It was perhaps the darkest era in the modern history of the Ottawa Senators: December of 2008. Martin Gerber was still, sadly, a member of the team and momentum was slowly building to finally relieve him of duty. Brian Elliot had only played a few games--a far cry from his late-season status as #1 goalie. Craig Hartsburg, seen as a breath of fresh air when he was hired as head coach at the beginning of the season, was less than two months from being fired.
We, the fans, were low on ourselves and the team. Plainly stated, there was no reason to cheer. Not even the predictable late-season 'believe' campaign had a shred of sincerity. There was nothing to believe in.
I did the only thing I could do: I put them On Notice. I did not take the decision lightly. I was beginning to loathe my own team, and I had to air my concerns.
The lowest scoring team in the league cannot blame its second-line wingers for not producing, nor can it blame its third line for not checking hard enough. The chemistry is wrong and the will to win is not bubbling to the surface. Defenders are not communicating amongst themselves or with forwards in order to decrease scoring chances, or even checking the opposition. Coaching has been inadequate, failing to find a solution to the scoring woes of a potentially talented team. Recently suggested changes to the lineup have already been tried in past weeks and failed conclusively.No one was spared of blame--there certainly was plenty of it to go around at the time. From management to coaching, first line through fourth--everything was a failure.
I have been hesitant to remove the team from the On Notice list for the remainder of the 2008-09 season, and the entire summer. It's hard to remove a team that had broken 11 consecutive playoff appearances. There they lingered, a scar on the face of this blog to remind the team and its fans that mediocrity and complacency are not acceptable. We are not Leafers, and failure should be neither predictable nor celebrated.
As long as I can see the light...
But the Dark Era is now over. A change is goaltending is perhaps the best indicator of this. Gerber dragged the team into a sink hole of soft goals and unpredictability. Pascal Leclaire, when he was acquired was labeled "The Answer" by this blog, and the question was "When can we start cheering again?".
Another significant change was unpredictable. Dany Heatley's summer time request to be traded certainly shook up the team. The subsequent trade calmed the waters, but the uncertainty remains... but it's the good kind of uncertainly. What are we getting back? How good can Milan Michalek become? Does Jonathan Cheechoo have any gas left? We're all hopeful that the Sens can bring these pieces together and repay our recently renewed faith.
Bryan Murray did something he's rarely had the opportunity to do: he was proactive. In the face of losing one of his star players, he became aggressive and picked up a new one. Alex Kovalev has been dropping jaws at Scotiabank Place during this preseason with his stickhandling and controversial nature. I say, "Good on ya Alex. Spice up the team fergodssake." We need something to write about other than self-loathing. (I'll admit that I came down pretty hard on you for that last gaff).
At the Sens game last week, I was impressed. Cory Clouston has created a system is greater than the sum of its parts. There were points when the Sens were schooling the Habs and controlling the flow of the game. It felt good that the Sens were in charge of the game again. No longer competing against their own flaws, they could focus on beating the other team.
Ottawa Senators, you are forgiven. I will cheer again, and you can count me amongst your truest fans. Now a short prayer to the Golden God:
Alfie, all powerful and righteous in your Swedishness;
Forgive my dismissal of your former teammates;
Let us reconcile like a handshake after a playoff series;
Allow glory to flow upon the Senators, like your hair circa 1999;
And cross-check our indifference like Darcy Tucker in a playoff game.
Let a new era begin.