Guest Post: The 2017-18 Ottawa Senators as WWE Wrestlers

Ed. Note: Every so often, we at Welcome to your Scarfo Years like to adopt a guest post so that we can care for it like our very own. A few weeks ago Friend of the Blog, Bragg AKA @Braggzilla, asked “What if the Ottawa Senators were WWE Wrestlers?” and I said “You should write a blog about it” and now that blog is here just in time for Wrestlemania and we are all richer for it. You can try checking Bragg out on twitter, but he has a locked account so he might not let you.

Bake it away, Tragg!

The 2017-18 Ottawa Senators as WWE Wrestlers

If you’re a normal person reading this, your awareness of WrestleMania likely starts and ends with “that’s a thing that exists, and I think Hulk Hogan used to be on it.” If you’re like me, and not a normal person, you know that today is WrestleMania Eve, and you are HYPED for that A.J. Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura rematch from their 4.75 star classic in the Tokyo Dome in 2016! Either way; you, an Ottawa Senators fan, could use a little levity as this garbage dump season reaches its miserable, stupid conclusion. In the spirit of distracting ourselves from this Hockey Hell, and the spirit of my Christmas (WrestleMania); here are your 2017-18 Ottawa Senators as WWE wrestlers!

Mark Stone – AJ Styles

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Remember the Mark Stone/Auston Matthews tweet that turned Ontario Hockey Twitter upside down for a few hours? AJ Styles is the pro wrestling equivalent of that. While beloved by the good and righteous people (WWE: dorks on the internet/NHL: Ottawa Senators fans) who appreciate their talents; neither Styles or Stone have gotten the full recognition their abilities warrant because they appear on television shows that cater to an audience without fully developed motor skills (WWE: 5 year olds/NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs fans). Like Mark Stone, it’s not that no one thinks AJ Styles is good; but he had to become one of the best pro wrestlers in the world, and sustain that for years before a mainstream audience truly took notice.

Bobby Ryan – Randy Orton

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Early in his career, Orton was a blue chip prospect. He had some great years early on, but settled into a pattern of mediocrity by his late 20’s that, when combined with his high salary, caused many to question his commitment to his craft. While Ryan’s career has become beset by hand and finger injuries to near tragicomic levels; Orton’s shoulders have plagued him in much the same way, peaking in 2015 when he missed months of action after dislocating his shoulder taking out his garbage. Another thing Randy Orton has in common with Bobby Ryan is their political uhhh… leanings. Yeesh.

Frederik Claesson – Cesaro

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Claesson and Cesaro are Northern European imports who have shown flashes of brilliance in small samples, but have not yet been given an opportunity to do so in a long-term, consistent role. They have risen to the occasion when given the chance – Claesson in the 2017 playoffs, and Cesaro in great matches with John Cena and Sami Zayn – but nothing more seemed to come of it. Fred Claesson for Intercontinental Champion in 2018!

Ben Harpur – The Big Show

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Both Harpur and Big Show signed contract extensions recently, despite looking like they probably will and should be healthy scratches most of the time. Critique their ability all you want, but you cannot refute that both Harpur and The Big Show are very, very tall men.

Mark Borowiecki – Kane

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The best way to describe Kane’s strengths as a performer in 2018 is to say “he’s very popular in the locker room.” Despite this, the TV commentators talk about him as if he’s going to literally open a portal to hell and throw his opponent in it every time he’s on the screen. Take a listen to what the colour commentator says next time Borowiecki bodychecks a guy or tries to instigate a fight – it’s basically the same imagery.

Cody Ceci – Roman Reigns

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Roman Reigns is the perfect golden son of WWE management. Tomorrow night, he will probably win the WrestleMania main event match for the third straight year. A role on the show you’d expect to be occupied by a Hulk Hogan/Stone Cold Steve Austin type beloved star. As WWE attempts to shoehorn Reigns into the role of their top star, and tell the audience that he is very important and tough and handsome and cool; more often than not, he tends to get this type of reaction from the crowd. Given that his entire job is basically make people cheer for him, those aren’t good results. Roman Reigns is WWE’s top star in the same way that Cody Ceci is the Ottawa Senators’ ‘shutdown defenseman.’ Someone decided that was what he is; and it seems that no matter how much evidence mounts that it just isn’t working out, they’re not going to move away from that any time soon. It’s debatable whether or not Ceci or Reigns is objectively bad as a hockey player or wrestler, but both have become lightning rods for fan criticism because they were placed in top roles before they were ready, and are cited as evidence of flawed organizational philosophies as a result.

Erik Karlsson – Daniel Bryan

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If ‘making people cheer for you’ is the wrestling equivalent of ‘being a good defenseman’ in the NHL, then Daniel Bryan’s résumé is a little more Karlsson-esque in that regard. Though there was some level of expectation early in their careers – Karlsson was a first round pick, and Bryan was a star independently long before WWE – no one could have predicted either of these guys would become possibly the best in the world at their respective positions. Both are electrifying performers who use their athleticism and creativity to produce exciting moments that transcend their sport. Both Bryan and Karlsson have continually exceeded all expectations placed on them, blossomed as performers before our eyes, overcome working for sometimes dysfunctional employers, and formed a bond with their respective fanbases unlike any other.

Daniel Bryan has long been a fan favourite in the most literal sense of the term. He’s really almost every fan’s favourite. He is returning to the ring on Sunday after a two year absence due to injuries and WWE-imposed hurdles on his medical clearance. Wrestling fans, who love Bryan in the same way Sens fans love Karlsson, thought they had seen the last of him in a WWE ring. If there’s anything to be learned from that as a Sens fan, it’s that maybe there is still hope, and maybe we haven’t yet seen the last of our Swedish miracle angel in a Senators uniform, despite the existential despair and sense of impending doom that we all feel right now. Let’s all take a moment to visualize how great it will feel to see “Karlsson signs 8-year extension in Ottawa” bless our twitter timelines this summer, and then see him step on the ice again (in the heritage ‘O’ jersey, or the 2D Senator logo) next fall. Please do not remind me that wrestling isn’t real at this time – I need this!

WTYKY Publishes Our DMs. This is content now.

In an effort to get out in front of Wikileaks publishing our DMs, we’re doing it ourselves. In this part of the DM, Luke, James, and Varada discuss the in-arena experience, who it is for, and whether it can be fixed.

Luke: Is a hockey game experience rocket science?

On the one hand, it can feel like some of the trappings are catered to people who think of going to a hockey game as an Event. Like the Prime Minister Race, or Timbits Game or whatever. There’s all this extra stuff around the hockey game, because maybe the casual fan doesn’t actually care about the hockey game all that much. Then there’s the Season Ticket Holders who have been seeing the same Spartacat Shell Game with Hats 41 times a year since 1997 (I have heard that being a season ticket holder is NOT always easy) and they’re basically impossible to please because their threshold for giving a shit is just too high.

But maybe there’s a game experience out there that’s basically agreeable for everyone regardless of how many games you go to. Or maybe hockey games are like the Star Wars universe in that they’re inherently limited and there’s only so many things you can do with them.

I read some tweets at some point about how the Dallas Stars (???) in-game experience is really good. Are they really thinking outside the bun on that one, or do they just happen to do the same bullshit better than other arenas?

Varada and James just did a podcast on this topic, where Varada was like “I went to a hockey game in San Jose. It was like going to a hockey game” so now I’m thinking maybe we just want too much.

James: Well, that’s what I’m saying. Varada was talking that gangster talk about it on our podcast a couple of weeks ago about going to that Sharks game, and how it was strikingly similar to going to a Sens game. Not surprising to me seeing as I cannot really think of what else you can bring to the table. It’s just 2 minute or 20 minute intervals between play. I remember it being kind of different back in the day where they first had the Sharks players coming out of the tunnel out our of a giant inflatable shark’s mouth. Then the Oilers skated out…from a giant oil derrick …then the Avs skated out of Big Foot’s dick.

Sometimes I try to consider what I actually already like about the in-game experience. I like getting there a bit early if possible and going down to the ice and watching warm up (I don’t even know what it is I like about that but I do like it), I like the 50/50 draw basically only because Varada and my mutual friend winning a bunch of years ago makes me feel like I have a chance…aaaaaaaaaand…Oh, I like during TV time outs when they do those little vignettes with players like, “What was the first car you owned?” because it’s super fun to watch with Chet because we see who can do the best impersonation of Mike Hoffman (the trick is never close your mouth all the way). After that it’s all Missing Chiclets try-too-hard shit and Mattamy Homes Presents How Long Can You Wait in Line to Take a Piss.

But back to your point Luke, we DO want too much. And by “we” I mean mainly Season Ticket Holders (I’m sorry but the main group I see on twitter that seem to complain about “experience” stuff tend to identify themselves as STH (that complaining is the actual reason is how I even know what STH stands for. Anyway, MYYYYYY main complaints about the in game experience are unfixable. Like, “People not clapping for player announcements”. I’m always personally kind of floored after “Number sixty one, numero soixante et un…MAAAAAAAAARK STOOOOOOOONE” and like maybe 1 out of every 10 people around me even bother to cheer for the like 5 seconds it takes for him to get from the tunnel to the blueline. Cmon guys, let’s get somewhat hyped?

Luke: I kinda defend the Ottawa crowd on this one a bit. If Ottawa has a reputation of being a more docile crowd, I feel like it’s because they know what the big moments are and they save it for those times. That playoff game vs. Pittsburgh was loud AF. I don’t blame people for not bringing the same energy for a Tuesday night game against Carolina in January. (But also I agree that it’s obviously more fun when everyone is into it.)

James: Every playoff game I go to is loud as fuck, it’s just funny how much the crowd can sometimes “Save their cheers” for the big moments as if it’s a finite resource. I ain’t talking about the same energy as playoff game that’s not a problem, I’m talking about some MORE energy. I feel there’s a disconnect twixt myself being heading into a game like, “Alright I paid like $60 bucks to be here and sat in traffic for like an hour LET’S FUCKING GET IT THO”, and a bunch of people around me who seem to be like, “Heartland was a repeat so I’m at this Islanders game” kind of kills my vibe sometimes.

Luke: Hot Take: The thing you dislike about hockey games is the thing you dislike about people.

James: Oh yeah absolutely. You can’t trust the Gen Pop (see also: The Current American Political Landscape) and Sports Fans have an extreme tendency toward Gen Poppiness. That’s why I’m saying I can’t fix it. While I’m jealous that the Panthers DJ is playing the dirty version of Trick Daddy’s “Thug dot Com” album from front to back, I also realize that probably 75% of the CTC is like, “YES THE NEW FOOD FIGHTERS SINGLE!”

Varada: I tweeted at Sens DJ once “You should use the new War on Drugs single, I’m not being ironic, it really works!” And after was just like “I’m an idiot for believing in things”

James: If, between faceoffs, they played Mykki Blanco, after one season I’d probably take it for granted like, “Their old shit is better tho”.

Varada: What about this: hiring someone to do funny scoreboard sketches on their Mac might be good. Tap into that internet memeness. I remember I was at the last game with the old scoreboard, and hung around after the game for a bit to avoid traffic and they played a montage of the scoreboard on the scoreboard set to “I Will Remember You” and it was basically for staff only. Why not play that shit during the game?

There’s also an element of “Ask people a question and they’ll answer it”. Maybe they should ask “How important is it to you?”. I think most people would say a winning team is more important to them than a laser show. All of the best stuff about 67s games is fan-driven. That, plus you find the tickets stapled in the Pennysaver.

Basically, I want the Constantines and Les Savy Fav to be playing in a small club in the basement of the CTC on the one night I decide to buy a ticket illegally off the internet at 1/3 face value.

Luke: Not enough bands playing unadvertised shows in intimate venues is definitely a problem with the CTC experience.

Varada: [Me, watching The Fall in the CTC parking lot]: “Pffft. They’re not even playing their early stuff.”

I have a hard time reconciling how much I like watching and talking about hockey with the fact that going to a regular season game in a league with way too may regular season games is basically a family experience. Kids will be awed by the size of everything, the brightness and the noise. And parents will pay something stupid, like $500, for tickets and merch and food to give their kids that special experience. It’s Disneyworld. And so I don’t mind if the team markets entirely that way and leaves me, a bitter man nearing 40 who’s going to wear a John Coltrane t-shirt to the game and pretend not to enjoy myself, out in the cold.

Basically, the “in-game Xperience” should be designed for everyone from the 2nd deck down – families and corporate interests – and the third deck should be about cheap tickets and beer and the scent of blue-collar failure, where people like us feel at home. Mike Fisher taking tickets at the front door, Chris Neil handing out oil change coupons in the rear.

My dad took me to games as a kid – Expos, Jays, Sens, Habs – and I remember leaving like “I am OBSESSED with hockey now” and also didn’t know where the teams were in the standings or what the score was or any of the players. They should market to more idiot children.

The League Owns the Melnyk Mess

What an embarrassment.

An entire fanbase, sitting on the edge of their seats, refreshing Twitter, waiting to see if the owner of their favorite team will destroy it. An entire trade deadline day, covered to the hilt by every network and dominated by speculation about when – not if – Ottawa will self-immolate.

Obviously, there’s a lot of blame to go around, and a huge share of that blame is Eugene Melnyk’s. He’s been so ham-fisted in the way he’s handled the past, well, several years, that they should use him as a case-study in crisis-management courses. But even if he’d revealed himself to be an insightful hockey thinker during one of his many interviews on Toronto sports radio, it should have signaled to the league that he was a meddlesome owner.

The owner is supposed to be invisible and sign the checks. When cornered at charity events, he should recite the line: “I let my hockey people make the hockey decisions.” Behind closed doors, sure, he’s the owner and if he wants to call the GM from Barbados and offer his thoughts on goaltending, that’s his right. But airing dirty laundry on sports radio should have been a red flag to the league.

The reason it hasn’t been over the years is that Melnyk used to be rich. Now he’s not, so now it’s a problem, but that wasn’t exactly out of the realm of the imagination. In Melnyk, we find proof positive that the NHL has been and perhaps continues to be far too comfortable with the risks associated with sole proprietorship of one of its franchises.

Melnyk bailed out this franchise over a decade ago and was welcomed as a conquering hero. Little did we know then that the pharmaceutical industry was about to experience a decade of contraction and that Melnyk’s personal fortune would shrink considerably. Hindsight is 20/20. But what can the league learn from this, only the latest in a long history of embarrassing owners? If tomorrow a different, whacky billionaire showed up whose fortune had been earned in, say, telecommunications or real estate, will the league make the same mistake in rubber-stamping the transfer of ownership just so long as he or she shows a bank statement with a lot of zeros?

Throughout the league, we see fanbases handcuffed to the investment portfolios of billionaire personalities: Jeff Vinik, Jeremy Jacobs, Ted Leonsis. The going is good in many of those markets, and not all billionaires are made equal. (Melnyk looks like a tin-pot dictator next to Vinik.) But we’re one worldwide liquidity crisis away from the league selling one of its franchises to the two guys who made Saw.

What’s the alternative? I couldn’t help but alight upon this Tweet yesterday:

What Winnipeg and Nashville have in common is not only patience – not that either franchise has had the funds to be especially hurried – nor is “good ownership” defined. What they also have in common is a diverse ownership group. It’s true that someone chairs that group and there’s usually a majority owner, but when a significant proportion of the funds for a franchise are put up by others, there tend to be mitigating governance structures that prevent a whacky billionaire returning from a rough weekend in Atlantic City from cutting payroll.

The league can and should be doing much more to build ties between potential owners at the local level. It can start by establishing principles for NHL owners that include public relations. What kind of sanction has Melnyk faced for threatening relocation during the league’s 100th-anniversary celebration? A stern phone-call from Gary Bettman? Having to film a canned statement on the league’s dime? To what can the Board of Governors refer when considering that one among them is comparing their product to fast food and what kind of sanctions are available to them? What diversity of investments should a group of investors create before they can realistically bid on a team?

Yes, Melnyk is the most stereotypical, embarrassing kind of clueless tyrant imaginable. Everyone in the league – not just in Ottawa – should be concerned when an owner takes over as President and fans are kicked out of games for holding up signs that criticize him. But we shouldn’t entirely villanize him without asking what sort of conditions led to him having such power over a franchise. The Ottawa Senators will be sold at some point; I can only hope that the league is changing the way they do business so that they don’t simply hand the keys over to some other, budding Melnyk.

WTYKY Podcast: Episode Eight: The price of life in blood magic is death

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In this episode, James and Varada welcome very special guests Chet Sellers and Luke Peristy of the Chet Sellers and Luke Peristy Podcast, and we collectively struggle to find anything to talk about because so little is going on in the world of the Ottawa Senators other than the slow-motion destruction of the very thing we all love so dearly.

Music by James.

The three stages of defending the Dion Phaneuf deal

So, Ottawa managed to get out from under one of its two supposedly unmovable contracts, dealing Dion Phaneuf and Jersey Shore-looking Nate Thompson to Los Angeles for the haunted shade of Marian Gaborik and fourth-liner Nick “Not Quentin” Shore. Ottawa keeps 25% of Phaneuf’s salary, which immediately becomes Ottawa’s third-highest paid defenseman.

Who won the trade? Some will say “whoever got the best player,” which is clearly LA in that they received “a” player. Others will say, “Ottawa sheds millions without giving up any picks or prospects” and that’s fine too. I don’t really care. They’re both true. The only winner in these “winner and loser” debates is the paywall.

What I’m most interested in is looking back at the Dion Phaneuf contract itself and how our collective thinking about it has evolved. Or not evolved.

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Toronto

Back in 2013, when Toronto signed Phaneuf to his 7-year deal worth almost $50 million (a “monster” deal, if you will), I remember listening to James Mirtle guesting on a Pension Plan Puppets podcast. (Give me a break. I was on a bus in the winter. It was stuck on ice. I wasn’t going anywhere.) What Mirtle said then seems true today or at least prevails as consensus opinion: that defensemen who can play more than 20 minutes a night are extremely difficult to come by.  Was the Phaneuf deal bad? Sure, Mirtle conceded. But it didn’t matter. Paying him on this bad deal was not as bad as not having him on the roster at all, as you can only replace somebody who can play more than 20 minutes a night with somebody else who can play more than 20 minutes a night.

Here was a player who’d served in leadership since a young age and whose YouTube reel includes the kind of open-ice hits that makes you want to buy light beer and care about which trucks won the most J.D. Power and Associates awards. The presumption was, at that time, that millions in wasted money are just the price you pay to have what amounts to a rare specimen. If a player like Phaneuf ever became available on the free agent market or for trade, you’d have to pay the exact same bad contract – or worse – on top of possibly giving up assets. A bird in hand is better than two bastards in a basket, as they say.

Toronto went on to win four Stanley Cups.

Ottawa

I’ve always found the myth perpetuated by the Toronto contract a little bit hard to swallow. Let’s say you’ve got somebody on your roster who plays, on average, between 10 and 16 minutes a night. Most teams have a few of these guys. Let’s take Freddy Claesson, who makes $650,000 a year to Phaneuf’s $7,000,000. Is the four minutes of ice time that Phaneuf plays worth all of that extra coin? Sure, Phaneuf players tougher minutes and in tougher situations. Plus, there are all of the intangibles he provides, which, unlike some, I attribute at least some value to. But both players’ possession numbers are, in the scheme of things, equally underwhelming. What is it about the difference between 16 minutes and 20 minutes that separates the acceptable from the elite, and what is it about Phaneuf that gives him that edge? Would it really crater the team’s chances to give 20 minutes to a series of unknowns making nothing and see who sticks? Is it really worth $6,350,000 to not have to find out?

Bryan Murray said yes, it is, and not only said he’d take on Phaneuf’s bad contract – without Toronto having to retain any salary – but threw in a 2nd-round pick to boot. (Ask any Sens fan: every 2nd-round pick works out.) Toronto did take back a series of junk contracts that weren’t providing Ottawa any value, but the underlying assumption remained intact: players like Dion Phaneuf are rarely available, so you do what you have to to get them on your roster. Even as Toronto was doing whatever it had to it get him off their roster.

The deal wasn’t a disaster for Ottawa, especially if you attribute some of last year’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals to Phaneuf’s play (debatable) and the development of some rookies to his stabilizing presence in the locker room (the definition of debatable). There’s also a world in which the deal worked out even better for Ottawa. In that other, better world, Phaneuf’s guidance enables Cody Ceci to become the bedrock top-four defender at age 23 that Ottawa hoped he would be, as opposed to what he is now, which is sub-Tom Preissing.

In the end, Phaneuf ended up on some league-wide “worst contract” lists, coming in ahead of even Bobby Ryan, a scoring winger with seven goals who’s making more money and is signed one year longer.

Sure, the contract was bad…but how else do you get him on your roster???

Los Angeles

Which brings us to the latest victim of the “you can’t just find these guys anywhere” mentality. Ottawa, just as Toronto did before them, took on millions in bad contracts, from which they will derive close to zero value, just to get out from under Phaneuf’s contract, which at least was providing some value. That’s how little value he’s providing, as the type of guy you can’t just find anywhere. Ottawa prefers to pay money for nothing than to pay more money for what he provides.

Will he provide value to Los Angeles? He can’t help but provide some, in the sense that he is technically present and alive on their blue line. Is that value really so much greater than literally any replacement-level defencemen Los Angeles has in their system? Than *squints* $650,000 Kevin Gravel?

Conclusion

There’s some magical quality assigned players who “can play more than 20 minutes a night.” I’ve certainly invoked it on our podcasts and elsewhere. And I do believe that if the NHL regular season is more a marathon than a sprint (it feels that way to me, and all I’m doing is drinking beer on the couch) then having someone who can be not terrible for a third of the game, game-in and game-out is truly something to look for. In the sense that you should try to draft those guys, keep them in-house, and squeeze value out of their RFA years. Once you pay them like the supposedly rare commodity that they are, the situation takes on the air of self-legitimizing logic. Of course Phaneuf plays more than 20 minutes a night, because you’re paying him like it.

I’m not sold that the tens of millions you have to pay in bad contracts is really preferable to a “defense by committee” approach or by giving ice time to young and cheap players and seeing how they do. Consider this: between Toronto and Ottawa, teams have taken on the combined contracts of Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, Jared Cowen, Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore – $29.1 million in dead salary, or roughly 60% of the value of Phaneuf’s contract – just to get out from under it.

This will obviously be a sticking point as Ottawa approaches the Karlsson contract. 2014’s $7 million per / $50 million contract is today’s $12 million per / $100 million contract. You can make more of an argument that you can’t find a Karlsson anywhere else – he’s a generational talent, unlike Phaneuf – but as the journey of Phaneuf’s contract shows us, these gifts can quickly become curses and you feel curses in years.