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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Fast Start Out of the Paddock

Earlier this evening, the Ottawa Senators defeated the Toronto Maple Weaks 5-1. The victory took the Sens to a remarkable 13-1 record...so remarkable, in fact, that it sets a new benchmark for the most points earned by an NHL team in its first fourteen games out of the gate in league history.

With a start like this, it's only a matter of time before we should expect to start hearing hockey pundits talking (or in our case, blogging!) about how the 2007 edition of the Ottawa Senators is hockey's answer to the 2007 New England Patriots. Like the Pats, the Sens have completely dominated their opposition, and have a lineup stacked with both superstars and role players that seem to fit together perfectly. And just like the Patriots have a famous coach (Bill Belicheck) that has put them in the centre of a scandal (Spygate) that threatens to place a Barry Bonds-like asterik on their accomplishments, the Senators have.....well....the comparison ends there. Actually, does anyone even know who coaches the Sens??

The answer, of course, is John Paddock. Yes....the same John Paddock who coached the Jets from 1991 until midway through the 94-95 season. In his first two full seasons with the Jets, Paddock coached the team to a winning record and a playoff birth. In his third year, the Jets went a miserable 24-51, and Paddock was fired midway through the 94-95 season after the team won just nine of its first 33 games (or in other words, 8 less points than this year's Senators have amassed in 14 games).

Paddock's firing left him out of work until 1999, when he landed a head coaching gig with the Hartford Wolfpack of the AHL (if only he also coached in Quebec, he could have hit the trifecta of cities that had lost NHL teams in the 1990s). In his first season under his control, the Wolfpack won the Calder Cup Championship. Paddock would coach the 'Pack for two more seasons before moving on to the Senators' minor league affiliate in Binghampton, where he guided the Senators to two winning records before joining Ottawa as an assistant coach in 2005.

But let us return to the Jets.

The 92-93 team Paddock coached was a solid club. As anyone who was lucky enough to get the free Young Guns poster will tell you, the Jets were stacked with four (4!) twenty-plus (20+!) goal scoring rookies that season. Those four players, of course, were:

1. Evgeny "What Ever Happened to" Davydov: 28 goals
2. Alexei "I invented the one-handed breakaway deek" Zhamnov: 25 goals
3. Keith "Yes, I'm Still Playing" Tkachuk: 28 goals


4. Some kid from Finland.

That team was good, and I don't think I'm stretching things when I say that that team should have made the playoffs irrespective of who was behind the bench....well, maybe with the exception of Mike Milbury.

The 91-92 Jets, however, were nowhere near as good. For starters, the team lacked all four of the aforementioned star rookies (and for those of you still wondering, that kid from Finland was named Teemu Selanne, and he scored a respectable 76 goals that season....in other words, 76 times Shawn Cronin's career high). They had little-to-no offensive firepower, as exemplified by the fact that two of the team's three leading scorers were defensemen (Phil Housley and Fredrik Olaussen) and the three highest scoring forwards were Ed Olcyzk, Pat Elynuik, and Troy "I'd score more goals, but my wife Anne likes it when I pass" Murray. With all due respect to those three, they weren't exactly Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley. And lest you believe that perhaps this was just a defensive-minded club that didn't put up big offensive numbers but kept pucks out of their own net, the following statistic should remove any question: For 26 games that season, Jets fans were greeted with the following announcement --

"And in goal....Number 35......Stephane Beauregard."

Enough said.

Which is all to say, I think the following question needs to be asked as we inevitably will, in the days and months to come, weigh the magnitude of the Senators' performance this season:

What was John Paddock's bigger accomplishment - going 13-1 with the superstar-filled roster he has today, or just making the playoffs in 1991 with the cast of characters he had in Winnipeg?

Illegal Curve Nation, I await your responses.

For Illegal Curve, I'm Steve Werier...and you're not.

Ballhype: hype it up!

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