Ottawa Senators players aim to show fans that not all hope is lost
OTTAWA -- Mark Borowiecki understands why many Ottawa Senators fans are frustrated, but the defenceman is going to do everything he can to convince them the team deserves their support.
As an Ottawa native and a guy who grew up cheering for the Senators, Borowiecki knows it's been a rough stretch for fans after a week featuring major body blows on and off the ice. The NHL's last-place team traded away its top three scorers for younger players and prospects before news broke that mediation to try to resolve a dispute for a new downtown arena had failed.
"Some people want to bark and piss and moan that's fine, that's your prerogative," Borowiecki said before the Senators played host to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night at the Canadian Tire Centre in suburban Kanata.
"You have every right to do that, but what I'm going to do is come here every day and bust my ass. My wife and I are going to involve ourselves in this community as much as we can and try and win back some trust and respect (the) best we can and that's my focus moving forward."
After months of uncertainty leading up to the trade deadline, the Senators dealt Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Then came the move that really jolted Senators fans with the team sending homegrown forward Mark Stone to the Vegas Golden Knights, who are poised to sign the former sixth-round pick to an eight-year extension.
All three players, who could have become free agents on July 1, did not come to terms with the Senators in negotiations.
With fans still reeling from all the on-ice changes, the National Capital Commission's announcement Wednesday showed that the effort to salvage a plan for an arena at LeBreton Flats was all for naught -- at least for the current project group, featuring Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.
"From the outside looking in, you see guys leaving and you don't have all the answers that I think sometimes we have around the room," said forward Bobby Ryan.
"It's a different feeling, I understand that. Your top three scorers left and (top defenceman Erik Karlsson was sent to the San Jose Sharks) earlier in the year and I get it. LeBreton's having a tough time and all that kind of stuff, but I think unless you're part of the excitement for these young guys every day and you get to see them work and make breakthroughs and different gains and make plays that they've struggled with, you don't feel it like the older guys do in the room.
"I'm not here to send a message to the fans by any means, but I'm just here to tell them there's a lot to be excited about because these guys can play."
The players respect the fans' opinions, but say they can't get caught up in the negativity.
"The past stretch has been tough, you felt like you're in limbo," said Borowiecki. "No one's going to replicate what those guys bring in terms of on-ice skill and in the room, so it's a matter of sucking it up and keeping our chins up best we can and doing what you do best and not trying to be someone else. The only way we're going to rise above this is together.
"What do want to be known as here through this stretch? A group of guys who just kind of folded and felt sorry for ourselves or a group of guys who tried to take the challenge head on."
As one of the core veterans, Borowiecki says he's prepared to carry a bigger load and help lead the team through a rebuild. That being said, he admits the last few weeks have taken a toll on players as well.
A players' meeting was held Tuesday morning to discuss the changes and address how to move forward all the outside noise. With so many young players on the roster, the veterans felt it was necessary to explain that these are not normal circumstances.
"We've got to win by committee, we've got to win by having all four lines contribute and good goaltending," said Ryan. "We've got to be better than (their opponents) at the systems and the hard work. That is a good thing because you can stress that to young guys. You can see the proof in the pudding when hard work gets results and we're going to try and show them that the rest of the way."
The Senators entered Thursday's game on a five-game losing streak following a 7-2 defeat in Washington against the Capitals.
"I thought we looked fragile last game and understandably so," said Borowiecki. "We lost some big guys and Stone was a heart-and-soul guy for us here and there's going to be consequences and I think we looked fragile. Hopefully we got that out of our system."
Veteran Senators centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau, a native of nearby Gatineau, Que., feels it's a good thing that the trade deadline is in the rear-view mirror.
"This was a hard week for everyone and it was the first time I went through seeing so many friends get moved and it was tough," Pageau said. "I think as a team we managed to get through it fairly well and did our best to stay positive and now we move forward."