• By: Dave Gross

Senators Relishing the Pressure?

The elevation from doormat to Golden Boy couldn’t have happened quicker.

Last year, two years ago (. . . three years ago, four years ago, five years ago . . .) when asked about the pending fate and fortunes of the Ottawa Senators, hockey panellists would kind of look awkwardly into the TV camera and shrug their shoulders.

“A lot needs to happen here,” was a common-heard phrase. In other words, this team is in for another season of woe.

They were right, season after season. Ottawa hockey was a guaranteed yawn; a guaranteed farce.

(We’ll temper that a touch regarding last winter though – there was expected improvement and outside of a horrific start, the team came through and was participating in the playoff chase into the final 2-3 weeks.)

Well here we are on the steps of the entryway to 2022-24 and the expectation-portals have the hockey world telling Ottawa to slap on those big-boy pants – a trip to the post-season is a must.

The network’s director of scouting, Craig Button, agrees: “If it’s not playoffs, then what is it? ‘Oh, we’ll see how it goes?’ No! It’s playoffs, and you better set the bar high. It’s not about coming in and going ‘well, you know. . .’ Enough of it. You’ve been a bottom feeder for (a long time) and you talk about the rebuild and where they want to be. Well, here we are in ’23-’24. The late Eugene Melnyk talked about where he thought the team could be? Well, they’re here now: It’s playoffs or bust. I don’t care what they say or don’t say, it’s playoffs or bust!”

“They’ve eliminated a lot of excuses in the lineup,” added TSN analyst Frankie Corrado. “Pierre Dorion has done a nice job establishing what this core group is going to be all about and it’s his eighth year on the job and it’s time to start seeing some results . . . There’s plenty of pressure to go around in Ottawa.”

And as camp raised its tent this week for the official start of the NHL season, Ottawa has to realize the starter’s gun is already cocked. What the Senators have not done in recent years is win early in the season.

“What’s the fall out if they don’t get off to a good start this season?” asked Corrado. “Because this core group of players is locked in for the long term . . . So if they don’t get off to a great start, where do the Senators go from here?”

A capable October and November and that question goes away.

Stay tuned.

THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: Bit of a scare for Ottawa Fan reading up on Ottawa’s annual golf function on Tuesday as Thomas Chabot chose not to participate. “Conditions just weren’t favourable,” said GM Pierre Dorion on Wednesday. “He’s good to go though . . . 100 per cent.” . . . Chabot had wrist surgery near the end of last season . . . Josh Norris (shoulder surgery last season) will start the year donning a non-contact sweater in practice . . . Not sure what to make of forward Egor Sokolov (signed Tuesday to a one-year deal). Two years ago he was considered a strong pro prospect but a lack of improvement in his skating and an improved depth chart in Ottawa has Sokolov in make-or-break territory . . . Given where they were just a couple of years ago, did you ever realistically see a day where the Senators would need to juggle to get under the salary cap? . . . Shane Pinto, he of the unsigned RFA kind, will not get traded. You didn’t hear this here first, you heard it here 47th. Still, not happening . . . Another reason to love Ryan Reaves – and there are many – the guy hopefully takes the mic far away from John Tavares and Auston Matthews, two superb talents but two superbly dull interviews . . . Columbus and Mike Babcock? Had the feeling this wasn’t going to end well . . . You have to wonder what’s going on with the investigation into the 2018 world junior team sex scandal. Hasn’t it been more than eight months since the NHL indicated its report was nearing a conclusion? So far – crickets . . . And so what happens with Ottawa property Alex Formenton at this point? Again – crickets.

HOW ABOUT SOME MORE?: It’s a big week for local hockey as Ottawa 67’s star Timothy Higgins gets inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame (Sept. 27th). Higgy is also a hall-of-fame storyteller so if you’re at the ceremony you’ll hear some pretty entertaining stuff. Tim roomed with Bob Probert while with the Detroit Red Wings. That could pretty well fill a book, no? . . . Probie’s book Tough Guy remains one of my favourite hockey reads, although in between the great hockey stuff there’s a ton of “. . . And then I got arrested in Windsor . . . And then I got arrested in Chicago” which gets a little redundant . . . One of the great lines about Bob was that when he fought you, it was like he was looking right past you. Scary look . . . For my money, the top of the tops is former enforcer Brantt Myhres,’ Pain Killer: A Memoir of Big League Addiction. Jarring and real . . . Then there’s Justin Bourne’s strong Down and Back . . . Hope you enjoy reading . . . I root for the Toronto Blue Jays as much as anyone else. Love Bo Bichette, the guy’s a gamer; Vlad Guerrero Jr. though – big talent, troubling maturity . . . The fact no one crucified Guerrero after Sunday’s game against Boston for not tagging and moving to 3rd base on an extra-inning flyout with just one gone is equally troubling. Lazy won’t win you much, either will not-paying-attention. Media is soft on this guy.