Don't Underestimate The Senators

Sens might have their turnaround quicker than most think. Earning a retired number. Another Olympic update.

A year ago, Ottawa was rated one of the three worst teams in the NHL at the start of last season.

They confirmed that forecast by dueling Buffalo in the Terrible Team Derby.

With a 2-12-1 record the team from Canada's capital seemed to be vying for a scholarship to the AHL.

But down the homestretch last spring, no team in its right mind wanted to face coach D.J. Smith's sextet. 

Yeah; and that's going to be the case this coming semester because the Senators have come of age. Not only that but guess who the genius is who g.m. Pierre Dorion imported to ensure victory?

None other than the Master Forecaster, Pierre McGuire. 

To fill space on the Franchise Directory, His Eminence Pierre was given the large title, "Senior Vice-President of Player Development."

Translated: Idea Man extraordinaire.

During an interview with TSN, the New Jersey native -- yes, New Jersey -- didn't do handstands of joy with his hands but rather with his mouth.

"The Senators future is amazingly bright," said Lucky Pierre, and not because he's paid to do so either. "And it's awesome to be part of it."

A prime part of the Sens machine will be Norris Trophy candidate Thomas Chabot, sure to be named captain. The twin-threat -- defense-offense -- will be inspired by a bunch of good kids.

Working the D with Chabot is the slick Swede Eric Branstrom who's heading for a breakout year. Ditto for center Jack Norris who, two years ago was voted the AHL's top rookie.

The Oxford, Michigan native is speedy, smart and plays with an edge. Drake Batherson, out of Fort Wayne, Indiana, showed last year that he knows how to patrol right wing.

McGuire is enthused with acquisitions forward Nick Holden -- Pierre calls his signing "huge" -- and  an old pal from his Rangers days, defenseman Michael Del Zotto.

I wasn't so crazy about Del Zotto until McGuire pointed out that mobile Mike was the only "Plus defenseman on Columbus last season."

Brady Tkachuk is ready to break out -- as if he hasn't already -- and will be right behind Chabot on the leadership level, complimenting bench bosses, Smith and Jack Capuano.

"I like the fact that our coaches didn't 'mail it in' after the tough start," McGuire added. "They got real stern when they had to and it showed in the long run."

Never one to be a "homer" press agent when the facts refute the phoniness, McGuire allows, there are weaknesses.

"The team needed to be more robust in goal at the beginning of last season," Pierre concluded. "It got better later on."

And Matt Murray -- in the second year of a four-year, $25 million deal -- had better be better in goal or else all McGuire's optimism will go down the Ottawa River and empty into the St.Lawrence!


THE JIVE: It's still August which means the temperature is up there.

According to Hockey News columnist Adam Proteau it's also hot where certain NHL coaches sit. Which means that somebody has to crank out a "Coaches On The Hot Seat" declaration because, hey,  what-else-is-there-to-write-about?

I like Proteau's piece because -- right off the bat -- I disagree with his first two picks -- Darryl Sutter and Travis Green. If Adam thinks Brad Treliving is going to fire the Sutter hired to revitalize the Flames, then I'll be a moose-tailed-babboon. Darryl needs one full season with the Flames. Remember that this Calgary team is the one that Treliving has failed to revitalize. One series playoff victory in five playoff appearances. Gimme a break; that's on the g.m. not the coach who's still fresh on the gig.

My buddy Travis: he and his Canucks are through with the ton of bad luck they had to shovel into the British Columbia incinerator. G.m. Jim Benning not only gave Green a new two-year deal but add some playoff-type bodies and that's really all My Man T needs. No worries there. 

But big worries in the Windy City. With Marc-Andre Fleury ready to flower along Lake Michigan and a reasonable possibility that captain Jon Toews will return from his sabbatical, there's every reason to expect the Blackhawks to bloom 

Ditto for Jeff Blashill in Detroit. Jovial Jeff has kept his job for six years now which is worthy of coach's Medal of Honor. His boss, Steve Yzerman has cranked the Motor City machine and now the blushing Blashill must make a move near a playoff berth. Stevie Y has shown remarkable patience with Jeff.

You have to feel for San Jose's coach Bob Boughner. He's a good man in a not-so-good situation. Nor will it improve until the Evander Kane conundrum is settled. Proteau has him on his list. Come to think of it, somebody's gonna have to be blamed for a poor start; if there is one in San Jose.

In conclusion, Proteau lists five coaches standing in line for the first opening: 1. Mike Babcock; 2. David Quinn; 3. Bruce Boudreau, 4. Rick Tocchet and, of course, Torts.

Since Torts has a gig and Cousin Brucie has a Junior team, I'd like to see Dave Quinn get another shot


THE JIVE: At least two NHL teams -- the Stars and Rangers -- are planning banner-raising for their heroes of yesteryear. Dallas will honor Hall of Fame defenseman Sergei Zubov while the Blueshirts will raise goalie Henrik Lundqvist's venerable #30.

Don't know about you, but I have no problem with either fete. Why should anyone?

Zubie enjoyed Stanley Cup seasons in New York with the Blueshirts and Dallas with the Stars. Granted, Lundvist didn't win a Cup but his overall excellence had him unofficially designated "The Face of the Rangers."

So, what's the problem?

According to Mark Madden of Pittsburgh's Tribune-Review, he claims that there is an issue.

"The Maple Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967," writes Madden. "They have retired thirteen numbers honoring nineteen players."

Madden: "Wendel Clark played fifteen seasons and made just two All-Star Games. He never won a major award, never played in a Stanley Cup Final, never scored fifty goals and never got one hundred points.

"What, exactly is there to honor? Yet his No. 17 got retired."

By contrast, the Penguins have won five Stanley Cups since 1991. Yet the only jerseys retired have been Mario Lemieux's and No. 21 which belonged to promising young player, Michel Briere, who died in a car crash.

"When you have legitimate history," added Madden, "you don't have to create it."

No doubt Madden's non-Pittsburgh media colleagues will disagree with Mark's questioning Henrik Lundqvist's right to a night.

"If Lundqvist had played for Buffalo," digs Madden, "he'd be in witness protection. No one would know who he is. But he played in the Big Apple. He was very good and charismatic. So he gets his number hung in the rafters."

I'll bet that every single Rangers fan and a majority of legitimate hockey critics would disagree with Madden on Hank!


THE JIVE: Unless current plans fail to jell, the deadline for the NHL-In-The Winter Olympics is just around the weekend, August 31 to be exact. Right now the betting is not in favor of NHL participation but, as we know in this news business, things can change overnight.