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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to Robin Lehner.

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

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

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

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

Jeffrey Simpson’s Globe and Mail Article about the Senators is Hot Garbage

It’s not often we take time here at WTYKY to respond to a particular article in detail, but Jeffrey Simpson’s article in the Globe and Mail yesterday feels significant, and indicative of some common assumptions about hockey and how it works, and so warrants a closer look.

Of note is the author: Simpson is a public policy commenter, a winner of several media awards, and perhaps best known for his book Chronic Condition, an analysis of the worsening state of Canada’s health care system. To see his name next to an article about the mediocre performance of a small-market NHL team is, at the very least, interesting. But it’s also the equivalent of delicate dissection by bazooka. This isn’t the everyday hockey analyst, paid to spit outrage daily and meet site hit quotas. This is an eminent thinker in Canadian policy, at least when looked at through a mainstream lens, spilling over 2000 words about the Senators being bad, and blaming management.

Let’s take a closer look:

While the “national” hockey media shoot fish in a barrel reporting obsessively on the collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs, up the road in Ottawa, a franchise has been in slow decline.

[…]

Melnyk, who has recently sold his stables and horses to raise money, used to brag about being willing to spend to the NHL salary cap in quest of a winning team. Now, Melnyk boasts about having imposed one of the league’s lowest salary caps on the Senators, claiming other owners are blowing money on bad deals. The result is obvious on the ice and in the organization. The Senators cannot compete against teams with much higher salaries. The co-relation is not exact (see the Leafs), but larger-spending teams do tend to finish higher up in the standing.

This is an odd way to start an article. So, is there a relation between spending and winning? Yes, but it’s a very general one, and the inclusion of Toronto in the analogy is proof of that. We don’t need to look far for more examples: Philadelphia, Carolina, Edmonton, Dallas, Boston, Los Angeles, Minnesota and San Jose are all spending at or near the cap and underperforming. To start a (long) article with the thesis that a team needs to spend to win is the equivalent of shooting at the broad side of a barn. He’s not wrong, but it’s also not a one-to-one equivalent.

Melnyk remains defiant, insisting in December, “I’m not in the least embarrassed about us spending at the bottom. I’m happy about it because we’ll be able to spend more in the future and some can’t. Some are stuck.”

I’m not exactly sure what an owner without money to spend is supposed to do when responding to questions about why he doesn’t spend more. Especially when he’s trying to sell tickets.

Perhaps this smaller-market reflex explains a little why Sens fans are remarkably uncomplaining. They don’t make much noise compared to fans in other cities. They seldom boo. They don’t throw sweaters on the ice in disgust or wear garbage bags over their heads. They don’t hold up homemade signs decrying mediocrity. The Ottawa media are tame by Toronto standards.

It’s almost as though by expressing unhappiness at Melnyk’s Mess, fans fear he might try to move the team, which of course he could not easily do under league bylaws. Were his creditors ever to force him to sell the club, it would be purchased by someone else.

Another option unexplored here is that perhaps the team isn’t as bad as Toronto, and is actually kind of fun to watch. Ottawa has been missing a top 4 D for most of the season, has lost more games in OT or the shootout than all but four other teams in the league, and is still a .500 team.They had possession problems at the beginning of the year, since improved under Cameron. No, they’re not contenders, but to act like they’re terrible is just misleading.

Invoking the spectre of relocation is just crass and silly. Where would Ottawa relocate to? If Arizona and Florida and Carolina and Nashville and any number of other teams who don’t rake in the cash haven’t relocated, why on earth does Simpson think the league would actually approve and abet a relocation from a Canadian market? Ottawa was actually bankrupt once and didn’t relocate. It’s ridiculous.

Ottawa’s ticket sales and prices are around league average; there’s a new television deal in place that lasts more than a decade; they’ve just submitted a bid to build a new arena downtown. I don’t think anyone but Simpson is thinking about relocation, let alone pointing to it as a reason why Sens fans don’t complain more.

The more obvious reason for that, I think, is that the team actually isn’t that bad. Or I guess Simpson could spend more time on Twitter before he says Sens fans don’t complain.

That he would be forced to sell the club is a consummation for which a growing number of sophisticated and dedicated Sens fans devoutly wish.

How sophisticated is a Sens fan if they cling to the idea that a person who owns a commodity, pays his employees, and spends within the limits set by the league, would be “forced” to sell his club? This is one of the most ridiculous, patently absurd declarations in the article, and setting up a binary where if you don’t believe in it, it means you’re “unsophisticated” is just wrong. In reality, claiming that an owner should be forced to sell because you don’t like him is pretty unsophisticated.

Update: realizing after the fact that Simpson is saying it’s Melnyk’s creditors who would force him to sell, though after what we’ve seen in Arizona, Florida, Nashville and elsewhere, I don’t think that’s any more likely. The league would extend emergency funding so he could make payments long before he’d have to
resort to a $400MM sale to meet his loan obligations.

In fairness, the slide began almost imperceptibly under the previous general manager, John Muckler: two straight draft years without an NHL player, the Dany Heatley for Marian Hossa trade, poor moves at the trading deadline. The slide has continued since.

Was the Heatley for Hossa trade part of a slide? I recall Heatley forming 1/3 of the most productive line in hockey when he was here and scoring back-to-back 50 goal seasons. Wasn’t he also part of the Cup Final year? Bizarre logic.

The Senators are privately owned, so no one knows how much revenue the club produces goes into debt payment. What is known is that when Melnyk bought the franchise, which was bankrupt in 2005, he did so with plenty of debt. It is not known what Melnyk’s two divorces did to his wealth.

This is true. What the article fails to look at – and which I haven’t seen many articles look at – is that the prevailing business model of sports franchises everywhere, in every sport, is to finance the purchase and operational expenses with debt and hold on for dear life while the underlying value of the franchise increases. Then you sell for a profit.

The Sens have increased in value fourfold since Melnyk took over. That his personal fortune has diminished is unfortunate for Sens fans, but is a byproduct of a league who relies on billionaires with designs on glory, whose fortunes are subject to variances in their markets, rather than on more stable conglomerates or networks of buyers. The NHL should be doing more to stabilize the market than vet the next wacky telecom personality riding high on a wave of success. Today’s billionaire is tomorrow’s millionaire, and Melnyk isn’t anything special in that regard. He’s a byproduct of the system, not the problem.

Rather than comparisons with Toronto or Edmonton, Sens fans should check out how the Montreal Canadiens have soared under owner Geoff Molson and general manager Marc Bergevin. Or the Winnipeg Jets, a team in a smaller market than Ottawa, that is going to qualify for the playoffs and has a stacked farm system.

This is hilarious. Montreal has had success of late, but only after years and years of mediocrity, and only because of all-star goaltending and a Norris winning defenceman. Sound familiar? Ottawa also beat Montreal soundly in the playoffs not too long ago.

Winnipeg is about to make the playoffs for the first time in their modern history, and Simpson is actually pointing to them as an example of what Ottawa should do? How does he presume that Winnipeg got their stacked farm system, anyway?

The Senators are lumbered with bad contracts to underperforming players. There are not as many horrible contracts as in Toronto, but for a low-cap team, a bevy of bad contracts eats up desperately needed money.

As in, a three-year, $7.9-million contract for Colin Greening, who is now in Binghamton, never to return. As in, a two-year, $6-million contract for declining centre-iceman David Legwand, signed as a free agent. As in, a $4-million-a-year, three-year deal for Milan Michalek (11 goals in 51 games). A slightly more lucrative and longer deal for Clarke MacArthur (one goal in 2015).

I don’t disagree that there are some stinker contracts in there, but I thought the premise of the article was that Ottawa needs to spend. Now it’s that Ottawa spends frivolously.

If the point of this article is that Ottawa should spend a lot of money, but only on good contracts, then it’s not only obvious and condescending, it’s insipid. The challenge, Jeff, is how you do that. It’s not like Ottawa can just go out and sign all of the best UFAs tomorrow because 1) there aren’t any good UFAs available, and 2) Ottawa is not as attractive a destination as New York City.

What they have to do is take longshots on players who might provide value on their contracts down the line. Sometimes it works, as it has with Turris. Sometimes it doesn’t, like with Greening.

Bobby Ryan, a joyous personality and a talented player, has signed an eyebrow-raising contract starting next year: an average $7.25-million, not commensurate with someone with 14 goals this year and on target for maybe 20 or 22.

So now we’re rating Bobby Ryan, on pace for some of the highest point totals of his career, solely on goals?

The slide – remember the Senators went to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007 and remained strong for several years thereafter – has featured bad trades, the worst being goalie Ben Bishop to Tampa for Cory Conacher.

They remained strong for several years thereafter? I thought they were consistently mediocre, according to this article. They were swept in the first round the year after the finals and missed the year after, all while spending to the cap.

Yeah, the trade of Bishop for Conacher was bad. How about the Turris trade? Or the Ryan trade? Or the Anderson trade?

By contrast, the trade that brought Kyle Turris from Phoenix was a steal for Ottawa, although this season with Jason Spezza gone has revealed that Turris is a second-line centre, not a No. 1.

Oh, there it is. A backhanded mention that Turris isn’t a #1 center without Spezza, ignoring that Turris played most of a season without Spezza already and was fine.

The Senators are among the league’s youngest teams. Perhaps that explains the team’s inconsistency, as in a 6-3 loss this week at home to a bad Carolina team; a 4-2 triumph over first-place Montreal. The franchise hopes that many of young players are still adjusting to the demands of the NHL and, with time and more experience they will help the Senators improve. The Senators will have a high pick this year in a draft with many fine players.

Yes. Finally. This is what’s called “building.”

At some point in the not-too-distant future, the Senators’ front office will look somewhat different. Whether with the budget constraints as they are, new personnel could reverse the slow slide remains to be seen.

And there’s the whole rotten thing in a nutshell: criticism and finger-wagging without a single solution beyond the following embarrassingly obvious ones:

  1. Spend more money! Even if you don’t have it! But only on players who deserve it!
  2. Only make good trades! Never make bad ones!
  3. Don’t sign anyone to a bad contract! It helps if you know how they’re going to perform into the future, so you should know that! It’s apparently easy!
  4. Win more games, but at the same time, draft good talent! I’m ignoring that your draft record is actually pretty damned good!
  5. If you can’t do any of those things, force the owner to sell the team, something which can’t actually be done and which, in a league which wants to remain business friendly, would never happen!

What I would have liked to see from an analyst of Simpson’s stature is an attempt to solve to irreconcilability at the center of the NHL business model. If an owner doesn’t have money to spend to the cap, but has enough to keep it running, and so an interest in continuing to wait until his investment accrues more value before he sells, and you’re already in a league with revenue sharing, a cap, escrow, and more, than what, exactly, can be done?

It’s totally infuriating to see someone so respected dip his toe into the hockey pond with such an amateur, illiterate analysis. More infuriating still to see some Sens fans jump all over this article as truth.

This is pandering garbage and dead content designed to stoke the dissatisfaction of readers without much to look forward to for the rest of this season. It should be ignored with extreme prejudice.

Robin Lehner is getting traded, isn’t he…

So, as we all know, this happened.

Not the craziest thing in the world. Not even the craziest thing Lehner’s ever done.

Let’s be clear about one thing first: I don’t care that Lehner threw / broke his stick. As James, Steven and I have covered on our Scotchcast more times than we remember because we drink when we’re recording those things: goalies are always a little bit crazy, and the best goalies are also kinda pricks. For years Lehner has been our nutso-goalie ace-in-the-hole.

But we can agree it’s a tiny bit concerning when your goalie melts down after losing a totally meaningless game in February, right? Especially when management has a Pros and Cons list on Lehner on which they’ve written “might be crazy” under the Cons column.

This is the first time Lehner is without training wheels. He was always insulated in the past, either relegated to backup duty or even playing second fiddle to Ben Bishop (who is no longer in the NHL, I believe). This season, Anderson’s ridiculous play has nailed his ass to the bench again.

Now he’s the team’s starter. His backup is Andrew friggin’ Hammond. Management has been agonizingly patient with Lehner’s development, but now they have no choice and nothing left to lose. It’s the Lehner show, at long last.

Even better, when Anderson got hurt the team was already like 10 points out of a playoff spot. There’s absolutely zero pressure to get this team into the playoffs. All Lehner needed to do was acknowledge that he wasn’t playing that well, come to the rink ready to work, and learn from every mistake. Whatever his performance was like, this was his chance to prove to everyone that the biggest hole in his game — his ability to get through the day without eating another human being alive — was something he’d thought long and hard about.

And I have to say, it’s looking a wee bit like management’s not-so-secret fear that he couldn’t handle the pressure is looking not entirely unreasonable. If this is how he reacts after giving up a 4th goal when the team is already well on its way to a loss, in mid-February, with the playoffs long out of sight, then how does this person react in game 7 of a Conference Final? (I mean theoretically. I don’t actually remember what a Conference Final looks like.)

I also can’t help but think of Ray Emery. Ah, Ray. The only goalie to backstop a team that was starting to get a reputation as a goalie graveyard to the apex of its modern era. Young. Talented. Room to grow. Oodles of swagger. The playoff resume to show for it. Signed to a reasonable deal. Then bought out because of attitude problems and off-ice issues.

I can’t help but feel like Ottawa is still a bit sensitive about their goalies, and with Lehner still having all kinds of trade value, I’m starting to think that this is his audition. If he doesn’t win some games and show some poise while doing it, I can see Lehner in another uniform. I’m not saying it’s a good idea. I’m just saying that for a team obsessed with having the “right” people, “good” people, Lehner’s quirkiness could get blown out of proportion right quick.

Could it be possible that he’s traded by the deadline? I hope he isn’t traded at all, but if he is, let me just throw this out there: if you’re a team in a transition year — not truly bad, definitely not good — and the draft is particularly deep, and you’re already 6th last in the league, and there’s no way you’re clawing your way back into it, and you’ve already fired your coach…is playing Andrew Hammond for a few games the worst strategy in the world?

Sens go full Kijiji: E’rthing 2nd round pick OBO

According to Craig Custance, whose name still sounds like it belongs to a Dickensian brigadier general:

Sounds good to me! Sens currently sit 125 points out of the second wild card spot. Which seems like when you go a-sellin’.

I’m not one of these “Blow the team up! Blow the team up!” people. (You know what? Strap a bomb to yourself and blow yourself up.) The team ain’t all bad. They’re competitive most nights. They’ve got room to grow. But I’m excited that a lost season gives management the cover to make some changes: sell off popular vets, correct mistakes, and head into the strongest draft in years with a few extra lira in their pocket.

Who do I most want to see traded, and for what, you didn’t just ask? Here’s some words about it.

BUT WHO? (scream the fans)…AND FOR WHAAAAAAAT?? (going hoarse)

Chris Neil – for a 3rd round pick

Well shyeah. He’s not very good at hockey. He plays on the fourth line. He doesn’t score, he doesn’t drive possession, he makes everyone around him worse, and he doesn’t even fight that much anymore, if that’s your thing. Whatever it is you think Chris Neil brings to the team, I’d trade it for a draft pick.

So here’s what I propose: trade him for a draft pick. We already have Zack Smith. (…wait, do we? Is he alive?) And character pluggers are not as expensive as Neil. Way back in the day we traded Jarkko Ruutu for like a 6th. Getting anything higher than a 4th would be a coup for Neil.

Chris Phillips – for a 2nd round pick or prospect

I know, I know: this will never happen. But Phillips has found himself slipping down the depth chart and hasn’t been a positive possession player in a couple of years. He’s not very expensive, provides more of that magical veteran juice that playoff teams seem to want to load up on for playoff runs, and is apparently supposed to be a shutdown defender. If Ray Shero gave up two 2nd round picks for Douglas Murray, we can get one for Phillips.

Zack Smith – for a 2nd round pick

He’s probably hurt, which makes this unfeasible. But if he’s tradeable, Ottawa has depth down the middle and plenty of third liners on the farm team. And he’s not that far removed from seasons of 14 and 13 goals. This seems to me like the prototypical Chris Kelly trade. Solid two-way guy. Can chip in with timely goals. Punches stuff.

Milan Michalek – for a reclamation player or prospect

Milo’s been playing better lately, but he’s still way off of what the team must have hoped his pace would be. Without Spezza, he’s just another solid two-way player; he doesn’t have the kind of scoring jam they need out of him.

I hate to say that this was probably predictable, but you know what? We have WOWY stats and this was probably predictable. Murray still extended him. At this point, I’d take another team’s underachiever and see what the change of scenery does for him, though picks and prospects is probably preferable.

David Legwand – 2nd or 3rd round pick or prospect

See Phillips, Chris. Veteran player. Doesn’t actual produce offense anymore, but hey, you can trust him to make the “smart play,” even if he does get skated around by Jonathan Huberdeau so easily that he may as well be a tree. He’s got a year left on his deal, too. On a stacked team, you could see him anchoring a shut down line and providing good value for that later pick.

Jared Cowen – a good prospect / another player of the same age and ceiling

You wonder if Cowen could actually be the centrepiece of a larger trade package. After all, people are still talking about Tyler Myers as if he hasn’t been terrible for years now and isn’t on an expensive contract. But we’ve written thousands of words already about the team rewarding him for potential, and he hasn’t turned into that ideal top line pairing partner for Karlsson (even though they played him as one forever). I’m ready to cut bait.

Alex Chiasson – as part of a larger package for a big fish

Hold on, hear me out. I like Chiasson, even if the stats seem to imply that he drags his teammates down, but he’s young. He started well this season, just as he did last season, which would imply that as he matures he’ll be able to maintain production longer…

…or not. Maybe he’s just another third liner on a team of third liners who puts up a few lucky points early on because he keeps getting played on the top line. I’m just saying that if a good player becomes available and we need to include some promising young players in the package going back the other way, Chiasson’s still got some of that allure. He’s tall!

———-

Ottawa already has a high 1st round draft pick that only seems to be getting higher by the day. They have their own high 2nd round pick, plus Dallas’ from the Spezza trade. You add another couple of picks at the deadline, and Ottawa has some serious ammunition to trade up at the draft. They’re not looking for wide-net prospectin’ at this point. They need to combine some assets to draft an impact player who will help them in the next couple of seasons. This is one way to do it.

The Senators’ Long and Short Season

I had a thought the other day: is there another team in the bottom 10 of the NHL better positioned to add a top prospect and transition from mediocre to good than the Ottawa Senators?Untitled

Buffalo is in the first year of a multi-year rebuild. They’re legitimately horrible.

Edmonton has added aggressively, drafted superstars, and is still a mess. At this point they’re talking about rebuilding the club’s culture from the ground up.

Carolina is full of unwieldy contracts, from the Staal brothers to Cam Ward to Alex Semin to the tiny and oft-injured Jeff Skinner. They’re 10 games under .500 even with all of those expensive veterans.

Arizona is talking full rebuild and is buried under their expensive goalie contract. Who knows in which direction they’ll jump.

Columbus probably shouldn’t even be in the bottom ten. They’ve just had terrible luck with injuries this year.

New Jersey has the oldest lineup in the league.

Toronto has terrible contracts we read about in every paper all the time and don’t need to see listed again here.

Philadelphia’s defense is a mess, and they’ve handed long-term contracts to the like of Andy MacDonald and Mark Streit.

Minnesota could fix their goaltending and be better; they won a playoff round last year.

And then Florida, who could also be better, and at times have looked playoff-bound.

So, the Sens, Minnie, and Florida. I’d say those are the three who could add a prospect and then do some damage.

What sets Ottawa apart from the other two? Consider the following:

  • Ottawa has the lowest payroll in the league, and thus the most room to spend. You can see how restorative it’s been for the Islanders to add take advantage of teams near the cap to snag Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. A few key signings in Grabovski, Kulemin and Halak, and they’re one of the best teams in the East. That could be Ottawa, if they play their cards right.
  • Ottawa has the youngest lineup of those three. They’re the third youngest team in the league, compared to Minnie’s 13th and Florida’s 26th. They already have young players in key roles, and they’re producing. Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone have been revelations this season. Mika Zibanejad has quietly turned his season around. Cody Ceci and Curtis Lazar are both very early on in their careers, and are only growing. Alex Chiasson is a human male who can skate.
  • Ottawa has a core to build around. Kyle Turris is on a high value contract, as is Erik Karlsson. Bobby Ryan re-signed, causing the city to emit a giant sigh of relief, and he seems to be thriving in a leading role. Robin Lehner is holding a knife to my throat as I type this.
  • Ottawa has goaltending. Craig Anderson has been one of the best in the league this year, and Robin Lehner, though struggling at the moment, has finally been given the opportunity to work without a safety net.
  • Ottawa doesn’t really have any bad contracts. Sure, Colin Greening…with his $2.5M cap hit. Not exactly a crippling mistake. David Clarkson that signing was not. Milan Michalek hasn’t been great, nor has he been disastrous. Maybe Zack Smith? None of those signings is the sort of thing that will prevent Ottawa from being aggressive if and when they get the opportunity.

All of which makes it confusing to hear and read fans and bloggers describe this iteration of the team as ‘disastrous’ and ‘disappointing.’ What exactly were the expectations to begin with? A low playoff seed, maybe, at best?

One advantage of all of this parity is that there are only thin slivers of truly bad and truly good teams. Most teams are in the milky middle of the league. And so a team like Ottawa, who aren’t truly bad, can snag a top ten prospect and not have it mean that they’re years away from contending.

Ottawa’s playing good hockey at the moment. Their shots on goal are being cut down. They can hang with any team in the league on any given night. And there’s nowhere to go but up. Add a good player in this year’s draft and Ottawa could be next year’s dangerous, dark horse pick.

A systematic, game-by-game prediction of how the rest of the season goes

Here’s what we know:

Ottawa needs to go 23-11-4 to have a roughly 50% chance of making the playoffs. How close will they come? At this point in the post, I don’t know. I mean, we’re right at the top. I think you’re being unreasonable. But let’s go, game-by-game, and find out. It’s what I like to call “math,” and what my math teacher called “cheating.”

Jan 20 – Rangers – Away

They come off of a pretty solid performance against Carolina, even though they lost, and were ultra-convincing against the Habs before that. I’m going to start on a positive note and call this a win.

WIN – 1-0-0

Jan 21 – Toronto – Home

Normally I would call this an automatic loss because it’s against Toronto, but Toronto seems to be mired in a nihilistic whirlpool from which all hope escapes. It is the second of a back-to-back though, and they have to travel. And Toronto could, I guess, get a win someday. You know what…?

OT LOSS – 1-0-1

Jan 29 – Dallas – Home

It’s after a week off. It’s at home. It’s Spezza’s first time back. This one will mean something to the boys. BUT…Dallas has been unreal these past 15 games or so. This one is tough. I’m going to go conservative here and say…

OT LOSS – 1-0-2

Jan 31 – Arizona – Home

Yotes stink, Sens win.

WIN – 2-0-2

Feb 3 – New Jersey – Road

I know it’s really not very creative at all to say, “Hmm, the Sens are playing bad teams, so they should win,” but I think there’s some course correction due here. Ottawa’s shot ratio is much better under Cameron than it was under MacLean, and their record against the East hasn’t been nearly commensurate to their record against the West, which is wacky. So I’m going to call another win here. They should be able to beat New Jersey in the back half of their lost season.

WIN – 3-0-2

Feb 5 – Washington – Home

Ottawa plays Washington pretty tight, actually, and in this imaginary world I’m creating they haven’t lost in regulation in 5 games. Still, who am I to jinx the shit out of everything? I’ll say they get some bad bounces in this one, but still take it the distance and lose in OT or the shootout.

OT LOSS – 3-0-3

Feb 7 – Columbus – Home

Here’s another one the Sens should be able to take, especially with playing so many games at home and the imaginary momentum I’ve provided them. This is a soft-ass schedule. Roll them dice, keep gambling till you shit your pants, I always say.

WIN – 4-0-3

Feb 10 – Buffalo – Away

So, to review, so far I’ve said the Sens won’t lose in regulation for 7 straight games. That’s pretty great. But no one is bigger than the game. Especially when the game is as capricious and weird as hockey. Here, Ottawa not only plays the worst team in the league, but one of the historically bad teams of all time.

BLOWOUT LOSS – 4-1-3

Feb 12 – Pittsburgh – Home

Ottawa loses their second in a row; everyone writes the same article they’ve already written about Milan Michalek for the 14th time.

LOSS – 4-2-3

Feb 14 – Edmonton – Home

Afternoon game. Against Edmonton. At home. Should be an easy win.

LOSS – 4-3-3

Feb 16 – Carolina – Home

Jesus Christ, do they ever play on the road again? At this point Carolina should be all but eliminated. Maybe they’ll have started trading people. If anything, this should be a corrective to that weird bouncy shitshow goal in their last game against the Louisiana Turlets.

WIN – 5-3-3

Feb 18 – Montreal – Home

Fuuuuuuuuuuuck yooooouuuuuuuuu.

WIN – 6-3-3

Feb 21 – Florida – Home

At home??? Again??? Are the guys going to be 300 pounds from all of the at-home lounging? Florida’s played Ottawa pretty well here, I dunno. But I’m never comfortable calling games against them. We could either dominate or lose 2-0. Nothing in between. And I hate it when people call them “The Cats.” I’ll go conservative again,

OT LOSS – 6-3-4

WEST COAST ROAD TRIP SEGMENT

Feb 25 – Anaheim – Away

Oh shit. Party’s over. West Coast trips are always a thing. This is Mordor. I know I’m calling a lot of OT losses here, but it’s kind of our thing, isn’t it?

OT LOSS – 6-3-5

Feb 26 – Los Angeles – Away

Damn it. I want to call this a win, I really do. But this process is just too scientific.

LOSS – 6-4-5

Feb 28 – San Jose – Away

Who fucking knows? San Jose is the most mysterious team in the entire league.

WIN – 7-4-5

March 3 – Minnesota – Away

Damn, there are a lot of games left in the season. I didn’t think this through before I started this post. I’m going to get some pita chips, I’ll be right back.

WIN – 8-4-5

March 4 – Winnipeg – Away

Winnipeg is the only city in Canada I’ve been to where I’ve actually been pretty scared and people of many different ages have told me not to go out walking by myself. Good music and restaurant scene, though.

LOSS – 8-5-5

March 6 – Buffalo – Home

YOU BETTER FUCKING WIN – 9-5-5

March 8 – Calgary – Home

Hmmmm…. a Sunday against an unsuspecting and pretty poor team. This one is tough. Usually the Sens shit the bed on these ones.

OT LOSS – 9-5-6

March 10 – Boston – Home

LEHNER SHUT OUT. But Sens also don’t score.

OT LOSS – 9-5-7

March 12 – Montreal – Away

Fuuuuuuuuuccckkkkk ooooooooofffff

WIN – 10-5-7

March 13 – Islanders – Away

LOSS – 10-6-7

March 15 – Philadelphia – Home

WIN – 11-6-7

March 17 – Carolina – Away

That’s right, I’m calling this many OT losses. I don’t know man, the heart wants what it wants. I just don’t think the Sens solidly beat the Canes this season. Remember when JOE CORVO scored a hattie against the Sens that one time? And then we signed him AGAIN? Jesus. I don’t even really know why I watch hockey, to be honest with you.

OT LOSS – 11-6-8

March 19 – Boston – Home

LEHNER SHUT OUT. This time we score a goal. One goal.

WIN – 12-6-8

March 21 – Toronto – Home

Saturday night game. On Hockey Night in Canada. Automatic embarrassing loss.

LOSS – 12-7-8

March 23 – San Jose – Home

The rare San Jose in Ottawa game!!! It’s like a mirage!!!

LOSS – 12-8-8

March 26 – Rangers – Home

Like I said, we play these guys pretty tight. I don’t think we like them very much.

WIN – 13-8-8

March 28 – Toronto – Away

See above. Saturday night, etc.

LOSS – 13-9-8

March 29 – Florida – Home

Hmmmm. An afternoon game? On a Sunday? Against the Panthers? This one is like an exotic spice.

WIN – 14-9-8

March 31 – Detroit – Away

I’d like to think Ottawa tries to make it competitive against a division rival. There isn’t much juice left in this rivalry post-Alfie, but I think it’s close.

OT LOSS – 14-9-9

April 2 – Tampa Bay – Home

There’s hockey in April? That seems unreasonable. The season is probably too long. Oh, also at this point Tampa starts resting their stars for the playoffs.

WIN – 15-9-9

April 4 – Washington – Home

I really don’t know. This is like three months from now. What a dumb idea for a blog post.

OT LOSS – 15-9-10

April 5 – Toronto – Away

EPIC, NHL RECORD SETTING WIN AS A REWARD TO THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE READ THIS FAR. CHRIS NEIL WITH THE RARE FIVE GOAL GAME.

WIN – 16-9-10

April 7 – Pittsburgh – Home

I don’t know, I’m tired.

LOSS – 16-10-10

April 9 – Rangers – Away

LOSS – 16-11-10

April 11 – Philadelphia – Away

WIN – 17-11-10

…So there you have it. A soft schedule with a lot of home games in the back half of the season (the front half of the back half?) and a whimpering finish that actually saw me abandon my own blog post results in some momentum and more wins than losses. But we get so many OT losses it’s enough for every blog, including this one, to sort of shrug and be like “If we can win a few more of those next year we’ll be golden!”

Unfortunately, this rigorous and unimpeachable process predicts a 17-11-10 record which, according to SportsClubStats (at least before the guy who runs it gets hired by someone and we can’t access his website anymore) is….not a possibility? I don’t know.

But that’s 88 points on the season, which would be just shy of a playoff spot. If you need around 92 points (maybe 90 in the East), that puts the Sens at like….11th in the East. You know where they finished last year? 11th in the East. With 88 points.

Anyway, I’ve just now, just this second, taken up boating. Bye, hockey. It’s been fun.

Ottawa Senators at the Halfway Mark: “All that we are is the result of all that we have thought” – Buddha, 1976, New York

Hi lovers. It’s been a while; I’ve been away. Which is to say that I’ve been sitting cross-legged in a furnitureless apartment going on journeys in my mind. Which is to say that I’ve been squatting in strangers’ condos while they were away for the holidays. Anyway, I’m back at the library using somebody’s tablet while they’re in the bathroom.

THESIS STATEMENT: Turns out we were completely right about the Ottawa Senators. See you next year.

They’re a .500 team. They lose in OT or the shootout constantly. (They’re on track for 16 loser points, which is better/worse than last year’s 14 OT/shootout losses, which was tied for third worst in the league.) They’d be a lot worse without their goaltending, even now that new coach Dave Cameron seems to have somehow tamped down on the number of shots against. Milan Michalek, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil suck and make like $10MM against the cap. Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan rule.

All is right in Sensland, AKA the Sleep Country Canada parking lot where I construct a pyramid of shopping carts under which to store all of my things.

…AND YET:  as I noted on Twitter (@taylorswift13) I think I enjoy this non-playoff Sens team more than maybe any other non-playoff Sens team. Think about it: we’ve got some young and exciting players in Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Curtis Lazer, and Mika Zibanejad, all of whom have already shown that you can find your feet in the NHL and still score 120% more goals than Milan Michalek. Erik Karlsson is still an utter joy to watch, night in and night out. MacArthur is the perfect hockey player.

It’s not Picasso out there, but this is way, WAY better than those non-playoff versions of the Sens where Alex Kovalev showed Ryan Shannon that the key to consistent two-way hockey was to actively despise the team you’re playing for.

And the team doesn’t exactly stink. For all of the inescapability of the fact that they’re 8 points out of a wild card spot and their probability of a playoff spot sits at 12.7% as of today (tugs collar until I’m strangled to death), they’re as many points from the cellar as they are from the playoffs, have lost a ton of games in OT, and every single team in their division seems to be playing well.

Seriously, when Boston starts playing like Boston again, we’ll be looking at a situation where the Atlantic* (*an ocean at least 500kms away from Ottawa, if you liberally count the Fleuve Saint-Laurent) might send six out of eight teams to the playoffs. People in Toronto are losing their minds and Toronto was in a playoff spot up until recently. Florida is playing well, and are 11-6-6 on the road. Detroit might have built up enough of a lead to get over Jimmy Howard being stretchered off the ice. And my bold prediction that Tampa Bay would be overrated and not great was thankfully overlooked by every single person on the internet.

Ottawa’s PK ain’t bad. (9th.) Their goaltending is good, and there’s a succession plan in place with Lehner. The coaching change seems to have had a positive effect. I don’t know, man…in Japan there’s an expression, mono no aware, which translates roughly into “a pleasing sadness at the transience of beauty.” What do you want from me? We’re all going to die someday. Take a moment to enjoy some fucking hockey.

And Ottawa has the lowest payroll in the league. Has anyone mentioned that before? I don’t think so. I might have just broke that story just now. Lowest payroll in the league, right there. This isn’t a case of the Philadelphias. This isn’t a team that thought it was going to compete and spent like it, who traded away assets to get negotiating rights and then offered years and money up the wazoo to sign the players they just traded assets to get the negotiating rights to, as if they were doing all of these things in order to stink. Ottawa has nothing but bright futures, new arenas, ugly third jerseys and options.

What to expect in the second half? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say more of the same. They’ll finish either just inside or just outside the bottom ten in the league. They’ll sit around .500, with plenty of OT/shootout losses in the mix. Hopefully somewhere along the way they pick up some assets for Milo, Neil, Greening (ahahahahahahahaha), Condra (probably, though they shouldn’t) and Phillips (right). Anderson plays himself right into a deadline trade to St. Louis, though I hope not. Eric Gryba continues to have a mysteriously good +/- and no one will care about him.

Maybe in the draft they package their 2nd round pick with the 2nd rounder they got for Spezza and get another 1st, and then trade Anderson for a 1st, and then package those two 1sts with their own 1st to move up in the draft and get a real impact player.

Maybe Marc Methot was actually the thingy that stirred the drink all along and now that he’s back the team will gel in totally unforeseen ways and go on a winning streak unseen since the days of Cory Clouston and Brian Elliott (still in the league! As a starter on a good team!).

Maybe Ottawa finally, FINALLY makes that Chris Stewart trade, and they put him on a line with Todd Bertuzzi, and the team loses their next 22 games in a row and we don’t need to trade any picks to get an impact player in the draft.

Mono no aware. *lights beeswax candle*