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

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“You DO look like a Ninja Turtle!”

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

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

Better lock that guy up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALEXANDRE DAIGLE SENATORS

Player: unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Handsome Shrek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ovechkin – 2013-2014

Cap hit – $9,538, 462

EVP/60 – 1.74

Corsi For – 49.3%

Corsi Relative – +2.5%

NHL – 2013-2014

Cap hit – $3,500,000

EVP/60 – 1.29 (median)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unofficial Leak: The Ottawa Senators Marketing Department’s Short List of Possible 2014-2015 Slogans (and The Accompanying Mid-Game Entertainment For Each)

[All credit here goes to Dusty, who left these in our inbox like that great coworker who leaves a thing of Timbits in the kitchen and doesn't call attention to it because he knows they'll be more delicious if you just find them.]

“Where’s Your RED At?” (A group of local dad-rock journeymen to provide a Sens themed interpretation of the immortal Basement Jaxx party jam.)

“Bringing Out The RED” (in tribute to the classic 1999 Nicolas Cage/Ving Rhames film, the zamboni will be outfitted to look like an ambulance and the harmonica riff from “TB Sheets” will be played when goals are scored)

“Capital Funishment” (Spartacat wears an executioner’s hood, carries an axe. Pretty straight forward stuff, this one writes itself.)

“This Town Needs a REDnema” (to feature a fun ‘between periods’ video of the “Partyman” scene from the 1989 Batman movie, but instead of portraits, the video is edited to look like the Joker is painting over pictures of rival hockey players. It’s a tall order, but I think the Sens’ in-house AV dept. is up for the challenge.)

[As an aside: can we have a conversation about "Batdance?" This is Prince at his trollingest, right? It's seven minutes long. He's dressed as the Joker, but with Two Face makeup on. He starts the song by saying "Get the fuck up!" And despite all of this, he still manages to shoehorn in a legitimately brilliant and sexy part, which is of course the breakdown with the troupe of Vicki Vales. If you think Prince wouldn't be up for being involved in an Ottawa Senators promotional campaign...well, Batdance.]

“Death SENtence” (ignore this one, this was just an early draft of “Capital Funishment”.)

And now, your 2014 All Good Contracts Team

Benn, Jamie »

$5.250MM

Dallas

Seguin, Tyler »

$5.750MM

Dallas

Oshie, T.J. »

$4.175MM

St. Louis

Kane, Evander »

$5.250MM

Winnipeg

Tavares, John »

$5.5MM

New York Islanders

Van Riemsdyk, J. »

$4.25MM

Toronto

Boyes, Brad »

$2.625MM

Florida

Turris, Kyle »

$3.5MM

Ottawa

Stempniak, Lee »

$900,000

New York Rangers

Roussel, Antoine »

$2MM

Dallas

Goc, Marcel »

$1.2MM

Pittsburgh

Moss, David »

$800,000

Arizona

 

Keith, Duncan »

$5.5MM

Chicago

E-Larsson, O. »

$5.5MM

Arizona

McDonagh, Ryan »

$4.7MM

New York Rangers

Shattenkirk, K. »

$4.25MM

St. Louis

Gilbert, Tom »

$2.8MM

Montreal

Volchenkov, Anton »

$1MM

Nashville

 

Neuvirth, Michal »

$2.5MM

Buffalo

Lack, Eddie »

$1.150MM

Vancouver

I thought, as a corollary to last week’s All Bad Contracts Team post, I would take a stab at the best contracts.

Rules:

  • No ELCs. Otherwise it would be too easy to stick half the top five picks from the last five years in a chart and call it a day.
  • I still adhered to the salary cap. This was especially a challenge without ELCs, and explains why I had to leave off guys like David Backes and Johan Franzen, who would be improvements over, like, David Moss. I also think that Erik Karlsson has a great contract, but I was trying to find an extra million, so I picked Ekman-Larsson at a million less.
  • The contact has to represent value. For example, I think Duchene is totally worth $6MM a year, and he’s a pretty good number one center. But I also think he’s being paid fairly.
  • I tried not to include too many deals where the player received what was perceived to be value at the time, and seems low by today’s standards. Were Sidney Crosby up for a new contract now, he’d get Kane / Toews money. But he was only paid slightly below market value at the time.
  • Goaltending is a bit of a mindfuck. In the last few years, starting goaltenders have been getting paid. Rask, Quick, and Crawford are all going to take up about 10% of your cap right away. I’ve long been a proponent of affordable goalies, given that it’s a crapshoot of a position. So, with that in mind, Eddie Lack had pretty good numbers last year, and Neuvirth is a league average goalie making average money. I also considered Anderson at just over $3MM, Jonas Hiller at $4.5MM, and the biggest mindfuck of all, Luongo at only $4.5MM.

These guys in total come in just under the cap at $68.6MM.

Omissions? Protestations? Hit the comments.

Your 2014 All Bad Contracts Team

Nash, Rick »$7.8MM

New York

Staal, Eric »$8.250MM

Carolina

Ovechkin, Alex »$9.5MM

Washington

Cammalleri, Mike »$5MM

New Jersey

Lecavalier, V. »$4.5MM

Philadelphia

Semin, Alexander »$7MM

Carolina

Umberger, R.J. »$4.6MM

Philadelphia

Horcoff, Shawn »$5.5MM

Dallas

Callahan, Ryan »$5.8MM

Tampa

Filppula, V. »$5MM

Tampa

Bolland, Dave »$5.5MM

Florida

Neil, Chris »$1.9MM

Ottawa

 

Streit, Mark »$5.25MM

Philadelphia

Myers, Tyler »$5.5MM

Buffalo

Johnson, Jack »$4.35MM

Columbus

Wideman, Dennis »$5.25MM

Calgary

Engelland, Deryk »$2.9MM

Calgary

Gonchar, Sergei »$5MM

Dallas

 

Ward, Cam »$6.3MM

Carolina

Pavelec, Ondrej »$3.9MM

Winnipeg

Just for fun on a Friday afternoon, I thought I’d put together an All Bad Contracts team. Here’s what I’ve got. Omissions? Protestations? Hit the comments!

Teams with the most representation: Philadelphia, and Carolina have three turds apiece. You might also include Columbus, with one contract of their own (Johnson, though it was given to him by Los Angeles) and two they gave to players on other teams (Umberger and Nash). Calgary has some stinkers in there, and I almost included Jonas Hiller, which would have qualified them.

The cap hit for this team is $108.8MM, or about $39.8MM over the cap.

Up front you have a trio of declining superstars. It might be controversial to include Ovechkin, given the goal-scoring hardware he’s racked up, but I think with all of the money they’ve sunk into his contract and the fact that he’s basically a powerplay specialist with zero accountability at this point, his might actually be the most disastrous contract of the bunch. He’s signed until 2021, and makes $10MM a year in cash for the next seven seasons.

For the most part, I hesitated to include superstar deals. You won’t see Kane, Toews, Perry, Getzlaf, Crosby or Malkin here. When a franchise player is due a new contract, I feel the team often doesn’t have much in the way of leverage. Columbus couldn’t really give Rick Nash, who they’d built their entire identity around, less than they did. Same for Carolina and Staal. So I don’t blame them too much, but in the cold light of 2014, these deals still look awful, and will only get worse with time. These three guys in particular exemplify the sort of line that can produce points, but nowhere near tantamount to their salaries.

Our second line guys don’t seem too, too egregious until you bunch them together. The fun thing is how these $4MM-$5MM guys, if couched on a line with low-cost ELCs, or other high-value contracts, don’t seem too awful. They’re NHL veterans, after all. But taken together…that’s $16.5MM, or about a quarter of the total cap allowance, for 124 points last year. Semin’s an elite possession driver, but had only 42 points last year, and missed about 20 games to injury.

The third line is made up of character guys you wouldn’t kick off of your team, though they’re overpaid in the extreme. The Callahan deal is especially bad. Yzerman was backed into a corner of wanting to show something for the Martin St. Louis deal, and so gave Callahan too much term and cash. Like Umberger, he’s a leader-y guy making elite production money. Horcoff isn’t particularly good at hockey anymore. (Though I guess it’s worth noting his pay is a couple mill below his cap hit.)

That fourth line is legitimately awful. Bolland and our own Chris Neil bring literally nothing to the ice for that money. Bolland’s deal was the laughing stock of the UFA period this year. Filppula isn’t a bad player, but it’s hard to understand why Yzerman had to give a complementary scorer in Detroit so much to coax him to Tampa to play with one of the best players in the world in Stamkos.

The process of putting together this team helped me to understand how much leeway Yzerman has received over the past couple of years. Yzerman gets a lot of praise for transforming Tampa into a quasi-contender (if third last in the league followed by a first round sweep counts as contending, which it doesn’t), but he’s spent enormous amounts of owner Jeff Vinnik’s money doing it. Every UFA period, he’s right up front handing out long-ish deals to players like Matt Carle, Anton Stralman, Callahan, Filppula, and Boyle. Right now they’re over the cap by almost two million. If Tampa doesn’t do something soon, the shine is going to wear off. Especially when he has to give Stamkos a billion dollars.

On the back end, you have a whole lot of cash spent on a whole lot of mediocrity. No one is really out-and-out awful, except for Deryk Engelland – the rare Defenseman Enforcer! Because you really want to be down a defensemen when killing off a major penalty. Jack Johnson is a noted possession black hole who makes everyone around him worse and is signed until the end of time. Tyler Myers illustrates the problem of signing someone for their potential. Gonchar is 200 years old.

And in net, Cam Ward was 47th in the league in SV% last year, a stunning .898 average, and makes over $6MM a year. That might be the worst contract in the league right there. Pavalec’s trials and tribulations have been well documented. He’s signed for two more seasons after this one, which is amazing.

So…how do you think this team would do? Depending on whether they’re in the West or the East, I think they have a shot at the playoffs. But they’re likely going to miss, and spend a fortune doing it. See, Ottawa? It could be worse!

Giant Sized Summer Special: Is Ottawa more defensively responsible now than it was last year?

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There’s no need for a set-up. Just take a look at last season’s team stats:

  • Goals-per-game: 2.79 – 11th in the NHL
  • Goals-against-per-game: 3.15 – 27th in the NHL
  • Powerplay: 18.4% – 14th in the NHL
  • Penalty Kill: 80.9% – 22nd in the NHL
  • Shots per game: 32.8 – 4th in the NHL
  • Shots against per game: 34.7 – 29th in the NHL
  • Fenwick for percentage: 50.8% – 13th in the NHL
  • Shots for percentage: 49.1% – 20th in the NHL

At a glimpse, the 2013-2014 Ottawa Senators were a team that could score, but couldn’t outscore their opponents. Both coach Paul MacLean and GM Bryan Murray have stated on multiple occasions that the goal for the coming season will be to cut down on the number of shots allowed, possibly at the expense of some offense. So let’s take a look at our new lineup, the moves made, and whether it’s reasonable to expect a more defensively responsible team this season.

Assuming a lineup:

Obviously there are a lot of moving parts here. Let’s presume that Stone and Hoffman will be given a chance to compete for a top six spot, with whomever is cold being bumped down to the bottom six. I’m also assuming that the team doesn’t destroy Lazar’s potential by allowing him to be cast as savior of the franchise at 19 and given top minutes right away. (Though we can assume he’ll get some games during the season, possibly those first nine games before he must be sent down without burning a year on his ELC.)

The top line of MacArthur – Turris – Ryan will almost definitely stay intact. The rest of the lineup, without a go-to offensive catalyst (unless Hoffman and Stone are those guys) will be some combination of Michalek, Legwand, Chiasson, Hoffman, Stone, Greening, Zibanejad, Condra, Smith and Neil.

Curiously, the defense remains much the same as last year: Karlsson with Methot or Cowen, Ceci with Phillips, and Gryba, Wiercioch and Borowiecki all duking it out for about 8 minutes of ice time.

Anderson spends another year checking his brake lines and Lehner spends another year awaiting the Hour of Ascension of the Beast.

The O:

The biggest change here is the loss of Spezza and Hemsky and the addition of Legwand and Chiasson. Though the way the players will be paired and used will be variable, that we lost a center and winger and then gained one of each, and that not much else changed with the team, makes it possible to do some direct comparisons and see if we’re indeed any more defensively responsible.

Jason Spezza and David Legwand comparison [all stats from here on in via Extra Skater]

Spezza scored 15 more points than Legwand in eight fewer games, though he received about a minute more of ice time per 60 minutes of play, had a higher shooting percentage, and more favorable zone starts.

Interestingly, while Legwand is being cast as a two-way forward – I called him a plug on our last podcast – he played an enormous amount of time on the power-play – almost as much as Spezza did – and way less time on the penalty kill as Spezza.

Also interesting is that Legwand and Spezza played with a similar quality of teammates and against a similar quality of competition. They are within 0.3% of each other in both regards.

Spezza’s Corsi relative was slightly negative, where Legwand’s was slightly positive, though both are within 0.5% of each other.

The players also had a comparable PDO, around 97, which means one might expect a slight bump in numbers for both as they rebound to league average on-ice save percentage. They had extremely similar penalty differentials, with each taking just under 20 more penalties than they drew.

The only really big discrepancy is their shots per 60 minutes of play, where Legwand produces almost four fewer shots than Spezza.

It’s no surprise that Legwand is not as offensively capable as Spezza. But my takeaway here, and what people might not know, is that the two players have been used in very similar ways, and Legwand hasn’t been a defensive standout in that time. Perhaps as a result of a lack of center depth in Nashville, Legwand was employed as their principle playmaker. Far from being your reliable utility forward, he was relied on to produce offense, and his ice time reflects that.

Another way of putting it is that Spezza didn’t have it much easier than Legwand. And while Spezza was slightly deficient defensively compared to Legwand, he more than made up for it in terms of shot and point production. With Spezza you end up with a net gain in production; with Legwand, perhaps not so much. So, for those subscribing to the idea that Ottawa swapped out an offensive dynamo for a defensive one, while you might be technically right that there’s a difference, you still have a net loss over the course of a season in terms of production. Legwand isn’t that much more responsible, but he’s a whole lot less dangerous offensively. This is borne out by their overall Corsi differential, which is fairly substantial; Spezza’s is almost three full points better, which is significant in Corsi Land. After all, you don’t care how a player produces possession, just that they do. Be careful what you wish for, Sun readers – you have your hard working, loveable plug now.

Now, this doesn’t account for how Ottawa may choose to use Legwand in this upcoming season. Maybe he flourishes as a utility forward, when he isn’t expected to produce any offense. But there’s a big enough body of evidence to suggest that Legwand, while a legit top six NHL forward, is not an improvement on Spezza at all. Ottawa fans might like bringing in Legwand because he’s a veteran, gritty, and so on, but they better hope those intangibles translate into effects elsewhere.

Of course the big plus for Ottawa is that Legwand is $2MM cheaper than Spezza this season and on a short-term deal. He costs half as much as Spezza, and there’s no expectation from his camp that the team re-sign him for six to eight years after next season. If Ottawa management were pouring those savings into other areas, we might be able to justify the switch. But, as we know, they’re not. For now, this biggest benefit of this swap is to Melnyk’s bottom line.

Alex Chiasson and Ales Hemsky comparison 

Maybe it’s not fair to do a direct comparison between a 14 year NHL veteran and a player with the equivalent of one season under his belt, but Ottawa lost a top six player and traded for someone who, in their mind, was another, so the comparison stands.

And, much to my surprise, Chiasson actually doesn’t do too badly. Though he scored 8 fewer points in four more games, he generated about as many shots per 60 minutes in about the same amount of ice time, against comparable competition, and with a comparable quality of teammates. Their Corsi was almost identical, though on the other hand Chiasson’s teammates outperformed him. (Though on the OTHER other hand…Dallas was a top ten possession team last year, so that ain’t so bad.)

Chiasson’s PDO was two points lower, too, suggesting a slight bump up, potentially narrowing the gap in their offensive production even further. Even though Chiasson did enjoy significantly more powerplay time than Hemsky, all else being equal it’s reasonable to expect them to produce similarly next year.

Over a full season, while Chiasson is a slight downgrade on Hemsky, it’s not as big as I initially thought it would be. When coupled with the fact that he’s making less than 1/4th what Hemsky is making on his entry level contract, this is a high-value swap. (Again, assuming those savings would be funneled elsewhere which yadda yadda yadda they won’t be.)

You might expect a marginal decrease in production here, but I’m far less concerned than I am about the use of Legwand over Spezza.

The Youngins:

One unknown here is whether Stone, Hoffman, and/or Lazar can step into top six roles and contribute. We don’t have the numbers for Lazar, and looking at Stone and Hoffman, neither of them have huge sample sizes from last season.

But both produced great Corsi ratings, both overall and relative to their teammates (Stone’s is particularly good). Neither saw strong competition, indicating some degree of being sheltered, and their PDOs were almost smack average (Stone’s is actually a point higher) so we shouldn’t expect a huge swing in regression to the average.

What’s interesting is that while both players’ underlying possession numbers are good, this didn’t translate into particularly impressive point production. There’s a couple of ways we can interpret this.

Either these guys will learn to finish (which one hopes comes with experience) and translate those shots and possession into points. Or they’re both essentially versions of Erik Condra – strong possession players who can’t finish to save their lives. Or they simply haven’t been put with the right linemates to translate possession into goals.

Small sample size, again, but their strong possession numbers imply that they can contribute to the team, especially if they take away minutes from other bottom six players whose careers are in decline – see Greening, Colin and Neil, Chris.

The D:

The horror show begins…

Nothing terribly novel to say here. There wasn’t much in the way of change on the backend for Ottawa. The most notable changes here are that Mark Borowiecki’s contract becomes one-way, and that Eric Gryba was re-signed to a one-way deal. Neither of them are particularly good. That management seems especially high on Borowiecki because he, I don’t know…sticks up for his teammates or whatever, seems like more evidence of old-schoolism at play. Oh, and they also let Joe Corvo, the weirdest fucking signing of last year, walk. Which, you know…great.

The result: a glut of bottom pairing defensemen on a team that allow more shots than almost any other team last year. Beyond Erik Karlsson and Patrick Wiercioch, no defenseman did particularly well in terms of possession.

I won’t really look at Erik Karlsson. (Spoiler: he’s good!) Borowiecki doesn’t have huge sample sizes. That leaves Cowen, Methot, Phillips, Ceci and Wiercioch.

Jared Cowen, as has been well-publicized, was atrocious. In a good-PDO year, his penalty differential was terrible, and he had the lowest shots per 60. (Though he didn’t get much in the way of power play time, and was relied upon to clear the crease and wave his stick around like a dowsing wand.) His possession stats weren’t as bad as I expected, though they were mediocre.

Chris Phillips is also trending downwards and was inexplicably renewed. He was sheltered, but also had the worst PDO of the group. That means he might rebound slightly, if his regression doesn’t more than erase that rebound. The best case scenario seems like one where he’s still barely, BARELY, a 3-4 guy. Like everyone has already said: why did this guy get two years again?

As has been mentioned on this blog and elsewhere, the banishment of Patrick Wiercioch to the press box for huge chunks of the season was totally mysterious. He’s a strong possession player, producing more shots per 60 than any of the rest of the group. Maybe it was the plethora of left-handed shots on the team, but playing Cody Ceci and Jared Cowen over Wiercioch is just one of those things we’ll have to chalk up to the coaches and management knowing something about him that we don’t. Stop smoking meth, Patrick Wiercioch.

However, Marc Methot wasn’t nearly as bad as he was made out to be, having been divorced from Erik Karlsson from much of the year. His possession stats were respectable, and here’s hoping that his ice time is restored. It might not be enough to remove this team from the bottom of the league in terms of shots against, but given the apparent lack of forthcoming changes to the defensive corp, it’s a no-cost move. Ottawa just needs to use what they have more effectively. You could argue that we used up last season to develop Cowen.

Goaltending:

Not much to say; both had below league average save percentages, but only by about .03% – and that’s impressive considering the number of shots they faced. Anderson saved the team’s bacon in the shortened season with a legendarily unsustainable hot streak, and when he came back to earth this year, the team suffered. No surprise there.

Lehner played more games than ever before, and should continue, in this last year of Anderson’s contract, to shoulder the load unless the team falls quickly out of contention and they play Anderson in order to bolster his trade deadline value. Anderson has been a warrior for Ottawa though, and continues to be a workhorse on a mediocre team. If he’s willing to re-sign on an affordable deal to play backup to Lehner, I think the team has to explore that. Any other goaltender’s head would have exploded facing 45 shots a night.

That top line:

I know the chemistry between Turris, Ryan and MacArthur was a pleasant surprise, and that Ryan was playing with a hernia or something, but we should temper expectations for next season. This line had a consistently high PDO, which means regression to the mean. Turris, who will now be expected to be the team’s number one center – there’s really no other option – may have it especially hard, seeing his quality of competition skyrocket as teams no longer have to worry about matching up against Jason Spezza.

It’s not all doom-and-gloom – between Turris being a still-young and developing player, and Ryan healing, you may get a wash as they regress. But for those hoping that the top line is going to pick up their game in the absence of Spezza and Hemsky, the odds aren’t very good. That doesn’t mean they’re a bad line – all three have excellent possession stats. But from a team perspective, I’d expect their production to hold where it was, and thus the team still ends up with a net loss in production.

Tactics:

There’s a huge X factor here, which is Paul MacLean’s coaching. That’s obviously where our publicly available stats fall short. We know how players have traditionally be used. We don’t know how they will be used.

We may assume that MacLean will continue to preach an up-tempo style combined with a “whole rink” “hard work” mumbo jumbo voodoo combo that pretty much every single NHL coach insists on. But we could be wrong. Hey, even Bruce Boudreau – one of the most successful possession coaches in the league over the last decade – changed his style to be more “defensively responsible” after his Capitals teams experienced some playoff disappointment.

Maybe MacLean discovered something this summer while sitting on his dock staring out into the water and he’ll bring a Dr. Strange-like epiphany home that makes Jared Cowen not pivot like a dump truck. Don’t ask me. I just traded for Jagr in NHL 2014 and scored 56 goals with him. Have you tried turning down the difficulty, Paul?

The rest of the division:

Boston and Montreal look very good, like locks for the post-season, though Boston may start to decline slightly. Tampa upgraded hugely this year, though they were second last in the league the year before and were swept out of the first round this year, so who fucking knows with that team. I think they’ll be pretty impressive. Detroit is pretty much in full decline, but they have the horses to make it in the weak east. Toronto didn’t change much, and are due for a weak season given their underlying possession stats. Florida and Buffalo are awful.

That puts Ottawa pretty much where they were last year – 5th in the Atlantic, and on the outside looking in.

In conclusion:

My takeaway here is that Ottawa can expect a lower offensive output from their forwards this year, based solely on the huge disparity between David Legwand and Jason Spezza. Worse, perhaps, is that the assumption that Legwand and Chiasson are significantly more responsible than Spezza and Hemsky just doesn’t hold up. If anything, they’ll slow the bleeding and save the franchise money, but that’s it. The team will end up with an even larger net loss in production.

For this version of the Ottawa Senators to produce a net gain in goals, they’ll have to do the following:

  • Shore up their bottom six. Letting Matt Kassian walk is an automatic improvement. Zach Smith, Colin Greening and Chris Neil got killed last year, and took way, WAY more penalties than they drew. (Especially Neil.) Relying more often on Zibanejad as your third line center, and one or both of Stone and Hoffman in place of Neil and Greening should help turn around the bottom six’s production. If we see Neil and Phillips on the powerplay again this year, we may as well just start researching the draft.
  • Take Patrick Wiercioch and Marc Methot out of the doghouse. I can understand that if Jared Cowen develops into a top-two or top-four defenseman, one season of growing pains is going to seem like a small price to pay. But given he didn’t have a down-on-his-luck-year last year and still sort of stank, one hopes that development and continued healing from hip surgery contributes to better play. If not, then play the horses you have.
  • Do whatever it is you do to make young players develop. Ottawa might not be able to sneak into the playoffs if Stone, Hoffman, and Ceci all stay where they were next year. It would help if Zibanejad, a blue chip prospect, took a step forward and was given more responsibility.
  • I don’t look at penalties much in this post…but holy hell did Ottawa take a lot of them. Again, and probably for the millionth time, playing Chris Neil and Jared Cowen a bit less will help in this regard. MacArthur took a lot of penalties, but made up for it with production. Neil and Cowen…not so much.
  • Shootouts. Ottawa was 7-7. Not bad – actually right in the middle of the league, so they personify league average. But with a little luck in this total crapshoot of a standings rigger, they could make up the gap.
  • Go shopping. In the last few weeks we’ve seen Nashville pick up three players legit NHLers for about $3MM total, any of whom could have shored up Ottawa’s depth or sat in the press box for less than it cost to sit Wiercioch last season. I’m especially bummed that Ottawa wasn’t interested in bringing back Anton Volchenkov. He was a fan favorite when he was here, nobody resented his choice to leave for term in New Jersey, and he brings exactly what the team needs. At this point there’s not a ton left – Mike Del Zotto, Dustin Penner, and David Booth all look like they could contribute in a depth role – and the market has been set at about one year, $1MM.

In the end, the team is not going to bottom out. They’re a bubble team who can finish anywhere from 12th to 6th in the standings in the East, barring any massively unsustainable runs of good or bad luck. The team will produce a similar result to last year, but they’ll save more money doing it. And that’s good news for Eugene Melnyk, at least.

Best wishes to Bryan Murray

We publish a lot of acerbic and occasionally humorous (but mostly acerbic) shit on this blog, but it pales quickly and obviously in the shadow of a real life person fighting a real life bullshit thing like cancer. So, all of our crap aside: best wishes to Bryan Murray and his family as he fights this curse of a disease. If he brings a modicum of the competitiveness he brings to hockey to his care plan, Murray will be back in the GM’s box in no time.

Fuck cancer.

The point at which Varada broke and ran into the woods, never to be heard from again

I’ve got to say, Twitter and the blog space in general has been a black hole of cynicism and pessimism of late, a sphincter spewing bilious hatred and seething rage in the direction of Eugene Melnyk and Senators management because they don’t have the money to spend on payroll. As James pointed out in our recent roundtable post, it’s gotten to the point where people were so devastated by the fact that Ottawa didn’t sign Benoit Fucking Pouliot, who they’d only heard about as a candidate for signing about 24 hours earlier, that WTYKY had to collectively stay off Twitter for a few days just to scrub the poison off of us.

We can all admit that hockey is a business, right? We can all admit that the owners of hockey teams are often using the day-to-day operations of hockey to minimize losses while they wait on their underlying investment to increase in value until its time to sell, or to make money on ancillary investments made possible through franchise ownership, like real estate or retail leasing or whatever, right? And for these reasons, we can all agree that it probably doesn’t make sense for Melnyk to sell this team now.

Sure, he’d make some money, considering the valuation of the team today compared to the price at which it was purchased. But with the new television deal in place, and having just suffered through another lockout that resulted in yet another owner-friendly collective bargaining agreement, most of Melnyk’s team-related money is set to come in over the next 5-10 years. Plus the franchise will continue to accrue value. If anything, the Senators are one of Melnyk’s few investments that actually seems be trending upwards. If we can agree that there’s a right and wrong time to trade Jason Spezza from an asset management perspective, then we can agree that there’s no way Melnyk is going to sell this team right now.

So the team is his. But that doesn’t change the fact that he still doesn’t have any money. Most of his worth is tied up in non-liquid investments, which means he has low cash-on-hand. His overall value has tumbled, as has been documented exhaustively. Ottawa doesn’t generate a lot of gate revenue, especially compared to other Canadian markets (average ticket sales, average ticket prices). Melynk doesn’t have a lot of satellite investments in the area.

So there’s no money to spend to contention, and there’s no money to subsidize losses over a prolonged rebuild, and Melnyk won’t sell. On these basic facts we can all agree.

And yet we read blog post after newspaper article after social media zing about how Melnyk needs to spend. I agree that it sucks that Jeff Vinik doesn’t own this team, but Jeff Vinik doesn’t own this team.

So what do you expect from the Ottawa Senators? What else can they do but try to squeeze value out of what they have, try to sell the fan base on hope and exciting prospects, and preach hard work in the absence of elite skill? What do you actually want management to do?

As far as I can see it, we, as fans, have four options:

  1. Give Melnyk what he wants and let him develop ancillary investments in order to subsidize team payroll. This could be tax breaks, actual subsidization by the city a la the Coyotes, or preferential terms on investments, like the casino. All of which seems like a bad idea to me. Forgoing tax revenues for social services, or allowing additional gambling will impact the social determinants of health and, hey, let’s admit that it’s only fucking hockey. I’m OK with not sacrificing actual quality of life so that my local hockey team of millionaire players gets better at swatting rubber discs into nets.
  2. Boycott games until Melynk sells the team. Good luck with that. People wouldn’t even boycott games when the owners cancelled a season of hockey, and then another half-season, to pad their pockets. People love hockey. An owner can stomp on puppies in front of his arena while laughing maniacally for local news cameras and people would still buy enough tickets to maintain status quo on an owner’s PR-o-Meter.
  3. Go to more games. Subsidize the team directly out of your own pocket. Set up a fan pledge page that says that if the team commits to spending to the cap, fans will buy all available season tickets and accept a ticket price increase. Except I’m on the same page here as everyone else: I like hockey. I don’t like spending more than an hour on a bus to the arena when I can go to the bar at the end of my street, watch the game on one of about 50 giant TVs, and enjoy a drink special and a meal, all in an atmosphere build explicitly around the game. It’s nobody’s fault. The tech bubble burst and Kanata didn’t turn into a city. It’s the reality of hockey in Ottawa.
  4. Allow joy to enter your cold, dead heart and stop complaining for Christ’s sake. I hate this suggestion. I hate it when people suggest it to me when I’m talking about movies, or music, or sports. I hate it when people tell me to just relax. Analyzing a problem is how I enjoy most things.

And we’re all entitled to our opinions. I believe blogs play an invaluable role in uncovering aspects of the game often ignored on purpose or for lack of capacity by traditional media. It’s only on the internet where you have whole schools of analytics beings developed almost entirely through volunteer hours, e.g. people actually sitting at home and tracking zone entries on their own time just so they can feel like they’re a part of something. Hockey coverage in Ottawa has been pretty amazing over the last few years, especially as it’s uncovered the truth about Melnyk’s finances and the gradual disintegration of a contending team. The level of passion you encounter for this game can be inspiring at times. 

Complaints about a poor owner are totally, totally legitimate, and I don’t challenge those assertions for one baby second. But you know what? It’s covered. This topic has been thoroughly and exhaustively and absurdly covered. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. I’ve written on it. But this topic is now officially the deadest horse in the world. It’s been beaten to a pulpy horsey mash. There’s no horse anymore. It’s just us and our roiling, inexhaustible anger and frustration over the fact that some rich fuck isn’t some very, very rich fuck.

So you can spend the next, oh, two to tens years decrying Melnyk’s gradual descent to Harold Ballard status. You can allow that to become the principle method by which you enjoy, the mucus covered lens through which you view our game.

Or…you can participate in the analytics renaissance and write about possible efficiencies to be exploited and approaches to the game to be scoped out. You can see this an an opportunity for innovation and creativity. You can explore the school of thought that says being the first to do something a certain way is much more rewarding than being the latest to buy success.

Or…you can just enjoy hockey because before you knew anything about hockey there was something that attracted you to it.

Or…you know what? Take a break. Go for a bike ride. Participate in a rally. Volunteer at the local shelter. Read a book. Call your grandmother and ask about how much a sandwich cost in 1954. Hell, get angry about something which also doesn’t matter, like Game of Thrones. Mix it up.

But until then, have the serenity to accept that which you cannot change. Melnyk doesn’t have money. He’s not going to sell the team. Hockey starts in October. Your move.

Best and Worst Case Scenarios

exist

It’s perfectly understandable that following the trade of another veteran player, Sens fans would find themselves mired in existential quandary. “What does it all mean? Where are we going? What IS hockey, anyway? Should I spend time with my kids?” It could be that we’ve just spent a few days drinking in +40 humidity to celebrate the quasi-independence of a colonial state and we’ve gone skull soft. But no: in the harsh light of sobriety, the questions still linger.

A few years back, the Ottawa Senators had one of their worst seasons since the expansion days. They finished fifth last in the league after having spent most of the season flirting with last overall. Despite all of the mechanisms built into the NHL to place teams inside a Giant Mediocre Middle, Ottawa really had no excuse but to embark on some sort of rebuild. They were spending almost to the cap. They were paying Alex Kovalev $5MM a year. They stank. These are the things out of which rebuilds are made.

So rebuild we did! Except not really. A few mid-tier players were sent packing in exchange for not very many or very high picks, and at the end of the rebuild, the best asset Ottawa had was their own pick, sixth overall (after being bumped down when New Jersey won the draft lottery), which they used on Mika Zibanejad, who is an awesome player if not a franchise one.

A few things I assume here:

  • Ottawa did much better in the years that followed because they weren’t as bad as everyone thought. There were almost as many points in the standings separating them from the last place Oilers as there were separating them from 8th and the playoffs. Remember: Brian Elliott was their goaltender, and the curse of Pascal Leclaire had been laid on the arena.
  • The emergence of Erik Karlsson as a generationally great defenseman who can play more than 30 minutes a night also helped them from continued tankery.
  • A shortened season in which Craig Anderson posted unreal numbers helped them to a surprise playoff appearance and first round win against the Habs.

All of which is to say, what I’m assuming here is that Ottawa wasn’t a terrible team, but wasn’t an ok team during that period either. It was a perfect storm of expectations and the emergence of key players. They were routinely outshot, but were saved by Special Little Guy Erik Karlsson’s CORSI Flamethrower Power Moves and Craig Anderson playing with the cheats on. It was a lot of fun. (Man, remember that Hab series? Good times.) But, much as the Toronto Maple Leafs are now pointing to their one playoff appearance and assuming that’s their norm, that unexpected bit of mild success might have been the worst case scenario for Ottawa. Bryan Murray still thinks that this team can compete.

Am I excited for the youngins? Sure I am. But I guess I just don’t have that much faith in youth to drive this team to excellence. How many top five picks are on the Islanders right now?

I also accept that Eugene Melnyk’s money situation is what it is, and he’s not going to sell when he’s set to cash in on that TV deal. It’s a conundrum: the team can’t spend enough to be competitive, but it also can’t afford to spend a few seasons in the dumps to restock. So we’re a bubble team, and with standard deviation in the standings being what it is (I’ve written before that it’s gotta be 10 points, at least), then Ottawa can find themselves on the right side of the bubble.

If you can’t tell already: I’m torn. What is this team’s true state? A team that manages to occasionally outperform its fundamental flaws, or a team with a solid core that was momentarily derailed?

Five Years from Now…the Best Case Scenario

  • Bobby Ryan, undeterred by the departure of Ottawa’s skilled veterans, signs long-term
  • Melnyk finds a way to keep Ottawa at least in middle of the spending pack, and Ottawa is able to attract marquee free agents due to their competitive young core
  • Ottawa’s identity – “hard working” – turns out to be viable and not an identity also adopted by every single other team in the NHL
  • Erik Karlsson fully recovers from the Achilles tear he suffered last season and becomes a regular part of the Norris conversation again; Ottawa has no trouble re-signing him
  • Mika Zibanejad turns out to be a second line center / he doesn’t need to be because Ottawa just signed one
  • Kyle Turris turns out to be a first line center / see above
  • Chris Neil is traded / retires / gets lost in the woods and starts a new life there. Chris Phillips organizes a search party, also disappears
  • One or more of Stone / Hoffman / Chiasson / Lazar / Puempel turn out to not only be promising young lads, but above average NHLers
  • Robin Lehner is, in fact, a starting goaltender
  • Boston and Detroit go into serious decline, Toronto continues to flounder, Florida continues to be Florida, and Buffalo only begins to emerge as a playoff contender, leaving Ottawa to compete with Montreal and Tampa in the division
  • A post-Bryan Murray vision starts to form in the absence of Tim Murray

Five Years from Now…the Worst Case Scenario

  • Bobby Ryan goes to free agency. Signs with Toronto for a reasonable cap hit and number. MacArthur also scoots.
  • The conversation then switches to Erik Karlsson and whether it’s smart asset management to trade him while he has some term left on his deal and is still in his prime. Sooner or later, Karlsson, tiring of being the only good player on the team and everyone hating him for not being Chris Neil, asks for a trade
  • Chris Neil re-signs for three more years at $3MM per
  • Ottawa doesn’t have the money to spend 3-5 years out of the playoffs and accrue high picks, and so spends just enough to miss the playoffs by five points every year
  • Ottawa fans realize that a bunch of players drafted nowhere near the top ten don’t have much chance of carrying a team after all
  • Ottawa’s strong drafting team follows the rest of the managerial talent out of town
  • Bryan Murray does his best Muckler impression and falls asleep in the press box
  • Eugene Melnyk successfully runs for mayor of Ottawa

It’s polarizing, I know. That was the point. The scary thing is that you can imagine either scenario happening.

What these scenarios make clear to me, which is probably already abundantly clear to all of you, is that Erik Karlsson is sort of the end game for this franchise. He’s the engine that drives the team’s offense, and after Bobby Ryan (who you could argue isn’t really a superstar player) is the last marquee attraction on this team. He must be kept, and placated, at all costs if this team isn’t going to become a regular at the bottom of the standings, and a joke among free agents.

How early is too early to offer him all the money?