Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Merciful End

Call it a collapse, call it poor work ethic, call it Ray Emery (and everyone will), but the Senators were merely following a recent historic trend when they fell to the Penguins last night and ended their season from hell.

Like the Carolina’s, the Edmonton’s, the Calgary’s, the Tampa’s and probably this year’s Ducks, the Senators found it too hard to live up to expectations after a long playoff drive the previous year.

All the aforementioned teams experienced significant drop-offs in success after their Cup runs and Ottawa is now going through the same turmoil.

But that won’t stop the critics from pressing for massive changes to the team’s structure.

To do so would be a mistake (except maybe can the moron who thought up the pre-game festivities for Game 3).

Eugene Melnyk has already said Bryan Murray will be back next year as GM and that’s the biggest no-brainer so far. Murray has done a great job overall with this team but even he couldn’t stop the slide with his years of hockey experience.

Undoubtedly, Murray erred when he brought back both Emery and Martin Gerber and he also miscalculated when he gave John Paddock the chance to coach this team.

Paddock’s coaching philosophies were bizarre to say the least. He completely overplayed his top three forwards early in the season which robbed the team’s other players of any significant roles on the squad. When Spezza, Heatley and Alfie started to break down and struggle right around Christmas, an anonymous player told the Ottawa Citizen that he “could have predicted that months ago”.

One wonders what Paddock was thinking. After having come off an exhausting playoff run, he drove his three best players to the limit in October and November without any thought that they might drop from exhaustion when the team needed them most. When they did, the Senators had no other players able to step up because Paddock hadn't given them any ice time or responsibility. The end result was a playoff sweep at the hands of the Penguins because the top three were either injured or ineffective. There has to be some blame placed in Paddock’s corner.

The team never fully recovered though Murray managed to get a lot out of players like Shean Donovan and Antoine Vermette in his short time behind the bench.

The elephant in the room is obviously the goalie situation and in my opinion, Paddock completely bungled that as well. The old saying goes that a player shouldn’t lose his place on the team because of injury. When Emery was recovering from wrist surgery, he had the number one position locked up because of his great play in leading the team to the Cup final.

Paddock had a different idea and stuck with Gerber when Emery got healthy. This caused an immature Emery to start pouting and everyone knows what happened after that. Paddock took forever to make a decision once Gerber predictably started struggling and his “win and you’re in” philosophy is the stupidest thing heard in Bytown, second only to the Spartan who stood at center ice and embarrassed this organization for at least the next five years (or as long as YouTube exists).

When Murray took over, he made the decision to go with Gerber. I don’t agree with that decision but at least Murray had the balls to make one and he would live or die with it. Turns out, he died with it but no one should completely blame Gerber for the collapse. This was coming right from day one when Paddock made the decisions that he did.

Murray tried to clean up the mess, but as Jason Spezza noted to the media after last night’s loss, it felt “like the walls were closing in” around this team.

The negativity was palpable from the fans. They were ready to run Emery out of town at the drop of a dime, despite the fact that it was clearly a case of an immature athlete and not a monster as most are making him out to be. There hasn’t been a case of media overkill like this since Alexandre Daigle was proclaimed to be the next Gretzky.

The next target was Wade Redden and after that it was the constant ridiculing of Spezza and so forth.

It’s like the fans in Ottawa can’t grasp the unalterable fact that teams need skill players to win hockey games. Their only criteria for loyalty is players that “work hard” and that is the extent of their sophistication on the subject. If they could have a team of 23 Mike Fisher clones, they would be in heaven. Too bad they wouldn’t win anything.

Murray made a statement concerning the changes upcoming and said that many ingredients go into a winning team. On top of “hard working” players, you need skill. You need tough defenseman to go along with offensive ones. You need the Chris Neil’s and Shean Donovan’s but you also need the Spezza’s and the Heatley’s.

It works the other way too for the bi-polar fan base. Most fans seemed dissatisfied with the play of Mike Commodore but what did they expect? Commodore came in and played his game. Yet fans complained that he was too slow etc. etc. Commodore has won a Stanley Cup playing a big role in Carolina yet he’s somehow not good enough for the Senators? This guy should be brought back if he will agree to. And that's not a given due to the circus like atmosphere around this place.

The fact is that this team had an off year but there should be no major fireworks in the summer. The core is solid and signed for many years to come. With the right coach and a good rest period, these players will compete again.

As I’ve said before, I think the Senators should try to rehabilitate Ray Emery. He’s simply too good to give up on because he made some mistakes this year. Forget the moral bleatings of the puritanical fan base and the fabricated outrage of columnists like Bruce Garrioch. Emery is the best option in nets for the franchise unless they can work a miracle and bring in someone like Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur.

Everyone knows that won’t happen so use the assets that you have.

If Murray can’t convince himself to coach this team next year, he should bring in someone with experience but not a dinosaur like Pat Burns or Pat Quinn.

Mike Babcock has no contract for next year in Detroit and Murray was the one who hired him to coach in Anaheim. He should be target number one with Joel Quenneville second on that list. Even a guy like Larry Robinson might be a good fit though it's thought that he doesn't want to be a head coach anymore.

Regardless, it should be an interesting summer in Ottawa but it will probably be quieter than you think.


Rachael said...

I disagree with not having Pat Burns as a coach. If anything he will help this team with the defensive issues they've been having.

SoCal said...

^^ agree

lol at calling Burns a dinosaur. He's a hard-working coach that knows what it takes to win in the East.

Navin Vaswani said...

Burnsy ain't getting behind the bench in Ottawa. He's coming to Toronto.