On Sunday, the Ottawa Senators will end this season just as they did in 2013 — with the final horn sounding at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
But in just about every other way, this year will end on a much more sour note for the organization.
The Senators play their 82nd and final game against the Penguins, the last of a set of meaningless games to end their year.
No playoffs, no upsets, no positive surprises. Instead, inconsistency and a failure to meet expectations, leaving many unanswered questions for this Senators team.
There weren’t many changes, but the gravity of one change made such a big difference. That would be leadership.
Let’s not pile it on Jason Spezza. You have to acknowledge when a franchise relies so heavily on the leadership of one man for 13 seasons, how does it adjust when that man leaves?
There was a different leadership style in the Senators’ locker room this year. Jason Spezza, Chris Neil and Chris Phillips used to be the supporting cast on this team. Now they make up the engine.
The thing is, former captain Daniel Alfredsson led by example, while Spezza takes on a larger leadership role in the locker room.
Is it possible his teammates didn’t adjust well to the new style?
When Alfredsson struggled, the Senators struggled. The same could be said for this year’s team when Spezza floundered and his play had a much larger impact on his teammates than in year’s past. His defensive play, especially.
Leadership needs to improve on the ice
Spezza has to realize that and set the tone for two-way, puck-possession hockey, the way his coach envisions. Neil also needs to prevent those ill-timed penalties.
For Spezza, being a “Ra-Ra” guy is one thing, but carrying that baton when you step on the ice is quite different. This year was quite the learning experience for him, and it’s quite understandable.
Teams go through years of transition when they make major changes. Sometimes it’s expected, other times not.
But when Spezza, Phillips and Neil sit down with management and the coaching staff, the feedback will be quite thorough.
Neil and Phillips are under contract for two more years, while Spezza is entering his contract year. So we could soon be looking at a whole new leadership group.
If next year will be different, though, Spezza will need to change the way he leads, but let’s not call for his head.
It’s worth giving him at least another year. Just look at Ales Hemsky’s comments when he arrived. Spezza can attract skilled players and this team hopes they can convince Hemsky to stay.
That’s a fresh reminder to the Senators. They have a man who, despite his struggles, has still scored almost a point per game this year. Those players don’t grow on trees.