Of all the professional teams that might have been caught in an embarrassing fly-on-the-wall-of-the-Uber video, it had to be … the Ottawa Senators.
The team with the permanent ‘Kick Me’ sign on its back.
After a nightmarish off-season that featured a number of scandals, including the arrest of an assistant GM and a tawdry online war between two star players and their partners, this season was supposed to be different.
Asked to name the area of improvement for the organization, GM Pierre Dorion said: "We are a team."
Today they are a team in damage control yet again, this time over a video recorded on an Uber ride during a Senators road trip, in which several players slag assistant coach Martin Raymond and his penalty kill instruction.
"Do you notice when he runs the video, if you do pay attention, he doesn’t ever teach you anything?" says defenceman Chris Wideman. "He just commentates on what’s happening."
Added Matt Duchene: "Here’s the other thing, too. We don’t change anything, ever. So why do we even have a meeting? I haven’t paid attention in three weeks."
It goes on. As harsh as this sounds, it’s no different than any typical group of students discussing a teacher, or office staff about a boss or colleague, or any other team collectively mocking a coach.
It cuts both ways. There are coaches and managers who get on a rant, occasionally alcohol-fuelled, and carve players for their on-ice shortcomings in a verbal tirade not meant for public consumption.
We’ve all been in these conversations. There is an element of piling on. And to make a better story, we might embellish an impersonation of a subject for the sake of a laugh. No real hurt is intended.
And in this case, no permission was granted to grab this five-minute conversation and dump it on YouTube, where Postmedia found it and aired it online Monday.
The Senators addressed the situation, sort of, after Tuesday’s game-day morning skate, before facing the New Jersey Devils in the evening.
Pointedly, not one of the seven players in the Uber vehicle spoke Tuesday morning. Instead veterans Craig Anderson, Mark Borowiecki, Mark Stone and Zack Smith, plus head coach Guy Boucher, spoke on behalf of the group.
They all sang from the same songbook: the team has already dealt with this, it’s old news. They will learn from it and become an even tighter group.
Considering the new team marketing personnel vowed before the season a new era of openness – "We are going to own our (crap)" – it was disappointing Duchene didn’t speak.
Boucher and Smith both expressed concern that such a hurtful video was aired, first on YouTube (before being taken down) and then on the Ottawa Citizen web site.
Boucher was at a loss to understand why someone would post something so hurtful of another human being, adding that Raymond "is probably the best human being I know."
Smith called it a "life lesson for everyone … you never know who is recording you."
That it got into mainstream media was surprising, he said.
"We’d expect something like from TMZ, not something in Ottawa," Smith said. "But again, we’re not blaming anyone here, it’s a mindset we have to change. That’s not our identity. We want to be better. We want to be more aware of what we’re saying."
Smith said the players involved were victimized by a "black-and-white video on a dash cam. Obviously they had no idea it was there."
While the organization keeps stressing the "internal matter" is over, this was no ordinary morning skate. The media throng was about double the normal size for a Sens-Devils tilt, and the Devils didn’t even skate. While neither Duchene nor Raymond spoke, they were seen on the ice, smiling and laughing together.
The question now, where to from here? For the rebuilding Senators, the season is teetering on the balance, a 5-6-3 record with losses in six of the past seven games.
That penalty kill up for discussion in the van happens to rank 30th in the NHL. (Boucher says that when team defence is poor, the PK reflects it. It will improve, he says.)
Late Monday, the Senators released a statement of apology from the players in the van (Thomas Chabot, Dylan DeMelo, Duchene, Alex Formenton, Chris Tierney, Wideman and Colin White). In addition, Dorion said in the release: "We have every confidence in Marty Raymond’s coaching; in the effort and determination of our team; and in the sincerity of our players’ apology."
The reality is, Raymond was the assistant in charge of the power play last season when it was awful; he was moved over to the PK and it is struggling.
Boucher is in the final year of his contract, which means the coaching staff is all in a precarious position, video or no video.
Two of the players, Tierney and DeMelo, are new to the team. Three are young players – Chabot, White and Formenton (now back in junior).
The most significant voice on the video belongs to Duchene, a player the Senators gave up Kyle Turris and Ottawa’s first-round pick for 2019 to receive, among other transactions.
Duchene was to be part of the "win now" philosophy fuelled by Ottawa’s trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017. Recently, he is being talked about as a building block in the rebuild. Dorion has spoken optimistically about signing this pending UFA to a long-term deal.
There remain questions about whether that deal gets done. For his part, Duchene would have to commit to a few more tough seasons, after finally escaping a non-contending team in Colorado.
The team has to believe that Duchene is the guy they want to build around, despite his off-hand comments about an assistant coach who could well be gone from the scene by next season anyway. Sometime soon, Duchene either gets signed or moved for picks/prospects in a deeper rebuild.
In the meantime, some players think this brutal invasion of privacy has a silver lining.
"This is only going to make us stronger," Borowiecki says.
Usually bad news from the Senators revolves around questions concerning ownership or management. This time, there is a good deal of public sympathy for players who were taped without consent, speaking out of turn as everyday people do routinely, usually without worry of public embarrassment.
There but for the grace of god go any of us.
Talk about bad luck. As Sportsnet’s Mark Spector noted on Twitter, these players leave a fishbowl like Ottawa, where there is little privacy, "go to Phoenix, cut loose a little, enjoy some anonymity, and the Uber driver screws ya."