Thursday, April 30, 2009

A tough time to trust.

Why does the gnashing of teeth and bleeding eye reviews of game tape from the first round loss of San Jose seem so familiar? For Senator Fans the questions being asked in San Jose seem too familiar. A team with great talent which had a wonderful regular season falls so desperately short in the post season.

The team’s big super star centre is at the centre of all the talk about what is wrong with this team. Joe Thornton is currently trying on the goat horns owned for the past year by Jason Spezza. Right or wrong when you earn North of 7 million and are the #1 centre on an underachieving team, they just fit you for the horns at the start of the season and wait for a good time to give them to you. Hardly seems fair in a team sport, but that’s the way the fans and media look at it, so fair or not that’s the way it goes.

The big difference between the two teams is the fact that Ottawa got to the final with all this talent while the Sharks still could not find their way out of the first round and they haven’t gotten past the 2nd round in the 3 previous seasons. That makes the Shark tank more acidic than the Nation’s Capital.

All the same discussions about breaking up the core of the team are now taking place in Northern California. But how do you rid yourself of Thornton, Marleau, Cheechoo or even Nabokov? There would certainly be teams interested but absorbing those big salaries is tough with the cap destined to go down over the next 3 seasons. All this is predicated on the assumption that the big dollar guys would be willing to waive their no-trade clauses. There will be changes, but don’t expect Doug Wilson to tear down this house. It would be nearly impossible to do even if he wanted to.

No this is the time to trust your earlier decisions despite the fact it’s the toughest time to have trust. You loved this team when you signed all these guys. You loved this team when they won the President’s Trophy. You loved them when the first round of the playoffs started. Now 7 games later some want it ripped apart? It might be the right thing to do or it might be the worst thing to do.

Here in Ottawa before Corey Clouston took over as coach, the talk shows were filled with people who were absolutely positive the only fix was to trade Spezza, Heatly, Alfredsson, Phillips…etc etc. By the end of the season people were talking about this team being 2 players away from being a contender again.

The Sharks will change before next season and one of the big guns may actually be moved, but not a full scale rebuild. But one individual may have been badly damaged by the first round exit. That is Jumbo Joe and the assumption he is about to become thee dominant centre in the NHL at long last. His stock has now plummeted so quickly there is talk he will not only not captain Team Canada in the Olympics, but he might not even make the team. The biggest Shark may have lost his teeth in 7 simple playoff games.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Start of Tomorrow

The Senators season ended on Saturday night in Toronto. It is amazing how attitudes can change. No post season is certainly not a good thing, but surprisingly the fans I speak too feel optimism. There isn’t this feeling of being at a wake after the season ends. It’s almost as if people believe the operation was a success. The patent still isn’t out of the woods and is headed to the recovery room, but for all signs there is reason for cautious optimism. The patient will have the summer to heal and rehab before heading back to work and punching the time clock next September.

People seem to have the sense that the major ills of this team have been cured and the off-season of chasing the 2 specs of gold dust can begin. Those specs are the same 2 that 28 of the 30 teams in the NHL are all looking for and seem to each year. Ottawa GM Bryan Murray wants to find a top-4 defenceman and a top-6 forward. Those are the specs of gold that everyone wants but can’t find in abundance at a price that works.

Since February 3rd only one team in the eastern conference had more points than Ottawa. That was Pittsburgh. Ironically the two teams which fired experienced NHL coaches and replaced them young aspiring AHL coaches. Ironically the two teams which have gone to the final the past 2 years and both have tried to carry forward the huge weight of expectations in their respective communities.

It really makes the Detroit Red Wings even more amazing. Those expectations are squarely on their shoulders each year and the weight seems to have next to no affect. Even if they don’t make it to the final, the 18 straight years of being in the playoffs is simply amazing. Pressure and expectation I have come to realized are the 2 toughest things to manage and 2 of the most crippling things to deal with for professional athletes. The huge paychecks can’t stop internal 2nd guessing and the burden of so many fans almost guttural need for their team to win.

The Ottawa players will have something this coming season that they haven’t had the last 3 years. The knowledge of who their coach will be before this season ends. They will come to camp next season knowing who he is, what to expect, what he expects and what the system and the plan is. That is a large step forward because it means no buy-in time. No worries about the players believing in the new coach and the new system. They already believe in both right now.

I will end this season with a bold prediction about next season. Many things will happen this off season and some players will go and some new ones will arrive. I am ready to make my prediction right now. The Senators will make the playoffs next season. The bitter taste of a 5 month summer is the horrible cough syrup required to remind players they don’t want to catch this kind of cold again.

See you at the rink.