Time to make hay, Ottawa
The year 2017 seems like, well, a very long time ago. And in hockey speak, it really was.
Five ‘very long’ seasons.
To not be even competing for a playoff spot post-Christmas for that amount of time, year after year, is inexcusable, right?
But there you are Ottawa Fan.
And here you are Ottawa Fan.
When 2022-23 kicks off this week for your Senators, anything less than a playoff dance card come season’s end would be a colossal disappointment, and qualify as a surprise to this corner.
The investments into building a winner are there, right now. So with that, let’s check out the portfolio.
Had to start here.
Though the play hasn’t even started yet, the kettle’s whistling on D.J. Smith. The former Windsor Spitfire heavyweight is entering his fourth season as bench boss and the record has been justifiably ugly.
Can’t make a decent salad if the lettuce is wilted, right?
D.J.’s been handed as well as dished out a lot of bad salad during his tenure. Sure thing.
Now? There’s a veritable feast of talent on the table.
Is D.J. the right guy to lead a suddenly talent-laden lineup?
Let’s just say, the leash is considerably tighter than it was in previous years on this coach.
Again, another interesting storyline to follow. Ottawa sent somewhat promising young stopper Filip Gustavsson to Minnesota to back-up Marc-Andre Fleury. Gus is playing for a new contract this year, so he’ll be motivated.
The return was veteran Cam Talbot. The 35-year-old’s best season was 2017 with Edmonton when he put up 42 wins.
Talbot’s currently injured which means it’s back to last year’s unsung hero – Anton Forsberg – to start as the year of promise opens.
Outside the introduction of a budding star to the blueline in front of them, Ottawa’s netminders will seemingly have as heavy a workload as in 2021-22. More on the defence next.
. . . AKA: D.J. Smith’s decisive test. This is an area desperately in need of improvement.
Ottawa’s defensive zone schemes have never looked solidly in place under D.J.’s reign. The result, involving both the defencemen and the forward crew, has been fractured and head-scratching.
‘Why didn’t that guy pick up that guy?!’ was a constant cry from the fan base. ‘Why did he fire the puck there?!’ wasn’t far behind.
To the personnel: Jake Sanderson is next man up here. He’s looked capable and quick in exhibition play. A taxing full season awaits the 20-year-old.
Artem Zub and Thomas Chabot excel in their own regimes – defensive play and attack with the puck.
Beyond that, things get thin.
And here’s where things get thick (in a good way).
If anyone suggests the Senators obvious strength does not lie with their forwards, well, don’t have them giving advice on your fantasy team picks.
The additions have been well documented. Ottawa boasts two dynamic, and for the most part, youthful proficient lines. The push from the youngsters continues on the third and fourth lines where guys like Mark Kastelic, Parker Kelly and Ridley Greig are knocking at the door.
Interesting sidebar was Ottawa’s decision to sign 35-year-old winger Derick Brassard after a try-out. We here at the corner office commend the move. Brassard brings veteran presence (along with Claude Giroux) to what remains a youngish crew up front.
Ottawa’s had difficulty putting the puck in the net (and out of their own of course) in recent years. That’s no longer the case as all of Tim Stutzle, Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, Brady Tkachuk, Giroux and Alex DeBrincat should be counted on to throw up big numbers.
A potentially fun group to watch.
“To lose patience is to lose the battle.” — Mahatma Gandhi
“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” — Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.” – Some other guy
Pretty heady stuff, eh?
But the significance shouldn’t be lost on Ottawa Fan. Hockey followers aren’t noted for their patience – ‘I want it, and I want it now dammit!’ – is the exclamation. (The absolute tops on this is heading to any hockey chat board after a pre-season game and seeing the outpouring of despair for a win-deficient season if one’s team loses. Serenity Prayer, people. Serenity Prayer.)
So we say that to say this, Pierre Dorion had the cojones to stand by his patience and plan for today. A year ago Ottawa was calling for his head, today the guy likely can’t buy his own drink in any tavern in town.
Again though, hockey is a results-driven business and like his head coach, Pierre’s window to win is tight.
As we see things, and as written earlier on, Ottawa’s opportunity to win starts right now. And unless your name is Tampa, opportunity is not a lengthy visitor in the National Hockey League nowadays.
A realist will tell you this team makes the playoffs. Barring major injuries, the Senators stack up as, at the very least, an eight seed in the Eastern Conference. Anything less is unacceptable.
Let the games begin.
SENATOR’S WEEK AHEAD:
Thursday, Oct. 13: Ottawa at Buffalo (7 pm)
Saturday, Oct. 15: Ottawa at Toronto (7 pm)
PHOTO: Courtesy nhl.com