Breaking points and last chances
It feels different this year. As we come to terms with the possibility that this is going to be yet another lost season for Ottawa, the old platitudes aren’t working. I know that, for some people, they haven’t been working in a long time. But even with the GM and coach gone, it feels extra depressing to have the Sens do this in a “no excuses” season.
This was supposed to be the year we wouldn’t be satisfied with anything short of a playoff berth. No amount of injuries, or bad puck luck, or poor goaltending, would excuse another bad start, and it didn’t; it took too long, but a big change did happen, as DJ Smith was let go. But now the question is: what now? We’re past the point of rooting for high draft picks or moral victories or improvement over the course of the season, but I guess we have to be satisfied with that. If the Sens win every single one of their games in hand, they can put themselves in the playoff race, but even that doesn’t get them into the playoffs, and it’s a huge ask on its own. The season is slipping away, and it feels so much worse this time around than it did even last year. They should be able to make the playoffs this year. If they can’t, that’s a year they’ve wasted, plain and simple.
The rebuild hasn’t failed yet, but I am starting to wonder if this is how Leafs fans feel every regular season. “I don’t care how well they play in March; I won’t believe they can make the playoffs until they stay above .500 in the month of November” is a pretty depressing thing to be thinking in December.
The one bright spot of this hellish week of on-ice disasters was Angus Crookshank making his NHL debut against Vegas and then scoring his first NHL goal against Arizona. In a small sample size, he’s looked right at home, injecting life into a bottom six that badly needs it.
It can be difficult for high-scoring AHL players to make the jump to an NHL fourth line, as they’re often used to heavier minutes with more offensively creative players. What’s really impressed me about Crookshank is how he hasn’t struggled with that at all; he seems to have a real talent for creating things out of nothing and making every shift count. I really hope he can stay in the NHL, because he seems like the perfect bottom-six forward.
There’s been an article going around recently that paints a pretty damning picture of the Sens’ defensive system. It claims that part of the Golden Knights’ key to success on Sunday was watching video of the Sens and identifying one bad habit of theirs that often leaves opposing forwards behind the defence on the powerplay.
Watching game tape and exploiting the other team’s weaknesses isn’t exactly a novel concept, but it’s wild that something this obvious continued for so long without Ottawa catching on to it and correcting it.
A few years ago, we might have looked at clips like the ones included in that article and complained about Ottawa’s defensive personnel - because they had some bad players on defence for a while there - but in every single clip, it’s Sanderson and Zub making that mistake.
I guess this is beating a dead horse a little bit now that DJ Smith is gone, but this is what people talk about with they say the defensive structure is bad. If good players keep making these mistakes over and over again, then it’s probably because they’re being taught to play a certain way. Hopefully Jacques Martin can get the most out a roster that’s capable of a lot more than this.
Finally, a professional hockey team in Ottawa
With the NHL team struggling so much, it’s been nice to have to another hockey team in the city that we can get excited about, and wow, has the last week ever been full of exciting things to talk about for PWHL Ottawa.
Tickets went on sale around the league on the 13th and 14th, and everyone’s doing well, but Ottawa is killing it especially. The home opener sold out during presales, and they’ve had to release additional tickets on two separate occasions now. Clicking through the seating maps for other games suggests that availability for those ones is pretty limited as well, to the point where I wonder if the team will release extra tickets for a few other games eventually (it looks like the plan is to only sell 100 level tickets at first, and then release 200 level tickets if they sell out). It’s incredibly vindicating to see Ottawa doing this well, given that many people doubted our ability to support a women’s hockey team.
Not only has Ottawa sold out the home opener, but they're also set to break the attendance record for a professional women's hockey game in North America. Note that the Rivalry Series has had higher attendance than the roughly 7000 who will be at TD Place on January 2nd, and that the record for professional women's hockey overall is held by a Swedish team. The highest attendance in North American professional women's hockey is still nothing to scoff at, though!
There’s still work to be done, but man, this is a hell of a start.
Women's hockey fans in North America have had to deal with a lot of bullshit over the years, with so many professional leagues having started up and failed after not being given enough resources to really succeed. Because of this history, it's easy to see why each decision the PWHL makes is scrutinized so heavily. After all, how are we supposed to believe that this league is going to succeed when so many others have failed?
For me, the biggest factor was always going to be the broadcasting. I've watched so much women's hockey on low-quality streams with no commentary or play-by-play, and you don't realize what a difference that stuff makes until it's gone. Last year, the PHF had Erica L. Ayala doing play-by-play for the Toronto Six, whose games were available for streaming on the TSN website, and even though it the broadcast overall wasn't on the same level as a Rivalry Series or NHL game, it really helped to have someone contextualizing things and giving the audience the big storylines. That's going to be especially important with a completely new league like the PWHL. I truly think that having a proper broadcast that's available on TV would make a bigger difference for the PWHL than just about any aspect of the league's marketing.
We don't have all the details about how that's going to work yet, but so far things look promising:
Sounds like the PWHL deal will be unique— Adam Seaborn (@AHBSeaborn) December 21, 2023
-Produced in house by the league
-Distributed to SN, TSN and CBC in 🇨🇦
-Both streaming and broadcast
No idea of the economics of the deal(s) but it appears the league is prioritizing reach which is smart
It's great to hear that they're prioritizing reach. "Produced in house by the league" could be either good or bad; it definitely means that they have people who actually know what they're talking about doing the broadcast, which is awesome, but I'm slightly worried that it might mean the league will be in charge of the budget, which might lead to a lower quality broadcast. I don't know enough about how this works to figure out how it's going to go, but either way, it's good to know we'll be able to watch the games.
It’s certainly an exciting time for women’s hockey in North America!