This is a weekly feature that takes an uncharitable look at the Senators’ upcoming opponents.
Tuesday, February 23 – Senators @ Oilers
Whenever I hear my dear, beloved fellow Senators fans argue that the team should have committed harder to its sell-off a few years ago, tanked for multiple seasons, and stockpiled a series of high draft picks in order to contend sustainably, I think of our friends in Edmonton (motto: Any Farther North and You’re in the KHL). Can you even imagine? If the Senators had traded their moderate-ish success of the last five years – first-round-shellacking-of-the-Habs pennants hang forever, BTW – for a bunch of unsupervised kids that still hadn’t won anything? The calls from Ted in Greely that Ian Mendes would be enduring right now? “Well,” you might say, “the Senators would have developed those guys better than Edmonton did.” The same team that many argue hasn’t effectively developed Jared Cowen, Cody Ceci, and Curtis Lazar, yes?
The modern Oilers are like a cautionary driver’s ed film that GMs should be forced to watch before they’re allowed to start tanking. You want your license? Okay, but not until see how dangerous what you’re about to do can really be. Look at the wreckage. Look at the high-priced prospects, just strewn about; the shaken fans, staggering from the scene. It doesn’t matter how good you are behind the wheel, there are some situations you just can’t control. The thing is, Tim Murray probably watched this film and STILL thought he could beat the odds and get Connor McDavid. And where’d McDavid end up, after all that? Edmonton. God doesn’t play dice, my ass.
PREDICTION: Zack Smith is an investor in Eric Gryba’s duck call company, so look for him to stage an impromptu shareholder’s meeting at an Edmonton-area Milestones where he asks Gryba tough questions about the company’s direction, like, “So how you doin’, man?” and “You want another basket of garlic wings?” Then look for Smith to continue his recent goal-scoring ways against the Oilers the following night, and for him to call Gryba later this season to brag about how when he was traded, it was for a higher-round pick. Senators 5, Oilers 0.
Thursday, February 25 – Senators @ Canucks
We were talking about the sexy-but-dangerous unpredictability of tanking earlier, but the Vancouver Canucks have the opposite problem – their window is probably closed, but they refuse to accept reality and start over, trying desperately instead just to scrape into the playoffs every year through short-term, patchwork moves. Man, I wouldn’t want to be in that situation. The Canucks actually have it worse than the Senators ever did – do you remember all that loose, “trade Alfredsson” talk the last few years he was in Ottawa, supposedly to give him a shot at a Cup, but practically to reboot the team’s core and stop paying several million dollars a year to a guy whose almost-40-year-old body could crap out at any time? And the counter-argument from more sentimental fans who thought this would be the ultimate betrayal (uh, turns out not quite)? Imagine that situation in Vancouver, except there’s two of him.
How do you balance loyalty with long-term, sustainable success, though? Can you still build around veterans that have lost a step, hoping they’ll impart other values to your team, or do you have to turn over your roster every three years like you’re a Burger King night manager throwing out drunks? Do you attract players by fostering an environment that takes care of them, or do you attract players by winning consistently? Are there warning signs that you’re being too complacent? There are, actually; one is not making it either to or out of the first round of the playoffs four years in a row, as the Canucks have done recently. The other is probably Chris Phillips. Yo.
PREDICTION: You know who’s a big-body, hockey player-lookin’ guy that occasionally convinces GMs he might be a good pickup for a team that’s trying to stay relevant? Alex Chiasson. Don’t ask me how I know this. Look for Chiasson to have another good game on Thursday as he knows he’s playing for next year’s contract, and for the Canucks to immediately part with a few B-level prospects to make him like the seventh Alex on their roster. Never surrender, Canucks. Senators 5, Canucks 0.
Saturday, February 27 – Senators @ Flames
Okay, let’s review: don’t tank, but also don’t hang on to your core too long. So what’s left? Be good, make the right moves at the right time, and stay good forever. Not so hard, right? This lesson isn’t illustrated by the Flames, by the way; they just happen to be the third team the Senators play this week. No, it’s a lesson best illustrated by . . . I dunno, the Blackhawks? The Kings? Two long-term successful franchises who also happen to value winning so highly that they’re completely morally bankrupt when it comes to the character of their players, unless and until it conveniently suits their needs? Maybe that’s the key to long-term success: be morally bankrupt. Although a lot of fans don’t like that either? Basically just don’t be a hockey team, maybe.
What’s that? We’re supposed to be talking about the Flames? Snooze.
PREDICTION: Have you ever been to Calgary? Hang on, let me rephrase that. Have you been to Calgary, and then ever made a joke about Kanata? Because Calgary is basically Kanata if it stretched for forty miles in every direction. It’s a downtown core surrounded by new-money suburbs surrounded by the horizon. Yeah, congrats on scoring that three-car garage 90 minutes from work. No, I don’t know when the market’s going to turn around either. Senators 5, Flames 0.
Season prediction record: 28-26-6
Next week: The long-awaited Dion Phaneuf homecoming (ft. Chris Martin).