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Duthie: History of poor goaltending choices cost Sens

James Duthie
4/22/2008 9:46:35 AM
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Now that everyone from that lame Gladiator (I've seen better acting on my "Best of Dolph Lundgren" Box Set) to the mural installer (well, he had the hand-shaking part right) has been blamed for the Ottawa Senators' demise, let's get back to real issue:  the net.

No, Martin Gerber didn't cost the Senators the series against Pittsburgh.  Not even close.  Ray Emery didn't cost them the final last year against Anaheim, either. 

They've never been the only reason Ottawa has lost.  But here's the rub:  they've never been the only reason Ottawa has won.

Oh sure, there's some regular season games you could dig up where one of them stood on his head, but almost every NHL goalie gets freakishly hot on occasion.  Brian Boucher once had five shutouts in a row.  Nuff said. 

To make a team truly great, you need a goalie who will single-handedly steal you a game once-in-a-while in the playoffs.  Someone to inspire, instead of deflate.  Someone to make that ridiculous somersaulting, momentum-turning, spill-your-beer-on-your-lap, series-saving stop.  (Then not let in a softie three minutes later.)

Emery and Gerber are what every Senators goalie in the modern history of this franchise has been:  Average.  Decent.  Pedestrian.  And if you are a fan of this team, those are swear words, every one.

Say what you want about trade deadline failures, defensive lapses, and Heatley and Spezza's face-on-the-milk carton performances.  The tragic flaw of this franchise is, and always has been, the absence of a Cup-caliber goalie.

If the window has closed on this "core", if this is somehow the end of a decade-long run of parade-possible teams who just couldn't finish, that with be the epitaph: 

OTTAWA SENATORS 1997-2008.  GOOD TEAM.  NEEDED A GOALIE.

The last tender I recall stealing games at clutch times was Ron Tugnutt, the first year they made the playoffs.   And I had to think about it for a while.  When the best money-goalie your memory can come up with is a journeyman who was roughly the size of Gandhi, you have issues.

Sure, Patrick Lalime was far better than the giggle-lines most writers and broadcasters use him for (I plead guilty).  His career playoff goal against (1.77) is still among the best in NHL history.  But all those horrific goals at the worst of times have forever branded him as Ottawa's Buckner.

The saddest short story ever written for Sens fans can be found on page 179 of the team media guide.  It's the list labeled "All-Time Roster:  Goaltenders/Gardiens de But" (or as my buddy Brad translates it:  butt-gardeners). WARNING:  if you're a weeper, grab a tissue.  Or a towel. 

It reads:  Mike Bales, Tom Barrasso (10 years too late), Don Beaupre, Daniel Berthiaume, Craig Billington, Emery, Mike Fountain, Gerber, Dominek Hasek (wonky groin edition), Jani Hurme, Mark Laforest, Simon Lajeunesse, Lalime, Darrin Madeley, Mike Morrison, Martin Prusek, Damian Rhodes, Peter Sidorkiwicz, Tugnutt, Steve Weeks.

Yowsa.  For full effect, the reading of that list really should be accompanied by a bugler playing Taps.

The Senators have long been praised for their solid drafting.  But amidst all the good forward and defensive finds, not a single keeper who's been a…well…keeper. You'd think in 15 seasons, they might have stumbled onto one masked stud.  Even by mistake.  Nope. 

And consider the ones who have slipped away.  Let's play every Senator fan's (and scout's) least-favourite game show:  WHO YOU COULDA HAD!  

In 1994, your Ottawa Senators selected goalie Bryan Masotta 81st overall.  Okay Bob, tell them "Who You Coulda Had!" 

Deep-voiced Announcer Guy: "You coulda had…Marty Turco, 43 spots later!  But wait, it gets better!  Your Senators also chose Frederic Cassivi in the 9th round, just before Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun, and Evgeni Nabokov!"

Ouch.  Allrighty, round two.  In 1999, you selected the legendary Simon Lajeunesse in the 2nd round, 48th overall.  Bob?

"You coulda had ... Ryan Miller ... 90 picks later!"

And now the brain-teasing bonus round.  In 1998, you drafted MathieuChouinard.  After failing to sign him, you drafted him again in 2000, 45th overall!  Bob?

"Yes, James, for a guy you drafted twice and never played a single game for you, You coulda had…one hundred and fifty-five spots later ... Henrik Lundquist!  Sorry, you lose.  Again!  Next time on WHO YOU COULDA HAD, we revisit 1993, the year the Senators drafted can't miss goalie-prospect, Toby Kvalevog!  Goodnight everybody!"

By the way, that Mathieu Chouinard double-Doh! It's officially number two on the all-time Ottawa sports draft follies, just behind the Rough Riders drafting the dead guy.

Of course, it's not just the draft.  There have been franchise goalies available through trades and and free agency, but Ottawa has always struck out.

John Muckler kicked tires on Roberto Luongo just before he was dealt to the Canucks. Mike Keenan, then the Panthers GM, says they talked about a deal (Emery, Antoine Vermette, a defenseman, and a draft pick was one possibility), but he could never get Muckler to get serious.

"I told John make me a firm offer," Keenan says.  "But he never did."  So Keenan traded Luongo to the Canucks. 

So here we are. A full decade as a contender, and the Senators still search for that one goalie they can pencil in for the next six seasons.  The guy who would make the D play with confidence and creativity, instead of sheer terror.  The guy who would help the scorers relax because they know they don't need four or five to win every night. 

I know. There is only a handful of those around.  But the one black mark on this franchise remains its failure to find one.  

From The Ottawa Citizen

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