Already this season, the NHL has been beset by a swarm of on-and-off-ice predicaments that assuredly won’t make the end-of-year highlight DVD.
Dirty plays and injured players, drawn-out lawsuits and premature retirements, a lousy resurgence in fighting and even lousier attendance in many markets are among the many plagues to have hit the league through its first month of action.
It’s enough to make any hockey fan cry – and not just one of those single-tear-down-the-cheek cries, either. We’re talking full-on Sally Struthers/guest of Dr. Phil/Mark Messier-style sobbage.
So thank goodness for the Ottawa Senators, hockey’s Harlem Globetrotters through the first sixth of the 2007-08 regular season.
Off to the best start of any team in league history through the first 14 games (13-1-0-0), the Sens not only are proof positive you can play NHL hockey well into June and not suffer from some alleged Stanley Cup hangover the next year – they’re also prime examples of good things happening to good people.
And it’s a low down dirty shame they’re not receiving the hype and headlines their performances deserve.
This is a team that’s hard not to root for.
They’ve got Daniel Alfredsson, the captain whose captaincy was forever questioned and qualified until he shut up the carpers and harpies with jaw-dropping displays of leadership last spring.
They’ve got Jason Spezza, the dazzling offensive talent and mega-geeky laugher who will be regarded as Ottawa’s Steve Yzerman by the time his stint in Canada’s capital is done.
They’ve got Mike Fisher, the straight-edge, two-way pivot rapidly developing into one of the game’s great unheralded players and on pace for the best offensive season of his career.
They’ve got Chris Phillips, the low-key, always-available-to-the-media blueliner who overcame the crushing mistake of scoring on his own net in the Cup final and now leads the Sens – and the entire league – with an amazing plus-15 rating.
And the best part?
All of the aforementioned players, as well as goal-scorer supreme Dany Heatley and shot-blocking menace Anton Volchenkov, are locked into multiyear contracts. Veteran defenseman Wade Redden may be squeezed out of the picture when he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season, but the way the team is playing now, does anyone honestly believe their play would suffer a precipitous drop if the longtime Sens staple leaves?
I sure don’t.
I look at Ottawa these days and see a team that reminds me of the NFL’s New England Patriots, who can lose a player here and there and miss neither a beat nor the chance to beat down their opponents.
The Sens are getting contributions from top to bottom; have one of the deepest defense corps in the game; have lost absolutely nothing in Bryan Murray’s transition from coach to GM (and John Paddock’s move from assistant coach to head coach); and have a pleasant conundrum in net, where one of Ray Emery or Martin Gerber eventually can be peddled to plug any holes that arise.
Right now, though, the Sens seems hole-less. Which is why I get cheesed off when I hear chatter about the wisdom of picking up Peter Forsberg or Mats Sundin for their next playoff run. If ever a team wasn’t broke and didn’t need fixing, this is it.
This group of NHLers dominates from the first line through the fourth. Now, they’re not ranked No. 1 in goals for (or against) per game. They’re not league leaders in 5-on-5 goals for/against. Their power play is 14th best in the NHL thus far, their penalty kill seventh-best, their shots allowed average only 24th overall.
The sole stat the Senators are tops at is the one that counts most: wins. And, even if they drop their next seven in a row, something tells me we’ll see them playing again this June – and running rampant again next October.
Adam Proteau’s Screen Shots appears every Thursday only on thehockeynews.com. Want to take a shot at Adam Proteau? You can send him a comment or question through our Ask Adam feature.
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