It was the type of conversation every one of us has participated in: a group of front-line employees out on the town together, venting about upper management. Anyone calling out the Ottawa Senators players for what they were caught saying unknowingly on camera is a hypocrite.
A cluster of players – Matt Duchene, Chris Wideman, Alex Formenton, Dylan DeMelo, Chris Tierney – took an Uber ride in Phoenix during the team’s late-October road trip, which included a game against the Arizona Coyotes. A dashboard-mounted camera, presumably belonging to the driver, captured five minutes of their conversation. It was uploaded to YouTube, presumably by the driver, and eventually taken down.
The Senators franchise certainly didn’t need any more embarrassment: Mike Hoffman scandal, owner Eugene Melnyk threatening to relocate his team, assistant GM Randy Lee’s second-degree harassment charge and subsequent resignation, the Erik Karlsson trade, attendance woes…you name the calamity and it’s happened to this franchise within the past calendar year. And, yes, some of the comments captured on the video reflect poorly on the team, especially when the players criticize assistant coach Marty Raymond. Duchene calls him “the only coach in NHL history to have the worst power play and the worst PK within a calendar year” and adds that he’s stopped paying attention to meetings for three weeks because “We don’t change anything, ever.” Wideman says Raymond “doesn’t ever teach you anything” and “just commentates what’s happening.”
The conversation continues like that, with the players trading jokes and laughing. It’s not a great look for a team desperately needing a PR facelift. But you know what? It’s human. I’ll go as far as calling the dialogue pretty funny and even a little endearing. In an era of buttoned-down hockey culture, when the Carolina Hurricanes get lambasted by dusty old-guard thinkers for having too much fun on the ice, it’s refreshing to get a look at players acting and talking just like the rest of us. We all vent about our superiors (Uh, except me, right? Haha. Just in case you’re readin’, boss!). And, Ironically, while expressing a lack of faith in coaching might suggest a team in disarray – it’s also a great way for the players to bond with each other. The group in that car included new Senators DeMelo and Tierney, who came over in the Karlsson trade, plus rookie Formenton, who has since been returned to junior. Team members also said Tuesday that they knew about the video before its release, dealt with it internally and have moved on from it.
And how we feel about the video is moot anyway. We shouldn’t have seen it. It was a massive invasion of the players’ privacy. It also threatens to scare them back behind their virtual walls. On-the-record interviews are a big part of life for NHLers, sure, but for every-on-the-record exchange, there are twice as many off-the-record interactions. We media members simply don’t share those. They help build rapport and trust with players, which sometimes lends to a more open on-the-record discussion, and disclosing any of the off-the-record talk would break that unspoken agreement. It’s reminiscent of Joe Thornton being outed for an off-the-record joke he made in the dressing room regarding Tomas Hertl’s four-goal game in 2013.
The comparison is apples to oranges, admittedly, as the Uber driver is obviously not a journalist. But the principle is the same: when players are off the clock, they get to be human. If we feel the need to broadcast everything they say and do, they won’t want to share any part of themselves with the rest of the world.
At the very least, we should acknowledge that the Senators did something most gainfully employed people do: talk shop and share some complaints when management isn’t around. Or, better yet, we can forget the whole thing, as it shouldn’t have found our eyes and ears in the first place.