The Ottawa Senators abbreviated, but magical season has finally come to an end. The way it ended was not as the team or their fans had hoped it would, but it far exceeded the expectations of most coming into the 2013 season. Now that the Senators will be cleaning out their lockers and having exit interviews with Coach MacLean and GM Brian Murray as they lay the groundwork for next year, let’s examine some of the positive aspects that we can take away from this 2013 campaign.
Pro – The Kids Are Alright
The Ottawa Senators have shown that years of good drafting and prospect nurturing can pay off in big ways. Many rookies slid into the Senators line-up this year and proved that they not only have what it takes to be in the NHL, but that they could also have an impact on the team. Jacob Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad, Eric Gryba, Patrick Wiercioch, JG Pageau, Cory Connacher, Andre Benoit, and Robin Lehner all stepped up and showed that they have a lot to contribute as the Senators continue to grow. The experience they gained this season from the amount of NHL level ice time they received will serve as a powerful boon as they continue to mature their skills and abilities. Roster spaces at the next training camp will be at a premium, and should push this crop of young guns to challenge one another to be at their absolute best.
This group of proven young talent also gives Murray a number of cards he can deal during the offseason to improve the Senators in areas where they need help. It is always sad to see homegrown talent get shipped out, but when they can return an important investment for a key part of your team – well that is simply good asset management. One example of this would be the Nick Foligno for Marc Methot trade. Foligno was a popular young player that was drafted by Ottawa and came up through the ranks. This past offseason he was traded for Methot who came in and arguably was the Senators best defenseman all season long. It will be interesting to see what Murray does on draft day and throughout the rest of the offseason with all the assets he has available.
Pro – Winning Something Together
One of the most memorable and touching moments of the season came during the post series press conference by coach MacLean after the Senators eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in round one. MacLean went on to tell the media that the win was so special because it bonded the team like nothing else had or could. He explained that up until that point, the Senators had two groups of players on the team. The first was the core group that was still on the team from around the ’07 Stanley Cup run; this included Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips, Chris Neil, Jason Spezza, along with veterans added shortly after like Milan Michalek, Erik Karlsson, and Sergei Gonchar. The other group was the young guys who came up through the farm system together and won a Calder Cup in the AHL. This group included Eric Condra, Collin Greening, Jim O’Brian, Zach Smith, Mika Jibanejad, Jared Cowen, Andre Benoit, Eric Gryba, along with new additions like Cory Connacher and Kyle Turris. MacLean declared that this win was a bonding experience that allowed these two groups to experience winning something together, and now they were no longer two groups defined by what they had accomplished individually, but one team that accomplished something together. For any franchise to win anything, it is imperative that the team have this kind of cohesion, familiarity, trust, and success with one another. This achievement may be the most important accomplishment by the Ottawa Senators this season.
Pro – Leadership
Coach MacLean was nominated for the NHL’s version of Coach of the Year last season, and many had wondered if MacLean was the real deal, or if he had simply experienced some kind of freshman success. In his second season behind the bench, MacLean was once again nominated for Coach of the Year and not only showed that he is in fact the real deal, but that he may be the best coach the Ottawa Senators have ever had. This is quite an accomplishment considering the near decade long success the Senators had under Jacque Martin, and the Stanley Cup run under then coach Brian Murray. However, MacLean presents an aura about him that is infectious to the rest of the team. In just two seasons, MacLean has completely redefined who this Ottawa Senators team is. They have taken on his philosophical identity to create a team which has resonated with the Ottawa Senators fan like no other version of this team before. The general consensus is that coach MacLean may be as important to this team as someone like Erik Karlsson or Jason Spezza is – and that is an incredible accolade for any coach in any league. We learned this year that under Paul MacLean’s leadership this Ottawa Senators team will always be a contender, and they will always fight until the last second of every game. MacLean has fully completed the transformation of the Ottawa Senators from the Jacque Martin version to a new version that no longer plays like robots, but plays with heart and determination to win every contest.
Aside from Coach MacLean, this season has also shown the maturity of leadership from a number of players on the bench. Daniel Alfresson had perhaps his best season ever as a captain. Although his numbers continue to diminish, his leadership as a captain on the ice continue to accelerate. Leaders must lead by example, and all season long there was no other player that went out on the ice every shift and gave it everything they had. Although MacLean must be recognized for what he accomplished this season, he could not have done it without Daniel Alfredsson as his captain.
There was also a coming out party for Chris Neil in regards to his leadership ability. With the absence of Jason Spezza most the season, the team needed other veterans to step up and show leadership. Chris Neil came on the scene this season as that person. Although Neil has been considered a veteran and leader on this team for some time now, his leadership ability had never shown as it did this past year. Time and time again when the team seemed flat or lagging, Neil would rile up the boys to get going. His on ice ability to change the game with a shift full of hits, or one big hit, was instrumental in tipping the momentum of a game in favor of the Senators. Chris Neil had defined himself when he administered the “Punch heard round the world” as a rookie when he knocked longtime Senators rival Tie Domi on his butt during their first fight. Since that time, Neil has come a long way as a valuable member of the Senators organization – and perhaps this season has been his most maturating yet.
All in all, the Ottawa Senators have a lot to be proud of this season. Their accomplishments were many, and their shortcomings were few. They still need time to refine their game and to overcome some growing pains before they can take that next step in being true contenders. Yet, for the 2013 season, the Ottawa Senators were the poster child for success that every young franchise could hope to be.Tags: Brian Murray, Hockey, NHL, Ottawa, Ottawa Senators, Paul MacLean