Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Do what must be done. Part 1

Lose, but don't cry.

From its origin, the Ottawa Senators organization was built on losing. Not 'built on losing' in the way that the Maple Leafs have built a legacy of missing the playoffs, but rather using draft picks smartly and making conservative progress.

The losses from 1992-96 brought the Senators a slew of draft picks, including current Senators Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Phillips. Even Alexei Yashin proved valuable for a few seasons before being sent to the Islanders in exchange for Jason Spezza and Zdeno Chara. The ensuing seasons were prosperous, with the Senators collecting divisional and conference titles, and the President's trophy in 2003.

It appears that the prosperity bubble burst after the Senators went to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007. In 2008, the Sens were handily beaten by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. This season, the Senators are languishing the NHL sub-basement. What happened?

Nothing lasts forever anymore (great song by Sloan, btw)

The Sens stopped losing. The draft picks stopped raining down upon Ottawa like the winter snow. Instead of supremely talented prospects like Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat or Jason Spezza impatiently waiting in the AHL for their shot at the big leagues, it's moderate prospects gathering on the baby Sens roster. No offence to Nick Foligno, but it's unlikely he'll score 40 goals in any season of his NHL career.

The NHL salary cap has brought some parity to the NHL. Did we not expect that there would be losers, as well as winners? While the Red Wings have remained at the top of the NHL, they are certainly the exception. The so-called "NHL hangover" is simply the dramatic headline for the phenomena we should come to expect. After good teams are built, they are dismantled by rising contract demands and free agency. No more dynasties. Not even in Detroit.

Stop screaming at ice cream

The demands from media and fans to force a bad team to be good are futile. It's like screaming at melting ice cream, hoping that your breath can stop time or suddenly change room temperature. The result is a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs. They constantly traded draft picks for veterans who were supposed to transplant some success into a lifeless team, but it never came. Only this season have Leafers come to realize that you have to put the ice cream back in the fucking fridge before it will congeal. Great examples currently include Chicago and Pittsburgh, who accumulated great draft picks, and voi-la, an incredibly talented team sprung from the ground.

The Senators time is up for now. They must go 30-12 in their remaining 42 regular-seaon to have a chance at making the playoffs. Who wants to trade away Jason Spezza, get some temporary relief for this season and land the #12 draft pick instead of #1 or #2? So let's lose, for the moment, and have faith that eventually our team will resurrect itself in time. We'll have reason enough to cheer next season while we wait for our beloved draft pick to take the ice.
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