Jacques Martin believes the core must help Senators to make next step

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The end is near for the Ottawa Senators.

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After facing the New York Rangers on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, all that stands in way of this season is 60 minutes on Tuesday night versus the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.

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Then, in what has become a far too familiar spring tradition for the past seven years, the Senators will gather at the Canadian Tire Centre  on Thursday for exit meetings with Steve Staios, interim coach Jacques Martin and other member of the hockey operations before heading their separate ways.

Yes, it’s going to be another long summer for the Senators.

This is it for the 71-year-old Martin, who is completing his second stint in Ottawa. Once the final buzzer sounds, he’ll take a final walk off the club’s bench and back into a role as a senior advisor to the coaching staff after taking over the duties when D.J. Smith was fired on Dec. 18.

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No matter who the next head coach of the Senators is once owner Michael Andlauer and Staios complete their search in the coming months, nothing will change unless the core players come to the realization they have to play well at both ends of the ice.

That’s the message Martin and former captain Daniel Alfredsson have been leaning on since they took on the new roles.

“We’re trying to establish the fact that you need to play a certain way and you need to recognize situations,” Martin said. “The skill players need to recognize when they can make plays and when they have to put the pucks behind the defence and just go with the forecheck.

“That’s what a lot of teams are doing now. What’s happening now is most teams usually track back hard, so you don’t have time and you don’t have space. The game has changed, you can’t delay at the blueline and wait for that fourth man coming in.”

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Of course, it would help if the goalies stop the puck with some kind of consistency, but that’s a story for another day.

If this club is going to make the next step, it’s in the hands of the core players like captain Brady Tkachuk along with Thomas Chabot, Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, Jake Sanderson, Shane Pinto and Ridly Greig to realize you can’t win with offence alone.

Martin believes the core will have take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves why they’re heading home early again this spring.

“At some point here, the guys like the Chabot, Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle and the guys you’re going to build around they’ve got to get tired of saying, ‘We’re not in the playoffs and there’s got to be a reason and we’ve got to to change something,’” Martin said. “Because those guys are the core.

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“Yes, you’ve got to surround the core with better players and when you look at it when we traded (Vladimir) Tarasenko to get an asset, it was a good move but we lost a top-six (forward). Then, Norris and Tim get hurt. Those guys will get healthy and then you’ve got surround them with a better support cast, some veteran help because I think (Claude) Giroux could use some help.

“To me, they’re good kids and, the way I look at it, training camp is going to be crucial.”

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Martin has witnessed this eureka moment first-hand. He was an associate coach on Mike Sullivan’s staff with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2015-20 when the club won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.

“The way I look at it as that coaches deliver a message and there are times when players are more receptive than others,” Martin said. “Pittsburgh won the Cup in 2009 and they thought they were going to have a dynasty, but didn’t get back to the final until 2016.

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“When Mike Sullivan came in 2015, the players were ready to accept different things. When Mike Johnson took over from Dan Bylsma, the players weren’t ready to change, but when Sullivan took over, they hadn’t won for four or five years, they were more receptive the message he delivered.

“You need stars to win, but the team has to be first and you need to play a certain way.”

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Martin knows this roster isn’t good enough and that’s why the Senators won’t be hosting any playoff hockey this spring.

It’s not all on the young players, but if this club is going to get to where it wants to go, then Staios needs to bring in the right head coach and make the proper changes to help these young players get better.

“We’ve laid some foundation and they have a better understanding what’s required to have success,” Martin said. “There’s an understanding that it’s not always pleasant and there’s a price to pay to win. There’s sacrifices that you have to make to win.

“You look at the teams that win Cups and how many shots they block. It’s not easy to block shots and that’s just one example.

“A successful team is 20 people that need to embrace the role that they have and embrace what they bring to the team.”

Not making the playoffs this spring needs to serve as a wakeup call.


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