Insider Tells What’s Wrong With The Sens


According to one well-placed NHL source familiar with the Ottawa Senators, the primary problem with the team is morale.

The team has quit. And in the highly skilled NHL, it doesn’t take much quit to kill a team.

The morale problem started when the Senators failed to protect Marc Methot in the expansion draft. Players on the club felt Methot was indispensable, particularly in the way he backed up Erik Karlsson when the team’s captain was figure-skating in the opposing team’s end.

That move wasn’t fatal to team morale but it was there.

The real catalyst for the demise was the trade of effective and well-liked centre Kyle Turris. Turris was shipped out because management felt he wanted too long a contract. However, that was interpreted by the players as they could not expect to be paid what they felt they were worth. Owner Eugene Melnyk was perceived by players as the problem. Shortly afterward, team captain Karlsson came out with his morale-breaking comment that hockey is a business and that he would take the most amount of money available rather than a home-town discount.

That statement was not lost on the players. And remember that Karlsson’s mentor and friend was Sens great Daniel Alfredsson who had to quit the team in his last year to get the money he wanted from Detroit. That was not lost on Karlsson.


Coach Guy Boucher is also perceived by the team as a problem. NHL insiders and players feel he is a “one-trick pony”. Boucher emphasizes defence but sooner or later (in this case sooner) other NHL coaches find a way to break his 1-3-1 strategy. When one coach finds the key, the other coaches follow. That has happened to Boucher.

As well, Boucher has a habit of having a great first year and a bad second in his coaching. This season is his bad year. He is also hard-nosed, a strategy over time that wears out on players. Furthermore, the players don’t like defensive thinking because it is tough and boring to play. They want to score goals.

One more thing. The players, according to the NHL insider, resent the fact that Boucher favours players who have been with him previously.

One of the worst factors in the Senators demise has been the poor play of Karlsson after his major foot surgery. He is being out-skated by opponents who have no business passing him. At times this season Karlsson has had the worst plus-minus in the league. That is just shocking for a two-time Norris Trophy winner. This season, instead of being a force of nature on the team as he was in the playoffs, Karlsson is a liability. Whoever thought that would happen?

There is talk around the club that Karlsson is not untouchable for trading but the problem in moving him might be that teams don’t want a player who has not proven he can be the dominant player after his foot surgery he once was. Many general managers feel the best of Karlsson is behind him.


And don’t forget, the Senators were playing at last year’s levels early this season until the Turris trade and injury-hampered Karlsson returned. Back-breakers those two factors. As well, the terrible Turris trade by general manager Pierre Dorion (former Sens GM Bryan Murray worked for two years to get Turris) has undermined the players’ faith in the current GM. Even without that trade, Dorion had a tough act to follow given the love players had for Murray.

Then there are the machinations outside the Canadian Tire Centre.

The hope of the franchise is a new rink on LeBreton Flats where people from all over the National Capital Region can easily come to games close to downtown unlike in the far west-end current location. Insiders say the new arena is a matter of survival rather than a nice-to-have. So Melnyk talking about staying in the west end could just be talk. It might become a necessity if he doesn’t get to LeBreton, but it would probably be the end of the franchise in Ottawa.

Discouraging is the fact that Mayor Jim Watson’s priority is the Lansdowne partnership the city has with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. A LeBreton arena for the Sens means more competition with Lansdowne for entertainment dollars and adversely affects revenue coming to the city.

Thus, Watson’s hard-line stand against the Sens in a year-end interview with CTV Ottawa. Watson is not interested in seeing the Sens prosper financially. Also, the squabble is personal as Watson does not like Melnyk.

Every developer in Ottawa gets half of the cost of soil remediation covered by the city when the developer builds on polluted land … well every developer except the Ottawa Senators at LeBreton. Watson has said that money won’t be available to the Senators and seeing that the mayor has sole negotiating power at LeBreton courtesy of a vote by city council, what Watson says is final. The mayor might need a rubber stamp from council when negotiations finish … or not.

The Senators players see this, see the hope of this franchise going down the drain, and they are discouraged. Other NHL stops look like a better bet than staying in Ottawa. Not filling the CTC with fans is another discouragement.

According to the NHL source, the quality of players on the Senators is very good but discipline has broken down. This is not a club giving its best. In fact in interview after interview, players say the team needs to show a better effort. They’re right.

Bad morale has killed this version of the Ottawa Senators.


What has happened to Erik Karlsson?


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7 thoughts on “Insider Tells What’s Wrong With The Sens

  1. Wow. 14 paras in before I found something that qualifies as news-related. When it comes to overpaid boys chasing a puck, can’t we leave it to the other 428* media outlets who are panting to cover every bon mot and drip of sweat?

    I’d rather watch paint dry. But that’s just me.

    *Number of sports reporters and outlets may be more or less than 428 but certainly far outstrips number of city hall hacks.


    1. Bob LeDrew:

      The only issue with the other 428 media outlets is they are more interested in reporting wins, losses and player salaries … not much or anything is said about the business of the club.


  2. Setting aside the question of if the city should be paying for half the soil remediation at LeBreton (because I’d really like to know what Melnyk is actually asking for before I make any further judgment that), the rumours concerning team morale have been making the rounds, with the one about the Turris trade breaking team morale being predominant.

    I suspect Karlsson’s comment about his next contract was a shot directed at Melnyk and his budget philosophy. I am less inclined to believe there’s an issue with Boucher’s coaching, but his system requires a full commitment so if the morale isn’t there I think that explains some of the teams struggles this season.


    1. Duke:

      We know Watson’s position … nuthin’ … even less than nothing given that other developers get 50 per cent of polluted-soil remediation covered.

      Meanwhile, Melnyk isn’t a skinflint on salaries. I believe he is in the Top 10 spenders in the NHL.




      1. To discuss Melnyk and salaries you have to consider the salary cap hit vs actual salary being paid.
        For example, Phaneuf’s cap hit is something like $7 million (or more), but his actual salary is less than that because the contract was front loaded, so Melynk isn’t actually paying him $7 million a year it’s actually more like $5 million a year. So yes, the Sens have been close enough to the cap ceiling year to year, but the actual team budget is something else. That said, the Sens at least haven’t been bottom feeders (i.e. Arizona…). As for what Melnyk is actually asking of the city and NCC for LeBreton, well he said the project will be privately financed but lately it has been real difficult to believe anything that he’s saying …


        1. Duke:

          I don’t think Melnyk’s veracity has changed.

          If he said the project will be privately financed, perhaps we should take him at his word until we have something to say otherwise.




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