Monday, September 12, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Ryan & the Ottawa Senators

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 25 of 30: the Ottawa Senators

photo courtesy of @clydeorama/Flickr


HOW THE SENATORS SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

The Ottawa Senators are a team that desperately needs to find direction.

They've been in the playoffs three of the past five years, even getting as far as the Final round before losing to Anaheim 4-1 in 2007. Last season, they ranked 13th in the East with 74 points, barely edging out the Islanders (73) and Florida (72). The team's performance cost Cory Clouston his position as head coach; he was replaced by Paul MacLean.v
In short: expectations are not very high in Ottawa this year. The team struggled through the first half of the year, and then sank like a flaming projectile late in the season, limping through to a survivor's finish. Despite other teams in the league finishing off even worse than they did (hello, Oilers), this team truly can't get much worse.

Looking deeper into the Senators' system, there's light - their AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators, won their first Calder Cup last spring, and there's talent in the pipeline. But for the NHL-level team, the Senators are still early in their rebuilding phase. Otherwise, there's not a lot of names that leap out when you scan over the Senators' roster: captain Daniel Alfredsson, at 38, is the veteran hand on the helm. There's also players like Jason Spezza and Sergei Gonchar. At least a third of the team is 25 or younger - if you include prospects who have a shot at the team, the number becomes nearly half.

On the bright side, the team has some up-and-comers with the team now. Erik Karlsson was a surprise entry to the All-Star Game early in the year, for example. What gave the fans hope last year was the AHL's team performance; those players are the future face of this team.

The team is gambling on Craig Anderson as their top goalie. He's shown that he's capable of carrying a so-so team deeper into the playoffs (see 2009-10 Avalanche), but he can struggle as well (see 2010-11 Avalanche). During 33 games with the Avs last year, Anderson went 13-15-3 with .897 sv% and 3.28 GAA; in the 18 games he played for the Sens after the trade, he went 11-5-1 with 2 shutouts, a .939 sv% and a 2.05 GAA. Did the Sens make the right move by trading Briant Elliott for him? Can he be the #1 goalie and carry the load the way he did for the 2009-10 Avs, again? Will Alex Auld 6-2-2 w/.914 sv% and 2.64 GAA) be the solid backup Anderson needs? Keep an eye on Mike McKenna, acquired in free agency; while he's most likely to end up in the AHL, he's excited to be playing for a Canadian franchise and should be expected to improve upon his record from last year.

Other than the late-season Anderson and Campoli trades making a splash, the Senators didn't make a lot of moves this off season. They will be heading into the new season close to the salary floor, which certainly gives them the room for acquisitions during the season, but they need to figure out what they've got first and how it's coming together. It's interesting to note that most of the players they parted company with are still UFAs.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Alex Auld (MTL), Nikita Filatov (CBJ), Zenon Konopka (NYI), Mike McKenna (NJD)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Mike Brodeur, Chris Campoli, Pascal Leclaire, Curtis McElhinney (PHX), Ryan Shannon (TBL), Marek Svatos
There is little doubt that 2011-12 is a rebuilding year for the Senators. Nobody has particularly high expectations for the team this season, which means that if the team can find some chemistry early, they might surprise some people - don't throw the season out the door quite yet. Still, the team is young, they've brought in a new coach this year, and there is undeniably a lot of work to be done on this team.



* * *

For the Senators, we talked with Ryan Classic, who writes a Senators blog at Silver Sevens. He's been a Senators fan for 20 years.

Let's talk about your fandom.

Remember when you were a kid, and you enjoyed something so much that you didn't care one bit how bad it was? That's me for the early years of the Ottawa Senators.

Four-consecutive bottom-of-the-barrel finishes to start the team's history, and all I cared about were the good times. I know they were awful times. It's impossible to deny this. And yet, as a kid in the nation's capital, it was still nothing but fun.

I remember the excitement I had on April 10, 1993, seeing the out-of-town scoreboard on Hockey Night in Canada and realizing that Ottawa finally had won their first road game in team history (1-41 that year on the road). I remember jumping for joy when Steve Duchesne scored the goal that gave Ottawa its first playoff birth. I remember being heartbroken when, for the 4th time in franchise history, the Senators were knocked out of the playoffs by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Not all the memories are good memories, but I'll take the bad ones over having no memories at all.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Nikita Filatov (not that there was much to choose from)

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)?

This is a team that is deeply flawed and built to lose. It's hard to say that they've improved, because until we see how the rookies and sophomores work out, it's honestly impossible to know what the Senators have. They had a winning record in the last quarter of the season while fielding an AHL roster (plus Craig Anderson), but that could be equal amounts good luck and being taken lightly instead of a sign of improvement.

The X-factor is Craig Anderson. He's shown that he can carry a non-playoff team into the postseason. He's also shown that he can flame out and drag a team to the bottom of the standings. Which Anderson shows up, and whether or not he can handle a defence with two to three rookies every night, is the key.

In the end, nobody in Ottawa is putting much stock into the standings this season. Whether they make the playoffs (unlikely), or fail horribly (likely), it's already considered a wash. This year is all about the future, from developing kids to drafting high. And fans are okay with that.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

13th in the Eastern Conference

What existing hockey rule would you change (and how) if you could?

No more trapezoid. Some goalies would use the extra space to act as a third defenseman, sure, but more would try to play the puck and end up creating an opposing scoring chance (or more likely, a goal). Toss in the speed of the young kids around the league rushing to steal the puck from a wayward goalkeeper, and you have a recipe for awesome.

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