As the Senators return from the NHL's all-star break, Ray Emery saunters into a rink in Long Island four minutes late for practice. Coach John Paddock won't allow him on the ice. Since the club cannot suspend him, Emery is fined $25,000, which he donates to CHEO. Sun Media reports Emery was returning from Las Vegas and told club officials he went to the wrong rink. Says teammate Mike Fisher: "As teammates, there's not much we can do. It's disappointing. It's unacceptable for that to happen ... again. Hopefully he can learn from it."
After leading the Senators to a 15-2 start and coaching in the all-star game, John Paddock is fired and replaced by GM Bryan Murray. "It's always a surprise when a coach gets let go," says Jason Spezza. "We've been struggling, but as a team I don't think we thought it would come to the coach getting fired. It just shows the high standard we have in our dressing room, the city of Ottawa, and that our owner has." A few days later, Paddock admits he didn't handle the Emery situation "properly" and that cost him his job.
Coming off a horrible loss to the lowly L.A. Kings, the Senators arrive in Phoenix and face the grim reality they could miss the playoffs. Murray is 1-4 behind the bench. "I think we will make the playoffs," says captain Daniel Alfredsson. "It's been going on for a while where we haven't played our system as well as we can." A Florida victory in Raleigh on the final weekend of the season ensures Ottawa a playoff spot.
The Senators are knocked out of the playoffs in four straight games by Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. After being compared to some of the greatest teams in hockey history, the Senators are gone quickly -- a year after making the Stanley Cup final. Melnyk, Murray and club president Roy Mlakar meet the media a few days later to tell reporters a new coach will be hired and Emery is finished in Ottawa because the club has "character" issues that need to be addressed.
Murray tells Sun Media he will interview four or five candidates for the vacant coaching post. Included on the list: Former Atlanta coach Bob Hartley, Sault Ste. Marie coach Craig Hartsburg and Kitchener coach Peter DeBoer. "You have to have a person that's fairly strong," says Murray. "In that, they're not intimidated to bring players into their office and, in a fair way, have conversations and give them direction on how the game has to be played according to the system they put in. What we need is strong direction and then, if you've got good people in your organization, people will follow. The coach has to be willing to stand up for what he believes in."
The Senators hire Hartsburg as coach, and he promises to crack the whip: "Trust me, there will be accountability. It will be black and white. The players will know what's right and what's wrong and they'll know the line not to cross." The Senators buy Emery out of his contract and Brian McGrattan is dealt to Phoenix for a draft pick. The Senators choose Swedish defencemen Erik Karlsson with their No. 1 pick at the NHL draft in Ottawa.
The Senators say goodbye to Wade Redden. After twice refusing to waive his "no- movement" clause during the regular season, Redden leaves as a UFA when the Rangers give him an offer he can't refuse -- six years, $39 million. Murray is unable to get a puck-moving defenceman on the free-agent market when Brian Campbell signs with Chicago. The Senators sign backup G Alex Auld to challenge Martin Gerber for the No. 1 job, while pesky winger Jarrko Ruutu is added.
Unable to sign D Andrej Meszaros and fearful of a Group II offer, Murray sends him to the Lightning in exchange for D Filip Kuba and D Alex Picard, along with a No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL draft. Murray isn't happy. "I'm certainly satisfied with the deal at the end of the day, but I'm not happy with the way it came down," says Murray. "I'm not happy that they asked me for $4.5 (million) all the way through, they threatened an offer sheet ... the choice I had was: 'Do we overpay (to keep) this guy?' As much as it has been written he wanted to be in Ottawa, he didn't want to be in Ottawa."
The Senators wrap up training camp in Canada and Hartsburg reunites the top line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson before the team heads for Sweden. Says the coach: "How can you not like the line? We started camp and we said we wanted to split it up. We know what they can do together. At the end of the day, they can be one of the best lines in hockey if we keep them together."
After opening the season with a split against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Stockholm, the Senators sign Daniel Alfredsson to a four-year contract extension that assures the captain will finish his career in Ottawa. The deal is first reported by Sun Media. "My heart is in Ottawa," says Alfredsson. "Ottawa has really become my hometown." Alfredsson signs a $21.6-million extension with Melnyk and Murray on hand. "All those little kids with Alfredsson jerseys can keep them," says Melnyk.
With the Sens sitting at No. 14 in the East and coming off an ugly 3-2 loss to the Islanders, Hartsburg calls 1-on-1 meetings at the club's Manhattan hotel. Murray recalls D Brendan Bell to help the power play and admits there isn't much he can do to trade for a puck-mover. Hartsburg says he wants the players to wake up and start winning games. "It's not my job to threaten that there will be changes," says Hartsburg. "My job is to make sure these guys understand there's a certain way we have to play to make sure we have success."
Following a 5-4 overtime victory over the Dallas Stars, Melnyk tells the players he will be patient and he still believes in them. He says the team can still finish in the Top 4 in the East and tells reporters they'll be calling it "a miracle turnaround" in March when it happens. "To me, I know where we're going. We're going to grind out every game. But I can see those headlines come March, 'Big miracle turnaround,' and all of that," says Melnyk. "We don't need a miracle. We just need to go play, and we have the talent."