The Limits of Draft Analysis and the Ottawa Senators 2020 Draft Strategy

Roby Järventie drafted to Ottawa Senators • Tampereen Ilves

In the days that followed the 2020 NHL Draft, analytics-oriented prospect writers scored each team’s draft performances in a way that friend and colleague Luke Peristy described on our most recent podcast as “Draft Bucks” analysis. This is the most useful way of thinking about ranking draft “performance” by NHL franchises that I’ve encountered. I don’t know if Luke came up with it, but send him $5 anyway.

In Draft Bucks analysis, you think of each draft pick as a denomination of money, and each prospect as having a monetary value. How much value did each team get for the money they spent? If Team A walks in with $200 Draft Bucks and walks out with $250 worth of players, then they drafted well. If Team B walks in with $400 Draft Bucks and walks out with $350 worth of players, they drafted poorly, even if they walked out with more overall value than Team A.

You can only really think of Draft Bucks in one of two ways: the total value the team walks away with based on how much money they walked into the draft with, and the total value the team walks away with relative to the money they had to spend. Ottawa walked into the draft with more draft picks than any other team, and with two top five picks, so they left with more value than anyone else. In that way, for Ottawa, 2020 was essentially an idiot-proof draft. Many noted, however, that with every pick taken outside of the top five, Ottawa elected to take a player who was projected to go later in the draft – sometimes much later. In other words, they received ‘poor value’ for their picks according to the valuations of prospect writers on hockey websites. Ottawa subsequently received a number of failing grades for their approach to the draft.

The Draft Bucks approach to rating a team’s drafting has the appeal of being quantifiable and numbers-driven: you calculate the difference between x and y and rank the teams accordingly. What this approach doesn’t do is ask why a team would have not only different, but much different valuations of players, why they would depart so markedly from what seems like a common-sense valuation of a player, or why not only one team, but numerous teams, might be motivated to depart from the quantification of individual prospect’s tools. In other words, what overarching drafting strategies – let’s call this, for the sake of grandiosity, META DRAFTING – compels a team to spend their Draft Bucks in a way that doesn’t comport directly with player valuations?

Marco Rossi and Cole Perfetti were two prospects projected to go in or around the 5-8 range of picks. They slid to 9th and 10th. As a result, the teams that took them – Minnesota and Winnipeg – received good draft grades as a result of receiving good value. After all, they spent fewer Draft Bucks to take those players than those players were worth. While appealingly elegant in its simplicity, this analysis is also a tiny bit lazy. It dodges the question of why not only Ottawa, but Anaheim, New Jersey, and Buffalo also passed on those prospects. It also sidesteps any Meta Drafting analysis – what do teams’ drafting strategies say about their opinions and information about the process of drafting itself?

If we think outside of the Draft Bucks Box, we can start to look for patterns not captured in Draft Bucks analysis, and in doing so better identify and explore some of the weird and idiosyncratic cultural aspects of hockey before we decide a team won or lost a particular draft.

Importing a Fully Baked Culture

The University of North Dakota is one of the highest ranked college hockey programs in the United States, having won seven national championships and produced alumni such as Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and TJ Oshie. The Senators have four UND prospects in their system: Jake Sanderson, Tyler Kleven, Shane Pinto and Jacob Bernard-Docker. Outside of Sanderson, every one of those players was drafted too high for the liking of Draft Bucks analysts.

It’s not unusual for a team to draft from a highly-ranked college hockey program. But to return to the well of a particular program as often as Ottawa has, and in the case of Tyler Kleven to have even moved up in the draft to take him in the second round when he was projected to go later, might be a tell. In the Draft Bucks paradigm, this can only be gross misspending of draft assets, chalked up to some kind of oversight or incompetence by people who spend all day every day thinking about the valuation of hockey talent. It’s certainly possible that this is the case, but strikes me as somewhat unlikely. Moneyball was first published in 2003, 18 years ago, and I can’t help but think that the image of the old-boys-club room of scouts talking about if a player has a good body or a pretty girlfriend is slightly outmoded.

I wonder if Ottawa is taking a bet not only on the ability of the program to produce NHLers, but that by taking players that have been taught in a certain system, who understand their roles in that system, they can import not only the players but also the system, the roles, and the understanding of expectations. The players’ relationship with one another have a mutually reinforcing nature, a plug-and-play element, perpetuating milestones for success and creating a cultural sense of accountability to the team and to one another.

In a vacuum, Tyler Kleven should have cost fewer Draft Bucks than Ottawa spent to draft him, but looking only at those numbers ignores the broader context of Kleven playing on the same defensive unit as fifth overall pick Jake Sanderson, the kind of prospect who, if successful, could transform the competitive landscape of the Atlantic Division. (And if he isn’t, could set back the Senators’ competitive window for another decade.) Spending the Draft Bucks to enhance the probability of Sanderson’s success is well worth it, especially considering those second-round picks spent to draft Kleven are statistically likely to produce depth players, of which Ottawa currently has plenty.

Jake Sanderson, right, and his talentless waste of a draft pick friend, Tyler Klevan, left.

Ottawa needs to hit on both producing a certain amount of depth and on their high draft picks. Drafting so many players from the same program could increase the likelihood of all of the players included in that unit being successful, and of the top pick of hitting his potential. An area for further study might be to look to teams who over the years had the greatest number of players from the same development programs and how consistently those players performed relative to their expectations.

Drafting for Depth

Check out this paragraph from Scott Wheeler’s take on the Senators’ second day at the draft:

A year ago, the Senators picked Shane Pinto (then my 50th-ranked prospect) with their first pick of the second round. This year, they selected Roby Jarventie (my No. 55-ranked prospect) at 33. Both are big, versatile forward prospects who can create in a variety of ways, whose only real question mark is their pace of play. Both project as middle-six, complementary pieces with mid-level offensive ceilings and potential PP2 upside. Both are efficient and useful without having a star quality tool that defines them. Jarventie’s off to a good start in Liiga this season, too, and if his post-draft season is anything like Pinto’s, he’ll work his way up my board in retrospect.

This seems like the kind of sentiment you’ll find on most draft rankings: that every team should be using every pick to take players with potentially high ceilings, even if those players are boom-or-bust. GM Pierre Dorion has used far more moderate language when talking about his goals for each draft: when speaking about prospects, he often describes them as having a real chance to be a player in the NHL – full stop. This seemed to be on display with the Senators’ third first-round pick, which they used to take checking forward Ridly Greig. Finally, the Sens have a propensity to draft over-agers: players closer to achieving their projected ceiling, and thus easier to project, but still available to draft, meaning likely to have a lower ceiling overall. One wonders if the Senators’ focus on certainty over high-ceiling uncertainty has become a discernable factor in their draft strategy.

Why is that important? In emphasizing depth talent, the Senators are usually docked points in Draft Bucks analysis, which holds as a fundamental truth underwriting the valuation of players that depth is plentifully available on the free agent market while high-end talent has to be drafted. Due to the trends in NHL player contracts, the time might be coming for us to ask if this is still the case.

Between the current and previous NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, there’s been one major change in the way NHL contracts are structured: core, franchise players are receiving their big payouts much earlier, on their second deals – their RFA deals. Fewer of them are opting for bridge deals, except in states with no state taxes and favorable earning prospects. On the 31 Thoughts Podcast, Stan Bowman, GM of the Chicago Blackhawks, pointed out that the team that won the Hawks their three Cups wouldn’t be possible in today’s NHL, because they won with Toews and Kane on affordable, five-year, $6.3M/year RFA deals that allowed them to add players like Hossa to expensive, long-term UFA deals. If the Hawks drafted a Kane or Toews today, they’d be earning at least $8M-$9M right after their entry-level contracts. The Blackhawks would not necessarily be able to add good NHL depth on the free agent market, even on $2M-$3M/year deals. They would have to rely on their draft pipeline.

Ottawa is going to experience this soon, when they extend Brady Tkachuk. They’ve already had to extend Thomas Chabot to a deal paying him $8M per year rather than a bridge deal. If Tim Stutzle works out, in four years he could be in-line for a similar payday. How does a team having to do this with their core ensure depth throughout the lineup? Where once a team could afford to waste seven of their draft picks on swinging for the fence knowing that they were eight or more years away from having to pay their stars, now they must ensure they’re bringing in checking line players and secondary scoring on entry-level deals: higher-certainty prospects with lower ceilings.

Ottawa has targeted overage players in this and previous drafts, players generally thought to be easier to project, but with lower ceilings. They’ve also targeted players who can play multiple positions. Today’s poor value draft picks who top out as third- and fourth-line NHLers are tomorrow’s third- and fourth-line NHLers on entry-level contracts. It could be that Draft Bucks analysis, with its emphasis on high ceiling talent throughout the draft, hasn’t caught up to the present-day reality of NHL economics.

When Taking an Objective View Makes it Difficult to Stay Objective

The saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast” has at this point taken on the cliché of business, dulling us to its continued relevance. There’s something incredibly alluring about the cold, mathematical analysis that led us to Draft Bucks paradigm, an approach that has, over time, illuminated the ways in which teams can and do become fixated on factors that don’t matter in the calculation of a hockey player’s skill.

What we might also be seeing when we read NHL Draft Grades, however, is that the culture of this analysis leads one to conclude that outliers are always evidence of inefficiency or underperformance as opposed to cause for further investigation. When a team like the Ottawa Senators, in the middle of a rebuild that will be vital to the fortunes of the team over the next decade, trade up in the second round to take a player projected to go in the late second or third round, and that player happens to play with the player who was just drafted by the same team fifth overall, that should cause us to ask more about the strategy employed by the team, to dabble more frequently in Meta Draft analysis, to explore whether efficiencies uncaptured by Draft Bucks analysis remain to be discovered.

WTYKY Podcast Episode 25

It’s the WTYKY Podcast’s 25th Podcast Milestone! We’ve bee producing these at a solid 4-5-episodes-a-year clip, and we saved up all of the best stuff for this occasion. This episode includes how we finally forced the team to adopt the logo and jersey we’ve been demanding for literally years and the results of the most important draft in franchise history. Luke Peristy, James, and Varada are here to get you through the pandemic with the Ottawa Senators Podcast three out of 10 physicians agree has a 14 percent chance of enhancing antibodies under very specific conditions.

The WTYKY Guide to Which Player’s Name You Should Get on the Back of Your 2D Jersey

It’s still hard to wrap one’s head around the fact that the Ottawa Senators actually did something the fans asked them to do. Maybe they did it because the cost and effort of producing an entirely novel logo was prohibitive. Maybe they did it was because they were saving this cash cow until they needed it most. But you know what they say about gift horses and mouths and not looking in them. However we got here, the Ottawa Senators now have the sharpest design in the NHL after having worn the cartoon 3D gladiator for an endless 13 seasons.

When you consider that the new jerseys are streamlined from the baggy-sweatshirt cuts of old, feature the blockier, bolder number fonts and nameplates of their current jerseys, tone down the sparkly gold, and clean up some of the striping, the new 2D jerseys might even be sharper than the old ones.

Predictably, Sens fans are lining up to drop three hundred of their hard earned dollars on pro-quality versions of the new jerseys. However, the question of what player you get on the back is more difficult than it might seem at first blush. First of all, the Sens don’t currently have a TON of great players to choose from, or certainly not players that are evidently franchise cornerstones. Certainly, we don’t have as many as cornerstones as those regular season juggernauts of the mid-2000s. Back then, you could agonize over which player to choose taking only the Pizza Line into consideration. Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, because these are retro jerseys, it makes some sense that you’d be able to choose a player from those deep days, when they also wore the 2D logo. It would be sort of weird to get, say, a Mike Fisher Heritage ‘O’ jersey, given he never wore it. But a Mike Fisher 2020 2D jersey? Is that a faux pas, or fair game?

In order to maximize the value, and fun of spending money on a shirt you can’t really do anything while wearing, I offer here the following codification to help you in your decision-making:

Captain Obvious Wins the Slam Dunk Contest: Tkachuk, Chabot

The Sens have two blue chip burgeoning stars on the current roster. One embodies the attitude of the franchise. The other is an electric, puck-moving defenceman who surely will never be traded away for a collection of depth roster players, mid-level prospects, and draft picks. It’s true that you can’t really go wrong, here, but you have to ask yourself: how will it make you feel, sitting in the CTC with the 2D Sens jersey you purchased, to look at the rows in front of you and see a series of coin-flips between Tkachuk and Chabot staring back at you? If your answer is, “That would make me feel just fine,” well then you have your answer, and this Choose Your Own Adventure game has come to an early close. If the answer is anything else, then read-on, weary traveler.

Money Doesn’t Have the Same Value for Me As It Does for Other People: Stutzle, Sanderson, Batherson, Norris, Formenton, Brannstrom, Bernard-Docker, Thomson

These players represent the top of the prospect pipeline, and in that sense they embody hope for the future. These are players we hope to see in the very 2D jersey you want to buy for years to come. How could they not represent the best possible value for your dollars? They haven’t even really started playing for the team in any meaningful way (unless you count Brannstrom getting stuffed into a locker for a few games last year), so if you get one of these names on the back of your sparkling new, not-yet-soiled-from-a-too-long-OC Transpo-bus-ride-home-from-Kanata 2D jersey, it’s like you’re marrying into a rich family, right? Just sit back and accrue cred for being early.

Not so fast. Let me tell you a story. A tragedy, really.

Many years ago, when I had some money, but not much, I became obsessed with getting a heritage ‘O’ Robin Lehner jersey. It seemed foolproof: the jersey was the best we’d ever had so clearly Ottawa would adopt it soon enough as our primaries. Lehner, meanwhile, had an incredible pedigree, having won a Calder Cup with the B-Sens. He was going to be the goalie of the future. He was Swedish, like Alfredsson and Karlsson. Furthermore, he seemed deeply badass, with the kind of sass not seen since Ray Emery fought the entire Buffalo Sabres’ lineup like an avenging angel. So, what happened?

  • The Senators did not adopt the heritage jersey.
  • Robin Lehner was traded to the very Sabres Emery once fought like an avenging angel.
  • Lehner became a Trump-loving provocateur for a time.

Sure, Lehner has redeemed himself in everyone’s eyes, and he’s legitimaltly awesome again, doing incredible work to reduce the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse, but he still serves as a cautionary tale for any of us considering investing in a jersey we like with the name of a good-seeming prospect on the back: things change, and they change suddenly. I urge you to consider that if any of these players end up on another team, it is your constitutionally-enshrined duty to not like them anymore.

While it’s possible that a Rundblad jersey COULD be cool (we used to call him Mecha-Karlsson), it’s certainly not the sort of treasured artifact you’ll hand down to your children in lieu of a social safety net and ecological stability. Have you ever seen a Matt Puempel jersey in the wild? Matt Puempel might not even own a Matt Puempel jersey anymore.

Mucking With Space Time: Alfredsson, Neil, Fisher, Chara, Redden, Hossa, Havlat, Spezza, Heatley, Vermette, Hasek, Phillips, Volchenkov, Lalime, Schaefer

The ultra-rare signed-Chara-while-he’s-wearing-a-C-in-a-Sens-jersey pic

Man, those were the days, huh? These teams were deep, seriously fun, and could beat you any number of ways. Remember Vermette winning a face-off, Schaefer cycling the puck along the boards, Havlat finishing with pure skill – and that was our second line? Plus, each of these players, at some point or another, wore the 2D Senator. This is a throw-back jersey, isn’t it? Why wouldn’t it be okay to put the name of a player who wore (basically) this jersey on the back of (basically) this jersey while we celebrate our heritage, history, and nothing traumatic ever happening in the playoffs? As SteveOnSens said it above, other teams treat their team like an unbroken lineage, all accessing the same morass of ephemeral hopes, dreams, and blah blah blah. The Senators have for too long treated themselves as an expansion franchise who barely has the right to be here.

How awesome would it be to look into the stands and see not only Tkachuk and Chabot jerseys, but also the occasional Alfredsson, in a 2D jersey, looking back at you? Papa? Is that you, Papa??? You run down the CTC concourse trying to catch up as he weaves in and out of pedestrian traffic, that collection of Hossa and Spezza nameplates bobbing around you – “Papa, come back!” you cry out, following that fire-red flow. The 2D centurion is everywhere you look, winking and whispering: “Alfie, Alfie. Papa, papa.” Am I Hugo? you wonder. When you finally catch up and put your hand on the shoulder of the person wearing that Alfredsson jersey, turning him around, you see that it’s not him, after all. It’s even better. It’s your actual papa.

Alternate Reality Choices: Karlsson, Zibanejad, Stone, MacArthur

Erik Karlsson is the greatest player to ever play for the Senators, and so you probably get a pass for putting his name on anything, and Zibanejad was our last great hope coming out of a rebuild. Stone is a player the Sens plucked from nowhere and turned into one of the best two-way forwards in the game, and MacArthur is a heart-and-soul player whose brilliant career was cut short.

None of them ever played in the 2D, though. If you saw a Karlsson 2D jersey in the wild, it would feel weird, like the Uncanny Valley, where something isn’t quite right but not obviously wrong, either. It might be a jersey foul. If you’re going to mix-and-match good hockey players with your current jersey, why not put Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos on the back of your 2D jersey?

This would come awfully close to being a faux pas, a sort of wishful thinking that also happens to make it look like your Great Aunt walked into a store, picked up a jersey because she knows you like hockey (and she loves you), asked the prick kid behind the counter who the best Ottawa Senators player ever is, and voila.

My point is, I think you can do better than this. You’ve gotta let the past be the past, to allow for growth. If I see you in a 2D Zibanejad jersey, my first reaction will definitely be, “Okay, Zibanejad is the coolest looking name aesthetically and coolest sounding phonetically,” but after that, I’m gonna wish you well, because you’re clearly working through some stuff.

The Make Me Feel Pain Pick: Yashin, Daigle

It feels like the unacknowledged subtext of the 2D jersey debate is that the Sens were really bad during large swathes of the time that they spent wearing that jersey. Though we on Sens Twitter have spent enough time marinating in the notion of a 2D return that we’ve become numbed to the idea of how it might be perceived by the rest of the league, I’ve gotta think that there are some out there who think we’re naively opening a mummy’s sarcophagus that we found out in Kanata. It’s sort of like when people said the heritage ‘O’ looked like a zero. It’s a true that it didn’t matter, because that jersey is rad, but it’s also true that it kind of does look like a zero.

What better way to acknowledge that, like, dude, we know, than to get the name of one of the two players who exemplified the team’s cursed early years? Yashin was actually pretty great when he was with the Senators, but held out for most or all of some seasons asking to have his contract re-negotiated. Daigle was never particularly good, but going into the draft he was hyped beyond belief. The entry-level contract the Senators offered him was so generous, the league actually created new rules that live until this day about how much you’re allowed to offer rookies. The Senators were such a shit-show that the league had to change its rules to prevent other people from ever being that stupid. This, on many levels, is amazing. When you think about it, that might be the most enduring impact the Ottawa Senators have ever had on the NHL.

Enough time has passed for us to own this. Daigle and Yashin both played in the alumni game on Parliament Hill, and looked great in that 2D to boot. Bygones are bygones, and to put Yashin or Daigle on the back of your beautiful new 2D jersey is sort of like saying that pain can no longer touch you, but passes through you. You might get some eye-rolls from those who think you’re being ironic, but you’ll know better. Getting Yashin or Daigle on your 2D is having the grace to accept that which you cannot change while acknowledging that the awesome person you are today was informed by the challenges you lived through in the past.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

The Deep Cut: Smolinski, McAmmond, Arvedson

Ottawa was blessed with a number of effective depth players and NHL veterans during those deep years. They were nobody’s favorites, but we couldn’t have been the Ottawa Senators without them. And, they all wore the 2D. You have to offer up some grudging respect if you see these names on a new jersey, although there is sooooooome degree to which it feels a little too cute by half. Take it from me; I call myself Varada on the internet.

The Really Deep Cut: Peter Bondra, Pavol Demitra

Peter Bondra joined the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline in 2003, after a whopping 14 seasons with the Washington Capitals. I remember him scoring in his first game (I think?) and Hossa being absolutely psyched. He had 14 points in 23 games, went pointless in the seven-game loss to Toronto in the first round, played two more seasons in the NHL, then was out for good. While it’s hard to believe that he was ever anyone’s favorite when he was in Ottawa, there’s no denying that 1) Peter Bondra was a pretty rad player, and 2) he wore the 2D:

2004 Season: Player Peter Bondra of the Ottawa Senators. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Pavol Demitra, of course, was drafted by Ottawa in the ninth (!) round, traded for nothing and then turned into a superstar for St. Louis. He wore the 2D. He is also beloved and fondly remembered after his tragic passing at only 36 years old in a plane crash. Wearing a Demitra 2D signals simultaneous appreciations for history, good drafting, bad trades, what could have been, and an all-around pro. It’s a little bit like insisting that Nirvana’s Bleach is their best album: you’re not right, but there’s nothing wrong with it.

Covering Your Bases: White

Hear me out: first of all, do you even know what White I’m talking about? Is it Colin, or Todd? Jerseys don’t have first names. Both wore the 2D. Both will be considered promising young players on squads ultimately much deeper than what they themselves can offer. (Relatable!) Yes, this could apply to “Brown,” too, but Colin and Todd White could both credibly be, even if it’s a bit of a stretch, someone’s favorite player on the team. Todd White had a respectable NHL career, and Colin White was drafted in the first round and will probably play in the NHL, almost invisibly, for years to come. Getting “White” on the back of your 2D jersey is at the same time a deep cut, because they are, of course, not Karlsson or Alfredsson, and an inoffensive, vanilla selection signifying that you are passingly familiar with the entire lineup of your favorite hockey team. You may as well get the word “Hockey” on the back of your 2D jersey – and I mean that in a good way!

Okay, just kidding, get an Alfredsson jersey.

The 2020-2021 WTYKY Guide to How to Feel

As far as I can tell as a guy who was 12 when the Senators came back to life, there have been six major phases of Senators fandom:

  1. 1992 to 1992.5: Isn’t it cool to have a hockey team?
  2. 1992.5 to 1996: I’ve made a huge mistake.
  3. 1997 to 2007: Nothing is true, everything is possible.
  4. 2008-2015: We were wrong not to appreciate what we had, yet are luckier still to have what we do.
  5. 2016-2017: Erik Karlsson is the greatest hockey player on earth and he’s an Ottawa Senator.
  6. 2017-2020: We were right to hate ourselves.

Squint and look sideways at that list and you can almost suss out a cosmic cycle, like the rising and setting sun, or the inevitable decay of life in turn feeding saplings. Is it possible that we, Ottawa Senators fans, like Norrin Radd, believed ourselves to be making a sacrifice (becoming herald to the mighty Galactus to save our beloved Zenn-La) only to discover that he himself is servant to the grand ballet of the universe? Should we now embrace our hard-won perspective and know that life is suffering but also ephemeral and transitory? Should we turn away from our grievances and accept that we all have a role to play, and we can play this role with grace and care and thoughtfulness and patience? The answer, of course, is no.

It is the opinion of this humble WTYKY beat writer that we should enter the 2021 season with an unbelievable chip on our shoulders. Hockey is supposed to be fun and every season and game that’s taken place since we watched Erik Karlsson drag this team within a goal of the Stanley Cup Finals has been most definitely Not Fun. We’ve been robbed of the fundamental element of sports, which is Puck Goes Into the Whizz Bang Net, Team Red is Better Than Team Blue simplicity, and it’s been replaced with the stuff of city council meetings and deals with higher cap hits than salaries. We’ve been reminded that our hobby, and our culture, and our community, is the plaything of the billionaire owner who – even worse! – also happens to not have a billion dollars.

I don’t want to dwell on any of this. There have been so many post-mortems for our collective interest, many of them written by my friends and me. Instead, we need to look forward, not with positivity, but with anger.

So your Ottawa Senators traded a marginal pick for a depth forward with term who is a borderline enforcer. How are you supposed to feel about that? If this were the 1992.5-1996 Ottawa Senators, you’d think we were just trying to protect some semblance of our dignity while losing record numbers of games. If this were the 1997-2007 Senators, you’d be riding a ten-year playoff streak but still be traumatized by playoff losses and so would view Austin Watson through the prism of insecurity and overcompensation. If it were 2016-2107, you would think that even these moves around the margin represent missed chances to give Karlsson one more option to get the puck to. But this is the 2021 Ottawa Senators. How should we react to the fact that we traded for Austin Watson? We should react like we’re Austin Watson, which is to say, we should punch a vending machine to death for looking at us the wrong way. Nobody respects us. WE barely respect us! Act accordingly.

We have the deepest prospect pool and the best jerseys in the league. Nobody takes us seriously. There’s only one logical way to deal with this, which is to act like we have the deepest prospect pool and best jerseys in the league and ignore everything else. If there’s anything being alive in 2020 has taught me, it’s that blind confidence will carry even the most mediocre person pretty damn far. Maybe even to the Presidency!

We need to forget about 1992-2017 and take all of the embarrassment and frustration of the last three years and distill it into pure, unapologetic, shit-eating enthusiasm for our terrible hockey team. I’m not talking homerism. When we do something stupid and bad, don’t apologize for it, and don’t try to explain it. Embrace it. “Of COURSE we fucked that up – that’s because we rule. What, are you stupid enough to care about doing this the right way?” There’s enough room for this anger and our usual repugnance for Eugene Melnyk. I’m talking about basically becoming Flyers fans but stopping just short of whipping batteries at Santa Claus.

We don’t need to adopt somebody else’s vision of the Hi Haters mentality, either. I don’t want to pretend I liked that Joker movie, or watch Bill Burr stand up, or own the libs, or do any of the other things that make poor excuses for toxic infantilisms. We can build something special, something entirely our own – a unique brand of anger and spite and utter freedom centered on our Poor Stupid Terrible Awesome Ottawa Senators.

It’s strange that it’s taken me this long to land here; our best player is Brady Tkachuk! He understands the hate. He embodies it. He is also awesome and a good guy, etc. Dude is going to get under the skin of 85 percent of the league before he turns 25 and still be flossing with kids. He’ll be our captain soon enough, and thus be in charge of our Culture Department. What we need to do is be there with him, in The Shit with him. Brady’s gonna put us on his back like the contery itself, and in turn we may need to put him on ours – as well as on an ad on the side of a stalled LTR with the slogan “fuck around and find out.”

Are NHL GMs a Mystery to One Another?

On October 8th, the Ottawa Senators traded a fifth round pick to the Anaheim Ducks for Erik Gudbranson. Gudbranson, having been drafted third overall by the Florida Panthers a decade ago, will be joining his fifth team, and despite being Pretty Big, is also Not Very Good.

It’s hardly the kind of deal to get worked up over. A fifth round pick isn’t worth very much, and a team who was almost $20 million below the salary floor at the time added a Not Very Good NHL veteran with only a year left on his deal to a team expected to be also Not Very Good next season. Gudbranson will probably be on his sixth team in 2022, and Ottawa picking in the top five. While a bit of a head-scratcher, the trade is the definition of inconsequential.

Then, on the same day, the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Ryan Murray, drafted second overall in 2012 and Actually Pretty Good (though not Pretty Big and also Oft Injured) for also a fifth round pick. Ottawa Senators Twitter was alight with condemnation; how could this team, having just traded away nothing for nothing, decline to instead trade nothing for something? It’s a fair question. Asking it slams us up against the opaque old boy’s club of NHL hockey relationships, leading us to conclude, by dint of our lack of information, that the team making the inferior deal must naturally be an inferior assessor of talent. There’s another question worth asking, though, which is: how do the conversations leading up to NHL trades even work? Did Dorion even know Murray was available?

A few days later, the Colorado Avalanche made a lopsided trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, sending bona fide top-six forward Brandon Saad to the Colorado Avalanche for odds and ends. These deals beg the question: is there anything resembling an open market in the NHL? Anecdotally, I’ve heard mentioned on various podcasts, like 31 Thoughts, that there’s a closely-guarded listserv of some kind where NHL general managers share information about the players they’re trying to move, and what it would take to obtain them. But I’ve never encountered anywhere information about a market, in any kind of formalized sense, where players are objectively quantified and understood in terms relative to one another and to draft picks. Anyone who’s dicked around on Yahoo fantasy hockey has seen it: the trade boards, where one designates what they’re looking for, and what they’re willing to give up. Is it naïve of me to wonder if an equivalent doesn’t exist for NHL GMs?

It’s easier said than done, of course. Quantifying value is loaded, and the subtext of it is why there are so many people writing about and trying to get into hockey. But there are so many examples of teams making deals that seem fine in the moment only to find that these deals are sub-optimal relative to another deal that happens soon after that one has to wonder whether NHL GMs even communicate with one another. Is the GM community simply cliques within cliques?

Another puzzling rumor is that the NHL is eager to bring former Edmonton and Boston GM Peter Chiarelli back into the fold, perhaps in a role with the Arizona Coyotes. Chiarelli, though a veteran in NHL circles at this point, has been lambasted for a series of brutal trades and signings during his time in Edmonton. Why would he have not just currency in the NHL, but powerful actors within the bureaucracy of the league itself advocating on his behalf? It’s possible that he’s a good soldier, upholding the values of the league and conducting himself with consummate professionalism. It’s also possible that navigating the waters of NHL general management requires an understanding of the idiosyncratic gatekeeping that keeps any ol’ schmo from simply consulting the best practices and going about their business. Chiarelli has a membership in the Old Boys Club, and while that might seem like a self-legitimizing reason to grant him readmittance to said club, the health of the league is dependent on GMs that actually talk to and do business with one another.

This all goes back to that fateful day over four years ago when a series of bananas trades took place within hours of one another, all of the NHL media having been caught sleeping on the fact that any of them were even in gestation.

How could Edmonton trade Taylor Hall, a former first overall pick in the prime of his career, for a decent but unremarkable top four defenseman? How could Montreal trade the younger and cheaper PK Subban for Shea Weber? It’s not that these trades are not defensible if you squint and look sideways at them, but the experience is a familiar one for most hockey fans: “How could my team not have beaten that offer?” The answer, it seems to me, is that maybe they weren’t even aware that a market for that player existed. What we should wonder, as nerds on the internet, is how that can possibly be so.

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2020 Draft Grades

did you know that if you go on ottawa senators dot com, you can just download whatever pictures you see on there? pretty cool

Tim Stützle

Luke says: If there’s one thing I’ve realized while learning German, it’s that English tolerates differences between vowels sounds that make other languages a perceptual nightmare. English, in so many ways, is a linguistic wild west where everything’s made up and the structure doesn’t matter, but the vast variety of accents available to its native speakers play tricks with your mind in ways you don’t realize. Have you ever watched the Movie Accent Guy break down the differences between various Boston accents? It all sounds like imminent racism to me, but thank you for your service. Meanwhile, native German speakers have made fun of me for mis-hearing “gruselig” as “gröselig”. Make Google say those words to you and get back to me if you hear any difference whatsoever. Did you know Kafka wrote in German? I bring this up for no reason. The untrained monolingual anglophonic ear is simply not meant to discern such subtle differences between vowels when we interpret “n-EYE-ther” and “n-EE-ther” as legitimate pronunciations of “neither”. 

Anyway, after I texted all my German friends to tell them that Ottawa just drafted Timmy S., I received texts like this: 

Tough crowd! For the record, here’s how you say Stuetzle:

https://twitter.com/coolcatmum/status/1312824124562116611

Keep practicing. You will get it one day. If you do it wrong, a German WILL appear from out of nowhere and correct you. They can’t help it.

Pick Grade: Zehn out of ten

Jake Sanderson

Luke Says: Depending on who you ask, Jake Sanderson was either the best defenseman available in this draft or scout bait with bigger bust potential than a late Roman emperor. The Sens have really nailed their player assessment colours to the mast in selecting Sanderson ahead of various offensively talented forwards like Marco Rossi, Cole Perfetti, and Alexander Holtz. No pressure on this kid who is already slated to be the human embodiment of the never-ending Scouts vs. Spreadsheets debate and will singlehandedly be responsible in answering the question “Do Dorion and co. really know what they’re doing at the draft?”, at least until the next moderately controversial draft pick comes along.

Anyway, what sort of advantages do you think you’d have in hockey if your dad was an NHL player? There’s the obvious financial and genetic leg-up you’d have over someone trying to make the show off the street, but also have you ever considered the emotional release you could get from firing up NHL06 and making Tie Domi beat up your dad in a video game because he grounded you after he caught you doing your art homework instead of practising your snap shots in the driveway? Think of all the extra hours you’d spend secretly sketching in your design notebook at the hockey camp that you got sent to over the architecture camp that you wanted to go to. Imagine all the hockey sticks you’d get for Christmas instead of a single Rotring 800 drafting pencil. If your dad was in the NHL, you couldn’t help but become a great hockey player instead of the next Zaha Hadid. You and I will never suckle of these sweet nectars.

Pick Grade: One Thousand Museum out of ten

Ridly Greig

Varada says: You know what they say: culture eats strategy for breakfast. This is at once a bit of MBA cookie-cutter wisdom and one of the foundations on which the analytics community built its Church of Latter Day Contempt for the Hockey Men who themselves act as arbiters of culture. And so there is some irony in the fact that the community of relatively young men and women who use spreadsheets to split the hairs of adolescents’ competitive arcs decided that having three picks in the first round, and one of those picks being 28th, meant that the Ottawa Senators were bound by some irresistible force or cosmic justice to take a higher risk player with a higher projected ceiling. And it was with selfsame contempt that the Grown Hockey Men of the Ottawa Senators’ emaciated front office looked upon the vast and fruitful landscape of the 2021 draft and said, “Lo, bring to me a boy man who has character and gumption.” He was delivered, faithfully: Ridly Greig is described as hard-working, a half-decent passer, and a pain in the ass. It’s true that Ottawa has roughly 50,000 players in their system that you could describe this way. So, when Dorion, iPad and super-supportive girlfriend like twin winds at his back, selected Greig to the Memorial Curtis Lazar Ring of Honor, it was unsurprising that the Blog Boys and Girls felt like the moral arc of the universe was both long and bending towards bullshit. 

Having assessed the letter grades issued by numerous hockey journalists who are legally obligated to produce said grades within 12 hours of the draft’s conclusion, only those who admit that having seven picks in the first two rounds means you physically can’t fuck up deigned to give the Senators a passing grade. Most simply cannot get over Leaving Skill on the Board. For this reason, grading the Greig pick is simultaneously fait accompli – one does not simply walk into the first round and draft grit – and entirely impossible, because the factors upon which the Ottawa Senators determined the degree to which they value Greig are those to which we have no access! We were not in the room with Greig during the interviews, we cannot absorb his potential contributions to the culture, even though culture eats strategy for breakfast. It says so, right at the top of this paragraph! Greig is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of any conversation about how we evaluate hockey skill. He exemplifies the failures of traditional hockey wisdom and also we don’t know what the fuck we’re talking about. Remember last year when everybody thought Josh Norris projected as a third-line center? Get out of here!

Pick grade: Ω out of ten

Roby Jarventie

Luke says: This was not the pick that I personally would have made with the 33rd overall pick (You should see the stuff I would have written about the German language if the Senators had picked John-Jason Peterka like I wanted), but I’m trying to get out of the habit of conflating “a pick I would not have made” with “a pick that is bad”. Jarventie is alleged by some to be a one-dimensional player but luckily that one dimension is scoring goals, which I guess is the scouting report equivalent of telling people that your job “pays the bills”. Roby Jarventie is exactly like a government job in Ottawa which requires an arduous commute to a hideous building in Gatineau where you work at a cubicle in a nearly windowless room for 38 hours a week and all you get in return is a mere $80,000 a year and job security. Prediction: he works out fine.

Pick Grade: Ottawa LRT Stage 2 out of ten

Tyler Kleven

Luke Says: There’s lots of things to know about Tyler Kleven; like a specialty clothing store he’s big AND tall, and he’s never met an opposing forward whose face he didn’t want to rearrange in a manner not in accordance with God’s plan. His most important characteristic to me, however, is being Jake Sanderson’s roommate. Apparently the Senators currently believe that drafting players who are already friends will unlock some sort of latent chemistry potential for the team. To assess this drafting strategy, I invite you, the reader, to imagine working your first summer job with your university roommate. In your imagination, would the presence of your peer and ostensible friend make you a more efficient worker, or make you someone who was more likely to slack off and spend your days speculating on how that summer’s season of Entourage was going to progress? I believe this pick is like Turtle losing his management deal with the rapper Saigon, but the Senators may yet metaphorically invest in Avion tequila before all is said and done.

Pick Grade: Kleven out of ten

Egor Sokolov

Luke says: Three minutes after Egor Sokolov was drafted, someone tweeted this CTV News story into my feed, and I became a Sokolover for life. Dude couldn’t get back to Russia to see his family, so he helped out in the community that became his second home. It’s a story that we simply love to see. Maybe it’s not a great sign that he had to consistently work to improve his skating just to get drafted in his 3rd year of eligibility, but your man’s got silky hands and a wicked shot, and all of these facts mean I will be transferring my unresolved Mark Stone feelings onto him instead of going to therapy.

Pick Grade: 61 out of ten

Leevi Merilainen

Luke says: Leevi Merilainen is a goalie. He plays in Finland. As far as I know, he was not on a single draft board other than Ottawa’s. I don’t believe he was on any prospect ranking list going into the draft, and I was not able to find a single scouting report on him in the public domain. I was, however, able to find his picture on elite prospects dot com.

I have no choice but to tip my hat to the Senators’ incredible display of goalie scouting hipsterism. There’s no way that the Senators needed to spend a draft pick on this guy, but they did any way just to call their shot, just so you know it’s not an accident. The Senators are a guy who corners you at a party, asks you which goalies you like, waits for you to mention Askarov, tells you Askarov was better two years ago before he went mainstream, and then says that he like some really great goalies out of Finland but you’ve probably never heard of them. Then you tell the Senators, well I’ve heard of a couple of Finnish goalies, try me, and the Senators say “Know Leevi Merilainen?” and you say “Is he that guy from Liiga-2?” and the Senators say “You mean Mestis? There’s no Liiga-2 it’s called Mestis. Also he plays for Karpat’s U20 team. I saw him live in Vaasa last year. Just me and three other guys there. It was incredible.” and then the Senators walk away and you’re like “Shit that guy did know goalies I’d never heard of. Fuck him.”

Pick Grade: [7.6] out of ten

Eric Engstrand

Eric was a pleasure to teach this year.

Pick Grade: Any of the complex zeros of the Riemann Zeta Function out of ten

Phillipe Daoust

Phillipe was a pleasure to teach this year.

Pick Grade: Sin(Spartacat) out of ten

Cole Reinhart

Cole was a pleasure to teach this year.

Pick Grade: The Fourier coefficients of the Steely Dan song “Peg” out of ten

WTYKY Podcast: Episode 24.5 – Best of Both Worlds, Part II

In the second part of WTYKY’s Draft Podcast Extravaganza, Luke and James talk to Hockey Prospect’s Brad Allen about:

– Lucas Raymond vs. Jack Quinn vs. Seth Jarvis

– Why Tristen Robins and Ridly Grieg got moved up his list

– Why Jamie Drysdale moved down his list

– Who should Ottawa swing for the fences with in the 2nd round

– Zayde Wisdom!!!

WTYKY Podcast: Episode 24 – Panic! At The Draft

James and Luke are back with HockeyProspect.com’s Brad Allen to discuss next week’s NHL draft and the players that YOUR Ottawa Senators could be taking. How much should you be panicking? We will tell you! Worried? You will be! Topics in this episode include:

– Quinton Byfield: How much seasoning does he need?
– Should the Senators take Yaroslav Askarov 3rd overall or 5th overall?
– Why do scouts love Jake Sanderson?

Guest Post: Steve On Sens Presents, A Suspicious Amount of Optimism

Steve Sur Sens

Image Courtesy of Steven O. Sens Holdings, LLC

Hello, the following is a post from Internet Bad Boy and Salon Quality Hair Haver, Steve On Sens. If you like what you read, follow him for more delightful twitter jewels HERE. If you don’t like what you read I don’t know who TF you’re talking about and this post got on here by accident and I’m going to be looking into that and I’m going to look into it very strongly. Anyway, take it away Steve! 

There’s lots of uncertainty these days. If you’re the kind of person that likes keeping up with the news, I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines about COVID-19. Each week comes news about death, sickness, unemployment figures, how well the stock market is doing despite these unemployment figures, and also tweets that vaguely hint at what the NHL might do in order to finish the 2019/20 season and preserve the “sanctity of the Stanley Cup”.

If I were a fan of a contending team, I’d be really concerned. Tampa Bay, Carolina, the Islanders, and Vancouver all made big trades to improve their team now. It must be frustrating to make a big move to win the Stanley Cup and then the NHL doesn’t award the Cup that year.

While the top teams are concerned about their short term future, it is the bottom teams that need certainty from the league in order to plan their long term futures. The most recent rumour we’ve heard is that the draft lottery could be held on June 26. This is weeks after previous rumours nearly guaranteed an early June draft. Amidst all this uncertainty, there is only one thing that is certain: the Sens are looking kinda nice with it.

If you’re the kind of person that tuned out after the 2017 playoffs, or after Melnyk’s comments at the NHL 100 Classic, or when Karlsson picked up the puck at his last home game, or the allegations that Hoffman’s girlfriend was cyberbullying Karlsson’s wife, or the Randy Lee allegations, or the Boro-Melnyk video, or the actual Karlsson trade, or the LeBreton arena falling apart, or the Duchene and Dzingel trades, or the Mark Stone trade, or the various front office arrivals and departures, or the Pageau trade, this may come as a surprise. The Ottawa Senators have been a tire fire on and off the ice for 3 years. Fans have seen their favourite players get traded out for draft picks, prospects, and filler players. Amid the ashes of the 2011 rebuild are some key franchise players, lots of good prospects, and tons of draft picks. There’s many reasons for optimism. 

Starting with franchise cornerstones in D Thomas Chabot and LW Brady Tkachuk, the team has a great foundation. Chabot’s offensive skills have made it a lot easier to forget about Karlsson’s departure and Tkachuk has provided instant likability and star power. Further down the lineup are players like C/RW Colin White and RW Anthony Duclair who have shown potential and could play important roles on the team for years to come. 

Down in Belleville, players like C Josh Norris (Erik Karlsson trade), RW Drake Batherson, and LW Alex Formenton had phenomenal years. Norris and Formenton surpassed expectations and have elevated their status as top prospects in the organization. While these three players drew lots of attention this past year, C Logan Brown and LW Rudolfs Balcers (Karlsson trade) each put up over a PPG and RW/LW Vitali Abramov wasn’t far behind. Depth pieces like C Filip Chlapik could still pan out! On defence Erik Brannstrom (Mark Stone trade) had an up and down year after making the NHL out of training camp, and Christian Jaros and Max Lajoie could also serve as useful depth pieces down the road. In net, Joey Daccord had a stellar year posting a .915 SV% and Marcus Hogberg seems to have graduated to the NHL. 

In addition to the crop of players in Belleville, the Sens have drafted C Shane Pinto (2019, 32nd) and D Jacob Bernard-Docker (2018, 26th) who both had excellent seasons for NCAA North Dakota. D Lassi Thomson (2019, 19th) is an intriguing two-way defenceman with a massive slap shot based on highlight clips I have seen on Twitter. In goal, Kevin Mandolese was just named the QMJHL Goaltender of the Year and while he didn’t have a great season, we shouldn’t write off 6’7” Mads Søgaard.

The 2020 Draft is Ottawa’s opportunity to find those franchise cornerstones to add to Chabot and Tkachuk. The Sens have lots of solid prospects that will be important contributors but they currently lack the star power needed to contend down the road. The Senators currently hold the 2nd and 3rd (SJS – Erik Karlsson trade) best odds to win the draft lottery but no one is really sure when that lottery will be or what the format will be. Regardless, the Sens are essentially guaranteed 2 of Alexis Lafreniere, Quentin Byfield, Tim Stutzle, Jamie Drysdale, Marco Rossi, Lucas Raymond, Cole Perfetti, Alexander Holtz, Anton Lundell, Jake Sanderson, and Jack Quinn. In the past 20 years the Sens have picked twice in the top 5 selecting Jason Spezza 2nd overall in 2001 and Brady Tkachuk 4th overall in 2018. Now they have the opportunity to do this twice in the span of half an hour! An absolute worst case scenario is picking a guy who put up 120 points in the OHL and a defenceman who tore up the World Junior Championship for Canada. A best case, and extremely possible scenario could be drafting Alexis Lafreniere and one of Quinton Byfield and Tim Stutzle. We all joked about it at the start of the season when San Jose went 0-3 but this could actually happen.

After the 2 lottery picks, the Sens hold the Islanders’ first round pick that is currently sitting at 21st overall. This is an intriguing spot to be in because Ottawa holds four!!! 2nd round picks. As Owner/ Chairman/ sometimes CEO/ General Secretary Eugene Melnyk alluded to on Toronto sports radio, it’s likely that Ottawa will use some of these picks to trade up to get more elite talent in the first round. Depending on where the Islanders finish the season, the Sens could be picking 3 times in the top 15. The Sens also hold two 3rd round picks in 2020, their 1st round pick next year and three 2nd round picks in 2021.

In addition to all the positivity when it comes to roster players, prospects and the draft, the Senators have found themselves in a pretty desirable cap situation. Hockey related revenues will be way down as a result of COVID-19. Even if the NHL manages to finish the playoffs and award the Stanley Cup, there won’t be any ticket revenue for teams. This means that the salary cap will likely decrease —  or at a minimum won’t increase — allowing your Ottawa Senators, who have a projected 2020/21 cap space of $42 million (lmao), to exploit cap strapped teams. Give me your Gaboriks, your Datsyuks, your Hossas yearning to breathe free.

Despite all the optimism, there is a real hesitancy to support this team because of the owner. To put it simply, the guy is the worst. An unfortunate reality that I have recently come to terms with is that he’s probably not going to leave anytime soon. Eugene Melnyk has held onto this franchise as it liquidated all of its players, saw attendance plummet, and faced public criticism from crowd funded billboards to The Simpsons. I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll sell now that the team has bottomed out and looks to be trending upwards. In a normal world you could potentially make the case that with a franchise trending in the right direction it would make sense to sell high to a prospective new owner wanting to win now. Unfortunately, COVID has thrown conventional Senators ownership conspiracy theorism out the window. The pandemic has undoubtedly hurt the NHL and with it franchise values have certainly been impacted. It really makes no sense for Eugene Melnyk to sell the team when it’s likely at its lowest value in years. In a weird way, it’s possible that COVID has given Melnyk a new lease on the team. Without fans at games, it doesn’t matter if the arena is in Kanata. It also doesn’t matter that attendance has struggled. The team was certainly not counting on playoff revenue this Spring. Melnyk owns the Canadian Tire Centre and doesn’t need to pay rent on an empty arena. It feels weird to think but this NHL stoppage came at a pretty ideal time for the Senators.

This might all look too good to be true. It very well could be. There’s no certainty in sports. We didn’t know that Jason Pominville was going to make Alfredsson turn in OT. The seemingly indestructible 2007/08 Senators didn’t look like they were going to collapse until they did. Sens fans have gotten optimistic about things in the past only to see it all fall apart. I thought that Curtis Lazar was going to be captain by now. My point is that we should at least enjoy this crop of young players while they’re around. They’re likeable and play a fun, hard working style of hockey. General Manager Pierre Dorion has assembled one of the best prospect groups in the league and has hoarded an unprecedented amount of draft picks. There’s going to be tons of depth and it’ll be fun to see lots of top prospects develop into NHL players. Maybe it’ll all be for naught and Melnyk will trade all the players in their prime again. We really don’t have much of a say in it. You and I both have no control over the team. This isn’t participatory democracy, it’s the entertainment industry. 

Since you’re reading this, you are more than likely an Ottawa Senators fan. There’s also a decent chance that you live in the ever expanding City of Ottawa. I totally understand if you’d rather spend your entertainment money elsewhere. I’ve sorta realized that I really like watching the local professional hockey team. The trek out to Kanata is tedious but it’s still fun to watch live games. It’s a good time to go to a bar ( I really miss going to bars), see that all the TVs are showing the Leafs and Raptors, and then sheepishly ask the bartender to change the channel just in time to watch Question Period with Bruce Garrioch without audio. I was sitting second row at the last Sens home game before the league shut down and got to see Brady Tkachuk go top shelf against the Islanders on a 2 on 1. Strangely enough it’s probably one of my favourite Sens memories. What I’m saying is giving Eugene Melnyk some money to watch your favourite team play your favourite sport when we can safely do so isn’t crossing a picket line. This isn’t the same thing as boycotting Amazon. You won’t be cancelled because you buy a home black 2D Tkachuk jersey next year. The Sens make tons of money from TV deals and advertisements. Melnyk isn’t going to sell the team because you refused to buy a $15 USD ticket on StubHub. For the first time in a while I am really excited about this team. I think you should be as well. Go and enjoy this insane franchise that continues to ruin our lives. 

WTYKY Time Machine: Mark Stone, Again!

Look, I doubt you need a comprehensive and somber recap of the global circumstances that led to this moment on this blog, so let’s just cut to the chase: you can watch the hockey game colloquially known as The Mark Stone Again Game by clicking this link. Continue scrolling down this blog post to read my thoughts and remembrances of this iconic moment in Sens History, broken down with the use of helpful timestamps.

1st Period

19:50 – I remember Pittsburgh scoring ten seconds into this game extremely clearly. Earlier that day, I had made a tweet about how someone had asked Andrew Hammond (AKA The Hamburglar) how he was going to handle Sidney Crosby, and how His Hamburglarness had responded “You have that question backwards.” It was meant to be a parody/satire of how Andrew Hammond was, at that time, the hottest goalie since sliced bread (??), but naturally every Pens fan who read this fake quote thought it was real, because their brains are smooth as eggs. Well, imagine my surprise when Sidney Crosby scored on the first shot of the game. The entire city of Pittsburgh took to Twitter to fill my mentions like it was their own diapers. The lesson is, as always, never tweet.

19:50 (Cont’d) – Erik Karlsson does not cover himself in glory on this play, but it’s a privilege to watch Erik Karlsson make mistakes for your team. When Erik Karlsson makes an ill-advised stretch pass, you should thank him for it.

18:08 – Half-hearted “Leafs Suck!” chant from the crowd during a whistle. This still holds up.

17:15 – Let’s remember some guys! Mika Zibanejad is on a line with Curtis Lazar and Erik Condra! What on earth was happening there? This is like using your Swedish Koenigsegg supercar to transport lumber home from Rona! Naturally the Senators were in the middle of an (estimated) 24-2-1 run at the time so this was just considered more proof of Dave Cameron’s genius.

14:44 – Hey, the Penguins just scored again. I can’t point to a single Senator that looked great on that play, but I’m going to pin all the blame exclusively on Karlsson and Wiercioch, just out of habit.

12:15 – I just saw a MacArthur – Turris – Stone line and started weeping openly. Is there another line in Senators history that you’d trust more in any situation?

10:43 – Let’s remember some guys! David Legwand is on this 2nd powerplay unit! Beginning to think that maybe this Senators team didn’t have the depth I remembered.

9:56 – “Paul Martin is so good at standing in the lane.” say the Pittsburgh commentators, effusive in their praise for a player whose great skill lies in doing nothing.

8:00 – Just saw a Hoffman – Pageau – Ryan line. Not sure why you’re not putting Hoffman with one of your high skill guys like David Legwand, but maybe that’s just picking nits.

6:25 – Let’s remember some guys! Alex Chiasson sighting! Would this team be better with Jason Spezza on it instead of Alex Chiasson? Well, it would have cost $7.5 million a year for four years to find out so we’ll never know.

6:15 – Andrew Hammond makes his first real 5-alarm save of the game. Hammond’s possibly the only goalie in history who was punished for making too many incredible saves. The puck hit him so often that eventually everyone decided he must be getting lucky.

5:16 – Hornqvist scores to make it 3-0 Pittsburgh following a series of preposterous Hammond saves. In retrospect, Hammond’s style probably did him no favours. He is, in the parlance of hockey people, a battler. The guy did whatever it took to keep the puck out of the net, and teams don’t really like that sort of thing. NHL teams need their goalies to have perfect technique, and stopping the puck is secondary. It’s called “being process oriented”.

2:34 – Wiercioch takes a penalty and the Senators respond by letting the Pageau-Condra-Methot-Ceci penalty kill unit get worked like they’re Mark Borowiecki’s speed bag. The period ends 3-0, and at last the stage is set for The Fun Part Everyone Remembers.

2nd Period

19:55 – Chris Cuthbert calmly mentions that the Senators’ last 4 games had gone to overtime or a shootout. It’s almost impossible to describe how tense this felt at the time. Like watching a golden retriever walk across a minefield in search of a distant snausage.  The Senators had essentially won 18 straight elimination games, but each win seemingly did nothing except grant them the privilege of needing the win the next game as well. I remember walking into the street and staring at the stars for 20 minutes following the shootout loss to Toronto in the previous game because I was convinced that single point was going to be the difference in making the playoffs, and the Sens BLEW IT thus proving that God was dead, or at least didn’t visit Ottawa anymore. Man, remember caring about the outcome of hockey games? Different times, man, different times…

19:30 – Erik Karlsson suddenly appearing in the place you’d least expect was probably the best part of watching Erik Karlsson. I love my new garbage sons like my own family, but there’s still nothing like watching a world class talent do incredible things for your team every night.

19:09 – Chris Kunitz hurts Patrick Weircioch with a hip check. “That’s the worst thing Chris Kunitz will ever do to myself and the city of Ottawa.”, I probably yelled at the time.

18:38 – Senators head to the powerplay, and nothing happens save for some chaotic looking rebound chances. Here’s a thing I had forgotten about this game: The Ottawa Senators look like the Springfield tire fire for a significant portion of it.

15:28 – The Legwand-Chiasson-Condra line has a great chance to make it 3-1, but fail to convert because they’re the Legwand-Chiasson-Condra line.

15:11 – Turris has a great chance, but doesn’t score because it’s not overtime in the playoffs and the goalie isn’t Henrik Lundqvist.

11:42 – Chris Cuthbert mentions that Mark Stone leads the league in takeaways. Within a year, you wouldn’t be able to say “Mark Stone” on Elgin St. without at least seven Sens fans popping out of the Lieutenant’s Pump to tell you that Mark Stone leads the NHL in takeaways.

10:00 – Halfway through the game and the score is 3-0 Pittsburgh. This is taking so long to get good. It feels like I’m live-blogging The Irishman.

6:55 – Mark Stone Again? At this point I would settle for Mark Stone The First Time!

5:56 – Marc Methot takes a cross-checking penalty that’s softer than an ASMR video. “Let’s see if the Senators can grab a little momentum back while short-handed.” says Ray Ferraro, prophetically.

5:20 – The Original Garbage Son, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, throws the puck in front of the net on a short-handed rush and it bounces off Derick Pouliot’s skate and into the net. Pageau celebrates like that’s exactly what he meant to do, and honestly, who is going to disagree with him? Leave it to Pageau to score in the most annoying way possible in the biggest game of the year (until the next game).

3:56 – The Sens kill off the rest of the penalty, and the crowd noise is upgraded from “Mid-February Game Against Carolina” to “March Afternoon Game vs. Buffalo”.

2:38 – Bobby Ryan takes a tripping penalty after he falls down near Evgeni Malkin lands on him. If you thought I wasn’t going to complain about the officiating in a five year old game whose outcome I already know, you are sorely mistaken. Not complaining about the reffing in a hockey game would be like attending Catholic Mass without taking communion.

3rd Period

19:35 – TSN displays a helpful graphic that informs us that the Penguins are 29-2-1 when leading after two periods this season. “I like those odds!” says Mark Stone to himself as he scores to make it 3-2.

19:26 – “There is no way that Mark Stone cannot be in the rookie of the year balloting!” extols Ray Ferraro. Incredible to think that this is Mark Stone’s rookie season, and he’s already got all the tools that will make him great. The incredible hands, the hockey IQ, the celebrations, it’s all there!

19:10 – I just looked it up, and the 2015 Calder Trophy would be awarded to Aaron Ekblad in a miscarriage of justice so great that it’s proof that Antonin Scalia was still alive at the time.

17:50 – Fleury makes a huge stop on Mark Stone, and the Senators, who spent two periods looking about as lively as an 8:00 AM calculus class, are suddenly filled with the power of self-respect like at the end of Scott Pilgrim but with Cody Ceci instead of Michael Cera.

17:00 – Clarke MacArthur is having his jaw looked at on the bench. Not going to read into that any more than I have to…nope, not today.

13:41 – Pittsburgh hits the post on a long shot from the point, but the puck stays out of the net because hockey is a meritocracy where each team gets what they deserve, and not a series of random bounces on which the human mind, in its hubris, attempts to ascribe control, intention, and moral judgement.

11:40 – The crowd begins to chant “We want playoffs!”, which immediately becomes one of the Top 3 Most Creative Chants ever invented by the CTC fans.

9:24 – Erik Condra takes a high-sticking penalty. Chris Cuthbert declares that the Sens are “flirting with danger”, but you’d flirt with danger too if you’d spent all those years married to disappointment.

8:50 – Let’s remember some guys! Eric Gryba “accidentally” spears Sidney Crosby. Now that’s what I call Capital Waterfowling! (???)

8:31 – Stone creates another shorthanded chance by forcing a turnover in the neutral zone. I can’t believe he’s a rookie here. He’s taking over this game to a level we’d only seen from Erik Karlsson at this point. A performance Alfie would be proud of.

7:24 – The Sens kill off the penalty, and immediately send out the Lazar-Zibanejad-Condra line. Folks, I’m getting mad online about the line combinations. It’s just like old times!

7:20 – But seriously, Lazar-Zibanejad-Condra????

6:38 –

comeon

Yeah, but he’s no AARON EKBLAD. This is why Trump got elected.

5:55 – The Turris line is buzzing, then the Pageau line is buzzing, then Erik Karlsson kinda looks bad in a 1-on-1 situation. It must needs be remarked that even this version of the Senators, one that we all look back on with great fondness, really REALLY noticeably lacked that game-breaking skill that could just manufacture a goal from nothing. Mark Stone is close to having that skill, but he’s not quite there yet, and Erik Karlsson is having an off night. The Sens are having to win this one the old fashioned (i.e. pesky) way: by firing the puck at the net an infinite number of times until it goes in.

2:45 – Turris is out there again. I’ll have to check the shift charts, but it feels like Turris, MacArthur, and Stone played 7 of the last 10 minutes.

2:04 – Zibanejad is about to start in the offensive zone with Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman until Dave Cameron notices his mistake and calls a timeout. Turris is sent back out with MacArthur and Stone with Hoffman as the extra attacker.

1:48 – Mike Hoffman ties it with a wrister from the top of the circles. Nice little toe-drag to change the angle and he just shoots it over Fleury’s glove. Mike Hoffman would also get a few Calder Trophy votes this year. Hard to believe that this version of the Senators would get one solid playoff run in before having to trade everyone and start over, because this exact moment is probably the time when their future burned brightest, the high watermark stone, if you will.

28.6 – The Penguins are called for too many men, and the Sens get a powerplay to finish the game and start OT. Legwand nearly wins it in the dying seconds, but of course he doesn’t, so we finally get to what we’re all here to see.

Overtime

 
3:39 – Zibanejad feeds Karlsson right in front of the net for Ottawa’s best chance on the powerplay, but it hops over Karlsson’s stick. Fleury makes his 40th save of the night on Mike Hoffman. A real sense of inevitability settles over the game now.

2:16 – Erik Karlsson turns into Erik Karlsson at a critical moment, and from there, I’m going to let Cuthbert and Ferraro play us out.