Giant Sized Summer Special: Is Ottawa more defensively responsible now than it was last year?

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There’s no need for a set-up. Just take a look at last season’s team stats:

  • Goals-per-game: 2.79 – 11th in the NHL
  • Goals-against-per-game: 3.15 – 27th in the NHL
  • Powerplay: 18.4% – 14th in the NHL
  • Penalty Kill: 80.9% – 22nd in the NHL
  • Shots per game: 32.8 – 4th in the NHL
  • Shots against per game: 34.7 – 29th in the NHL
  • Fenwick for percentage: 50.8% – 13th in the NHL
  • Shots for percentage: 49.1% – 20th in the NHL

At a glimpse, the 2013-2014 Ottawa Senators were a team that could score, but couldn’t outscore their opponents. Both coach Paul MacLean and GM Bryan Murray have stated on multiple occasions that the goal for the coming season will be to cut down on the number of shots allowed, possibly at the expense of some offense. So let’s take a look at our new lineup, the moves made, and whether it’s reasonable to expect a more defensively responsible team this season.

Assuming a lineup:

Obviously there are a lot of moving parts here. Let’s presume that Stone and Hoffman will be given a chance to compete for a top six spot, with whomever is cold being bumped down to the bottom six. I’m also assuming that the team doesn’t destroy Lazar’s potential by allowing him to be cast as savior of the franchise at 19 and given top minutes right away. (Though we can assume he’ll get some games during the season, possibly those first nine games before he must be sent down without burning a year on his ELC.)

The top line of MacArthur – Turris – Ryan will almost definitely stay intact. The rest of the lineup, without a go-to offensive catalyst (unless Hoffman and Stone are those guys) will be some combination of Michalek, Legwand, Chiasson, Hoffman, Stone, Greening, Zibanejad, Condra, Smith and Neil.

Curiously, the defense remains much the same as last year: Karlsson with Methot or Cowen, Ceci with Phillips, and Gryba, Wiercioch and Borowiecki all duking it out for about 8 minutes of ice time.

Anderson spends another year checking his brake lines and Lehner spends another year awaiting the Hour of Ascension of the Beast.

The O:

The biggest change here is the loss of Spezza and Hemsky and the addition of Legwand and Chiasson. Though the way the players will be paired and used will be variable, that we lost a center and winger and then gained one of each, and that not much else changed with the team, makes it possible to do some direct comparisons and see if we’re indeed any more defensively responsible.

Jason Spezza and David Legwand comparison [all stats from here on in via Extra Skater]

Spezza scored 15 more points than Legwand in eight fewer games, though he received about a minute more of ice time per 60 minutes of play, had a higher shooting percentage, and more favorable zone starts.

Interestingly, while Legwand is being cast as a two-way forward – I called him a plug on our last podcast – he played an enormous amount of time on the power-play – almost as much as Spezza did – and way less time on the penalty kill as Spezza.

Also interesting is that Legwand and Spezza played with a similar quality of teammates and against a similar quality of competition. They are within 0.3% of each other in both regards.

Spezza’s Corsi relative was slightly negative, where Legwand’s was slightly positive, though both are within 0.5% of each other.

The players also had a comparable PDO, around 97, which means one might expect a slight bump in numbers for both as they rebound to league average on-ice save percentage. They had extremely similar penalty differentials, with each taking just under 20 more penalties than they drew.

The only really big discrepancy is their shots per 60 minutes of play, where Legwand produces almost four fewer shots than Spezza.

It’s no surprise that Legwand is not as offensively capable as Spezza. But my takeaway here, and what people might not know, is that the two players have been used in very similar ways, and Legwand hasn’t been a defensive standout in that time. Perhaps as a result of a lack of center depth in Nashville, Legwand was employed as their principle playmaker. Far from being your reliable utility forward, he was relied on to produce offense, and his ice time reflects that.

Another way of putting it is that Spezza didn’t have it much easier than Legwand. And while Spezza was slightly deficient defensively compared to Legwand, he more than made up for it in terms of shot and point production. With Spezza you end up with a net gain in production; with Legwand, perhaps not so much. So, for those subscribing to the idea that Ottawa swapped out an offensive dynamo for a defensive one, while you might be technically right that there’s a difference, you still have a net loss over the course of a season in terms of production. Legwand isn’t that much more responsible, but he’s a whole lot less dangerous offensively. This is borne out by their overall Corsi differential, which is fairly substantial; Spezza’s is almost three full points better, which is significant in Corsi Land. After all, you don’t care how a player produces possession, just that they do. Be careful what you wish for, Sun readers – you have your hard working, loveable plug now.

Now, this doesn’t account for how Ottawa may choose to use Legwand in this upcoming season. Maybe he flourishes as a utility forward, when he isn’t expected to produce any offense. But there’s a big enough body of evidence to suggest that Legwand, while a legit top six NHL forward, is not an improvement on Spezza at all. Ottawa fans might like bringing in Legwand because he’s a veteran, gritty, and so on, but they better hope those intangibles translate into effects elsewhere.

Of course the big plus for Ottawa is that Legwand is $2MM cheaper than Spezza this season and on a short-term deal. He costs half as much as Spezza, and there’s no expectation from his camp that the team re-sign him for six to eight years after next season. If Ottawa management were pouring those savings into other areas, we might be able to justify the switch. But, as we know, they’re not. For now, this biggest benefit of this swap is to Melnyk’s bottom line.

Alex Chiasson and Ales Hemsky comparison 

Maybe it’s not fair to do a direct comparison between a 14 year NHL veteran and a player with the equivalent of one season under his belt, but Ottawa lost a top six player and traded for someone who, in their mind, was another, so the comparison stands.

And, much to my surprise, Chiasson actually doesn’t do too badly. Though he scored 8 fewer points in four more games, he generated about as many shots per 60 minutes in about the same amount of ice time, against comparable competition, and with a comparable quality of teammates. Their Corsi was almost identical, though on the other hand Chiasson’s teammates outperformed him. (Though on the OTHER other hand…Dallas was a top ten possession team last year, so that ain’t so bad.)

Chiasson’s PDO was two points lower, too, suggesting a slight bump up, potentially narrowing the gap in their offensive production even further. Even though Chiasson did enjoy significantly more powerplay time than Hemsky, all else being equal it’s reasonable to expect them to produce similarly next year.

Over a full season, while Chiasson is a slight downgrade on Hemsky, it’s not as big as I initially thought it would be. When coupled with the fact that he’s making less than 1/4th what Hemsky is making on his entry level contract, this is a high-value swap. (Again, assuming those savings would be funneled elsewhere which yadda yadda yadda they won’t be.)

You might expect a marginal decrease in production here, but I’m far less concerned than I am about the use of Legwand over Spezza.

The Youngins:

One unknown here is whether Stone, Hoffman, and/or Lazar can step into top six roles and contribute. We don’t have the numbers for Lazar, and looking at Stone and Hoffman, neither of them have huge sample sizes from last season.

But both produced great Corsi ratings, both overall and relative to their teammates (Stone’s is particularly good). Neither saw strong competition, indicating some degree of being sheltered, and their PDOs were almost smack average (Stone’s is actually a point higher) so we shouldn’t expect a huge swing in regression to the average.

What’s interesting is that while both players’ underlying possession numbers are good, this didn’t translate into particularly impressive point production. There’s a couple of ways we can interpret this.

Either these guys will learn to finish (which one hopes comes with experience) and translate those shots and possession into points. Or they’re both essentially versions of Erik Condra – strong possession players who can’t finish to save their lives. Or they simply haven’t been put with the right linemates to translate possession into goals.

Small sample size, again, but their strong possession numbers imply that they can contribute to the team, especially if they take away minutes from other bottom six players whose careers are in decline – see Greening, Colin and Neil, Chris.

The D:

The horror show begins…

Nothing terribly novel to say here. There wasn’t much in the way of change on the backend for Ottawa. The most notable changes here are that Mark Borowiecki’s contract becomes one-way, and that Eric Gryba was re-signed to a one-way deal. Neither of them are particularly good. That management seems especially high on Borowiecki because he, I don’t know…sticks up for his teammates or whatever, seems like more evidence of old-schoolism at play. Oh, and they also let Joe Corvo, the weirdest fucking signing of last year, walk. Which, you know…great.

The result: a glut of bottom pairing defensemen on a team that allow more shots than almost any other team last year. Beyond Erik Karlsson and Patrick Wiercioch, no defenseman did particularly well in terms of possession.

I won’t really look at Erik Karlsson. (Spoiler: he’s good!) Borowiecki doesn’t have huge sample sizes. That leaves Cowen, Methot, Phillips, Ceci and Wiercioch.

Jared Cowen, as has been well-publicized, was atrocious. In a good-PDO year, his penalty differential was terrible, and he had the lowest shots per 60. (Though he didn’t get much in the way of power play time, and was relied upon to clear the crease and wave his stick around like a dowsing wand.) His possession stats weren’t as bad as I expected, though they were mediocre.

Chris Phillips is also trending downwards and was inexplicably renewed. He was sheltered, but also had the worst PDO of the group. That means he might rebound slightly, if his regression doesn’t more than erase that rebound. The best case scenario seems like one where he’s still barely, BARELY, a 3-4 guy. Like everyone has already said: why did this guy get two years again?

As has been mentioned on this blog and elsewhere, the banishment of Patrick Wiercioch to the press box for huge chunks of the season was totally mysterious. He’s a strong possession player, producing more shots per 60 than any of the rest of the group. Maybe it was the plethora of left-handed shots on the team, but playing Cody Ceci and Jared Cowen over Wiercioch is just one of those things we’ll have to chalk up to the coaches and management knowing something about him that we don’t. Stop smoking meth, Patrick Wiercioch.

However, Marc Methot wasn’t nearly as bad as he was made out to be, having been divorced from Erik Karlsson from much of the year. His possession stats were respectable, and here’s hoping that his ice time is restored. It might not be enough to remove this team from the bottom of the league in terms of shots against, but given the apparent lack of forthcoming changes to the defensive corp, it’s a no-cost move. Ottawa just needs to use what they have more effectively. You could argue that we used up last season to develop Cowen.

Goaltending:

Not much to say; both had below league average save percentages, but only by about .03% – and that’s impressive considering the number of shots they faced. Anderson saved the team’s bacon in the shortened season with a legendarily unsustainable hot streak, and when he came back to earth this year, the team suffered. No surprise there.

Lehner played more games than ever before, and should continue, in this last year of Anderson’s contract, to shoulder the load unless the team falls quickly out of contention and they play Anderson in order to bolster his trade deadline value. Anderson has been a warrior for Ottawa though, and continues to be a workhorse on a mediocre team. If he’s willing to re-sign on an affordable deal to play backup to Lehner, I think the team has to explore that. Any other goaltender’s head would have exploded facing 45 shots a night.

That top line:

I know the chemistry between Turris, Ryan and MacArthur was a pleasant surprise, and that Ryan was playing with a hernia or something, but we should temper expectations for next season. This line had a consistently high PDO, which means regression to the mean. Turris, who will now be expected to be the team’s number one center – there’s really no other option – may have it especially hard, seeing his quality of competition skyrocket as teams no longer have to worry about matching up against Jason Spezza.

It’s not all doom-and-gloom – between Turris being a still-young and developing player, and Ryan healing, you may get a wash as they regress. But for those hoping that the top line is going to pick up their game in the absence of Spezza and Hemsky, the odds aren’t very good. That doesn’t mean they’re a bad line – all three have excellent possession stats. But from a team perspective, I’d expect their production to hold where it was, and thus the team still ends up with a net loss in production.

Tactics:

There’s a huge X factor here, which is Paul MacLean’s coaching. That’s obviously where our publicly available stats fall short. We know how players have traditionally be used. We don’t know how they will be used.

We may assume that MacLean will continue to preach an up-tempo style combined with a “whole rink” “hard work” mumbo jumbo voodoo combo that pretty much every single NHL coach insists on. But we could be wrong. Hey, even Bruce Boudreau – one of the most successful possession coaches in the league over the last decade – changed his style to be more “defensively responsible” after his Capitals teams experienced some playoff disappointment.

Maybe MacLean discovered something this summer while sitting on his dock staring out into the water and he’ll bring a Dr. Strange-like epiphany home that makes Jared Cowen not pivot like a dump truck. Don’t ask me. I just traded for Jagr in NHL 2014 and scored 56 goals with him. Have you tried turning down the difficulty, Paul?

The rest of the division:

Boston and Montreal look very good, like locks for the post-season, though Boston may start to decline slightly. Tampa upgraded hugely this year, though they were second last in the league the year before and were swept out of the first round this year, so who fucking knows with that team. I think they’ll be pretty impressive. Detroit is pretty much in full decline, but they have the horses to make it in the weak east. Toronto didn’t change much, and are due for a weak season given their underlying possession stats. Florida and Buffalo are awful.

That puts Ottawa pretty much where they were last year – 5th in the Atlantic, and on the outside looking in.

In conclusion:

My takeaway here is that Ottawa can expect a lower offensive output from their forwards this year, based solely on the huge disparity between David Legwand and Jason Spezza. Worse, perhaps, is that the assumption that Legwand and Chiasson are significantly more responsible than Spezza and Hemsky just doesn’t hold up. If anything, they’ll slow the bleeding and save the franchise money, but that’s it. The team will end up with an even larger net loss in production.

For this version of the Ottawa Senators to produce a net gain in goals, they’ll have to do the following:

  • Shore up their bottom six. Letting Matt Kassian walk is an automatic improvement. Zach Smith, Colin Greening and Chris Neil got killed last year, and took way, WAY more penalties than they drew. (Especially Neil.) Relying more often on Zibanejad as your third line center, and one or both of Stone and Hoffman in place of Neil and Greening should help turn around the bottom six’s production. If we see Neil and Phillips on the powerplay again this year, we may as well just start researching the draft.
  • Take Patrick Wiercioch and Marc Methot out of the doghouse. I can understand that if Jared Cowen develops into a top-two or top-four defenseman, one season of growing pains is going to seem like a small price to pay. But given he didn’t have a down-on-his-luck-year last year and still sort of stank, one hopes that development and continued healing from hip surgery contributes to better play. If not, then play the horses you have.
  • Do whatever it is you do to make young players develop. Ottawa might not be able to sneak into the playoffs if Stone, Hoffman, and Ceci all stay where they were next year. It would help if Zibanejad, a blue chip prospect, took a step forward and was given more responsibility.
  • I don’t look at penalties much in this post…but holy hell did Ottawa take a lot of them. Again, and probably for the millionth time, playing Chris Neil and Jared Cowen a bit less will help in this regard. MacArthur took a lot of penalties, but made up for it with production. Neil and Cowen…not so much.
  • Shootouts. Ottawa was 7-7. Not bad – actually right in the middle of the league, so they personify league average. But with a little luck in this total crapshoot of a standings rigger, they could make up the gap.
  • Go shopping. In the last few weeks we’ve seen Nashville pick up three players legit NHLers for about $3MM total, any of whom could have shored up Ottawa’s depth or sat in the press box for less than it cost to sit Wiercioch last season. I’m especially bummed that Ottawa wasn’t interested in bringing back Anton Volchenkov. He was a fan favorite when he was here, nobody resented his choice to leave for term in New Jersey, and he brings exactly what the team needs. At this point there’s not a ton left – Mike Del Zotto, Dustin Penner, and David Booth all look like they could contribute in a depth role – and the market has been set at about one year, $1MM.

In the end, the team is not going to bottom out. They’re a bubble team who can finish anywhere from 12th to 6th in the standings in the East, barring any massively unsustainable runs of good or bad luck. The team will produce a similar result to last year, but they’ll save more money doing it. And that’s good news for Eugene Melnyk, at least.

Scotchcast Episode 6: #forsale

In which James, Steven, and Varada discuss:

  • The Spezza trade. (Did you know Spezza was traded? We didn’t until this podcast was being recorded. We still don’t know where he was traded, or for what, but we feel totally comfortable calling a winner and loser before anyone’s played any hockey.)
  • Bobby Ryan’s contract negotiation, or LACK THEREOF (*foreboding gong noise*).
  • The fact that nobody likes the team anymore and hockey sort of sucks now. (Opinions are Twitter’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WTYKY or its parent corporation.)
  • How painfully uncool Sens marketing campaigns are, and predictions for the 2014-2015 rallying cry. (Hint: it’s in the title.)

Enjoy!

The Hidden #TRUTH Behind Bobby Ryan’s Contract Negotiations

#STAYWOKE

#STAYWOKE

    Benghazi
mOon landing was faked by Stanley Kubrick (name contains letters R.Y.A.N.)
oBama birth certificate
    Bilderberg Group met in Ottawa once
    Y r u covering up the chemtrails?

      Rituals of the Illuminati take place in Bohemian Grove. Ryan used to  play in California
      Y is the Federal Reserve Bank controlling Sens new TV revenue?
      Alluminati
moNsanto foods is putting genetically modified no trade clauses in our chicken nuggets

30 Thoughts™ From Sens Dev. Camp (or “That 2 Period Scrimmage I Watched”)

Fred
I recently attended a two period long, clock running the whole time ass scrimmage where the Senators development camp prospects squared off in a battle where my personal entertainment was on the line. No beer or cell phone reception at the Kanata Rec. Centre means I can actually recall what I saw.
Please note that I was sat up on some gully ass bleachers and could only really catch team black attacking and team white defending. What’s that? That statement mean’s little to nothing? Good, you’ve prepared well for this post! Fuck around and get baptized as I share my 30 Thoughts™ on the affair.

1. Mark Stone was hilariously, hilariously better than all of the other forwards. Maybe it’s the confidence that comes with suiting up for a couple dozen NHL games but Stoner/Stoney/Stones (def. one of those 3 is his nickname) seemed to get 2 extra seconds to decide what to do with the puck. He played with urgency but was noticeably patient as well. Really dictated the pace in the attacking zone. His smarts resulted in him scoring a super nice turn around, top shelf goal from the slot when everyone else seemed kind of gassed on the play.
Best part: Despite a dominant performance he actually looked like it was taking it easy on the kids.

2. I know it’s in style to be very unexcited about any of our prospects right now but you come here to read the garbage musings of a Cyber Badboy like myself so here it is: I’m buying in on this Curtis Lazar hype. I can see why the book on him on his draft day is that he is an extremely safe bet to help your NHL club (or around the house!). Considering that this was a scrimmage my dude had an impressively complete game. I was pretty blown away by how he could consistently be part of the rush, if not leading it, and manage to be first back to his own end. In industry terms, we call this type of play “A Coach’s Wet Dream.” Incredibly fast backchecking. Very hard to tell what role he eventually projects to  but certainly left me with the impression that he will be part of the big team sooner than later. I can’t imagine he has many aspects to round out at the AHL level from what I saw.

3. Time to talk about Anders Englund AKA Li’l Ivan Drago AKA Yung Big Grill. Looked raw like sushi out there at times but made a couple of pretty nice defensive plays. Pancaked a couple of youngins along the boards and made some safe exit passes. Anything fancy seemed to throw him for a loop which is a bit surprising for a Euro WHO PLAY LIKE A BUNCHA GRRLS ON FIGURE SKATING ICE! LETS GOOOO (thumbs up). Given that he was paired with slickster Mikael Wikstrand, Englund would got pretty hot potato when passed the puck with speed. It should probably be noted that Anders Englund is an 18 years young human boy who was drafted in the 2nd round like a week ago and is probably still dealing with 5 hours of jetlag.

4. Didn’t really get to see the much talked about Freddy Claesson as he and Cody Ceci were quite far away from where I was sitting. I did get to see him take a pretty dynamite shot from the point which was a nice takeaway considering all your hear about him is his +/-. Hope to see him get a game or two this season. Sounds like he’s really earning his praise in Bingo. Dmen take time to develop (RIGHT JARED COWEN?!) but sounds like Freddy is on a steep curve.

5. Newly acquired Nick Paul and Alex Guptill each had a pretty solid showing. Guptil even potted a goal. How’s it feel to already be grouped together boys? Anyway I have a feeling at least one of these fellas will go on to score 687 points in 686 games for the Senators. Dare 2 Dream.

6. A surprise standout for me was Tobias Lindberg. My dude was one of the few players that I would describe as flashy in the game. He created a number of chances with his Toilet Mitts™ and blinding speed. Pretty cool to see him stand out as he’s only 18 and was just drafted last year. There’s not a ton about him on the ‘net (internet) but with speed and skill coupled with a 6’2″, 187lbs frame, he doesn’t have a ton working against him. Also not working against him: Not much organizational depth at right wing. Wasn’t really a guy on my radar screen before (What? I’m not MADE of radar screen space, okay? Your mother and I work like dogs to put a radar screen over your head and food on your radar screen, so show a little respect.) but I’ll be keeping tabs on him going forward.

7. Shane Prince (who’s back in the Twitter game on some Godfather III, “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in” shit) missed the scrimmage with a mild injury. He was sitting down the bench from me in the bleachers. I am happy to report he still has the mightiest hairline in the Ottawa Senators organization. Thing is like a fortress.

8. The guys with AHL experience like Buddy Robinson and Ryan Dzingle (whom I found particularly impressive) really showed that extra poise. They were both calm with the puck and always in the right spot positionally. Good to see your farm club guys playing the system effectively.

9. Miles Gendron is just a tremendous, tremendous skater. So smooth he makes 1999  D’Angelo seem like dusted 2010 D’Angelo. The one thing I would say is that despite being listed as tall as 6’2″ and as heavy as 186 on certain prospect sites, he looked very slight out there. I could be wrong but I’m talkin’ getting crossed out and dunked on by Jean Gabriel Pageau slight. He’ll be starting his freshman campaign at University of Connecticut next year so that Residence Cafeteria slop should fatten him up considerably over the season. Expect him to put on an additional…oh I don’t know…15™ pounds.

10. Matt Puempel was fairly quiet all “game” long. Even went so far as to hear someone in all seriousness call the first round pick a bust. I mean, you know what they say, you don’t come second in AHL rookie scoring without making a few enemies. In fairness, I suppose I was hoping for a  bit more flash from one of our more promising hopefuls but I’ll take his performance in his first year as an AHL pro over one scrimmage.

11. They played a recording of Lyndon Slewidge singing “O Canada” over the tinniest PA system at the beginning of the game which…you can’t write this shit.

12. Speaking of quiet performances, one guy I really had my eye on that I didn’t have much to say about afterward was Swedish defenseman Mikael Wikstrand. Wikstrand garnered a lot of attention from Sens fans after putting up 20 points in 27 games for Mora’s tier 2 team.  Fam, you see my dilemma. 20 points in 27 games is a pretty exceptional output for a dman but I don’t know if the tier 2 Swedish league is the Euro QMJHL scoring-wise. I was looking forward to seeing him play in person. He’s earned a graduation to the top level Swedish Hockey League where he seems to be continuing to produce. What was I saying? Oh yeah, couldn’t get a read on him in a 40 minute game where they didn’t even stop the clock between plays. If I knew how to do that shrugging guy emoticon thing…BELIEVE I would be using it right here.

13. Did I talk about the Lyndon Slewidge thing? I did, eh. What a world tho…when you sit and think about it for a second.

14. There was some shootout thing at the end I don’t remember very well. I think Mark Stone scored a nice goal. Mark Stone is really good. Especially at development camp scrimmage shootouts.

15. Thanks for reading!!

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24. Stay woke: New episode of the Scotchcast coming soon.

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Best wishes to Bryan Murray

We publish a lot of acerbic and occasionally humorous (but mostly acerbic) shit on this blog, but it pales quickly and obviously in the shadow of a real life person fighting a real life bullshit thing like cancer. So, all of our crap aside: best wishes to Bryan Murray and his family as he fights this curse of a disease. If he brings a modicum of the competitiveness he brings to hockey to his care plan, Murray will be back in the GM’s box in no time.

Fuck cancer.

The point at which Varada broke and ran into the woods, never to be heard from again

I’ve got to say, Twitter and the blog space in general has been a black hole of cynicism and pessimism of late, a sphincter spewing bilious hatred and seething rage in the direction of Eugene Melnyk and Senators management because they don’t have the money to spend on payroll. As James pointed out in our recent roundtable post, it’s gotten to the point where people were so devastated by the fact that Ottawa didn’t sign Benoit Fucking Pouliot, who they’d only heard about as a candidate for signing about 24 hours earlier, that WTYKY had to collectively stay off Twitter for a few days just to scrub the poison off of us.

We can all admit that hockey is a business, right? We can all admit that the owners of hockey teams are often using the day-to-day operations of hockey to minimize losses while they wait on their underlying investment to increase in value until its time to sell, or to make money on ancillary investments made possible through franchise ownership, like real estate or retail leasing or whatever, right? And for these reasons, we can all agree that it probably doesn’t make sense for Melnyk to sell this team now.

Sure, he’d make some money, considering the valuation of the team today compared to the price at which it was purchased. But with the new television deal in place, and having just suffered through another lockout that resulted in yet another owner-friendly collective bargaining agreement, most of Melnyk’s team-related money is set to come in over the next 5-10 years. Plus the franchise will continue to accrue value. If anything, the Senators are one of Melnyk’s few investments that actually seems be trending upwards. If we can agree that there’s a right and wrong time to trade Jason Spezza from an asset management perspective, then we can agree that there’s no way Melnyk is going to sell this team right now.

So the team is his. But that doesn’t change the fact that he still doesn’t have any money. Most of his worth is tied up in non-liquid investments, which means he has low cash-on-hand. His overall value has tumbled, as has been documented exhaustively. Ottawa doesn’t generate a lot of gate revenue, especially compared to other Canadian markets (average ticket sales, average ticket prices). Melynk doesn’t have a lot of satellite investments in the area.

So there’s no money to spend to contention, and there’s no money to subsidize losses over a prolonged rebuild, and Melnyk won’t sell. On these basic facts we can all agree.

And yet we read blog post after newspaper article after social media zing about how Melnyk needs to spend. I agree that it sucks that Jeff Vinik doesn’t own this team, but Jeff Vinik doesn’t own this team.

So what do you expect from the Ottawa Senators? What else can they do but try to squeeze value out of what they have, try to sell the fan base on hope and exciting prospects, and preach hard work in the absence of elite skill? What do you actually want management to do?

As far as I can see it, we, as fans, have four options:

  1. Give Melnyk what he wants and let him develop ancillary investments in order to subsidize team payroll. This could be tax breaks, actual subsidization by the city a la the Coyotes, or preferential terms on investments, like the casino. All of which seems like a bad idea to me. Forgoing tax revenues for social services, or allowing additional gambling will impact the social determinants of health and, hey, let’s admit that it’s only fucking hockey. I’m OK with not sacrificing actual quality of life so that my local hockey team of millionaire players gets better at swatting rubber discs into nets.
  2. Boycott games until Melynk sells the team. Good luck with that. People wouldn’t even boycott games when the owners cancelled a season of hockey, and then another half-season, to pad their pockets. People love hockey. An owner can stomp on puppies in front of his arena while laughing maniacally for local news cameras and people would still buy enough tickets to maintain status quo on an owner’s PR-o-Meter.
  3. Go to more games. Subsidize the team directly out of your own pocket. Set up a fan pledge page that says that if the team commits to spending to the cap, fans will buy all available season tickets and accept a ticket price increase. Except I’m on the same page here as everyone else: I like hockey. I don’t like spending more than an hour on a bus to the arena when I can go to the bar at the end of my street, watch the game on one of about 50 giant TVs, and enjoy a drink special and a meal, all in an atmosphere build explicitly around the game. It’s nobody’s fault. The tech bubble burst and Kanata didn’t turn into a city. It’s the reality of hockey in Ottawa.
  4. Allow joy to enter your cold, dead heart and stop complaining for Christ’s sake. I hate this suggestion. I hate it when people suggest it to me when I’m talking about movies, or music, or sports. I hate it when people tell me to just relax. Analyzing a problem is how I enjoy most things.

And we’re all entitled to our opinions. I believe blogs play an invaluable role in uncovering aspects of the game often ignored on purpose or for lack of capacity by traditional media. It’s only on the internet where you have whole schools of analytics beings developed almost entirely through volunteer hours, e.g. people actually sitting at home and tracking zone entries on their own time just so they can feel like they’re a part of something. Hockey coverage in Ottawa has been pretty amazing over the last few years, especially as it’s uncovered the truth about Melnyk’s finances and the gradual disintegration of a contending team. The level of passion you encounter for this game can be inspiring at times. 

Complaints about a poor owner are totally, totally legitimate, and I don’t challenge those assertions for one baby second. But you know what? It’s covered. This topic has been thoroughly and exhaustively and absurdly covered. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. I’ve written on it. But this topic is now officially the deadest horse in the world. It’s been beaten to a pulpy horsey mash. There’s no horse anymore. It’s just us and our roiling, inexhaustible anger and frustration over the fact that some rich fuck isn’t some very, very rich fuck.

So you can spend the next, oh, two to tens years decrying Melnyk’s gradual descent to Harold Ballard status. You can allow that to become the principle method by which you enjoy, the mucus covered lens through which you view our game.

Or…you can participate in the analytics renaissance and write about possible efficiencies to be exploited and approaches to the game to be scoped out. You can see this an an opportunity for innovation and creativity. You can explore the school of thought that says being the first to do something a certain way is much more rewarding than being the latest to buy success.

Or…you can just enjoy hockey because before you knew anything about hockey there was something that attracted you to it.

Or…you know what? Take a break. Go for a bike ride. Participate in a rally. Volunteer at the local shelter. Read a book. Call your grandmother and ask about how much a sandwich cost in 1954. Hell, get angry about something which also doesn’t matter, like Game of Thrones. Mix it up.

But until then, have the serenity to accept that which you cannot change. Melnyk doesn’t have money. He’s not going to sell the team. Hockey starts in October. Your move.

Best and Worst Case Scenarios

exist

It’s perfectly understandable that following the trade of another veteran player, Sens fans would find themselves mired in existential quandary. “What does it all mean? Where are we going? What IS hockey, anyway? Should I spend time with my kids?” It could be that we’ve just spent a few days drinking in +40 humidity to celebrate the quasi-independence of a colonial state and we’ve gone skull soft. But no: in the harsh light of sobriety, the questions still linger.

A few years back, the Ottawa Senators had one of their worst seasons since the expansion days. They finished fifth last in the league after having spent most of the season flirting with last overall. Despite all of the mechanisms built into the NHL to place teams inside a Giant Mediocre Middle, Ottawa really had no excuse but to embark on some sort of rebuild. They were spending almost to the cap. They were paying Alex Kovalev $5MM a year. They stank. These are the things out of which rebuilds are made.

So rebuild we did! Except not really. A few mid-tier players were sent packing in exchange for not very many or very high picks, and at the end of the rebuild, the best asset Ottawa had was their own pick, sixth overall (after being bumped down when New Jersey won the draft lottery), which they used on Mika Zibanejad, who is an awesome player if not a franchise one.

A few things I assume here:

  • Ottawa did much better in the years that followed because they weren’t as bad as everyone thought. There were almost as many points in the standings separating them from the last place Oilers as there were separating them from 8th and the playoffs. Remember: Brian Elliott was their goaltender, and the curse of Pascal Leclaire had been laid on the arena.
  • The emergence of Erik Karlsson as a generationally great defenseman who can play more than 30 minutes a night also helped them from continued tankery.
  • A shortened season in which Craig Anderson posted unreal numbers helped them to a surprise playoff appearance and first round win against the Habs.

All of which is to say, what I’m assuming here is that Ottawa wasn’t a terrible team, but wasn’t an ok team during that period either. It was a perfect storm of expectations and the emergence of key players. They were routinely outshot, but were saved by Special Little Guy Erik Karlsson’s CORSI Flamethrower Power Moves and Craig Anderson playing with the cheats on. It was a lot of fun. (Man, remember that Hab series? Good times.) But, much as the Toronto Maple Leafs are now pointing to their one playoff appearance and assuming that’s their norm, that unexpected bit of mild success might have been the worst case scenario for Ottawa. Bryan Murray still thinks that this team can compete.

Am I excited for the youngins? Sure I am. But I guess I just don’t have that much faith in youth to drive this team to excellence. How many top five picks are on the Islanders right now?

I also accept that Eugene Melnyk’s money situation is what it is, and he’s not going to sell when he’s set to cash in on that TV deal. It’s a conundrum: the team can’t spend enough to be competitive, but it also can’t afford to spend a few seasons in the dumps to restock. So we’re a bubble team, and with standard deviation in the standings being what it is (I’ve written before that it’s gotta be 10 points, at least), then Ottawa can find themselves on the right side of the bubble.

If you can’t tell already: I’m torn. What is this team’s true state? A team that manages to occasionally outperform its fundamental flaws, or a team with a solid core that was momentarily derailed?

Five Years from Now…the Best Case Scenario

  • Bobby Ryan, undeterred by the departure of Ottawa’s skilled veterans, signs long-term
  • Melnyk finds a way to keep Ottawa at least in middle of the spending pack, and Ottawa is able to attract marquee free agents due to their competitive young core
  • Ottawa’s identity – “hard working” – turns out to be viable and not an identity also adopted by every single other team in the NHL
  • Erik Karlsson fully recovers from the Achilles tear he suffered last season and becomes a regular part of the Norris conversation again; Ottawa has no trouble re-signing him
  • Mika Zibanejad turns out to be a second line center / he doesn’t need to be because Ottawa just signed one
  • Kyle Turris turns out to be a first line center / see above
  • Chris Neil is traded / retires / gets lost in the woods and starts a new life there. Chris Phillips organizes a search party, also disappears
  • One or more of Stone / Hoffman / Chiasson / Lazar / Puempel turn out to not only be promising young lads, but above average NHLers
  • Robin Lehner is, in fact, a starting goaltender
  • Boston and Detroit go into serious decline, Toronto continues to flounder, Florida continues to be Florida, and Buffalo only begins to emerge as a playoff contender, leaving Ottawa to compete with Montreal and Tampa in the division
  • A post-Bryan Murray vision starts to form in the absence of Tim Murray

Five Years from Now…the Worst Case Scenario

  • Bobby Ryan goes to free agency. Signs with Toronto for a reasonable cap hit and number. MacArthur also scoots.
  • The conversation then switches to Erik Karlsson and whether it’s smart asset management to trade him while he has some term left on his deal and is still in his prime. Sooner or later, Karlsson, tiring of being the only good player on the team and everyone hating him for not being Chris Neil, asks for a trade
  • Chris Neil re-signs for three more years at $3MM per
  • Ottawa doesn’t have the money to spend 3-5 years out of the playoffs and accrue high picks, and so spends just enough to miss the playoffs by five points every year
  • Ottawa fans realize that a bunch of players drafted nowhere near the top ten don’t have much chance of carrying a team after all
  • Ottawa’s strong drafting team follows the rest of the managerial talent out of town
  • Bryan Murray does his best Muckler impression and falls asleep in the press box
  • Eugene Melnyk successfully runs for mayor of Ottawa

It’s polarizing, I know. That was the point. The scary thing is that you can imagine either scenario happening.

What these scenarios make clear to me, which is probably already abundantly clear to all of you, is that Erik Karlsson is sort of the end game for this franchise. He’s the engine that drives the team’s offense, and after Bobby Ryan (who you could argue isn’t really a superstar player) is the last marquee attraction on this team. He must be kept, and placated, at all costs if this team isn’t going to become a regular at the bottom of the standings, and a joke among free agents.

How early is too early to offer him all the money?