The Florida Panthers are in Ottawa tonight for their final match-up with the Senators before they return home to finish the regular season against Carolina. The Cats have little to play for other than pride at this point, having clinched the Atlantic Division crown Tuesday night in Montreal.
The Senators were a team that went on a magical run at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season to make the NHL playoffs, where they pushed the Canadiens hard in the first round before ultimately bowing out. Unfortunately for Sens fans, the "Hamburglar's" heroics were not to be repeated, and they have been eliminated from postseason play this year. With coaching issues and an owner spending a lot of time in the news, it seemed like a messy season in Ottawa from afar. We wanted to check in with our friend Ross and get the facts.
JC: Here in South Florida, we are used to messy seasons and off-ice distractions, it has been in the Florida Panther DNA for too many years and it finally seems to have been excised. From a distance, it seems like it has been a messy season of distractions in Ottawa, is that the case, or has the North American hockey press overblown the issues (as they have a tendency to do..)?
I don't know so much about distractions, but this season has been messy in Ottawa. Rather than building off last year's emphatic march to the playoffs, people expected Ottawa to pick up from there. Injuries to key players like Clarke MacArthur
and Kyle Turris
didn't help, but suspect coaching decisions and a porous defense played a large part. Considering that Mike Hoffman
, Bobby Ryan
, Erik Karlsson
, Mika Zibanejad
, Zack Smith
, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau
all had better years offensively than last year, and Mark Stone
really hasn't dropped off, it's confusing as to why this team had such an awful year. Of course, when your known cheap-skate owner goes on national television to say this season was terrible, the media is going to to jump all over it.
JC: What has been tremendously impressive about the Senators is the sort of unofficial, quiet, rebuild on the fly that has been going on. Going from a Cup Finals run with players like Spezza and Alfredsson, to maintaining competitive, quality hockey as late as this season, without missing a beat or going through what Florida, or Edmonton, have gone through is impressive. Thinking positive, what bodes well going forward? Thinking less positive, what bodes... less well?
Ross: The good is pretty easy to see: Ottawa has a fantastic young core in its prime. On top of Karlsson being the unquestionable best offensive defenseman in the league, guys like Stone, Hoffman, and Turris get people excited for the future. If things go well next year, it's not hard to see this team being a force offensively.
Ottawa has a few things that raise alarms. The same GM has been in place for almost nine years now, and the team has won one playoff round in that time. That group has hired five coaches, plus Murray stepping in himself for half of a season after a firing, none of whom have had much success. The defense behind Karlsson has looked awful this year. The goaltending situation is uncertain, with 34-year-old Craig Anderson
the third-oldest starter in the league, and a handful of unproven minor-leaguers waiting in the wings. In short, there's a lot of chance for things to keep getting worse.
JC: Craig Anderson is still highly thought of here amongst Panther fans, and many would still love to see him finish his career paired with Roberto Luongo once again. What is the perception amongst Ottawa faithful about Andy's future there, and has he been appreciated as a fan favorite the way he was in South Florida?
Ross: I think Andy has been well-loved, especially because Ottawa had a reputation for a long time as a goaltending graveyard. There's a strong argument to be made for him as the best goaltender in Ottawa history, since he's just 21 wins behind Patrick Lalime for the most in franchise history, and has better overall career stats. Watching him steal a playoff series against the Canadiens (and almost steal another one last year) has won people over. People weren't sure about him at first, but he's managed to prove himself as probably the best goalie in franchise history. (Dominik Hasek and his wonky adductor muscle not considered.)
We'd like to thank Ross for stopping by and chatting with us. If there is a Canadian franchise that shares any of the Panthers "kicked mutt" type of persona in the NHL media, it is Ottawa, so we wish them well and that they may eternally beat Montreal and Toronto. Stop by Silver Seven for my responses to Ross' questions, and give him a follow on Twitter as well at @Sheer_Rossyness.