May 15, 2006
Time for Sens to run a Muck
By DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun
It was a clip that aptly captured the moment, then a series and now sums up the general mood of a city.
Caught by cameras on his perch at HSBC Arena right after J.P. Dumont's overtime goal in Game 3, John Muckler grimaced and shook his hands by his head, like he was about to either yank that white hair out by its roots or go crazy with frustration.
Not known is whether he found most upsetting the defensive coverage, the goaltending or the fact his team was in such a delicate position. Maybe it was simple realization that the knuckle puck off Dumont's stick virtually sealed the Senators' fate. By rights, it should also go down as the shot that got Muckler, ending his tenure as Ottawa's sixth GM.
It's unlikely to happen, of course, as this is a team that generally gives a guy miles of extra rope to hang himself. Right, Jacques? But if somebody is to take the fall for the Senators' most recent collapse and the severe disappointment of their fans after another early playoff exit -- as somebody surely should -- then why not at least start with the man who boldly stated from the outset that anything short of a Stanley Cup would be a failure?
LET THEM DOWN AGAIN
When the Senators needed Muckler to come up big, he let them down. Again.
Assuming he had the green light and cap room to make the necessary trades, Muckler's negligence at the deal deadline was inexcusable. Or, just as bad as it's been every year he's been in charge.
This past March, his coup was Tyler Arnason, who was supposed to help with the offence, but managed just four assists and no goals in 19 regular-season games, then was a healthy scratch in the playoffs.
In 2003-04 it was Peter Bondra, who had zero goals and zero assists during a seven-game first-round loss to the Maple Leafs.
In 2002-03 it was Bryan Smolinski, who has scored only six times in 35 post-season games as a Senator.
Three strikes and he should be out. But Muckler's greatest downfall has to be the trade he didn't make.
When Dominik Hasek suffered an injury "three inches" from the location of a groin problem that caused him to quit in 2003-04, Muckler couldn't imagine his star goalie was done for the season. He went to great lengths to dispute such a notion.
HASEK A QUITTER?
Hasek? Quit on a team? Don't be crazy. Forget that he did it twice before, once on Muckler's Sabres. Couldn't possibly happen again, could it John?
As it turns out, The Dominator shocked the world and pulled the chute once more, leaving rookie Ray Emery hung out to dry.
Muckler does warrant credit claiming Mike Morrison off waivers. And so impressed was the coaching staff with that move that there was zero consideration of putting him in when Emery was having a bad night in Game 1 vs. the Sabres.
This isn't to blame the early off-season on Emery. He stole Game 4 in Buffalo and generally played well throughout the series, with the exception of the opener.
But there might be something to the theory that the usually dependable Ottawa defence was making uncommon errors because of a nervousness after the Sabres scored seven.
At any rate, Muckler should have brought in a proven veteran for insurance. Dwayne Roloson cost the Edmonton Oilers a first-round pick and a conditional third-rounder -- which isn't so bad when you consider Muckler gave up a second and Brandon Bochenski to get Arnason.
Roloson may wind up bringing the Oilers a Stanley Cup.
The Senators could turn to assistant GM Peter Chiarelli to be Muckler's replacement, but that would be giving the top job to a rookie, and at the stage this team is at that might not be the wisest move.
Better they add to Bryan Murray's role with the dual responsibilities.
For proof that Murray can build a winner, just look to the West. As GM of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, his fingerprints are all over what might currently be the best team in the NHL.
And anybody that can trade Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha for Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen -- as Murray did when he was in charge of the Florida Panthers -- must have a pretty good feel for when to pull a trigger.
The Senators are going to need some of that magic this summer, both in shuffling the deck and keeping a grip on the cards they want to keep.
An inability to make a move may have cost them the one crack they had at the Stanley Cup; right now it's hard to imagine them entering 2006-07 with the same chances they had to win it all this season.
Meanwhile, in putting all his eggs in Dominik Hasek's basket, Muckler wound up with a face full of yoke. Now it's best he follow his golden boy into retirement.