Habs Fans: Enjoy The Downfall Of The Senators, I Am Revelling In It!


The Ottawa Senators. I used to root for them, once upon a time. When I say root, I mean hope that they became a success in a market where I thought their chances of survival weren't clear cut.

Having grown up an hour south of the nation's capital, I often wondered in my younger years why the city didn't have an NHL club. I soon learned that they did have a franchise in the early NHL years, but that it didn't last. I was told the city just wasn't major league enough to warrant one. When they were surprisingly awarded an expansion club in the early 1990's, I thought it was long overdue.

Through all kinds of bad management and planning, terrible drafts, ownership issues, government funding hassles, dumping their arena in a cow pasture 25 minutes from the city's core, and attendance woes, I rooted for this bumbling franchise's bid for respectability. Living in a town where allegiances had always been split 50/50 with the Habs and Maple Leafs, I enjoyed watching an aspiring Senators team steal from the Toronto fanbase each season. The battle of Ontario was a regal sidebar story around these parts while the Canadiens were getting their act together.

By the turn of the millenium, Ottawa were owners of one very promising hockey club. From 1999 to 2004, the Senators won the Northeastern division three times in the regular season.


My feelings for the whole of the Ottawa Senators organization changed after a game against the Canadiens on Thursday, January 26, 2006. Ottawa were in first place at the time, cruising along nicely and confidently. The Habs sat tenth, with a record of 22-20-6, and they had beaten Ottawa 4-1 in their last meeting only 19 days prior. The Canadiens were injury riddled that season, and Jose Theodore was in the process of losing his starting role to an unknown Cristobal Huet. The Senators game marked Bob Gainey's seventh behind the bench, after replacing Claude Julien with himself and assistant Guy Carbonneau. It was a tough part of the schedule, a six game road trip, and the Canadiens were playing their fifth game in seven nights.

The Canadiens came out extremely lame that night. They were a worn down and tired group, and it showed in their play. They were handed five straight penalties in the second period alone, and Ottawa had an edge in play all night, firing 40 shots at Huet.

The final score read Ottawa 3 Montreal 0. The Canadiens were credited with all of 12 shots, a team record for the least in a game.

After the game, Ottawa goalie Dominik Hasek stated "

What can I say about tonight's shutout? It was the easiest shutout I've ever had in the NHL. I think I'm embarrassed to get a shutout like that."

Another Senator, Jason Spezza, interviewed post game mentioned that players had a running bet on the bench that they could withhold Montreal to less than 10 shots in the contest. Both post game clips shown later on the night's sportsnews shows, reeked of disrespectful arrogance. Word of the comments flew from one dressing room to another, and the Canadiens players and Gainey were incensed.

Sheldon Souray, Craig Rivet and Saku Koivu all reacted with "they said what?" looks on their faces, angrily noting to the Senators that they would meet again soon. For the record, the Habs won those next two meetings, late in the season by scores of 5-3 and 3-2.

The most succinct comment came from coach Gainey's lips the next day, when he stated that the Senators toughest challenge is hardly a tenth place team in January, and that the measure of their worth would be tested once the playoffs began.

The Senators finished atop the Eastern Conference with 113 points that season, but fell in five games to Buffalo in round two of the playoffs. I extracted great pleasure from their loss.

It was around this time that I started noticing the that Senators, from so many battles with Toronto over the years, had began to mimic their self centered universe. Everything coming out of Ottawa, especially journalistically, seemed to represent a closed eye on the outside world. It extended from the team and it's players, and trickled through the media, right down to the fans.

As a Habs supporter, I've often been pointed with similar accusations, but usually counter them with 24 Cups to back me up. My attitude has always been, "Wanna brag? Try winning something first, then yap!" Without accomplishments in hockey, all you got is a good team for now. And that changes fast!

My feelings for Ottawa went from disdain to contempt one January 13, 2007. Prior to this Saturday night game in Ottawa, the Senators ran their usual jumbotron pre-game video, which features a boat commandeered by owner Eugene Melnyk and mascot Spartacat. In the clip, Melnyk is at the wheel while the mascot sorts through hockey fans on the boat, tossing fans wearing that night's opponants colours overboard. The timing was incredibly insensitive, considering the Gainey family tragedy that had occurred only weeks prior.

The Canadiens organization was aghast with disgust. In the press box containing members of the organization, their was absolute outrage over the lack of conscienciousness in showing the clips. The immediate Ottawa reaction was somewhat apologetic, saying that they had basically never put two and two together when seeing the clips in previous games. Right!

I can't imagine how they could not have seen it this coming. The sadness and grief was all over the news, and much sympathy for the Gainey family had poured in from everywhere in the hockey world. Melnyk apparently called George Gillett to extend his personal apology, and word is he was told to go straight to hell.

The team I once rooted for to survive, in my mind is now defined and cemented by these examples of arrogance and cluelessness. In fact, I find that these traits have since permeatted through the entire organization. I take pleasure in watching them flounder.

Since that latter incident, the franchise had it's moment of glory, reaching the 2007 Cup final in which they were outclassed by Anaheim.


Prior to that series, the wheels of dysfunction were already rolling off the Senators wagon. They had unknowingly set the stage for the hell they are currently living through. A series of dubious hockey decisions have unravelled the once promising club, and there doesn't seem to be one logical voice in the organization able to explain it. Even better, in their kiss ass media, voiced opinions rarely target the precise problems, the absent minded decisions, or the hockey heads that brought them on.

When Ottawa had reached the Cup final in 2007, they were coached by Bryan Murray, and managed by John Muckler. It has never been clarified if Murray was in fact Muckler's choice for a coach, but it often seemed as their relationship was tenuous and unharmonious. Some of Muckler's previous moves, that season and before, weren't viewed in a very positive light. Trades seemed to make little sense, and certain signings defied logic.

I wasn't at all surprised about the unfolding sideshow. I 've always seen both Muckler and Murray as overachievers in hockey, who'd gained their noteriety off the backs of others. Murray had never won anything himself, and often disappointed when at the helm of strong clubs. In the things he did, and the words he spoke, I always noted an air of overconfidence tinged with the look of self doubt. Words he chooses to use when stating his thoughts are litered with the variables of indecison.

With Murray, it's always, "We're hoping this..", "We'll try that...", "If all works out...", "The feeling is this....". Murray seem more about guesswork and prayers than a well tooled planner with a firm vision.

Muckler, I found terribly egotistical. Outside of the accomplishments of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty, he had a terrible record. In Buffalo, he had a strained relationship with a coach - Ted Nolan - who he had brought in, and with the solid teams that were built there, the club never surpassed the second round of the playoffs. Once Muckler moved on to the New York Rangers, the Sabres, two seasons, removed from him, achieved the Cup finals. While with the Rangers in a coaching position on a team loaded with star players, Muckler failed in three attempts to even reach the post season.

For some unknown reason, he was seen as the man to guide the Senators to the next step.

Bryan Murray, for his part, also never seemed to get the best out of his teams. In nine seasons with Washington, the Capitals never passed the second round in six playoff tries. There were but three first round series wins on his resume. In 1990, he was handed a powerhouse Detroit Red Wings squad, and ground their promise into the dirt in three straight seasons. In 1994, he landed in Florida as GM, and the club made a surprise appearance in a one sided Cup final against the Avalance in 1996. He remained in Florida until 2001, and the team continuously sank. In 1997-98, he went back behind the bench himself, and when he was unable to kickstart the club, he handed the reigns off to his brother the following season. Murray surfaced again briefly in Anaheim in the GM's hat. His one season of coaching in 2001-02, resulted in the Ducks missing the playoffs. He removed himself from the position when he was named GM, and the club turned around, going seven games deep into the 2003 Cup final against New Jersey before losing. Anaheim got even better after Murray departed the scene altogether, and the team he helped build beat the team he coached in Ottawa in 2007.


Everyone in the Ottawa organization understood that the 70-ish Muckler was not long for the job. Somehow, opwner Melnyk let a smart hockey mind get away in Peter Chiarelli, even with Muckler's job up for grabs in the not too distant future.

Chiarelli wasn't the first, and wouldn't be the last organizational talent to wander off from Ottawa. Over the years, current Canadiens assistant GM Pierre Gauthier was not retained. Once a head scout in Ottawa, Andre Savard took a similar role with the Canadiens, before receiving a promotion to GM. Their brightest scout, Trevor Timmins, also migrated to the Habs. Last season, Ottawa director of junior scouting, Frank Jay, was removed from his position in mid season, while Murray inserted his son Tim in the head scouting role. Jay signed on in Montreal the very next day. If Ottawa ever wonders where the exodus of talent that drafted a fine succession of young prospects went to, the need only look down the road about 90 miles south east.

From the get - go, Muckler and Murray were strange bedfellows in Ottawa, and they often seemed to think out of synch. Coming out of the lockout, Muckler brought in retired goalie Dominik Hasak, and he bailed in a distrous playoff run. Murray did not seem to share his GM's faith in the goalie, and had a difficult time managing his ego. As the 2006 playoffs closed for Ottawa, the injured Hasek was a day by day proposition, and it drained the psyche of the team. It reached embarrassing proportions when the injured Hasek was caught standing in the Senators hallway, by the glass, yelling at player's on the ice.

Other boobs made by Muckler included trading away Martin Havlat in the pre - season with a contract dispute looming. All the NHL calibre he got in return was jouneyman defenseman Tom Preissing. The spare parts and draft choice thrown in never amounted to anything, but Havlat could have been mighty useful that spring. At least had Muckler kept him till the trade deadline, he made have upped his return on him. As it stood, Muckler even dispatched checking center Bryan Smolinski in the deal, compounding the error.

Prior to the lockout, Muckler traded Radek Bonk to L.A. for a third round pick. Bonk was a much maligned part of Ottawa's depth, but was underappreciated as an important element in the club's defensive consciousness. Over time, he would be missed.

Muckler's worst move in retrospect, came when he could not resign towering defenseman Zdeno Chara, instead choosing to hand the money to a less and less reliable Wade Redden. The organization surely must have known what it would take to resign Chara, as seconds into that summer, he was scooped up by Chiarelli's Boston Bruins.

Curiously, money that could have helped in retaining Havlat or Chara, was wasted in signing goalie Martin Gerber to a three year deal. Gerber had just been rattled in two playoff appearances against Montreal, but somehow commanded a salary of close to 3.5 million per year in Ottawa.

The GM did make one great move, bringing in future 50 goal man Dany Heatly in exchange for the heavy loaded contract of freshly signed Marian Hossa.

Despite these players being gone from the lineup, Ottawa still had enough talent to achieve the 2007 final. Hot head goalie Ray Emery ably replaced Hasek in the crease, and the club never played better. Gerber, as a hoped for number one starter, never got untracked, and looked as shaky as he had against the Canadiens the previous spring. With Emery in goal most of the way, Ottawa made a shambles of the Penguins, Rangers and Sabres come playoff time, but hit a wall against Anaheim.

The summer of 2007 brought great changes to the Ottawa organization when Muckler was let go and replaced by Murray. With a seemingly solid club in place, there were reasonable aspirations for a second Stanley Cup run. In many eyes, the Senators were favorites. That hope, endured a whole two months.


A succession of ill advised moves by Murray began to alter the face and chemistry of the team. The new GM's bungles undermined every column that held the club together.

His first move was a result of not being able to bring in a suitable coach capable of guiding the team where it needed to go. John Paddock, an assistant of Murray's, became the fall back choice. Paddock, who had only a brief stint with Winnipeg years earlier on his resume, had mostly been an AHL coach since, and was ill prepared for the unknown challenges that lie ahead. It is long thought in hockey circles, that promoting an assistant to a head coaching spot is never a good call. Players, often too chummy with the former middle man, rarely react positively when discipline becomes the order of the day.

Goalie Emery, a loose cannon but well liked by team mates, had undergone off season wrist surgery for an injury that had nagged him the previous playoff. For reasons unknown, the surgery was not scheduled at the earliest possible summer date, but enough weeks later that Emery missed training camp. When he was finally green lighted to play, he showed up out of shape and in a testy mood. His attitude only worsened when he was sent to the AHL on a conditioning stint. He soon returned, but was quickly informed that he would have to fight Gerber for his number one role.

With Gerber, Ottawa got off to a hellish pace, winning 14 of their first 15 games. Fat contracts were handed to Heatly and Spezza, adding to already eye popping sum for center Mike Fisher. The contracts seemed to alter the chemistry of the club. It began to look as though Redden's days in Ottawa were numbered, and his poor play reflected his outlook. During the summer, Murray had tried to deal Redden, but the owner of the no trade clause vetoed the move. It didn't stop Murray from giving it a second go, with a similar results. Redden played on, looking and feeling like an unwanted part.

With the Senators on a frantic pace, the Ottawa Sun pitched in with an issue seemingly dedicated to the team supremacy. After beating the Canadiens twice in a nine day span, the paper, published a prognosises for five of the team's players winning major awards, along with their take that the Senators would outdo the Canadiens' great 1977 season, in which they won 60 games and finished with 132 points. It was not even 20 games into the season!

Immediately, the 16-3 club dove into a tailspin, losing seven straight games. Panic was about to set it, when the team rebounded and strung six victories together. All would fall in place, is was figured, but it was at this point that inner turmoil on the club - Emery's mood, Redden's hurt feelings, the large contracts, overall discipline - began to eat at the root of the club's success. Paddock, as a caretaker, was helpless to plug the water hole of the sinking ship.


The calandar year ended with Ottawa showing a 25-9-4 record, but it would never look that good again. From just beyond the midway point, the Senators second half record was a brutal 18-22-4, and the team that was looking at setting a new NHL standard for points, skimpered into the playoffs winning only three of their last ten games.

During the course of that disastrous fallout, everything went wrong. Murray, who replaced Paddock after 64 games, was clueless as to why. The team had stopped scoring in bunches, the goaltending was absymal. and team chemistry was out of whack. Along the way, Emery was made a very public scapegoat. His habitual tardiness and nonchalance were blown out of proportion and his reputation tarnished beyond repair. The whole useless charade seeemed to divide the club into fractions.

Murray made some deals, and each one had an adverse effect. He traded Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves for Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore. In Corvo, he subtracted transition to offense, along with an undesired personality. In Eaves, he gave up on an underachieving youth. In Commodore, he got a slow footed sixth defenseman. In Stillman, he got an individualistic talent. The deal solved nothing.

At the trade deadline, Murray bartered a sixth rounder for the aging Martin Lapointe, but Ottawa was too far gone to help.

The season ended abruptly, when Ottawa was handed a quick four game exit by the surging Penguins. End of season assessments were exercises in damage control. Murray sought to blame the departed Paddock and the soon to be exiled Emery, but spared his players from critique. In doing so, he was cautious to spare himself as well. He promised an off season cleansing of the issues that dogged the club.


This past summer Murray interviewed coaches, and settled on a confusing choice. His man for the job would be Craig Hartsburgh, a former Blackhawk and Northstars bench boss, who like himself, had never won anything of note in the NHL. Murray had the litter's pick, with four former Stanley Cup winning coaches waiting in the wings.

The trouble with Pat Burns, John Torterella, Marc Crawford and Bob Hartley, is that they all have better resume's than Murray. As he would need to work with someone he could be the boss of, and not fear for his position, he settled his choice on the Kitchener Rangers' Peter Deboer. Deboer instead chose to work in Florida. Hartsburgh then got the call. It was hardly a confidence move the bring in a man capable of taking a sluggish team out of a rut.

Murray cleaned house further this past summer, moving the popular Brain McGratton from a team clique. Commodore was passed over for the equally slow footed Jason Smith, a free agent signing. Andrei Meszaros, a promising young rearguard whose growth seemed to have stalled, was offed to Tampa Bay over a contract dispute, returning defenseman Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard and a first rounder in 2009 that can't yet help the club. The moves have combined to make the Senators even softer and slower on the backline. Murray also added the pestulant Jarkko Ruuttu to the forward depth core, to no offensive improvement.

All through the tailspin, the value of every Ottawa asset has dwindled badly. Without a solid transition defenseman to help launch the rush, the Senators forward talent has stagnated. The club has been tasked with trying to alter it's game plan to a more tight checking execution, but it does not have the required grit and savvy to make much of it. Adding to their woes, is a bench boss absent of the required esteem to corral this group to work differently as a unit.

The finger is often pointed at the Spezza and Heatly duo, and rightly so. The two highest earners on the club seem to know only one way of winning games. With the offensive contributions neutered some, they are both ill equiped mentally to have the fortitude to lead. Heatly, the finisher in the slot, waits for chances that no longer comes as they once did.

Spezza is a bigger concern. A player who has never been keen on getting his face dirty in play, he seems to almost refute motivation while refusing to alter his style. Despite having the neccessary size, weight, and reach to work in the pits and trenches, he is sheepish and half hearted in his efforts. Hartsburgh makes four coaches now, who have attempted to bring Spezza to a higher level and failed. The story on Spezza in junior was similar. Murray cannot move Spezza's 8 million dollar noose with all his warts exposed, and there are four more years remaining on the deal.

Help is nowhere in sight for Ottawa, as Murray and Hartsburgh cling to their jobs. Organizational depth is at an all time low, and prospects in the system have been slow to progress and reach NHL levels. Trade propositions are inexistant. Teams will happily pick Murray's pocket, but the pickings are slim.

There's not much to get arrogant about in Ottawa these days!

Doubtful I ever root for them again in any way, regardless of the oncoming purge.

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