It’s moron time in Ottawa.
And by moron time, I mean the annual week after the Senators are eliminated when the city’s vocal group of reactionary fans start calling for massive changes, facts or rational thought be damned.
And we won’t let rational thought get in the way of a good radio show. The epicenter of reactionism is dependably the Team 1200 year end post-mortem show that usually goes all night long after the last game where callers manic rants have become the stuff of legend in this city.
The next, and most permanent stop is the mid-day show, "Sportscall", and today’s first summer-time edition was no disappointment as the hosts were doing their best Lowell Green or Rush Limbaugh imitations, poking the hornet’s nest of the lowest common denominator fan by espousing the most reactionary moves Bryan Murray could possibly do – letting Anton Volchenkov walk, trading Jason Spezza and the need to “go in a more clear direction”, whatever that means.
In their defense, the hosts of "Sportscall" probably feel they have to push topics that get people’s blood boiling in order to generate interest in what they’re doing. Sometimes I do the same thing here at Black Aces. If I sit on the fence, people don’t read as much. If I really come down hard on one side of an argument, the readership gets more interested, even though they might (and usually do) disagree. I realize that’s how sports radio and blogging sometimes works.
Yet one only has to take a listen to the afternoon “Healthy Scratches” show where the hosts are far less negative and inflammatory than the "Sportscall" guys and still manage to be a more interesting and informative show – by far, I might add. Steve Lloyd and Jason York can be critical too but do so without relying on clichés and the fans who call in seem to be more knowledgeable because they know that a simple “Spezza sucks” rant is not going to pass the smell test with these guys. Go figure.
Suprisingly, the fans weren’t gripping as hard today as they have in years past. There was the usual Spezza backlash as I predicted not long ago, but quite a few callers and e-mailers over the course of the day seemed to grasp reality and expressed patience going forward, and even a little gratitude for what was a short but exciting season where the Senators largely turned around their recent reputation as an underachieving, fractious group of ego laden stars.
The real fans at the game recognized as much, because they gave the team a heartfelt standing ovation at the end of the hard fought loss to the superior Penguins. How many of those same fans sat through "Sportscall" on Monday and suddenly turned into bitter dimwits is anyone’s guess, but it was at least nice to hear a few rebel voices in the darkness talking about the positives.
Because in this town, being positive about your hockey team makes you Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” – a true loner.
It was interesting to note Bryan Murray’s revealing comments today as outlined by Citizen reporter James Gordon.
He really seemed to leave the door open to letting Volchenkov walk and test the free-agent market. I still don’t (or refuse to?) believe he will let Volchenkov get away from him, but I’m not as truly convinced as I once was after the comments in the Gordon piece by Murray. Are these just fighting words used for contract negotiations or is this a trial balloon being floated by Murray to gauge how fans will really react to losing their best defenseman. After all, most hockey people still shake their heads at the decision to let Zdeno Chara walk. It won't be much different in Volchenkov's case, yet ... here we go again.
I think it would be a horrendous mistake to let the Russian warrior leave this city, but there’s no reason to get really worked up about it now in late April, as July 1st is a long ways away and so much can change between now and then. A lot of other contracts could and should be juggled around to keep Volchenkov in Ottawa if that’s what it takes. He’s the best at what he does. That’s exactly the type of player you need to keep. One Volchenkov is worth three average players and the pay is probably equal in either scenario.
To quote Quint from the best movie ever made, Jaws: "But you've gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap .... be on welfare the whole winter."
The other big issue was, of course, Jason Spezza and the ongoing backlash that seems to target him everytime something goes wrong in this city, whether it's politics, sports or the weather.
Murray summed it up quite nicely here and I think it’s spot on:
"When you're playing against a Sidney Crosby or an (Evgeni) Malkin, two of the top players in the league, you're judged accordingly," Murray said. "Right now, Jason turns the puck over, we all point the finger, but when he makes a great pass to Matt Cullen on a five-on-three for a goal, we love him.
"So he is what he is. You accept it," Murray said. "We hope that as he continues to play this game that he'll do little things a little different and better, but he's a good player, and you don't go find that kind of player very often in the National Hockey League."
Murray is right.
You can trade Spezza but you better get a number one centre in return, or you have zero chance of doing anything in this league. ZERO.
And the only number one centre you can get in return for Spezza is going to be one who has all sorts of baggage or doubts surrounding him – in essence, someone else’s problem.
Spezza was great this year when he was healthy and has the ability to put up 100 points in this league. He’s a cornerstone whether you like it or not. He doesn’t have to be the next Daniel Alfredsson like so many erroneously claim. He just needs to be Jason Spezza. He needs to be the player he was when he was healthy this season. He’s a huge reason this team made the playoffs in the first place.