Sleeping Giant: Why the NHL shouldn't underestimate the Ottawa Senators

Sean ScrivenerCorrespondent IJuly 25, 2008

The euphoria that surrounded the Ottawa Senators,and the city in which they play, two years ago was the culmination of a dream that Senators fans had been hoping for since the inception of the team in 1992: the chance to bring the Stanley Cup back to Ottawa for the first time since the late 1920's. For once, Ottawa was being heralded as the last best chance Canada had at returning the cup to native soil since the Montreal Canadiens won it in 1993. The taglines of Ottawa being a team of heartless chokers seemed to be erased instantaneously the minute Daniel Alfredsson's overtime goal beat Ryan Miller on the low glove side to send the Senators to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in modern franchise history.

Fast forward to the present, and the team is again being dogged by some sports analysts as a team that has peaked and is now on the decline after losing in four games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of this years playoffs. Many are sitting and waiting for this team to fail, an activity that some sports writers in Canada find almost as thrilling as the winning the Stanley Cup. However, these people are about to be dissapointed yet again by this team as I believe Ottawa is on the rebound.

Alot of people forget that the nucleus of the team that got to the Stanley Cup finals is still in tact. The number one line that was first, second and third in playoff scoring in 2007 is signed to long term contracts that will see them in a Senators uniform for the next 7 years. The coach, who is now the general manager, is still there and the core of charecter players (Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips) remain stalwart Senators and don't appear to be going anywhere. Enter in a new coach with back-to-back world championships and memorial cups, a veteran defencemen with 14 years of NHL experience (Jason Smith), the biggest pain in the butt in the NHL other then Sean Avery (Jarko Ruutu) and a local boy who was also the former captain of the Ottawa 67's (Brendan Bell) and I would say that Ottawa has made some of the best, though low key, signings in the NHL this year.

Also, the Sens have dumped alot of baggage from last year as well: Ray Emery, who's shoddy play, attitude and alleged drug problem provided an unwarranted amount of media coverage, is off to Russia; Wade Redden, once hearlded as the teams franchise defenceman, has moved on to the New York Rangers after two years of shoddy play and underachievement. Finally, John Paddock who seemed lost and unable to get a hold on his team at some points last year, was relieved of his coaching duties last spring.

While Bryan Murray didn't make any big name signings like Chicago or Detroit did, he did add some much needed depth and leadership to a team who seemed to lose its edge last season. Ottawa's days as a scoring powerhouse and pool of unlimited talent may be behind them, but the GM has seemed to turn his focus to charecter and heart rather then just pure scoring. As a Senators fan myself, I find this to be an exciting time to watch this team. People forget several details from 2007: Ottawa finished 4th in the conference that year; They beat the most offensively potent team in the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in 5 games and shut down Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin; New Jersey, the  stingiest team in the NHL with 3 Stanley Cups, allowed 17 goals in 5 games against the Senators before being dispatched in 5 games; Ottawa beat the President Trophy winning Buffalo Sabres, whom had beaten Ottawa in three previous playoff series, in 5 games as well and seemed to send chills down the spines of sports writers and NHL executives who were sure that Ottawa would crumble under the pressure of such an offensively potent team.

Sun Tzu once said "never underestimate your opponent, no matter how weak he is and how strong you are". There are definate advantages to being the "gray man" when it comes to professional sports and the foremost advantage is there's no pressure on you to win because your expected to lose. Hence, expect a rejuvinated Ottawa team to work hard and make another strive towards winning lord stanley's cup. The way I see it, we've only just begun!