Monday, April 03, 2006

Clearing the air

Saturday afternoon, John Muckler and Dominik Hasek expressed great anger at Don Brennan’s Ottawa Sun article claiming that inside sources had told him Hasek was out for the season, and both he and the team knew it. They vehemently denied it, and the whole thing has become a bit of a mess.

So let’s try to clear it up. Here’s what we know:

1. Dominik Hasek’s injury is MUCH worse than originally thought.
This goes without saying, I know, but it’s worth repeating. Back when he came back to Ottawa from Turin and the team held that now somewhat laughable press conference, they said it was a short term, 7 to 10 day thing. It’s now been nearly 7 weeks.

2. He thinks he will be back.
Hasek came back this season for two reasons: to win another Cup and to restore his tarnished reputation in the aftermath of the goaltending soap opera in Detroit. And so, if he truly did know he was not coming back this season, I think he would not stick around, pretend he was still in the mix, and undergo extensive therapy.

3. It’s a long shot he’ll be back before the playoffs start.
If you don’t think this is the case, you’re kidding yourself. What reason is there to believe that he will? Zero that I can see. If he’s made this little progress in almost 7 weeks, what reason is there to think he’ll be back to be game ready in 3 weeks? He can’t even skate with pads. Skate. Nevermind taking shots. Whenever he decides he is ready to take said shots, you think they’ll also want him to practice for about a week. The only way I see it happening is if Hasek suddenly wakes up one morning feeling cured, but with a 41-year-old goalie who has a history of problems in this area of his body, hoping for that isn’t very logical.

Now that we know all this, what does it mean? To me, it means that the starting goaltender job of the Ottawa Senators, for the remainder of the year including the playoffs, is Ray Emery’s to lose. He is now this team’s number one goalie.

There’s no disputing that his play has warranted this assertion. He’s come in under great pressure and performed beyond admirably. Some games better than others, sure, but I feel a whole lot better about his ability to step in and perform than I did two months ago. He tied a 32-year-old NHL record and will probably win the league’s defensive player of the month award for March on Monday.

The contention that Hasek will slide back into the starting job whenever he gets healthy, assuming he ever does, is, I think, a wrong one. If he won’t be ready until the second round of the playoffs, and that is what I believe to be the case, then by then, the team will be rolling.

If they win the first round without Hasek (and Chris Phillips and probably Zdeno Chara and/or Martin Havlat), then Emery will have likely played pretty well, and at the very least have some momentum going for him, and so to take him out because the great Dominik Hasek says he’s ready seems quite misguided to me.

I suspect this won’t sit well with Hasek, who seems to have a sort of sense of entitlement regarding his role on a team. He’s a Hall of Fame goalie who’s one of the most of this generation, so he has every right to have that ego, but ultimately, who cares. Nobody told him to go to the Olympics, and I believe the team even informally asked him not to, and yet he did anyway, got hurt, and put the team in this predicament. To think he should be inserted right back in is foolish.

So Ray Emery’s the guy? I feel okay about that, but I know a lot of you don’t. You have visions of Patrick Lalime dancing in your head. That’s fair. The comparison has certainly been made by some, and on a few nights, it’s a reasonable one. Like Lalime, his numbers are good and he makes the saves, but something doesn’t seem right. He sometimes looks. The difference, however, that I see is confidence. Lalime had little, while Emery has lots.

Still, I could understand why some of you are less than thrilled at the prospect of this team’s Stanley Cup hopes riding on the back of a goalie with no playoff experience. Fortunately, just about every other team in the Eastern Conference is in the same boat. Martin Gerber for Carolina, Ryan Miller (and plan B Martin Biron) for Buffalo, Antero Nittymaki for Philadelphia, Henrik Tellqvist for the NY Rangers, and Cristobol Huet for Montreal all have the exact number of NHL playoff games under their belt as Ray Emery: 0. The two teams with goalies who have some playoff pedigree, the Devils and Lightning, aren’t legitimate threats from where I sit.

What differentiates Ottawa from every one of those teams with green playoff goalies, however, is that the Sens have a legend with a Cup ring and tons of big game experience to fall back on should Emery falter. If he plays poorly, by all means, tap Hasek on the back and give him the job. But until that happens, I’m putting my chips on #1 and letting it ride.

5 Comments:

At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Rob Webe said...

Thanks for this, Chris.
I've been trying to find some straight scoop on all the injured Senators, where they're at and when they're coming back, if at all. Pisses me off that the team's not telling the fans the truth.
-Rob

 
At 7:54 PM, Blogger The Universal Cynic said...

Excellent post.

Unless Ray is facing 40+ shots a night, and shuts down a team four-and-out (with maybe a shutout thrown in for good measure), I can't see how Hasek wouldn't take over the moment he's ready to do so. Experience reigns supreme. I don't know about you, but I'd like to be on that list of teams with experienced playoff goaltenders -- ahead of any facetious mention of Gerber, and unforunately behind the towering aura of Brodeur, of course.

We still don't know which "season" this affects. We can assume, but look how much trouble the lack of specifics have caused already?

 
At 10:24 AM, Anonymous Peter said...

Agreed Rob, the NHL teams are cheating their fans. They should be required to announce all their injuries properly like in the NFL (probable, questionable, out etc...) All this upper-body, lower-body and now MID-BODY injury is just ridiculous.

 
At 4:12 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

All this upper-body, lower-body and now MID-BODY injury is just ridiculous.

Get ready to be even more frustrated in a few weeks then, because that's all the info we get in the playoffs.

The Citizen printed a funny Jacques Martin story on the matter from a few years back. He was asked if Karel Rachunek was hurt. He answered "We'll decide if Karel is injured at game time." Says it all.

 
At 4:13 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Erin,

To me, you have to ride a hot goalie, and right now that's Emery. He may not be sizzling hot, but he's getting the job done, and so if he wins them a round, I just can't see putting Hasek right back in just like that. And if this upsets Dominik, so be it. Not like he's going to be back next year anyway.

 

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