by SENShobo on 06/22/11 at 12:24 PM ET
Currently, it is inseparable from the Detroit Red Wings organization.
If you have watched some of the Ottawa Senators’ road to the draft videos, it is the reason that prospects don’t merely ride a bike at the combine until their insides want out; prospects are interviewed, invited to NHL cities, and even dine in the homes of NHL captains, all with the hopes of searching it out.
Despite being a most coveted quality for any player or organization to possess, it takes the longest development route, and it can disappear in a flash. With so much riding on it this week, can Ottawa handle this key organizational and roster asset well?
The two embodiments of character, the players and the organization, seem inextricably intertwined.
A few years back, Ottawa had an impressive defence corps, and two of its pillars were coming up for renewal. Wade Redden had been a formidable player on the ice, and just as recognizable off the ice during his time at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. If you saw him lifting the Cup recently, you know that Zdeno Chara was no slouch either. Both wanted to return, and Ottawa was looking for just that.
Instead, negotiations were thought to have been progressing not quickly enough. Instead of the matching deals Ottawa had hoped for, they jumped the gun in signing Redden to a two year, $13 million deal, hoping that Chara would follow suit. The goodwill expunged, Chara followed Peter Chiarelli to Boston, even as it later emerged that he was in tears over having to leave Ottawa. The Senators never again had a beast like Chara on the blue line, and no organization ever saw the best of Redden again. Not only that, but it would not go unnoticed around the League when Marian Hossa was signed and traded in the space of a week. Organizational character was a stock on the downfall in Ottawa.
Fast forward a few years, and while it may go unnoticed to some, the Senators did indeed grant Heatley his trade wish, every element of that dream. Slightly more to fans’ liking, in looking for a deal that was needed for Ottawa, Murray took the trade deal that was best for Mike Fisher. Just a week ago now, Murray went at least partly on the advice of his most famous organizational hire, Mike Babcock, and brought MacLean to Ottawa. Watch just a few minutes of any of his introductory interviews, and you are left with no doubt that his character is as impressive as his duster. Bit by bit, the painstaking process to restore prestige to Ottawa’s character takes shape.
So why is it that Dave Cameron is jumping the gun and announcing himself as Ottawa’s new assistant coach? It’s the worst kept secret that Melnyk wanted Murray to take Cameron on as the new head coach. Cameron himself has both the resume — appearances in the World Junior, OHL, and Memorial Cup Finals — as well as the character — stepping down from the Binghamton Senators to coach in the OHL, at the request of Melnyk — to justify his inclusion in both the head and assistant coaching searches, not to mention Murray’s familiarity with him. Instead of talking about how his work in the OHL might translate into helping the hefty crop of young Senators make the transition to Ottawa, we are talking about how this feels as forced as the signing of Kovalev, even if the result should be much better.
Character is not an asset that Ottawa should be gambling with at this juncture. Any hockey fan in Buffalo or Atlanta can tell you how lucky you are to have an owner who will put full resources at a team’s disposal in pursuit of a championship. Any business manager would just as soon tell you that you need to keep internal discussions in that realm for the good of the organization, and that the man at the top needs to be able to trust his delegation of responsibilities, lest he trip over himself in leaning down to tinker with the lower levels best left to their respective experts.
The next few days also gives Ottawa the challenge of finding character at the organizational level, to solidify the foundation on which their next championship run will be built. You might see Zack Smith bouncing between Ottawa’s bottom six and Binghamton’s top six, en route to 20 points in 23 AHL playoff games, leading to the organization’s first Calder Cup, and decide that that’s character Ottawa can build on.
You may also remember a high Senators draft pick meant to capitalize on a shot at top talent, Alexei Yashin. You may find that you feel his tenure did not note itself with examples of character, and only thanks to another team as caught up with numbers rather than intangibles were the Senators able to get assets back for that high risk oversight.
Now Ottawa once again finds itself in its best earned draft position since 1996. Not having the luxury of a troupe of scouts or countless hours of interviews with players, beat writers, and coaches, I can’t tell you whether it will be Huberdeau, Couturier, or Strome who will wind up with the best NHL career.
What I can tell you is something about character. I can tell you that it’s no small feat to be compared to Mike Richards by the crowd that cheered him on in the years leading up to his draft. I can tell you it’s no small feat to be a Europe-born player who came over here to adjust to our game to the point no one recognizes you as a European player anymore, let alone to become captain of an OHL team that nurtured five hall of famers in Bill Barber, Paul Coffey, Al MacInnis, Larry Robinson, and Scott Stevens.
Finally, I can tell you that psychological impacts are one of the hardest areas of a player to find an advantage. One of the few areas where it can spell success is when you tap into a player’s existing internal motivators and connectors. In the case of Gabriel Landeskog, an internal allegiance is his childhood favourite team and player: the Ottawa Senators’ Daniel Alfredsson.
It may seem no important detail, but that psychological motivator gives a player a step up in his development. He can identify with and integrate with an already established internal bond. It can give the boost needed to accept hard decisions about development, and the motivation needed to excel above what one would expect. You may remember some of the players recently drafted by their childhood teams: Matt Duchene, Drew Doughty, and P.K. Subban. (You may also remember a player who has struggled with his role, drafted by his childhood team’s arch rival: Nazem Kadri)
If you are fortunate enough to work for Apple when you grew up worshiping Steve Jobs, or to work for CBC when you can still remember Foster Hewitt calls, or to work for Chevy when you can still remember the first time you took apart a small block, you know this advantage. You may not wind up being the CEO of any of those companies, but you know that you have an advantage over every other employee who was just looking for a job. I don’t possess multiple psych degrees, but I am engaged to someone who does, and I’ll lean on that expertise when I can.
I can’t tell you that Gabriel Landeskog will be the most desirable player available when the Senators’ pick comes around — second line center seems to be the need most likely to affect the “best player available” criterion — no matter where their stable of picks slots them or allows them to slot into. I can’t tell you that his early maturity won’t mean he could be drafted higher than his projections. What I can tell you, and what I hope Ottawa remembers, is that guys like Landeskog don’t come around often, nor are they usually available when they do. Those are the guys that become the foundation when properly placed in an organization, and the guys on which an organization can best grow character to root within its roster. I can tell you that if Gabriel Landeskog puts on an Ottawa Senators jersey on Friday, Ottawa will not be disappointed.
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