There being so many elephants in the room now, the Ottawa Senators could only fit four players in Tuesday morning when it came time to face the media.
And none of the four, tellingly, had been part of the infamous Uber ride.
Everyone with the slightest interest in the game knows the story by now: A bunch of young Senators grabbed an Uber in Phoenix while on their most recent trip and the dashboard security camera caught them slagging their own team and ridiculing one of the assistant coaches.
“Marty Raymond,” assistant captain Matt Duchene sneers, “the only coach in NHL history to have the worst power play and the worst PK within a calendar year.”
Well, technically, the Senators don’t have the worst penalty-kill (PK) in the league – they’re second worst, behind the Florida Panthers – but it’s been pretty pathetic since Raymond was reassigned last winter from running the power play, which was truly pathetic.
The players – Duchene, Chris Wideman, Thomas Chabot, Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo and Alex Formenton – impersonate their coach and laugh at his teaching methods. “I haven’t paid attention in three weeks,” Duchene says.
The Uber driver, or someone, clearly notified the Senators of the existence of the video prior to its being posted online on Monday. It was later taken down – but by then, of course, it was too late.
On a day on which the real world was talking about the possibility of alien spacecraft and America’s midterm elections, the hockey world was talking about little more than the continuing sorry saga of the Ottawa Senators.
Take a deep breath now: falling in a single season from a Game 7 double-overtime goal of reaching the Stanley Cup finals to 30th place … two fired presidents in a year … owner Eugene Melnyk threatening to move his team if fans don’t buy tickets … fans putting up billboards begging Melnyk to go ... beloved former captain Daniel Alfredsson leaving the front office in disenchantment … an assistant general manager arrested in Buffalo on harassment charges and later resigning … the wife of captain Erik Karlsson filing for an order of protection against the girlfriend of star scorer Mike Hoffman, alleging a covert cyberbullying campaign against the captain and the Karlssons’ stillborn child … Hoffman being dealt to another team to ease the tensions and then Karlsson leaving town in a deal that cranked the tensions right back up.
Breathe in now. There’s more, but, really, who needs it?
“The hits keep coming, I guess,” said Mark Borowiecki, one of the four players who faced the microphones. "But such is life.”
Such is life these days as an Ottawa Senator – just when you think it couldn’t get worse, it does ... but then again, maybe not.
Yes, the young Senators – Chabot is 21, Formenton is 19 and has been returned to his junior team – were naive and were sucker-punched by a cab driver of dubious intent. There are all sorts of ethical, perhaps even legal, questions to be raised by the decision to post the video, but none of that can erase the fact that they said what they said.
And yet, in a year in which the entire organization has appeared a cartoon, they come across as human – young men saying foolish things they would later regret and for which they were quick to apologize. Who among us could withstand public scrutiny of the slop that comes out of most of our mouths in a casual discussion of the workplace?
“People are naive if they think players don’t talk about coaches and coaches don’t talk about players,” Borowiecki said.
“Thank God they did not have hidden cameras in cabs when I played!” former Philadelphia Flyer Chris Therien tweeted.
All over social media there was instant sympathy and empathy for the players – something that has been on short order in Ottawa for more than a year. Elliotte Friedman, the Hockey Night in Canada analyst, declared “the invasion of privacy is disgusting.” A great many agreed with him.
The media strategy of the Senators was obvious the day after the video appeared and then disappeared. Only veteran players who were not involved spoke. Head coach Guy Boucher said he would only entertain “hockey questions” before allowing himself a personal moment to say that his assistant coach is “probably the best human being I know.”
By morning’s end, the only elephant in the room still standing was Duchene, the oldest, at 27, of the seven players crammed into the SUV. He is an assistant captain on a team with no captain named and considered, along with fellow assistant captain Mark Stone, the team’s leadership.
Coincidentally, precisely one year before the Uber video surfaced, Duchene came to Ottawa in a complicated trade for popular centre Kyle Turris, as well as the Senators’ 2017 first-round pick and another first-round selection in either 2018 or 2019 (it will be 2019, as the Senators chose to grab prospect Brady Tkachuk in the June draft).
The thinking at the time was that the Senators, having nearly reached the final the previous spring, were a team on the rise. Duchene had even asked for a trade, saying his goal was to play for a contender – as he put it, “be part of a long playoff run.”
Well, the future is indeed now and it holds no Stanley Cup in the foreseeable future. Duchene, who makes US$6-million a year, is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer if the Senators fail to sign him to a long-term contract. Presumably, he still wants to be part of a playoff run and the Senators have made it clear they are just beginning to rebuild after losing Karlsson and Hoffman.
Does Duchene really want to be in Ottawa? Do the Senators really want to reward a player who admittedly – even if he thought privately – has tuned out at least one of the coaches?
That knock at the dressing room door may simply be tomorrow’s elephant.