it the right way? (Ed. note: It’s Ottawa.) It’s a tad ironic though that Cox’s idea of Toronto starting again is to ink a number of expensive blueliners and acquire Phil Kessel at the cost of two first round picks. Nothing says rebuild better than Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek and the rushed development of players like Schenn and Kadri.
These are two clubs among many that will likely have their seasons defined by the way in which their goaltending shakes out. Ottawa is betting on Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott, no more and no less of a uncertain tandem than the Leafs duo of J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson.
If Leclaire can be the elite starting goalie that the Sens hoped they were getting from Columbus when Vermette was shipped there, perhaps they can skate with the beasts of the east this year.
Perhaps Ottawa can skate with the beasts of the east? Ladies and gentlemen, Damien Cox presents Exhibit A – evidence that a major rebuild is needed.
What’s interesting about the Sens is that much effort it would appear has gone into rebuilding the defence in the image of the mobile group that powered the run to the ’07 final but was then dismantled.
I’m confused. I thought Cox was arguing that a major rebuild was necessary? Now he’s saying that Ottawa has rebuilt their defence?
The slow-footed Volchenkov is gone, and some talented, skilled blueliners like Erik Karlsson and David Rundblad are now considered the future. Losing Filip Kuba to a broken leg was setback, but the addition of Gonchar will add offensive creativity, as will youngster Brian Lee if he can get his game to where it was two years ago.
Spezza, of course, looms as the Senator that could make the most difference. Before the salary cap era, he probably would’ve had been gone over the off-season. These days, however, his $7 million cap hit is just too big for anyone to swallow.
Cox’s article is a mix bag of reasoning. Ottawa’s window has closed. They need a rebuild. Ottawa has rebuilt their defence after the model that lead them to a Stanley Cup appearance. Spezza is no longer considered among the best young centers in the game. Spezza looms as the Senator who could make the biggest difference.
It’s similar in some ways to the situation the Leafs are in with defenceman Tomas Kaberle, a player GM Brian Burke wanted to trade but could not during the off-season.
The 27-year-old Spezza had three straight 30-plus goal seasons before falling out of fan favour in an injury filled 2009-10 season, and he and Alfredsson are still Ottawa’s best two forwards. The lessons of last season were harsh, but if Spezza learned from them, he could provide the Sens with a major presence down the middle.
That won’t open the championship window that has closed. But it could help to better define the direction in which the Senators are going.
In three years from now, Damien Cox will write a timely follow up article telling hockey fans how the Senators got to where they are. In the meantime, I’ll satisfied knowing that when Damien Cox drops a deuce of an article, I’ll have an opportunity to open a window.
Now it’s Lavoie’s turn…
Les images du combat entre Alex Kovalev et François Beauchemin ont rapidement fait les manchettes. Alex Kovalev qui jette les gants, c’est très rare. Le joueur « vedette » des Sénateurs a toujours trouvé une façon de se défendre, mais il s’est battu très rarement dans sa carrière.
Whoa, whoa, whoa… some of you are probably thinking. Shit Nichols! He’s writing exclusively in French. I can’t understand everything that he’s saying. Fair point. Some of you aren’t fluently bilingual. Not a problem. I’ve resolved the matter by putting Lavoie’s article into Babelfish. Problem solved. Now where were we.
Translation of the First Paragraph by Babelfish:
The images of the combat between Alex Kovalev and François Beauchemin quickly made the cuffs. Alex Kovalev who throws the gloves, it is very rare. The player “high-speed motorboat” of the Senators always found a way of defending himself, but it fought very seldom in its career.
More rare than Kovalev throwing gloves? Alex Kovalev throwing punches. I don’t blame him though. If he was throwing punches and they landed, they wouldn’t have hurt Beauchemin because his hands are too soft. Noted: Alex Kovalev’s new nickname is High-Speed Motorboat.
Ce qui me dérange le plus en regardant ces images, c’est le fait qu’aucun coéquipier de Kovalev n’est venu le défendre. Donc pendant 30 secondes, les joueurs des Sénateurs ont décidé de regarder un joueur vedette de l’équipe se faire frapper par François Beauchemin, un joueur reconnu pour être un excellent bagarreur.
Translation of the Second Paragraph by Babelfish:
What disturbs me more by looking at these images, it is the fact that no fellow-member of Kovalev came to defend it. Thus during 30 seconds, the players of the Senators decided to look at a player high-speed motorboat of the team being made strike by François Beauchemin, a player recognized to be an excellent brawler.
More importantly, why does a member of the Montreal care whether or not a teammate came to the defence of High-speed Motorboat? Move on Habs fans. Your flattery and infatuation with one of Ottawa’s complimentary players is laughable. Speaking of compliments: Francois Beauchemin is an excellent fighter? I guess it looks better on Kovalev when you say things like that…
On parle ici d’un match préparatoire entre les Sénateurs et les Maple Leafs et j’ai de la difficulté à croire que personne n’a cru bon intervenir. Tout ça est une question d’esprit d’équipe.
Translation of the Third Paragraph by Babelfish:
One speak here about a preparatory match between the Senators and Maple Leafs and I have difficulty in believe that nobody has good year to intervene. All that is a question of team spirit.
Or is it shameful for Kovalev if someone has to fight his battles for him? Personally I think it looks better on him to drop the gloves. Sun Media can’t accuse the guy of not trying. And did you hear his post game comments? Sens fans have to love the new I give a shit version of Kovalev.
J’imagine la scène chez les Maple Leafs, si Phil Kessel ou Tomas Kaberle sont attaqués par un joueur adverse. Il y aurait eu un troisième homme rapidement qui aurait protégé son coéquipier.
Translation of the Fourth Paragraph by Babelfish:
I imagine the scene at Maple Leafs, if Phil Kessel or Divided into volumes Kaberle are attacked by an unfavourable player. There would have been a third man quickly who would have protected his fellow-member.
Does anyone else find it weird that this guy cannot praise Kovalev for trying?
Être expulsé dans un match préparatoire, ça ne veut rien dire.
Translation of the Last Sentence by Babelfish:
To be expelled in a preparatory match, that wants nothing to say.
Motorboat us Alex! Motorboat us!
Je vous laisse sur les images et à vous de juger.
Babelfish Translation of the Last Sentence:
Take us back Alex. We won’t judge you for leaving Alex. We’ll just question the dedication of your former teammates!