Yeah. I’m saying it. Maybe it’s just me but I feel like I am used to the post season berths being sorted out by this time. With improbable statements being tossed about like, “The Islanders have taken control of 6th place in the East” or “Toronto has clinched a playoff spot (The Street Cred Columbus Bluejackets!)” or “The New York Rangers are neck and neck with the Jets for the last playoff spot” I find myself starting to brace for the possibility of something really shitty to happen. My nerves hurt.
As a fan of a team that often makes the playoffs but as of late just barely I happen to hate this time of year as it forces one to to pay attention to every game’s outcome in a confusing mess of arms and teeth and fingernails heading toward the regular season finish line. Sure it’s great that the team has been playing with house money given how this season’s gone. Every positive outcome is just gravy and life is precious and God and the Bible but I think we can all admit that with a week left in the season we’ve all gotten a bit used to the Binghamtottawa Senators as a playoff team. What happens though if our mighty hearts are broken? Hey, it’s a question I hate to ask but crazier shit has happened than a team slipping from 7th to 9th.
Right off the hop, deflating as this outcome would be the last thing one could ever be is disappointed with the team. I wont spend too much time waxing on this element but I think so many teams would have turned into dust if the same circumstances unfolded for them. Look no further than watching the New Jersey Devils a couple of weeks ago short Kovalchuk and Bryce Salvador . They were a shell of themselves. Also what’s Carolina’s excuse? I look at that roster and think, so what makes this team all that different than the Washington Capitals? Totally fine with me that they stink but weird. Again, without spending too much time on just how much this season was defined by injury, losing just Karlsson and Spezza? Forget full out points how many shots does that put you down a game between the two of them? 5 or 6 on a cold night? Not to mention losing your world beater goaltender and having to say, “To you from failing hands we throw the torch…now off you go, two rookie goaltenders.” Oh, and you’ll playing behind stars like Eric Gryba and Andre Benoit! What do they do? Obviously, they manage to give up fewer goals than the Berlin Wall Bruins. That’s insane. And I’m not trying to rip on Grybes and Benoit in fact it leads me to my next point…
How insanely well built did this team become?
Does anyone else remember what it used to be like when Ottawa would call up a player? Yeah me neither because it would be completely unmemorable like, “Cody Bass registered 0 goals, 0 Assists, and a 0 +/- in flabitty blabbity minutes.” Now we have guys like Jean Gabriel Pageau who’s what the 11th call up of the year putting up points and taking key defensive zone draws? That’s without even touching on how Binghamton remained a playoff team without getting reinforcements like Cody Ceci and Matt Puempel until a couple of days ago with their spot already clinched. Speaking of those guys, crazy to think Ottawa poached nearly the top two tiers of Binghamton’s offense, defence and goaltending and still guys like Prince, Noesen, and Cowick haven’t even seen one NHL game. I never thought I would say this but with this kind of depth I’m almost at a loss as to what the Ottawa Senators lineup will look like in 3 years.
I dont use the word heroes very often but when something as important as small market sports is at stake…
The rookies did an admirable job not looking at all like rookies this year but Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar really went above and beyond for the team this season. Consider that heading into it, this was supposed to be an easier version of last year for these two vets. For all the talk about how Alfie looks like he’s lost a bit of a step can a get soul clap for the guy who was pretty much supposed to play designated hitter on the power play putting up 20 minutes a night and going top 5 in points all season long on a young team? Anyone who saw the 40 year old captain turn over the puck to Semin last week, pull a U turn and get it right back like nothing every happened knows that Alfie helped keep this team alive AGAIN and deserves one last proper season.
Gonchar faced even more of an uphill battle, really. Not exactly revered by fans going into the season Big Tin Tin (copyright) changed the discussion surrounding him from “what can we get for him at the deadline?” to “what are you comfortable resigning this guy for at age 39?” Cray. Just look around the league, offensive defenseman is a young man’s game but Gonchar has really made me appreciate the thoughtful, smooth style his experience and talent gives the Senators. If this guy comes back to SBP on another team in the future, give him the standing O he deserves for filling in for Erik frigging Karlsson at 39 years old.
I still have questions going forward…
One of the uglier things I’ve found myself questioning is the long term durability of Jason Spezza. As much time as I’ve spent talking up Spezza’s value over the years, (and one need not look past a kid as talented as Turris having a bit of tough time filling his shoes for proof) I must admit watching Spezza miss time year after year is getting really concerning as he ages. Now that this season has signaled that the rebuild is quite well underway I really want Spezz to be part of what I anticipate to be future glory. It was awesome to see him suit up for 80 games last season. It was only the second time he’s reached that mark in his 9 season career. But how chronic IS this back stuff and what if this happens again? As much as Zibanejad is looking like he’s going to be Some Kind of Monster (copyright) I don’t know if the kid’s ceiling is first line centre. I mean, crazier shit has happened but examine for a moment the pedigree. Spezza, a 2nd overall draft pick and retired baby model put up353 points in 228 OHL games and 171 in 123 AHL games. That is the pedigree for a point per game first line NHLer. Zibby had 52 total games in the SEL and less than a season in the A. Neither even close to Spezza’s output. Different player really. His development would have to be exponential from here to get into that conversation.
As many great players Ottawa has in their system the still very young Kyle Turris is the closest thing Ottawa has to a Spezza. His audition has gone respectably but luke warm thus far. With Ottawa being a competitive team even in a year like this a top 3 type pick does not seem likely going forward. That is unless of course a humongous move is made. Do I want that? I dont know. A draft pick a gamble and Spezza is proven. Is a gamble what this team needs? Personally, I dont know what I want Ottawa to do here. What I do know however is that perhaps the biggest decision of the near future will surround Spezz. Last year he showed he was heir apparent to the captaincy but this year has been a reminder of how quickly a chronic injury to a star player can change the course of an entire season.
I’ve found myself thinking in a series of “What if’s” this season. As awesome as the playoffs are, what if this this year is just the sneak preview and is next season the REAL show?”
What is that 89-93-33 line going to look like getting breakouts from Erik Karlsson?
What if Erik Karlsson?
Will Kyle Turris EVER get the opportunity to play a full 82 game season? Sub question: Is this kid going to light it up with a full year as second line centre?
How awesome is Marc Methot?
Now that Robin Lehner has secured his spot on the roster will he choose to learn from his Vezina quality counterpart or will he feast upon his heart?
Peter Regin, right guys?
Jim O’Brien…….you guys?
I dont want to be that guy talking about how insane training camp is going to be when the team is still very much in the playoff hunt but Ifuck it ‘m saying, worst case scenario Training Camp is going to be insane. Even if Ottawa does make the playoffs we’ve seen over the past few years how just making it in by the skin of your teeth puts you in an extremely tough position. I am very much looking forward to heading into future post seasons as more than the potential upsetters. Come what may.