THE TOTALLY EMPIRACLE, OBJECTIVELY RELIABLE NHL FRANCHISE LIKEABILITY SCALE

It’s July. The draft is over. The “free-agent frenzy” *shudder* is over. The playoffs…(checks internet)…appear to be over. That means we’re as far from meaningful hockey as a person can be. Which gives me a little bit of breathing room to run as spurious an article as I can think of.

How LIKEABLE are the Sens, anyway? I mean, but really. I like them. You probably like them. But how about relative to other teams? Is that not the true barometer for likeability—comparing oneself to one’s peers in a way that undermines one’s confidence? I think so.

So here, in ascending order, are the 30 NHL teams in terms of likeability.

The Horrible Stinkers

30: Toronto Maple Leafs

Huge surprise, I know. This isn’t (just) Sens-fan bile. They’re a terrible team who are totally undeserving of the love they receive and whose overlords throw money around to the degree that should they ever win a Cup it should come with an asterisk. They got a little more likeable sans-Kessel, but the brand and market are so unlikeable that it transcends the actual makeup of the team. All these guys need to do to be the least likeable team in hockey (maybe even pro sports) is to put on that uniform and dominate the media regardless of performance. Leafs suck.

29: Philadelphia Flyers

I guess you could argue that these guys being unlikeable means that they’ve achieved their goal. They want you to hate them. Well, mission accomplished. Even their fans hate them because of how often they make laughably bad decisions in an attempt to recapture a glory that never existed. These guys are what you end up with when you take a “team identity” and privilege it over every rational metric for team building.

28: Montreal Canadiens

This might be an example of an otherwise only mildly obnoxious team and brand being dragged down by the most obnoxious fan base in hockey. Toronto is in a hysterical panic all the time. Montreal is trying to explain the meaning of the universe outside a bar and won’t stop dominating the conversation even though people are shooting looks at one another behind its back. Plus Brendan Gallagher.

27: Boston Bruins

See Flyers, Philadelphia. Totally willing to trade immensely talented players in an attempt to get “Bruins tough.” Also completely have Ottawa’s number. Saved from a bottom three finish because it’s a nice uniform and it wasn’t Chara’s fault Ottawa didn’t re-sign him. And Bobby Orr. Points detracted for Don Cherry.

26: Florida Panthers

Because you forgot they existed until now. Only exist because they’re attached to a shopping mall with valuable parking real estate. Elevated a bit by Luongo, who seems like a genuinely nice and funny guy.

25: Anaheim Ducks

Built like Philly, except with skill. Perry is immensely hateable…and awesome. Obvious deduction of likeability points for Things that Happened in 2007 That Shall Not Be Articulated Here. Stupid name for a stupid team. Product of capitalism synergy lifesuck peak oil go to hell.

24: San Jose Sharks

They have what seems like 6-7 really great players and have never scared anyone. They’re entering their desperate, “it’s all about identity!” panicky, scrambling-for-answers-before-the-window shuts mode, AKA Ottawa Senators 2008-2013.

23: Vancouver

Mediocre team with Toronto-lite hysterical market that employs Alex Burrows and once employed Matt Cooke. Fans burned down the town once, which is Montreal’s dick move.

22: New Jersey Devils

It takes a special kind of team to not just be uninteresting, but to actually ruin hockey for everyone else through their very style of play. Wasn’t even a particular coach that did it. Boring hockey is who they are.

21: Edmonton Oilers

An embarrassment for the sport. Yeah, those dynasties were awesome, but present day Gretzky is like the king of a minor country if he lost a bet and could only wear golf shirts for the rest of his life. Even has his own clothing line is mostly golf shirts. Institutional cronyism on skates.

20: Calgary Flames.

Hired Brian Burke. Hired Bob Hartley. Saved from lower finish because of (lingering) association with Jerome Iginla, Nicest Man in Dodge.

The Slightly Stinky Middle

19: Carolina Hurricanes

I could not generate an interest in this team if I had a gun to my head and had to name six players on their roster to prevent my own murder. Bad team that overspends to be bad, bad uniforms, obnoxious colors, flukiest bunch of flukes that ever fluked. Won a Cup, lessening the value of the Cup.

18: Tampa Bay Lightning

See Hurricanes, Carolina, except with the added detriment of having more money than god. Do gain some points by virtue of Stamkos being awesome and cool and Yzerman being awesome and cool if over-valorized for his GM work because he spends like a drunken sailor.

17: Pittsburgh Penguins

Points added for Lemieux, uniform with skating penguin on it. Points deducted for winning generational lottery, inventing the modern tank model, Matt Cooke’s career.

16: New York Rangers

They have the unfair advantage of being located in the best place on earth. But points added because every weekend I’ve spent in New York has been one of the best weekends of my life. Henrik is Handsome. Sean Avery was annoying but in a sort of innovative way?

15: Dallas Stars

Brett Hull: amazing hockey player who sort of lowers the tone…of America. Players only want to play there because it’s in a state full of insane anti-tax libertarian Tommy Lee Joneses so they get to keep all of their millions at the expense of schools and art and stuff.

14: Winnipeg Jets

Feel good story about getting their team back followed inexorably by realization they were the Atlanta Thrashers except in Winnipeg. All of these years later STILL not using classic Jets logo, which is a crime.

13: Los Angeles Kings

Good team playing modern style. Coach seems to hate life itself, but in a ha-ha way. Come back against crazy odds (except this year). I don’t know, I’ve got nothing against the Kings.

12: Arizona Coyotes

They’re boring and I don’t care about them and I’m seriously sick of reading about their financial problems, but Antoine Vermette is, what, a top five most likeable guy in the league? And he went back there after winning a Cup with Chicago? I’m rooting for them, if only because I’m rooting for him.

11: Washington Capitals

They’re sorta due for some vintage love. Never quite a bad team, never quite a threat. One of these days they’re going to go on an insane run, and I get the sneaking suspicion that most of us will be closet Cap fans. That might be a bit strong. We won’t actively be rooting against them to lose in the first round again.

10: Colorado Avalanche

Roy leaves Montreal, wins Cup in Colorado, cements Colorado at #10 on this list. Joe Sakic.

The Teams with Hardly Any Stink 

9: New York Islanders

Former embarrassment of the league turns into seriously fun team to watch. Dynasty memories. Moving to Brooklyn (which…I don’t know, could seriously impact their place in these standings one way or another…). Jack Capuano’s hair is so, so bad. He looks like fat Def Leppard.

8: Ottawa Senators

Probably higher than what other people would rate them, but come on! Hamburglar! Poor ass team wins over cynical city hearts on miracle run! Loses points for every single iteration of their uniform ever and Eugene Melnyk, but Erik Karlsson is an angel sharing mana from heaven through a diamond trumpet.

7: Minnesota Wild

People can love or hate that high-concept puma headed logo, but this is a hockey crazy state that, for me, sorta exemplifies what you want the sport to be. They sort of suck and have a GM who rails against player salaries and then pays out $200 million for two players. But it’s not like they’re unique in that.

6: Buffalo Sabres

They were one of my least favorite teams as recently as 3-4 years ago. They employed guys like Steve Ott. Their uniforms are awful. They’re an embarrassment to the league most nights. But being the #1 underdog goes a long way in my books, and they were one of the historically worst teams in league last year. Imagine poor old Matt Moulson having to actually put on skates and do that night after night. And the good people of Buffalo have suffered – oh lord have they suffered. So I hope this #6 spot on an Ottawa Senators blog wipes away all of that indignation, which I’m sure it does.

5: St. Louis Blues

Sort of so unremarkable that you forget they keep demolishing the regular season and have some killer players on their team. Classy uniform. On the verge of becoming the San Jose Sharks by overcompensating for never winning, but for now I like them. Which according to this scale, makes them likeable!

4: Nashville Predators

Play prototypical moneypuck hockey. Them against the world, since nobody cares about them. Philly tried to push them around with the Weber offer sheet and they matched. Speaking of which: Second best defenceman in the league. Guitar strings running through the numbers on the uni. Points deducted for Mike Ribeiro.

3: Chicago Blackhawks

Toews. Kane. Modern dynasty. Nobody unlikeable on them (maybe Bollig?). Hossa. Keep having to lose the lineup for cap considerations; keep being good. The rare original six team that isn’t totally drunk on its own history, mostly because they don’t have to resort to history. They’re good right now.

2: Columbus Blue Jackets

Loveable losers and misfit toys who take it in the teeth over and over. The market loves them. The team loves the market. There’s not a person alive who would hate for the Jackets to go on a nice long playoff win streak. Giant fever-dream bee or wasp or something in Civil War uniform for a mascot. That is, when it isn’t a cannon that looks like genitals.

1: Detroit Red Wings

Sigh. It’s like this was destined. Nobody hates the Wings. Maybe Colorado fans, but even they respect the Wings. They’ve got everything: fun players to watch, great vets to admire, a winning history, a smart system, beautiful uniforms, and a city that needs good news. Nobody hates the Wings, and in this league, that’s the same as loving them.

Is consistency the unrecognized analytics factor?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this Senators’ goalie situation and the fact that we just absolutely MUST trade a goaltender and get good value back otherwise everyone’s going to write 200 blog posts about how we didn’t. I was also thinking about how Chicago is probably going to have to trade another 3-4 good players to stay under the cap next year, and Cory Crawford, he of the lucrative new deal could be on the block.

If I were a GM in either situation, what would I do? Could Chicago really go into next year with Scott Darling as its starting goaltender? Would Ottawa go into next year with an injury-prone older starter and Wildcard Hammond? How about Lehner, who has all of the potential in the world but is in the middle of his own personal time travel journey?

This led me to think about how much GMs pay for potential and projections, and how little they pay for consistency. Here’s a theory:

In an analytics-driven, salary-cap era, a player’s value is expressed in three ways: 1) The degree to which he drives possession. 2) His statline relative to his peers. And 3) How much money he makes.

Each of these three factors are dependent on one another. It’s why expensive Alex Ovechkin can be one of the best players in the world and still have people question his value, and why scoreless Erik Condra can be cheap and drive possession but be allowed to walk for nothing.

(I guess there’s a fourth factor in here encompassing all of those other intangible qualities, like sticktoittiveness and likeability and being a good dude.)

One factor that I think might be missing in all of this is if a player performs consistently. I know, you must be thinking “this is obvious. If a player performs well consistently, then a GM knows it and factors it in.” But I’m talking about if a player performs only averagely, but consistently. I’d like to argue that that consistency provides a level of value over and above the player’s statline and possession metrics.

Because a player is consistent, it means that a GM can plan around him. He can better understand the gaps on a team in a coming year and spend his meager resources, in terms of picks and cap space, to plug those gaps, confident in the knowledge that they won’t produce yet more gaps.

This is the place in the blog post where I would love to include a spreadsheet of the most consistent players, but frankly I don’t have the data. War on Ice will give you cumulative totals, but I don’t have the patience to download stats season-by-season and run the spreadsheets to describe variance. What I’d love to see, though, is which players above a certain threshold for possession (so we weed out the players who are consistently bad) display the lowest variance from season to season. Basically what you end up with are players about whom you know what to expect. And that, in itself, has value.

I know I’m mixing up skaters and goalies here, and I don’t know if Chicago will trade Cory Crawford, especially if he helps them win another Cup. But I do know that if Chicago can find a cheaper option with less variance in his statline, they can reliably pour the savings elsewhere to compensate. The same holds true for Ottawa. Lehner might have a higher ceiling, but also a higher variance than, say, Craig Anderson. And knowing that variance has value.

I hope you enjoyed this summertime blog post. Stay safe everyone, and wear sunscreen.

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.