TSN’s Brent Wallace Gets Candid On ‘In The Box’

TSN’s Brent Wallace rarely makes appearances on TSN 1200 radio, but when he does, he becomes the most interesting man in the world.

Wallace certainly doesn’t mince words or hide his opinions, so when he was interviewed on the ‘In the Box’ program this afternoon, some of his comments regarding the Ottawa Senators situation were pretty damning. If you want to listen to the interview, you can do so by clicking here or by streaming the embedded audio at the bottom of this post.

When asked about this team’s struggles on the weekend and the culture of losing, Wallace mentioned that there had been some shift with this team that dates back to the beginning of the season.

“This isn’t just this weekend, this goes back a ways and I think it’s been building, right? Even from the beginning of this year, people were asking… I remember having a hockey meeting with the TSN guys and being asked, ‘Have things changed in Ottawa?’ And I think going into this year, I believe that there is a change in the way that the message is being delivered or some sort thereof. And I also believe that once you start losing, then it becomes worse and just gets piled on and piled on. And they’ve never been able to fix their defence and as you said earlier, without the goaltending, they cannot get any wins.”

I recall back in November, Bob McKenzie was on TSN 1050 talking about the Senators struggles out of the gate.

“And almost from the get go, I’ve talked to some people in Ottawa, and they said, ‘Everything about this year was tense and tight right out of the gate.’ That Paul MacLean, who’s normally a pretty loose guy and everything else, he seemed to be more tense. There just seems to be an air of tension about this team right from the get go.”

If Paul MacLean was more ‘tense’, inevitably it will have a trickledown effect on his players. Mind you, considering how distracting the organization’s handling of the Daniel Alfredsson contract negotiations and their crying poor routine/pursuit of a casino had been, you can understand how these disputes could adversely impact the guys within the room. Organizational stability starts at the top and looking at what Melnyk has said and done over the past few years, one can’t help but be suspicious of his involvement and

When asked about the possibility that the Senators could potentially help close the gap on the New York Rangers because the Senators play them tomorrow night and have two games in hand, Wallace remained skeptical.

“No, I don’t think they are going to get up for this (game). I sat and I remember… I talked to some people after the Calgary game as they were on their way out and headed to Banff. And the tone of (those conversations) was ‘We’re done’. And they sensed it then and I just think that they know now they’re done.”

Well, hopefully they play for pride or you know, the best possible record so the Anaheim Ducks don’t have better odds of landing the first overall pick in the NHL draft lottery.

On the subject of his assessment of how the season had gone, Wallace pointed out that this wasn’t really that great of a team to begin with. While not really a fresh take, his comments on Jason Spezza in particular were damning.

“You know what I think the worst thing to happen to this team was? (It) was last year. Remember, this was supposed to have been this rebuild that was going on through Ottawa. But the worst thing that could happen was that they went to the second round last season and the expectations went through the roof. Maybe they’re exactly where they’re supposed to be and but they just had a blip last year where everything fell into place. So, if we look back and (think) this is that rebuild that everybody was talking about, then maybe they’re right where they should be, but, last year just threw a wrench into everything. Hey, (last year) was a great run and it was fun to watch, but I just think that this team wasn’t that good to begin the season and it’s right where it’s supposed to be. And this is going to be a tough one and I’ll get snapped at probably, but I just think that your leader needs to be better on the ice and I just think that – and I’ve heard it from some people in the organization- they need more accountability out of Jason Spezza. They need him to play a better, different game. I doubt it’s ever going to happen, but they need him to play harder. And when you see your leader not doing like the Jonathan Toews or the Sidney Crosby, then you need something to change.”

Inferring from Wallace said about contrasting Spezza with a Toews or a Crosby, I believe he was trying to point out that both of those captains work hard in each of the three zones. It’s an opinion that was probably strengthened by watching Canada’s centers be dogged in their pursuit of the puck in Sochi. Spezza’s never been that player and probably never will be. Mind you, I thought his defensive game had grown leaps and bounds before his last back surgery. Now, I’m just not convinced that his age, health risks and all-around game are worth the risk, especially when he does not fit Paul MacLean’s 200’ philosophy.

Perhaps more importantly, hearing that someone within the organization is disappointed with Spezza’s on-ice play and performance certainly lends credence to those trade deadline rumours suggesting that the Senators had talked about potentially moving Spezza.

I suppose you can lump Bobby Ryan into this conversation as well. Wallace made mention of the fact that he cannot understand why Ryan, the team’s best goal scorer, is playing third line minutes. Speculation persists that his diminished ice-time is the result of some undisclosed injury that he has elected to play through while the team is in playoff contention, but if he cannot agree to a contract extension with the Senators this offseason, he like Spezza, should be jettisoned out as well rather than risk losing him for nothing.

From there, the interview turned to the awkward shuffling of the assistant coaches’ responsibilities. Steve Lloyd made mention of the fact that Jason York had never seen assistant coaches switch assignments like this. He did however make note that he’s seen assistant coaches switch their special teams (power plays and penalty killing) responsibilities.

“They change Mark Reeds and Dave Cameron’s positions on the bench to do what? They’re waiting til 15 games left in the season to change this,” Wallace chimed in. “I just don’t like the way that it’s been run and I think that the players are sensing that message – that they don’t understand what’s going on. I’ve heard the term ‘zoo’ used, and I hate to use it because I think the organization has turned a corner, but things are not well right now in the Ottawa Senators organization.”

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