Senators Christmas Message

In the style of the Queen's annual Christmas message, this Senators Christmas Message reflects on the year that was, the issues we face currently, and an uncertain future.

When he made his first Christmas radio broadcast in 1932, King George V ushered in a British holiday tradition that continued with his son, George VI, and his granddaughter, Elizabeth II. During the Queen's long reign the annual broadcast has evolved; it was first televised in 1957 and now can be streamed online.

These broadcasts typically discuss current events, changes to come, and goals for the future and serve as a point of reflection for listeners and viewers. In this vein, here's is my Senators Christmas message:

2014 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. Indeed, it has turned out to be an 'Annus Horribilis'. I suspect that I am not alone in thinking it so. From the continued turmoil of Daniel Alfredsson's departure, to losing a second captain in less than a year, to not improving the defense, and finally to firing Paul MacLean earlier this month, it has been a trying year. I sometimes wonder how future generations will judge the events of this tumultuous year. I dare say that history will take a slightly more moderate view than that of some contemporary commentators. Distance is well-known to lend enchantment, even to the less attractive views. After all, it has the inestimable advantage of hindsight.

This past year has seen the Senators community come together. At times Sens fans seem a fractured and divided community but certain events this year have brought us together and allowed Sens fans to truly unite. Bryan Murray's announcement this summer that he was fighting cancer was met with universal support in Ottawa. That support grew in magnitude when he revealed this fall that he's dying. Murray's legacy as a GM with the Senators is subject to much debate but his standing as a man is second to none.

I've recently started a new project that's a reflection of how much my opinion of Craig Anderson has changed. I never really warmed to him, thought 2012-13 was a height he'd never get anywhere near again, and that I'd be ok with trading him. While I'm still open to moving him (and a lot of players for that matter) it's hard not to celebrate what he's achieved so far this season and how he's played during his Senators career.

Two very different Senators legacies were on full display in December. December 4 marked the return of Daniel Alfredsson to the Senators organization in a ceremony that made many of us finally forget the sudden, upsetting departure a year and a half earlier. It also seemed to be the first step towards a second association with the team, whatever form that takes. Chris Phillips looks to be headed down a different path. Despite a noticeable decline in his play, Paul MacLean relied on the veteran and rewarded him with ice time amounts consistent with his career highs. Unfortunately for Phillips, new coach Dave Cameron hasn't shared his predecessor's commitment to ensuring veteran experience on the ice. He's already been a healthy scratch a few times under the new boss and didn't seem particularly refreshed when he got back into the lineup. Phillips has said all the right things, but make no mistake, this is a tough situation. I feel for him; he's had a good career, been a good team player, and has frequently been put in a position he just can't succeed in during the past couple of years. Unfortunately, the Senators do not have the depth on the blueline to shelter him. He's said all the right things, but I don't think this is how he envisioned his new deal going. It's not that his everyday play shouldn't be discussed and properly evaluated, it should. But remembering his body of work with the Senators should happen too.

Family is always important during the holiday season. The Senators, like many people, like to keep things "in the family". Dave Cameron was promoted from within, as was Jason Smith. The mostly likely candidate to take over for Bryan Murray as GM for the longest time was his nephew, Tim. Now, with Tim in Buffalo, two candidates who are already part of the organization, Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee, seem most likely to take the reins from Murray. There are certain practical reasons why this takes place. It's certainly cheaper to hire internally, especially when positions are merged and employees are phased out or not replaced (see Roy Mlakar and Tim Murray). However, it does afford the organization the opportunity to get to know its personnel before placing them in positions of greater authority. Perhaps most relevant to Ottawa right now is that things have a tendency to get stale when you always look within to fill vacant positions. There are a few recent examples (Colin Greening, Zack Smith, blueline depth, Phillips and Chris Neil extensions) of the organization being unable to part with players the team has developed. Some of these examples also illustrate how the organization has incorrectly evaluated the talent level of certain players. Might some new blood on the hockey operations side of things bring some fresh air to Ottawa's decision making?

As we approach the final days of 2014, we look toward an uncertain future. With a sharp decline in his play and two years left on a pricey contract, what is to be done with Milan Michalek? Alex Chiasson is an RFA at the end of the season but has managed seven goals and 15 points in 31 games so far. His possession numbers aren't favourable and he doesn't seem suited to a top six role. Yet he's carved out a spot for himself on the power play. What is to be done with Chiasson? Injured currently, both Zack Smith and Chris Neil have frustrated many fans with their disappointing play. Their injuries have opened up spots for more productive players like Erik Condra, but eventually the pair will be healthy. In these troubled and uncertain times, we must have faith in our most cherished institutions to correct our course.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas.

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