Thanks That Was Fun

Maybe I’m in the minority on this, but I don’t feel the crushed by the weight of history this morning. The playoff losses of the early 2000s had a way of compounding each other until we got to a point where watching even the most formidable teams in franchise history felt like spending time with disappointments that hadn’t happened yet. This year’s Sens team was so unlike those that came before it that I feel like the loss is separate from that history. The idea of “heart” is entrenched in hockey vocabulary, but what made this year’s Sens special went beyond heart. This year’s Senators team had soul, to use Guy Boucher’s phrase. I’ve never watched another Sens team that had such an intrinsic will, such a deeply ingrained ability to give a fuck. This team’s ability to bounce back after a bad shift, a bad period, a bad game, was unprecedented for the franchise. If someone asks you “Did you enjoy that two-goal comeback OT win?”, the correct answer is “Which one?”. The upshot of this is that going into last night, I’d never been more confident that the Senators would not let me down. They did not. Sure the Senators franchise was 0-5 in Game 7s going into last night and now they’re 0-6, but to me it feels more like they’re 0-5 and there’s this other team I cheer for that is 0-1.

Seriously, how can you possibly put that last night on the same astral plane as the other Game 7 losses? The rest all have some sort of shorthand to refer to the exact cause of the disappointment. Tugnutt’s glove, Jeff Friesen, Ed Belfour, Nieuwendyk skating down the left wing, and Henrik Lundqvist are all phrases designed to conjure extremely precise memories. They are shibboleths of pain. What are you going to say about last night? The Senators did everything right and were a single bounce away. The OT winner was a screened shot off of a nothing looking play. It could have happened to anyone. The Sens didn’t beat themselves, and that’s not something you can say about many Sens teams of the past. We don’t need to wonder “what if” this year. They were right there right up until they weren’t.

What a disappointment though, good lord. After the franchise and its fanbase waited 15 years to make its first Cup Final, we had to wait another decade for the mere opportunity to make it back. Who knows how long it will take for everything to break for the Senators again? I worry about the future. Smart people will paint the journey to success as linear. Smart people will say there’s no reason that next year’s Sens team can’t be even better with Thomas Chabot and Colin White in the lineup. Smart people will say that Ottawa’s core will be back next year, and that their window, such as it is, is still open. These smart people are full of shit. There is no such thing as momentum from season to season. Anything can happen. Just ask Tampa Bay or Dallas or San Jose or Philadelphia or every team that isn’t Pittsburgh, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Success in the NHL is delicate. You can’t go around assuming you get unlimited opportunities.

I leave you with Warren Zevon’s words, famously uttered during his last Letterman appearance: “Enjoy every sandwich.” I enjoyed the hell out of this one.

I hereby dedicate this last cut to Eugene Melnyk.

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Game 7

This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Sens weren’t supposed to be here.

This season was supposed to be about the past.

After a disappointing 2015-2016 campaign in which Ottawa missed the playoffs and yet another coach was fired, the offseason moves by rookie GM Pierre Dorion didn’t inspire confidence in many. Dorion selected Guy Boucher as the new head coach, and not Bruce Boudreau like a lot of fans wanted. He traded the young and talented centre Mika Zibanejad for an older, local player Derick Brassard. The move raised more concerns about the team’s finances and budget. He failed to upgrade a porous blueline. These perceived failures weren’t new and it felt like another difficult year was ahead.

In some circles, the lack of enthusiasm for the team on the ice meant the focus of the 2016-17 season wasn’t on the current roster, the season’s schedule, and the team’s Cup chances, but rather on the past and the organization’s 25th anniversary. Early highlights of the season included the announcement of a Ring of Honour, a salute to the many people who have made the Senators what they are today. Former coach and GM Bryan Murray was deservedly the first inductee, and the ceremony honouring the man who undoubtedly left one of the biggest marks on the franchise was the highlight of a January game against the Capitals.

We waited for Chris Neil to have his moment. At 37 it’s clear his career is coming to an end, but for one night, Neil took centre stage, appreciated by the fans at the Canadian Tire Centre and by the only NHL team for which he has played; by the NHL team that drafted him half a life time ago.

The highpoint of the season was supposed to be a night in December when the Sens faced off against the Detroit Red Wings. Daniel Alfredsson’s number 11 was raised to the rafters and the first modern Senator ascended to a rarified place in hockey’s hagiography. It was the sort of night Sens fans had wanted for years, a night that provided a touchstone to the team’s history for all of us. It provided a chance for fans to show our appreciation to The Captain. What it crystalized for fans of this team, both new and old, was this team had a story. This team had a past, a past that contained excellence and a fair amount of heartbreak. A backstory that could now be passed down from long-time fans to newer followers, from older generations to younger ones, from parents to children. There are fans who never got to see Alfredsson play, who have gravitated to the Senators in the four years since he last pulled on an Ottawa jersey. These fans rely on YouTube highlights and the stories those of us who remember his playing days convey.

These were the things that were supposed to sustain Sens fans through another mediocre season. Making the playoffs seemed to be a pipe dream, at least according to most expert predictions. In this situation it was better to focus on what we used to have, the past, than hope for elusive playoff glory.

But the present kept breaking through our collective nostalgia. In the present there is adversity, difficulty, and pain. But at its best, hockey connects us to others who feel the same as we do about a player or a team, cheer the same goals, agonize over the same losses. At its best, hockey distracts and heals, if only temporarily. At its best, hockey provides community. Community made visible by a sticker on the back of each helmet signaling solidarity. Community made visible with a surprise visit. Community made visible online or in person, at the game or watching at the bar.

With each historic achievement or moment of this anniversary season, the present intruded. Despite predictions, the Sens started the season relatively strong. Pundits waited for Ottawa to fall off the pace and out of playoff contention but it didn’t happen. Even in March, when the injury bug hit, the Sens pulled through.

Early round victories against the Bruins and the Rangers were mocked and derided. Ottawa’s opponents had weaknesses, injuries, deficiencies. Yet Ottawa remained the underdog; when it came to predictions the team remained the choice of fans only, the experts repeatedly choosing Ottawa’s opponents to seize the day, banking on the Sens regular season results being a mirage.

Yet here we are, deep in May and there is still ice at the CTC. Ottawa is one of only three teams still competing for the Stanley Cup and is in a position the organization has only encountered twice before. We are on the precipice of something truly spectacular.

Tonight the present collides with history. A game seven against the defending Stanley Cup champions and their two generational talents. A win secures a trip to the finals and a chance to compete for the NHL’s ultimate prize. But it also secures something else: another chapter in the team’s history. It is rare to be present when stories become legends but for those of us who have watched every moment of this run we can say we were there. We were there when Mac scored for the first time in nearly two years and then capped his improbable return to the ice with a series-clinching goal. We were there when Jean-Gabriel Pageau added another verse to his personal mythology with a comeback securing, overtime winning, four-goal outburst. We were there when Craig Anderson staved off elimination with a 45 save effort. We were there when Bobby Ryan rose from the ashes of his worst regular season to lead Ottawa’s offense. We were there when two unreal assists from the injured Erik Karlsson, exclamation marks in a dominant postseason effort, forced much of mainstream hockey media to realize he’s the best player in the world right now. We were there when he made the case that his career is already worthy of the Hall of Fame, a week before his 27th birthday.

Many years from now the long-time fan will look back on this moment in Sens history and say “I remember”; the new fan will look back on tonight and say “I’ll never forget”. For much of the Senators’ existence, fans have lamented the team’s lack of storied past. But in its 25th year, Daniel Alfredsson’s number 11 hangs from the rafters and the present, throwaway season has proved historic.

We were supposed to reflect on Sens history in 2016-2017; Boucher, Karlsson, Anderson and company decided to make it instead. Tonight that history grows in magnitude.

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How to Talk About A Team You Don’t Care About

Legend has it that this blog was first formed many moons ago by a group of socialist nerds who, after reading a particularly heinous Don Brennan column, concluded that there was no reason they couldn’t write about hockey better. Whether or not that is actually true is still up for debate, but the fact remains that this blog’s roots are planted firmly in the garden of Media Criticism. We’ve always been interested in, not just The Story, but The Story Behind The Story and the ways in which we can frame and talk about The Story.

In light of this, it is with a heavy heart that I must report that The Media is at it again. This is hardly a new state of affairs. To be a Senators fan is to be reminded almost constantly that your team is an afterthought, even in its own market. The Leafs and Habs get the lion’s share of the media coverage on television and on national media, and while Ottawa has many fine writers covering the Senators locally, Ottawa simply doesn’t have the critical mass of fan eyeballs necessary to propel those writers to bigger outlets.

Media professionals such as Down Goes Brown and Steve Dangle have been able to break into the mainstream simply by being well-known Leafs fans who produce good content that is enjoyed by fans of many teams. I would never suggest that DGB or Steve Dangle are undeserving of their professional success, but there’s no denying that they enjoyed a huge advantage by way of their audience possessing a certain cultural literacy apropos of the Leafs. The ubiquity of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the national consciousness and discourse means that even fans of other teams, myself included, are able to enjoy the content that DGB and Steve Dangle produce. It will be considerably more difficult for even the even best Ottawa-focused writer, podcaster, or video producer to break through because the audience for Ottawa-focused content is comparatively limited1. There is such a thing as Leafs Privilege.

I am not speaking out of bitterness, I am merely stating fact. Ottawa’s small fanbase means that the incentive to respectfully cover the Senators is small, and many of those who cover hockey, particularly on the internet, make no effort to hide their disdain for the Senators. James Mirtle, Tyler Dellow2, and Ryan Lambert (A dumb person’s idea of a smart hockey writer, although to Lambert’s credit this seems to be something he is unconsciously aware of) have all been the most openly dismissive of the Senators throughout the season or longer. Most Leafs bloggers are beyond hope at this point, which is fine because one does not expect Mouse Blogs to have balanced takes on Cats.

If Ottawa Senators fans are overly ornery or defensive, it’s because we have correctly ascertained that in this media landscape, it is literally Us against The World, and we don’t really care for The World at this point. When Bruce Arthur tweets “I have just learned that Marc Methot’s nickname is ‘Meth’.”, all he is doing is revealing the extent of his ignorance regarding the team he’s supposed to be covering for a national-ish outlet. If I went to England to write a travel column and earnestly tweeted, “Did you know they call a truck a ‘lorry’ here?”, it would be comparatively risible.

But here is the thing about this particularly lazy Bruce Arthur article: discussion of the ticket sales, or lack thereof, is a legitimate story. It’s one that has been covered from a few different angles, but it remains a newsworthy story in its own right. Discussion of the Senators’ ongoing lackluster attendance reminds me a great deal of post-election analyses of Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 US Election. There are a myriad of factors which have contributed, and many of them are interconnected. In addition, if just one of the factors was changed, the outcome would almost certainly change materially to the point where there would no longer be a story worth discussing. Therefore, one can confidently state “Factor X is the reason for this phenomenon”, and simultaneously be correct, narrow-minded, and un-nuanced in their analysis. The reason on which you choose to focus says more about you than it does the about the actual ticket sales. Case in point: Bruce Arthur looked at Ottawa’s attendance and concluded the problem was……….TORONTO! Do a CTRL + F on Arthur’s article about Ottawa’s “oversensitive fan base” and you’ll find 8 references to Toronto. There you are. We are weird because Toronto made us this way. I read it in the paper.

What pushes Arthur’s hackery into the realm of diabolical is that he even talked to several Senators bloggers/media members to mine them for quotes that would support his article’s premise that he’d clearly already decided on well ahead of time, to say nothing of the fact that any pushback against his (flawed) premise would de facto prove that Sens fans are oversensitive. Credit where it’s due: It’s impressive that a Toronto based columnist managed to gaslight an entire fanbase using their bloggers’ own quotes. This is probably the finesse of the century, and I take my hat off to it. I also spit in that hat and mail it to the Toronto Star.

I say all that to say this: we all know the mainstream media doesn’t care for the Senators. It’s extremely obvious. Still, we must reach some sort of detente. The media has a job to do, and I’m sympathetic to it. In this spirit, please enjoy this short guide titled “How to Write About A Team You Don’t Care About”.

1. Don’t.

It’s ok! Just don’t do it. Don’t do it Dave Lozo. We know Twitter is abuzz with takes about how boring the Senators are, but you don’t need to have a take. If you can’t write something good, don’t write anything. We will understand, and we will be thankful. The mainstream media gets to mould the discourse and it’s the gateway to knowledge for thousands of casual fans. Don’t bother talking about Ottawa unless you have some insight to pass along to the average media consumer.

2. Write something good.

You can produce good journalism about the Ottawa Senators. It can be done. I have seen it. I’ve even seen Bruce Arthur do it.

Shannon Proudfoot routinely produced exquisite work at the national level, and also talked about this blog once. Ian Mendes is the most consistently excellent mainstream writer covering the Senators. Jack Han has produced some excellent analysis for The Athletic.

There are good stories about the Senators to be written. Need some ideas for what would make a good story? Please enjoy this partial list of pitches I have:

a. The resurgence of Bobby Ryan, an idea so easy even Cabbie thought of it.
b. A discussion of Craig Anderson, one of the most underappreciated goalies of his era, who is on the verge of his first Cup final at the age of 36.
c. How does Guy Boucher’s playoff success this year compare to his playoff success with Tampa Bay?
d. What was the professional relationship between Marc Crawford and Guy Boucher in Switzerland? Is this Crawford’s next shot at a head coaching gig in the NHL?
e. Is Pierre Dorion really deserving of a GM of the Year nomination or did just get lucky? How many of Bryan Murray’s fingerprints are still on this team?
f. How has Dion Phaneuf, a frequent target of criticism in Toronto, adapted to his reduced role in Ottawa? Is he enjoying a renewal of his reputation now that his team is going on a longish playoff run?
g. Does Marc Methot’s strong play make him an expansion draft target?
h. How has the flooding in the Ottawa area affected various members of the Sens’ fan base?

I literally made up this list in 30 seconds, and hey, Game 6 is tonight and we may only need this list for another eight hours. Still, if you’re a journalist who is not used to covering the Ottawa Senators and you are interested in more ideas for Things That Are Good, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m sure I can come up with a few more by deadline.

1. I am at peace with this. I think most in the Sens Content Sphere are at peace with this. It is a labour of love. I contribute to a blog and podcast because I enjoy it, and the day I stop enjoying it is the day I’ll stop contributing.

2. What I find particularly hilarious about Dellow’s work here is that the fact that Ottawa would play Boston closely could be predicted by someone who was merely moderately intelligent and just happened to be paying attention.

Living in the Age of Anything Can Happen

 

We’ve Created a Narrative Box, But it’s Just a Box

One benefit of following and rooting for any particular sports team is that success is a matter of objectively quantifiable fact. Sure, you can quibble about the way points are allocated, or suggest that those points are an inaccurate reflection of the true quality of a team – and you’d be right. But with the agreed-upon calculus of points being assigned to teams on the basis of wins resulting in a hierarchy we call ‘standings,’ there can be no doubt about who is ahead.

Knowing who is ahead creates a singular objective, fed by two, binary narratives that are the twin, propulsive forces behind most hockey writing: generally speaking, either you want to get the most wins, which will award you a championship, or you want the fewest wins, which will award you a high draft pick, which you might be able to use to draft a star, which will contribute to the accumulation of wins at a later date.

In other words, you’re either competing, or you’re rebuilding. This is an easy narrative to understand.

Though the strategy to accomplish either of these tasks can differ, the narrative of the competitive window v. the incremental rebuild remains pretty static, and it’s against this static, linear conception of success that we, fans and writers of hockey, project our expectations thusly: a team gets about 3-4 years of rebuilding before they’re expected to make the playoffs. Then 1-2 years of increasing success in the playoffs before they’re expected to compete for a championship. Then 2-3 years during which their window to win a championship is open. After that, the team is likely top-heavy with big contracts and 30+-year old players, the farm team is starved for good prospects, and it’s time to start selling off. At this point, a baboon lifts a baby lion cub up to the sun and Elton John provides us all with perspective.

Though there are myriad examples of teams not adhering to this tidy, linear map of what success should look like, it’s the Ur language of hockey journalism. Even those who want to be controversial will make statements relative to this easily understandable norm.

I say all of this in order to explain why the Ottawa Senators’ financial situation, and thus placement outside of the binary, has been so disruptive for fans and writers alike. Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has enough money to own and operate a hockey team, but not enough liquid cash on hand to spend on salaries or front-office staff to contend, or to sustain a multi-year rebuild without playoff revenue. Melnyk makes the Senators’ adherence to the Ur narrative impossible. But it also doesn’t make sense for Melnyk to sell, as the franchise continues to accumulate underlying value and the team is due to relocate downtown in the coming years. So here we are, in narrative purgatory.

One wrinkle: the team is having a successful season. A few savvy contracts to players like Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson and, oh yes, the greatest player of his generation Erik Karlsson, has led to the team being competitive for a playoff spot despite these disadvantages, and now here we are in the Eastern Conference Finals, playing the defending champs and Exemplar of The Traditional Rebuild, the Penguins.

If the team was unsuccessful, it would be easier to write about them. At least then they would receive a higher draft pick and to some small degree be rebuilding, even if it would be despite themselves. This is what leads to such hot takes as “this current run of success is only leading to the Senators worsening their draft position,” as if there’s no enjoyment to be gleaned from watching one’s team make a deep run into the playoffs, or hoping for the unlikely to come true. For some, the narrative of “win it all” or “rebuild to win” is bigger than the game right in front of them.

It’s not uncommon to find fans and journalists alike bemoaning the team’s lack of a plan. But what we say when we say, “There is no plan” is that we’re unable to discern the direction of the Ottawa Senators on the spectrum of our dominant narrative of What Hockey Teams Do. And that leaves fans and journalists alike casting about for ways to talk about the team, with no easily accessible point at which to say, This is where I believe the team is relative to expectations. Silver Sevens had a nice piece about how few articles were written about the Sens this year, with many blogs, including this one (and me in particular) going dark for long stretches of time. This isn’t for lack of interest. We all still like hockey. But we’re having to learn new ways to talk about hockey.

People want, first and foremost, a story. This is us – the city, the player, the hero – and this is what we want to accomplish – to get better, to go further, to win. We can get together and drink beer and hope for the puck to go in the net, but the binary of compete/rebuild is the answer to the question What does the puck in the net mean? Not being a part of that binary means asking ourselves the scary question, What if this success doesn’t mean anything?

Becoming Ethnographers of Hockey

Though Melnyk’s financial situation denies us the easy narrative framework of compete/rebuild, we can also acknowledge that that binary is only one framework through which to view the progress of a hockey team. Of course, hockey means what we decide it means. We, as fans, can socially construct any narrative we like and assign it value. We don’t need mainstream media, the league, or marketing to do it for us.

There are so many other ways we could be talking about this Senators season, from the personal – what does this season mean to you, the reader or writer, and your family? – to the big-picture – what does this season mean in the context of the franchise, your community, the city, the country?

We could be writing about the individual events of each games. We could be telling the stories of the Clarke MacArthurs and the Craig Andersons and even the poor Chris Neils, he of 1000 games, the longest-serving veteran on the team and an anachronism, healthy and ready to play and never asked, the last man standing from those regular season juggernauts of the mid-aughts. We could be talking to other fans, and telling their story. We could challenge ourselves to find interesting and creative ways to describe what it means to be a hockey fan. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to previews, reviews, and letter grades. (Though those are fun, too.)

The foundation is already there. Ian Mendes does this all the time, covering the incredible story of Jonathan Pitre, or Kyle Turris’ involvement with the Capital City Condors. We need only decide to make those stories as foundational as the compete/rebuild narrative – to change our emphasis to storytelling rather than the pretense of continuous, objective measurement.

In other words, we could treat writing about hockey the way we treat other types of journalism, which is to start digging without necessarily knowing what the end point will be and to tell the story of what we discovered. More interviews, more discussions, more art and photography about hockey.

When ‘Anything Can Happen’ Becomes ‘It Happened’

First and foremost we should remember that even if “Get in and anything can happen” is not exactly a plan, it’s also true. We are experiencing the validation of a concept about hockey success that fundamentally acknowledges just how much variation there is in this sport. Shooting percentage, save percentage, scoring effects, match-ups, injuries – there’s a lot of noise surrounding the core quality of a team’s lineup. This season does not validate “Get in and anything can happen” as the ascendant model for dynasty building, but it does validate that…well, anything really can happen. This is going to present an increasingly big challenge for both Type A fans who want to see their team tell the story of a methodical build to contention and league marketers who’ve relied on “wicked prospect!” or “let’s get the Cup!” as the only two modes of story.

The league has introduced a number of mechanisms that make the road to a rebuild increasingly subject to variation, including weighted lotteries, RFA rights, and salary caps. I listened to a podcast the other day where it was suggested that Edmonton’s window might already be closing; McDavid’s RFA deal is up next year, meaning they’ll have to shed salary to sign him long-term. This, after 11 years out of the playoffs and four first overall picks in five years. Increasingly, teams are going to rely on the unpredictable happening knowing that the unpredictable comes for us all whether we like it or not. We may even see more teams adopting systems like Coach Guy Boucher’s, which stymie offense and capitalize on mistakes but can bring success even with a lower payroll.

In any case, we’re going to need to find a different way to talk about hockey, something more spontaneous, organic, and refreshing that reflects the randomness with which the NHL now contends.

To put it unkindly: look at Ottawa’s attendance this year. If the NHL can’t answer What does winning a hockey game mean? then people won’t pay to hear that story told. Each game is its own, small story, but each game is also a chapter in a larger epic. We get to choose what that epic is. Is it winning a Cup and that’s it? Or can we do more to talk about what’s happening, right now, in our hometown? How do we talk about hockey success once we acknowledge that luck and variation is the perpetual background radiation of the hockey universe?

What will happen when more and more teams understand success is the outcome of a series of fortunate events – winning a draft lottery, a goaltender getting hot at the right time, a favorable playoff matchup? Parity has brought more teams into the competitive fold, like a capricious grantor of temporary joy, but people like to understand how things work and see them unfold as projected. What the league needs to understand, and get out of front of, is that this Ottawa Senators season is what the future of the league looks like – surprising teams succeeding against the odds in a chaotic world. I think we can do a better job of telling that story.

 

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Ottawa Senators Playoff Beard Update

enough talk let’s see some BEARDS

Kyle Turris

turris2

not all heroes wear capes and not all heroes wear luxuriant beards, you know? our dude bachman turris overtime here just happens to be the FAIREST OF THEM ALL, so rather than ask him why he’s showing more chin than chain here, why don’t you just say thank you? i’ll wait

J-G Pageau

pageau5

okay this is also not the strongest beard but when you’re a street-smart mouse constantly hustling pizza through an air vent to feed your family you do what you can

Zack Smith

smith

alright alright, this is what i’m talking about, this is that paper towel lumberjack stuff, this is that “why has mom been in the laundry room for an hour with a glass of wine” stuff, and yes he started early on this one, but you know what they say, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is whenever this thing started, growing mightily from the smallest beard acorn

Chris Neil

neil2

well hey there gingersnap! oh, are you playing in the game too? well that is quite the accomplishment! you have fun, and don’t you let those other players push you around! but no mischief, you hear me, mister?

Viktor Stalberg

stalberg2

i think we know each other pretty well [you nod] and i’m not racist but [you leave] there are really two kinds of swedish beards, the fair well-groomed kind that’s all “while you were sleeping i made you this grapefruit muesli”, and the dark swarming kind that’s all “while you were sleeping i built you a shed from rough-hewn timber, that sound you hear is wolves” and anyway this is that second kind

Marc Methot

methot3

“i mean no novel is an easy process, but what i struggled with on this one was the realization that a lot of what used to be unconscious had become . . . kind of a formula, you know? like i was trying to produce something instead of just exposing what was already there. so getting off the grid was almost a foregone conclusion; i spent a couple months in western maine, small cabin, wood stove, a local guy who brought me groceries once a week but otherwise no phone, no internet, no connection to the outside world whatsoever . . . and after a couple weeks i could hear the voices of these characters, and it’s just a matter of transcription at that point, really”

Fredrik Claesson

claesson2

freddie i love you bud but this beard is one drum short of a circle my guy, this beard is one baja poncho short of 14.09.2000 at darien lake, and i’ll be honest my pal, trey didn’t really have it that night

Bobby Ryan

ryan-dzingel

this is one of those beards that lets everybody know you’re in a new phase, like “i may have a seven-album deal but i’m really just a singer-songwriter and this new one is about getting back to my roots, anyway here’s ‘getting it going’

also dzingel just a thought but maybe you’d play more if you looked less like don felder

Erik Karlsson

The-Big-Lebowski-White-Russian

Tom Pyatt

pyatt

if you missed chris evans at comic con, good news, you can catch him in this senators-themed sauna being my wife’s favorite player, although she tells me their thing is totally over and as soon as she’s back from this business trip we’re going to have some real quality time for once, anyway, A+ beard

Alex Burrows

burrows2

sometimes you gotta play to your strengths and if your strength is a strong inside game, you can’t waste time with shots outside the paint, so you clean things up. nobody likes a prickly pete

Prickly Pete

phaneuf4

no bad ideas my man but just a suggestion, in days of yore you could just be a mustache guy, no judgement, just dads with mustaches at the lion’s club welcoming you with fellowship and scotch, everybody had a good time and drove home drunk. yes times have mostly changed for the better but even those times aren’t as dusty as that cormac mccarthy-ass dry sagebrush on a moonless night you got goin on, again, just a suggestion

Derick Brassard

brassard2

here we have the opposite problem where your outside game is so strong you just turn into some kind of sweaty lincoln

Pierre Dorion

dorion

worst place

Clarke MacArthur

macarthur3

look at this perfect man with this perfect beard, look at this shel silverstein writing you a poem beard, look at this episode of mr. robot starring jose bautista beard, look at this sandalwood rain forest. look at this beard coming home after a voyage of many years and many miles for nuzzles and taquitos and a pickup game or two in the driveway before the sun sets. look at this beard you get to look at

Your Half-Assed Round 3 Preview: In the Event of an Emergency, The System Will be Deployed

The Story So Far:

Making the NHL playoffs is no great feat. It’s much better than the alternative, but more than half the league does it every year. Basically any team is capable of making the playoffs in any given year if everything goes right for them. Winning a single round is good, but it’s hardly something one could ever characterize as “A Run”. Sens fans don’t look back fondly on the 2013 Playoffs as anything other than “The Time We Beat The Habs And It Was Great”. Winning a single playoff round is making out with a stranger at a club: pretty fun for what it was, but hardly worth mentioning in the long run.

But making the Conference Finals? That’s rarefied air. By the time you make it that far, hockey media has no choice but to talk about you. Your games get a whole night to themselves. Pierre McGuire is there. It’s the Final Four. You’re in the 87th percentile. The teams you play are Actually Good. It’s real and meaningful. Even if Ottawa gets swept by Pittsburgh, this will still be the 3rd most successful season in franchise history. This team is Special now, and we shouldn’t forget to appreciate every moment. Ottawa doesn’t see this type of thing every year. Few teams do.

And the reason for that is because winning two series in a row is HARD1. We’re awash in “The Sens got lucky and had an easy bracket” takes at the moment, but if winning “easy series” is so easy, let’s see you do it. Go on, Montreal. Beat the Rangers if it’s so simple. Boston got to play The Easiest Playoff Opponent of Them All and they’ve been on the golf course for weeks now. There are no free lunches in the playoffs.

Well, except for Calgary. Brian Elliott is The Free Lunch GAWD.

Don’t be taken for a ride by Take Hucksters. If Ottawa is getting lucky, they aren’t getting lucky in the traditional sense i.e. by having their goalie float them while getting dominated in shots and possession. They’re getting lucky by going 5-1 in overtime games. They’re getting lucky by having Erik Karlsson on their team. They’re winning games in the margins, but they’re also giving themselves opportunities to succeed and that is not luck.

That said, Ottawa only led against the Rangers for something like 60 minutes total, and continuously coming back from one or two goals down is no way to live. That stuff isn’t going to cut it from here on out. Ottawa will have to win games now. It’s no longer enough for them to not beat themselves.

The Bad News:

My desire to see Ottawa make some “Win Now” trades was no secret. With the Atlantic Division going through a transitional period and no real juggernauts in the Western Conference, it wasn’t hard to conceive of a reality where Ottawa could make the Stanley Cup Final by only having to play one truly elite team. I regret to inform you that the time to play that elite team is now.

I doubt you need me to tell you all the myriad ways that the Sens are up against it in this series. There are bunch of series previews out there all telling you the same thing. Have at it, knock yourself out. You’re probably not here to read the same doom and gloom analysis offered on other (worse) websites, but in truth I have very little to add to what is already out there. The Penguins are the defending champions for a reason. They’re fast, they’re deep, they’re well coached, and they just beat the consensus Cup favourites. The Cup favourites were the Washington Capitals, but still. Ottawa’s only won 3 games combined in their last 3 playoff series against Pittsburgh. Sure Ottawa’s had the occasional bright spot against Pittsburgh, but in general the Penguins are a bad matchup for Ottawa. They’re a bad matchup for Ottawa because they’re a bad matchup for almost everyone. God I hate them so much.

However, there are enough questions in my mind regarding the strength of the Penguins that I believe an upset win for the Senators is not totally outlandish. If you wish to harvest the crop of a beautiful and bounteous Stanley Cup Final berth for our beloved Sens, here are the Seeds of Doubt that must be planted.

Can the Penguins goaltending hold up?

I basically believe the Washington Capitals were a smart team who did everything right this season, but let me also say this: that team was NOT inspiring to watch play from behind. No doubt this is a very results oriented observation, but the Senators only won Game 2 and Game 5 against the Rangers because they were extremely successful at desperately throwing the kitchen sink at Henrik Lundqvist. The Capitals not only refused to throw sinks, but they refused to even consider a basic remodeling of the guest bathroom. They made some passes, took some shots, and then Marc-Andre Fleury (NOT EVEN PITTSBURGH’S GOOD GOALIE COME ON!!) saved the shots and that was that.

Meanwhile in the other Nation’s Capital, the Sens plan in the offensive zone throughout the playoffs has been to get the rock to Karlsson and go hard to the net. Many goals scored by Ottawa have not been especially sexy, but as they saying goes “They don’t ask you how, they just ask how many.”, and to this point the answer to “How many?” has been “Enough”.

Ottawa will have to get in Fleury’s kitchen and continue to chip in goals of the Extremely Garbage variety to have a chance in this series. Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone should be good for a couple nice looking goals, but to be honest, plays from Hoffman and Stone have not been carrying Ottawa so far. Give me that “Erik Karlsson scoring from behind the goal line” and “Pageau tipping in some wildly Hater-ass goals” shit.

Should Ottawa get to Marc-Andre Fleury early in the series, he will no doubt be pulled in favour of the superior Matt Murray, in which case Ottawa will have to continue to do what they were doing before so who cares?

Can Ottawa adequately dominate the front of the net against Pittsburgh to give themselves a chance? Well this brings me to my next question…

How good is the Penguins defense really?

Avert your eyes, children. I’m about to show you the Penguins’ defense pairings in Game 7 against Washington.

Dumoulin – Hainsey
Maatta – Schultz
Cole – Ruhwedel

Really? I need to be afraid of a top pairing with 36 year old Ron Hainsey on it? Really? Justin Schultz is a viable 2nd pairing defenseman now? Really? The Sens are gonna get rolled by a guy named “Chad”? REALLY??

Don’t get me wrong, it’s very impressive that the Penguins are getting it done with a defense held together by hopes and dreams, but lest we forget: Washington just dominated the shot clock against Pittsburgh for a whole series and the only reason the Pens are here now is because they got bailed out by their backup goalie. Very little about the last series indicated that Pittsburgh was even on the same astral plane as Washington in any categories other than Goaltending, Will to Win, Clutchness, having The Heart of a Champion, and Not Being Huge Chokers. Pittsburgh’s not playing as well as you think.

If the defending champs have a soft underbelly, it is here. Ottawa must take any potential advantage on defense and cling to it like grim death.

This brings me to my next question…

Which team has Erik Karlsson?

I just checked this and the team with Erik Karlsson is the Ottawa Senators. This trend should persist throughout the series.

The Wisdom

The Sens are playing some of their best hockey of the year, and for that reason alone I’d be surprised if Pittsburgh dominated this series. In addition, Ottawa has played Pittsburgh pretty close in two out of three games this season. It’s clear the problems the Penguins present are not insurmountable, and the Pens’ superior forward depth could be counterbalanced by their thin defense. That said, a few things must go right for Ottawa:

– Craig Anderson must outplay whoever Pittsburgh starts in net.
– The System must limit Pittsburgh’s zone time and effectively clog the neutral zone.
– We can’t have the Crosby Line AND the Malkin Line going Bergeron on us. Pick one line to get crushed by and stick with it i.e. match Cody Ceci with Malkin.
– Ottawa must take fewer penalties than they draw.
– Erik Karlsson must continue to play at an unprecedented level.
– Ottawa’s top two lines must contribute. Ottawa will not beat Pittsburgh with their depth.

That’s six things. Can we have six things go right just once? One time?

I wouldn’t say it’s likely that Ottawa pulls off the upset, but as they say, you make it in and anything can happen. Let’s make it happen.

Sens in 7

1. Man, winning two series in a row is hard, and you’ve got to do that TWICE to win a Cup. Somehow I don’t think the Stanley Cup gets enough credit for how hard it is to win. Even if there existed a team that was an overwhelming 70% favourite to win every series they played, they’d still only win the Cup 0.74 = 24% of the time. The Blackhawks have had to win two Game 7s to win their three Cups. Sidney Crosby is 2-0 in Game 7s in years in which the he wins the Stanley Cup. The Kings won THREE 7 game series on their way to the Cup in 2014. Regardless of how good they are, every Cup winner is lucky, whether it’s through staying healthy or just winning coin flips. Imagine you’re a GM and ownership gives you a mandate to win a Cup in the next three years. There’s at least a 50% chance you get fired at the end of 3 years even if you do your job perfectly and your team is historically excellent. I say all that to say this: my heart goes out to Capitals GM Brian MacLellen.

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Roundtable of Death: “We Won a Playoff Round!” Edition

Luke:

I’d like to start us off with a stat. According to Some Guy on Twitter, the Senators and Bruins were tied or separated by one goal for 367:47 of 404:31 total playing time in their series (90.9%). Now that is unsourced information from an anonymous internet account, but I have no reason to doubt it because it feels right. That series felt like watching a guy cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope for 18 hours. Six one goal games, four overtimes, and the only game that didn’t feature either team giving up a lead at some point was Ottawa’s 1-0 win in Game 4, a game which felt like someone said “We’ve had 2 straight overtime games, so now here’s a game that is just entirely overtime”.

There are many things I will remember about the series. Bobby Ryan showed up and wouldn’t go away, and I’ll always remember thinking “DON’T THESE ASSHOLES EVER LEAVE THE ICE” after Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak cycled the puck relentlessly against whoever Ottawa had out there for minutes at a time, and Erik Karlsson had multiple moments which will be shown during his Hall of Fame induction montage.

But as great as Karlsson was, this series is just gonna be another page in a very long book of Karlsson Greatness. The guy who I’m gonna always associate with this series is Clarke MacArthur. What can you even say at this point? That MacArthur’s career would continue was in such doubt that he literally test-drove retirement after failing to pass his baseline concussion test in January. Three and a half months later, he scored his first goal in two years and brought the Canadian Tire Centre to such a roar, they heard it in Orleans. A little over a week after that, he clinched the series in overtime from basically the same spot. Before returning to the lineup last month, MacArthur said that he couldn’t retire because he thought he still had more to give. He was right. What a story. I couldn’t be happier for him.

On a team level, this series felt like the culmination of everything Guy Boucher has been trying to instill since the beginning of the year. From the obvious commitment to defense in all three zones to the team’s mental resilience and ability to bounce back after a bad period or game, one thing is clear: this is not the Senators you grew up with.

The Sens could have rolled over after going down 0-1 in the series and 1-3 in Game 2, but they did not. After Ottawa blew multiple chances to close the series in Game 5, and went down 1-0 after failing to convert multiple powerplay opportunities early in Game 6, the Sportsnet Panel (may peace and love be with them) spent the 1st intermission talking about how Boston must be “destined” to force a Game 7. I read what you all said on Twitter so don’t .@ me when I say that you all agreed with them. Of course the Sens responded by scoring two powerplay goals and winning the series.

Now, I understand that a series that close with essentially even Corsis, shots, and expected goals (and 4 games decided in overtime) was basically a coin flip, but Erik Karlsson and the Sens’ relentlessness weighted the coin just enough.

Having survived The Best Line in Hockey, we now get to look ahead to the Rangers and I have just one question: We can totally take them, right? Not saying Ottawa should be the favourite to win or anything, but still…we can take them, right?

New York has some of my favourite players outside of Ottawa in Zuccarello, Zibanejad, Nash, and Lundqvist, but is there anyone over there who inspires fear the same way Patrice Bergeron just did? If anything, New York seems like an alternate universe version of Ottawa: a flawed team with the individual talent to outrun the flaws for a little while.

What are your takes, people who have watched the Rangers as much as or less than me?

Andrew:

Sens in 5.

Conrad:

A few nights ago, I discovered that my friend is not really into sports. Don’t worry: we’re not friends anymore. But as I was burying his body in the desert, I couldn’t help but admit that I understood where he was coming from. He’d say “sports are so arbitrary.” And because we were watching a game between two teams from cities in which he’s never lived, I could understand. To him, all hockey is is the puck and the net and grown men getting upset or ecstatic about the location of the puck at any given time.

Of course, hockey isn’t even remotely about that. Hockey’s about Clarke MacArthur spending his entire life in the service of doing one thing, and having his ability to do that one thing threatened, only to come back and do that one thing again, at the highest level, in front of thousand and thousands of people openly wishing for him to do it or fail at doing it, and all of us looking at the expression on his face, and on the faces of his teammates after he’s done it, and from our thoroughly compromised, banal deskjobs and meaningless commercial consumerist lifestyles, recognize an authentic expression of feeling. That’s what sports is. Simultaneously absurd and meaningful, low stakes and the highest stakes, vicarious enjoyment. For those of us who can accept this bargain, last night was what we call “A lot of fun.”

This playoffs it seems like the ultimate winner will not be any single team, but The Narrative, omnipresent and suffocating and awesome. You can see The Narrative at play everywhere, and it never dies. “The Bruins are the better team,” though they lost the season series to Ottawa in a sweep. “The Bruins are built for playoff hockey,” though the Sens managed to eek out these one-goal games and get clutch performances from key players. “The officiating lost it for Boston,” even though they took five delay-of-game penalties in two periods of hockey and in a series of one-goal games. “I hope this run doesn’t overshadow the weakness of certain players,” from a pile of wet towels who’s been writing the same story over and over for years. The Narrative, like Goldblum describing life, “finds a way.” Those with fully developed biases toward a certain team or a certain thesis about hockey will find those biases completely intact, even after the Sens win the series, and even if they beat the Rangers.

I’m saying this because a lot of hot noise is about to emerge about the Sens not being able to beat the Rags. That’s only true in the contact of The Narrative, which will be imposed, largely, but a bunch of people who don’t watch the Senators and don’t care about the Senators. But we know the truth. Our own narrative is just and true and shining like a beam of light right about the Clarke MacArthur’s golden farm boy heart and jesus christ did you see that interview with his parents? Clearly the Senators are God’s Team this year.

And even if you don’t believe any of that? Erik Karlsson is the greatest hockey player on the planet right now, playing the best hockey of his career, and he plays for the goddamned Ottawa Senators.

Chet:

The Bruins and the Sens were so close that not even the scalpel of Dr. Don Chow could separate them, and I hated every minute of it. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a playoff series that dramatic – sure, they went seven games with the Rangers five years ago, but those Sens weren’t really supposed to be in the playoffs so early into the rebuilding process, and so we all agreed that series was a good learning experience that would lead to imminent, multiple championships as we continued to construct a team around our young franchise future captain and would never make a bad roster decision ever again. I see you, Leafs fans. Truthfully, I don’t remember being that stressed out by a playoff series since the Battle of Ontario years, and that’s mostly because that was a stress that compounded over time. I see you again, Leafs fans. You’re everywhere, uninvited. One day there’s going to be a guy in a Tie Domi jersey that just shows up at my colonoscopy for no reason.

All that to say a series with the Rangers can’t possibly be as close, one way or the other, and so I’m looking forward to it. Bring on the 7-4 games, and the goaltender meltdowns, and the ongoing checkers match between Cody Ceci and Dan Girardi. Bring on the silly Brassard and Zibanejad narratives. On paper, the Rangers just look like a slightly more famous version of the Ottawa Senators, and this fact alone is enough for most pundits to favor them. Remember election night. Do not trust these people.

James:

It’s pretty fun to see hockey pundits or “experts*” get dragged on twitter this time of year for stuff like unanimously picking Tampa Bay to win the Atlantic but here’s the thing: Whatever.

I love a retweet of that “Can Anyone Beat the Blackhawks?” headline as much as you do but the hockey media have a job to do. We’re all just guessing and they get a paycheque to put their guesses in print. Hey, maybe next year Carey Price and his Tampa Bay Lightnings might end up challenging for the division after all.
A lot of this shit could go either way and the NHL is more fun for it…especially when Buffalo still can’t buy a bucket.

I say this because, as Conrad pointed out, these writers and talking heads are paid to find not just a narrative for each series but the narrative that the most people will enjoy reading. I saw one NY sports writer come up with “The Rangers will win because New York is a cooler place than Ottawa.” Dynamite stuff. Honestly, I gotta make some changes.

Proof of the tin-eared ‘never let a good story get the way of a ton of clicks” motivation was the headline I saw on TSN “Leafs Emerging as Feel Good Story of the Playoffs.” Look, as a dyed in the wool hater I’ll admit, it’s a deec story. Team comes in last, drafts first, new kid lives up to enormous hype and they make the wild card spot by one point. They then stun the President’s Trophy winning team in the early games of the first round then lose three straight and its #ACTUALLY good they lost in the first round because apparently everything is actually good And ws;dlkfjdgfdsf;gfkjfafaf ikja;g” until you just wish Flanders was dead. To further summarize this feel good story: Plan going decent.

What a tale, let it sink in.

I’ll just ignore WHY Craig Anderson is up for the Masterton, or the shots of he and Nicholle embracing in the stands after not seeing each other for weeks, or how a career backup played over 20 straight games helped to get us to the playoffs at all in his absence, or the sound of the Canadian Tire Centre when Clarke MacArthur scored his first goal in two years, or the most fronted on elite player in the NHL taking his game to new heights while injured, or the fans whipping boy becoming a scoring machine when it matters most, or the new GM’s biggest off season acquisition leading the team in points. This isn’t even touching that Bryan Murray is in the stands looking strong as an ox or that OUR HEART Jonathan Pitre is somehow finding the strength to cheer on the boys.

Honestly, as far as feel good goes I feel spoiled. I’d have just settled for “Former hated rival Dion Phaneuf scores overtime winner!”

This is our feel good series. We know what the life of a Sens fan is. We’re wedged in an original 6 hellscape of fanbases with a century head start, full of people trying to come up with a way to bond with their dads while rooting against their home city in favour of other places that look down on us. Sens fans against everyone. All we’ve got is us and all we’ll ever have is us and I like it that way. This is the Rangers series to lose as it was Boston’s. I’ll say what I said at the beginning of the first round: I like our chances.

* – LMFAOOOOOOOOO

Steph:

Bob Cole is like a series of Onion headlines that have have just enough reality to get a minority of people to read them and give them credibility while everyone else shakes their head in disbelief. Truly, listening to Bob Cole is as fun as having a really old person jump into your conversation in the grocery store to give you their opinion about kids and their computers nowadays. Guy is not good.

That said, nothing could make this series less dramatic-even Cole saying “Ottawa Sens” constantly. I think I got at least one ulcer from watching these games, for realsie. One goal games are the devil and Bergeron is Beelzebub. There was no time while I was watching this series when I was comfortable, also it destroyed my relationship with MomPuckpossessed so I guess I can take back her mothers day gift (I named a star after a Bruins player-“Punk Ass Bitch”). There is a joke to be made about fans throwing garbage on the ice and Brad Marchand playing but it’s just not coming to me. Bruins fans I know have had a pretty solid “officiating was biased” refrain- which is tired and lazy- but I can’t hear because I have my…first round winner rings plugging my ears.

I am more than a little confused about Karlsson talking about his hairline fractures before the Sens run is finished, but maybe it’s some sort of intimidation technique. Like, he thumbs his nose at regular mortals who do things like rest when they’re injured, or who play less than 55 minutes per game. From what I hear, this series will determine who won the Brassard/Zibanejad trade-an issue which I give zero cares about but since it looks like Brassard is winning, it is a #fun #thing.

Lundqvist is a terrifying prospect, and from the previews I’ve read-New York is pretty heavily favoured to win. Blah blah their Powerplay is soft blah blah physical play. Sens are always more comfortable being underdogs-this isn’t new information. Craig Anderson said in an interview recently that his wife’s health issues have given him new perspective on hockey. It’s supposed to be a fun game-and it’s always fun to win.

Sens in 7.