Thanks for coming, everybody. Let’s get started.
1) Erik Condra
Even though the power rankings have been gone for a few months, we’re rebooting them in the traditional way, which is with Erik Condra winning. I know what you’re saying; Chet, Erik Condra is from Michigan, there’s no way that’s his first Christmas tree. Yet so often we forget the sacrifices these men have to make to get to the NHL.
2) Dave Cameron
You know how it is when you get a promotion. There’s just a little more spring in your step those first few days, a little more volume in your voice, a little extra twist in your coffee order. You’ve earned that nutmeg, buddy! Even at work, you look at the mess your predecessor left you only with optimism, like a half-assembled IKEA bed you’re convinced you can salvage. There’s a way to make those flimsy, disparate parts work together, and you’re going to figure it out.
After a month, is Dave Cameron still in this first stage? Or has he already transitioned into the second stage of being the maybe-interim coach a bubble team, where optimism gives way to weary resolve, and he starts showing up at press conferences with the drawn, far-eyed stare of a man who believes that if he can just crest that next hill, maybe he can roll forever? It’s the look you see on the face of aging gunslingers, and most dads.
In coaching’s circle of life, of course, eventually even that resolve is just replaced with a sarcastic twinkle, which is pretty much where Paul MacLean lived for the last year. But for now, never lose that feeling, Dave Cameron. Stay positive, stay hopeful, eyes and heart and mind opened as wide as you can, as long as you can, as long as they’ll let you. There will be a game in March, in Winnipeg, on the second half of a back-to-back, where every defensive assignment will be blown, every forward lazily caught offside, every player limping tiredly back to the dressing room, when you’ll be tempted to close them. At that moment, do your best to remember these days, Dave Cameron, driving home through Stittsville, CHEZ 106 just a little louder than usual, nutmeg in your cup.
3) Paul MacLean
You know how it is when you get fired. The last thing you want to do is give anyone the impression that your life isn’t an uninterrupted stream of success. So you put some new suits on your line of credit; you act like you’re on an important call when you see a former co-worker at Farm Boy; you actually start returning wine bottles so the neighbours don’t see how many are piling up in your blue box. Or, if you’re Paul MacLean, you say to hell with appearances and just keep showing up at the rink even though you’re being paid not to work, like any other disgruntled buyout, or the Edmonton Oilers.
Paul MacLean has made no secret of the fact that he thinks the Senators gave him a raw deal, and when he finds another job, which he will, he’s going to do everything he can to show them up, as he should. Because when he’s behind the bench next year in Columbus, or Phoenix, or Philadelphia and the Senators come to town, you don’t think his new team will be jumping over the boards a little quicker knowing they’re facing the team that thought their coach over-deployed Chris Neil? Yeah.
4) Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson used to win these rankings almost every month. But you know what? He’s the captain now, and if the media is to be believed, that means the goalposts have been moved a little. So in that context, let’s examine Erik Karlsson’s performance in the team’s annual Christmas video.
Well, it’s not great. His line readings are stiff, his mugging is a little over-the-top, and he never really sells the premise of Erik Karlsson, choosing to relax after a hard practice by watching Christmas movies, in a CTC lounge into which no one else is apparently allowed, in a universe where this is considered typical. In contrast, last year, Jason Spezza – former captain? Tall guy? Going bald? Anybody? – last year Jason Spezza sang, loudly and poorly, but in a way that made you believe no one could possibly have more Senators holiday spirit. And most people didn’t think much of him as a captain! Then you’ve got Karlsson running through this thing like he’s already late for his weekly pore mask.
I can make excuses for Karlsson here, trot out the usual defenses. He’s a creative playmaker being forced into a framework that stifles him; he’s being shackled to inferior talent; we’re taking for granted all the little mistakes he doesn’t make. Enough. The Senators did something they rarely do, which is take a small, measured risk, by making a young Swede captain over a few Canadian veterans in a town that’s likely to magnify every fault he has for years until it decides he’s a beloved, faultless icon sometime in his late 30s. That’s unfair, but it’s true. So you’re that young Swede, what do you do? You start by selling the hell out of the team Christmas video.
While we’re on the subject, the winners in this video are Phillips, Borowiecki, and Turris. The losers are Lazar, who for some reason has to take his shirt off; MacArthur, who doesn’t get an actual part but instead gets his head stretched in widescreen; and everyone trying to re-enact a music video that came out ten years before they were born, after it’s explained to them what a “music video” is. Condra’s a push, because despite the strong performance here, he’s still making up for this thing.
5) Curtis Lazar
— Curtis Lazar (@CurtisLazar95) December 3, 2014
Then you’ve got guys who can seemingly do no wrong from day one. I like Curtis Lazar, but we’re not asking him the tough questions yet. Questions like, “why do you need to drive a truck that looks like something used by the Ferguson police?” Why do we keep turning a blind eye to the ongoing militarization of our hockey players’ vehicles?
6) Cody Ceci
This picture is amazing. Here you’ve got long-time Senators favorite Jason York sweating, glowering, and staggering into this picture like he’s at the end of a four-day creep, clutching what appears to be a large stack of money, or possibly Uno cards, next to a bemused six-year-old hockey prodigy who’s already wearing sleeveless tees. And then a plastic Jean Coutu bag blows into the frame, reminding you there’s so much beauty in the world, sometimes your heart can’t take it.
Cody Ceci is a fan favorite, and it’s in part because pictures like this with York, or others with early Senators megastars like Brian Smolinski, Damian Rhodes, or this guy, form a kind of origin story. Remember that pretty much every NHL player, when he was growing up as a junior hockey star, was a fan of the local NHL team. In most cases, childhood pictures of them decked out in this team gear are little more than historical curiosities. But in the miniscule chance a player is good enough to make the NHL, and then, even more rarely, is actually drafted by his hometown team, and then his Mom gets on Twitter, well, it makes those pictures seem more like predestination, doesn’t it? Looking at this picture in 2015, that’s no longer sweat on Jason York’s brow . . . it’s the water of baptism. Hope you’re staying hydrated, Jason.
7) Bobby Ryan
@Flag_King I’m thinking about bobby Ryan “shersey” it’s formal… But says “I’m here to party”
— Bobby Ryan (@b_ryan9) December 19, 2014
A lot of this space used to be about parsing Bobby Ryan’s every move in an attempt to ascertain whether he, y’know, liked us. Sure, maybe it’s silly and a little sad when you lay it out like that, but who’s the one who’s already read this far?
Anyway, it’s over; we won. I know that news is months-old, but I just got back, and anyway, it sets up a larger point – what now? Bobby Ryan is, currently, the longest-signed, highest-paid player on the Senators roster. Is he still a Senator in 2022, at the age of 35? Is he somewhere else, by his own decision or by the team’s? Is he Dany Heatley?
Right now we’re still in the honeymoon period; Ryan isn’t even the highest-paid player on the team yet, and won’t be until late 2017 given the way Erik Karlsson’s deal is set up. But it’ll start before that – as a seven million-dollar man, is he enough of a leader? Is he an expensive luxury on a team that should be rebuilding? Is he too streaky? Too one-dimensional? Does he speak French yet?
You know what? It’s pointless worrying. We’re all streaky and one-dimensional, in our own ways, we can all be better leaders, and most of us aren’t anywhere near as personable in general, or as talented at anything, as Bobby Ryan is. And the occasional expensive luxury, even in a city as puritanical as Ottawa, provides a necessary bit of fun every now and then.
8) Chris Phillips
“Sir, you can take that beer to Washington with you, but it can’t be in your carry-on. It’s the rules, I’m sorry.”
9) Marc Methot
— Bobby Ryan (@b_ryan9) December 14, 2014
Has there ever been a period while Marc Methot has been an Ottawa Senator that we’ve known less about what’s going on with him? I don’t mean the mysterious on-again, off-again haunch injury no one’s prepared to speak to that has him playing one day and then out of practice for the next month. Nor do I mean the negotiating no-man’s land he and the team find themselves in as his contract year ticks down with no certainty about his health. No, I’m referring to the disappearance of the Methot we all grew to know and love these last two years, the one who took shirtless pictures with the mayor, live-tweeted his haircuts, and vigorously took on any and all Twitter chuckleheads.
Methot has entered an unusual period of social media silence while he’s been skulking around the edges of the Senators’ season, Cape Fear-style. He doesn’t tweet much, he set his Instagram to private, and whatever he’s up to, he’s keeping it to himself. He’s around, sure; he’s on the road trips, he’s skating alone after practice, and he’s even behind the bench “coaching” at the skills competition. But if that consists of bird-dogging the first few rows and offering Gryba a sip of whatever’s in his water bottle, he’s not letting on.
But would you? If you were trying to extract long-term money from a team that’s already rumoured not to love your attitude, and you had something going on, haunch-wise, that kept you from demonstrating your value on the ice, and there were further rumours about the team not loving your attitude vis-à-vis your commitment to working through whatever’s going on, haunch-wise, would that be a good environment in which to post last weekend’s pictures of you and seven other shirtless guys in the back of a stretch Hummer, empty bottles of NOS and Red Berry Cîroc littering the floor? What do you think?
So what’s to be done? Well, it’s not likely Methot will start putting the good stuff back online until he’s convinced the Senators to give him that safe-bet, long-term money, which won’t happen until he starts playing regularly again, which won’t happen until he’s healthy, which brings us back to whatever’s Methot’s got going on, haunch-wise. And when put in that context – when you consider that Methot’s mysterious haunch injury isn’t just affecting his future with the Senators, or the stability of the team’s defense, or even perhaps their status as a playoff contender this year, but also the quality of Methot’s social media branding – you realize how much is actually hanging on Methot’s haunches this year. Get well soon, buddy.
10) J-G Pageau
On the one hand, getting excited about a pallet of flavored coconut water would seem to throw into sharp relief the amenities gap between the AHL and NHL. On the other hand, is this demonstrating the kind of positive, team-first attitude that finally gets a guy called up? Sure, what the hell – see you next month!