In January I asked a simple question: what’s wrong with Ottawa?
The answer I came up with was pretty simple: they had an ineffective coach and someone making questionable roster decisions up top. That meant a top-heavy team without a starting goaltender that looked and played like they were lost. Too many players with high salaries were underachieving, and something had to change for things to turn around.
The solution I saw for that franchise were simple: a new coach and Bryan Murray getting the boot. Too much of the team’s failures stemmed from him being coach and GM, and the players on the team weren’t going anywhere due to massive contracts. Ottawa needed a new voice behind the bench, and a change in direction regarding personnel decisions.
So what happened? Craig Hartsburg got the axe, and Bryan Murray traded for a franchise goaltender at the deadline. Replacement coach Cory Clouston has gone 14-6-3 in his time with the team, and all of a sudden the Ottawa Senators are two points behind the Sabres in the East.
What’s that? Two points from Ottawa? Wait… are the Sabres… Ottawa bad?
Well, let’s take a look at the teams. Ottawa has three good forwards (Spezza, Alfredsson, and Heatley), one good defenseman (Kuba) and a massive drop off in points production from a batch of unproductive, high-priced forwards and defenseman.
There are also a number of young players such as Bell, Foligno, Picard, and Lee that are just beginning their careers and therefore are virtual unknowns with regard to long-term value. Oh, and while long-term their goaltending situation is solid (Leclaire) , it is currently a massive question mark (Elliott) for the remainder of the season.
So what about Buffalo? Well, they have three good forwards (Vanek, Roy, and Connolly), one good defenseman (Spacek) and a massive drop-off in points production from a batch of unproductive, high-priced forwards and defenseman.
There are also a number of young players such as Sekera, Butler, MacArthur, and Gerbe that are just beginning their careers and therefore are virtual unknowns with regard to long-term value. Oh, and while long-term their goaltending situation is solid (Miller) , it is currently a massive question mark (Lalime) for the remainder of the season.
Sound familiar? It does, and now the numbers are starting to trend that way. Sabres fans used to laugh at Ottawa earlier this year, but somehow they kept winning head to head despite hitting rock bottom. The Sabres continued to hover around mediocrity, their former coach called both teams “soft”, and the rest is history.
But are the two teams really the same? Well, no. See, Ottawa went out and did something about it. They were a decidedly worse hockey team a few months ago. Much, much worse. So they made a coaching change, started to retool, and got better. All of a sudden they are 9-1 in their last ten, destroyed the Sabres in the season series, and have something to look forward to next season. They kept their core intact yet made a few moves, and will be a better hockey club for it down the line.
That is where the Sabres have failed. There is no movement, no advancement or regression. This team is in a state of atrophy, and the numbers will reflect that lack of movement in a few weeks. The Sabres may be in the same position as Ottawa in the East, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince me the Sabres are in better shape overall.
Somehow Ottawa has gone from mediocre to terrible to mediocre but getting better, all in the span of about seven months. What have the Sabres done? If there is any agreement among Sabres fans these days, it is that change needs to take place. It’s a scary thing to admit, but I think for the most part Ottawa has the right idea.
Well, it’s a better idea than doing nothing.