Five Thoughts for Friday

Some thoughts on mending fences, making the game safe, incorporating the youth and more!

Fear not friends, the Ottawa Senators’ season may be over but the thoughts roll on. And, as ever, there are five of them:

On Winning Back Fans:

There’s been a lot of talk this past week about how the Sens can mend the relationship with their fans  — and maybe the media as well, though that seems to be less of a pressing concern! I’m not going to re-hash the events of the three town halls that took place this week, Beata wrote a great recap if you haven’t check it out already, other than to say that they were a good first step. A deep distrust had festered between this team and the fan base, and some of the frustrations needed to be heard before the two parties could move on. We’ve now had the airing of the grievances, as it were. The next step is for Pierre Dorion and Eugene Melnyk to show that they actually listened. I can’t really speak for every fan of this team but I feel confident in saying that all the listening isn’t worth much if the subsequent actions fly in the face of what was discussed. I don’t need to agree with every roster move that management makes, but I need the team to operate in good faith. There’s a covenant that must exist between fans and professional sports franchises: in exchange for our loyalty, the team will make a sincere effort to deliver a quality product. The Sens haven’t always respected that covenant in the last little while; I’m hoping that will change.

On Making the Game Safer:

As some of you may be aware, Ken Dryden’s book Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador and the Future of Hockey came out this past fall. Dryden was very upfront about what he was hoping to accomplish in writing it: convince the NHL, and very specifically Gary Bettman, to take concrete action towards reducing the prevalence of concussions by making all hits to the head illegal. In the time since the book came out, Dryden’s remained persistent in pursuit of getting his message heard. Last week, he penned a follow-up article for the Player’s Tribune in which he cites support from many influential people in the hockey world, but not Bettman. Dryden is ultimately correct, of course: as long as Bettman won’t get on board with changing the rules, nothing will happen. Bettman has his reasons for rejecting the notion, ranging from “preserving the heritage of the game” to a possible fear of jeopardizing the outcome of the pending concussion lawsuit. Bettman has led the NHL down a path of complete denial of the science connecting brain trauma with CTE.  Simply put, this is moral cowardice.

There is a large, ever-growing, body of work linking concussions and brain trauma with CTE. What we know now about the health effects of repeated head trauma makes inaction inexcusable. There is nothing to debate here, the science is settled. I also happen to share Dryden’s practical belief that this rule change would not dramatically alter the character of the sport. But it is the NHL that must act. Look at how the reduction in fighting in the NHL has trickled down to the lower levels of hockey.  If the sport is to survive, and if it has any ambitions at all of thriving outside the niche it’s carved for itself, this is the kind of change that must be made.

On Guy Boucher’s Future:

There was some hockey talk this week during Dorion and Melnyk’s various availability, mixed in as it was with the rest of the on-going drama. Perhaps the quotes garnering the most headlines were the ones pertaining to Guy Boucher, who would appear to be on thin ice. There’s a litany of reasons Dorion can’t be keen to fire Boucher but it’s also difficult to justify bringing back the architect of such a disastrous season, particularly when the GM has admitted the coach played a part in some of the player acquisitions. Dorion has fired one coach before, when he relieved Dave Cameron of his duties mere days after the 2015-16 regular season came to a similarly disappointing conclusion.  My read of this situation is that Dorion would like to move on from Boucher, but he can’t be sure that there’s an adequate replacement available that would be willing to take the job. With the sheer number of coaches that have come and gone in recent years, the roster uncertainty, and of course the shaky finances of the organization, if Dorion were to act too quickly in firing Boucher he risks not being able to find a replacement he likes. The inevitable coaching carousel will kick up in the coming weeks, I’d be very surprised if Dorion isn’t poking around and then making his coaching choice based on that.

On Giving More Ice Time to Younger Players:

Speaking of Boucher’s job performance, one of the ways in which Dorion has said the head coach will have to change if he is to return next year will be a great incorporation of the younger players into his line-up. This is probably music to a lot of folks’ ears, but in particular Christian Wolanin, Colin White, Filip Chlapik and maybe even Logan Brown. The first three all looked good at times this past season, and Brown has been making a mockery of the OHL. Whether each of the aforementioned players would benefit from some more time in the AHL is up for debate, but what is certain is that the Sens need to find cheap production given some of the other contracts on their books. Dorion’s indicated that the Sens could perhaps use buy-outs this offseason, but it would be a surprise if anyone but Gaborik departs this way. It would represent a dramatic departure for the organization to eat the money on say, Bobby Ryan’s contract for instance. Alexandre Burrows and Zack Smith aren’t giving the Sens a tonne of bang for their buck, either. The kids are not as seasoned as Boucher would like, and undoubtedly a few of their errors will frustrate him, but ultimately this could be a blessing in disgusie for the coach. A third line of Chlapik-Brown-White sure sounds a lot more appealing to me than some of what was rolled out this year.

On Play-off Overtime Game Winners:

Artemi Panarin scored a real beauty in overtime last night to push the Columbus Blue Jackets past the Washington Capitals:

The sudden acceleration, the quick drag to get wide on Orlov, the perfect shot — it’s all there. It also got me thinking about the absolute best play-off over time winners I’ve seen. From a Sens’ perspective, the Kyle Turris goal against the Rangers in 2012 has to be up there because of how great a shot that was. But I thought I’d put it to the readership: what’s the best play-off over time goal you’ve ever seen, Sens or otherwise?

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