The end of the season for the Ottawa Senators felt like the end of a long, meaningful relationship. It was the kind of bittersweet ending from a series of circumstances which left us asking what could have been and if only. Completely unexpectedly, the team for which nobody in the league had any real expectations, emerged as a true contender. It was a Cinderella story with an abrupt ending.
The experts slated Ottawa dead last in their projected standings. For some, this designation even seemed kind, considering that the team was in rebuild mode, with question marks surrounding their key players. Only four members of the 2007 Stanley Cup Final team remained on the roster after trades and draft picks rocked the locker room late last season. Alfredsson, Spezza, Phillips and Neil remained from the old guard, faces of the franchise that the Sens community still recognized.
The cavalcade of new faces came rolling in and they were mostly young. Up and coming stars, players freshly called up from Binghampton and a known league pugilist in Konopka. Craig Anderson seemed like a goaltender that many other teams had given up on despite flashes of brilliance, as did the misunderstood Kyle Turris. Fans and critics were wringing their hands; was this a ragtag team that would limp to the end of March, or a young inexperienced team that would flounder playing in a man’s league?
The Senators came springing out of the gate. Nicknamed the Cardiac Kids, the new team saved its best for last, putting an offensive assault in on the third period and stunning the opposition. Their winning streak seemed almost magical as ‘better’ teams were regularly taken down and Anderson stood tall in his net. While injuries plagued the rest of the league, dismantling lineups and taking out the stars, Ottawa remained mostly healthy. Other than the unfortunate Peter Regin who had been sidelined for awhile, most of the squad was fit for battle and battled hard.
For all the criticism surrounding his performance in the playoffs, Jason Spezza has improved dramatically during this regular season. Taking seriously the possibility of a changing of the Guard in Ottawa’s Captaincy, Spezza has shown maturity and a better overall game. While the struggle to make him shoot the puck more instead of passing continues, with frustrating results, he has taken to his new role. Maclean appears to trust him and his mentorship appears to be working.
Maclean has to be given a ton of credit for how this team emerged this season. Murray put some good pieces in place, but that would have been nothing if this team didn’t gel. Maclean’s management style is described as a ‘player’s coach’. He communicates effectively with his players and shows them confidence. He’s a man with a serious mustache and few words. Advocating a simple game and working on improving key aspects of Ottawa’s power play, Maclean’s coaching is effective. The proof is in the stats and on full display during tic-tac-toe plays that Ottawa has executed to perfection all season long. It’s slick, disciplined and beautiful to watch.
Erik Karlsson’s Norris trophy nomination is another example of good player development under Maclean. A high risk player and an offensive defenseman, the team has shown incredible patience with his development and allowed him to not only make mistakes on the ice, but also to make up for them. His numbers have effectively left all other defensemen in the dust for points. There is no doubt that he is one of the most talented D-men in the league, an elite player who has been properly supported.
Despite standout performances for Spezza and Karlsson, as well as career best season for Michalek, Ottawa has accomplished what it has because it’s a team. They scored by committee and played well in all three zones, although their neutral zone play killed their post-season chances. Work still needs to be done on their defense playing defense, but that will come with time and likely, with trades. It wasn’t perfect, but it was exciting.
The last word on this season has to be in recognition of the NHL’s longest serving Captain, Daniel Alfredsson. Alfie continues to inspire and he is the face of the franchise. He is this team’s heart and the entire city embraces him. Always leading by example, Alfie played his heart out and his best performance may have been his last in game 7 against the New York Rangers. Many wonder if he will be back, but no matter what decision he makes for the next season, the fans will support and love him like no player before him.
Thank you to the Ottawa Senators for a beautiful season and an inspiring run. Thank you to Alfredsson for everything he’s done for the team, the city and hockey. The season may be over, but the pride remains.
About the Author
Written by Mika Oehling
Office worker and sports nerd. Cannot play a professional sport to save my life, but love to write. Prone to rants, raves, snarky humour and caustic commentary. My team's the Ottawa Senators. Author of Armchair Hockey, a work of humourous fiction released this year and available for sale online at Chapters and Amazon.