Senators Update – Part 1 (Overview)

By Nathan Estabrooks
Despite a first round exit to the Buffalo Sabre’s in the ’99 playoffs Ottawa fans were very optimistic. The team had clinched the NorthEast Division pennant and broken the hundred point barrier for the first time. The optimism didn’t last long; there was dark
cumulus off in the distance. It began with mumblings of yet another Alexi Yashin holdout, and as then with a thunderous flash, general manager Rick Dudley fled for last place Tampa Bay. It was as if the team was itself struck by lighting. The shock of Pierre “the ghost”
Gautier leaving for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks was one thing, but now the Ottawa Senators had lost their second GM in one year. Worse still was the mid season departure of Ray Shero to Nashville. Groomed as a future Ottawa GM Mr. Shero had been an assistant GM
with the Ottawa Senators since the time of Randy Sexton. The only hockey man left in town was Marshall Johnstone. By all accounts Johnstone is a very knowledgeable scout and player personal director. He worked in the Devils and Red Wings systems previous to
Ottawa’s, but he is a man who hasn’t be in full control of a team since the days of the Don Cherry and the Colorado Rockies; a very different NHL indeed. The
Senators were a team without a philosophy. A team that had relied on drafting and patience was without those attributes now. Within one year an all-star player refused to report to camp, two GM’s resigned and the owner threatened moving the hockey club if tickets were not sold. The coaches were not infallible either. A year after assistant Mike Ramsey left to be an assistant in Philadelphia, his replacement Mike Murphy retreated to Toronto to become an assistant to Colin Campbell, the NHL’s director of Operations. Andre Savard was promoted from within the organization to assistant coach. Under Johnstone’s reign personnel moves appeared for the first time to be based on personalities and not on talent. There were bewildering trades followed by contract squabbles with third and fourth line players which prompted even more trades. Throughout the year it seemed almost as if though the Senators were just waiting for the season to end. Surely next year would be better wouldn’t it?

What was once an organizational machine, taking itself from the basement to the top of the league, was now nothing short of a broken down mechanics dream. There are no more blue chippers left in the Senators system. What remains is a group of players who don’t resemble a planned approach. There is one bright spot as far as player development is concerned. Before Dudley left it was his wish to unite all the prospects onto one team. Since the PEI Senators of AHL folded many years back, the players had been spread out amongst the A and I. The blue and gold of the Grand Rapids Griffins are now the colours all the Senators’ prospects will wear. It won’t be as difficult to install a method. The Senator’s have also affiliated themselves with the Mobile Mysticks of the ECHL.

This is a franchise that has matured. The fans want wins and are no longer happy to just make the playoffs. There is a new sports radio station in the city and the media is begging to mimic more and more the frenzied attitude of Montreal and Toronto — albeit in a parochial sort of way. There is nothing that can be done yet though. Until the Alexi Yashin arbitration hearing, which will take place before the draft, no one knows which direction the team will take (aside from the fact Yashin will be traded).

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