First place in the conference.
A group of fowards rivialing any team.
A group of defensemen most teams would kill for.
A balance of youth and experience needed to go far in the playoffs, and two goalies capable of being a number one guy.
Sounds like things are pretty good in Ottawa, doesn't it?
But all things are not well—not even close.
There is a growing rift between new coach John Paddock and the man who took the Sens to the Finals just six short months ago, Ray Emery. It's been a back-and-forth battle of wills and stubbornness that has lasted all season long.
Paddock, for his part, has publicly complained about Emery's practice work ethic. Emery has responded by admitting that perhaps he does need to work harder. Paddock has sent him home from practice...Emery has said he needs to get a new alarm clock. Ray has blown up at practice, but insisted that it was out of frustration at himself.
Can you blame Ray Emery for his frustration though? He takes the Senators to the Finals with an injured wrist, which he has surgically repaired during their short summer layoff. When training camp arrives, however, he is not ready to play and he doesn't even get a full game under his belt.
What is new coach John Paddock to do? Of course he must go with veteran Martin Gerber, who lost his job to Emery one season earlier.
The team gets off to a great start, Gerber included. Emery is cleared to return, but Paddock wants to stick with Gerber, which is understandable. If we've learned one thing over the years, it's to go with the hot hand in this league.
Finally, Coach Paddock gives Emery his first start. It is less than spectacular, so back to Gerber we go. In fact, Emery's first couple of appearances are less than stellar. "Let's trade Emery," and "Emery sucks," scream some of the unscruptulous writers and bandwagon fans, all the while forgetting one very important piece of information:
This is Emery's training camp—these are the games he was to get out of the way in September.
These are the games for Emergy to get his timing back. Riding the bench and doing drills in practice is not the same thing.
So we fast forward ahead a couple weeks, when Gerber starts to falter. This is the same man who has twice lost his starting job to a younger, and arguably better, goalie. He's not mentally tough nor is a leader—he's not someone who can carry a team through the stressful times.
So in steps Ray, full of swagger and confidence, who turns things around a little. He plays noticeably better than earlier in the season.
Then during warm ups one night, he feels something in his hip. He starts the game but is worried he may hurt something, so he pulls himself. Those same vultures jump back into the fray: "Ray quits on the team," "Ray didn't feel like playing."
After a couple days, Ray says he's good to go—but what does Paddock do? He sticks with his guy, Martin Gerber.
The trade rumours are now swirling...Emery will surely be traded, right?
Sure, if I'm a rival GM who smells blood in the water and has some cap room, I'd jump in with a lowball offer. Why not? But is GM Murray so anxious to make a bad move like that?
He has seen Gerber not be able to handle the stress, and he's seen Emery thrive on it. He's been around and watched goalies go down in the first round of the playoffs or earlier.
Besides: who do we have to back up Gerber if Ray is gone? Some good prospects, but nobody with any experience.
If I am GM Murray, there's one glaring, obvious piece of information staring me right in the face: there are a lot more good coaches out there than good goalies.
If it comes down to a "him or me" situation, the simple fact is that Murray can more easily replace John Paddock than Ray Emery. Emery is still just a kid with a ton of potential, while Paddock is just an average coach who hasn't lead an NHL team to anything of note.
Murray needs to sit both men down and clear the air—and that includes both Ray working harder and John Paddock using a fair rotation. If this happens, I have no doubt that come playoff time, it will be Ray Emery leading this team to their long awaited championship.