Another month, another Canadian National Hockey League team has reached a crisis point. Now, it is Ottawa’s turn to wait.
For a trade. For a firing. For a house cleaning.
For Mt. Melnyk to erupt, as an owner who has been generous in salary, loyalty and every other currency within his grasp, must feel like a dupe for how he’s been repaid by those he has hired.
So as teammates Chris Neil and Chris Campoli dropped their gloves at the Ottawa Senators’ practice Wednesday morning, the metaphor was clear: the time has come for the Senators to simply sit back for the rest of the season, and take their lumps.
There is no point in firing a coach or general manager now. No point in making trades designed to rescue an offence on pace to be the worst a modern day Ottawa fan has ever seen.
With lame-duck management, zero goaltending and a forward corps that — without the injured Jason Spezza — includes just one legitimate first-line player, there isn’t much going on in Ottawa these days. As the aging Daniel Alfredsson crawls into his 38th year with just 13-13-26 and a minus-12 rating, he’s simply unable to be the difference-maker he once was on most nights.
“We’re so fragile right now,” head coach Cory Clouston said after Tuesday’s 6-0 loss in Boston. “We don’t have that resiliency you need in this league.”
The Senators have been shut out six times this season. On another 10 occasions they’ve scored just a single goal.
Do the math: They’ve played 43 games, and in 16 of them (37 per cent of their season) the Senators have failed to score more than a single goal.
That puts this Ottawa squad on pace to be the lowest scoring team since they joined the NHL in 1992-93. They’re on pace for 177 goals — less than the first-year Sens who scored 202 goals while winning just 10 games, and only one on the road.
Less, even, than the 1995-96 team that finished dead-last in the NHL with only 41 points, drafting Chris Phillips at No. 1 that June.
Today, Phillips is next to the bottom of the team’s plus-minus list at minus-19. Below him, Sergei Gonchar, the free agent signing from last summer that has been an unmitigated disaster for Ottawa this season.
We all applauded GM Bryan Murray when he landed Gonchar. What we didn’t realize was that Gonchar would be the kind of star player who could be as vital a cog in a winning line-up as he could be indifferent on a loser like Ottawa.
Once a Sergei Zubov prototype — one of the finest power-play quarterbacks in the game — Gonchar’s stock has fallen through the floor.
Today, his game is a mess. He’s minus-20, the fifth worst number in the entire National Hockey League, and is playing 24:20 per game yet has only five goals.
Milan Michalek (15 points) has disappeared into the ether along with Jonathan Cheechoo (bought out), turning the return on the Dany Heatley deal into porridge. Peter Regin (one goal in 41 games) and Nick Foligno (13 points, minus-14) are two young players who have stepped back this season.
And the lazy, oft-injured Alex Kovalev is on the clock with all Sens fans, as they count the days until his misguided signing expires on July 1.
Last week, news leaked that Murray had tried to fire Clouston (Murray denied it). On Tuesday, assistant coach Rick Wamsley unloaded on the Sens at practice. Some 10 minutes later, Campoli and Neil were duking it out.
So the Senators have reached that collection area that two-thirds of this country’s teams find themselves in. Down there with the Islanders, the Leafs, the Devils and Edmonton – minus the high-end prospects.
But are the Senators due for an Edmonton-type rebuild? A Toronto rebuild, where the plan is not to suffer for as long? A Calgary rebuild, the extent of which is still TBA?
The good news is, between pending UFA’s Kovalev, Phillips, Jarkko Ruutu, and the chanceless goaltending duo of Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire, the Sens will have a fresh $14.5 million off the books at season’s end.
Can they convince any UFA’s to come near this crime scene? Hey — the Sens have more pertinent issues than that.
They’re 0-4-2 in their past six.
Rome, it seems, is burning bright.