Five Thoughts for a Friday
Goaltending, Lineup Decisions, and Possible Farewells
**Editor’s note: I’m very excited to introduce our second new staff writer, Owen Welch. Owen is an Ottawa native and a long-suffering Sens fan. Today is not Owen’s birthday, and boy would it have been weird if it were. Please join me in extending him a warm welcome! — nkb**
In a reversal of fortunes, things went well for both the Ottawa and Belleville Senators in their latest games against Detroit and Laval respectively. Both iterations of the Centurion have two games this weekend so here’s some light reading to get you STOKED.
After the breakout season Marcus Hogberg had in Belleville last year, and with Filip Gustavsson and Joey Daccord waiting in the wings, I was initially disappointed when Ottawa extended Anders Nilsson. Nilsson had a strong performance last year in his brief audition with Ottawa and he has endeared himself to fans. Nonetheless, it seemed as though the organization had really started to solve the goaltending logjam they had created for themselves; the Mike Condon trade for the ghost of Ryan Callahan got a passing grade from me.
And then the season began. The road trip through the desert in particular opened my eyes. Ottawa got absolutely shellacked, shot-wise, in Vegas, Arizona, and Dallas, and I couldn’t feel more grateful to have a veteran like Nilsson backstopping this defensive abomination. The early season struggles of Hogberg and Gustavsson (Belleville’s thin defence in the absence of Erik Brannstrom and Christian Wolanin hasn’t helped) have only further reassured me that the Senators made the right move with two veterans taking the helm during the (third) year of the tank. Nilsson, thus far, has also looked like Ottawa’s best (only?) pump-and-dump candidate. Daccord spending time in Brampton still seems less than ideal. However, I subscribe somewhat to the belief in the fragility of young goalies’ confidence and I have faith that one of Hogberg, Gustavsson, or Daccord will have merited a call-up by the deadline or the next inevitable injury to one of Ottawa’s veterans. In the meantime, Ottawa has done well enough with the very good problem of having five goalies in the prospect pool. And, no, I haven’t forgotten how badly this played out last time with Ben Bishop, Robin Lehner, and Andrew Hammond.
Coach Mann’s second season in Belleville has gotten off to something of an inauspicious start in the form of several losses and even more goals against. And he hasn’t done himself any favours with the fans by healthy-scratching skilled young wingers Vitaly Abramov, Jonathan Davidsson, and Max Veronneau at different points along the way. I won’t sound any alarm bells (no pun intended) as the season has just begun and Mann had a reputation as a very savvy coach before joining the organization. I will keep tabs on these lineup decisions however because they contradict the message the organization has delivered, to both the fans and the young players, that management traded away all of Ottawa’s star players to go all-in on a youth movement. So much of the frustration I have observed so far through the season (and rightfully so) pertains to the disconnect between the uninspired “Kids Are Alright” advertising campaign and the actual, decrepit, on-ice product.
I believe every fanbase to an extent has its moments when they feel as though the coaching staff holds promising young players hostage in ice-time purgatory. In Ottawa, however, the spectres of past betrayal loom grimly over all we see. Forgive our trepidation as we balance all of our hopes on the backs of a few young players after losing our last crop of future stars mere months ago.
Farewell, My Lovely
Mercifully, the Senators will lose about a dozen players to unrestricted free agency when this nightmare season releases us from its torturous grip. Pragmatically, I have come to terms with all of these pending departures including those of statistically viable players like Dylan DeMelo and folk hero Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Sentimentality enhances the fan experience, after all. Alas, sentimentality also burns teams who hold on too long to veterans when the time comes to get younger (except when dealing with generational talent like Erik Karlsson or Mark Stone).
All the same, I believe one player in particular deserves our gratitude should this end up being his final act in Ottawa. Craig Anderson remains on the winning side of arguably the best trade in franchise history outside of Alexei Yashin for Jason Spezza and Zdeno Chara. Since his arrival he has only carried multiple below-average rosters to the playoffs, set the franchise mark for nearly every goaltending category, and inspired the community with his determination in the face of adversity. If I ask for only one thing during this lamentable season, I ask that Anderson gets his last two shutouts as an Ottawa Senator to tie Patrick Lalime’s team record of 30. It shouldn’t take a miracle under normal circumstances for an NHL goaltender with years of experience to post two shutouts in a season. Anderson, to my despair, does not have the luxury of normal circumstances to work with. Whether he hits the mark or not, and regardless of whether Anderson’s storied career in Ottawa ends with a whimper instead of a bang, I implore all Senators fans to appreciate what might end up as his swan song. In my books, he should have the honour and distinction as the last netminder in Ottawa to wear number 41.
The Roles and Responsibilities of Fans
“I have been made to learn that the doom and the burthen of our life is bound forever on man’s shoulders, and when the attempt is made to cast it off, it but returns upon us with more unfamiliar and more awful pressure.”
-R.L. Stevenson from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
I came across that quote during my holiday reading and obviously the Senators came to mind immediately. As fans of this team we will suffer this year as we have for the past two, and we will for at least one more. This prolonged misery has already taken its toll on the fanbase; with every major announcement, and even with the most trivial anecdotes, the fanbase continues to cannibalize itself online. Part of this has to do with the nature of online communication so we can disregard that. I do want to emphasize, however, that those who criticize the organization and those who accept each decision unconditionally need not remain at each other’s throats. We all support the same team. If I criticize the coach or the management or the ownership I do so because I want to at least acknowledge the worst case scenario even if it may have a low probability of playing out. This sentiment felt particularly poignant reading Colin’s exceptional article about relocation. We have to address the issues even if the worst case scenario won’t come to fruition. None of us have the masochistic desire to illuminate the unthinkable. We do have the responsibility, nonetheless, to acknowledge the unsavoury elements of the sports fandom narrative.
From a statistical standpoint we knew certain Sens beat writers erred in stating that the team would regret trading Lazar and Ceci. But, those reporters wrote with a universal truth underlying their articles: every now and then your favourite team will absolutely botch a trade. We won’t always get it right and we won’t always agree. And we can’t ignore these inconvenient truths as supporters of a fallible operation. We need to acknowledge the facts and invest accordingly. It should go without saying, but alas, I don’t scrutinize the draft and the signing and the trades out of cynicism. I critically analyze any institution before investing my resources therein. All that to say maybe don’t bet on five years of unparalleled success until after the 2020 entry draft.
As I enjoy the World Series this year, I can’t help but mourn the loss of Senators postseason runs of my youth. Ottawa will miss the playoffs for a third consecutive year and if that feels foreign to you, it should. Last year we regressed into territory unvisited since the mid-nineties when the Sens missed the cut in consecutive seasons. And we may very well endure a four-year playoff drought to match that of the inaugural 1992-1996 seasons. I absolutely took the streak for granted from 1997-2008 and in an attempt to end on an optimistic note I remind you, it will feel all the more exhilarating when the team returns to its winning ways in 2021.