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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