Cognitive dissonance, the Ottawa Senators, and punditry

Jason Spezza Senators

Jason Spezza is a necessary building block. (Icon SMI)

The way his team has played over the first 20 games has created a dilemma for Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray.

Instead of just sitting back and watching in a rebuilding season, he might have to start thinking about adding pieces to bolster his team’s playoff hopes. One game over .500 as they prepare to meet the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, the Senators have the No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Alan Panzeri – Ottawa Citizen 

By Terrance Gavan

The dilemma outlined in the quote from Panzeri above is not a dilemma for Bryan Murray.

It’s a dilemma for Alan Panzeri. And undisclosed hundreds of talking heads, blogistas and agate scratchers across the sporting universe.

Panzeri has thrown out a red herring. What he’s saying, in his own inimitable and sly way, is that first we had a problem: The Senators.

Now? The Senators don’t look quite so problematic? Why? Because hey, they’re winning. A lot.

Why is that a problem? Because in the beginning a whole passel of pundits said that Ottawa was a last place team.

They not only said it. They shouted it. Ottawais rebuilding! The Citizen said it. The Hockey News wrote it. And every television outlet in Ottawa reiterated it.

Guess who never agreed with the consensus? Me! Okay, so who cares about me? You’re right.

So brass tacks kiddies. Sens GM Bryan Murray never agreed with the last place dystopia and neither did the incoming coach Paul MacLean. Want to hear something else? I think Bryan Murray was kicking himself in the arse with glee, when he managed to lasso goaltender Craig Anderson from Colorado last spring. That was a Moneyball moment knuckleheads. Why? Because it was overlooked. By a lot of geniuses. The literati of the scribbler and pundit set.

That brings us to the 20th anniversary season. You know the one they all called dismal and abysmal?

Now that the Sens are running on something other than fumes? Guess who wants to fix the broken paradigm, the thing that was cracked and cajoled beyond repair? That piece of crap 15th place club?

The pundits, the talking heads and the kneejerk lads with the pen and laptop. That’s who.

Why? Because they already know what Bryan Murray is doing. He’s looking for some trades. Why?

Because as it turns out. This Ottawa team wasn’t that broken… in the first place… or more to the point, in the last place.

The pundits must now fly to CMA (Cover my Arse) mode. Now, of a sudden, an ‘aha’ moment! The faucet ain’t so leaky. The Sens are in eighth place; and wait a minute? They got two lines that pop and four defensemen that stop. What’s the recipe for a playoff team? Two high scoring lines, four solid blueliners. But the greatest ingredient in that stew? A top five goaltender.

So now the cognitive dissonance sets in. Pundits need an explanation that makes sense. Without making their pre-season sound bites look so Daffy-Duck nuts. And we get the stuff that began this tweak on bleak.

“Boy!” say the pundits. “Maybe the Sens are just a little broke.” Now let’s tell Mr. Murray what he’s got to do. That thing that ain’t broke? “Let’s fix it Bryan!”

Cognitive dissonance. Yogi Berra says “You could look it up.”

I’ll help here. “Hey Alan? Know what General Managers do? Alan, wake up buddy!

“GMs make trades. They pick coaches. They sift talent. It’s their job Alan. It’s their job.”

No brag just facts here knuckleheads. Back before the season began, I predicted right here, that Ottawa would finish a comfortable tenth in the East. I threw out some ungodly number of wins – hmm, lets’ see oh yeah, “They’ll finish the 2011-12 season, 38-34-10, on the basis of a surprisingly strong late season surge.” You could look it up.

That was me back in September. Before the season popped wings.

Truth will out here. I popped those numbers, because I was livid about a pre-season prediction that had the Sens and Edmonton Oilers as the meat of the east and the schvetz of the west respectively.

Who picked the Senators to finish last? Well, hockey’s erstwhile entrenched oracle: The Hockey News. I hate beancounters. I especially hate stats guys. And that’s what the Hockey News does. It relies on a mesmerizing pile of statistics and tendencies to earmark teams for the penthouse and the outhouse. That’s what we do here too on The Hockey Writers. No, not me.

Stats are for really petulant pedants who like to win arguments. I watch hockey. But I watch football, baseball, basketball, golf and the standard wrap o’ crap that plays on ESPN orTSNor Sportsnet on any given day, in any given week. I’m headed for the Grey Cup this week.

I’m not a stats guys because statistics are decadent meanders with numbers. Remember the old chestnut: “There are lies! There are damn lies!!! And then? We got statistics!!”

Statistics do not factor in for instance that Paul MacLean could end up as a coach of the year candidate. They don’t tell the story of Spezza’s new kid, and his subsequent joy and enthusiasm. Statistics wrote Captain Alfie off, waaaay before his time. Statistics said that Jared Cowen ain’t ready and that Bobby Butler is not a top sixer.

And statistics and the Hockey News completely trashed Ottawa’s defensive potential this season. And they downplayed that Craig Anderson trade. A stunner as it turns out.

It’s simpler than that.

Back in September I looked at the numbers, and I looked at the other teams in the east; and I figured that Ottawa, with Craig Anderson and a young, but talented top four on the blueline, welded with the eye-popping scoring possibilities intact with The Spezz and Alfie, were better than at least four other teams.

Gut feeling.

I’ll piss some people off but I still think that the Sens are flat out head and shoulders over Islanders,Carolina,Winnipeg (east?) and Toronto.

Gentlemen and good women. Back to your beans.

gav@haliburtonhighlander.ca and twitter.com/terrancegavan

Terrance Gavan

Terrance Gavan

Sens reporter Terrance Gavan was born in Ottawa. Attended Carleton University, graduated from University of Manitoba. Sports Editor for The Manitoban; Sports Information Director at the U of M. History: Interlake Publishing, CP, UPI, Winnipeg Sun, Assignments:CBC Radio/TSN. Managing Editor/Kanata Kourier/Standard 92-93. Quebecor; Currently: Sports and Entertainment Editor The Highlander, Haliburton, ON. Award winning photographer and poet. Lives by a lake with his dog Billie Jean. Happy. Happy.
Terrance Gavan

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