(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. We've asked for these losers, gone but not forgotten, to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The bloggers and fans who hated them the most. Here is Montreal Canadiens fan, blogger and cartoonist Liam McKenna, fondly recalling the 2014-15 Ottawa Senators. Again, this was not written by us. Also: This is a roast and you will be offended by it, so don't take it so seriously.)
By Liam McKenna
We are gathered here today to remember and dismember a remarkable season for the Ottawa Senators. You’ll have to excuse the mourning party, as approximately a third of them are fans of the Montreal Canadiens, as the Senators couldn’t find the fan support to attend even their own funeral.
What a season it was! The first half of the capital city’s campaign was a dreary look at how bad this team truly is; the second half a feverish dream that, upon reflection, might as well never have happened. Then again, Ottawa going out in the first round is pretty good for them.
In fact, Ottawa is so used to results that flounder below mediocrity that this may well have been one of the best seasons in franchise history. I mean, that they made it to the playoffs was admittedly surprising. To call the Senators’ run improbable is doing it a disservice. It was a crazy, crazy finish to the regular season. But it was the regular season, and that means it didn’t actually mean anything. The fact that the most insecure fanbase in hockey regards it as an historic achievement tells you a lot about how based that insecurity is.
The city of Ottawa was so swept up in the hype of a team that had to win almost every single one of their last thirty games that it added this achievement to its list of the Best Things the Ottawa Senators Have Ever Done.
The Senators are desperate for history, largely due to their lousy team having folded from the league for sixty years, and their neighbours being the historically great Montreal Canadiens and the mythically terrible Toronto Maple Leafs. In an effort to make up for lost time, the Ottawa media frequently lists their team’s greatest accomplishments. I’ve made a list of my own:
Greatest Achievements in Ottawa Senators History
1) Making the Stanley Cup final that one time and losing it in five kind of close games, featuring a brutal own goal to seal it;
2) Alfie pretending to throw his stick once, which was pretty funny;
3) Winning a first round series against Montreal two years ago;
4) Giving everybody Alexandre Daigle as a punchline;
5) Curtis Lazar eating a hamburger.
There you have it. The actual list wasn’t that different. This season, though, Ottawa really, actually made history by being the first team to trail a playoff spot by fourteen points and still find their way into the postseason. But what’s been ignored about that little stat is this: the Ottawa Senators were the worst team ever to make the playoffs.
Your fancy claim to history is an indicator of ineptitude, not of greatness.
Their sense of accomplishment firmly entrenched – a season where Ottawa makes the playoffs is already one of the greatest in franchise history, after all - the Sens were boasting the kind of naiveté that a team has when they don’t know how truly bad they are (see: Flames, Calgary). For the duration of their drive to the playoffs, it was clear to everybody but the Sens themselves that they were playing over their heads. I can’t stress this enough – outside of Karlsson, the Senators just don’t have many good players.
Paul MacLean really nailed his assessment of the Sens just prior to his departure.
Ottawa fired the walrus about halfway through the year, shortly after his frank assessment of their talent. The Sens were at nearly Leaf-level despondency about their playoff chances, and it was clear that MacLean had pretty much given up all hope on the season. The players were going to have to find a way to persevere under a new coach, and folksy new guy (and good ol’ PEI boy) Dave Cameron was given the reins.
Cameron was the cool substitute everybody likes, the coach who just wanted everybody to chill out and have a little fun. He was keen to crack jokes in high pressure situations, and to laugh off a 3-0 series deficit in the first round. Another little joke of his was leaving 27-goal scorer Mike Hoffman on the fourth line for most of the series. But hey: that gee-whiz, aw shucks approach got the Sens to the first round in spite of the odds. No need to stop now for little things like good coaching decisions.
But you can’t blame the coach for the team he is tasked with leading, and the Ottawa Senators just aren’t a deep team. Outside of Erik Karlsson, the Sens don’t have a lot of depth, and Karlsson isn’t the all-world defenseman the organization thinks he is.
Just try telling that to a Sens fan, though. They love to talk about Erik Karlsson, and it’s true that he gets a lot of points. Boy, does he ever. Man, if points were the deciding factor in the Norris Trophy race, and not actual defending, then Karlsson would win it a lot of years. But the fact is that for a defenseman, Karlsson really isn’t very interested in defense, which I’d consider a concern, personally. I mean, the guy doesn’t play on the penalty kill, one of the most important defensive situations in hockey. So let’s be honest: Erik Karlsson is very good at being himself, but that doesn’t make him the best defenseman in the league.
He’s nowhere near the elite defenders who can play at both ends, such as – I’ll just pull a random name out of my elite defenseman hat, here – PK Subban.
Mark Stone! Say the name to a Sens fan and you will undoubtedly elicit paroxysm of orgasmic ecstasy. They love them some Mark Stone in Ottawa. He’s the best guy in the League who can’t skate, and his point total in the second half of the season put him in pretty elite company. His injury in the playoffs – a microfracture, a medical term which the Ottawa medical staff made up on the spot – was the rallying cry the team followed to a 3-0 series deficit. Inspirational!
Let’s talk about goaltending!
Coming into the year, Ottawa thought it had a very strong goaltending tandem in Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson. Of course, they could have had Ben Bishop, but instead they traded him for Cory Conacher and ha ha ha.
Nonetheless, the Anderson-Lehner pairing boded well for the team; a wily veteran prone to hot streaks and a solid youngster looking to solidify his spot as a No. 1 sounded like a perfect solution to any problems between the pipes. But then injuries took hold of both 1A and 1B, Lehner and the team struggled, and in February the Sens were forced to turn to an absolute unknown in Andrew Hammond. Granted the idiotic nickname the Hamburglar, Hammond was an AHL goalie who was basically worthless to his team even in the minors. The Senators dutifully pinned their hopes on the Hamburger Man and hoped for the best.
Somehow, the best was what they got. Technically, Hammond was kind of a mess, often scrambling around the net to make improbable saves that were more the result of dumb luck than actual skill. But his run was admittedly legendary, and the Scramburglar, like the rest of his team, remained oblivious to his own deficiencies. He willed the Senators into the playoffs where the Sens received the matchup they were stupidly hoping for: the Montreal Canadiens.
This brings us back to the Senators hanging their hat on their historic non-accomplishment of 2013: winning a single playoff round against the Montreal Canadiens.
Ottawa was convinced again that this matchup would roll in their favour. They felt they had an edge on last year’s Eastern Conference finalist, a playoff hardened group led by one of the NHL’s best scorers, its best defenseman, and the best goaltender of the last ten years.
Yes, Ottawa; this was what you wanted.
Well, the Sens quickly regretted their desire to face the Habs. Much was made of Ottawa outhitting the Canadiens through the first three games, but if you’re hitting more than your opponent, a lot of times it’s because you don’t have possession of the puck. Three one goal games and two overtimes? Sure, sure, but those games featured a Montreal team that scored on a fairly low percentage of their shots – again, just dumb luck making Ottawa look good. Anybody watching the series could take it as evidence of Montreal’s superior skill in virtually every aspect of the game, and it’s not like Ottawa could have matched up better against the Rangers, Lightning, or any of the other top seeds in the mix.
Ottawa fans are understandably bitter about their early playoff exit. The Canadiens have the best goaltender in the world, Sens fans say, and the series would have been very different if they didn’t. The fact that Ottawa won two games relying on outstanding performances from their own goalie seems lost on them. The fact that they got into the playoffs on an unheralded run from the biggest no-name-nobody-goalie-with-a-stupid-nickname since Jim “The Net Detective” Carey escapes them as well.
It’s my sincere hope this article has served some purpose in enlightening the thick-skulled, history-starved Ottawa fanbase.
Ottawa lost because they didn’t want to beat the Canadiens. They wanted to be the Canadiens, with the world’s best goaltender and its premier skilled defenseman. They want to boast of a rich and winning history, to be a team steeped in legend and success, rather than celebrating their mediocrity as though it were the hallmark of a true champion.
Instead, they’ll be hitting the links after another “successful” season. Tee up, Ottawa. RIP.
Liam McKenna is a Montreal Canadiens blogger and fan.