The return of #peskysens?

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The pre-season predictions are starting to trickle in, and if these things amount to anything more than throwing chicken guts against the wall and reading the future in the resulting patterns, then the Sens are screwed.

The Hockey News picked Ottawa to finish seventh in the Atlantic, lower than Toronto, whom they finished four points better than last season, and Florida, over whom they finished a whopping 22 points higher.

Toronto: ok, fine. They’re a bubble team just like Ottawa, and they added some useful depth players in the off-season; I can live with the prediction. But Florida? Winner of the draft lottery Florida? Either The Hockey News thinks Florida is going to be much, much better, or that Ottawa is going to be much, much worse. I get that some players have moved in and some out, but whenever you see an analyst pick a team to see a 20-point swing in their fortune, in either direction, you know it’s unlikely to come about.

What we’re seeing is more of what we get every year, which is indicative of the shortcomings with which all of us observers on the wrong side of the dressing room door must contend. We don’t know what sort of changes in tactics any team has planned, and so we resort to a simple game of resource management. If a team gains a player or two, they’re better. If not, they aren’t. It’s not too much more sophisticated to the approach I employ when playing NHL 2011 and I replace a player with one rating for a player with a higher one.

It’s dull, simplistic math, and sometimes results in a glowing prediction (Senators without Karlsson and Spezza made playoffs two seasons ago, so with them they must be great), and sometimes, as in this year, a less-than-enthusiastic response (no Spezza and Hemsky? They’re cooked). Forget that the logic employed to guess that the Senators would be a contender last year is here employed again to predict the exact opposite. It’s befuddling.

The more I think about it, the more I think that any prediction other than the unsatisfying “depends on tactics” seems even more unsatisfying. Ottawa has to cut down on the number of shots against and still produce a net positive shot differential. Can they do it? I don’t know, but the answer sure isn’t “+1 Legwand -1 Spezza = last place in the Atlantic.”

But if we do know anything, it’s that the team responded well to being the underdog a couple of seasons ago. #peskysens was one of the only team slogans to develop organically in a long history of contrived marketing campaigns and misguided attempts at authenticity. You didn’t see players with “United in Red” (or whatever) emblazoned on their chest. And that’s something that we fans, at the very least, can root for. I don’t think much about our first round win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2006, in a season when Ottawa led the Eastern conference with 113 points. I sure as hell still think about that 2013 first round win over the better, or at least more skilled, Habs.

So as each new prediction hits the wire, I personally am rooting for the naysayers and the gloom. Bring on the negativity. It’s the season for harmless predictions, and only good can come of every professional prognosticator underestimating this team yet again.

Exploiting the Big Spenders and Trolling for Deals

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Ottawa has handed out a few extensions and raises lately, and is still trying to sign Marc Methot and Bobby Ryan. If they can get those two under contract, and with new deals due to Mika Zibanejad, Eric Condra, Alex Chiasson, Mark Stone, and Mark Hoffman next season, you might actually see Ottawa crawl out of the bottom five salaries in the NHL. Barely.

But even with this bump in expenditures, Ottawa’s biggest advantage remains its extra cap room and what one presumes to be additional revenues due to the massive regional television deal recently signed with TSN.

A look at Capgeek shows a few teams over the cap. Can Ottawa exploit their unenviable situation and try to pry a useful player away from them in a salary dump? Let’s take a look at the menu.

Philadelphia Flyers

They’re currently about $5MM over the cap, though most of that will disappear once Chris Pronger’s long-term injured relief kicks in. That hasn’t stopped new GM Ron Hextall from doing the typical Philly thing and retooling his roster in a fundamental way. The appetite is always there in Philly to clear cap space for the next season-defining move. Who might be the next Flyer on a long-term deal to find themselves shipped to a small-town market?

Matt Read – $3.625MM per for four more years – Read seemed poised to become a core player for Philly in his rookie season, but a couple of underwhelming follow-up seasons show him rounding out into a 20-goal, 50 point player. He’s also already 28. But his salary is reasonable, especially when you’re seeing 50 point guys commanding $4MM+ on the open market and the cap is only going up.

Sean Couturier – $1.750MM per for two more years – This is more like it. Couturier has the pedigree, the possession stats, and is only 21. His best years are ahead of him, and he’s due a raise on his modest deal. The fact that he doesn’t have a high ceiling in terms of point production might make him expendable in Philly, where they always seem to be swinging for the fences.

Luke Schenn – $3.6MM for two more years – sure, he’s underperformed, but Luke Schenn has only ever played in big markets with intense pressure. Maybe playing in a smaller market as a second-pairing player with modest expectations would provide the conditions to help him become an effective, reliable defenseman.

Chicago Blackhawks

This team is in real trouble next season. They’re already $2.2MM over the cap, and the huge extensions to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews haven’t even kicked in. Even if they let useful depth defenseman Johnny Oduya walk, the extension to even more valuable Nick Leddy and blossoming power forward Brandon Saad will probably eat up the savings. They probably need to move at least one fairly big ticket forward.

Patrick Sharp – $5.9MM per for three more years – there was a rumour out there months back that Ottawa could move a package of Lazar, a depth roster player like Greening, and Gryba to Chicago in exchange for Sharp. While losing a prospect like Lazar would be a challenge, Sharp has scored over 30 goals four times, and would provide an elite scoring complement to the lineup, relieving some of the pressure on Bobby Ryan. They’d have to give up a lot to get him, and his limited NTC might nix the deal, but it’s a tantalizing thought.

Andrew Shaw – $2MM per for two more years – Shaw is only 23 and already has a 20 goal season under his belt. He’d complement Ottawa’s young team, though we already have our share of undersized, bottom six centers. Would Shaw be redundant, or an upgrade?

Tampa Bay Lightning

Can we talk about how overrated Steve Yzerman is as a GM? Sure, he’s transformed his roster, but only because he’s spent enormous, ridiculous amounts of his owner’s money doing it. This isn’t smart, nuanced decision making; it’s rebuilding a team with a jackhammer and a shotgun. He’s handed out big term and big dollars to everyone from Ryan Callahan to Valteri Filppula, from Matt Carle to Anton Stralman. This team is going to be absolutely screwed in a season or two when they need to extend Brett Connolly and Steve Stamkos, and a year after that when they need a new contract for Jonathan Drouin and Victor Hedman. They have so many middle-of-the-pack players signed to $4M+ deals, and they’re already $2MM over the cap.

Victor Hedman – $4MM per for three more years – doubtful that they’d move this cornerstone defenseman, but Stralman, Carle, and newly acquired Jason Garrison are all making big money and have no trade clauses (because of course they do). It would be an absolute coup to see Hedman playing on the same line as Karlsson.

Ondrej Palat – $3.333MM per for three more years – he’s only 23 and scored 23 goals last year. A promising winger with respectable possession stats to boot. He’s cheap for his production and potential, but an obstacle if you’re a GM like Yzerman who’s hooked on handing out five year deals at $4MM-$5MM per.

Boston Bruins

They’re only a million or so over the cap, and about four of that is going to come off the cap when Marc Savard goes on long term injured reserve, but they’re heading into renegotiation hell next season with David Krejci and pretty much their entire defensive corps needing new contracts. In fact, Boston is only a couple of seasons away from heading into real decline, all starting with the fact that Zdeno Chara is already 37.

Brad Marchand – $4.5MM per for three more years – hard to imagine Marchand playing for anyone other than the Bruins. (Maybe the Flyers?) But he’s exactly the kind of player you move in situations like this. He’s making big money and is about to exit his prime, but he can still be an effective complementary player on any team’s roster.

Johnny Boychuk – $3.366MM per for one more season – already mentioned in a pie-in-the-sky article suggesting a trade of Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov for Boychuk, but he’s a solid shutdown defender who’s due a raise on a team who doesn’t really have the space to give it to him. If Boston has to choose between Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton, who’s younger and has a higher ceiling, Boychuk might be expendable.

Tactic Talk, or a talk show in text format that is neither interactive nor anything like a talk show

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In which James and Varada exchange emails about what changes Paul MacLean needs to make to Ottawa’s tactics to help them to be a successful, which is to say different, team of hockey players. Varada just kind of sets up the question and lets it hang there like a fart, but then James explores the studio space.

Varada:

The point at which analytics guys have to sort of try to imagine what it’s like to play hockey

It’s been quite the summer for analytics. I’m not going to run through all of the events, because it’s August, and every post on every hockey blog is hashing and re-hashing these events and extrapolating on the seismic shifts they imply. Suffice to say that the summer of 2014 marks the pre- and post- point in the hockey timeline, the point at which teams started systematically referring to evidence and trends in data to inform their decision making. (And, as a result, the fan community no longer has access to great sites like MC79 or Extra Skater. The price you pay, I suppose.)

There are a couple of interesting things here for the statistically inclined to consider. First was that while the blogging community got to be a part of something genuinely culture-changing, we are now in the post-implementation phase. How do we define ourselves now? It’s a little like the baby boomers growing up and bringing their anti-authority perspective to the corporate boardroom. Maybe it shook up the way people did business, but it also made dissent a little less meaningful. You can say fuck the system right up until they sell you a fuck the system t-shirt, y’know? We already have our share of people with proprietary metrics, trying to sell NHL teams on their turnkey solution. It doesn’t really feel like us against the world anymore.

It’s also a challenge because we have to think about the next phase of our discussion about analytics. It’s no longer just about looking at outcomes and saying “player x and clearly better than player y, so they should use him more.” I once read with Taylor Hall where he said he understood the concept of possession metrics, but hadn’t encountered a person who could explain how he should play differently to improve on those metrics. I don’t envy Tyler Dellow here. He might be able to identify trends in data that will help management make a decision on one player over another, but it’s a real challenge to understand how to translate trends into tactics. (Let alone explain it to a superstar player who went first overall and makes $6MM a year.) It’ll happen – video technology and zone entries are a step in that direction.

This is important for Sens fans to think about because we have a team that needs to shift tactics to win, and we don’t necessarily have the literacy to say how.

Flash back to two years ago – the lockout shortened season. Ottawa has positive possession metrics, and the second best goals against average, despite allowing more shots on goal than most teams. They enjoyed a series of improbable comebacks that generated the moniker ‘pesky’ (when I guess it could have been ‘lucky’). People start describing them as the second best defensive team in the league. They make the playoffs (as a 7th seed – still a bubble team in my books), beat the Canadiens (who they match up well against) and are summarily executed by the Penguins. Good stuff.

Everyone taps them as a team on the up and up, even a team that will win the Presidents’ Trophy, and we’re all psyched.

The next year the team is essentially the same. They allow even more shots on goal, but manage to stay a positive possession team because they also take a lot of shots. People start to talk about them as an ‘event’ team, one that creates a lot of on-ice events, both for and against. The goaltending regresses to league average, and boom: we’re on the wrong side of the bubble. Now people are writing knowing articles about how the season before Ottawa wasn’t in fact defensively sound, they just rode unsustainably hot goaltending through a small sample size of a shortened season.

So here we are, in 2014-2015, and Ottawa has lost their best offensive player. Their defense remains largely the same. There are many young players peppering the lineup who can trend up or down – they’re unknown factors. As a blogger out in the world, feeling his way around, I wonder if this team can survive playing the same brand of event hockey.

To their credit, they’ve talked about needed to cut down on the shots against, being harder to play against in their own zone, etc. This team simply can’t replace Spezza’s production with what it has, especially when having Spezza’s production last year wasn’t enough to get them into the show.

But here’s where it gets tough, because I don’t play professional hockey: how? What, tactically, can the Senators do to cut down on the shots against, but maintain the shots for? And do they even have the personnel to make the sort of tactical changes they need to make? They’ve spoken at length about needing to ‘try harder’ and be ‘harder to play against,’ but you know every other team in the league is also doing those things.

This, to me, is the first real test of Paul MacLean’s coaching. He needs to either change something fundamental about the system or double-down on what the team has done to date, emphasize hard work (even more), and root for lucky comebacks and great goaltending. I don’t mean that sarcastically – it’s probably easier to do, and doesn’t risk alienating the dressing room. But if at the end of this season Ottawa is bottom five in shots against and on the outside looking in, it’s going to take a draft lottery win for people to overlook the tactical gaps in Ottawa’s approach.

James, what does Ottawa need to do to improve? What possible changes can they make to tactics?

James:

Send Paul MacLean’s Evil Twin (creatively known on this site as Evil Paul MacLean) to a Dungeon in Grostenquin, France.

By reinstating Jack Adams winner Good Paul MacLean, he’d have the benefit of learning lessons from Evil Paul MacLean’s shortcomings such as:

Don’t put Neil and Phillips on the goddamn Power Play like, ever…fucking again. Even if the team is decimated by injury. Plz. & Thx. TTYL (not on the power play).

Look, I suppose to a degree I get what Evil Paul MacLean was trying to do there. It was early in the season, the team was really struggling to put it together and the coach got all, “If you’re not going to stand in front of the net like I asked, I’m going to put a guy out there who will [and I’m taking you all to hell with me].” If there’s one thing I appreciate about Chris Neil it’s that he WILL stand in front of the net. It’s a terrible but important job. Remember when Shea Weber injured two of our players in one shift with those deathclappers of his (one Cody Ceci sent off bleeding from the head despite wearing a helmet and the other Craig Anderson WHO’S A FUCKING GOALIE)? Celebrate the moments of our lives.

Anyway, I get that there might not be a list of volunteers snaking around the block to get in front of Erik Karlsson point bombs – though you could make a hell of a living doing it! But even still, just by merit of being on the ice, by reputation alone Neil is likely to be the first guy to take you OFF that power play than to score on it.

The use of Phillips is even more perplexing. He actually has an okay shot but it’s no secret that Big Rig haaaaates having the puck in his possession and as such has an underrated first pass due to making his exit passes lightning quick so the puck doesn’t have to be on his stick anymore. Hot potato hands is not exactly a fetching quality to have in your point man.

*Looks at post it note* Oh cool, Patrick Wiercioch scored more power play goals in his 53 games than Phillips did in the last two seasons…but that’s just me, boring old fashioned “I like goals on the power play James” (That’s what they call me).

Probably too late to mention this but I’m not even trying to turn this into a throw Phillips and Neil under the bus session. If MacLean’s going to tap them on the shoulder during the power play, it’s their job to hop over the boards and play. My problem is that our entertainment value suffers in order to “punish” the high skill players. In the end I felt our eyes were the ones truly punished.

Heyyyyyy the top line of Turris, Ryan and MacArthur has great chemistry!

Cool, cool…very cool…now if you can just go ahead and give the other players a chance to develop some chemistry by…I don’t know, how about letting them have more than a couple of periods to gel with each other. Yeah, that would be really great.

No one bore the brunt of musical chairs more than Jason Spezza did last year. I mean, look no further than the year he played the whole season with Greening and Michalek. Michalek is a good if inconsistent winger and Greening is…a human being.

Result of a season together: Milo a career high 35 goals (I know right? 35. That would be a career high for Bobby Ryan!) and Greening got a stupid contract earning 17 goals. Where was I going with this? Good luck in future endeavours Jason Spezza…I mean oops wait…Call me a crazy but allowing the players a chance to adjust to each other could posit results on the score sheet.

That goes for defensive pairings too. I feel like the only set defensive pairing the team had last season was Phillips-Ceci which, hey, makes perfect sense. Keep the rookie with the 36 year old with 1100 games under his belt. But despite carrying 8 defensemen, it seemed like pairings should have been sorted out by the end of the season but it still felt psychedelic. Of course the shuffling had something to do with players like, and I’m not going to name names here: Jared Cowen playing nowhere near where you’d expect a guy who held out for a new contract despite being offered 8 years (Bullet of committing a near decade status: Dodged).

Methot went from playing pretty much exclusively with Karlsson one year to what I like to imagine is Paul MacLean taking a huge hit from a bong and exhaling through his nose and saying, “You know what would be so trippy? Gryba-Methot…think about it man…it’s sounds like “Grabbin my thoughts” which is like, what the NSA is trying to right now, man. See, check it out, I was reading this article on Prison Planet…” And it goes on like this till the pizza guy gets there. Methot is speedy, left handed and defensively minded. PLZ play him with speedy right handed and offensively minded Karlsson. Crow all you will about EK’s defensive shoddiness, Cowen was the worst defensive player on the team last year…punish him, don’t promote him to the top pairing with a guy who takes a lot of risks. If it was up to me, I’d have swapped Cowen in and out of the lineup with Wiercioch depending on who was playing better. Then again, the goings on of Patrick Wiercioch’s love life are none of my business.

Don’t Have Last Year’s Schedule This Year.

Funny, because as rough as it was to start the season on a road trip and facing a host of powerhouse Western teams, the Sens did come back home with a .500 record. If that same road trip took place in say January, I’d think that a .500 finish was pretty acceptable. For the team, however, that’s got to be a pretty lukewarm way to start the season off morale-wise. What was worse was soon after they were back they had to play a bunch of those powerhouse West Coast teams again…and heyyyy, they lost to all of them. On top of that they blew a Saturday afternoon home game to the Oilers sparking a season long tradition of not showing up to very, VERY winnable HOME games because something something afternoon?

Phun Phakt: Ottawa didn’t win any of their weekend games in October. Period. The result? 4 wins on the month…CAUSED BY BAD BABYSITTING. As a big believer that the points you bank in October push you into May, Ottawa’s slow start may indeed have cost them a Wild Card spot. They ended the season only 5 points back of Columbus and Detroit. Who knows how it would have shaken in out in this alternate universe but had Senators managed 3 W’s in their 5 weekend games in October, things would no doubt have been a hell of a lot more interesting come April.

Analytics Are So Hot Right Now But the Sens Can Also Be Trailblazers By Being One of the First Teams in the NHL to Practice the Shootout.

Maybe it’s just a smoke screen in order to keep Don Cherry from publicly making fun of them for being a “BUNCHA SEXY FANCYBOYS” (his words) but that the Sens and a host of other teams claim to not practice shootouts regularly is a mystery to me and frankly kind of pisses me off as a fan. The shootout is new (not really) and controversial but like it or not it is AN ACTUAL PART OF THE GAME THAT LITERALLY DECIDES WINS AND LOSSES.

No stats available (sorry but it’s summer and I’ve got BBQing to get to. Thanks for reading tho!) but safe to say we got dummied in the shootout last season and lost out on a lot of points as a result. I pray to Jah that at least goaltenders get a pre-game rundown of their opponent’s top players’ shootout tendencies. If not, to me, that would be like a pitcher not studying batters’ swing tendencies pre-game.

On the bright side, Ottawa being one of the youngest teams in the league could bode well for them in this respect going forward. I tend to think that most forwards born in the 1990s or who hail from the Continent of Europe are at least half decent at the shootout (Proof: Jarrko Ruutu was pretty good at shootouts so…). The Sens have a few youngsters, Euros and even Euroyoungsters on hand who have some moves, so I don’t get why the coach wouldn’t devote some time for his shooters to sharpen their skills. Or for their goalies to sharpen up at stopping them (RobinLehnerRobinLehnerRobinLehner).

Summed up: Fancyboys = W’s

Actually Beat the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Yes, yes, yes, this one sounds petty and I can own that but you cannot lose every game of the year to a division rival that is actually worse than you and expect to be successful as a team. Especially when Ottawa already seems to have a tough time beating Boston, Tampa and Detroit. BTW for those of you currently hitting the Comment button (j/k, Spam only), no, I do not count Ottawa beating Toronto 1-0 in the 2nd last game of the season when both teams have been mathematically eliminated from the post-season as a win. I’m a tyrant like that. Beating this very mediocre crew at least half or more than half of the time (Dare 2 Dream) would do wonders for not only the Sens place in the standings but also my ears listening to dickheads in Phil Kessel jerseys* down at the rink who are forever talking a gang of shit like the team they like isn’t a complete embarrassment.

Idea: Have coach force Sens players take the bus from Scotiabank Place all the way back downtown after losing to Leafs to illustrate the shit they are putting their adoring fans through until they can start getting the job done.

*Note to Kessel jersey fellas: Hi, I know we like different teams and all but when we’re out there playing on the same side, try your best to remember that even though his name is proudly displayed across my shoulders, I’m not actually Erik Karlsson and it’s okay to pass to me when I get open in the slot instead of passing back to the constantly out of breath dude at the point because he is wearing a Van Reimsdyk jersey. You do it every time and it’s getting very weird. Have a great summer and see you in hell, James.

How about you, dear reader? What tactics can Ottawa employ? Feel free to hit the comments with, you know, actual hockey stuff about zone entries and player tendencies and such.

Sens extend notable, established NHL forward Clarke MacArthur…does that sound sarcastic? I’m being serious

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Pictured here with Chris Neil

Hot on the heels of locking up essential 11th defenceman Mark Borowiecki, the Senators announced (and by Senators I mean Eugene Melnyk on a conference call talking about something else) that they’ve signed Clarke MacArthur to a five year deal paying him less than $5MM a year.

I don’t think there’s much in the way of analysis needed here: it’s just an awesome signing all around. When you look at what NHL salaries are doing, and what they’re likely to do in the next few seasons, this is great value for a top six forward with great possession numbers who you know can play in your lineup. With Kyle Turris’ high value contract they’ve got 2/3rds of a top line locked down for about $8MM. So let’s take a moment and applaud management for a well negotiated deal.

MacArthur was heading to UFA status in a market where someone like Mikhail Grabovski – also an effective possession forward – gets $5MM a year. So he might have left money on the table here. But keep in mind that this is a player who wanted to stay in the area (I think that’s how Ottawa signed him to that first high value deal in the first place), and a player who, inexplicably, hasn’t really stuck anywhere. I don’t think MacArthur was treated like a core player in Buffalo, Atlanta, or Toronto. In Ottawa he played a career high in ice time (17:38 a game; his career average is 15:24), was trusted to play on the top line, and now he’s got the term to go along with it. He rewarded the team’s trust in him by signing for less.

So THIS is what they mean when they say “the deal has got to work for both sides.”

I’ve seen a couple of blogs talk about how players decline as they hit their 30s, and I think that’s fair. MacArthur also had a 15.1% shooting percentage last year, so I don’t think you’re going to see him light it up this season, or any season soon. (Or, as Melnyk put it, “tear up the ice” which…what?) But MacArthur is in that sweet spot of being a core player on a reasonable deal and yet not being considered a star. The expectations will always be just right for him. Put up 40-50 points; be defensively responsible; and don’t make too much money. The fans will never turn on you this way.

Judging by the fan poll over on Silverseven, you guys like the deal a whole lot. As of today a whopping 95% of the almost 600 people who’ve voted like the deal.

One wonders who’s next. I think when you have a whole host of pending UFAs, one contract can be a sign of others soon to come. It’s a signal that the team will spend to keep its core together. I’m going to guess the team finds a way to get Methot under contract, Anderson looks at the ridiculous goalie market and opts to sign cheaply to back up Lehner, and the Ryan contract goes quite a bit longer. I hope I’m wrong about that last one.

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Sens extend notable, established NHL defenceman Mark Borowiecki for three more years

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“You DO look like a Ninja Turtle!”

Yesterday Ottawa very quietly announced that they’ve made Mark Borowiecki a multi-millionaire.

21 NHL games played. 1 point. -2. About 70 penalty minutes. He has a Fenwick For percentage of 46%. (Yost has a good graph here. Basically Borowiecki is barely a replacement level defenceman, and already 25 years old.) He has little experience, little room to grow, and thus no leverage.

Better lock that guy up!

Seriously, this is bizarre, but still accords with the kind of team Ottawa tends to be. Ottawa locks up their young guys early, gives them relatively low contracts on the off-chance that they’ll reach their ceiling and provide value. It’s the kind of thing poor teams do, what poor teams have to do, to gain a competitive edge. The same logic was employed to lock up Jared Cowen, who’d never been a top four defenseman, on the premise that he would become one anyway, and Colin Greening, on the off-chance that he would continue to score goals and be able to play anywhere in the lineup. Sometimes it doesn’t work out.

And sometimes, as with Turris and Anderson, it does. When you get a player at value, it usually more than pays for when the bet doesn’t quite pan out. If Borowiecki turns into our sparkly new Matt Carkner, well, look at what Carkner signed for on Long Island. Borowiecki receives an extremely modest $100,000 raise every year, and will play about 10 minutes a night to show leadership / get punched in the face.

Furthermore, Borowiecki has paid his dues in the Ottawa organization. 185 AHL games, most of which spent as a leader on a competitive team. Maybe it sends a signal to the prospects that if you play the game the way management wants and you work hard enough, you’ll be rewarded.

Or maybe it sends the signal that the team values pugnacity and grit over skill. The bigger issue remains Ottawa’s decision to lock up all of these mediocre defensemen – it’s death by a thousand paper cuts. A bottom half of Borowiecki, Gryba, Phillips, Wiercioch and Cowen does not currently inspire fear. It doesn’t make much sense to give multi-year deals to bottom-half players. These guys are eminently available on the free agent market. How does Joe Corvo get a one year deal, and Borowiecki three?

Weirder is the timing of this extension. With high priority negotiations like Ryan, MacArthur, Methot and maybe even Anderson underway, Ottawa manages to squeeze in the time to extend a guy who isn’t likely to do anything this season to increase his leverage. I mean, whatever – way to be proactive, guys. But they pretty much just made the guy untradeable.

And I’m not trying to read too much into it (like, does the Borowiecki extension mean that Methot negotiations aren’t going well? That Gryba or someone else is about to be traded?).Or the fact that we just locked up a player who’s like a Chris Neil for the back end. Gotta get those quality penalty minutes throughout the lineup. But it’s weird. And as the summer of hockey analytics continues to roll out, seeing your favorite team make a totally weird move like this feels like we’re heading in the opposite direction.

Sens retire one of only three nice jerseys they’ve ever had after wearing it, what, twice?

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The story is here, courtesy of Icethetics. (Scroll dooooooown.)

Apparently Ottawa won’t wear its off-white version of the heritage jersey in the 2014-2015 season. The word “retire” was even used. I think they wore it twice: during the heritage classic and once more, against Montreal.

As much as this summer has been an Ottawa sports pessimists’ wet dream due to financial issues, the departure of Jason Spezza, and the return of losing football to the capital, this – and I don’t want to seem hysterical here – is the worst thing since the Great Depression.

Why? I don’t need to tell you that Ottawa’s jerseys have had a propensity to suck. They’ve sucked for years. Other than the original jersey…

ALEXANDRE DAIGLE SENATORS

Player: unknown

…Ottawa hasn’t had a jersey you could be remotely excited about. It’s been on an Atlanta Thrashers level of quality, really. Check out Chet Sellers’ Summer of Disappointment post for Puck Daddy for all of the morbid details pertaining to the Senagoth / Starfleet uniform.

The 3D redesign isn’t horrible, I guess, so much as generic, and cheesy, and antiseptic, and soulless and aaaaarggh it’s horrible it’s so horrible. We’re not even getting into SNES with flying squirrel armpits. Man, our jerseys have been teeeeeerible. The team could have gone shirtless like the gladiator with mic problems and it would have been an improvement.

So it was with some excitement that Ottawa went from having, hands down, one of the stupidest uniforms in the league to….maybe, one of the best? Top ten at least? Maybe even top five if you eliminate original six bias? (C’mon the Habs are a C with an H in it. Boston is a B.)

The black heritage jersey was so good that we all took it for granted that eventually a white one would be introduced. And then the white one was so good we all took it for granted that they’d be our new primary jerseys, and our third jersey could be, you know, whatever who cares. (If there’s a god they bring back those originals, though they be cursed with a pirate curse.)

So it is equally surprising to hear…no? We’re going to head into the season with, yet again, the 3D SenHead? I know the NHL’s policy on new uniforms is fairly draconian and requires much synergistic coordination, so let’s hope this decision has more to do with timing and less to do with introducing yet another jersey.

Because I think we can all agree that if the Senators’ marketing department plans on introducing yet another jersey, that there is greater potential for yet another overdesigned, cartoonish, What Dads Think Their Kids Think Might Be Cool jersey than there is yet another knock-it-out-of-the-park good design.

Dudes: you’re sitting on gold here. You did it. You got to the finish line. You introduced jerseys that absolutely everyone – EVERYONE – likes. Just wear them!

What is the most money a team should spend on a single player?

NOTE: Due to a sorting error in my spreadsheet, I had the incorrect median EVP/60. Post corrected.

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Handsome Shrek

It probably goes without saying that, in a cap league, a team’s allocation of money goes a long way toward ensuring depth. This goes doubly for poor teams with less money to spend.

It seems that the approach of most NHL teams has been to identify and lock up their core players, complementing them with a rotating cast of young players on ELCs, free agent veterans, and reclamation projects. This has led to situations where pending free agents, having delivered as core players, reap massive deals taking up huge percentages of the cap. In many cases, high-end draft picks are given huge, long-term deals on the basis of potential alone.

What’s interesting to me is how the perception of a player’s above-averageness is transformed from a relative salary-to-production scale to a less tangible premium. Every point (or point of possession) above the league average that a player produces costs more than a point toward the average.

The question isn’t whether a player like Jonathan Toews is worth $10.5 million, because that’s what any team with the means would pay Toews to play for them. In the strictest sense, a player is worth what the market will pay him. The question is whether any above average player is worth paying a premium for.

It’s not hard to see this applied to Bobby Ryan. If he gets paid north of $7 million by Ottawa, it will be in part because he’s good, in part because he’s a core player, and in part because Ottawa gave up a lot to get him and doesn’t have any other option. But if you question the underlying logic of why teams pay a premium for anyone, then what else could Ottawa do with that money?

If your allotment of cap space is $70 million, that gives you $3.5 million per player, per position. That’s a convenient breakdown; some articles peg the average salary of an NHL player at $2.4 million, and that was two years ago, when the cap was lower, so for the purposes of this article we’ll assume it’s about a million higher. (If anyone has a spreadsheet of all of the salaries in the NHL that allows for a quick average on the cap hit, please hit the comments section.)

One might imagine a team populated by $3.5 million players being decent, but would it be good enough to win a championship? To even make the playoffs? Let’s assume that every player making that amount was worth the money – this would be a team of Clarke MacArthurs, not Derek Engellends. What about then?

The thinking goes that you need a game-breaker: someone who can be relied upon to produce above the league average. In the absence of a hockey equivalent to baseball’s WAR stat – wins above replacement, or what a player produces relative to what someone else might have produced in their place – we’re left with imperfect measures of value. We have league average salary, league average and median point production, and league average and median possession metrics. It’s a bit like hitting the broad side of a barn with a tank shell and calling yourself a marksman.

Let’s look at Alex Ovechkin. I got some heat in the comments of my Worst Contracts post for calling him one-dimensional and not worth the money.

Alex Ovechkin – 2013-2014

Cap hit – $9,538, 462

EVP/60 – 1.74

Corsi For – 49.3%

Corsi Relative – +2.5%

NHL – 2013-2014

Cap hit – $3,500,000

EVP/60 – 1.29 (median)

Corsi For – 50.14% (average) 50.5% (median)

Corsi Relative – 0.08% (average) +3.0% (median)

 

So if the median even-strength-point-per-60-minutes is 1.29 and the average cap hit $3,500,000, you have a relative value of $2,713,178 for every averaged point-per-60. Similarly, if the median Corsi For is 50.14%, you should pay $69,805 for every positive point of Corsi For. In 2013-2014, Ovechkin received $5,481,874 for every averaged EVP/60 and $193,477 for every point of CF.

It’s an admittedly limited scope. We’re looking at point production here, not exclusively goal production, which is what Ovechkin is known for (especially powerplay goal production). You’d also have to account for other, non-performance factors: how much swag does Ovechkin sell? How many season tickets? Does a team full of league average players produce the same kind of brand loyalty as a team with a superstar and a bunch of role players? There are a lot of moving parts.

But the fundamental question remains: does it ever make sense to pay a premium for an individual player? Ovechkin is a generational talent, but is paid such an extreme premium that you have to wonder if he, or anyone, is worth it.

How about other superstar players? Ryan Getzlaf had the best EVP/60 at 3.12, and makes $8,250,000 per year, working out to $2,644,230 per average EVP/60. So, if you’re literally the best player in the league in this category, then you deliver value.

This isn’t necessarily stupid; being above average means being exceptional. A player who produces higher than average should be paid more for every point they produce above the average. However, the question remains: is it worth it to pay someone $8.25 million to produce above the average, or to use the savings to ensure higher rates of production further down the lineup, where you might have, before, only had the resources to spend league minimum on some plugs?

An interesting analysis would be to look at all of those players who are only slightly above league median and average in terms of point and possession production and see what sort of premium they receive. I suspect it’s highly variable, but that across the league teams pay their core talent a premium in order to lock them up long-term. Eric Staal’s contract is terrible. Kyle Okposo’s is great. But generally speaking, teams tie their identity to a group, and then are forced to overpay them.

So, what’s the alternative? Could a team actually populate a roster with $3.5MM players who produce 1.29 EVP/60 and 50.14% CF? Would anyone buy tickets to see a team like that?

It’s slim pickings on the free agent market, and those pickings would be made especially slim by the insistence of players that they go to teams who have star players because they’re perceived to be better. An easier method would be to draft and develop above-average players, only to trade them when they’re due their big payday for a package of average performers on average salaries.

What would Edmonton look like if it had traded Eberle, Hall, and Nugent-Hopkins for packages of value players instead of giving them $6 million a year each? They wouldn’t have high end players, but then they’d also not have Luke Gadzic at $800,000 or Matt Hendricks at $1.850 million in their bottom six. I guess the Oakland As and Tampa Bay Rays have been doing this forever, so much so that their fans don’t raise a stink when they trade away a star player just before his big payday.

The interesting thing is that the 2014-2015 Ottawa Senators are about as close as we’ll get to testing this theory. Outside of a few stinker contracts (Cowen, Greening, Neil) and one particularly high-paying one (Karlsson) the team is made up of players making league average salaries or less and producing at league average or more. If they spent to the cap, but on players in that $3.5 million / 1.29 EVP/60 / 50.5% CF range, it’s not hard to imagine them on the right side of the bubble.