Instant Analysis: Mike Hoffman’s Extension

The Ottawa Senators announced they have signed Mike Hoffman to a 4-year contract worth an AAV of $5.1825 this morning.

Here is my analysis of this deal.

  1. Mike Hoffman is good.
  2. Mike Hoffman’s contract is good. He will stack paper.
  3. Mike Hoffman will help the Ottawa Senators win because Mike Hoffman is good. The Ottawa Senators will stack paper.

Verdict: A very fair deal for a player who is ok when he wants to be. This deal accomplishes some things which I believe to be good.

Grade: 6/10

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Roundtable of Death: Goodbye Yellow Brick Banana Jazz

Eug

In which James, Conrad, Andrew, and Luke discuss the sudden departure of the Senators’ second-most beloved Swede in exchange for Derick Brassard.

James:
Hello.

Let’s start this off with a little Konfeshun Korner:

When I first caught wind of this trade I was M.A.D.D. I really, really like Zibanejad as a player. I thought it was dumb and stupid and dumb to give up on him for a comparable but older guy…and a second round pick to boot. Not even the dignity of a one for one swap. Ugh, again, with the thrown in pick.
For all the talk of Ziba needing to hit another gear, I’ve spent some time and energy arguing that by passing the 50 point mark at age 22/23, he’s already hitting that next gear. This all goes back to the landmark case of The People vs. Viable 2nd Line Centre Mike Fisher. In his respectable 16 season career, he has eclipsed the 50 point mark only twice. Just once in his younger days with the Senators. Z-Bad’s output was shaky at times, sure, but it seemed he was definitely getting there. I always thought that fan disappointment might come from the expectation to cement himself as a top line player at such a young age. With Turris filling that top line role, I didn’t see the big rush.

When the trade went down, however, I saw all the immediate red flags. A local guy (WE ALREADY HAVE A CENTRE FROM GATINEAU GODDAMN IT) and the cost certainty of his super reasonable salary hit with his signing bonus paid out by the Rags. Are you glad I went over these two items? I’m sure this is the first time they’ve been discussed. Damn Melnyk back at it again with the tight cash. I must admit however, the more the smoke is clearing on this trade the more I’m starting to see a bit of strategy to go with the belt tightening.

  1. The Sens currently have 73 roster players who are natural centres plus player/coach Erik Karlsson who can fill in as the entire team in a pinch.
    Highkey Facts: The Senators have taken a centre in the first round of the past 3 drafts. Last season, the team could put Zibanejad, Turris, Smith, Pageau, Lazar or Nick Paul down the middle. Something had to give. Zibanejad is a huge ‘give’ though. I think it’s TROU-BL-ING that the organization essentially chose Smith and Pageau over giving Ziba a potential big payday next off season. Probably didn’t help Ziba’s case that the Godbody JG Pageau totally outshined him when Turris went down for the season with an injury.
  2. This team reaaaaaally needed a skilled left handed playmaker down the middle. Judging by how mad Rangers fans are, it would seem we are indeed getting that in Brassard. I don’t know about you Eddie, but if you’re perennially disappointed in Bobbito Ryan’s goal totals, I’m okay with him getting more looks from a left handed centre. I’m thinking if Guy Boucher is supposed to be a power play focused tactician, he might have asked for a left handed centre who can create offense. No shade to Zibanejad but the ability to make plays was probably the biggest shortcoming in his game. Zibanejad’s more of a shooter…who should also shoot more.
  3. The budget, the schmudget, the fludget ALRIGHT ALREADY. Finally, I get to talk about the budget! Dreamz kome tru. Seriously, it’s painful but it’s a reality. I want Mike Hoffman and Cody Ceci locked up. Brassard is signed for 3 more years at a number Dorion can hang his hat on (?). I think this only helps those other signings happen. We keep a Zibanejad-level player who’s left handed and we have a better chance of signing Hoffman? I can live with that. We’d never get a guy like Hoff on the market and we don’t really downgrade on Brassard. I’m not going to pretend a 28 year old with good shot suppression metrics and who led the Rangers with 27 goals is bound for the glue factory. With 3 years left on his deal and centres White and Brown OR WHO KNOWS WHAT COLOUR on the way, this is starting to make more sense.
    That second rounder stings but can still be recovered. Zack Smith is a UFA at the end of the year *thinking emoji*

So I guess that just about wraps it u—or sorry, did anyone else have any thoughts

Conrad:

The conflicted thoughts I’ve encountered in the past 33 hours:

  1. The Sens should be looking for players on high-value contracts because they’re a budget team. Except in this case, where Brassard is making $10M over three years – which can we take a moment to acknowledge is amazing value, maybe even Kyle Turris value? – it’s yet more evidence that they’re broke AF.
  2. Similarly, Sens being a budget team, they waited until after July 15 so they wouldn’t have to pay Brassard his bonus, which again means they’re broke AF and not that they are smart business people. You definitely want your team paying $2M for 2nd round picks like the Rangers just did.
  3. The Sens gave up a second round pick, which is the sort of thing that’s killing them in the draft, except when they get a pick, which is then worthless because we know that every pick outside the top 15 in the first round is basically a lottery ticket who won’t play for like 3-4 years at best, and so sacrificing the draft to save money is evidence that they’re broke AF.
  4. Zibanejad never lived up to expectations, and so he needed to be traded before he was due a huge payday which, as we all know, disappointing players always receive. Because broke AF.
  5. The Sens should be more focused on analytics, unless they’re trading a young player for a superior possession player who’s cheaper because they’re oh you know.

I’m starting to think that part of enjoying one’s local hockey team is to compete with others on the basis of your team being worse and stupider than any other hockey team, and so every transaction, even when you can see the logic behind it, becomes yet more evidence of recurring ineptitude or behavior inspired purely by a broke owner. Melnyk being broke has, in this case, become a kind of zen mantra for some. It’s the WWJD bumper sticker of Sens fandom. I imagine fans tying thread between pins on a pushboard, connecting Ottawa Sun articles, looking for patterns, only to find that they’re spelled the words “Melnyk.”

The Sens just brought in someone who happens to be a center, happens to be left-handed, happens to be local, happens to produce goals, happens to be on an affordable contract, happens to be experienced, and instead of saying “I can see how this might make sense in the context of needing to sign these other RFAs,” it’s become another opportunity to say “Why don’t we have a richer owner?”

Here’s the thing: you CAN have a richer owner. It’s called following another team. You have a ton to choose from. Go be a Tampa Bay Lightning fan and cheer when they buy out Vinnie Lecavalier for $32M so they can sign Valtteri Filppula for $25M.

In this summer of trades that made zero sense – I’m still wondering how Edmonton doesn’t get at least a pick in that Hall-Larsson trade – I’m enjoying the fact that the Sens are able to make trades that take care of their needs while ALSO saving money. I’m enjoying watching a team operating under constrictions be strategic.

Andrew:

I am currently feeling really good about the fan base’s ability to handle disappointment and the reality that economics are a part of sport as we head into Phase 2 of the LeBreton process.

What’s funny to me is, yes, the economic reasons are fairly self-evident from an Ottawa standpoint, but like this was also a money/cap trade for the Rangers. New York saves some very important cap $$ which they needed to do because….they have some absolutely terrible deals? If I’m a Ranger fan, it’s like we let Stralman walk, Yandle go, traded Brassard, so we could keep salaries like Marc Staal’s and Dan Girardi’s? That would be a serious WTF. Instead of cries of “We’re wasting Erik Karlsson’s prime!” I’d be seriously bemoaning that Henrik Lundqvist is 34 and has a pair of high-priced Boro/Gryba/Cowen Take Your Picks in front of him. This is an example of another team not named Senators which has Some Problems.

There was that silly “fan confidence” poll circulating around twitter a few days ago about GM/front office confidence and the Sens ranked 23rd or something (it was 23rd, no “or something”) and like, that’s not remotely surprising? The methodology was not really overly useful (approx. 200 fans voted on all teams in the league). Like I pay a lot of attention to hockey and to other teams, but I don’t give a fuck about New Jersey’s front office and I try and block to Kings from my mind etc. Simply put, fans across the the league can’t really accurately rate this, there’s not enough info about what teams do, and fans are singular in their focus (ie pay attention to only their team). But even if this was somehow more accurate or the voting was just for the team for which you cheer, Ottawa fans would totally slam their management. Why? Because like Maryland and crabcakes, it’s what we do. Off the top of my head, only Winnipeg’s front office impresses me more, possibly, of the Canadian teams but they also seem to be in a perpetual, “building a strong foundation for the future – maybe” mode. Ottawa isn’t perfect and at times they make mistakes. But lots of Sens fans don’t seem to realize that “not perfect” and “makes mistakes” are constants with other teams too.

My point is this: I don’t think Ottawa has a front office full of geniuses, but that’s ok. I think being smart in the NHL is a lot like an episode of Pinky and the Brain: one might be a genius, but episode after episode, he gets proven wrong by Pinky. These artificial distinctions about which front office has it going on/is smart/is cutting edge/tells you all about the analytics hires they don’t listen to etc, are just that – artificial. The line separating a Ron Francis or Jim Nill from a Jim Benning or Marc Bergevin is shorter than most of us think. But most of us – me included – are too involved with our own shit (i.e. Euge’s bankrolling of the Institute for Horse Analytics) to realize.

It’s fun to laugh at the “Buy Local” portion of the deal but I don’t think Ottawa trading for or signing players with roots in the area (outside of Boro tbh) is anything more than successive GMs now trying to make the most of what little competitive advantage in terms of location this team has. They don’t have the tax advantage of teams based in Florida, Texas, or Tennessee (as a citizen of this province, I am more than ok with that), they don’t have the nightlife, the weather, the team history, contender status, or other big draws. But they’re one of the biggest cities in Canada and one of the few (only?? I didn’t look at a map) with two junior teams. So lots of guys have ties to the area and if that helps keep the budget low while bringing in decent and good players? Fine.

As for the trade pieces, I like Mika, so that sucks. You get attached to the players you know, especially those your team drafts and that you get to watch mature in your system. Will Mika be a better player than Brassard this season and in the future? Quite possibly and that sucks too. But so far it seems like this deal is fairly even and might suit both clubs right now and in the immediate future. Fine.

This is where I’m at with the Senators: I want to spend to the cap every year, to not make Toronto pay (or not pay, as the case may be) for our buyouts, but have the resources to do it ourselves. I want to pay top dollar for coaching, and hockey ops, and management, and facilities. I want to get a new arena built without what I’m sure is going to be considerable consternation. But mostly…

I want to win the Stanley Cup 65 straight times. I want every season engraved on the Cup’s 5 rings to start with “Ottawa Senators”. After that 65th straight win I want the rest of the teams to finally capitulate and disband. But I also get the realities of Euge’s wallet (it looks like mine after all), that this team (like most teams in the league really) is just trying to make the playoffs, that they are currently a bubble team (though the division is shit so that’ll probably be enough), and that only one team gets to win every year. I am capable of carrying two versions of this team in my head; I firmly believe that WE’RE GONNA WIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! every night, while understanding that the Sens are a bubble team who will in fact, lose on many occasions.

So yeah, this trade hurts, because Mika is almost 6 years younger and therefore would have been around for at least a few more of those consecutive Cup wins. But this is a fairly even trade at this point, it’s just not without risk, which is true of all trades. We’ve been talking about how Bobby will look with Brassard, and with good reason, but I think I’m most looking forward to him playing with EK. It’s possible we’ve have a player for the first time since Spezza left that can accept a hard pass from Karlsson.

Erik Karlsson is going to have the biggest Fuck You Haters season with 30+ goals, 100 points, and Shea Weber winning the Norris.

Luke:

Look at you emotional bastards. I’m going to analyze this trade the old fashioned way: with Objective Fancy Stats.

Right off the bat, I’d like to address the notion that *today* Derick Brassard is a better player than Mika Zibanejad by saying that this is likely true, but the statistical evidence of that is not overwhelming. Over the past 2 seasons, Brassard’s 5v5 fancy stats are slightly better, but not overwhelmingly so. Brassard has an all-situations primary points per 60 minutes of 1.7 compared to Mika’s 1.6, which is driven by Brassard’s slightly better goals per 60 minutes. Their usage is pretty much identical, both in terms of zone starts and quality of teammates/competition. On an individual basis, Brassard gets shots on net more often, whereas Zibanejad shoots at the net more often. Brassard’s s% over the past two years is 13.1% compared to Zibanejad’s 12.3%. Brassard’s shot 11.5% over the course of his career, and Mika’s shot 10.9% over the course of his. Brassard’s spent most of his time playing with Mats Zuccarello whereas Mika’s spent most of his time playing with Bobby Ryan. Brassard’s play may have been suppressed playing under Alain Vignault’s non-optimal system. Ditto Zibanejad and Dave Cameron’s system. Gun to my head, I’d say that Brassard’s results have been slightly better over the past two years, so I guess we can chalk the player part of this deal that in the Win Column for the Ottawa Senators. Add in the 2nd round pick for a 7th round pick part of the deal and this deal is that rarest of animals: a fair trade.

The Objective Hockey Reality part of this trade seems to be pretty much airtight unlike some other Subban-for-Webers I could Hall-for-Larsson, but let’s talk about this trade in the context of where this game is #ACTUALLY played: off the ice. The subjective, off-ice considerations that factor into this trade have people getting into their feelings like they’re auditioning for Inside Out 2. Now, I’d love to just ignore the context of this trade, just like we all love to ignore the contexts of so many other trades around here like Bishop-for-Conacher (Context: team had 3 goalies and Bishop was a UFA at end of season), Spezza-for-Chiasson (Context: Spezza had no-trade clause and was UFA at end of season), and The Phaneuf Trade (Context: team needed a defenseman and needed to dump contracts), but when there’s so little to argue about objectively, you gotta be willing to go to the dirty areas for the sake of the roundtable.

So here’s some context:

a) “Time and Age” or Constructs Denoting the Continuous Progress of Existence and Events as the Entropy of Both Ourselves and The Universe Continues to Increase Indefinitely.

Mika Zibanejad is 23 years old and Derick Brassard is 28 years old. What this means is that Mika Zibanejad is likely to improve as a hockey player somewhat over the next 5 years, whereas Derick Brassard is not. How much is Mika Zibanejad likely to improve? Who can know for sure? Let’s put a pin in this one until we know the answer, at which point we can all talk about how it was a complete certainty things were going to turn out that way.

b) “Finances” or The Ability of An Organization to Conduct Its Business Both Successfully and Sustainably

Mika Zibanejad makes $3.25 Million this year, after which he will be an RFA in need of a new contract. Derrick Brassard has a cap hit $5 million per year for the next 3 years, but only must be paid $10 million in real dollars over that same period. It’s likely that Ottawa will get the next three years of Derrick Brassard for much less money than New York gets the next three years of Mika Zibanejad. Given that the Senators need to provide new contracts for Cody Ceci and Mike Hoffman this season, and J-G Pageau and Curtis Lazar next season, the importance of this newfound cost certainty cannot be overlooked.

c) “Hockey is a Team Sport” or The Extent to Which Small Factors Such as Playing Style and Handedness Affect a Group’s Overall Quality of Play

Watching Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan on the same line was kind of like watching someone bail out a leaky rowboat using a live pelican; it sort of worked, but you always got the feeling there had to be a better way. Now Bobby Ryan’s going to be getting those silky smooth Brassard forehand passes instead of the weird clunky Zibanejad backhand passes. Now the Senators powerplay has a specialist at centre. Now the Senators have a guy who is Good In The Room and doesn’t have a reputation for coming into camp out of shape. None of these things may matter, but I like how there’s the possibility of some team-building inside baseball going on here. If you told me the trade was Zibanejad for Some Other Team’s Older Zibanejad Who Also Makes Bobby Ryan Better, I’d pull the trigger on that all day. Maybe Derick Brassard being left handed won’t matter at all, but I say it will! Let’s see your spreadsheets explain the relationship between centre handedness and right winger goals, NERDS! (Seriously, that’s a neat idea for analysis. I would read that.)

In conclusion:

One of the main (and entirely justified) knocks on Bryan Murray was that he was too attached to His Guys. He liked who he had on his team, and he believed in their potential, often to the point of overvaluing them. The line always went that Ottawa needed a GM who could rationally assess various factors, and wasn’t afraid to move players if he thought he’d be able to find value. I don’t know if Pierre Dorion is that GM, but I think the Zibanejad for Brassard trade is the sort of move that GM would make.

It’s a pretty nifty trade when you get right down to it. Ottawa traded a promising player due for a big raise for a player of equal or slightly superior hockey ability who has a high degree of cost-certainty for the next 3 years, and they did it by trading with a team who is in some not-insignificant cap trouble. It’s a trade that’s easily justified on both hockey and financial levels, and that’s pretty damn impressive to me. If you think making a Hockey Trade at the same time you make a Business Trade is easy, I would like to introduce you to the Chicago Blackhawks trading Nick Leddy, Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, and Teuvo Teravainen.

In short, I respect this trade a lot. I might even go so far as to call it “creative”.

But mostly I hate it. I don’t even hate it for what the trade means about the financial state of the team or ownership. While I realize that we’re not exactly immune to the occasional gripe regarding ownership around here, mostly I believe that getting upset about the team being poor is like getting upset at the Law of Universal Gravitation. I’d love to be able to dunk a basketball, but I can’t. I can either write a thousand columns about how much better my life would be without gravity, or I can write some columns about the stepladders I’m looking at buying. I’ve made my choice.

I hate this trade because I like Mika Zibanejad and I always believed deep in my heart that this was not his final form, that he had one more gear. Now when he finds that gear, it won’t be with Ottawa, and where is the fun in that?

Point: The Senators are not a worse hockey team after this trade. They might even be better in both the short and long term.

Counterpoint: I don’t like Derick Brassard (yet). I like Mika Zibanejad. I hate this trade.

Conclusion: I also like winning, so let’s make me feel better by doing that.

In Praise of Rooftop Patios: Or How I Learned to Stop Caring and Turn off TSN on July 1st

Free agency is awful and should be avoided at all costs.

To clarify, I don’t begrudge players who exercise their rights as free agents, nor do I mind that the age and accumulated experience at which a player can opt for free agency has been getting progressively younger and shorter. I have, and always will be, on the side of workers getting paid.

But from a franchise perspective, free agency is bad news.

There is no day on the NHL calendar more hazardous for a team than July 1. Organizations might hit or miss at the draft, but picks are marketable and have currency, they can be traded. Even prospects once selected have a shelf life (some longer than others) in which they can be moved. The trade deadline at times leads to grievous error, but it is often a swap of expiring deals, worth a third of their original value, and obligatory throws-ins, like second round picks. In one form or another, it’s an exchange of money and at a reduced rate.

But free agency differs from other ill-advised NHL traditions in that it more often leads to damaging deals that hamper a team’s ability to compete for years. July 1 gives GMs the opportunity to throw escalating dollar and term figures at players who will either start their new deals on the wrong side of 30 or will soon count themselves among hockey’s elder statesmen. The desire to improve their team, a somewhat free market, and an incrementally increasing salary cap, all push prices higher. Because the only assets teams give up are money, cap space, and flexibility, free agency is a steal for GMs who only think short term, not long term.

In this context, the winning team almost certainly overpays to get their man. But that’s part of why it should be avoided. In any bidding war, you have to know when to step aside. Free agency should be avoided because GMs can’t be trusted to make smart decisions.

Why not hire a smarter GM and save your billionaire owner more money than a municipality bent on securing a pro sports team?

The list of GMs who were once considered smart but recent hirings, bloated re-signings, terrible trades, and general misguided July activity, have caused that status to be revoked, is a long one. Smart GMs don’t trade P.K. Subban or Taylor Hall for bad returns. Smart GMs don’t re-sign Ryan Kesler. Smart GMs don’t lose decent defensemen to free agency because they insist on trying another year with the same expensive, underwhelming tandem in net. Smart GMs don’t regret trading for Kris Russell because they avoided the move in the first place. Smart GMs who have created their own roster problems don’t get celebrated when they signed a new deal with their captain on the eve of free agency because they operate in a state without income tax. Smart GMs don’t watch Roman Polak get walked on every other goal against San Jose in the playoffs and then think “he should play more hockey. He should play more hockey for our team”. Smart GMs don’t hire Michel Therrien.

There are no smart GMs. There are only Jim Bennings and those on their way to becoming Jim Bennings.[1]

There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which is possessing excellent sporting ability in your 20s is in no way preparation for the job of running a modern professional hockey team in your 40s and 50s. I’m recalling Brett Hull and Joe Nieuwendyk in Dallas but Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy (who seemed poised to do something regrettable with their own young stars this offseason), are a comparable current example. However, these limitations can be overcome with time, training, and occupying various hockey ops positions at the junior, minor, NHL level, a sort of apprenticeship program.

Unfortunately, none of that can save them from one of the primary reasons they make mistakes. These are emotional men who make rash decisions in the moment to shake things up, trade for players they like on a personal level, and ostracize athletes who are skilled players, but different in some way. This is why Pete Chiarelli moved on from 24-year-old Taylor Hall and seemingly replaced him with the less-good Milan Lucic (a player he’s known for years). Lucic might do great things in Edmonton, especially if he gets to play with Connor McDavid, but that doesn’t change the fact that Chiarelli made an ill-advised trade for the sake of trading and brought in a player he has a personal relationship with to mitigate the damage. He’s not the only GM to make this mistake.

Most of the year I am in favour of spending money. I want the Sens to be able to secure RFA talent like Mike Hoffman. I want Ottawa to be able to sign players like Hoffman for the prices that kind of talent commands and for a long time. I want Pierre Dorion to flash the cash when it’s needed to develop and re-sign homegrown talent, to invest in hockey ops, and to pay the coaching staff more than bargain bin prices. But no GM can be trusted with the kind of money that’s needed to sign marquee free agents, and that’s why, for one holiday weekend a year, I’m glad my team lacks the kind of money required to land big name free agents.

It’s not that I don’t believe in Pierre Dorion. At this point, there isn’t enough info available on what kind of a GM Pierre Dorion will be. He may be great, he may be awful, he may be some muddy middle ground but it’s too soon to tell (I do like that he seems to conduct his business behind closed doors and not through the media). It’s that GMs across the league have shown a willingness to make bad signings every year.

Things as they are have basically insured the Sens don’t drop $42 million paying Kyle Okposo to not play with John Tavares until he is 35 or Loui Eriksson $6 million to play when he is 36. Can you imagine if Bryan Murray was still Ottawa’s GM and the trio of David Backes, Milan Lucic, and Andrew Ladd hit free agency? He would have refinanced the Canadian Tire Centre, sold off the largest parking lot in Eastern Ontario, and leased Spartacat to the Nepean Junior Wildcats so he could make an offer to at least one of those guys.

Many were glad that new GM Dorion seems to have moved on from the top-6 forward crushes of old GM Murray to focus on improving Ottawa’s defense. But would landing the best available defenseman be worth it? Jason Demers, whose $5.5 million annual salary has been declared a Good Deal by hockey twitter, is one of the marquee signings of a successful offseason for the Florida Panthers. However, I absolutely believe if Ottawa had the money to make that same deal, Sens fans would still find a way to complain about the money or the term or both. We both refuse to acknowledge the economic limitations placed on management by ownership when making our free agent wish list and then moan about current market rates. Sens fans are nothing if not predictable.

Further, with Methot and Phaneuf already taking up space in the “Over 30 and more than $5 Million Lounge” the Sens really can’t afford to add another member. Instead, we should take Dorion at his word when he said he was interested in adding a depth defenseman to shore up the blue line. That the team hasn’t yet signed someone for the role, and given Development Camp comments designed to push prospect Thomas Chabot in training camp, it seems likely there will be no new faces on Ottawa’s blueline. That seems a reasonable place to start evaluating Dorion, not for his failure to land one of the big names.

But what about the hidden gems? Sure, it’s possible to pull a Clarke MacArthur out of another team’s trash, but for every deal like this, there are 10 Matt Martin signings. What about those low risk signings like $800,000 for Patrick Wiercioch? It’s possible a fresh start (which I think was best for him at this point) works out, but on the other hand, he was signed by Colorado and Patrick Roy seems like the sort of coach who will absolutely destroy him for every defensive failing. Regardless, there just aren’t that many guys available who actually prove worthwhile. Last year the Leafs found some hidden gems only to find they were neither hidden, nor gems. Ditto Montreal with Alex Semin. Maybe it works out, but often it leads to trades, buyouts, and regret.

And that’s the crux of the problem with free agency: the youngest guys available are in their late 20s, many are in their 30s, all have established NHL track records that will increase their value, and the often limited talent pool creates competition and drives salaries up. On top of that, virtually every one of these guys is looking for a long term deal. While some of these deals will undoubtedly prove to be good value, too many of them will lead to diminishing returns and salary headaches. Since GMs don’t listen to the analysts teams have hired anyway, I’d rather my team be broke than flush with cash on Canada Day.

Don’t agree? Remember a team is still going to add Kris Russell in the coming days.

[1] Perhaps after the disastrous P.K. Subban trade and the ludicrous decision making that led to not only hiring Michel Therrien but choosing him over Subban (in part because he’s your friend), the term for managerial incompetence should be changed to “Marc Bergevin” to reflect this new and enjoyable reality.

It’s July 4th. Do You Know Where Your Restricted Free Agent Is?

It’s got to be difficult to be mainstream hockey media/blogosphere at this time of year. Every team has pieces in motion as they try to get multiple RFAs signed. Each year, there are several teams vying for the services of the biggest names. Rumours are flying, terrible deals are handed out, and when the dust settles, the mainstream hockey writer has to take stock of the league and sum up the events with discerning brevity. Some are better at it than others. Just check out this quote from Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert:

dtmah

Damn, how do these guys do it? Slow down, Ryan. Leave some insight for the rest of us. It feels like there’s barely anything for me to add, but I’m going to try anyway.

Let me begin by stating my belief that planning to improve one’s hockey team in free agency is a very risky strategy. If you identify a player you wish to pursue in free agency, you can rest pretty assured that there will be some other hockey teams trying to sign them. Thus signing the player you want is never a sure thing. Even if you do manage to sign The Object of Your General Managerial Affection, the contract will almost certainly be subject to The Winner’s Curse wherein the the contract you give out will be, almost by definition, an overpayment because it is more than what every other team offered. Sometimes there are reasons that players might not sign the contract worth the most money (such as the desire to remain in their hometown of Ottawa), but sometimes those players are also Mark Borowiecki so even that strategy comes with some inherent risk.

If you can pick up an undervalued gem in free agency, so much the better. Everyone loves finding a crumpled up $20 in an old pair of jeans. However, the recent league-wide improvement in analytics and scouting has made this more and more difficult. I’m not sure signing each off-season’s rescue dog-esque free agent is something on which you can count on a year to year basis.

All this to say that if Ottawa’s big splash in unrestricted free agency was to sign an American drummer/songwriter whose name can also be satisfyingly sung to the tune of “My Sharona”, I don’t mind. It means that Ottawa did not use their already limited resources to overpay for a player of dubious utility. I am becoming increasingly convinced that 50% of being smart is not being dumb, and by that standard, Ottawa’s July 1st was perfectly acceptable.

The flip side of Ottawa not signing any big names is that they haven’t signed any of their largely monikered RFAs either. At the time of writing, RFAs Cody Ceci and Mike Hoffman remain unsigned. Mike Hoffman’s next deal remains the subject of some debate, as the fanbase is split over whether Hoffman should be offered “A lot of money” or “All of the money”. In past years, you could count on Bryan Murray to leak some negotiation details to the press, and Bruce Garrioch would tweet somthing like “Mike Hoffman’s latest ask is $9MM AAV for 8 years and he wants his face to replace the Sens logo. Sens have only agreed to the logo thing.” Now that Pierre Dorion is running the show, the Sens organization has been watertight in a way that Lot 9 could only dream of until recently. This is new and exciting, and gives us all the opportunity to either panic, recklessly speculate, or both. For my part, I am responding to this lack of news, good or bad, with the equanimity for which I am justly famed.

That said, I would like to address the growing sentiment on Twitter that reads something like “Why isn’t this done yet?” and “Just pay Mike Hoffman his goddamn money already.” I like Mike Hoffman very much. I would like Mike Hoffman to sign with the Ottawa Senators for 5+ years. I would also like to point out something that we must remember above all during these negotiations:

This is a negotiation.

We all have cokedreams ideas of what we should obviously pay Mike Hoffman in order to keep him with the club, but it’s entirely possible Mike Hoffman doesn’t want that totally reasonable deal you’re sure he’d accept. Also coming out and offering your highest “good” deal is not the most airtight negotiation strategy. If one offers $5.5MM for 5 years, how high are you actually willing to go? $6.5MM? $7MM? What if Hoffman doesn’t want to sign long term unless it’s also worth a very high AAV? What if Hoffman would rather sign for a single season, and then use the threat of leaving as an UFA next year to get even more money next year? These are questions without easy answers, and it’s almost certainly why these negotiations are taking so long it feels like George R.R. Martin is writing them. Dorion has already mentioned arbitration once or twice in the media, and it seems like a a distinct possibility at this time. It would be annoying if Mike Hoffman and the Ottawa Senators went to arbitration again, but at least Dorion’s willingness to bring up arbitration indicates an interest in keeping Hoffman with the club. An interest in keeping Hoffman with the club was something that was considerably less obvious during the Bryan Murray era, by the way.

The fact that the player has some say in the negotiations is one that is often lost on people. Signing good young players to long term deals is great when it works, but it’s entirely possible that not every good young player wants to lock themselves into a deal that’s going to severely limit their earning power during the prime of their careers. This is why I don’t opine about how it was a huge mistake to not lock up someone like Mark Stone for a longer term. I’d have loved it if Stone had signed a Turris-type deal, but I find it plausible that Mark Stone knows he’s really goddamn good, and plans on getting paid accordingly in a season or two. That’s not an organizational failure; that’s just the free (restricted) market. Players have some power.

So that’s where I’m at.

Do I want Mike Hoffman back with the Senators long-term? Yes.

Would I break the bank to do it? Not without reservation.

Will arbitration be the end of the world? No.

Would I still like to avoid it? Yes.

Is this stuff way more complex than it seems? Yes.

Am I just a guy with a laptop howling at the moon? Also yes.

Hang in there, folks. It’s only going to get more nerve-wracking when they actually start playing the games.

Sens Rule, All Other Teams Stink

Look, I realize the Ottawa Senators aren’t the best. They have a budget that’s less than the salary cap and they don’t pay enough attention to analytics and they don’t know the true value of a third round draft pick. Their report card comments perpetually read “Room for improvement”. However, at least they don’t actively douse their fanbase in lighter fluid and then incinerate them by shooting flaming arrows into their chest. I mean, have you seen some of these other teams?

How does Peter Chiarelli do it? And by “do it”, I mean “remain employed”, because I feel like that Tyler Seguin trade should have followed Chiarelli around like a lost puppy made out of regret and sadness. But no, instead he ends up employed in the ancient ancestral home of regret and sadness, Edmonton, and proceeds to make The Tyler Seguin Trade But Worse. I don’t know what I expected. I guess, maybe, some soul-searching and some humility and some quiet reflection resulting in the realization that a lack of maturity is often temporary whereas skill is permanent. It’s true that Edmonton needed a 1st pairing defenseman after the Eric Gryba acquisition mysteriously failed to work out, and it’s true that Edmonton has so many young forwards that the laws of probability dictated that at least one of them was going to be traded. Still, trading Taylor Hall, (one of the leading 5-on-5 scorers in the league), for Adam Larsson, (a human male from Sweden), smacks of a failure of talent evaluation and negotiating ability that raises comparisons to tubers. You can talk about “wasting Erik Karlsson’s prime” if you want, but how many primes are the Oilers going to waste? I’ll give you a hint: it is definitely ‘some’.

It’s probably too early to dunk on the Maple Leafs, but that’s not really going to stop me because the day that I am tired of dunking on the Maple Leafs is the day I am tired of life. Normally a free agent signing somewhere that wasn’t Toronto would not be a big deal, but Steven Stamkos is no normal free agent. For months, my life has been a living hell of “Stamkos to Toronto??” hype, and I’m glad I won’t have to hear it anymore because it was always inane, delusional, grandiose, and revealed the Toronto fans and media to be self-promoting hype-lords of the highest order. Is that too harsh? Why wouldn’t Steven Stamkos want to leave a state where there is no income tax and no winter? Why wouldn’t Steven Stamkos want to leave Florida’s three hockey beat writers to play under the scrutiny of the likes of Steve Simmons and Dave Feschuk? Why wouldn’t Steven Stamkos want to leave a Tampa Bay team that made the Eastern Conference Finals without him and go play for a team that’s in Year 2 of a rebuild of indeterminate length? Is it because Steven Stamkos isn’t a complete goddamn moron? Maybe! If you honestly thought Steven Stamkos was signing in Toronto, you are credulous nitwit. If, at any point, you talked at length about how winning in Toronto “would make Stamkos a legend”, I am sorry that you believe that Toronto receives the lion’s share of the media’s coverage because it is in any way worthy of it. Toronto is going to be better than they were last year, but it’s not going to be because God has smiled upon your desolate concrete jungle where dreams are made up. Trust your Process; there are no shortcuts.

Which brings me to the Montreal Canadiens. In truth, I never thought this day would come, and this is because I underestimated the true depths of depravity which the Montreal Canadiens are capable of plumbing. On the ice, PK Subban was a nightmare to play against. He is excellence is unquestionable, and he plays with a passion that makes it all the more infuriating when he wins. I have often said the greatest compliment I am capable of giving a non-Senators player is “I wish he played for my team”, and I say this without reservation about PK Subban. I wish PK Subban played for the Ottawa Senators. Off the ice, PK Subban is quite literally without peer. He has faced all criticism, deserved and undeserved, head-on and seems to remain as positive a human being as possible. Just look at this delightful bastard. If you can’t appreciate PK Subban, you don’t deserve him, and in that way, the PK Subban trade is totally just. In the coming days, the Montreal media will begin leaking stories about Subban’s “personality” and “character” and how Shea Weber will bring what Subban lacked and it’s going to be total bullshit. PK Subban gave Montreal everything he had and all he got in return was empty press conferences from a management group that couldn’t stand him. This is the sort of trade that curses a franchise for centuries, and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving franchise. It is to be one of the great joys of my life to watch the Montreal Canadiens collapse under the weight of their own mythology. They tried to show Patrick Roy that no player was bigger than the team. How, exactly, did that work out? At least Patrick Roy was an asshole. PK Subban was so relentlessly positive and outgoing, it burned their very soul like holy water. The only Habs fans who are pleased that PK Subban is no longer a part of their organization are, without a doubt, garbage human beings. Their hockey team is also garbage. They deserve each other.

If We Hated Ourselves Less, We’d Love Chris Phillips More

You can’t explain the psychology of the Ottawa Senators fanbase simply by referencing “new team in a small market” factors. The Ottawa Senators are not unique in this respect. They are a relatively new expansion franchise as one of eight teams who joined the NHL in 1992 or later. Two of those teams, Tampa Bay and Anaheim, have already won a Stanley Cup. Like the Florida Panthers, Ottawa made a Stanley Cup final which they lost to a much, much better team. As long as a team exists in Arizona, a shared history of the looming threat of relocation will also exist between the Senators and Coyotes. The Senators and the Predators have both employed David Legwand and Mike Fisher. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever met a fan of Minnesota or Columbus, but I’m sure both fanbases are perfectly well-adjusted. Could Ottawa have traded Rick Nash and taken it in stride the way Columbus did? I doubt it. I admire the sanguinity of Blue Jackets fans. It doesn’t matter how many dynamic forwards they trade, they’ll keep firing that cannon at home games. Making visiting beat writers piss themselves after goals is its own reward.

Other expansion fanbases have organically developed their own tics, complexes, and anxieties, but Sens have not been allowed to organically develop much of anything. Our curse is one of geography, a curse that Tampa Bay, Florida, Anaheim, Nashville, Atlanta (God bless the dead), Columbus, and Minnesota have been fortunate to avoid. Like that planet in Interstellar that consists only of shallow oceans and kilometer-high tsunamis, Ottawa is caught in the orbit of the twin black holes of Montreal and Toronto. Their inexorable pull has choked out our ability to sustain anything other than grey hopelessness.

As is befitting the more hysterical tendencies of the Habs fanbase, the prevailing sentiment from Sens fans for the past year and a half has been one of overwhelming dissatisfaction. Fan unrest is ritualistically performed and has been perfected to the point of an almost religious experience. Daily we gather in the Sanctuary of Twitter and sing the same old hymns, the lyrics familiar to all. “We have only won one playoff series since 2007”, “The Sens do not have have enough prospects with upside”, “The Sens should have tanked harder instead of doing a quick rebuild”, “Bobby Ryan and Dion Phaneuf are declining players on contracts they cannot possibly justify”, and of course, our Benediction: “The Sens are wasting Erik Karlsson’s prime”. If one performs a Twitter search for “Therrien Subban“, you’ll recognize this Sens liturgy as a pale imitation of the original. No one does guilt, imagined persecution, and eternal suffering quite like the Roman-Catholics.

The Sens have good players who are either not good enough and they have good players who are surrounded by other players who are not good enough, and they also have Good Hard Working Boys. Mark Boroweicki and Chris Neil are fine professionals, but there’s something oddly familiar about the cadence of each caller on TSN1200 who waxes romantic about about their heart and soul and blocked shots. I have found that if one mentally inserts a name like “Darcy Tucker” or “Tie Domi” into your typical post-game show call, the origin of this mentality is be laid bare: a hundred drunk uncles at a hundred Ottawa Valley Thanksgiving dinners. (“Marian Hossa just doesn’t have THE HEART OF A CHAMPION like Gary Roberts!”, pontificates some cartoon avatar of a Leafs fan in May of 2002 after his seventh Labatt 50.) A holdover from the early 2000s when Ottawa Senators teams were routinely defeated in the playoffs by ostensibly harder working Leafs squads (instead of, more accurately, Leafs teams with better goaltending), it is the conviction of a number of Senators fans that any ills with the team can be solved by trading the players who don’t try enough. No doubt that the fans who don’t believe this believe that the ills of the team can be solved by trading the players who don’t Corsi enough, which is the most recent manifestation of Toronto’s group psychology. Can there really be any doubt that any inferiority complex that Ottawa possesses is a learned behaviour from Toronto?

Essentially Sens fans have adopted the worst qualities of the fanbases that surround us, and thus there is no one better at hating the Sens than Sens fans. It’s possible mindset would be different if Daniel Alfredsson hadn’t left us. When Alfie left for Detroit, Sens fans turned into the worst type of cynics. If Alfie wasn’t special, no one was. Sens fans can’t even appreciate Erik Karlsson these days without noting that he’ll probably leave for Detroit at the conclusion of his current contract. I’d expect that sort of thing from Habs fans three seconds before I blocked them on Twitter. It’s distressing that this fanbase insists on telling it to themselves instead.

In the intersection of this cynicism and betrayal sits Chris Phillips. As our own Andrew pointed out on Silver Seven, part of why Phillips’ record of 1179 career Senators games is so unremarked upon is because the number that precedes it, 1178, is the number of games Daniel Alfredsson played with the Sens. Phillips’ spot atop the Senators’ career games played list is nothing more than a reminder of a reality that should never have happened. This is a great shame when one examines 1179 in a vacuum. 1179 is more games than Bobby Clarke played with the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s more games than Trevor Linden played with the Vancouver Canucks, it’s more games than Denis Potvin played with the New York Islanders, and it’s more games than Jean Beliveau played with the Montreal Canadiens. By any other team’s standard, Chris Phillips would be appreciated as one of Ottawa’s most consummate professionals. Any other team’s fans would be less cynical.

Think I’m wrong? Ask Sens fans which Chris Phillips goal they remember better: this overtime winner, or this own goal, and see what answer you get. When Aaron Ekblad moved in with Willie Mitchell, they got a Katie Baker profile. When Curtis Lazar moved in with Chris Phillips, they got a parody twitter account1 (although to Phillips’ credit, he’s always taken his role as punchline in stride).

I think the problem is that appreciating Chris Phillips requires resisting irony. Appreciating Chris Phillips requires appreciating the good, rather than the great, which is admittedly not a sexy look. It’s hard to get a good discussion started at the bar by saying, “Boy, that Chris Phillips sure was there, wasn’t he?”. Even as a 1st overall draft pick, Phillips was never the best defenseman on the team. There was always someone else taking bigger minutes. There was always someone else putting up more points. A perpetual complimentary piece, Phillips made a career out of quiet competency in a way that would be the envy of most other hockey players. Can we, as a fanbase, not appreciate Chris Phillips at least as much as Red Wings fans appreciate Kris Draper‘s 364 career point ass? It’s like we fear that appreciating Chris Phillips is a gateway drug to something more sinister, like appreciating Jacques Martin.

Regardless of what you think of Phillips’ on-ice accomplishments, it’s his work in the Ottawa community that should be most acknowledged. This past year alone, whether it’s showing up to We Day, or combining his love of bikes, beer, and dads, or donating $50,000 to Do it For Daron, or Phillips has maintained a charity appearance schedule that would be the envy of The Royal Family. If this is to be the form of Chris Phillips in retirement, he may be remembered more for his next 18 years than his last 18 years. All told, if one was going to construct an ideal Ottawa Senator from scratch, you could not do better than Chris Phillips. He’s everything you could want and reasonably expect from a hockey player.

I’m sure when Bryan Murray signed Phillips to his final two year deal, they both imagined the career twilight that Daniel Alfredsson never got in Ottawa. Instead Phillips’ career ended so suddenly, we didn’t even realize that night had fallen. We didn’t know that when Chris Phillips played 14:54 on February 5th, 2015 that it was the last time we’d be seeing him dress for a Sens game. I doubt Phillips himself knew that. All things end badly, otherwise they wouldn’t end. Storybook endings are just that; the real world is rarely so accommodating. Though Chris Phillips didn’t get to leave hockey on his own terms, he should be still appreciated on his own terms as an overall good player and good human who will be good in the community long after he’s finished being good in the dressing room.

I’m hopeful at some point this coming season, Chris Phillips will get A Day. There will be press conferences, and a pre-game ceremony, and then the Ottawa Senators will lose 3-1 to the New Jersey Devils on a Wednesday. But on that day, there will be a brief moment as Chris Phillips steps out onto a carpet that leads to centre ice to receive some commemorative flummery from Eugene Melnyk, and in that moment I hope Phillips gets the rousing farewell he deserves. Only a cynic would disagree.

1. It’s ok, some of my best friends are parody twitter accounts.

Cottage Life

Cottage season is upon us.

With the May Two-Four weekend quickly approaching it’s time to prep your garden, buy some fireworks from a truck in a grocery store parking lot, and think about opening the cottage for the season.

However, if, like me, your cottage has seen better days, its small, cramped quarters in need of a makeover, summer presents an endless series of chores. Fix the leaky roof, replace a few boards on the dock, prop the barbeque up with cinder blocks. At some point you wonder if that expensive Sea-Doo that doesn’t always play a 200-foot game is still going to be tied up on the lake in the fall.

It’s times like this that I start to peruse cottage rental sites and Airbnb listings and joy of joys, it turns out former Maple Leaf gawds have prime Muskoka real estate and want you, yes you, to stay for a night or two for the low cost of a year’s tuition.

Since you’ve stipulated no parties or guests, I thought I’d give you a heads up at what I’m playing to do while I stay at your place.

What would I do if I spent a weekend at a former Leaf’s luxury cottage?

I’d pick up a stencil at Canadian Tire and rename your boat the SS Fraser.

I’d stock your fridge full of hot dogs and leave a “For Steve” note.

I’d examine your fine collection of cottage Canadiana and across every carving, painting, and print of a bear I find, I’ll scrawl “It was 4-1”.

I would carve Tyler Seguin’s initials into every tree on the property.

I’ll replace all the hand towels with Sens “Young & Hungry” playoff towels

I’d break all your fishing rods in half but only pretend to throw them into the lake.

I’d replace all your family photos with pictures of EK and Alfie riding bikes.

I’d use your fridge magnet grocery list to write a love letter to Clarke MacArthur.

I’ll tape Guy Boucher’s head to your Casino Royale poster.

I’d change your answering machine to the dulcet tones of Nick Kypreos and Doug MacLean

I’ll add a “Nonis” and a “Ferguson Jr.” profiles to your Netflix account

Finally, I’d fill your house with Webber Naturals products to remind you of the big Toronto endorsement deal that got away.