Good News Is The Sens Win The Loonie League. Bad News Is They Suck Like The Other Canadian NHL Teams
There is good news and bad news for the Ottawa Senators. The good news is they are the 2015-16 winners of the Loonie League, the competition between Canadian clubs in the NHL.
The bad news is they did it by finishing a mediocre 19th overall in the NHL standings. That’s right. Not only did all seven Canadian teams collapse like the NDP vote in the 2015 federal election, the best the Loonie champs could mange was finishing eight points back of the final playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
As the season mercifully ended this weekend the teams in the most hockey obsessed nation in the world are huddled for warmth at the bottom of the standings. For some it’s an epic collapse, for others the lottery-pick position is pretty much what was expected when we introduced the Loonie League last October.
We’ll have the individual narratives for the seven clubs below. But for now, let’s just say it’s hard to look at these seven and see an ETA for success. Several have plans but no players. Some have players but no apparent plan. In real business there’d be For Sale signs on the office window. This being Gary Bettman’s league of socialist splendor, however, most of them will be rewarded for the abject incompetence with a top prospect. As they say, if you want more welfare cases, just keep giving out welfare.
1. Ottawa: 85 pts. We missed the Sens crowding around the Eddie Litzenberger Trophy, symbolic of Loonie League supremacy, after scuttling Boston’s postseason’s hopes on Saturday. May have something to do with the comedown from last year’s miracle run to the playoffs that promised more. The answer to the Sens’ swoon lies in the 247 goals they surrendered—55 more than Washington and third worst in the NHL. And these weren’t cheapie goals allowed at the end of a lost season. The Sens got better after acquiring Dion Phaneuf in February.
The offence is led by promising young players who need to commit to the defensive side of the game. A goaltending fix would seem the obvious antidote here. Ailing Bryan Murray is taking a less active role next year, so it falls to Pierre Dorion to put the Sens back on track. Unfortunately they won’t get one of the elite draft picks this season, which will make mercurial owner Eugene Melnyk even more irascible.
2. Montreal 82 pts. The Habs became the NHL’s Chernobyl this season, melting down after a great start to finish out of the playoffs. The acceptable answer is that Carey Price’s absence doomed the Canadiens. The reality is that missing Price revealed the team to be thinner than Celine Dion’s wrist. How crazy is it? Ownership is backing GM Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien while star defenceman P.K. Subban is reportedly on the trading block. Yikes. Getting Price back helps, but developing depth is the real need.
Luring players to Quebec’s high-tax, French-dominant market is another drawback. So is Price's unpredictable health. Montreal is going to get worse before it gets better.
3. Winnipeg 78 pts. The Jets knew it was going to be a trial in the Central Division, and it was. Winnipeg got smoked, particularly on the defensive side. The Jets bounced back at year’s end to ruin their shot at Auston Matthews, but they have some excellent young pieces. Their cap situation is manageable after saying bye to Andrew Ladd, but they need to create a winning tradition in Manitoba if they want to keep their young players and attract outsiders to the Peg. The parts are there, but building confidence while getting stomped in the Central will be tough.
4. Calgary 77 pts. When the Flames started the season we thought they’d be the Loonie League champs— in large part due to their defence. So naturally the Flames gave up the most goals in the entire NHL. Everything that went right in the hot finish of 2015 went wrong this season. The young guns such as Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan kept scoring, but the funky goals against were more than the goalie failure in Calgary. Dougie Hamilton took a very long time settling in after coming from Boston. There were discipline issues, and now the big gulp as the Flames must reward their top three— Gaudreau, Monahan and Sam Bennett— with monster deals in the next year-plus. There’s a lot to like about their future, but coach Bob Hartley will be expected to re-establish the team’s reputation as a tough out— or he’ll be out.
5. Vancouver 75 pts. The Canucks were a team in transition this year— an transition that should have begun two seasons ago. The Sedin twins remain a joy to watch, there are some young talents who show promise and the Nucks could get a very good young player at the top of the draft. Jacob Markstrom could almost replace Eddie Lack. But ownership and management seem out of their depth, messing up contracts, over-valuing marginal talents and losing the city. There’s a long way to go before the Nucks repeat anything like the 2009-2012 run.
6. Edmonton 70 pts. First comes tragedy, then comes farce. The Oilers have the brilliant Conor McDavid, but yet another collapse from a lineup replete with No. 1 draft picks has shaken Edmonton fans yet again. Where’s the leadership in the dressing room? The management team of Bob Nicholson, Peter Chiarlelli and Todd McLellan is proven, so they know they need to clean house of entitled players whom previous management coddled. There will be another glittering draft pick, but a few stud defencemen would be a better outcome of this tire fire. Maybe the new arena will remove the curse of the unapproachable ‘80s team.
7. Toronto 69 pts. We said they’d be last in the Loonie, and they didn’t disappoint. Under new coach Mike Babcock the Maple Leafs were more focussed and showed some moxie. Most nights they were inadequate but not awful. There’s a top draft pick joining William Nylander and Mitch Marner, but Toronto is at least a half dozen top players away. With a management team headed by Lou Lamoriello they have people who will make hard decisions. Does Steve Stamkos buy in this summer when they still a ways off? Pray the Raptors stay interesting.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).