Trading Goalies: Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game

So, this is a bit of a weird one, innit?

We began the season wondering if the extension to Craig Anderson was prudent given that Robin Lehner was clearly ready to ascend to both his throne of human skulls and the starting position, in which case we’d have an overpriced backup goaltender who’d already proclaimed he needs to start a lot of games to be effective. And now, with only a handful of games left, Lehner is all but an afterthought, Anderson continues to have a puzzling number of hand problems, and an unheralded, undrafted goaltender with terrible numbers in the AHL is pulling the earth off its orbit by ignoring the rules of physics and chance.

From a resource management point-of-view, it’s an enviable position for the Sens to be in, and I know we’re all into hockey because it fulfills our need to debate about resource management. They have a bona-fide starter with a reasonable salary. A young, prestige goalie with the potential to be a franchsie cornerstone, also with a reasonable salary. And a player who is either nothing or the second coming of the son of god on whom to sell high.

The problem with trying to cash in on Hammond while his value is high is that the number of times someone has pointed out that Andrew Hammond’s performance is not sustainable has now reached stratospheric heights. I don’t think there’s anyone in the league, Sens fans included, who think that what’s happening right now is normal. I mean, it’s fun as hell and I don’t want it to ever stop, but if Ottawa were to try to cash in on him, what would they get? A draft pick, AKA a lottery ticket? Maybe a later-round prospect?

Jaroslav Halak once had a magical run for the Canadiens, carrying the team on his back to the Eastern Conference Finals. And Halak – an NHL goaltender who was actually drafted and developed – yielded two prospects in return: former first round pick Lars Eller, who could be a second-line player, and Ian Schultz, who has yet to crack an NHL lineup.

In retrospect it seems like a decent enough return, in that Eller has cemented a place in the Habs lineup. But two untested prospects for the hottest goaltender in hockey, and who was only 24 at the time–supposedly entering his prime–held a lot of risk. Neither player is really comparable in worth to a starting goaltender, even if the Habs didn’t know at the time that that’s what Halak was.

Hammond is 27, and has far worse numbers than Halak (up until recently, obviously). A team might want to gamble on him by sending a later pick Ottawa’s way, but what’s more valuable to the Senators: a pick with a tiny chance of becoming an NHL player, and likely a third or fourth liner at that, or the chance, however slight, that Hammond is a legit starter? If it doesn’t pan out, it seems worth the risk.

Given how little it will likely take to re-sign Hammond, and how little the team will get in a trade, I think it only makes sense to keep the good times rolling and swing for the fences on this one.

What about Anderson? For all of his injury problems, has also been stellar for Ottawa this year, deserving a far better fate in many of his losses. Injuries will always be a concern with his age, but I think he can provide value at least through the end of his current deal.

Which brings us to Robin Lehner.

Now, I like Lehner. I think he gives Ottawa just the amount of crazy it needs to get by, especially considering their lineup is made-up of fresh-faced, genuinely nice guys like Turris, Karlsson, and Lazar. I love this speedy, skilled iteration of the Sens, but let’s admit that they’re not the most intimidating bunch. In that context, I enjoy Lehner’s goat sacrificing, Satanistic ways. But the number of times he’s been mentioned in a package deal for something truly ridiculous – Rick Nash or Taylor Hall fer Crissake – makes the potential for a deal too tantalizing to pass us. Lehner still has the perceived value to wrest something of qualitatively demonstrable value from another team’s grubby hands.

There’s a lot of risk in what I’m describing, of course. Going into a season with a 33-year old starter and a 27-year old backup, and without a blue chip goaltending prospect in the hopper, is generally not a recipe for sound sleeps.

I maintain, however, that the opportunity here is just too interesting to pass up. I’ve seen what Bryan Murray and his drafting team can do with a mid-round pick (names rhymes with Schmarlsson) but it’s truly tantalizing to think of Ottawa packaging their first rounder in the draft this year with Lehner to plug a hole on their blueline, or add scoring help up front, or both.

Murray and Melnyk must feel a bit vindicated with this recent run–it turns out that the team is a lot better than anyone thought, and all it took was all of the team’s bad players getting injured at once to prove it. But they could turn into a really interesting dark horse contender in the East if they added that gamebreaking piece that only a prestige player like Lehner can get you.

James Day Preview: Sens Take on Boston in the Weekly Biggest Game of the Year CLASSIC

Remember folks, it's R Kelly Night at the Tires.com Arena. That means everyone in the 300's gets an R Kelly Mask™, everyone in the 200s gets a camcorder and everyone in the 100s gets a rain poncho. Should be a fun night!

Remember folks, it’s R Kelly Night at the Tires.com Arena. That means everyone in the 300’s gets an R Kelly Mask™, everyone in the 200s gets a camcorder and everyone in the 100s gets a rain proof poncho. Should be a night of good clean fun!

Hi, it’s cold again!

How arrrrrrrrre uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu? Listen, shut up for a second its time for the hockey.

We Sens fans are being treated to one of the most unprecedented streaks in franchise history right now. We are witness to an historic time that we should try to appreciate every moment of while it lasts.
I am, of course, talking about the improbable run of two straight games against the Boston Bruins that are both highly anticipated and worth watching. Wow. What a time. Hockey is UN-PRE-DIC-TABLE.
Win or lose, just enjoy the excitement, for you don’t know what you’ve got til you’re dozing through a 1-0 afternoon game in Boston where they’re trapping up like they’re on the 8th game of a west coast trip after a garbage goal that banks in off Cowen’s skate credited to the swaggerless Dan Paille. Celebrate the moments of our lives.

Speaking of winning or losing and every game being the Biggest Game of the Year, to quote Bobby Ryan, “If we do finish a few points out, there are going to be a lot of games we’ll be thinking about in the off season.”
Yo. I feel you BR, I mean I’m not even ON the team (yet) and if that happens Ima STAY thinkin’ bout games liiiiike:

– Oct 25, 3-2 OTL to the Olde Mans of New Jersey at home
– Nov. 9,  5-3 L to Toronto (who are somehow worse than I thought they were) at home
– Nov. 28, 3-2 L to Florida City
– Jan. 29, 6-3 L to Dallas at home
– Feb. 7, 4-1 L to Columbia at home (with fuckin Curtis McElhinney in net TBFH)

Nnnnnnnnnow, I get that it’s easy for me to cherry pick all the “easy” games the Senators blew and get all, “Mike Brodeur woulda stopped that” but I think that’s what has been kind of frustrating for me this season. I knew that this team was better than they were the first half of it. I believe Ottawa did not stick in the McDavid lottery conversation because they simply aren’t bad enough to be a lottery team. Ottawa could finish the season with up to six 20 goal scorers. You want to know REAL suckage? Alex Chiasson would be 4th in team scoring on the Sabres. FOURTH. Perspective: I FORGET THAT GUY IS ON THE TEAM SOMETIMES.
Anyway, the Sens spotty record is still not as annoying as it was last year but there are some games I wish they could have taken so that now every game now wouldn’t be so do or die. Actually, you know what? Fuck it. Maybe that’s what’s fueling our beautiful babies night after night. Also, revisionist bologna is for losers. Zima™ is for closers and I’m a hot blooded man and I wants my fuckin ZIMA™. ARF ARF ARF!!!!!!

Mr. Grybachev….tear down these Bruins. (Shout out to all my fellow 70 year olds who holdin me down on that weak ass joke!!!!!!!)
Erik Gryba is in for Jared Cowen. I’m in favor of this move because Erik Gryba is better than Jared Cowen. So…that just about wraps this part up.

Dusted Hoffman
Heyyy, still playin great and everything. It’s a blessing on our house to have a rookie who was actually put on waivers last year emerge as a dynamic, top six scoring force, but our scoring dynamo hasnt put up a point in 5 games and Daddy (ew sorry) wants Hoffy to hit 30 this year. Tonight would be a fantastic night for our magnificent little G to get going again. Maybe it’s that there was some majik sherm in this old silk hat I found at the Greyhound station, but something tells me if Hoffman gets one they could come in bunches again. Goals in bunches are what the boys are going to need tonight against Tuukka Rask (who I haaaaaaaaaaate)…

I Hate Tuukka Rask Fun Korner
Look, he might look like an evil talking doll that’s not to be trusted but its not so much him I hate as the situation. Boston is led to a Stanley Cup win on the back of the Conn Smythe winner, frontiersman, Birth Certificate Truther and Confederate Patriot Tim Thomas. Fine fuck. He destroyed Ottawa basically every time they played during his tenure. Then he retires to focus on exposing that it’s the Knight’s Templar NOT The Priory of Sion controlling the Federal Reserve. GREAT! Praise be. We’re free. OH WHAT’S THIS? OH GOOD THE BACKUP REPLACING HIM IS A FUCKING VEZINA WINNING FINNISH NIGHTMARE.
Hopefully it will all come back around in the future when Erik Karlsson retires (at age 50) and just when the Montreal Canadiens breathe a sigh of relief, Ottawa calls up late round pick Paul Coffey Junior who goes on to win the The Erik Karlsson Trophy For Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Defense Even Though You’re Pretty Unfairly Criticized For What I Feel Is a Pretty Solid Element of Your Game Considering the Numbers You Manage to Put Up On a Yearly Basis Not to Mention the Minutes You Get (Formerly called The Norris Trophy).

What else?

OH, R. Kelly starts in goal for Ottawa. You don’t want to know what you’re supposed to let rain down on the ice if he gets first star.

ENJOY THE GAME!!! 

And Now a Word on Patrick Wiercioch

Let me preface this by saying that even though I poke fun a lot on this website and on Twitter, the truth is I don’t hate Patrick Weircioch. In fact, I think he’s pretty ok. How ok? Well it’s hard to say. He’s obviously good at the shot generation thing, and he’s got the ability to make great passes in both zones, although he’s the beneficiary of some sheltered minutes. He’s also a bit of what I’ll call “An Experience” in his own zone, as I can recall several times this season where he’s been walked by the likes of Jonathan Toews or Jaromir Jagr. Of course that could happen to anyone, but it’s always in the back of my mind whenever I watch Wiercioch shakily defend an opponent’s top players. Consequently I’m not banging down Dave Cameron’s door because I think playing Patrick Wiercioch is the path to enlightenment. I think Patrick Wiercioch is a useful player who, when deployed correctly, can lead to significant matchup problem’s for Ottawa’s opponents. I HEREBY STAKE FOR MYSELF THIS MIDDLE GROUND BETWEEN THE EYE TEST AND FANCY STATS! *Plants flag that’s acutally just a picture of a dude shrugging his shoulders*

There’s another thing I think which is that Wiercioch might be frustrating to play with and coach. The two goals he was on the ice for against Boston demonstrate why. Let’s look at the first goal.

Exhibit A
pw1

As you can see in Exhibit A, I’ve directed your attention to Patrick Wiercioch, who is leading the rush. He’s tried to get a shot off like the Corsi Wizard™ he is, but unfortunately he’s just lost the puck instead and said puck is about to come back the other way in a hurry.

Exhibit B
pw2

As Exhibit B shows, Cody Ceci is just coming off the bench on a change and is streaking towards the open ice where another defenseman would normally be if he wasn’t on a change or leading the rush. And that’s the thing: Wiercioch has demonstrated a lack of awareness about how the play is developing, tried to make an offensive play at a very high risk time, and put Ceci in a hard position of trying to defend this one-on-one by starting from his own bench. We see a similar situation on the second goal.

Exhibit C
pw3

Looking at Exhibit C, we see a situation similar to the one in Exhibit A. Patrick Wiercioch has sneaked down from the point and tried to make something happen, but the puck’s gone the other way and now Ottawa’s got 4 players below the puck. What’s especially frustrating about this picture is that just who Wiercioch would have expected to rotate back on defense to cover for his pinch on the far side is ambiguous. Once again, Wiercioch has made an ambitious play with the best of intentions in a high-risk situation. This time it’s Erik Karlsson who will pay the ultimate price i.e. look bad at defending.

Exhibit D
pw4

Exhibit D shows Milan Michalek backchecking just as fast as his German engineered knees will allow, but it’s all he can do to turn the play from a 2-on-1 to a 2-on-1.5. If this is the result of a play, you picked a bad time to pinch. Now, some will rightly say “Yes, but we wouldn’t be having this conversation if Cody Ceci or Erik Karlsson had done their job on these plays.”, and that’s true. However, I don’t think Patrick Wiercioch should get a pass here. He was the butterfly who flapped his wings which ultimately lead to the metaphorically appropriate destructive weather pattern. There’s lots of blame to go around here, and the blame starts with Patrick Wiercioch’s decision making.

If I may tie this all together to a sort of hockey worldview, I’d like to draw your attention to this excellent piece by Ary M (@carteciel) on Silver Seven. There’s a money quote in there from Igor Larionov that a lot of people have latched on to, and it’s this:

It’s easier to destroy than to create. As a coach, it’s easier to tell your players to suffocate the opposing team and not turn the puck over. There are still players whose imagination and creativity capture the Soviet spirit – Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in Chicago just to name a few. However, they are becoming exceptions to the rule. Many young players who are intelligent and can see the game four moves ahead are not valued. They’re told “simple, simple, simple.” That mentality is kind of boring. Nobody wants to get fired. Nobody wants to get sent down to the minors. If you look at the coaches in Juniors and minor league hockey, many of them were not skill players. It’s a lot of former enforcers and grinders who take these coaching jobs. Naturally, they tell their players to be just like them. Their players are 17, 18 years old – younger than I was when I joined the Red Army team. Say what you want about the Whiplash mentality (or the Soviet mentality), but if coaches are going to push kids at that age, why are they pushing them to play a simple game? Why aren’t coaches pushing them to create a masterpiece?

Now I realize I’m just some guy howling at the moon on the internet, but I still wanna hit Igor Larionov with a bit of an #actually here. We all love beautiful, creative play in sports over boring structure. Don’t get it twisted, no one is setting their PVR to record ESPN Classic whenever they’re showing games from the New Jersey Devils’ 1995 Stanley Cup run. However, creativity is an expression of individualism whereas hockey is a team sport. This conflict must be reconciled in the form of the elusive concept known as “chemistry”. With rare exceptions, chemistry between players is not natural so much as it is manufactured. You have to keep players together and make them practice with each other enough until they instinctually know what their teammates are going to do and how the play is going to develop. It’s easy for Igor Larionov to talk about creativity in a team sport when he comes from a system of player development that took the best players from an entire country and had them train together for 11 months out of the year1. For better or worse, that’s just not how things work any more. Instead, coaches teach a fluid game using a system so that everyone knows what everyone else is supposed to be doing and can play accordingly. In high level hockey, mistakes are too costly to play otherwise. That’s the real reason coaches keep the game simple.

The truth of the matter is that highly structured play is the best use of limited resources in terms of talent and time. Coaches don’t teach simple, safe hockey because that’s how they played, they teach it because it’s the best way to get results in a world with transient resources, where hockey players are always moving between teams at every level. And if you think skilled, creative players would necessarily make for good coaches, then I have six words for you: Phoenix Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky.

I bring this up because although I’m not sure he’s always on the same page as everyone else, it’s clear Patrick Wiercioch is a skilled and creative hockey player, and that’s borne out in his excellent possession stats. Any real or perceived flaws in Wiercioch’s game are eminently fixable. However, until he tightens up his game a bit, I think the Ottawa Senators management is always going to feel a little apprehensive about him. Dave Cameron might look at the tape from the Boston game and say “Patrick, your two poor decisions last night ended up costing us goals, so I’m putting Jared Cowen back in.” It might happen. It’s always easier for a coach to make excuses for a player who makes a mistake while doing what he’s supposed to do vs. a player who makes a mistake by not doing what he’s supposed to do (hence the eternal question of “Why is Mark Borowiecki?”).

And should The Scratching of Patrick Wiercioch come to pass (again), I will argue it is not proof of a coach suffering from a terminal case of The Eye Tests, it is merely growing pains for a player who, in the words of Bryan Murray, could be a very, very good player but isn’t quite there yet2.

1. Slava Fetisov casually dropped this fact in his promotional interview with Jon Stewart for the critically acclaimed documentary Red Army. If you’re interested in further viewing regarding the Soviet hockey dynasty, I also recommend the excellent 30-for-30 documentary Of Miracles and Men. I will not link to it, but it’s currently available on Youtube assuming you have a working knowledge of the search function.

2. Passing Mark Borowiecki in points is the first step to becoming a very, very good player.

James Day Preview: Ottawa hosts Boston in Somewhat Important Game

bruins

*please click before skimming*

It’s a James Day Miracle!

HEYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY, my brothers and sisters or who knows what spice, a team I have consistently billed as “the most boring good team in the league” comes to town for their first of two matches in 10 days and it’s actually H_LLA worth watching!
Let’s be honest, what are your top 3 teams you cannot WAIT to see fall from goodness to the turlet? Boston’s got to be in that mix right? They’re not even close to pushovers yet but word is spreading of their decline. The fact that Ottawa has gone 2-1 with them this year instead of the usual 0-3 shows that the things they could be a-changin’. What better opportunity to prove that than tonight?

Sunday’s game against Calgary could have been last year’s soul destroying game against Edmonton (shout out to Alex Hentski wherever he may be).
Myself having been in attendance at the CTC Sunday night (holds for cheers of congratulations) I am happy to report that my therapy is progressing nicely and I am ready to watch Ottawa Senators hockey again without screaming and screaming and screaming.
Ugly a win as it was, I  can’t believe I am looking at the same team that I watched put up a combined 10 wins through November and December try to rack up as many in about 2 weeks. Wait…am I watching the same team?

The line up that brokered peace on twitter:

Hoffman-Zibanejad-Ryan
Michalek-Turris-Stone
Condra-Pageau-Lazar
Puempel-Legwand-Chiasson

Methot-Karlsson
Wiercioch-Ceci
Borowiecki-Gryba

What are we supposed to complain about? Power play goal leader David Legwand (lolz, eh? Look that shit up)? Bottom pairing defenseman Mark Borowiecki who even without scoring that goal probably just played the best game I’ve ever seen from him? Are we supposed to wholeheartedly cheer for these guys? What’s a fan to do? We must be strong and carry on and pick away at our team that hasn’t suffered a regulation loss in like half a month.

I don’t think I’m alone in believing that Dave Cameron’s success in his still early tenure as head coach has come in part due to player deployment. The line up he gets to ice, I think, has to do with two factors.

Lack of job security:
Cam’ron has been pretty hardbody about icing the players that he feels give him the best chance to win and he’s been steady winnin’ doing it. Maybe he has testiclads made of iron but I think it has more to do with not having a Jack Adams, a playoff round win against a high seed and a long term contract in his pocket (it’s a big pocket!). Dude’s playing for his NHL coaching career right now and has been making power moves. Case in point of late, tonight will mark the 5th game since Jared Cowen’s suspension was served in full and shit’s been MAD quiet for the gentle giant Seinfeld. If you’ve been out c’here arguing relentlessly through the season that it should be Cowen sitting regularly and not Weircioch, pour yourself a bit of that Ballentine, put on Boyz II Men 2 (I recommend “I’ll make love 2 u”) and enjoy it. You did it, Boo. To me, there have been few bolder moves by a Sens coach this season. The paint by numbers coach move against the “big bad” Bruins is to ice the G who just got hit with his 2nd suspension in just a 207 game career to bring the physical element. Instead Killa Cam goes with the far more skilled Patrick Wiercioch, which is quite the statement as he is softer than my new chinchilla hat. It’s a move I like but a bold one considering how things have gone most of the season. Often times MacLean seemed intent on sending messages to skilled players through punishing our…entertainment value with shit like Chris Phillips on the power play. Cameron don’t got the luxury of sending messages. Game recognize game. But also…

Injuries BEEN helping avoid deployment politics:
Of course, you gotta here both sides that coach Cam’ron has benefited from a few guys missing extended time. But before I get to that, the biggest gift the new boss has been given since taking over for Paul MacLean has been a healthy Marc Methot. I don’t think anyone can deny that Methot has gone from sliding into shorties DMs to sliding back into his top pairing role with equal smooveness. As a result, Karlsson has gone from looking like the best player on the team that has to play with a bottom pairing rookie or local business owner to looking like the best player on the team who gets to play with a proper top 4 shutdown partner.
In some ways, Cameron’s benefited from being forced to ice a younger, more skilled line up. Should be interesting to see what happens when Neil, Phillips (K.I.A.?), Smith, even MacArthur come back. But no matter what your allegiance is player-wise you must admit we’ve been treated to some pretty fun hockey during the past few weeks.Things are clicking.

Can’t talk player usage without a good ol’ Steamed Ham on the side.
I will now break my LEGENDARY silence on how I feel about Anderson starting:
It’s friggin’ fine. If this team’s going to make the playoff push we all hope so badly they do, Andy’s going to have to be a goalie the team can lean on in huge games too. The sooner he can get back to proving he’s still the fantastic goaltender he is, the better. With a couple of back to backs and just a general fuckload of games on the horizon, The Andrewburglar will still have plenty of time to be a hero by Brungling Hams or whatever the kids are saying on Chatsnaps™ these days.

Wwaavveeyy thoughts
Look I’ve brought up a couple of times that this rag tag bunch of Rory Calhouns(?) that could barely string together 3 wins all year hasn’t lost a regulation game in a couple of weeks. It’s crazy, exciting, stressful and I wont use the most buzz killing word in sports: Unsustainable…(did that just count? whtvr hear me out.) What I’m saying is I get it. We’re all cool. We’re a bunch of Ryan Gooselings chewin our gum and dental care toothpicks. But regardless of what happens tonight when the final buzzer goes remember: This team’s basically stunk for two seasons. Let’s smoke some of this amazing run they’ve been on while it lasts. It’s been the best time to be a Sens fan since May 2013.

Enjoy the game and beat nem Broonz!