OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators took full responsibility Monday for their disappointing season and they know some significant changes could soon be made for failing to make the playoffs.
Jason Spezza, who spent his first season as team captain, knows it could also have been his last.
“I’m not naive to the talk and I’ve been asked the question a lot,” Spezza said Monday at a season-ending availability. “There’s a lot of reflecting to be gone on in the months leading into next season and I’m sure that will be a topic.”
When asked if he wants to remain a part of this organization Spezza said, “I do.”
At the same time, Spezza said some soul searching is required before contemplating any changes. The veteran forward, who has a no-trade clause and one year left on his contract, had 23 goals and 66 points this season.
“This is the day after the season so there’s a lot of time to reflect,” he said. “I’m sure (GM) Bryan (Murray) has to reflect and I have to reflect. There will be no discussion until we’re allowed to anyway.”
Spezza has taken much criticism in his 11 years as a Senator and one has to wonder if he’s had enough and might welcome a change.
“I want to be one of the best players and if you’re going to be one of the best players you’re going to be criticized right or wrong,” he said. “I’ve tried to do a good job over the years of not letting it affect my play and there’s probably been times where it has affected me, but for the most part I’ve tried to stay even keeled as a person.”
After advancing to the second round of the playoffs last season, expectations were high for this year’s team. In the end, the Senators were their own worst enemy.
A lack of discipline and inconsistent play were the two most common themes discussed by players, who took the blame for coming up short. The Senators finished the season with the most penalty minutes in the league and were 27th in goals against.
“We just didn’t come together as quickly as we needed to on a consistent basis,” said goalie Craig Anderson. “We showed flashes of playing really good hockey and being a playoff team and some nights the consistency just wasn’t there.”
The team’s play was inconsistent from the start of the season. Its longest winning streak was five games, which came in the last two weeks of the season when it was too late.
“There’s no excuses to why we couldn’t right the ship at times when it was going bad,” said Spezza. “We take full responsibility. I take full responsibility for us not making the playoffs and I think we do as a group.
“We’re not going to sit here and say we got a raw deal or we got the raw end of the stick. It was in our control to make the playoffs and we underachieved.”
The Senators’ defensive play was a steady concern throughout the campaign. Turnovers and poor decisions were costly and on many nights, the team’s inexperience was glaring.
Erik Karlsson, who finished the season with an impressive 20 goals and 74 points, admitted he still didn’t consider himself 100 per cent after suffering a serious Achilles injury last season.
“Personally, I need to be more consistent too,” said Karlsson. “I think that’s been one of my biggest issues this year. I haven’t been consistent enough for a long period of time and I haven’t really felt the way I wanted to and that’s something I’m going to have to address this summer.”
Murray will meet with the media Tuesday.
Head coach Paul MacLean admitted his performance wasn’t good enough this year.
“There’s lots of blame to go around and lots of it could be on me,” said MacLean. “My job as a head coach is to find solutions and to make the team better and the solutions that we found weren’t the right ones.”
MacLean admitted he made a conscious decision heading into the season to do some things differently.
“I felt I needed to be a little more demanding from what I wanted from the group.”
“I worry about my future every day,” MacLean added. “I don’t come in here for one day and not worry about my future and that’s the same as when I played. It’s a privilege to be here and you should be worried every day that there’s someone who wants your job.”
MacLean’s three-year contract extension kicks in July 1.
“Paul has been a great coach ever since he got here,” said Karlsson. “Guys have a lot of respect for him and guys want to play for him and we like him. I just think for whatever reason this year hasn’t gone the way we wanted to, but I don’t think it has anything to do with anything around that department.
“I’m looking forward to being able to work with him next year.”
Spezza’s future could impact Ales Hemsky’s decision as to whether or not he chooses to resign with the Senators. Hemsky, who was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers at the trade deadline, says he wants to sign with a team where he will have the opportunity to play with a top-line centre and a chance to make the playoffs.
The Senators will also have to make a decision on unrestricted free agent winger Milan Michalek, who said he’s enjoyed his time in Ottawa and would be happy to return given the opportunity.
Matt Kassian is also an unrestricted free agent. The Senators also have three restricted free agents to deal with, including forward Mike Hoffman, defenceman Eric Gryba and goaltender Robin Lehner.
Anderson has one year remaining on his contract and Lehner has always been considered the future of the franchise, but questions remain as to whether or not the 22-year-old is ready to be a No. 1 goalie.
Lehner, who finished with a 12-15-6 record, says he was raised by the Ottawa Senators and wants his future to be with the organization.
“I want to be a Senator and I want it done quickly,” admitted Lehner. “I’m planning to go home for a few weeks, but I’m planning on being here all summer and start working out, but that’s tough to do when you have negotiations in the air so I want to see what we’re doing.”
Lehner said initial talks have already taken place between the two sides.
Notes: Centre Mika Zibanejad, who missed the last two games, met with the media for the first time since leaving last Thursday’s game for undisclosed reasons. He said he didn’t suffer a concussion or head injury, but just didn’t feel well. The 20-year-old said initial tests came back “pretty good,” without elaborating. He hasn’t ruled out playing at the upcoming world championship.