• By: Dave Gross

Ottawa’s Off-Season Won’t be Dull

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

• Moms around the globe


Well, if we followed up on the quote, there wouldn’t be a whole heck of a lot to this column then would there?

Picking apart the Ottawa Senators’ season is akin to putting the old dart board about two inches from your mug – easy, easy targets abound. And while we’re not above beating a dead horse into further submission, the 2023-24 edition of Eastern Ontario’s favourite hockey team (with apologies to the legions of Maple Leaf and Canadiens fans in these parts) has likely had just about enough.

It’s like when your older brother (I have two) would grab you in an all-embracing, painful arm-lock until you shouted, ‘UNCLE!’

With all that said, the organization that simply did not live up to expectations this past winter, is prepared to move on.

Move on?


Move up?

If that’s going to happen, certain changes need to be addressed and made.

COACHING: If you asked 71-year-old Jacques Martin what his experience was like coaching Ottawa through the final half of the season, I’d bet the word ‘exhausting’ would come to his mind.

The young-ish club would at times look like it was buying into La stratégie de Jacques while at others, not even close. Unfortunately for Jacques and his charges, ‘not even close’ outnumbered the good moments.

It’s been said many times that the Ottawa operation’s most important move this off-season has nothing to do with player movement. It’s all about finding the right suit-and-tie to stand behind the bench.

This corner invests its nod in Craig Berube. There’s a lot of old-school methodology with the former enforcer and it’s a methodology that worked so very well with the St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup-winner of 2019. Berube’s focus was on a team-first philosophy . . . something that Martin ascribes to as well – “You need stars to win, but the team has to be first and you need to play a certain way.”

Hockey is also about selling product and landing a name like Berube would sit well with a shaky, nervous fan base that desperately needs a plucky, stern, recognizable face right about now.

CHANGING THE DYNAMIC: This one is tricky to say the least.

GM Steve Staios has had a full year to see what’s on his plate heading towards next season’s feast. Obviously, there are some digestible parts here and lots to build upon, but, but, but . . .

The big question is: With all this high-end talent, why didn’t it work for Ottawa?

The conjecture has been rampant: “Country club atmosphere;” “Poor leadership;” “Bad dressing room;” “Lazy play;” “Horrible netminding;” “A special-teams nightmare.”

Pick your poison, folks. It’s all been tossed around.

The eye-test on paper says this is a team rich with riches but the eye-test on the ice tells a much different story.

Quite simply – something is missing. Something major.

For a new-to-the-task general manager like Staios the next few days, weeks and months will prove taxing. A wrong move or two and this team remains in hockey purgatory; a location it has adopted as its home for the last seven years.

It’s also a location this somewhat forgiving fan base won’t carry much sympathy for. Clearly, the Ottawa Senators have run out of ‘wait-till-next-year’ racetrack.

PERSONNEL: Further to the above.

Loads of noise has been made about changes on the ice. Tinkering on a ‘bold’ Dominik Kubalik or Erik Brannstrom shake-up doesn’t hold much, if any, water.

So again, Steve Staios, what to do, what to do, what to do?

Does a Drake Batherson (currently a hot property) or Jakob Chychrun (currently not) trade appease the hockey gods? Do you consider – God forbid given the lusty contract – a buyout on Joonas Korpisalo?

Or is it something a little in-between, whatever the hell that looks like?

The other topic bandied about involves adding quality veteran hockey guys. This means the Ryan O’Reillys, Brandon Montours, Jonathan Marchessaults and Alex Killorns of the universe. The only problem is these beauties don’t grow fruitfully on the tree branches populating hockey’s gardens. The other remaining 31 organizations value such names equally. To get, you gotta give and as far as landing big-name free agents, Ottawa’s not exactly a hot landing spot (taxes, team’s situation, endless winter) right about now.

Once more though, as we alluded to in the previous section, the biggest and boldest move in The Summer of Steve surrounds the head coach. Does the right guy – be it Berube or Todd McLellan, Dean Evason or John Gruden – salve the wounds?


THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: Pencil me in, big time, for the Eastern Conference tilts featuring Toronto-Boston and Florida-Tampa. Paul Thomas Anderson should be writing the scripts here. There Will Be Blood . . . Pencil me in for a pass on Carolina-Islanders and Rangers-Washington. Capital Zees . . . Western Conference and just one certainty – Winnipeg-Colorado. Nice start . . . I know you’ve never heard this one before but (wait for it) some pretty dynamic teams are headed to the sidelines following Round 1 . . . Western teams I wouldn’t want to tackle in the opening round: Vegas, Edmonton, Vancouver, Dallas, Colorado, Winnipeg, LA and Nashville . . . Guess that leaves San Jose . . . If Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Mike Ricci and Devin Setoguchi had passed on they’d surely be rolling in their graves seeing the embarrassment that is the Sharks organization these days . . . Caught my first Ottawa 67’s game for the first time in years this past week courtesy legend Tim Higgins. Also visited with the following legends while there: Brian Kilrea, Bert O’Brien, Pat Higgins, Doni Brennan, Brad Brown and the uberest-legend of them all: AJ (two-a-day-workout-machine) Jakubec.



Beach and some golf (you come here for the yuks, right?)



Photo: Courtesy THN.com