2013-14 Burning Questions: Leadership
A turbulent offseason has the Ottawa Senators facing some questions. Here are a few.
There's nothing like the good old standard lines. The Ottawa Senators have a good group of players, and a strong group of veterans. They're not concerned about leadership; leadership is a team thing, not a single player thing. The players are professionals, and they won't get distracted.
The truth, though, is that the team's identity was Daniel Alfredsson. Even as Father Time slowly sapped his skill, Alfie was still the player the team looked to on and off the ice to show the way. Think about it: Whenever the team needed a goal over the past 17 seasons, who were you expecting to score it? Who was it that went in 1-on-4 to score the goal that carried the team to the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals? Who was it that scored shorthanded in the final minute to send the game to overtime just last year?
So many times throughout his career, Alfredsson has simply willed the team to victory. There was never a question about who was going to lead the way. It was Alfie. Whether with a big goal or a big shift, it was Alfie. With his retirement betrayal departure, the team has lost that presence, and it's not a small loss.
The problem is that there can't be any doubt on a team. The second players start looking around for someone to lead the way, the bystander effect comes into play--everyone thinks that someone else is going to do something, and the result is that no one does anything.
Of course, it's not as simple as merely going out and scoring a goal. Players at the NHL level don't simply stop trying... usually. But short-term bursts of intensity can have a real effect on a game, especially when it only takes a few seconds to score a goal. We see it almost nightly--one bad play, one turnover, one mistake, and the puck goes in the net. And the best way to create those plays is to outwork your opponent. Most goals start with some player winning an individual battle, and an adrenaline rush, or getting fired up, or whatever you want to call it, can be an asset in winning those battles.
Players feed off of energy. We call the actions that create that energy "leadership." Some players are capable of creating their own energy to feed off of, but others need some external catalyst to get them going. But in general, when we see someone else try hard, we want to try hard. It's like watching a training montage and then feeling like you want to go get stronger yourself. Inspiration is real, and nothing is more inspiring than seeing someone go out and give it everything you've got. It makes you want to give it everything you've got, too.
Daniel Alfredsson was that guy for the Ottawa Senators. He's gone now, and the team will need someone to replace him. The good news is that there's no shortage of candidates. Chris Neil is a player who tends to play with a reckless edge and won't hesitate to put his body on the line in an attempt to fire up his teammates. But Neil isn't a goal-scorer. He's not the player who can replace Alfredsson's scoring heroics, and a good fight or big hit might temporarily boost morale, but it won't turn the tide by itself. Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson are more obvious leadership candidates when it comes to leading by example and making something happen on the ice. Kyle Turris has shown a propensity for scoring big goals. Bobby Ryan was brought in to be a goal-scorer.
There are many players who might step up to fill the leadership hole left by Alfredsson's departure. The team's probably not lying when they say they have a good leadership group in the locker room. But until someone actually steps up through both words and action, the question will remain: Who will step up and make this their team?
Daniel Alfredsson is gone.