The Waiting is Over
The double announcement of Ryan's extension and Karlsson's captaincy look like the first positive steps this organization has taken in a long time.
Let's just get something out of the way to start with - the captaincy is meaningless. Putting a C on a person's jersey helps to sell jerseys, it gives an excuse for flashy press conferences, it promotes fan discussion. Really, the leaders in the dressing room and on the ice are the players who take on a leadership role, not the players who have letters sewn onto their jerseys.
Or at least, that's what I thought up until a couple days ago. Often, my cynicism gets the better of me. But today it hasn't, yesterday it didn't, and I think tomorrow will be more of the same. I'm starting to think that there might actually be some meaning to the captaincy, and the logic is simple - the captaincy isn't meaningless to the people who chose the captain. If Chris Phillips or Chris Neil had been picked as captain, I would've shrugged it off as a meaningless gesture. Management was rewarding a past-their-prime player for hundreds of games of service. It would be a classy move. It would be a demonstration of gratitude. It would be something entirely predictable for a franchise who unexpectedly rose to prominence 15 years ago, and has not quite managed to cut ties with that era yet. Everyone has talked about the "youth movement" vs. the "old guard" that made it to the Cup Finals for what feels like forever. The idea of there even being an old guard first emerged at Trade Deadline 2011, when a bunch of these guys were traded away. When captain Daniel Alfredsson left, the old guard was down to three, and when captain Jason Spezza was traded, we were down to two. It would've been business-as-usual to name Phillips captain, once again paying tribute to the old guard.
The fact that Erik Karlsson was named captain shows a near-embrace of the youth movement. Management has finally admitted that maybe we've hit the point in the rebuild to cut ties with the past, and celebrate the future this team has. Guys like Kyle Turris, Cody Ceci, Mika Zibanejad, and Robin Lehner all represent many years of future success. Maybe, just maybe, management and coaches are ready to take the plunge into the next era. Kaptain Karlsson had just turned 17 when the Senators played in the Stanley Cup Finals. He still had another year until draft eligibility. Making him captain is a clear admission that the past is gone, that the future is now.
Someone also pointed out that this move effectively allows Sens fans to move on from Alfredsson. In my opinion, Spezza should've been captain last season, but when things went downhill, he effectively became a stop-gap captain. Naming Phillips captain would've led to two more years of wallowing in the doldrums, wondering when the transition would end and the new era of the Sens would finally start. Instead, they sent a message, that the waiting is over, the new era has dawned.
The Bobby Ryan extension was exciting for a lot of the same reasons. Sure, people can make all the comments they want about how Ottawa gave up a lot for him, and the potential PR repercussions of letting him go. But I say that this was still a positive move by the team. Bobby Ryan deserved a raise, and he was going to get it somewhere. The fact that the team was willing to pay him, at the risk of next year's internal budget, is a small source of hope. One talented player believes what Sens management is telling him about the future, enough to opt in to seven more years of it. Maybe this team is serious about becoming competitive again. Just like Karlsson being named captain, re-signing Ryan shows that management thinks the future is now.
Of course, there are negatives, as there are to any story. I'd be shocked if Neil and Phillips weren't given far too many minutes this season out of loyalty. A commitment to paying Ryan doesn't mean that this team is committed to paying for an entire high-calibre team. Karlsson becoming captain may lead to him becoming a lightning rod for criticism from fans and the media alike.
But none of that matters right now. For the first time in more than a year, I woke up to positive Sens news. No amount of naysaying can take that away from me. For at least a brief moment, the future looks bright, and I will revel in it for all it's worth.