As any sports fan knows, it's not often that a team has everything fall into place. Things like injuries, prolonged slumps, and even Ray Emery's practice habits can derail a season. A few days ago, I made light of an article over at Bleacher Report that glossed over everything that could go right for the Senators and put them in a position to contend this upcoming season. It was one of those ifs and but columns that's sugary enough to make Gord Wilson look like Earl McRae. Now don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with being an eternal optimist. It's just that this kind of blind naivety fosters a vulnerability to easily facilitated criticism. As easy as it is to make the if everything goes right for them, the Senators could be pretty good this season argument, it's infinitely easier to make fun of these people at their own expense. It's the same reason why we laughed at fans who suggested that it wouldn't be far fetched for Ryan Shannon to flirt with 20 goals last season following his finish to the 2008/09 campaign.
In the realm of professional sports, adversity happens and everyone -- the organizations, coaches, fans and media -- should be ready for it. It's for this reason that I don't understand why someone would use a public soapbox to describe how everything could conceivably fall into place for this season's version of the Ottawa Senators. Or more importantly, it forces me to ask the question of who in their right mind would ever want to tempt fate and provoke the ire of the hockey gods?
Thankfully for the Buddhist sect of Ottawa's fanbase who want see this zen imbalance fixed, the fine folks over at The Hockey News have restored the karma by huddling a by using a finely crafted 437 characters to shit on Ottawa's fortunes for the 2010-11 season.
Unrestricted free agency cost the Senators a tough-as-nails defensive defenseman, but they gained one of the best, albeit aging, puckmoving blueliners in the game. Sergei Gonchar was brought in to help out the league’s 21st-ranked power play next to youngster Erik Karlsson. Without any other off-season moves to address a shaky situation in goal, however, it will be a touch-and-go year in Canada’s capital. Without an extravagant 11-game winning streak in 2009-10, the Sens wouldn’t have finished as high as they did and a run like that can’t be expected again. ~ The Hockey News
It's weird. For a publication that features this as the first line of their article, It's that time of year again when everything is put on the line and prognostications are made for the upcoming season. I wonder how a magazine takes itself so seriously but comes up with a number of glib write ups that are completely devoid of statistical analysis or reason. I hope that people aren't mortgaging their households on these predictions or that THN punishes its staff with innovative torture techniques for bad forecasting. As an aside, someone should really check in on the author of the Bleacher Report article. After reading this THN feature, we need to make sure that he's doing okay.
I mean, how do you really critique the Senators situation for 2010/11 without a mention of this summer's Jason Spezza drama? It's just odd. Allow me...
Spezza's entering the prime years of his career, but because of his skating style, he has already developed a wonky back. Now it seems as though his shoulders are going to get quite the workout as he's expected to shoulder the burden. As Ottawa's number one center, Spezza comes back to camp faced with the expectation that he carry this team offensively. In years past, Spezza's been a target of the opposition's best defensive forward but after being dogged all summer long by rumours that he had asked for a trade during his exit interview with Bryan Murray, he could easily wind up in the cross-hairs of most fans. It's like his detractors needed any more ammunition. With an already bruised ego and a vain concern for how he's perceived by the media and fans, it could make for some long nights at the Spezza household if his production cannot meet the high standards that are placed upon him. Can the organization find him someone to play with? Is Peter Regin or Milan Michalek that guy? If Spezza underachieves, how will he respond to any negative fan reactions moving forward? Will he go public with a trade request? Have I neglected to mention that he has to answer these questions while coping with the pressures that come with being a father for the first time? How or when is he supposed to get some rest? (Ed. note: Don't answer that question.)
Now, from beating one dead horse to another. It looks like Don Brennan has taken up the role of psychologist to analyze the latest Alexei Kovalev news that Bryan Murray revealed to the press yesterday. Via Off the Posts:
No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.
At end-of-season meetings, Jason Spezza told Bryan Murray to trade him if the GM felt it was best for the team.
What did Alex Kovalev tell Murray?
An interesting clip from Murray’s get together with the media Tuesday:
“I know he’s happy. I know he loves playing here,” said Murray. “I think that playing with a couple of players in particular he played with last year, he’s really excited to see how they progressed going forward. I expect he’ll be good.”
Is it just me that reads something fishy (and I don’t mean Mike) into that? Kovalev is excited to see how some of the players he played with last year (I assume that’s his linemates) have progressed? Does that mean he hopes they have? Does that mean he didn’t think they were very good last year? Does that mean he’s blaming others for his poor performances after the Olympics, when he was really bad? And exactly what players are we talking about? Nick Foligno? Mike Fisher?
What exactly did Kovalev tell Murray behind those closed doors?
Murray remains in full support of the veteran, saying he thinks he is still a good player who could have made the difference in last spring’s playoff loss to the Penguins. But he also says Kovalev is “more of a complimentary role now. He helps other players play better hockey than maybe they have in the past. I think there were some productive players because of him.”
The problem with that is, “complimentary players” shouldn’t be making $5 million a year. That’s star money.
Kovalev is a proud man who you can be sure still sees himself as a star. He still has all the tools. The question is, does he also have the pride, heart and determination to erase what should be a red-faced finish for him last season?
In the past, Kovelev has often lacked those qualities. But now he is in the final year of a contract that could very well be his last in the NHL. Now his legacy is at stake.
Maybe that will make a difference.
Is it wrong to believe that maybe Kovalev's excited to see how Peter Regin develops? It's not unreasonable to assume that he'd be the player who Murray was referring to? I've heard people tab Regin as having more offensive upside than either of Fisher or Foligno and he did skate with Kovalev for a portion of last season. Or maybe Kovalev's excited at the prospect of receiving outlet passes from a retooled blueline featuring a developing Erik Karlsson? It's not that far fetched for Kovalev to actually want to play with a collective who can actually move the puck quickly and efficiently.
Maybe at some point, the media in this town need to re-evaluate the term star. Kovalev's never been one. Case in point, the only DVD that he has been featured on is his own. Don't get me wrong. Five million dollars is a lot of money. But it's not star money. Name value doesn't equate itself to on-ice performance. As a player who has consistently demonstrated the ability to post approximately 60 points per season, his salary (or contract term for that matter) isn't that offensive and it's reflective of what secondary scorers can earn.With a little bit of research, people could finally understand that in four of the past five seasons, Kovalev's put up approximately 30 even strength points per season. Whenever there has been a flux in his point production, it's been because of the variations in his power play point totals. If we stop holding him to this fabricated standard that he's a star, we'll be better for it and can just appreciate him as the power play specialist that he is.
Lest we forget the playoff factor. Murray's gone on record a number of times saying that one of the main reasons why he brought Kovalev in was to play in the playoffs. We didn't even get an opportunity to hold him to that standard last season because of his ACL injury.
Frankly, it's getting to the point where I can't wait for Kovalev to move on. When I can already envision Brennan manipulating these summer quotes four months from now and citing things like, "Kovalev wanted better linemates" or "Kovalev was critical of his linemates" as fact, things are pretty bad. It's ludicrous that the Kovalev bashing has escalated itself to hypotheticals and speculations of what happened behind closed door meetings. We might as well blame Kovie for global warming and make everyone happy while we're at it.