Saturday, December 03, 2005

The 2005-06 Ottawa Senators
The best team ever?

Deadlines are a fact of life in journalism. A national newspaper like The Globe and Mail has even tighter deadlines than most publications, as the push to get a paper to doorsteps from Vancouver Island to Moose Jaw to Sackville, N.B., necessitates deadlines are often much earlier than you'd like.

Early deadlines, especially in the sports section, where games don't always end by 10 p.m. EST, often affect the paper's look and content.

Of course, I'm not offering anything new by saying this, but I merely offer this as a preface. In Friday's paper, The Globe's sports front asked the question: "Are the Sens the best ever?" and provided various fact packages to support the claim. Hockey reporter Tim Wharnsby penned the story based on interviews with Ottawa Senators GM John Muckler, a man who knows all about dominant NHL teams from his days with the Edmonton Oilers.

Sound interesting enough? It's at least a diversion from the regular, day-to-day game stories and wire copy that fill sports pages everywhere.

Does it matter, then, that the Senators lost 3-0 Thursday night to the Boston Bruins? Is asking the question somehow less valid when it comes the day after a team falls to a 19-4-0 record?

CBC Sports appears to think so.
On the very day that a feature article in The Globe and Mail asked whether the impressive Senators could be crowned the best ever, Ottawa will settle for a win of any kind when it hosts the Los Angeles Kings at Corel Centre.

The article was obviously prepared before all of the streaks the Senators were working on came to a screeching halt Thursday night as the Boston Bruins, playing their first game since the surprising trade of Joe Thornton, blanked Ottawa 3-0.

It's curious phrasing that which points out something implicitly stated within the article itself. "Before last night's games" appears at least a half a dozen times on the page, making it an obvious observation to say "obviously prepared" in a way that snidely implies the piece was somehow irrelevant the day it was published.

In one of the display items, The Globe projects the Senators full season record to be 71-11-0 for 142 points, the highest such point total ever recorded (the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens had 60 wins and 132 points). Following their Thursday night loss to the Bruins, Ottawa's 19-4 record projects to 68-14-0 and 136 points, four more than the record total.

Even coming off a loss, isn't it a fair question: Are the Sens the best ever? I think so.

Considering the CBC has offered Canadian hockey fans only one national broadcast of hockey's top team this season — and only then when they played the Maple Leafs — perhaps we'd best leave such analysis to those obviously preparing the next day's newspapers.

One of the throws on the sports front in question directs readers to my story on Western Mustangs receiver Andy Fantuz receiving the Hec Crighton Trophy as Canadian university football's outstanding player. Deadlines were a factor in the writing of the story.


At 9:14 a.m., December 03, 2005, Blogger MikeM said...

I agree that one loss doesn't make the question irrelevant, but I do think that it's way too early to be asking the question (and I say this as a Sens fan). It's a great start, but there's a lot of season left.

I won't even get started on the CBC treatment of the Sens. At least there have been a few more regional Sens broadcasts this year.

At 10:56 a.m., December 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about we wait until the season is over. It is way too early to call them the best ever. What if they only end up with 120 points? What if they end up with 140 points only to lose in the second round of the playoffs? It's way too early to even think about making such a claim. Oh, and we also have to factor in that a couple of their points came from the shootout wich would be ties in previous years.

At 11:16 a.m., December 03, 2005, Blogger James Mirtle said...

David, I'm talking about asking the question, not answering it. It sort of goes without saying that we don't know how good the team is until they play in the postseason.

At 12:23 p.m., December 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it's too early to answer it, it's too early to ask it. The only question you can ask is, have they had the best start in NHL history or have they had the best 24 game stretch in NHL history. Not until they win in the playoffs can you even ponder the idea that they might be the best team ever.

At 10:22 p.m., December 03, 2005, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Sports journalism would be pretty stagnant without posing interesting questions. This is just one of those.

It's not saying they are or they aren't the best team ever — merely that the numbers so far are up there with the greats.

At 11:21 a.m., December 04, 2005, Blogger The Puck Stops Here said...

Is it not more responsible to pose the question like this:

Who is the last team in the NHL to be as dominant as the Ottawa Seantors are now?

The only problem is that it is a less "sexy" question.

At 12:38 p.m., December 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you count Ottawa 2 shoot out wins as ties (since shootouts weren't counted in previous years) they are on pace for 130 points. Here are the top point totals since of the past 9 seasons.

2003-04 Detroit 109
2002-03 Ottawa 113
2001-02 Detroit 116
2000-01 Colorado 118
1999-00 St. Louis 114
1998-99 Dallas 114
1997-98 Dallas 109
1996-97 Colorado 107
1995-96 Detroit 131

The 1995-96 Detroit team is the last team that was as dominant as Ottawa has been so far this year.

Incidently, three of the above teams managed to win the Stanley Cup. Dallas in 1999, Colorado in 2002, and Detroit in 2003. Does that mean Ottawa has a 1 in 3 chance of winning the Cup? That might be a reasonable accurate probability.

At 3:36 p.m., December 04, 2005, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Asking if a team that's off to the best start since 1929-30 might be one of the best teams ever is irresponsible?

Now I've heard everything.

At 5:22 p.m., December 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I assume you were looking at me when you wrote that. I was trying to answer the question "Who is the last team in the NHL to be as dominant as the Ottawa Senators are now?", not whether they are the best team ever.

The last team to have a season like the Senators are having so far this year would be the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96. But you can't consider the Detroit Red Wings of 1995-96 the best team ever (in my mind anyway) because they didn't win the Stanley Cup, or even make it to the Stanley Cup. If they win the Stanley Cup, then we can start talking about best team ever.

If they end the season with 130+ points, and they win the Stanley Cup, then maybe, but in my mind it is very premature to even think about comparing them to the 1976-77 Montreal team who lost just 8 games all year (Ottawa's lost 4 already), finished with 132 points (in 80 games, not 82 and with no shoot outs) and was in the midst of a 4 year Stanley Cup run. Sorry, you just can't make that comparison after 24 games.

At 7:15 p.m., December 04, 2005, Blogger The Puck Stops Here said...

True dominance is playing at a top level for a long period of time. Ottawa has done it for two months. We can project that into the future but those projections are not worth much - its actually acheiving those projections that is meaningful.

Ottawa had a great couple months. Does that make them the most dominant team ever? Hardly.

Still I am willing to submit that they are more dominant than any team in 2003-04 or 2002-03. I'm not sold that they are yet ahead of the 2002 Red Wings.

At 8:12 p.m., December 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow James. I'm sure a lot of people are shaking their heads after reading this post.

Why you think it's responsible to ask this question thirty games into the season is beyond me. So many things could happen between, not only now and the end of the regular season, but now and the Stanley Cup finals, that even thinking about this question seems ridiculous.

At 9:43 p.m., December 04, 2005, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I think you had to have read the stat package to know what I'm talking about. 'Asking the question,' to me, just means comparing this team to what some of the great teams did early in seasons and over the course of the year. It's not literally saying they are better than the 1976-77 Canadiens — that's absurd.

It's about news judgment, and I'm saying it was a good question to ask, a good piece to run and a good story to read. It's more an exclaimation of 'want to know how good this team is?' than saying they've accomplished the feat. Obviously they haven't.

At 11:23 p.m., December 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...



At 12:32 a.m., December 06, 2005, Blogger The Hack said...

The only question that really needs to be asked:

At what point in the season does CBC start juggling HNIC choices to put more Sens games on nationally?

The Corp merits privatization just for putting so many boring Leafs games on.

(Toronto/San Jose really? When Pittsburg/Calgary was already bouncing off a satellite or two?)

At 3:20 p.m., December 08, 2005, Blogger alyosha mcbain said...

What was that loud popping sound? Oh, that's right--it was the sound of Dominik Hasek's groin tearing.

This team will not win the Stanley Cup without Hasek in net; I think it is highly unlikely that he will finish this season if he continues to play in 85% of Ottawa's games. He is about to turn 41 and has had chronic groin problems in the last 7-8 years. It's not the best combination.

Other than that, does anyone really think that this team can win four playoff series? I don't. They have the talent but they also have too many playoff underachievers like Alfredsson, Schaefer, Fisher, and Chara. You are really getting ahead of yourself, Mr. Mirtle, by even comparing this team to the great dynasties of eras past.

The Senators have made the playoffs eight times since their reconstitution; they have lost in the first round five times. They aren't the best anything until they stop choking in the playoffs.

At 3:42 p.m., December 08, 2005, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Heh, I think I should rename this post 'the happy-fun post of joy (where you can get your digs in on a G&M staffer)'.

All I'm saying is that the article we ran is worthwhile — although, surprise, Tom Benjamin disagrees — not that the Senators are the greatest team ever. Just saying the Senators are a 'good' or 'great' hockey team doesn't really quantify it. How good are they? How do they compare with the best-ever teams? Are they the best ever?

Even if the answer's no, we're asking some questions.

Ah, anyway, continue the downpour. I can take it.

At 11:56 p.m., December 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just think people are astonished that you think this is a legitimate question to ask 30 games into the season.

Sure it may be responsible, if by responsibility you mean: "I'm a journalist and it's my responsibility to build readership and sell papers", but I don't see how it could be seen as responsible in any other sense.

If you ask me, you can't even begin to ask questions like these until the team has won the Stanley Cup. How can they rank among the best teams ever if they weren't even the best team that season?

And if you think asking this question 30 games into the season is reasonable, then why not 20 games in? Heck, why not look at the team on paper before the season and start asking then?

At 2:18 p.m., December 12, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lousy media.


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