Fixing Ottawa’s defence through trade

It’s no secret that Ottawa needs to re-tune its defence. It gives up more shots on net than any team in the league save Buffalo, who are looking historically bad. They’ve been bailed out by incredible goaltending and timely scoring, and will surely be helped out by the return of Marc Methot, but a move on the backend is still worth some irresponsible speculation. Come with us, won’t you, on a journey to the unverifiable and borderline delusional.

What could Ottawa give up?

So, it’s not like Ottawa doesn’t have healthy bodies on the backend. They’re just not terribly good ones, or at least not good as they’re currently being used together. Which is why we’re in the odd position here of suggesting that Ottawa could fix its defence by trading its defencemen, which you would think would either dilute said defence or not get you anything of value back.

…and you might be right, if you said that. The weird thing is, some of these defencemen, in a vacuum of their potential and their ceiling, are pretty valuable.

Jared Cowen is a top ten pick, a big body, and a player who supposedly has all the tools and just hasn’t been able to put it together yet. He could be dominant for…somebody. Ottawa inexplicably started paying him like a top four defencemen before he ever solidified his place in the lineup, so I imagine it’s difficult to move a $3MM+ healthy scratch. But as part of a package, Cowen could have value.

Patrick Wiercioch is another toughie—making $2MM to be a strategically employed puck mover and second-unit powerplay quarterback. Ottawa has given him plenty of time and exposure over the last several games, and he hasn’t looked horrendous, but I also can’t imagine the phone is ringing off the hook for him at this point.

Marc Methot is more interesting. A verifiable top four, maybe even top two guy, with lots of character and experience who seems to be holding out on a new contract for the sake of $300k a year. Ottawa is super sensitive about contract disputes at this point, and are more likely to move a player than lose him for nothing, especially given he’s already missed camp and the first 10% of the season. I could see a team wanting to take a chance on being able to re-sign Methot, and even a nice little market developing for him.

Also, Ottawa has that extra 2015 second round pick from the Spezza deal, in what is supposed to be a deep draft. Murray loves trading second rounders as, to be fair, do we all.

Who could Ottawa target?

Assuming here that Ottawa wants to target a defenceman as opposed to a forward (though I can get behind doing everything in our power to put Brayden Schenn in a Sens uniform), there are a few options out there. These are players on underperforming teams who, like Cowen, Wiercioch, or Methot, might just need a change of scenery. I know I don’t need to say that none of these scenarios are likely, but…there you go.

Dennis Wideman is on an expensive deal—more than $5MM for three more seasons—and at 31 is not getting any younger. But he’d be a serviceable secondary puck mover behind Karlsson, and has looked good in the young season without much to work with in Calgary.

Keith Yandle has been in the rumor mill for what feels like forever. Like Wideman, he’d be a great puck mover, and is better than Wideman for the same price tag and one less year on his deal. His +/- isn’t very impressive, especially on a team playing Tippet’s defensive system and with Mike Smith giving them above league-average goaltending, and Ottawa has a history dealing with Arizona, and Yandle could be a coup. He won’t come cheap, though.

Tyler Myers has been pretty bad for a long time, and is on another long and expensive deal, but he’s still young and has known nothing but a bad Buffalo team during his career. The only reason I really put him here is that Tim Murray is familiar with Sens players and might be able to see beyond the stat line on someone like Cowen. Admittedly, in-division deals are super rare.

Dustin Byfuglien has seemingly been on the trade block forever. (Is Winnipeg still playing him at forward? Does Winnipeg actually hate 50% of the players on their roster?) He’s got great underlying possession numbers, and the wheels seem to have finally come off of the wagon in Winnipeg. If they start moving out some of their core guys, Byfuglien would be a great player to target. Plus he’s fat, which is hilarious, because fat pro athletes are always hilarious.

Brian Campbell apparently wants out of Florida, is a workhorse who plays 25+ minutes a night, and has good underlying numbers. He’s expensive as hell, and Florida might not want to trade within the division, but he played for the 67s, so he automatically goes on this list for reasons that have nothing to do with reality or feasibility.

Tim Gleason was on Ottawa’s radar at the trade deadline a couple of seasons ago, and can probably be pried away for a smaller package. Carolina is having a terrible year already, but with all of their injuries, regressing goaltending, and instability all the way up through management, it might not be that their defence is truly awful. On the other hand, his possession stats are…truly awful.

Let me consult my Matrix boxed set

Ultimately, Ottawa may wish to stand pat, wait for Methot to get back into the lineup, and flip part of their surplus on D for a scoring forward. Or Ottawa’s propensity to give up 36 shots a game might result in them starting to lose games, which is usually what happens, in which case the whole strategy shifts and we start writing posts about prospects. But in the meantime, fire up those speculation machines (AKA the internet) and dare to dream, lovers.

Weekend Grab Bag: Getting Back to a Place where Hockey is a Thing

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Obviously it’s been a surreal week in Ottawa, and not one I’m going to spend any time on this hockey blog pontificating about. Let’s repress with the best of them and take a look at our Sens, and around the league a lil’ bit, as we come up on the 10% mark of the NHL season.

All prayers are dedicated to the health of Erik Karlsson and our goaltenders, for without them we are but dust

We’re only seven games in, but the new Sens look an awful lot like the old Sens. Which is to say, they allow a butt-load of shots, have terrible possession stats, and it’s only by the grace of our outstanding goaltenders and Erik Karlsson playing in all situations and 30 minutes a game that Ottawa is anywhere near contention. According to that link we’re only outperforming Calgary and Buffalo who, according to this Swiss Chalet wet-nap I consult on all NHL related questions, are terrible teams barely disguising their desire to tank.

Interesting to see MacLean dip into his coin satchel of psychedelic line combinations already. Mark Stone sits last night against Chicago? Sure, why not. Cowen is now officially in Siberia? Works for me. Erik Karlsson with Patrick Wiercioch, no wait, Chris Phillips? Ulp. The only constant, it seems, is Chris Neil on that second unit power-play, which I’ve just come to accept at this point the way I’ve come to accept that a Conservative majority government will force anti-democratic measures through Parliament by way of omnibus bills. Give me the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

Happy to see our one legitimate scoring line of MacArthur – Turris – Ryan reunited and looking consistently dangerous. But outside of those golden three, we’re just going to have to summon all good thoughts and all of the hosts of hoggoth that Robin Lehner (.944%) and Craig Anderson (.936%) can keep up this play / stay healthy / not go insane under a constant barrage. Only in the NHL would this count as a game plan.

Let’s lookit the schedule. Dammit shouldna done that.

Ottawa’s a respectable 4-2-1, and it’s only because everyone else in their division has also been putting together respectable records and have been playing more games that they aren’t in a better position in the standings. But this next little while is going to get turbulent.

This week they’ve got a beaten up Columbus, who are co-opting our “secretly not very good / pesky!” approach to hockey. They are eminently beatable, but this will likely come down to a one goal game either way. Then they play Chicago again, who looked lazy last night and played a goaltender who’d never played an NHL game before and still won. Then there’s Boston, who Ottawa are contractually obligated to lose every game to, then Detroit and Minnesota – both very respectable, veteran-laden teams. If Ottawa can’t steal some points from the Winnipegs, Torontos, Edmontons and Calgarys to follow, then they’re going to be in a tough spot come the end of November when the fan base yells “I hate you!” and runs into its room, slamming the door behind it.

Jason Spezza is still Jason Spezza

Let’s check in on the One Who Got Away. No, not Alfie. No, not Heatley. Nope, not Chara. I mean Jason Spezza! (*waits for laughter to subside*) I mean, we all agreed he would go to Dallas, play on a line with Ales Hemsky, and be an absolute beast for them, right?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, he’s got 11 points in 8 games which, according to the wet nap, is extremely good. He’s also a -5, which is the Spezzaist-Spezza-to-ever-Spezza.

How about Hemsky? Not to be outdone, he’s also a -5…except he only has one assist in those same 8 games. Did anybody watch that 7-5 loss to the Islanders the other night? Holy hell, that is some premier OHL hockey if I ever saw it. We were right that Dallas is going to be entertaining to watch this year. We were wrong that they were going to be very good. Anyway, looks like we might have dodged a bullet on Hemsky, even with our totally insulting low-ball offer we never really expected him to accept.

I told you Tampa would suck

Speaking of not being as good as everyone assumed they’d be, Tampa Bay, despite spending more money than God spent when she created the NHL, is 5-3-1 with some very embarrassing losses in there. They lost to Edmonton and Ottawa. Needed OT to beat Florida and Calgary. Were destroyed by Minnesota. Ben Bishop is a decent .918%, but hasn’t been a world-beater.

I’ll keep saying it – you don’t finish third last in the league, lose Martin St. Louis, get swept in the first round, and then become a contender. It doesn’t happen in that order. You gotta take some steps in between. Watch for Stevie Y to spend even more money this off-season on whichever defenceman becomes available.

Go Preds!

My second favorite team and the little engine that could keeps right on trucking in the toughest division in all of hockey. They’re amazing, and, perhaps for the first time in franchise history, also watchable!

I have nothing novel to say here, other than Go Preds! which I guess is pretty novel after all.

Road Trip Takeaways

Hey, lookit that: Ottawa returns from the road-trip with a respectable 2-1 record, and despite what the dour 13 minutes I spent with Sens fans on Twitter might imply, that’s a pleasant surprise and a positive thing.

I think it’s fair to say that people were expecting a win in Florida, a loss in Tampa, and for Nashville to be a toss-up. That Ottawa came out with a win in Tampa and a (close) loss in Nashville perhaps bodes well. Though you could say their horrid game in Florida cancels it out.

Yadda yadda it’s only three games and so on. Having said that, here are a few things that occurred to me over the course of those three games, and maybe some things to watch for in the home opener:

1) Same old same old

The summary, for those who like to digest hockey in Wikipedia-sized chunks, is that Ottawa was massively outshot and bailed out by brilliant goaltending. This seemed to be the source of Twitter’s achy tummy, and more than a few panicky blog posts, and I guess I can see why. It was the team’s downfall last year, and anyone hoping that MacLean would implement a strategic shift to suddenly turn a rag-tag team of misfits into a defensively responsible contender is probably right to be a little worried. After last night’s putrid game against Florida, MacLean said he was satisfied with their complete, all-team approach, which is confusing. (But I guess what is he gonna say?)

Ottawa had two good periods against Tampa and sort of stunk in the last game of a road trip in front of about 27 people. Let’s wait and see how they play at home on Thursday before we start to mark out trends on the white board.

2) The small story is different from the large story, and it’s not an old school v. analytics thing

Ottawa lost 3-2 to Nashville, but gave up one of those goals after a terrible call on Cowen and saw Chiasson nearly tying the game up with a shot off the post in the dying minutes. This game was closer than it seemed. Against Tampa, MacArthur had about three amazing chances in close, and they might have walked away with that game 4-2 instead of a SO win. The Florida game was a bit weird, what with playing in front of nobody and how every powerplay got cancelled out by another shortly after, but both teams had good looks.

My takeaway here is that even though the Sens are getting outshot, maybe the quality of their scoring chances is making up for it? Which is to say this isn’t a matter of discarding the analytics, but a matter of refining them. Someone better than I will surely put up a shot chart / heat map thing soon and we’ll know more.

3) This is still a lineup in flux

Which is totally to be expected with so many young players in the mix. Lazar, Hoffman and Cowen were scratched last night in favor of Condra, Greening and Wiercioch, and there didn’t seem to be much difference on the shot differential. But let’s give the boys some time to settle down before we blame the system. You usually have one player coming out, one in; switching around huge segments of the team early on means there’s lots of room for improvement. As MacLean said last year, it’s only after several games that “you are what you are.” We’re nowhere near that point yet.

4) The Cowen honeymoon is over

Thank god. It took dozens of catastrophic brain farts for Cowen to see the press box last year. This year it took two games. Last night’s TSN panel was actually talking about his trade value. That seems premature, but it’s good to see that he doesn’t have such a long leash anymore. How long before we see Freddy Claesson get a couple of games?

5) Clarke MacArthur is going to have a good season

Based on his goal against Florida and the sort of unbelievable number of chances he had against Tampa, his chemistry with Turris and Karlsson last season wasn’t a fluke. He goes to the net and they know where to find him. When he starts getting the bounces and his shooting percentage looks more like league average, he’s going to start putting up some serious points. He could have left this road trip with 3-4 goals.

6) Watching the TSN broadcasts is weird

I don’t know if this was Jamie Maclennan’s first time doing color, but he was all over the map when he wasn’t saying forehead-smackingly obvious stuff like how two mistakes is worse than one mistake. Also, it’s going t take some getting used to seeing Bruce Garrioch being interviewed during intermissions. But for the most part it was interesting seeing James Duthie, Aaron Ward and Bob MacKenzie try to conduct and interesting (and interested) panel discussion on an early season Panthers-Senators game that ended 1-0.

GAME ON

In celebration of the hockey season kicking off tomorrow, we offer a breakdown of the Ottawa Senators theme song.

[EDIT: user does not allow embedded video, because why would you do that if you're a person uploading the Ottawa Senators theme song to Youtube? Never compromise your vision.]

0:01 – Let’s start with the obvious: if you’re going to use a horn for fanfare (as opposed to for improvisational jazz lines), then your clear choice is to use the keyboard’s “trumpet” setting instead of a real trumpet. Why? The trumpet is a subtle and nuanced instrument. Keyboard trumpets, much like pro sports, are neither subtle nor nuanced. Keyboard trumpets are unrelenting. Listening to the initial swell of faux-trumpets that kicks off this song is like French kissing a vacuum cleaner – it goes from a fun idea to intense very quickly. Also, people who can actually play the trumpet are expensive and do not enjoy playing your stupid fanfare.

0:06 – We come quickly to the absolute best part about the Ottawa Senators theme song, which is the bass playing. Can we all stand up for a second? Are you standing? Place your hand over your heart and just listen to that bass playing. That bass playing is tremendous. First of all: it’s clearly a real bass. Second, its tone is DIRTY. Not Fieldy from Korn dirty (which is to say, disgusting). But it’s got some attitude, some grit. This bass player has seen some shit. Here, he or she takes you for a walk. The bass is the backbone of this whole song, its soul. This bass line reaffirms our faith in the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the human spirit.

0:18 – Nice key change. Whoever wrote this has written some songs. This isn’t the CD Warehouse theme song. It also more than makes up for the fact that the drums are keyboard drums, which is sort of lazy. Unlike trumpet players, drummers are plentiful and cheap. You can literally find them playing upside-down plastic buckets in the Byward Market.

0:26 – Oh shit…it’s not just trumpet. There’s a whole brass section there with little percussive accents. They’re warm as a bubble bath. I take back the snarky “trumpet is expensive” thing – if this songwriter had real instruments throughout, it would have cost a half-billion dollars to achieve this vision. It’s difficult being ahead of your time.

0:39 – Okay, that was a nice little drum fill. Is it possible that’s a real drummer? If it isn’t, was that fill just played with two fingers on a keyboard? There’s only winning situations here.

0:40 – This is where things get saucy. The rhythm starts a back-and-forth sway and the drummer / keyboard drum setting (hereafter referred to as Roland) introduces some cheeky hi-hat. The horns start a background loop, the kind of thing a Motown backing band plays while the bandleader is introducing Sharon Jones or Charles Bradley.

Not only is this perfect for a song meant to be used as players come out on the ice – and thus establishes whoever wrote this song as someone who can not only play music but also understands music history – but is also known in the music business as “the best thing in the world.” It’s just fun to listen to. Music doesn’t get better than the introduction-sway.

0:45 – DANGER FLUTES

0:50 – This guitar solo is the most Ottawa thing ever. For those of you who haven’t grown up in Ottawa, let me set the scene: for the last three decades, only one radio station has been able to buy itself lunch in this city, and that’s the classic rock station. Everyone else goes in and out of business, re-brands, and picks up the scraps if they’re lucky. The classic rock station guy, on the other hand, wakes up, leans over, hits play on the same CD-R playlist of Zeppelin and AC/DC songs and goes back to sleep.

This one time I heard “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” on the radio and I remember thinking to myself, “Is there anyone in the city who actually needs to hear this song again?” and then I walked outside and could hear a band rehearsing and they were playing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” It was then that I knew I would never be mayor of Ottawa.

Anyway, the guitar lick here is searing, in the way that your dad BBQing on a hot day or a movie on VHS about jet fighters is searing.

1:00 – You know what? That last paragraph seemed a little dismissive, but the guitar playing leads us to a surprisingly dark place. Not only does it become rhythmically complex, but it breaks down the mood, takes us on an excursion, provides variation on a theme.

Let’s be clear: this is a pro-sports team’s theme song we’re talking about. It has no obligation to vary. They could have provided some hand-claps and it would have been fine. But they go the extra mile here. That it’s only for a few seconds only reinforces the notion: “I write one bar for the fans, and one bar for me,” the guitar player, possibly Joe Satriani, says to precisely no one.

1:15 – Danger flutes return, though they kind of stab randomly at the air before offering a little trill that takes us back to the refrain.

1:25 – This might be the best part of the whole damn song: the guitar and horns-by-Roland do a three second call-and-response during the rhythmic transition. The guitarist even lays on the whammy bar a bit, and the horns come right back, like a robot returning a high-five. Again, it’s only for a second. You might even miss it if someone wasn’t writing 1000 words about the Ottawa Senators theme song on a Wednesday morning.

1:28 – Here I’m conflicted. The sway returns, which we’ve established is the best thing in the world, and there’s something interesting happening with the percussion—a swishy sound effect which comes totally out of left-field [EDIT: Twitter notifies me these are skate sounds. There's also a puck hitting the goalpost in there, which introduces a found-sound element that would have made Pierre Schaeffer proud]—but all of this occurs under a crunchy, palm-muted guitar thing and men chanting “Go Sens Go” testosteronically. It’s a bit on the nose.

But that it took the song a minute-and-a-half to get here is a pleasant surprise. I feel like most sports team theme songs usually start with “Go [Team] Go.” I know it’s a low bar, but it’s one we’ve had no trouble clearing to this point. The guys only stick around for two chants worth of chant, which is roughly how long chants last at the Canadian Tire Center.

I’m going to give Roland and Co. a pass here…BARELY.

1:59 – Again, the team goes above and beyond, takes the epic refrain and re-frames it in the form of a rhythmic breakdown that is totally respectable.

2:05 – Timpani. I’ll say it again…

Timpani.

——-

When considering a rating for the Ottawa Senators theme song, one must also consider this horseshit:

Did you make it all the way through that? Excruciating. I feel like maybe, charitably, I can concede that I get what they were going for. And the opening few seconds makes you think the song is going to be as cerebral and experimental as the Wild logo. But all hope is dashed by one long string of cliches in what is essentially a beer commercial that goes on forever.

In conclusion: OTTAWA SENATORS THEME SONG OVERALL RATING A++

OTHER OPTION: did you know that the theme song for the original franchise drive was Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” Small suggestion: we should use that?

Most overrated and underrated teams of the 2014-2015 season

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Go Winterhawks! Go Timbers!

Hockey season is almost here, which means that every homeless woodsman and indie music aficionado has had an opportunity to weigh in with predictions and analysis. By the by: I just got back from Oregon, and give Portland an NHL team already. The Winterhawks are awesome, and it would be worth it for the playoff beards alone.

Anyway, for the most part, predictions are pretty straightforward and non-contentious. After all, every season produces only a few truly elite and truly terrible teams. Most teams fall somewhere in the creamy middle – say, about a 10-15 point differential straddling the sensitive spot known as “the bubble,” which is located between one’s anus and genitals. Where one falls on this spectrum is largely determined by puck-luck (PDO), injuries, and the presence of STIs.

Still, there are always a few teams that seem to benefit from the assumption that adding in the offseason automatically makes you better. I find a fair share of analysts weight additions to the lineup far more than changes in tactics or what’s going on in the rest of the team’s division.

With that in mind, here are my three most overrated and most underrated teams in the NHL based on what I’ve seen in the preseason predictions. If I’m wrong about any of these, I’ll move back to Portland permanently and become a Trail Blazers fan.

OVERRATED

Tampa Bay

Perfect, because Steve Yzerman has got to be the most overrated GM in the league. He inherited one of the best players in the world in Stamkos and a stud defenseman in Hedman. The team went to the Conference Finals in his first year, but missed the playoffs twice in the next three seasons, with one of those a third-last overall finish. They made the playoffs once and were swept in the first round. And he accomplish that by spending money like no other. Perhaps only the Philadelphia Flyers have been as addicted to burning cash. No coincidence they picked up Lecavalier after Yzerman paid him millions to go away so he could throw millions at boy band synchronized back-up dancer Valterri Filpulla.

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Look, there’s a lot of talent on that roster, and I’m as excited as anyone to see what it can do. (And would be even more excited if they weren’t in Ottawa’s division.) But people are picking this team to be a Cup contender and win the East. That’s quite a jump. There are scenarios where the planets align and all that, but that’s true of almost any team.

As a fan of a team who used to get picked to be a Cup contender every year, let me throw some cold water on this whole thing. The team hasn’t been particularly good for the last couple of years, even with a lot of talent on the roster. They’ve lost St. Louis, Bishop may not be a starter (though it didn’t stop Yzerman from paying him $6MM a year starting next year), the young kids are still young, and the constant overhaul of the roster has got to have some residual effects on strategy and coherence. They’re probably good, but they might also be the perfect example of the way analysts pick favorites. They traded for other people’s salary dumps and handed out contracts like pez. Did this ever work for the Rangers? Why would it work for Tampa?

Dallas

Another sexy pick. When Lindy Ruff unleashed his fully armed and operational battle station on the power-play last week everyone lost their minds. Forget that it was a preseason game against the Panthers.

Dallas has all the tools to do well, and I’m rooting for Spezz. I like this island of misfit toys—players like Hemsky, Seguin and Spezza, too often maligned by the local media for their former teams, come together with a cassette tape of Appetite for Destruction and a fist full of pizza money. But c’mon, we can admit that Spezza, Hemsky and Lehtonen are going to be hurt for most of the season and that’s the ballgame for Dallas, right? It’s totally gonna happen.

New York Islanders

Not that people are setting the expectations for the Islanders especially high—most of what I’ve seen is something along the lines of “If everything goes right, they might push for a playoff spot.” But they had 79 points last year, good for fifth last in the league. In fact, the last time they didn’t have a top five pick, not counting the 2012-2013 lockout-shortened season when everything was wacky, was 2006-2007.

Read that again. That last time the Islanders didn’t have a top five pick, Peter Schaefer was still an Ottawa Senator.

The year Ottawa finished fifth last overall we were all traumatized, and that’s been life as an Islanders fan for almost a decade. Do we really expect the addition of Halak, Leddy, Boychuk, Grabovski and Kulemin to reverse that kind of tradition? I mean, they’re probably better than usual…but 15 points in the standings-better? C’mon.

UNDERRATED

Nashville

I feel like Nashville gets slotted in somewhere in the lower half of the mediocre teams every year because people don’t watch them that closely and there won’t be the kind of outcry you get when you predict Montreal is due for some mild regression. And they’re definitely in tough in the central—I’m not calling them to make the playoffs or anything. But they have one of the best net minders in the league, probably the best all-around defenseman, the best prospect, decent-to-good scorers and some intriguing prospects throughout the lineup. They’re not world-beaters or anything, but I think they can beat any team in the league on any given night, and expect them to take more than a few teams by surprise.

Colorado

They’re everyone’s pick to stink this year because of their unsustainable PDO, and some regression is probably in order. But regression from a 112 point season is regression from unbelievable to…still pretty damned good. They finished a full 12 points higher than possession darlings and consensus best-team Los Angeles. And they did it all in the toughest division in hockey.

It’s funny how Tampa having young players and good prospects and betting on progression results in everyone picking them to be sudden contenders, but Colorado having Duchene, Landeskog, O’Reilly, and friggin’ MacKinnon doesn’t result in same. Put it this way—given Dallas clinched last year’s final wild card spot with 91 points, Colorado has 21 points worth of wiggle room from their total last year to do the same. That’s insane. They’re a playoff team, and given the right match-ups can do some damage.

Phoenix

Sure, they lost Vrbata, who was the only one who scores goals for them. But Mike Smith spent much of the season hurt and they finished only two points out of a playoff spot. If Gagner turns out to be a legit second line center, Erat sets out to prove everyone wrong after his disastrous campaign in Washington, and everyone else chips in with the ugliest goals you’ve ever seen, it won’t be a surprise if that defense can get it done.

By the way, Arizona is spending almost $3MM more on salary this season than Ottawa.

HAVE A GOOD SEASON EVERYONE

Five Hot Media Tips for Eugene Melnyk and Sens Management

Apropos of nothing in particular and while sitting for five hours at Dulles airport

Stop describing Sens fans as “fickle”

Try to imagine for a moment that sports are treated less like a religion and more like any other product or service. Say, like a restaurant. Now imagine that the restaurant was difficult to reach, and the quality of its cooking was pretty good, but variable. You never know if you’re going to get a real bummer of a meal, and management, in an attempt to save money, has cut back on talent in the kitchen. Now imagine that the restaurant owner gets on some widely listened-to cooking show and says that the variable quality has less to do with anything that exists in reality and more to do with the perception of the customers and their fickle palate. Would you, as a possible patron at this restaurant, imagine it your community-minded duty to support this business? How about if the business owner kept calling you variations on picky and entitled?

Yes, Ottawa fans don’t mindlessly and automatically purchase the maximum number of tickets possible regardless of the performance of the team, especially considering how inaccessible the arena is. Does that suck as a business owner? Sure. Are we less awesome than fans who lose their shit for a team and shell out no matter what? I guess so. Is there any reason why you have to keep going on the radio (usually Toronto radio, at that) and describe your core customers as fickle? Nope. Knock it off.Your franchise’s value has increased fourfold in the last ten years, you have the kind of stability that only two lockouts in that decade can provide, and we ain’t the Florida Panthers. It never plays well when a billionaire calls normal people cheap.

Stop presenting that you bought UFA years on Gryba and Borowiecki as evidence that you’re not a budget team

As far as I understand it Ottawa has been trying to include Gryba in trade packages for like a year and Borowiecki is a replacement level defenceman who’s played few NHL games and put up poor possession numbers when he did. It’s early in both player’s careers and all that, but my point is that neither player should feel particularly secure that they will play in the NHL for years to come, or so secure that they would want to hold on to their UFA years and negotiate for a higher salary a year or two from now. For management to repeatedly point to their decision to lock both of these players up – at a very low amount of money – while playing hard ball with much better defenceman Marc Methot is just weird. It’s also transparently an effort to lock up the only kinds of players that Ottawa can afford, which is to say, not terribly good / expensive ones.

It’s ok to say that Ottawa plans to spend money later. It’s also ok to say that Ottawa doesn’t have the money and doesn’t know when it will. We can take it. Melnyk can’t generate money from thin air and it’s not like he’s going to sell the franchise with all the money to be made over the next decade. There’s a new television deal, both local and national, expansion fees and a league that keeps expanding in value. We can handle business truths. But contorting budget moves as evidence that the team is doing just fine looks pretty bad.

Spend a little less time with the traditional media

Look, nothing against the talented and connected journalists at the Citizen and the Sun, and also the nationals who spill occasional ink on the Sens. They do their job, but that’s exactly what it is: a job. They have to cover every little in and out of the team, turn every minor drama into a major one, push and push the players so that they know nothing is ever good enough. It happens in every Canadian city, and it might be one small reason why no Canadian team can consolidate the kind of talent required to win a Cup. The Sun has two – two! – full time writers who are expected to cover every single little story with microscopic attention. It’s suffocating to read – I can’t imagine what it’s like to live it.

So screw it. Give them the access you’re obligated to give them, but insulate the players from it. Let Pappa MacLean give his post-game press conference. He doesn’t seem too bothered. But spend less time feeding that particular beast, because it’s never full. All it does is alienate players and develop unrealistic expectations among fans.

Trust Us

We promise: we like hockey. We like the Sens. If we’re not there in person, we’re most definitely watching at home, or at a local bar, and buying up jerseys and shirts and building the kind of loyalty to the team with our families that the two nearby original six teams enjoy. We appreciate that you’re doing all of these things to try to enhance the arena experience and get more butts in the seats. The stuff with Red Scarf Union looks cool, as does this multimedia thing you’re trying, whatever that is. We’re up for an experiment or two. But these things are always secondary to the fact that this is a Canadian city that is coming into its own. Anyone who lives here can feel it. It used to be that you turned 20 and moved somewhere else. But we’re only going to keep growing. So stay the course here. It’s only going to get better.

KEEP MELNYK OFF THE RADIO

Pretty self explanatory. If you don’t know what I mean, listen to literally any Melnyk interview from the last three years or so, or as I like to call this period, “one man’s descent into madness.” I’ve given up on him even having a coherent message, let alone agreeing with him. So, absent a PR director, maybe just lead him into a room with a mic that isn’t plugged into anything and let him go. We can keep a secret.

Three Preseason Experiments That Could be Interesting which is a Diplomatic Way of Saying They’re Terrible Suggestions and should be Ignored

Gryba attached a leather couch to his back so whenever he's tired all he needs to do is lean back and boom: he's relaxing. Smart.

Gryba attached a leather couch to his back so whenever he’s tired all he needs to do is lean back and boom: he’s relaxing. Smart.

Training camp and preseason are mega-weird; would you disagree? It’s a nexus of emotions in which withdrawal from hockey pushes our interest to peak levels, and yet the hockey being played is literally at its most meaningless. I’m consuming everything I can get my hands on. I just watched a video of Chris Phillips working out.

But what preseason does offer is an opportunity to follow an alternate reality Ottawa Senators where lineup combinations are surreal and fruitful new relationships blossom. Remember when Brandon Bochenski broke some kind of franchise record for preseason goals scored? (Or something.) And then he didn’t last the year? That’s what I’m talking about. For about two weeks we’ll all watch games that don’t mean anything before we start a season that’s already too long and we can feel like acid casualties in the throes of an episode. It’s how our grandfathers taught us to love the game.

So, in the spirit of writing about something that is so irrelevant it might not even exist, I posit three experimental combinations you might see during the preseason that are the hockey equivalent of free jazz, and totally worth exploring.

1) David Legwand on the wing with Mika Zibanejad as his center and Mike Hoffman or Mark Stone on the other side.

WAITWAITWAIT hear me out.

We’ve had some good times talking about where Zibanejad fits in vis-a-vis our second line center fantasies. Is he ready? Are WE ready? What IS ready? Our consensus seems to be something like Zibanejad COULD be a second line center, but it’s probably too early to expect it, and Legwand MIGHT be an ideal third liner, but he’ll probably be a second, and Zack Smith is too good to be a FOURTH line center, but where else do you put him? And Zibanejad can play wing so there’s that. And so on.

But what about David Legwand as a winger? Checking here… (*typing sounds*) he’s…never done it before. Ok. Bad start. The guy’s played like 1000 games as a center. But we know what we’re getting from Legwand at this point: he’s a defensively responsible two-way player on an affordable contract whose ceiling is somewhere between 45-50 points. He’s not much of a playmaker. Zibanejad, on the other hand, we know less about. He hasn’t been given steady ice time with consistent linemates long enough to know if he can distribute the puck. So give him a finisher like Hoffman or Stone, insulate the line from risk with Legwand, and CATCH THE RUSH.

2) A youngin’ on every line

What do I mean by that? Well, we all know that this camp will be chock full of desperate young millionaires (or soon-to-bes) looking to cement their position on the team. Not counting those with significant NHL time already like Zibanejad or Cowen, we’ve got Lazar, Hoffman, Stone, and Chiasson. This isn’t even counting spry cowboys like Pageau, Puempel, or Shane Prince. So what if we spread around the young butter? I’m talkin’:

Stone – Turris – Ryan

Michalek – Zibby – Hoffman

Chiasson – Legwand – MacArthur

Lazar – Smith – Condra

I know, I’m mixing up wings and centers here like I’m mixing vodka and some of the herbs I found in the cupboard when I moved into my apartment. But that’s what makes life exciting / your hockey team not very good / your liver incapable of processing alcohol. It gives the youngins experience. It gives the fans a fresh face on every line. And MOST IMPORTANTLY Chris Neil didn’t even get into the lineup in this scenario.

3) Break up Turris and Ryan, stick Bobs on an all-scoring line

The latest rumblings out of our perpetual “When is a Bobby Ryan Deal GOING TO HAPPEN??” media coverage / hourly anxiety attacks is that Ryan wants to see how he’s going to be used on the team before he commits long-term. This obviously is totally nausea-inducing because it recalls the whole Dany Heatley debacle about usage with Cory Clouston (RIP).

Part of me thinks this is just posturing. “I’m a scoring specialist, and I always have been. I WANT TO PLAY ON THE PENALTY KILL!!” Are you kidding me? Nobody wants to play on the penalty kill. You stand in front of Shea Weber slapshots and get to be on the ice when you get scored on the most. The penalty kill sucks. He basically picked something the team would be totally crazy to humour, asked for it, and got himself wiggle room to see if the team is competitive for the next few months.

But let’s assume for a moment that he’s being genuine. Well, ok then: let’s see if we really can run a responsible line through Bobby Ryan. Take him away from great two-way players like MacArthur and Turris and see what he can do. Put him on a line with, say, Stone and Hoffman. Maybe give him some Milan Michalek, who’s been known to score 30+ goals but whose play is deteriorating. At the very least it might have a positive influence on negotiations.

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So there you have it. Three terrible suggestions that entirely ignore the fact that you’re not going to pay Chris Neil almost $2MM not to play and doesn’t even acknowledge that we have a defense. And that is what we call in the business “making sausage.”