• By: Dave Gross

Tire Fire Reaches Halfway Point

Fire the general manager, get stiffed on a first-round draft choice, see a top forward sent to NHL purgatory for half a season, put the torch to the inflammable head coach, reassign your flagging goalie coach, watch a promising and potentially break-out year go up in flames early and often.

And so on . . .

And so forth . . .

All that’s missing is Nero and his fiddle.

The Ottawa Senators and the first chunk of the 2023-24 season?

Not real good, not good at all.

The good news is that pretty much all of the first half of a miserable season is in the books and done with.

So, what to do as your Senators enter Part II of a season lost? Big questions and big points of contention abound.

Here’s what we’re looking at through mid-winter and into the spring.



Maybe the biggest issue facing ownership and management in Ottawa is this: You’d better make the flat-out, no-joke correct choice when selecting the next guy to walk the walk behind your bench.

Let’s revisit for a second.

Following Bryan Murray’s last stint (2008), the list of head coaches for the Senators looks like this: Craig Hartsburg, Cory Clouston, Paul MacLean, Dave Cameron, Guy Boucher, Marc Crawford, D.J. Smith then the return of Jacques Martin. Outside of MacLean, who won coach of the year honours, it’s a very undeniably unexciting collection.

Slings and arrows aside, Smith was a popular pop with the young Senators. Too popular it seems, and the kids ran amok.

If you want to keep that sacred youthful core intact as many insist, results are necessary or Ottawa’s back to square one . . . again. Finding the right person to turn this wayward ship around is a tall order. But it’s compulsory and it’s paramount.

Ottawa just can not get this wrong.



Debrincatitis can be a debilitating malady and it sure looks like the former Arizona-slash-Phoenix Coyote standout is suffering. Like Alex DeBrincat, Chychrun just doesn’t appear to be a good fit with Ottawa. Something is amiss here.

If that is indeed the case, exited GM Pierre Dorion lands another questionable deal to his resume (anyone else recall “The Summer of Pierre?”). Ottawa surrendered a first-round pick and two second-round picks to get the 25-year-old blueliner whose cap friendly six-year contract expires after next season.

It might be far too early to slap the fail-tag on the Florida native in Ottawa, but the eye-test doesn’t do him any favours. Then again, maybe Chychrun’s just yet another passenger on a sinking vessel and he’s caught in the swirl.

Regardless, reports have Ottawa fielding a slew of calls on Chychrun with internet sites from Edmonton and (yup!) Toronto lighting up and doing handstands. Whether the rumblings are remotely accurate or not, the chatter-on-Chyc (as it was with DeBrincat) is in full rumble mode.



This is the most inexcusable matter of contention facing Ottawa – how can you explain fielding a dead-last hockey team that has absolutely no wiggle room with the cap?

The fact that you’re mired in the slop of the Eastern Conference muck and have no money available to help the transition towards relative mediocrity, never mind actually challenging for a playoff spot, is mind-boggling.

The fact that you need to entertain trading Mathieu Joseph – one of the very few reliable, responsible forwards among your group – to balance the books is, well, weak.

Michael Andlauer and Steve Staios best be working their best Jeff Vinik/Scotty Bowman impressions the next little while to fix the inherited problem.



As posted by a fan on Sportsnet: “Nice offensive skill on display with their young players. Not much defensive skill on display within their young players.”

Again – we go back to a permanent head coach. This season was in full write-off mode around early December (maybe even earlier), so bringing in Jacques and Alfredsson was fairly sage handing Andlauer/Staios added and necessary time to figure out the right way to proceed.

I could go on and on (and on and on) detailing the lack of defensive braincell activity here but you’ve heard enough and seen enough already to get the point. (Although there’s this: When did it become okay to say – “C’mon down and just park yer camper right abouts here in front of our net and enjoy the scenery, folks. Take all the time ya’ need! Y’all come back now, ya’ hear.”).

The other change required is demeanor and frame of mind. Losing sucks but losing continuously sucks more. Facing a full 40+ more games to go before putting 2023-24 to bed further induces a defeated disposition among young minds . . . if you continue to play like you have.

This is a head-scratcher of a problem, and likely one of the reasons Ottawa’s in the market for a few responsible pros who simply play the game the right way.

Futility can fester and you don’t want that here.


THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: Joey Daccord has been better than d’accord for Seattle. The netminder is another former Senator rocking along with a sparkling 2.28 goals-against average and .923 save percentage this season . . . Stop me if you’ve heard this type of situation before: Filip Gustavsson and Cam Talbot pop into mind . . . Ray of sunshine: Ridley Greig. The kid casts a wide beam too . . . One of the NHL’s best stories is Winnipeg. The Jets are here Saturday afternoon. Get your tickets to see a team that plays an exceptionally structured, disciplined, responsible, mature system . . . If Rick Tocchet is a shoo-in for coach-of-the-year honours, Jets’ boss Rick Bowness isn’t far behind . . . Did you know that Bowness was Ottawa’s first coach ever? You did? Never mind then . . . Does it make any sense for Toronto to swing for the fences at the trade deadline? Unless you’re able to land a vintage Shea Weber this year’s rendition isn’t going anywhere post-season . . . The Habs are in the cat-bird seat with a defence that’s over-stuffed. What would a guy like David Savard fetch on deadline day? . . . Sportsnet guru Elliotte Friedman’s right – absolutely no excuse why the NHL didn’t make the Connor-versus-Auston Oilers-Leafs clash Tuesday a national broadcast. Sell the game a bit, maybe? . . . Interesting interview with Colorado superstar Nathan MacKinnon on 32 Thoughts: The Podcast this week. Asked about who he likes watching play the most (on off-nights), the Nova Scotia native pointed towards another native son: “I watch a lot of Pittsburgh games, so Sid (Crosby).” . . . MacKinnon on his favourite player: “(Nikita) Kucherov. I think if you asked everyone in the NHL, you know all the top guys in the league, everyone is a big fan of his. Obviously (Connor) McDavid because he’s McDavid” . . . More on Kucherov: “Slows the game down so well. Looks like he’s playing without a pulse.” . . . MacKinnon is the modern-day Mark Messier, no? . . . Best part of the podcast interview – MacKinnon admits nobody tells him what to do, except his dog. And the absolute best? His dog’s name is Maggie. “Coming home to her is better than scoring any goals.” You got that right bub.



Thursday, Jan. 18: Montreal at Ottawa (7 pm)

Saturday, Jan. 20: Winnipeg at Ottawa (3 pm)

Sunday, Jan. 21: Ottawa at Philadelphia (1 pm)

Tuesday, Jan. 23: Ottawa at Montreal (7 pm)


Photo: Getty Images