Road Trip Takeaways

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

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

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

1) Same old same old

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

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

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

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

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

3) This is still a lineup in flux

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

4) The Cowen honeymoon is over

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

5) Clarke MacArthur is going to have a good season

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

6) Watching the TSN broadcasts is weird

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

GAME ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:45 – DANGER FLUTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2:05 – Timpani. I’ll say it again…

Timpani.

——-

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

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

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

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

Most overrated and underrated teams of the 2014-2015 season

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Go Winterhawks! Go Timbers!

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

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

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

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

OVERRATED

Tampa Bay

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

valtteri-filppula-9

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

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

Dallas

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

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

New York Islanders

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

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

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

UNDERRATED

Nashville

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

Colorado

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

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

Phoenix

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

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

HAVE A GOOD SEASON EVERYONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WAITWAITWAIT hear me out.

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

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

2) A youngin’ on every line

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

Stone – Turris – Ryan

Michalek – Zibby – Hoffman

Chiasson – Legwand – MacArthur

Lazar – Smith – Condra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrice+Bergeron+Victor+Hedman+Boston+Bruins+suFAaCJuJ7kl

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

Funny-Talk-Show-Is-he-cheating

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.