Great season, but now things will be expected of the Senators
Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean likes to tell the story of his 1980-81 season with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, when, as a 22-year-old, he scored 36 goals.
As he was celebrating that accomplishment, one of his older teammates said to him: “Yes, but the problem now is that they’re going to expect you to do it again.”
MacLean did, getting 36 the next season with the Winnipeg Jets.
That’s the position MacLean’s Senators are in today. After entering this season with no expectations, following their dismal 2010-11 season, they’ve just raised the bar for the 2012-13 season.
The expectation now is that they won’t simply make the playoffs. It is that they’ll contend for the Stanley Cup.
Next year, a first-round loss would be a failure, which was the reality MacLean spoke about in the wake of the team’s loss to the New York Rangers here on Thursday night.
“In life you get what you earn, and I think the group that was here last year unfortunately earned that rating we had going into the preseason,” he said.
“But we moved forward as a team. We had some growing pains. We faced some adversity,” he said. “But the group got some great leadership from Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Phillips and Jason Spezza, and the group came together and got some traction, and the young players developed and learned.
“Trying to prove people wrong was a pretty good motivator for us during the season,” he added. “The only trouble is that now that we are where we are, we ain’t where we were, and when we come back next year, it’s a whole different ball of wax. So that’s going to be interesting.
“They can pick us 15th next year, too, if they want to.”
The last sentence was said with a smile and drew a laugh, because no one is going to pick the Senators to finish 15th next season. They won’t be flying under the radar next season.
In fact, next year’s group figures to be a whole lot better.
Here are five things Senators fans can look forward to over this summer.
A DYNAMIC OFFENCE
If this year’s team, with the exception of Erik Karlsson, was largely a group of grinders, next year’s will begin the transformation into an offensive machine. Or so general manager Bryan Murray hopes.
Mark Stone, Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg, all with considerable offensive skills, have been pencilled in. How much of an impact they make in their first full NHL seasons will be the question of the year, but ultimately they will form the team’s offensive future.
KARLSSON AND COWEN
On the big stage of the seventh game, these two players had the spotlight on them for the wrong reason: A mistake by each of them led to each of New York’s goals.
That shouldn’t be the memory of their seasons, though. Both had exceptional years, if in very different ways.
Karlsson, of course, is one of the Norris Trophy finalists. Cowen was as solid defensively as Karlsson was flashy offensively. They will be the core of the team’s defence for years to come.
GOALTENDING BATTLE DELUXE
Except for Karlsson, Craig Anderson might have been the team’s most valuable player this season.
He gave the team a chance to win most nights, stole some games on other nights and in this seven-game series gave up only two more goals than his New York counterpart Henrik Lunqvist.
If Anderson had got a few more goals from his teammates, the Senators might be advancing.
Like his teammates, he found inspiration in proving the preseason pundits wrong.
“We’re a proud bunch,” he said. “We came together. We had some determination to prove people wrong.”
While Anderson is the team’s No. 1 goalie, training camp will be interesting, with both Ben Bishop, who has a one-way contract, and Robin Lehner fighting to be the backup.
There’s one thing about the Senators. Never a season goes by without a goaltending controversy.
Both Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek had exceptional seasons, Michalek with 35 goals and 25 assists, Spezza with 34 goals and 50 assists.
With Daniel Alfredsson edging toward retirement, the Senators will become Spezza’s team, which means more will be asked of him. But that’s always been the case.
As an example, while Spezza led the team in scoring during this series with three goals and two assists, there are a lot of people saying today he should have done a lot more. Emails to that effect from the Spezza haters started to move within seconds of the final buzzer.
But anyone who saw him in the aftermath of Thursday’s loss would have seen how much he wanted to win the series.
The words didn’t come out easily.
“We have a great group of guys,” he said. “I think that’s why it makes it so hard to lose. We felt like we were building something that had the potential to be real special.”
While incoming players such as Zibanejad, Stone and Silfverberg bring excitement for the future, Spezza, 28, and Michalek, 27, are entering the prime of their careers.
They will have to be team’s central figures next season, as scorers and leaders.
MACLEAN ERA, YEAR 2
As it was when he scored those 36 goals, MacLean will face an entire new set of expectations as the team’s head coach, and he’ll have very different challenges.
He’ll have a team that had some success this year, and won’t be able to hang onto the underdog label for inspiration.
His challenge will be to keep the team working as hard as it did this year. He said he can’t wait.
When the three finalists of the coach-of-the-year award are announced Monday, it would be shocking if MacLean wasn’t in the group.
Hiring him might have been the best move Murray made over the past year.
AND, ONE REASON NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO NEXT YEAR
Thursday’s game could have been Daniel Alfredsson’s last, after 111 playoff games and 1,131 regular-season games.
If that happens, the team will be a lesser one, just for the absence of his character alone.
He said the decision would be a while in coming.
“I’ll take some time, obviously, see how I feel physically and mentally after taking some time off,” he said “But this year has been unbelievable. I’ve had a lot of fun. It’s been a great group of guys to be part of.
“They’re kept me upbeat and happy when I’m a grumpy old man at times. They’ve made this year very enjoyable for me.”