Webster's Dictionary defines "hope" as "cherishing a desire with anticipation."
And the same dictionary's definition of "expect" is to "anticipate the occurrence or the coming of with a high degree of certainty."
Now here's the question: Which description best suits the Senators for next season?
Some will automatically assume there's always been a high level of expectation as opposed to blind hope, and they'd be correct to a degree. After all, the Senators have been favoured to win the Cup on a regular basis -- particularly during the latter years of a decade-long playoff berth streak.
But after many an Ottawa post-season was cut short, the confidence in what seemed like a sure thing was supplanted by nagging doubt. Of course, a bold front always preceded such negativity, but Sens fans knew the truth -- they were driven by hope moreso than expectation.
END IN JOY
It was a hope the team could finally push through the mental and physical barriers, and proceed with a playoff experience that would end in joy as opposed to disappointment (and on a large level, embarrassment).
However, the past season brought a different thread of emotion -- uncertainty. For the first time in several years, the Sens were not considered Cup favourites, and no one was entirely sure how the team would respond after the departures of fan-favourites Zdeno Chara and Martin Havlat. But that didn't mean the expectation levels had dropped off within the city itself.
After a disastrous start last October, fans demonstrated their outrage in copious amounts previously unseen throughout the regular season. Yet eight months later, the Senators emerged at the unexpected result of arriving within three games of bringing the Cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993.
Ottawa fans had hoped for such a season, but few can claim with a straight face that they were expecting it, especially when the ambivalence seemed to linger through April and early May, despite the Sens' play. The cynics were waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Hope will always play a major part within any franchise, despite the season. The rosters of all 30 teams are perpetually in flux due to the league's salary cap, and if your team is on the cusp of ultimate achievement, one can only wish that their team would be able to a) retain its necessary pieces and b) find other supplementary building blocks that will make any transition appear seamless.
But after busting down all but one of the doors preventing them from attaining championship status, you're left to wonder if the Senators are fully prepared to deal with this new level of expectation, which will be burdened upon the core members in colossal amounts -- higher than 10 Everests, with leashes reined in to allow a single eyelash's width of leeway:
- Chris Phillips will be expected to fully recover from his Game 5 nightmare while incorporating more physicality into his repertoire -- an element still lacking on the Sens' blue line.
- Daniel Alfredsson will be expected to retain the same type of grit, power and determination that made him a convincing Conn Smythe candidate through three post-season rounds.
- Ray Emery will be expected to bring his game to a higher level of consistency -- one that can steal games for his team, for only then will he silence his naysayers.
- Both Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley must realize that their probationary periods during critical moments are long over. To win it all, you've got to be clutch as well as trustworthy with the puck.
You can hope the Senators will be fortunate enough to make it back to the Stanley Cup final, but after this season's near-brush with greatness, we know that everyone expects nothing less than complete success from now on -- regardless of initial appearance or assumptions.