The Senators will soon be fishing for slogans for the 2012-13 NHL season.
Feel free to offer suggestions.
Recapture the Magic?
First We take Manhattan . . .?
Hey, Maple Leafs, Who’s Your Daddy?
OK, the club won’t be looking to me for a billboard slogan, but I was just trying to get the conversation started. The point is that the Ottawa Senators have a tough act to follow, coming off a season that was sprinkled with gold dust almost from the beginning.
As the players explained before they headed out the door for the summer, it isn’t every season, and certainly not every dressing room, that comes together the way this one did considering all the new faces.
Words like these were tossed around like quarters in the exit scrums Saturday at Scotiabank Place: “such a fun year” . . . “great chemistry” . . . “character” . . . “confidence” . . . “we played for each other.”
The band of brothers and we-are-fa-mil-y stuff can get overdone, but there is something to be said for getting along in close quarters for the long haul that is an NHL season.
General manager Bryan Murray can’t walk down the street without some fan telling him how proud he must be of this group, and such comments remind him of the job his scouts, coaching staff and top players did this season.
Of course, all of the above would be viewed in an entirely different light if this Ottawa team hadn’t assembled a winning season. There is nothing like winning to avoid the kind of scrutiny and finger-pointing that comes with a Canadian hockey address.
So, now what?
Like the young comic who leaves them laughing at the comedy club – the Senators have to wonder what they can do for an encore. It starts with the question of whether or not the captain comes back. On wrapup day, both head coach Paul MacLean and GM Murray said they’d be thrilled if Daniel Alfredsson returns, but both will respect Alfredsson’s request of time to think on it.
“I’m trying to discourage him like heck (from retiring),” Murray said.
Having been with this franchise when it was just emerging from the expansion days, riding the wave to the 2007 Stanley Cup final, and now well into phase I of a rebuild, Alfredsson understands better than most the challenge to continue to improve.
“We overachieved this year,” Alfredsson said, in a gravelly voice that was rampant among the Senators. After months of curfew, focus and discipline, it appears a late night was in order.
“Next year the bar is set higher for everybody,” Alfredsson said. “And that’s a fun challenge.”
As Alfredsson knows, the prediction business is fraught with perils. He was among those who kept expectations in check at training camp. Maybe he read the press clippings. (Murray has a message for prognosticators: “Please pick us last!”). Worked for them last season.
Much of the joy derived by the Senators and their followers stemmed from so many picking Ottawa to finish among the bottom feeders of the Eastern Conference. From that perspective, just crawling to an 11th or 12th place would have been satisfactory, so the push to 8th, followed by a decent playoff showing, extending the first place New York Rangers to a one-goal decision in Game 7 was nothing short of exhilarating for the organization.
It wasn’t just that they won more games than they lost, this Senators team won with panache. They did it with a lot of kids. They worked their asses off.
In short, they were the antidote to the overpaid, under-achieving bunch that occupied the building in 2010-11.
What wasn’t to like about a team that didn’t quit, and took particular delight in winning from behind with third period surges. On most nights, the Senators entertained their fan base, which had to love MacLean talking about his preferred style of play.
“I firmly believe,” he said, “you have to be able to score your way to the Stanley Cup, not defend your way there.”
That fans warmed to this edition of Senators is reflected in attendance numbers – 26 sellouts on the regular season compared to 16 the previous season. And they should be back — the season ticket base has grown to a level not seen since the year after the Senators reached the Stanley Cup final.
On paper, the Senators ought to be better with the additions of prospects Jakob Silfverberg and Mika Zibanejad and the expected growth of this year’s young players, although hockey development curves can be as tricky to predict as conference standings.
If he doesn’t re-sign Filip Kuba, Murray would like to sign a defensive defenceman as a free agent. And the goalie competition will be fierce behind Craig Anderson, with Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner duking it out (hopefully not literally).
Lots of fodder to get us through the summer, which is suddenly underway.