Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ottawa Senator what-if's

One last Senators post, before we return to the quality Maple Leafs coverage you've come to expect (i.e. wah wah, the Leafs suck, abandon all hope, etc.)

Despite what you might expect, I'm not here to shovel more spiteful dirt on the Senators' grave. Yes, they've embarrassed themselves again. Yes, it seems like this will finally be the collapse that spells the end of this version of the team. Forgive me, though, if I have a hard time getting too worked up about one team's failure when my own is in shambles.

If anything, I find the Senators meltdown fascinating. Over the past few years, the team was both a bulldozing powerhouse and an ultra-fragile trainwreck-in-waiting -- often both at the same time. While the Maple Leafs were seemingly doomed to years of bitter failure the moment JFJ frowned his way through his first press conference, the Senators recent history has been filled with key moments that could have changed their path.

Here's a look at seven intriguing "What If?" scenarios from recent Senator history. Change the outcomes on a few of these, and where would this team be now?

What if: The Senators land Marion Hossa at the deadline?
Bryan Murray had been harshly critical of John Muckler's inability to land a big name at the deadline. When he took over the GM reigns in 2007/8, he wasn't shy about letting everyone know he was looking to make a major move, and his top target was former-Senator Marion Hossa. As the deadline approached, the Hossa sweepstakes seemed to have come down to the Sens and Habs. But on deadline day, it was the Penguins who snuck in and nabbed him, paying a ransom in the process.

Would the addition of Hossa have prevented the Senators' meltdown? Would he have provided the secondary scoring that Ottawa so desperately needed as the season ticked away? He wouldn't have hurt, although we'll probably never know how high the price tag would have been.

Hossa wound up playing a role in the Pens dismantling of Ottawa, although the series was so lopsided that it's doubtful he would have tipped the balance by switching sides.

What if: Wade Redden waives his no-trade clause?
In the weeks leading up to the deadline, word got out that Murray had approached Redden about waiving his no-trade clause, apparently for a deal to the Sharks. Redden refused, and once the story was leaked (apparently by a Redden family member) the spotlight on the former fan favorite intensified.

The biggest impact of this non-deal may end up being felt in San Jose. Instead of acquiring Redden, the Sharks pulled the trigger on a deal for Brian Campbell. He had an instant impact, and seems like a great fit.

What if: Daniel Alfredsson sees Mark Bell coming?
Bell's blind-side desecration of Alfredsson was a signature moment in a season full of bad memories for Sens fans. The hit knocked Alfredsson out of the first two games of the playoffs, and he was far from healthy when he did take the ice, contributing little.

However, Alfredsson had been playing hurt for most of the season. His back and hip problems were a recurring story, and he rarely seemed to be 100% during the season's second half. There's no doubt he would have had an impact on the Penguins series if he'd been able to play each game, but realistically it's unlikely he would have made a difference in the final outcome.

What if: John Muckler wins the power struggle with Bryan Murray?
Muckler's track record as Ottawa GM was spotty at best. He made the best of a bad situation with the Heatley/Hossa deal, but his free agent signings were iffy and his trade deadline moves were disastrous. But if he had managed to stay on as GM and push Murray out, it's unlikely ha would have picked Paddock as coach. Who would he have chosen, and it would it have mattered? We'll never know.

Remember too that Gerber was a Muckler signing. If he was still running the show, would he have signed Emery to the sort of big money deal Murray was willing to offer? And would he have been as forgiving of Emery's petulance?

What if: Ray Emery never hurts his wrist leading up to the 2007 playoffs?
Emery's sore wrist set off a chain of events that helped derail the 07-08 campaign. While the injury wasn't considered serious, his recovery from off-season surgery caused him to miss the opening of training camp. That gave Martin Gerber a chance to win the starter's job, which in turn started Emery's season-long sulking routine that eventually fractured the dressing room and cost John Paddock his job.

If Emery is healthy at the start of the season, he likely keeps the starter's job to start the season. If that leads to him behaving himself, team chemistry looks a lot different.

What if: Muckler pulls the trigger for Gary Roberts?
Of everything on the list, this is the one that will haunt Sens fans for a long time. At the 2007 deadline, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk apparently instructed Muckler to get Roberts. But Muckler felt that Jacques Martin's asking price (believed to be Patrick Eaves) was too high, and Roberts went to the Penguins instead.

(Later, we heard rumors that Martin was just toying with the Senators and had no intention of trading Roberts to the team that fired him. It's a nice story and it gets Muckler off the hook, but its never been confirmed by anyone in the know. Would Martin really have taken a substandard offer just to annoy Muckler? Doubtful.)

Roberts didn't have much impact in the 2007 Sens/Pens matchup, and aside from game one he didn't do much in the 2008 series either. He was injured for most of the past season and didn't exactly light up the scoreboard when he did play.

But many observers argue that the Senators have never had a heart-and-soul veteran like Roberts. If Roberts had become a Senator in 2007, would he have been able to prevent the dressing room problems of this year? Could he have helped mould Spezza and Heatley into playoff performers, instead of regular season warriors?

What if: They kept Chara instead of Redden?
Despite a half-hearted effort to keep the big Slovak, the Senators clearly felt that they had to choose between their two all-star defencemen at the end of the 2006 season. They chose Redden, largely based on performance but at least partly based on his popularity in the community. Since then, Redden's game has steadily deteriorated to the point that Sens fans aren't shedding any tears over his imminent departure.

Chara received a huge payday and had an uneven first season in Boston, but has been excellent this year. Even factoring in salaries, there seems to be little argument over who's the better defenceman right now. With Redden about to walk away for nothing, it's hard to view this decision as anything but a disaster.

What if: Dominik Hasek doesn't go to the Olympics?
Hasek's 2005-6 campaign in Ottawa has been largely forgotten. That year's Senators were a regular season powerhouse, but their playoff run ended quickly at the hands of the Sabres. Hasek watched from sidelines, thanks to an abductor injury suffered in Turin.

If Hasek never gets hurts, do the Senators beat Buffalo in 2006? Not necessarily, although Ray Emery's meltdown in game one of that series seemed to be the turning point.

But beyond that, a healthy Hasek likely would have earned at least one more season in Ottawa rather than being cut loose and heading to Detroit. It's not hard to imagine that he could still be the Sens' goalie today.

With Hasek in place, the Senators don't need to hand Martin Gerber a big free agent deal. What's more, Emery probably never gets his shot at the starter's job, the big contract and everything that came with that.

Do the Sens still go the Finals last year with Hasek in net instead of Emery? Do they win? How different does the team look this year with a Hasek/Brian Elliot goalie tandem instead of Gerber/Emery?

I'd love to hear your thoughts -- especially from all my new Senator fan friends who enjoyed my Sens Traditions article so much.


  1. Pick one: a)Havlat b)Chara or c)Redden with Gerber sittin' on the bench. No one could have anticipated Emery distinguishing himself in the Buffalo brawl, from back-up weirdo/goalie to "heart and soul of the dressing room" or even "a legend in a town where there are none". I'll always wonder how the Finals would've gone if Muckelhead had picked option b) and not c).

    p.s. downgoesbrown = inspirational

  2. beautiful post, as always, my man.

    i think even a healthy alfredsson couldn't have saved the sens from that clusterfuck of a series.

    i think you make some intriguing points in all the what-if's...i think if the sens keep chara over redden and showed some balls and acquired roberts last year (i heard it was a first round pick plus eaves they wouldn't give up), they may have won the cup last year.

    but in the long term, i think the most damaging move was letting chara walk. he's phenomenal. and redden blows.

  3. Navin -- I'd agree, I think this year's Sens/Pens series was so one-sided that no one factor would have changed the outcome. The Pens were just better, and it wasn't close.

    Redden is really a fascinating character up here. He's was the hometown hero who could do no wrong -- even when he blew his coverage late in game seven against the Devils in 2003, which probably cost the Sens a Cup, fans never said a word about it. When the Sens chose him over Chara, most fans were thrilled.

    And then over the last two years, they've just completely turned on him, to the point that they're glad he's going to be gone.

  4. What if: Ottawa wasn't a team made up of gutless pukes?

    What if: Half of Ottawa's dressing room wasn't sponsored by Coke? Yeah, uh, the soda.

    Have you ever: Eaten a train piece by piece, after you derailed it with your own penis?

  5. What if...the Duthie story about Muckler potentially trading Vermette, a pick, a defenceman, and Emery to Florida for Luongo was real? Yikes. Good work Agent Muckler.

  6. Emery for Luongo? Please. As if the Panthers would deal Luongo for a package based on some one-year wonder thug with a ton of distracting off-ice issues.

    Hmm... OK, you may be on to something.