What a difference two seasons makes.
It doesn't seem that long ago that the Sens barnstormed through the Eastern Conference, enroute to a Stanley Cup Finals showing in the spring of 2007.
Since then? Well, its not going out on a limb saying the Ottawa Senators have not lived up to expectations in the past season and a half.
This season has been putrid, to say the least. Off to a 12-16-5 start in their first 33 games, the ship seems to be sinking fast. They sit dead last in the Northeast Division and a woeful 12th in the Eastern Conference. Ten points out of a playoff spot.
If you are a Sens fan, you are in panic mode. You have been for a while.
So who is to blame for this mess? Last season, Ray Emery was the team whipping boy, and he was unceremoniously rode out of the country, banished to Russia. This season, the role falls to former saviour Jason Spezza. Fans and media alike have grown tired of his turnovers, his blind passes, his big wide turns on the ice.
And the more he is scrutinized, the more he struggles. Right now, Jason Spezza is simply trying too hard. When that happens, more mistakes are bound to arise, and the boo birds aren't likely to quiet down anytime soon.
While Spezza's play has not been up to standard, the blame for the Sens downfall is to be shared among others.
Lets first look at Bryan Murray. Murray was behind the bench for the most successful season(s) in Sens history. He took the team to the Finals, albeit only to lose to Anaheim. After that series, he stepped down and said he didn't want to coach anymore, he wanted to focus more on the G.M. position.So in comes John Paddock, promoted from Binghamton. He had coach much of the Senators young corps, including Jason Spezza. He was the natural selection as predecessor, taking over the reigns from Murray.
It didn't work out so well. After a 15-2 start, the Sens tanked. It all came to a head on February 26, 2007 in Boston. In what turned out to be Paddock's last game as head coach, the Sens phoned in an embarrassing loss to the Bruins that night. The game was televised nationally on TSN, and it was the most dispicable act I've ever seen from a pro sports team. Rumours had been swirling for weeks leading up to the game about Paddock's job security. Murray had no choice after this game. The team was playing to get John Paddock fired. An ECHL team could have beat the Senators that night. They weren't playing, they had simply quit, and it was disgusting to see.
Murray took over for the rest of the season, one that couldn't end soon enough for Sens fans. A first round sweep at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins was all she wrote for the disappointing 2007-08 Ottawa Senators.
Murray once again announced he wouldn't be back as head coach, and the search was on for a replacement last summer. They ended up hiring Craig Hartsburg, he of great junior success, but marginal pro coaching results (one good year in Chicago). I questioned the hiring right away, and so far this season, I haven't been proven wrong.
All of a sudden the team can't score. Two years ago fans at the Scotiabank Place were chanting "Pizza, Pizza!", hoping for that sixth Sens goal, which would mean a free slice for all fans in attendance. Now, they are one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL.
Why? The core forewards are still there. Alfredsson, Heatley, Spezza obviously have to be better, but what the Sens are missing is secondary scoring. From 2005-2007 guys like Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette, and Chris Neil provided that back up offensive punch. While Fisher has been hobbled by injuries, Vermette, and Neil are mere shadows of their former self.
Then there is the defense. Chara, Redden, Pothier, Corvo, Priessing, Meszaros...all gone. While Corvo struggled in his time as a Senator, do you not think they could use a puck moving, strong skating defenceman right about now? Perhaps the team and fans gave up on Corvo too soon. Carolina doesn't seem to mind him.
One thing that the Sens cannot blame their tumble down the standings on is goaltending (this season, at least). Alex Auld has come in and taken the number one job from Martin Gerber, and has played well enough and kept the team in a number of games. Unless you are expecting offensive production from Auld, there should be no blame pointed his way.
So the bottom line in all this? The Sens ability or lack thereof to turn it around. Growing mustaches hasn't worked (Lame, by the way). New, ugly third jerseys haven't helped (even MORE lame).
Me thinks its too late. Hartsburg is on borrowed time, thats no secret, and Murray may be as well.
Something needs to happen fast, because Sens fans are jumping ship. Whispers of John Tavares anyone?