After now having sat through close to an hour of interviews on Sens TV from the first day of training camp, I think it's safe to say that there's an entirely new and upbeat atmosphere around this Ottawa team, despite no one in the hockey world believing they can achieve much of anything this year except battle for a lottery pick for six long months.
You can see it in the faces of guys like Nick Foligno, who of anyone maybe has the most to be worried about with all the new guys gunning for his job. Yet, like everyone else, Foligno seems genuinely convinced there are better times ahead. Erik Karlsson held court for reporters and smirked his way through a few light-hearted answers, looking bigger and more muscular than he has in his previous two seasons here.
Speaking of that, has anyone caught sight of Chris Neil yet? I don't think he's ever looked as lean and mean as he does this fall. Expect Neil to fully embrace his leadership role on this young team and be able to concentrate more on playing hockey now that Zenon Konopka is in town to share the role of policeman with Neil and Matt Carkner.
The sense I get is that these players are loose but focused, perhaps breathing a little easier now that they are out from under the weight of Cory Clouston and his very particular way of handling hockey players. You get the feeling that it's now possible for these guys to have fun again and enjoy the game. Like Daniel Alfredsson said in an interview today, there were a lot of negative feelings in that locker room the past three years and a fresh start with a new staff is exactly what they need right now.
Basically, the atmosphere is perfect for these players to go out and surprise everybody by winning games they shouldn't. We've seen many teams do that year after year when they were counted out. In recent years we've seen Colorado and Phoenix defy expectations. Why not Ottawa? To me, they are just as talented, if not more than when those teams broke out of their ruts (although the Avs fell right back in to one last season).
There's too much skill and leadership on this team to completely tank in the East. Sure, you could point to the Oilers last year and say they had all the skill in the world but they still struggled under lowered expectations.
But the Oilers didn't have veterans like Daniel Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil, guys who know what's required to win NHL games on a consistent basis.
In short, Bryan Murray didn't raze this team to the ground and go completely young. There's a balance here that has the potential to lift this team provided both the young and old play up to their abilities and they get a little lady luck along the way with injuries.
Besides, Alfie beat Karlsson in a tennis game the other day. Young punks have nothing on this guy yet.