With their elimination from the playoffs, the Ottawa Senators and goaltender Ray Emery had a chance on Thursday to reflect on what went wrong with their once promising season.
Many are laying the blame squarely at the feet of Emery, claiming his various antics during the season became an unnecessary distraction for the team, de-railing what could have been another extended playoff run.
"I don't take responsibilty for the team losing in the playoffs I can tell you that much," Emery told reporters Thursday as the team cleaned out their lockers.
The Cayuga, Ontario native discussed his disappointing year at lengths with reporters, touching on what has been a very tumultuous season. Although Emery admitted he did not perform up to standards this year, he said he would not be the fall guy for the team.
"Yeah it was a really bad year for me," said Emery. "The worst year I've had - on and off the ice - it just wasn't enjoyable at all. I learned a lot of things but that's about it - not too many positives."
After signing a $9.5 million contract in the off-season that followed a trip to the Stanley Cup finals last year, Emery became a lightning rod for criticism in the nation's capital. He was late for practice on a couple of occasions, including a well publicized episode following the All-Star break. When he did show up on time, his work ethic was questioned by then-coach John Paddock, who was fired at the end of February.
"I was just like a time bomb," Emery said Thursday, noting that GM Bryan Murray probably would have fired Emery along with Paddock if it was possible.
Emery admitted to reporters that he was unhappy about not playing, but believes he had earned the number one spot between the pipes for the Sens.
"I wasn't playing as much as I wanted to and they (management) we coming at me, upset with me - I was pissed off," said Emery. "I thought, you take a team to the finals you're the guy until you're bad enough not to be the guy kind of thing, and I shouldn't have treated it that way. I've worked for everything I've gotten in my life and I should have just worked to get back there. I approached it the wrong way."
With the team's early playoff exit, changes are likely on the way in Ottawa. The 25-year old Emery is unsure of the direction the Senators will take in the off-season, but he would like to remain in Ottawa.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen. That's the team's decision," Emery said. "I really like playing here. I like the guys on the team. I know it's been a negative situation for most of this year."
Despite reports of locker room rifts and internal strife, Emery still believes that he can remain a part of the team and that any negativity in terms of the team's chemistry was pure fabrication by the media.
"Anything I saw that said, 'oh the goalie is a cancer, the goalie is a cancer to the team and the room and stuff.' I love the guys on this team. There is no guy on this team that isn't a buddy to me. If they say any different then they have been smiling to my face and talking behind my back."
Emery wasn't the only Senator to face the media. Defenceman Wade Redden who is an unrestricted free agent in July also reflected on a tough season.
"We were waiting to wake up one morning and suddenly things were going to turn around," Redden told the Canadian Press. "That's not how it works. It takes a price to be paid and sacrifice by everyone. It's evident in the way we went out that there wasn't a demand on how things have to be on the ice. It showed."
Forward Jason Spezza, who said that he was playing with a Grade 1 medial collateral ligament sprain in his left knee from an injury in Game 2, spoke to the media about his desire to stay in Ottawa for the long term despite only getting one assist in the playoffs.
Spezza signed a seven-year contract during the season, but some radio callers have urged the Senators to deal him before his no-trade clause kicks in after 2009.
"Anybody can get traded at any time, but I don't think you can be looking over your shoulder all summer worrying about it," Spezza said to the Canadian Press. "I'm going to train this summer and focus on making the Ottawa Senators a Cup contender again.
"I signed here for seven years because I want to be here and I think they want to have me here. If one bad playoff spurs trade rumours, then so be it. But I'd like to think I'm here for the long haul and I want to have success here."
Captain Daniel Alfredsson who came back early from a knee injury feels the team needs to make some changes.
"We're not that different from the team that went really far last year," said Alfredsson. "We need to improve on our defensive play. You look around the league and watch the other games during the playoffs, goals are hard to come by. And we haven't done a good job defending. And puck movement and puck control has been an issue for us as well."
Regardless of how the Emery situation plays, this could be a very different looking Senators team next year as forwards Shean Donovan, Chris Kelly, Cory Stillman, Randy Robitaille and Martin Lapointe, along with blueliners Redden, Mike Commodore and Luke Richardson will all be unrestricted free agents come July 1st.
In addition, Antoine Vermette, Brian McGrattan and Andrej Meszaros will all be restricted free agents and will likely be looking for raises.