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*

In which we pretend to know anything about hockey coaching

Senators management fired coach Paul MacLean today. They were tired of his propensity to make his players skate more slowly than the other team’s players.

Also, sometimes when Ottawa Senators players shot the puck it was too high or too low or just right, but mostly too high or too low. It could have been the slow skating. They should have skated faster and followed through.

The back-to-back losses to the Islanders were the last straw. They could no longer stomach MacLean’s insistence on playing four lines for different minutes. With players on each line. Into the zone.

We at WTYKY wish Paul MacLean all the best, and hope that in his next gig he remembers that the glass goes all the way around the rink. Except in the places where it stops. So the players can get off the bench. A-doi. And that he figures out the correct proportion of grit to mix into his skill pie.

MacLean’s replacement will have a big job ahead of him. He’ll have to untrain the Senators in their current system of up-tempo sideways-skating low-tempo bullish sheepish Event Hockey and institute a strong 1-3-4-1-goalie setup until you pull the goalie when there’s time left on the clock until there isn’t anymore. As is the style in NHL 3.0.

All I know is that when we see David Legwand do what he’s known for doing–which is breaching the zone with his left leg and then his right leg, the other team will think, “Ok: these guys know what they’re doing now.”

And then this team will win the Stanley Cup.

Playoff probabilities, 2015, and thinking ‘transition year’

Untitled

Advanced stats at work

Something happened sometime last week: for the first time since the earliest days of the season, Ottawa’s playoff probability fell below 50%. After having spent the better part of the previous two months between 55% and their season-high 79%, this is the dark side of the coin in this coin-flip of of a season.

We’ve taken to calling Ottawa a bubble team for a good long while now, and that’s still fair. When the season is called, I think Ottawa will find itself just on the outside or just on the inside of the playoff picture, right in the creamy, mediocre middle of the league.

But in addition to thinking “bubble,” I’m also starting to think in terms of “transition” – as in, on a scale between a rebuild and true contention, this is the ideal year to add a key player through, say, the draft.

Before the season began, my biggest concern was whether the team would be able to re-sign upcoming UFAs Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacCarthur, Marc Methot, and Jason Spezza. Could we convince them to stay in Ottawa if the team wasn’t poised to compete?

The first two were re-signed after we put something in their drinking water that made them see New York City when they looked at Ottawa; Methot’s situation will come into stark clarity when he likely returns to the lineup tomorrow night and throws out his back; and, as we all know, Spezza retired a Senator and will never play another NHL game because he was born a Sen and he’ll die a Sen.

For better or worse, the Senators have locked up their core players – and on pretty high value deals, at that – so fans can take a breath and relax in that at least the team won’t take a huge step back in the next couple of years. Senators management can turn their attention to complementing and augmenting the team’s core.

With Methot returning and hopefully re-signing, one hopes the result will be the team outperforming more than just Buffalo on the scale of number of shots allowed. Curtis Lazar will be one year closer to the star that Bryan Murray believes he will be. Mika Zibanejad will be cured of the mumps. (He has mumps, right?) Erik Karlsson will still be in his prime, and Robin Lehner may steal a little bit more of the net away from Craig Anderson. This should be a team looking to compete for the Cup in the next 2-4 years, not necessarily right now.

I’m not ready to take Ottawa’s recent 3-6-1 spin as a sign that all hope is lost. Sure, Ottawa’s had to be pesky and have some of the highest save percentages in the league just to get where they are, but there’s still time to right this ship. And if it doesn’t get righted, then that’s okay too.

Come January, if Ottawa isn’t closer to positive on that playoff probability scale, I think it’s time to start thinking draft. There is no scenario in which Ottawa isn’t more fun to watch and a more competitive team with a very good prospect in the fold, and they aren’t going to lose anybody from the lineup as a result of a losing season. Add to that that the cap may not go up as high as some GMs think because of the sinking Canadian dollar, and Ottawa might be in a position to poach some talent the way the Islanders just did.

I want Ottawa to win as much as the next guy. I want to watch playoff hockey come spring. But thinking of this as a transition year makes the whole prospect of missing out a little bit less painful to consider.

Forbes valuations and the stagnant Sens

Photo credit to the Ottawa Citizen

Photo credit to the Ottawa Citizen

For those of us who like to take a system view of league sports but aren’t economists, Forbes’ list of franchise valuations is a vital talking point. Sure, the math is inexact. Sure, it’s a snapshot of a situation in perpetual motion. Sure, sports is a whole lot more fun when we don’t pay as much attention to the dollars and cents. With those caveats aside, I think the list is illuminating. I can’t help but find takeaways with every annual list.

On the surface, this year’s list doesn’t hold too many surprises. The league, as advertised, continues to increase in value, buoyed by regular growth and new television deals. Last year’s list had the Toronto Maple Leafs breaking the billion dollar threshold–the first in the league. This year’s list has three teams with a big B next to their name: Toronto, the New York Rangers, and Montreal. Every team gained value, with a full 23 teams gaining in the double digits and 12 gaining in excess of 20%.

A 20% return…in one year…on any investment is bananas. And thanks for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the owners will have a chance to keep more of that than ever before. So, the picture of league health is a good.

Now, this isn’t exactly cheery news for the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa gained a paltry 5% growth on the year–the same year they announced a 12 year broadcasting deal with TSN. While a 5% return isn’t exactly terrible, it is comparatively unimpressive when you look across the league. Teams in both non-traditional markets, like Nashville (22% increase) and established sports markets where you’d think there wasn’t room for massive new growth, like Dallas (26%), Boston (25%) and Washington (21%) are outperforming Ottawa in terms of value growth by a factor of four to five.

Some of this might be expected. Calgary gained only 7% and Winnipeg 5%, which means smaller markets and a weak Canadian dollar might be the main contributor. But the fact remains that even with its television-deal the needle barely moved on Ottawa’s value.

This with a team that has the lowest payroll in the league, and who plays in an aging building. It you put any stock in Forbes’ valuations (and not everyone, or even most people, should) it casts a bit of a pall over the future of the team, if only because there doesn’t seem to be much incentive for Eugene Melnyk to spend on the team or on the arena.

That means, potentially, continued mediocrity on the ice and a fight with city hall over who pays for a new arena. Not tomorrow, but certainly in the next few years. There’s no new windfall in the making. The owners got the deal they wanted, Bell Media showed Ottawa the money. What’s left, other than winning?

I’m not pitying Melnyk here at all, of course. He bought the team and arena for a song, and has seen almost a four-fold increase on his investment. But if the only way Ottawa is going to see growth in value is by becoming a hot(ter) commodity than it already is, then it’s going to need to win–which means either Paul MacLean and Bryan Murray working miracles with the lowest payroll in the league, or Melnyk being willing to take a loss on player salaries now in the hopes of cashing in bigger later.

Not that spending guarantees you a winner…but not spending gets you a line of Chris Neil, David Legwand, and Milan Michalek, and we’re watching the (painful) results of that every night.

Is next year a signpost for Ottawa’s financial health?

Yep, we spent all off season talking about a billionaire’s cash flow, and now hockey is finally here and we have something fun to talk about and I’ve decided to write a post about…a billionaire’s cash flow. Give me a break, I’m 63 years old. Nothing excites me like sound fiscal policy.

We talked about this a little bit on our latest podcast, which I know you’ve all listened to already so when you listen to it again now it will be like travelling back in time and watching yourself enjoy it, sort of like how everyone who watches the Dave Chapelle show basically likes to watch someone who’s never seen the Prince sketch watch it for the first time more than they like the sketch itself. What was I talking about?

Right. Ottawa recently attained the ignominious achievement of Lowest Payroll in the League. And by a good couple of million bucks to boot. Look at the teams directly above Ottawa in that list: Calgary and Buffalo, who are both in various stages of rebuilding; Arizona and Nashville, who are in non-traditional markets and have struggled financially for years; Winnipeg, who has the smallest building in the league and even then, the Jets are spending $5MM more in salary than Ottawa is. The average cap space in this league is $3MM, and the median is $2.3MM. Ottawa has $13MM in cap space.

So, yes, we ain’t flush. But what happens next year? With the cap reportedly staying about the same, Ottawa’s has new deals kicking in for Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur, and Craig Anderson. (And Mark Borowiecki, though that’s not too pricey.) That’s just over $5MM in raises right there.

Then there are the RFAs: Mike Hoffman (8 points, 7 goals in 13 games) and Mark Stone (9 points in 15 games), who are currently make up one of Ottawa’s most productive lines. Mika Zibanejad, who’s struggling but is penciled in as Ottawa’s second line center until further notice. And Alex Chiasson, who’s looked great (9 points in 13 games). Fair to say that their deals will be all over the place given their different positions in the lineup, relative ages, leverage, Ottawa’s strategy of giving out years in exchange for lower pay, and how the rest of this season plays out. But if we very conservatively estimate that each player doubles his salary on a “prove it” bridge deal of $2MM per, then that’s another $4MM towards the cap.

Then there are the pending UFAs. I’m sure Ottawa would love to keep Methot in the mix. Eric Condra has been a healthy scratch lately and could be on his way out. Assuming Ottawa lets Condra go and re-signs Methot at $4.5MM-$5MM per, that brings Ottawa’s spending to about $10MM above current levels. Or, about league average in terms of spending.

With the cap staying about the same, Ottawa could catapult itself from last in league spending to the middle of the pack without doing anything overly aggressive. No trades. Not getting into the free agent market. Just standing pat with the team it has now.

Which is why next year will be so interesting. The glass half-full perspective here is that this is why Ottawa has been so prudent these last few years. They knew they’d have to spend on all of this young talent eventually. The glass half-empty perspective supposes that we’re about to see an exodus of talent via salary-dumping moves.

Surely it would be no surprise if Ottawa jettisoned Colin Greening and Patrick Wiercioch, players they’ve seemingly been trying to trade since they day they signed them. Zack Smith has also been in rumours, and with Ottawa’s surplus of third line centers would seem like an obvious trade target. Here at WTYKY we continue to pray that Chris Neil finds his way into a San Jose Sharks uniform when that team finally has its full-blown identity crisis and decides that ‘grit wins Cups.’

If those kinds of moves take place, it might be another indication of Ottawa’s financial health, or lack thereof. The TSN television deal will have started to pay at that point. If Ottawa has a strong season and makes the playoffs, ticket sales will be strong. If Ottawa doesn’t spend to at least league average, what does that say about Melnyk’s ability to support this team as its window of contention starts to creak open again?

Kudos to TSN for its classy piece on Bryan Murray

I’m sure many of you have already seen this short piece on Bryan Murray’s battle with stage 4 colon cancer, but if you haven’t, it’s poignant, authentic, and well worth your time.

Nicely done, TSN – especially having the interview conducted by Michael Farber, a cancer survivor, and then throwing to the panel to talk about how they’re all going to get colonoscopies. It makes a difference, especially in bullheaded, traditional cultures like hockey’s, to de-stigmatize these preventative measures.

Finally, you can really tell how well-respected Murray is in hockey circles. Anytime you see someone who’s dedicated half of their life to an endeavor, it deserves a moment’s recognition.

All the best to Bryan Murray from the WTYKY fam.