Edmonton was officially eliminated from the playoffs on Monday night, the ninth-straight season that has happened, and Toronto is in the kind of tailspin that is going to make interim head coach Peter Horachek consider leaving hockey entirely. He won’t do it, but he’ll think about it this summer while he’s sipping suds at the cottage dealing with the NHL head coaching equivalent of PTSD.
But Ottawa is a different story.
They’re not entirely out of it and are running hot thanks to a 27-year-old goalie that has emerged from the ether and been incredible, but they’re five points back of Boston with less than 20 games to go and there is no way that Andrew Hammond keeps playing this well.
Ottawa is a fringe team - they’re not even close to being real contenders, yet they can hang around the playoffs with the team that they have. At the same time, the chances of getting anyone that can transform the franchise and elevate them to the next level in the draft because they’re picking in the 12-20 range every year are slim, although they did land perennial Norris Trophy candidate Erik Karlsson at No. 15 in 2008.
So how did they get here? They were pretty damn good for nearly a decade, that’s how.
This is the flipside of success that a lot of fans don’t want to acknowledge, either because they happen to back a franchise that never missed the playoffs (like a certain Complex Canada writer that has backed the Detroit Red Wings for his entire life), they back a team that never gets it right (Hi there Maple Leafs fans) or they don’t want to acknowledge that the window is pretty much closed and still hold out hope that their team can retool on the fly. Those people are called “Canucks fans.”
Ottawa had a really good eight-year run from 1998-99 through 2007-08, finishing no worse than third in the division, making the playoffs every season, advancing to the Finals once and picking up a President’s Trophy in there just for good measure. (Note: 2004-05 was washed out by the lockout.)
To put that into perspective, the first year of that run featured Alexei Yashin, Shawn McEachern and the goaltending tandem of Damian Rhodes and Ron Tugnutt. Four years later, the year the were statistically the best team in the NHL, they were lead by Marian Hossa and Daniel Alfredsson up front and Patrick Lalime having a career season between the pipes. Four years after that, the year they lost to the Anaheim
Mighty Ducks in the Stanley Cup Finals, Dany Heatley netted 50 goals, “Alfie” was still “Alfie” and Jason Spezza put up 87 points in 67 games.
They went through three different incarnations and remained legitimate contenders for nearly a decade, adding a bunch of solid depth pieces and surprise contributors through the draft and winning nearly every trade they made for almost 10 years.
Seriously – go back and look at the deals they made during this run – it’s win after win after win. They got out on at the right time all the time. It’s awesome.
But all good things come to an end and that’s what Ottawa is dealing with right now. The majority of the key pieces from the last of those great years are gone and the likes of Karlsson, Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris aren’t enough to make them real threats in the Eastern Conference.
Ottawa has a nice core in place and should be able to get back into the Cup chase in the next couple years if some of its young players (Mika Zibanejad, Cody Ceci, Curtis Lazar) continue to progress and either Hammond or Robin Lehner prove to be long-term pieces in the crease.
This season might be frustrating for Senators fans, but it’s a by-product of being contenders for quite some time and truthfully, this team is closer to being really good than they are to being really bad, which means a return to contention and not a protracted rebuilding period is right around the corner.
Calgary – you’re up next!