Ottawa Senators Off-Ice Power Rankings – March 2015

Surprisingly, the Senators did their jobs ON the ice in February, but let’s cut right to the chase – did they do their jobs OFF the ice? Why are you even wasting time reading this introduction, let’s go!

1) Erik Karlsson (last month: 2)

This picture’s great because you’ve got the grizzled veteran, gradually accepting the footsteps of the generation coming up behind him, and the young up-and-comer, wondering how he’s going to be taken seriously as an actor after Titanic.

You wanna know why Bryan Murray kept Erik Condra around as a “glue guy”, as an “in-the-room guy”? Because Bryan Murray demands the best from his players and knows how to light a fire underneath them. He knows that Erik Condra wins these power rankings most of the time, and every now and then that absurdity provides Erik Karlsson with the necessary motivation to pull his phone out and show us how the other half really lives. So what are the superstars doing this month?

Getting free, unsolicited caricatures! Us regular folks gotta pay $15 down at the boardwalk for one of those, and for some reason we always get drawn holding a golf club, even though we specifically said we don’t golf. Take some more pride in your work, $15 caricature guys.

Texting while driving in inclement weather! What, you think that kind of multi-tasking is a bad idea? You’re looking at a guy who survived an early-season pairing with Mark Borowiecki; he can steer out of a skid with one hand.

Volunteering with seniors! They just have so much to teach us, y’know?

Wearing sushi shorts! Only 110 euros with shipping, not including customs. Remember: when someone takes your picture in these babies, the pro move is to keep the quadruple Bay Breeze in your right hand just out of frame.

Weighing in on Tom Waits’ discography! Because just when people try to peg you as a Swedish fancy boy who only like EDM and tasteful, beardy neo-folk, let ‘em know you spent last Friday night listening to wild hobo rasps over banged garbage-can lids! Keep them guessing!

Seriously, Erik Karlsson could and should win these rankings every month. But it’s like the Norris – once you’ve won once, you’ve got to be better the next time, even if you’re still the best. And that means that more often than not, someone good-enough, like Erik Condra or P.K. Subban, gets sucked into the very vacuum you create.

2) Erik Condra (last month: 1)

When it takes you longer to get your grill out than cook the food! #canadianwinterproblems @morrisbrian_

A photo posted by Erik Condra (@econdra22) on



Aren’t you from Michigan? Put your barbecue next to the patio door, Condra.

3) Bryan Murray (last month: NR)

Russell Crowe IS Bryan Murray in the upcoming biopic "Shawville Redemption".

Russell Crowe IS Bryan Murray in “The Shawville Redemption”.

We’ve looked at life from both sides now, so let’s move on to the man who’s agreed to keep Eriks major and minor together, at least for a few more months. We’ve already broken down, though beard-stroking consensus, why Murray’s inaction at the deadline was the right approach, but make no mistake – he’s got plans. Trading half his roster to the Oilers? Possible. Signing Andrew Hammond to an eight-year deal? Not out of the question. Continuing to gaslight Patrick Wiercioch? Of course. Making Jared Cowen the NHL’s first player-coach since 1970? That one might be the most likely, actually. Did you know he’s 6-5?

4) Marc Methot (last month: NR)

null

Then there’s the other planet orbiting Karlsson’s sun this month, Marc Methot. They sure played up the bromance angle when Methot re-signed, didn’t they? You saw this interview, right? Marc Methot eats early! Tips sparingly! Wears simple clothes! Erik Karlsson stays up late! Spreads his cash around! Dresses like a medieval falconer! But when this odd couple gets together on the ice, it turns out they’re made for each other! I mean, I know these two are now together until 2019, but I’m just saying – nobody ever asked Filip Kuba what he thought about Karlsson’s cranny of hair products.

When these two are pending free agents in four years, will they negotiate with the Senators, or the Las Vegas Black Dice, as a unit? Will their pairing be threatened before that, when Jared Cowen ascends to his destined status as the team’s #1 shutdown defenseman? Will Karlsson ever convince Methot to buy a $500 t-shirt? We’ll soon find out.

5) Bobby Ryan (last month: 4)

Remember what I said last month about finding restaurants no matter where you live? There you go.

Now that Bobby Ryan is finally a homeowner and official resident of Ottawa for (up to) seven years, how else do you think his life is going to change? Will he have his own hot take about the city’s false starts with light rail? Quietly set the high score on Addams Family pinball at House of TARG? Get us a Chipotle?

We all watch the Bachelor – the whirlwind courtship is exciting, but it’s just the theatrical run-up to what’s (ideally) a long-term journey of love. The cameras are off now – no more helicopter rides, no more roses, no more decisions – just Bobby Ryan and the city of Ottawa, alone at last, figuring out a life together. What will they talk about? How will they change each other? And really, what are you more excited about – watching Bobby Ryan develop his on-ice chemistry with Mika Zibanejad over the next few years, or watching him argue with idiots on Twitter about the city’s best sharwarma joint?

6) Bow ties (last month: NR)

Last month, the Sens Foundation held its annual Sens Soirée youth charity event at the casino (official motto: “the only place the Senators ever hold anything”); the theme was “Dixie Bound”, which basically meant all the players wore the same bow tie, just as one would at any antebellum gala, or maybe a boys’ choir recital. What’s that? A worst- and best-dressed list? Okay, if you say so.

WORST!

#3: Robin Lehner
null
These two aren’t badly dressed per se, but they look like they’re going to spend all night smoking kreteks, make a few nihilistic remarks, and then leave in a hovercraft. They terrify me.

#2: Kyle Turris
null
Kyle Turris goes for a fashion-forward cutaway collar that ends up drowning out his bow tie. Kyle! You look like Vincent Price!

#1: Marc Methot
null
This suit looks like it’s made out of a barbecue cover.

BEST!

#3: Erik Karlsson
null
Obviously.

#2: Milan Michalek
null
Check out Purplesaurus Rex over here. These kinds of bold violet shades, worn carelessly, can make one look like a Dick Tracy villain, but Milo pulls it off by keeping things simple and ends up looking dressed to (penalty) kill. Thanks for reading.

#1: Andrew Hammond
null
Be honest: on February 5, when this picture was taken, you had no idea who this guy was, right? He’d been an emergency call-up a week before, hadn’t played a game, and spent most of his time wearing a mask, for crying out loud. But when you look closer, you see the confident gait of a man who knows you’re going to know exactly who he is very soon, don’t you? Why else would he come stag?

7) Chris Phillips (last month: 5)



Good on Big Rig for street-teaming their merch like this, but would YOU trust a first responder showing up to your emergency repping everybody’s favorite neighborhood brewpub? Like, “sorry, I don’t have the tools to cut you out of that car, but you’ll need “jaws of life” to wrap your mouth around this signature 8-oz. chipotle turkey burger! … I agree, that is a lot of blood.”

8) Jean-Gabriel Pageau (last month: NR)



Yeah, he’s a little short to be an enforcer, but let’s be honest: he could probably still knock Kassian on his ass.

9) Curtis Lazar (last month: 7)

Curtis Lazar – he’s just like us! Here we see Lazar, who’s previously used Twitter to show himself doing normal-dude things like driving around, helping friends move, and winning the world junior championships, taking a ball in the face from Chris Phillips’ daughter. Unfortunately, the video cuts out before one of Chris Neil’s kids steps up and lays her out shortly thereafter. You have to send a message with that kind of crap.

10) Mike Hoffman (last month: 10)

Vince-sanity #AirCanada @codyceci

A photo posted by Mike Hoffman (@mhoffy68) on



Speaking of short, Vince Carter is 6-6. Mike Hoffman’s player page on NHL.com lists him as 6-0. Sure, what the hell – see you next month!

NOT RANKED: Eugene Melnyk; when Val Kilmer crashes your date; when people don’t get the “Seger in ’75” thing you’re going for; when you don’t notice the even more awesome “LUVALOT” plate behind you; when you won’t stop bothering the mayor; when even your spitting is perfect; when you tan so hard your swim trunks disappear; when Morgan Freeman says “BAWBEH RYEH” and everything’s okay, for a second.

Roundtable of Dead: Trade Deathline Edition

Monty Hall rocking that dope Ottawa 67s tie tho

Art for this post by Banksy

In which Luke, Varada, Chet, and James all reflect on the fact that the Ottawa Senators did nothing at the trade deadline. It’s very zen.

Luke:

Boy, was that ever a trade deadline, eh guys? Teams made trades, and now they can’t. Real circle of life stuff. While Bryan Murray’s usual deadline M.O. (That’s “modus operandi”, by the way. Latin: for when you’re worried you’re not pretentious enough.) is to make a surface level move that’s ultimately ineffectual, looks like this is the year when he realized not making a move can accomplish the same thing. Celebrate the moments of our deadlines/possessing 2nd round picks.

Listening to Bryan Murray, he seems to regard the team’s current playoff push as a deer that will come and eat out of his hand as long as he stands very still and doesn’t look it in the eye. You can practically see the wheels turning in his head as he ponders what exactly it means that the team has gone on its most productive (in terms of points) stretch of the season with Chris Neil, Chris Phillips, Zack Smith, both starting goalies, Jared Cowen, and Clarke MacArthur out with injuries of various severity. (Note: Cowen’s suspension really more of a wallet injury.) While The Bryan said he took calls on Erik Condra, he ultimately decided not to mess with locker room chemistry and deferred the decision on Condra’s future in Ottawa to this summer. As a matter of fact, every decision has now been deferred to the summer, and that’s hardly surprising. The Contractual Dead Weight We Would All Like To See Moved such as Numbers 4, 25, 17, 15, 74, and 62 all have too much term remaining on their contracts, too much money remaining on their contracts, or both. As such, it was always going to be difficult to move any of those players during the season, although I must admit it would have been nice. Erik Condra was Ottawa’s only rental of note, and no one really wanted to see him go. Therefore, as the Ottawa Senators have not been made demonstrably worse, nor their future made any darker than it was the day before yesterday, I’m going to chalk this deadline up as a success. Congratulations, Bryan Murray. You did not screw up, and thus have won my begrudging approval.

Holy hell has this coming summer ever been put sharply in focus, though. I remember last summer being regarded as the most important in Bryan Murray’s tenure, as the Senators had to navigate the treacherous waters of trading their captain and re-signing Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur, Robin Lehner, Craig Anderson, and Milan Michalek. To the team’s credit those things all got done whether we wanted them to or not. Now Ottawa has to sign RFAs Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Mika Zibanejad, Derek Grant, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, in addition to figuring out what to do with guys like Zack Smith, David Legwand, and Chris Phillips who may not have a spot on the roster any more. Also, Alex Chiasson exists. Also also, the team still needs another Top 4 defenseman, but they already have too many defensemen. Also also also, another elite forward wouldn’t go astray. This summer is when the crops we plant will really come home to roost, and we find out just how good I am with farming metaphors. The Senators are gonna have to pull some serious Michael Corleone at The End of The Godfather shit just to free up the necessary roster space and cash to improve via internal promotion, let alone improve via trade. As much as I love and admire Bryan Murray, I don’t know if he’s the wartime consigliere we need at this pivotal time. He’s talking nebulously about having to move “a veteran” this summer when I was rather hoping he’d be talking about moving “some veterans”.

Where are you guys at on this? Talk to me about your #feelings.

Varada:

Can I confess something here? Indulge me, please:

If I was an NHL GM in Bryan Murray’s place right now, I…..would not know what to do.

I know, our blog is predicated on unimpeachable credentials and a 110% accuracy rate, so this must be shocking to our readers. But it’s true. Because the team’s current run has all of the trappings of an existential crisis.

See: Team with a lot of weaknesses EXCEPT goaltending loses BOTH excellent goaltenders and puts middling AHL goalie into the game and receives BETTER goaltending and improves. Simultaneously, all teams ahead them, who’ve been underachieving all season, start also winning their games, effectively wiping out the impact of Sens’ win streak on the standings.

If a win happens at the same time as another win, did the win ever even happen in the first place? Do we not define ourselves against the mirror of the Other, who must also remain fundamentally alien? Does anyone every truly win the game of capitalism? It’s all very confusing, like Camus’ The Plague, and if I was Camus I wouldn’t know what to do either. I’d probably leave that town. Everyone has the plague.

So ultimately a team with some underwhelming players, but nobody on a particularly egregious contract, stays the same. Big whoop. I can live with Colin Greening being our ‘bad’ contract. I can live with Phillips and Neil, even though I too wish they hadn’t be re-signed. I can live with the approximately $10MM of contracts that are providing about $6MM worth of value. Because, in related news, Ryan Callahan makes like $6MM or something, right? I can live with Cowen. But then I haven’t been watching the games.

Basically everything outside of the top 15 picks in the draft is a lottery ticket, and nobody we had up for grabs would have gotten us more than maybe a second rounder, tops, so it’s hard to get too worked up.

If I can comment on the MEDIA EXPERIENCE that is Deadline Day…I think it might be time to give up the ghost on squeezing programming, let alone competing programming, let alone a day of it, out of something where literally nothing happens. This isn’t like the time TSN got the rights to the World Juniors and turned it into a legitimate Event everyone loves now. This is taking the part of sports that almost nobody really likes – the part where former players and GMs work themselves into a froth over some minor move – and turns it into the central thing.

I’m imagining a world where one of the competing networks, at the last minute, sort of says: “Ladies and gentleman…and OHL game” and we’re all like “Hey, OHL hockey’s actually a lot more fun than NHL hockey!”

Chet:

The trade deadline is important because it reminds us what drew us to hockey in the first place, as little boys and little girls, and that is our deep-down love of ASSET MANAGEMENT.

Who doesn’t remember watching with child-like wonder as their team stockpiled fifth-round picks? Riding bikes with friends and arguing about who’d make a pro front office first? Daydreaming in church, picturing yourself under the big lights, the seconds ticking down, everything on the line, and suddenly figuring out how to use LTIR space to accommodate another pro-rated signing bonus?

What happened to us? Sure, there’s virtue in being an ant instead of a grasshopper, working constantly to guard against future uncertainties and treating austerity as its own reward. But I look at our reactions to a quiet deadline day for the Senators, at our endless hand-wringing over small opportunities missed, and I wonder if we’re even being ants at this point. We’ve rocketed past metaphor and into a world where we’re all trying to find buyers for expiring grasshoppers, while they’ve still got some value, so we can make room for next year’s ants and maybe scoop up a few more chances to draft a grasshopper in 2017, since it’s projected to be such a deep swarm.

I mean, I understand. When the big picture isn’t rosy, we distract ourselves by focusing on little details in the corner of the frame. But I think Bryan Murray looked at the market today and realized no amount of grinding things out on the margin would materially improve that big picture. Rebuilding a team takes a long time, but it still usually starts by selling off assets that other teams, y’know, VALUE, and the Senators don’t have any of those.

What surprises me, looking at the years-long slog ahead to turn the Senators into something more than a coin flip between 6th and 11th in the east every year, is that Bryan Murray didn’t just say to hell with it and go the other way. Seven points out, 71 years old, eight defencemen, stage four, first star of the week . . . didn’t we basically crunch these same numbers last year? What was stopping him from working out version 2.0 of the Ales Hemsky deal, where we waive Condra and ask Phillips to fake his own death for two months, giving us enough nickels to rub together to pay for six weeks of Curtis Glencross? How is that any less rational than liquidating veterans to scrape together a few more conditional seventh-round picks to use on guys who’ll quit and go into landscaping when they realize they’ll probably make more money? Principal-agent problem? What?

The truth is nothing Bryan Murray could have done today would likely have made the Senators better, now or going forward. Instead, give him credit for realizing that the team would have been equally poorly-served by selling low on Wiercioch or Condra, whether he intends to be here next year or not. Today was not a day to shape the future. That day is coming, probably this summer when the team has to figure out how to keep its group of young, rapidly-appreciating RFA forwards together. And while reality television has tried to convince us that choosing between rich, attractive young bachelors is a fun, sexy problem to have, the truth is it’s generally a difficult process, full of harsh words, hurt feelings, and unromantic negotiations. And THAT’S what Bryan Murray began steeling himself for today.

James:

Hi, I’m very sick today (and not in the way like how Ovi describes anything he’s in favor of) and you’ve all already made great points so prepare from an excellent contribution from yours truly (me),

If I were to write a local news-style headline that explained my feelings about Bryan Murray’s performance or lack there of on deadline day it would be this:

LRT Expansion Faces Key Hurdle To– wait, wrong blog…

k,

it would be this:

Area Man Does What He Said He Would.

I mean, overall it’s not like a deadline day will ever pass where NOTHING happens but that the most shocking or interesting trades (IMO E Kane trade or Toronto somehow getting Clarkson off the books & CBJ trading most of a mannequin in return) happened before deadline day really speaks to what Varada was saying about media attention. It’s a little rich that TSN and Sportnets (?) stop everything they’re doing and devote virtually uninterrupted coverage to it the entire day. Does ESPN even do this with the baseball or two baskets ball deadline? Honest question. I bet if they do it’s boring as h_ck. All that fanfare for most of it ending up being dudes bantering on about “Asking price too high on Phaneuf?” or “OMG you guys, do you think Jordan Eberle would go to the dance with an established top 4 defender or prospects with conditional picks?” As we saw today the actual events that happen are mostly trash like “Rene Bourque to the Kentucky Thoroughblades for Lukasz Futureconsiderinsky”.

A day of know-it-alls bullshitting about what GMs should/should not/might do with no satisfying outcome? We already have Twitter for that (hi!). What was talking about again? Oh yes, my second divorce…no…it was Bryan Murray.

Today didn’t really have much of an effect on me one way or the other because BMurr had pretty consistently said for weeks that he wasn’t likely to do anything of significance. I think Chris Neil breaking his thumb really wrecked the possibility of anything happening. Do teams have interest in Chris Neil? Honestly, I think so. Do they have interest in injured Chris Neil? Probably not. Do they have interest in injured Chris Neil with additional contract term beyond this season? This brings me to my next point. I was doubtful from the get-go that anyone other than maybe Condra would get dealt because virtually no one on the block was a rental. Have all the cokedreams you want about clearing the roster of Neil, Phillips, Legwand, Michalek, probably Wiercioch or Cowen too. Truth is no one knows what’s going to happen with the Cap next year (thanks Putin) and no GM is taking significant salary and term beyond spring for our spare parts. When Zack Smith might be your best candidate for a “Hockey Trade” (a term now punishable by death btw) expect nothing more than some other team’s Sack Zmith who has identical salary/term coming back the other way. Mike Milbury’s gone and Garth Snow’s supposedly smart now. Shit’s quiet.

So if you feel me on those players not getting trade offers likely due to their term, then it follows that a few of them will actually be easier to get rid of next year when they are rental pickups. Yes the idea of heading into 2015 training camp with a lot of those guys on books sucks but as Chris Coldplay from the band Martin rapped “Nobody said it was eazayyy”.

Plus, I think future city councilors Chris Neil and/or Phillips would be way more open to leaving for a few months next season rather than a whole extra year after this one. And Legwand? Legwand will be one year older…and…did I mention he had 51 points last year? Good for him…siiiiiiigh…OUTRAGEOUS.

Anyway, Murray also said the offers he received for Condra, Wiercioch simply weren’t good enough for them. As a fan I’m kind of glad to hear that as Condra and Wiercioh are good, useful players. Don’t give them away just “because.” Plus, if you heard the post deadline presser Murray made it clear the off season is still well open for discussion. Condra stays with his nice trio with Pageau and Lazar and Wiercioch gets a longer audition to ….raise his trade value.

As to Chet’s point, I’m also a little surprised Murray exercised the patience to say to the group, “You’re close to the playoffs…let’s see you all make a go of it without Olli Jokinen riding in on a chariot from the Finnish equivalent of heaven to put us over the top.” I mean he was in an oddly similar situation last year and he made a play for Hemsky who with 17 points in 20 games could not have stepped right in and delivered better and the Sens still ended the season 5 points out. Just four less than they currently do. So if by some miracle the boys do it and get a Wildcard spot hey, that’s why Jah created horse races on the 10th day. If not, this past stretch has been pretty positive development wise. Young players are finding their way, the new coach hates Neil and Phillips and kiiiind of Legwand and is not afraid to scratch or bench them anyway and we have rookie to extend who might end up with 30 goals. If room has to be made to get the right RFA’s signed deals can still potentially get done in the off season. Since Spezza was dealt I must say, Ottawa got all their big deals done. I think they’ll find a way to keep the key RFAs even if means making a move that wasn’t made today.

Trades I Wish Ottawa Made: Brett Connolly

If you were up at 2am waiting for the Nikkei Index to open, you may have seen a curious trade take place between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins. GM Stve Yzerman sent former 6th overall draft pick Brett Connolly to Boston for a 2nd round pick in 2015 and another 2nd rounder in 2016.

Connolly is only 22 years old, and playing in his second full NHL season, but apparently his 134 NHL games were enough for Yzerman to know that his development is off track.

I say “curious” because after spending a resource as valuable as a 6th overall draft pick on Connolly, Yzerman just traded him for the equivalent of a couple of lottery tickets. Even if Connolly wasn’t in “win now” Tampa’s plans, I would have thought they could have packaged him to bring in NHL-ready help. Instead, whoever they take in those rounds won’t be NHL ready for another 4-5 years, if at all. Finally, Connolly fits in well with Tampa’s young core. He’s about the same age as Namestnikov, Palat, Kucherov, Panik, Hedman, Drouin, and Ashton.

Which brings me to Ottawa, a similarly young team who’ve been trying to add a top six winger since roughly 1982. Connolly would have been a nice addition, kept with the tradition of Ottawa buying low on other team’s reclamation projects, and not cost too much, either in assets to acquire him or money to resign him. He’s on an expiring deal where he’s making less than a million a season. A two-year “prove it” bridge deal would align nicely with the Melnyk’s plan to return those empties now that it’s getting warmer out.

Connolly isn’t setting the world on fire offensively, and he’s only having his first positive possession season this year, but he’s the kind of young, swing-for-the-fences player with pedigree that Ottawa could have spent a couple of later-round picks on. They have an extra second rounder from the Spezza deal. Instead, he goes from one division rival to another. I mean, I guess I can’t blame them. It was 2am.

I’m pretty sure none of us know what to do with this

Four Andrew Hammond starts. Four wins. .962 SV% and a 1.15 GAA. And a nice little curve there on the end of the playoff probability chart. Like a hook in our hearts.

Untitled

Yes, Hammond is looking positively Brian Elliott-esque out there. And as a result, for the first time in over two months, Ottawa’s playoff chances are higher than 20%. Somehow this was achieved with even better goaltending for a team whose only strength was goaltending. Hockey is the weirdest. Or, as James put it:

A survey of Twitter last night at 1AM – usually the hour for calm, rational assessment – revealed schizophrenic levels of indecision. We’re in the middle of a hockey analytics renaissance; the supremacy of cold, objective logic and infallibility of numbers. And yet here we have a 27 year old with mediocre AHL numbers in the NHL driving Ottawa within five points of a wild card spot. It’s unsustainable and a small sample size and yadda yadda yadda. But in the meantime we actually have a reason to watch the Ottawa Senators play hockey again.

It’s a weird thing to root for, to be sure. Of all the teams with a shot at a generational talent in this year’s draft, Ottawa is the one who could turn around into a contender the quickest. They’re already on the tail end of a rebuild. Adding a high end prospect in the mix could be the thing that turns a fully developed Sens team from a playoff hopeful to a genuine threat. Finishing 9th in the East this year would be soul crushing.

Or, on the other hand: fuck it, let’s go for it. Is there anything more compelling, any better distillation of why we watch sports, than the story of an almost washed-out goaltender getting his shot in the NHL for a team that has nothing to play for and turning them into world beaters? Don’t you want, at the end of the day, people to want to watch your hockey club? Shouldn’t we be excited for the next game as opposed to being excited for the next draft?

So, against all logic, with 23 games left and five points out, with two teams to leapfrog and the Bruins of all teams holding down that last wildcard spot, I for one will be cheering on Andrew Hammond. Not just as our goaltender, but because in the back-half of a too-long season it’s outliers that make hockey hockey and sports sports. Because for all of the revolutionary democratization that analytics brings to this old boys club, and as completely into overturning the moneyed order as I am, sometimes you just want to see the plot of Rudy play out in your team’s colors.

At least until we flip him to Philadelphia for a prospect.

Actually: The Bryan Murray Type Player is a Myth

PROLOGUE

I approached the pay phone cautiously, roll of quarters in hand. I took the Belle and Sebastian concert ticket stub out of my pocket and dialed the number that had been hastily scrawled on the back. Almost immediately, a computerized voice answered.

“Welcome to Your Karlsson Switchboard. If you know the extension you wish to reach, please enter it now.” I dutifully entered 4, 2, and 0 and waited.

Finally after 11 rings, an annoyed man picked up the phone. “If you don’t know how to turn common fruits and vegetables into a crack pipe, I don’t really want to talk to you right now.”

“Hello, James,” I replied.

James’ tone lightened immediately. “Luke Peristy! Or should I say ‘Luke Princely’! Just the man I wanted to talk to. You’re an engineer, so tell me: is an avocado rind going to have the thermodynamic properties required to get this crack on the boil?”

“You trying to make crack-amole?”, I quipped.

James sighed. “I hate you. Look, Chet and I got a little loose last night and long story short I’ve got to figure out some way to freebase using this pile of compost or I owe Chet fifty bucks. You’re calling from a pay phone, right?”

“Yeah, of course. My advice is see if you can find any bones in there and use that. Although you’ve currently got a pile of compost in your office so I think Chet’s already won, to be honest. I wanted to talk to you about something though. It’s about the internet.”

“Yeah? What about the internet?”

“Someone is wrong. The world must be told.”

“Funny you say that. We’re kinda building our brand around that sort of thing. We’re calling it ‘Actually’. You want in? It would be our pleasure to Welcome You to Your Karlsson Years.”

“James,” I said, “I thought you’d never ask.”

————————————————————————————–

Friends, bring it in. Take a knee. Unroll your yoga mat and look away from me in a Half Lords of the Fishes Pose because you want me to talk to the hand. Find your natural resting state because we’re going to have a chat.

Coming out of the All-Star Break I made a point of publicizing my boundless optimism. I said “This team’s got +50% possession under Dave Cameron and a slate of 11 eminently winnable games coming up, so if there was as time for a little run to be had, this is it.” Since that time, my faith has been rewarded by a 5-5-1 stretch which sent Ottawa’s playoff odds plummeting before recovering slightly. As it stands, Ottawa has a roughly 8% chance both to make the playoffs and 5% chance to draft Connor McDavid. These odds are infuriating as they are not so small as to be completely out of the question, but still small enough that fantasizing about spring hockey in Ottawa or Connor McDavid in a Sens jersey is a waste of one’s mental and emotional energy. Worst of both worlds! Get hype!

The good news is that unlike last year, Ottawa’s dropped out of the playoff race early enough that The Bryan and Associates (Ed note: Not a real law firm) won’t be tempted to trade a 2nd rounder for an expiring asset in an overly optimistic attempt to “go for it” or “make a push”. We didn’t even have to blow a 4-1 lead to the Habs to get to this point! #Blessed

Yes, the Sens are definitely sellers this year, although whether or not any of the players the Sens want to sell will actually get sold remains to be seen. It would be interesting to see what the market for Chris Neil and Chris Phillips would be if they weren’t out with a thumb injury and general shittiness wear and tear respectively.

(Aside: Even before The Chrisses (Chrisii?) hit the shelf, it was unlikely they were going to go get traded, which means I must ask: how crazy is it that two players, whose greatest contribution to the team at this point is ostensibly leadership, don’t want to be traded to a Cup contending team? What’s the message here? “Winning the Cup is what we all play for. Unless you own a local restaurant, in which case you’re gonna want to make sure you oversee that baby in your spare time, and you can’t do that from Nashville, let me tell you.” Nothing about that situation makes sense to me, except the idea that no one actually wants to trade for Chris Phillips.)

Anyway, having circled my point like Dave Cameron trying communicate where the puck should go on the powerplay, and with the trade deadline only a week away, I feel the need to make an observation: Whenever trade rumours start to swirl in Ottawa, I’ve noticed that the phrase “Bryan Murray type player” always seems to come up at some point.

This phenomenon isn’t just limited to Twitter.

The Bryan Murray Type Player seems to be thought of as a blunt instrument, someone you can point at the net with intent to destroy in the hope the puck goes in the net incidentally, a player big of body and small of skill. Admittedly, The Bryan’s LEGENDARY negotiations for Chris Stewart have done nothing to disabuse anyone of the notion that Bryan Murray is all about that bass and/or Colin Greening But Better Type Players. However, this is where I Gotta Hit You With The Mad Actually: There is no such thing as The Bryan Murray Type Player. Let’s take a look at some of the players The Bryan has acquired during his time as GM.

Group A: Deadline Rentals Acquired to Prop Up a Crumbling Season
Cory Stillman (Acquired via trade, Ales Hemksy before there was Ales Hemsky)
Mike Commodore (Acquired via trade, rocked awesome ginger afro but not the score sheet)
Martin Lapointe (Acquired via trade, was old)
Matt Cullen (Acquired via trade, didn’t suck)
Ales Hemsky (Acquired via trade, was the piece of rope the Senators tried to make a playoff push with last year)

Group B: Puck Moving Defensemen
Erik Karlsson (THA GAWD, acquired via draft, the earthly manifestation of perfection)
Patrick Wiercioch (Acquired via draft, the earthly manifestation of Corsi related arguments)
Filip Kuba (Acquired via trade, played with Erik Karlsson then GOT PAID then got bought out)
David Rundblad (Acquired via draft trade, made a sweet pass once)
Sergei Gonchar (Acquired via free agency, got booed at the home opener once)
Joe Corvo (Acquired via free agency, pretty cool guy)
Cody Ceci (Acquired via draft, actually kinda decent, also only 21 years old)

Group C: Players Entirely Known for Being Small
Ryan Shannon (Acquired via trade)
Corey Locke (Acquired via free agency, Ottawa legend)
Andre Benoit (Acquired via free agency, Binghamton/Colorado legend)
Cory Conacher (Acquired via trade, guy people will never forgive for not being Ben Bishop even though Bishop was going to walk at the end of the year anyway so whatever)
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Acquired via draft, has a cult following L. Ron Hubbard would be jealous of)

Group D: Defensemen Who Are Chris Campoli, Alex Picard, or Matt Gilroy
Chris Campoli (acquired via trade)
Alex Picard (acquired via trade)
Matt Gilroy (acquired via trade)

Group E: Big Scary Defensemen Who May or May Not Have Strong Feelings Regarding Experts
Matt Carkner (Acquired via free agency, had two signature playoff moments)
Andy Sutton (Acquired via trade, first Ottawa Senator who actually inspired fear of injury in opponents)
Dave Dziurzynski (Acquired via free agency, originator of the little known “i before u” grammatical rule, also not actually a defenseman which you probably didn’t even notice or maybe I’m just projecting)
Jared Cowen (Acquired via draft, frequent object of scorn who will only become The Next Chara after Ottawa trades him as is dictated in the Necronomicon)
Mark Borowiecki (Acquired via draft, fills Eric Gryba’s role despite the fact the team already has Eric Gryba on it)

Group F: Players Acquired for Dany Heatley
Jonathan Cheechoo (Acquired via trade, tried hard, loved the game)
Milan Michalek (Acquired via trade, soon to be one of the longest serving active Senators)

Group G: “Skill” Players Who Were Disappointments
Alex Kovalev (Acquired via free agency and possibly Eugene Melnyk’s coke dreams)
Stephane Da Costa (Acquired via free agency, currently a KHL ЅUPEЯSTДЯ)
Nikita Filatov (Acquired via trade, didn’t do rebounds ALLEGEDLY)

Group H: “Skill” Players Who Were Not Disappointments
Kyle Turris (Acquired via trade, is now 1st line centre)
Bobby Ryan (Acquired via trade, is one of the best players on the team)
Mika Zibanejad (Acquired via draft, has more points than Clarke MacArthur this season, turns 22 in April)
Clarke MacArthur (Acquired via free agency, was the David Clarkson consolation prize)
Jakob Silfverberg (Acquired via draft, was the forward form of David Rundblad in that in was a slightly overrated Swede who was traded for someone much better)
Mike Hoffman (Acquired via draft, skates like the wind, you’re all probably hoping he’ll be your boyfriend one day)
Mark Stone (Acquired via draft, the guy you’ll settle for if things don’t work out with Mike Hoffman)

Group I: THANKS 4 READING
Rob Klinkhammer (Acquired via trade)
Mike Lundin (Acquired via free agency)
Guillaume Latendresse (Acquired via free agency, was ragged on more than u)
Alex Chiasson (Acquired via trade)
David Legwand (Acquired via free agency)

Group J: Facepunchers
Zenon Konopka (Acquired via free agency)
Matt Kassian (Acquired via trade because we had CHRIS PHILLIPS fighting dudes at one point)

Group K: Best of the Rest
Marc Methot (Acquired via trade, holds Erik Karlsson’s jacket while EK kicks the rest of the league’s ass)
Zack Smith (Acquired via draft, may or may not still exist, hasn’t been seen for years)
Curtis Lazar (Acquired via draft, has a thousand Watt smile, might only end up being a Rich Man’s Zack Smith, but he’s only 20 so let’s not put him in a box just yet)

Looking at that (close to exhaustive) list, I don’t know that there’s definitive conclusions that can be drawn other than that Bryan Murray’s a GM who believes that it takes a lot to make a stew. Hell, even in the year he selected Jared Cowen with a 1st round draft pick, there’s footage of the guy trying to draft Nazem Kadri instead. Who’s the player in the above that looks the most like canonical Bryan Murray player? Cory Conacher? David Legwand? Has Bryan Murray ever even acquired a Bryan Murray Player?

I think the takeaway here is that Bryan Murray’s not afraid to pull the trigger. He’ll deal from a position of strength to address a weakness (Methot trade, future Legwand/Wiercioch/Lazar/Cowen/Smith trade), he’ll roll the dice on a reclamation project (Filatov trade, Turris trade, future Yakupov trade), he’ll draft a smooth skating garbage pick in the first round (Erik Karlsson), and he’ll draft a guy who’s big as a battleship and just as maneuverable (Jared Cowen). The Bryan Murray player is the one he thinks will help his team. That’s the long and short of it.

So be afraid of Bryan Murray. He’s a loose cannon.

Except when it comes to to dealing Chris Neil. That guy is going nowhere.

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.