Let's start with some context. I've been following this team as close as any fan for as long as I can remember. I'm talking about listening to all media availability, interviews, game day radio/podcasts, watching all the games, video content, and many platforms covering the Sens daily. I spend an embarrassing amount of time on Twitter following the thoughts of fellow Sickos, breaking news, and then voicing my opinions.
I have sat through the heartbreak that has come with the rebuild over the last few years. I sulked in my first-year residence common room watching the Karlsson farewell press conference. I sat through the frustration of Pierre Dorion boasting about the Mark Stone trade. I got to the point where I was filled with joy when one of my favourite players, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, was traded for a great package – just showing how much I bought into this process and how the losing was expected.
And that's just it. It was expected. That's why this season hurts so much more. Maybe the expectations were too high, but I still think there's reason to be mad when the record is the same through 17 games as it was in the 2019/2020 season. Sure, no one directly involved in the organization said "playoffs", but the moves spoke for themselves. Additions of Giroux, DeBrincat, and Talbot (two of which were acquired for future assets) SCREAMED expected improvement.
Now approaching the 20-game mark of the season, and taking a step back to look at everything, I have a few takeaways:
DJ Smith is not the man for the job. Between constant misadjustments, valuing vets over younger players regardless of talent, mundane offensive structures, non-functional defensive structures, and lack of ANY accountability, it has become painfully clear there needs to be a new voice. I'm not sure why this move hasn't been made yet (new ownership pending, financial reasons, policy, personal affection, etc.), but the longer this persists, the longer this culture of losing will remain.
The "Summer of Pierre" was excellent, but still failed to address by FAR the biggest need and the GM deserves blame as well. Going into the off-season I think every Sens fan would have told you the priorities should have been:
a) top-4 defenceman
b) top-6 forward
c) don't have Zaitsev on the opening roster
d) maybe improve goaltending if possible.
Only half was addressed, the biggest was ignored, and one was doubled down on. I can understand it is hard to find top four defencemen, but they have moved in recent years and, in my opinion, for VERY reasonable prices. John Marino is example number one.
DeBrincat is NOT the problem. And yet I've seen some fan discourse, showing frustration toward him. I think this is absurd for a few reasons. First of all, DeBrincat is playing with Brassard as his center. I'm not sure how you can expect him to be a dominant player when his line mates have been below average or at least performing that way. Secondly, the structures they play with are inherently detrimental to his style of play. Dump and chase hockey with skilled players is redundant and kills so many potential chances. I will never understand why this continues to be used, ESPECIALLY on the power play and with the goalie pulled. Finally, he continues to not be the primary focus of the power play. I cannot understand how you don't maximize the potential of your proven #1 scorer. He's seldom on the half wall set up for the one-timer, and the "set" plays they use never seem to go to him.
In the long term, positivity remains. After detaching from the on-ice product a little to make sure I'm not in a bad mood every day, it's clear this organization has better days ahead. With a downtown arena deal coming with new ownership in the next few months there are still things to look forward to. Not to mention that the new ownership group probably includes global star Ryan Reynolds and maybe includes Canadian mega-artist The Weeknd.
Additionally, the play of Sanderson and JBD are extremely encouraging for better days ahead on the blue line should they get healthy and can ever get that top-4 D.
Finally, as much as I HATE this excuse, we haven't seen this team fully healthy yet and the "core" is still super young. Losing Norris has thrust Stutzle into a first-line center role that he's not ready for yet, and the loss of Chabot and Zub for periods has forced players into roles they are not capable of (Zaitsev, Holden, Hamonic). Should they ever get fully healthy with Norris down the middle and on defense (Chabot, Sanderson, Zub, JBD, Brannstrom, ???), I expect to see better results, regardless of any other changes.
As frustrating as it is to watch the struggles of the defense, the coach, and the general manager, there is still more hope coming for Sens fans. Just because the rebuild is “over”, doesn't mean this is it. Who knows, maybe we're all laughing about this in a year when the team is off to an amazing start and we're watching the debut of “Welcome to Kanata”, directed by Ryan Reynolds, documenting the drafting of Connor Bedard.
Yes, that's a joke, but perspective is everything and the uncertainty of the future is what makes us so passionate as fans. As easily as apathy can set in with these results, just remember the shared emotions we all feel connect us as people and shouldn't be directed negatively toward each other. Constructive criticism should be encouraged, but personal shots are not okay, regardless of the situation. This applies to the members of the team as well.
Better days are coming, but we want them now. It's frustrating, and we have the right to be upset. Change is needed, and it never seems to come.
Summer felt like the highest of highs, but the best days are still ahead. And that's what I'm trying to focus on after staying up until 2:00am, watching a 5-1 loss to our former captain.
By Ryan Hyndman | Sens Nation Hockey