The Jail Phone: When’s Bobby Ryan Gonna Get It Going (Out of Ottawa)?

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Automated voice:
You have received a collect call from an inmate at an Internet Detention Facility. This call will be recorded and blogged for cultural purposes. To accept the charges please press 4 – 2 – 0 – 6 – 9 – 6 – 9 followed by the pound sign.

Luke:
*lets out 14 second long sigh, dials 4206969#, whispers “nice” under his breath*

James:
Luke, bon système a toi, listen, I need to calmly and casually talk to you about Bobby Ryan.
Before you muted me on Twitter you may have caught me defending ol’ hickory ham Bobby from time to time in the past. I would get a rise out of pointing out that he would get slammed if he fell into a scoring slump but would never be praised when he’d get hot and in some cases even float the team offensively for games at a time. This, of course, indicated to me that he’d entered dangerous territory with many fans: The Jason Spezza Memorial You Can’t Win Zone. As the highest paid player on the team, it seemed for many fans that if he wasn’t at his best, well, in the words of whatever Joe Pesci is called in Casino, “The dollars. It’s always the fucking dollars.” My view was that if he wasn’t scoring his expected 30 goals but was at least contributing, I could deal with it.
Well, I’m here to announce today that I’m off that.

I once etched in the marble of Dave Cameron’s Head Coach Mausoleum, “He Played Mark Borowiecki As A Forward More Than Once (More Than Once).” That event was my line in the sand with him. I don’t claim to know nothin’ about no coachings. It’s insanely hard and there’s usually a lot going on behind the scenes that influences decisions that fans are not privy to BUT…how do you not put Binghamton’s best or even just most positionally sound forward in that slot over the team’s worst defenseman who admitted he hadn’t played forward since high school? Like, what is the farm system even for then? Also, fuck you.

Well, after weeks of invisibility, something happened against Dallas that I will likely be unable to forgive: Dion Phaneuf Tied Bobby Ryan In Points. Dion Phaneuf. On a shorthanded goal no less. Come on, man. This would be an unnerving experience in November and here we are past the All Star Break and approaching mid-February. Imagine if on that fateful day when Ryan was traded here that I traveled back in time to tell that guy who did a cameo in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York would be president of the United States and also that you’d soon find Zack Smith or even Ryan Dzingel to be more valuable (or even noticeable) contributors to the team than Bobbito?

Luke:
Imagine tying those two disturbing threads together by mentioning that Bobby Ryan is also a huge fan of President Home Alone. We live in troubled times.

Like you, I also want to mention my Defending Bobby Ryan bonafides. Bobby never really had a chance of being given a fair shake and was always going to be beset by the twin narratives of “We gave up too much to get him” (false) and “We gave him too much to keep him” (Insufficient information, but my dude has to make some changes). Even though Bobbington Q. Ryan’s been a streaky guy since he got to Ottawa, but he’s also improved his production each year. He went from 100th in scoring to 75th in scoring to 60th in scoring over the past 3 years. Those are the sensible 1st line winger numbers of a first line winger. My time defending The Bobberino was always predicated on the idea that the expectations of the fanbase were ridiculous and everyone just had to chill out and realize that my guy had put up the same number of points as Logan Couture, Brad Marchand, and Patrick Hornqvist over the past 3 season.

Where are we at now? Dion Phaneuf tied with Robert Ryan in points, you say? Is Dion just having a particularly good year? Let’s see what kind of company His Bobishness is keeping this year:

bryanpoints

*takes stage at karaoke night*

What are thoooooooooose, what are thoooooooooose, what are thooooooooooooose?

Not only has Corn on the Bob had a bad year statistically, but he also looks wild disinterested on the ice. Erik Karlsson’s has given Bobara Ann (like the Beach Boys song) the business a few times for dogging it back to his own zone on defense. That’s not a good look. If Erik Karlsson so much as blocked me on Twitter, I’d delete my account. I can’t imagine how bad I’d feel if EK actually yelled at me in person for not doing my job well enough.

K. Now that the elephant in the room has now been fully illuminated from all angles by our Woodward-and-Bernsteinian investigation, (Follow up question: WHY ARE WE THE ONLY ONES TALKING ABOUT THIS???), I’d like to mention a few other things:

1) Bobby Ryan’s been through some stuff this past year.
2) Bobby Ryan still might be going through some stuff?
3) I think Bobby Ryan’s politics are terrible. I don’t really have a follow up to that, I just wanted to make it clear.

Having a kid and losing a parent are the sort of things that can happen away from work that can really drastically affect your performance. There was also the weird time earlier this season where Ryan was healthy scratched for an odd reason that neither he, nor Guy Boucher, were willing to comment on publicly. The fact that the Ottawa media is still mostly treating Ryan with kid gloves tells me that they may know something we don’t about why The Bobster is not looking or playing like himself this year. I’m not saying it’s an excuse, but there might be an explanation in there somewhere.

We agree that The Bobblet’s level of play is unacceptable this year, so let me ask you this: what do you want to do about it? Are you at the “Trade this guy for magic beans or someone else’s bad contract” stage yet? Are you willing to give him another season to turn it around? Do you think he even can turn it around? We all have feelings, but when the dust of our heart settles, what must be done?

James:
I think you bring up fair points and I too have thought of these things. It has not been a great time for Bobby personally. If I may apply a more clinical lens to the subject, I will reiterate my concern thusly: After much searching I think Boucher and The System are here to stay and if there is one forward not named Chris Neil that I do not think fits in with The System it is Bobby Ryan.

If, in layman’s terms, I could sum up the game that Boucher has brought to Ottawa: First on puck in the defensive zone, hard along the boards, defensive in the neutral zone, shoot first mentality in the offensive zone. In other words, playoff hockey.
In our most private discussions Luke, you have cited Eric Staal and Thomas Vanek as similar cases of players who had their rep enter the turlet and turned it around in their “post-prime” years. Signed through 2048 with his current stock at a career low, playing on the 3rd line, I VVVVVVV much hope for such a turn around. Where we’re at tho: Even if Ry Guy absolutely wrecked shop and went point per game for the rest of the season he’d hit last season’s point total. We know he’s not going to do that but even if he did, do you think it would take a complete revamp in his playing style to regain Boucher’s trust? Is that more inconceivable than the PPG thing? I’d like to see him succeed but when you see an unheralded 7th round pick like Ryan Dzingel who’s more or less in his rookie season come in and take on the same role and best Bobby at it kind of gets me thinking, could we just get Patrick Eaves to come in and do this shit for a million bananas? It could be wise to free up some money for a slightly better Bobby Ryan. We’ve already possibly lost MacArthur [I love you] for good can we really afford to let another top 6 forward “figure it out”?

Luke:
It’s true that hope is not lost for Calvin and Bobbs, but for every Vanek and Staal there must be a Mike Richards. I think that Ryan’s at a tipping point here. I thought he might have another season or two in him before this happened, but instead it appears that Bob’s Your Uncle has started his “Noticeable Decline” years at the age of 29. Is my guy gonna hit the gym, get some core power, work on the old man strength, and turn into a grindy grinder with good hands who is cash money in the shootout, or is he gonna check out his own CapFriendly page and figure “I’m gonna keep getting cheques for another 5 years so I’m good.”? (Holy god, 5 years? I really wasn’t prepared to have this conversation until 2019 at the EARLIEST.) I hope for the former.

With respect to how Ryan fits into The System, I agree that he has not looked like Guy Boucher’s favourite player at times. However, I think The High Priest of The System may just be starting to come around. After trailing guys like Pyatt and Pageau in icetime for most of the year, Ryan’s finally getting minutes that could be described as “Top 6”. Also Boucher was asked about Bobby Ryan last night, and had nothing but good things to say about him. It might not be too late for an Old Bob to learn a New System.

Still, things are definitively at the point where if the opportunity to move Ryan to another team presents itself, it must be considered extremely seriously. I’ve always said that Bobby Ryan would be difficult to replace via the open market, but this year’s version of Bobby Ryan looks wild easy to replace. If you could trade a Struggling Bobby Ryan + Cody Ceci for A Struggling Gabriel Landeskog, I’d pull the trigger on that faster than a nine year old with a sugar high at laser tag. While earlier this year I’d argued that the Senators should not protect Bobby Ryan during the expansion draft, I can now report that I am off that line of thought entirely, even though the idea of losing Ryan for nothing still strikes me as extremely gross. If I was Pierre Dorion trying to swing a deal, I’d be casually mentioning that all Bobby needs is a change of scenery and hoping that someone agrees. It might be true. Hell, he might only need time to work out whatever it is hangs over his game like a dark cloud. However, the consequences of keeping Ryan and being wrong are far graver than the consequences of losing Ryan and being wrong. Time to make like Better Homes and Gardens and hedge.

The Jail Phone: Win Now Edition

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Luke: Good day and good System to you, James.

I was still coming down off the high from watching Our Boy Chat Salters on Jeopardy last night when I checked my phone this morning to see the glorious news that Claude Julien had been fired by the Bruins. Now, I am not the most brilliant hockey mind of my generation, but I am someone who reads a few things and here are the things I know:

a) The Bruins’ Fancy Stats were very good
b) The Bruins’ roster consists of Patrice Bergeron, Ratticus from Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective, a 39 year old Zdeno Chara who has the skating mobility of the continent of Australia, and 18 different versions of Adam McQuaid.
c) Given the dubious roster, you’d have to think Claude Julien was pretty much the only thing keeping the Bruins afloat and you’d have to be an idiot to fire him.
d) The Bruins’ front office consists almost exclusively of idiots.

Conclusion: the firing of a good coach can only be a good thing for the Ottawa Senators because it’s extremely unlikely the next Bruins coach will not be as good. Interestingly, Julien’s the second coach fired in the Atlantic Division this year, and there’s a good reason for that: the Atlantic Division is terrrrrrrrrrrrrrible. The Atlantic has been so bad that the Sens sit in 2nd place basically by accident. Ottawa has been occasionally good, and occasionally bad, and they had to trade for someone’s 3rd string goaltender who they then played for 37 straight games, and this has been good enough for 2nd place! That’s home ice in the first round! God Bless The System.

This situation has got me thinking: If the Sens might make the playoffs by accident this year, what would happen if they actually tried to Win Now by trading for some players who will help them Win Now? Who are Ottawa’s likely opponents in the first two rounds of the playoffs? A young and inexperienced Toronto team, and Montreal, the NHL’s least intimidating “elite” team. Ottawa would have a decent chance against both those teams now, so why not try to acquire a player or two who might give them an even better chance to make the Conference Finals?

Am I crazy James? This is all I can think about?

James: And may the grace of The System (peace be upon It) also be with your spirit, Brother Luke .

Standing ovation to Chet, whose real name, Chet Boyardee, was revealed last night on his impressive performance on the best game show of all time Jeopardy! (the fuck is up with that exclaimation mark tho?). The podcast brand has never been stronger and thankfully he did not mention this blog keeping us in our rightful place as 7th most popular Ottawa Senators/Erotic Barbershop Music blogs.

Re: Tomorrow’s Sun headline: JULIEN FRIED
I had heard that there’d been some personality clashes twixt Julien and The Bruins Brass (who seem truly pretty fucking stupid – check out Seguin tape and past) and he’d been hanging on by his Cup ring sporting pinky for quite sometime. I can’t recall the sources because I did a lot of LSD in high school but I’m pretty damn sure I heard that.

Anyway, true indeed that it’s a crushing way to get eliminated from playoff contention by YOUR Ottawa Senators (6 to 1 BTFingW) in the 82nd game of the season. But also, I don’t think a guy who brought your franchise it’s first Stanley Cup since Nixon traveled to China to begin talks with Mao is the fall guy. H_ck, he got them back to them Final the season following the Cup win and even nabbed the least talked about President’s Trophy in NHL history all the way back in 2014 AKA Covered Wagon Tymes.
I’ma chalk this one up to the classic “it’s not like this guy forgot how to be a good NHL coach.”

Me, I can’t speak for his personality but I think Boston’s welcome decline has been more due to big roster shaping events like absolutely, positively fucking up the gift of the Phil Kessel trade. You know shit is quiet for your team’s management when the laughter transitions from Toronto to your front office. Damn. I wont rehash all the details but its bad enough not having Tyler Seguin and Douglas Hamilton to show for the first round picks they got bur they don’t even have Loui Eriksson who they traded Seguin for anymore. Plus, they lost him for nothing! SMH.
Also, clearly it’s Coach Julien’s fault Zdeno Chara is turning 40 next month. He’s probably also to blame for management missing Colin White, Thomas Chabot and Joel Eriksson Ek with their THREE first round picks in 2015 but at least they drafted Malcolm Subban, rocking that 2.58 GAA in the AHL with a first. In conclusion, they made the right call just like they did when they decided that a young, perennial all star who puts up an average of about 35 goals per year was not in keeping with the Bruins Culture™. I couldn’t agree more.

You’re not brazy to propose a win-now trade given the weakness of the division. It sounds like you’re not talking a typical Scottie Upshall (The OTHER Tommy Wingels) bottom six bolstering but more a Landeskog / Duchene type ‘really fr_gging go for it’ type situation aren’t you? You know that’s gonna be a painful ass get, huh?

Luke: I think the plan right now is to have College White bolster the bottom six at the conclusion of the school year, and I personally couldn’t be more excited. I think some combination of White-Kelly-Lazar-Wingels-The Conspicuous Absence of Chris Neil has just enough zest to form a credible 4th line, and I don’t think there’s anything with the Top 6 that can’t be solved by putting a magic hat on Bobby Ryan (more to follow on this later this week).

So yes, I’m talking Big Splashes here. I’ve very much enjoyed the surprise success Ottawa has had (so far) this season, but even when wearing my most United in Red Tinted goggles, I can’t say that I think this is a team that is a few minor tweaks away from becoming an approximation of a serious threat. Luckily, I think there are some major tweaks on the board that P.R. Dorion might consider playing.

With Colorado playing as bad as the Sabres team Tim Murray had to tank for 2 YEARS, they are beginning to acquire the air of a team that might do something stupid just because they think it’s better than doing nothing at all. Matt Duchene is now at the point of his trade rumours where he just goes “I don’t mind getting traded if it means you all stop asking me about it.” (AKA The Jason Spezza Zone), and Gabriel Landeskog is having the sort of season Bobby Ryan is having only if Bobby Ryan was playing on a team that was much MUCH worse and was also THE CAPTAIN. I don’t know how seriously either of those guys are being shopped, but they’re the types of players who would improve anyone’s team in the short and long term.

Here’s a guy I really want, though: Kevin Shattenkirk. He’s got offensive chops, he’s extremely good at protecting the front of his net, he’s in the last year of a $4.25MM deal, and he’s on a team that’s barely clinging to a playoff spot, just fired their coach, has Jake Allen as their starting goalie, and just lost Robby Fabbri to injury for the rest of the year. The conditions are ripe to snag this guy as a rental.

Not only would Shattenkirk be a welcome addition as a good player, but he allows other players to slot in more comfortably in the lineup. Here are my dream defensive pairings:

Karlsson – Shattenkirk
Ceci – Methot
Wideman – Phaneuf

Ceci – Methot and Wideman – Phaneuf pairings have shown excellent Fancy Stat results in limited minutes (about 4 games worth) this season, and Karlsson’s great with everyone he plays with, except apparently Marc Methot this season (seriously they’re getting crushed in the Fancy Stats this year, which I know doesn’t show the whole story, but also isn’t meaningless either).

I don’t know what the cost of a Shattenkirk rental would be, but I’d be willing to give up nearly any prospect other than Chabot to make it happen. Who are the objects of your affection, James? Who are the Untouchables? Who would you part with gladly?

James: I’m confused. College White? That could literally describe any student enrolled at Boston College. Anyway, kokedreams korner, after the watching the World Juniors I think Colin White could step right in as a 4th liner and be the best 4th liner the Sens have. Also, Wingels has been an improvement so far. No need to do anything there. Don’t @ me.

In an NHL with very few major trades per season now, a terrible team like Colorado offering up two of its best players for some reason, is an opportunity as rare as Mr. Clean with hair. Dorion would have to plug his nose and likely give up a great package of pick(s)/player(s)/prospect(s) to make shit real and get one of those guys but with known commodities like Duchene or Landeskog you cant really miss…Right? I mean that’s what I said about trading for Bobby Ryan and his stock has never been lower for me! What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, your divorce. No, the big thing is, The Sens have some really good offensive weapons but its kind of fucked knowing that Clarke MacArthur may never play again. Even if he does return, I hate to say it, but it has to be acknowledged that he’d re-enter the line up having not played an NHL game in two full seasons. Think about how long it’s taking Anderson to get back to game shape after missing two months. It would be unfair to expect much more than a limited role from Clarkey until further notice.

This problem with the top 6 comes in addition to top line forward Roberto Ryan magically becoming less effective than Ryan “Unheralded Rookie 7th Round Pick making 750K” Dzingel. We need a dependable top 6 forward contingency plan now that we can’t count on Grizz returning to form (or even returning to be really, really real) and that’s compounded by Bob Ryan’s unannounced early retirement.

Fortune favors the brazy, P.R. Dorion, and I’m too much of a coward to even propose a trade that would get this done (thanks for reading, btw). I can’t help but think that Logan Brown’s best case scenario tops out to BECOME as good as Duchene or Landeskog. I doubt that would do it. Still, remember how the asking price for Patrick Sharp was a still in Junior at the time Curtis Lazar? Gotta no look pass on that tho because Lazar gunna grow up to be like TWO Patrick Sharps…right…riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight? *dies* *unfortunately, comes back to life* let’s move on…

Shattenkirk is a very interesting proposition. I have to admit I’m salivating at the idea of bumping all the left side defenders down a pairing. No shade to the boi Marc Methot, I do think he’s a solid partner for EK. He reliably hangs back and lets 65 hit us with The Art. One thing that increasingly bothers me with each passing season, however, is that Meth has next to ZERO offensive upside. It can be painful to watch him defer to a double covered Karlsson over and over again when he gets the puck. You can plainly see that the opposition is fully aware that if Methot gets the puck at the point he’s dishing it right. The only thing that makes the scenario work is that Karlsson happens to be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart of defensemen and he could get shots off even with triple coverage. Still, imagine a world where it wasn’t guaranteed that a possible shot from the left side of the top pairing wouldn’t be a wobbler? Be still, expired pizza pop where my heart should be. Having two good point shooters means more rebounds means more Mark Stone making goaltenders his first born son in the low slot.

The benefits would continue down the D corps. Methot could continue his Johnny Cash rhythm guitar level steadiness and allow Ceci to be the trigger man he has completely gotten away from being and hopefully build back his confidence. Lastly, your bottom pair would be Wideman – Phaneuf. That would give your 5-6 slots two pretty serious shooters (say what you will about Dion, dude’s got 6 goals and 20 points). Wideman could open it up a bit and Phaneuf’s toughness would make Mark Borowiecki completely obsolete. *dusts hands*

In conclusion, I also hold the CONTROVERSIAL opinion that it would be quite beneficial to substantially upgrade Ottawa’s defense. What would I give up? I mean, like you said, he’s a rental (tho Ottawa hasn’t been terrible at retaining UFAs but I digress) I’d give up Lazar. He’s been awful but I guess he still has potential? A goaltender of STL’s choice of O’Connor or Dreiger, my guess is they don’t want Hammond after seeing him on Tuesday. Lastly throw in someone good? Jesus would you have to give up the love my life Jean Gabriel Pageau to make this happen? Giving up JGP would not exactly help Ottawa’s playoff hopes to lose JGP. He was put on this earth for the playoffs. Is this trade proposition HF Boards level terrible? I’m not good at this (thank you again, sincerely, for reading).

Cokedreams Conclusion: Shayne Gostisbehere for GOOD PHILLY BOY AND EVER’THINK LIKE THAT Bobby Ryan and one of the above mentioned goaltenders. Philly is about to lose Steve Mason and that is apparently a bad thing.

Luke: Yeah, in a post Hall-for-Larsen/Subban-for-Weber/Jones-for-Johansen World, I just have no idea what it takes to get trades going anymore. Seems like there’s a lot of other factors to be taken into account like “Is this guy’s contract a problem?” or “Are we likely to lose this guy in the expansion draft anyway?” that I would find hard to balance. Also, this year’s 1st round pick might be in play because this is considered such a weak draft. On the other hand, presumably everyone knows this is a weak draft so maybe a 1st just won’t get you what it used to. The value of these things fluctuates like the price of gold.

Still, can’t hurt to go for fleeting short term glory. The line these days is “The Sens have one playoff series win since 2008”, and making a move now could help change that. Do it, Pierre. Pick up the phone. You have nothing to lose except picks, prospects, and a roster player.

Musings: Hi, Could This Tommy Wingels Thing Signal The End of The Chris Neil Era?

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You’re probably already calling me an idiot for even suggesting the mythical Chris Neil could see time as a healthy scratch over the more obvious and likely more accommodating candidate Courteous Lazar. Had this been a couple of years ago I’d have agreed there wasn’t a chance of this happening. This particular season, however, has me at least Musing™ otherwise.

I heard a pretty interesting argument by former Kontinental Hockey League executive Shawn Simpson that the addition of Thomas Wingels is, of course, to add depth to the line up but more so to provide the floundering Curtis Lazar with a better linemate than who he is currently playing with.

As you all know by now, I be thinkin’ and this comment got me playing around with the idea that even though Lazar might, politically, be the more obvious scratch I think it’s at least possible at this point that the odd man out could be Neil.

Let’s start with ice time. There’s no bigger indicator that Guy Boucher is not a fan of Chris Neil’s unique brand of Post-Enforcer/Jazz fusion than his ever dwindling ice time. He took a mere 7 shifts in 5:33 in his last game against the Capitals. While Lazar’s 10 shifts and 5:38 is certainly comparable, a larger gap can be seen in the near full minute more Average Time on Ice Lazar is given (8:26) over Neil (7:31). I find it at least worth noting that a coach who’s so big on structure might trust the kid more than a veteran who has been playing his bottom 6 role at the NHL level since Lazar was about 7 years old.
Further, though I welcomed the move, I couldn’t help but find it odd that the whole reason Dorion brought in Chris Kelly was to provide “much needed veteran stability to the 4th line”. When I initially heard the news I thought, “Yeah that make sense” but then I realized, “Wait a minute, there’s already a guy on the 4th line set to eclipse the 1000 game mark this year.” It begs the question: Does the new general manager Pierre Dorion also not have confidence in Chris Neil?

Then there is performance. I don’t expect the moon from him play-wise nor for his advanced stats to even be good. And hey, I’ll admit I’ve gone in pretty hard on twitter about his Borowiecki-esque stat line. All that said, did you watch that last game against Toronto? I felt it was the perfect encapsulation of his game this season and it’s this:
He works his ass off but if he gets the puck on his stick he either dangerously gets rid of it instantly, has it roll of his blade or, most often, has it taken from him the second he has it. I play a little game when Neil possesses the puck: Can he carry it for more than 3 strides? This is not a game I enjoy for reasons you will soon learn should you play it.
Anyway, if a dingbat like me notices this stuff there’s no way Guy “Detail Oriented Even For A Modern NHL Coach” Boucher doesn’t.
So Neiler’s not good at moving the puck, he doesn’t kill penalties like Kelly, isn’t defensively aware like Lazar and rarely fights anymore. A lot is made of how Lazar lacks an identity but at least he could make the case that he’s still figuring it out at this early stage of his career. Speaking of figuring out identity early in the career, the addition of the speedier, slightly more productive Wingels to the 4th line could help spark the (alleged) offensive side of Lazar’s game. With a couple 15+ goal, 20+ assist seasons in recent memory Wingels is clearly far more capable of setting up a Lazar goal or finishing a pass from him than Neil.
Why is it so important to spark the snakebitten 4th liner Lazar? Well there’s the obvious aspect that he is a 1st round pick who can no longer be sent down to the AHL without clearing waivers. After losing fellow first rounder Matt Puempel earlier this season to a waiver claim from the Rangers, the optics of another high pedigree pick going for nothing is just plain bad optics. Even more pressing is, I think, Dorion and Boucher’s need to see a better picture of what they have in Lazar as his Entry Level Contract sets to expire at the end of this season (they grow up so fast!).

Chris Neil’s spot in the lineup has been bulletproof in years past. Hell he was getting fucking power play time a few years back let alone a benching. But looking at the addition of PK specialist Kelly and now Wingels to the bottom 6, coupled with Neil’s ever-dwindling ice time it’s at least arguable that, like Young Metro, the new GM and new Coach just don’t trust Neiler like the previous administration(s) did. But how will 1000+ game vet and fan favorite Chris Neil likely take being scratched? Probably not well!
So say the previously unthinkable happens and he starts sitting games here and there or even regularly. Say, he gets furious about this or at least very reasonably feels disrespected by it. I could see a guy who’s worn a letter for years and also fought teammates in practice (without reprimand) feeling comfortable [read: entitled] enough to express this slighting to reporters. Or conversely, maybe he’s a good soldier and expresses this distaste for his situation privately. Either way, he would likely want to play as much as possible for the rest of a UFA year in hopes of one more contract.

Now that he’s played his 1000th game as a Senator, maybe Dorion takes the hit of outrage from the hordes of #25 jersey wearing faithful with a G move like “Eh, I’ll be the ‘bad guy’ by sending you to a contender in the Western Conference for a few months for that 7th round pick back.” In a Post-Alfie to Detroit Paradigm he can lean on thinking “We’ll be homies again when you retire and we’ll put you in the ring of honour, install you as food and beverage coordinator and things of that nature.”

The question all this obviously balances on is this: After spending hundreds of words explaining how useless Neil now is to our DEEC team, what GM of a really good team would be stupid enough to take him on at the deadline? The answer is admittedly that I don’t know. But as we saw this past off season, the role of the enforcer might be more or less extinct but the role of the GM to make a dumb move is still very much alive. If a contender maybe has some injuries or generally needs gritty depth, we know full well Neil’s role changes from enforcer to agitator come playoff time and that is a job more in demand than ever. He also has leadership stuff and nearly 100 games playoff experience and goes to church and life is precious and God and the Bible.
With San Jose retaining a considerable portion of Wingels salary, Neil suddenly became by far the most expensive member of a 4th line that Boucher clearly does not trust or use much. Also worth pointing out is that Zack Smith’s new raise is almost perfectly equal to Neil’s current salary. I bring this up of course because you’re not legally permitted to make an Ottawa Senators related post without mentioning the almighty dollar. I have now fulfilled that obligation.

Anyway, either all the stuff I said happens or they just scratch Lazar or some shit.

 

THANX 4 REIDINGZ!

The Entire History of Your Hockey Team

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Now feels like the right time to get some thoughts on the record about the Senators, this being the occasion of their 25th anniversary, and while we still have the luxury of thinking about things like hockey now that all bets are off, society-wise.

If you’ve been to a game in this new year, this promising new year in which no one you love will die, get injured, or vote, you’ve already seen the Senators starting to roll out the 25th anniversary razzmatazz, like the XXV logo at centre ice, or the pre-game ice lasers that make the playing surface look like the dirt floor of an ancient arena, or the bubbling magma of an angry volcano, or pretty much anything else that isn’t located downtown. And predictably, some of us are already rolling our eyes at it all, asking if this team is ever going to hire some actual marketing and design people, what with that XXV logo looking like something designed for an off-brand wrestling championship, or a sad Super Bowl where the players are too hungry to hit each other. Although if you talk any mess about the pre-game ice lasers, you can meet me in Lot 9.

Just as predictably, though, some of us are also rolling our eyes at the idea that the Senators, at 25, even have history, like treating Chris Neil’s 1000th game with the pomp of a royal wedding is a waste of flowers, or projecting giant Sylvain Turgeon highlights across the rink is somehow a waste of lasers. This bothers me. Sure, the Senators’ 25-year history has mostly been nasty, brutish, and short, but all history has to start somewhere, and that’s usually somewhere mediocre. It’s not like the Habs or Leafs had tons to celebrate during their pre-game ceremonies at equivalent points in their history, and anyway, 1930s laser shows were often underpowered and terribly out of focus.

Besides, what point in the Senators’ 25 years is officially legitimate enough to start celebrating the actual making of history? Are you of those people who thinks the team was bad until 1997, or one of the ones who thinks they were bad until 2003, or one of the ones who thinks they’ve always been bad, but for a brief period in the mid-2000s before you discovered analytics?

Sure, we can all agree on Daniel Alfredsson. His retirement ceremony was the kind of generational, capital-H History moment worth celebrating and reflecting upon. But these moments are generational for a reason, and they only work within the larger context of time and its inevitable failures, when they can be the kind of moments where the camera pulls back and we finally see the shape of this thing we’ve been building all these years. History doesn’t mean success; history is the context you need to understand what success looks like. It’s your first apartment that had no heat; it’s that year you spent working the grill at Wendy’s with dogs following you home even after you changed your clothes; it’s Sylvain Turgeon and Senagoth jerseys and first-round matchups with the Leafs.

Other than the Senators, do you know which teams have histories that are mostly comprised of season-ending losses? All of them. You can’t pretend those moments aren’t worth remembering any more than you can pretend they were victories, or that you could go to a Senators game in the 90s and hear Slowdive instead of John Denver. It happened. So don’t begrudge the Senators for looking back a little after 25 years, and heck, maybe have some fun with it? I mean, sure, I hope one day the Senators are successful enough that those of us at the games are all rich enough to ignore them. Until then, it’s still worth remembering how far we’ve come, ideally with lasers.

O Captain! My Captain! On Retiring Alfredsson’s 11 in 2016

2016 has reminded us that our childhood heroes grow old, become ill, and die. We have had consistent warnings that artists, advocates, and athletes we’ve admired and respected, who changed the way we relate to the things we love, who’ve inspired us to strive for some small fraction of that same greatness, can be gone in an instant.

The Ottawa Senators are no stranger to this type of tragedy. Gone are Sergei Zholtok, Karel Rachunek, and Pavol Demitra; all had their playing careers and lives sadly cut short. We said goodbye to Roger and Mark, the men behind the bench. The Ottawa family has suffered losses and survived near misses; cancer has been a frequent companion.

As the franchise celebrates its 25th anniversary, it confronts a certain maturity. Few players from Ottawa’s golden age still play in the league. Sens veterans Chris Neil and Chris Kelly are nearing the end of their careers and former Sens Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza are reaching career milestones wearing other colours. Friends and countrymen Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara won championships in other cities, and will be turning 38 and 40 respectively in the coming months. Soon, the last of the players who played a formative role in this franchise’s contending years, and for some of us, the formative part of our lives, will be retired. Their contributions only memories.

In this context it is vital to remember and honour those who have transcended the normal boundaries of the athlete-fan relationship. Players whose outstanding ability on the ice was matched by their leadership on and off of it. Daniel Alfredsson is eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame for the first time in 2017 and while he might have to wait a year or two to be enshrined, eventually his portrait will hang in that venerable building’s Great Hall. Just as important was his support of LGBTQ inclusion in sport and his mental health advocacy.

In many ways, the team hasn’t been the same since his final game as a Senator. There are undoubtedly those who are still upset about Alfie leaving. But as this year has reminded us, everything can change in an instant. After 17 seasons wearing red, white, and black, there are still things to say and new moments to experience. The retirement of Alfredsson’s storied number eleven, worn by Mark Freer, Jarmo Kekalainen, and Evgeny Davydov before him, but by no one again after his warm up retirement skate two years ago, is one such moment. That Sens fans should cherish this moment is a given, but after a year in which so many public figures who impacted our lives left suddenly and without warning, we should savour the opportunity. The opportunity to show the first legend this franchise had, our captain, and still the embodiment of the Senators, how much he matters, how much he is loved, how much his career is a part of our lives.

I have seen sports fans use the Walt Whitman phrase “O Captain! My Captain!” in relation to the success and achievement of athletic leaders too many times to count. In his time as the leader of the Ottawa Senators, I have seen these words applied to Alfie’s achievements frequently. This tendency always struck me as odd. While many no doubt are referencing the iconic scene in Dead Poet’s Society, Whitman’s original lines were part of a conceit about the death of Abraham Lincoln. What is exclaimed as an act of solidarity in the movie is called out with full-bodied mourning in the poem. An elegy about an assassinated political leader at the conclusion of a civil war hardly seems an appropriate way to mark sporting achievement and yet the poem has a particular resonance in 2016. The speaker’s words in this poem have been lodged in my head throughout the year; for in its lines the poem describes a relationship between us and those we idolize in which adulation is tragically belated.

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Unfortunately, in the poem, the Captain (Lincoln) lies “fallen cold and dead”; like too many this year, cut down before their time, unable to hear their posthumous acclaim.

By recognizing those who impact us now, while they are still with us, a different relationship is struck. A continuity with the past is realized in the here and now, and those lessons, values, and priorities, are carried forward.

That is why it’s also important to acknowledge the people who have made the franchise what it is today. To honour the individuals who have shaped the character of the team; who define what it means to be a Senator. Some might feel that a team Ring of Honour is overstated. As the Senators have never won a championship it makes little sense to elevate those who have played for and worked for the team to such an exalted level. However, I think it’s an important step for the organization to take. Yes, there have been rough times for the Senators, but there has also been a considerable amount of good. There have been many who have impacted the community in positive way. Honouring Bryan Murray, recognizing a man who has been part of the team for half its existence, is a good thing. It allows for fans to show their appreciation but it also affords Murray the opportunity to see that he’s respected and loved. Waiting longer might result in another belated adulation. Players like Chris Phillips, Wade Redden, Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher, and Chris Neil have also shaped the character of the team and community. There longevity and achievements on and off the ice more than merit ascension to the Ring of Honour. Importantly, it’s not just a tribute to those who wore Sens colours on ice. In the coming years, Senators founder Bruce Firestone should find an honoured place there. Former CFO Erin Crowe, for her longevity and skilled management during the team’s grimmest periods, should as well. Jacques Martin who coached the team to greatness deserves a place. Such a list would not be complete without Cyril Leeder.

Collectively, we are eager to bid farewell to 2016. This makes sense as for many, the memories of our formative years have been battered. Unfortunately, something far worse looms on the horizon. If we are to have any chance to counter such threats, we must remember who we’ve been. It is vital to acknowledge those who have influenced us for the good with their greatness, and to carry those links forward, holding tight to what matters.

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Good news, everyone: this outdoor NHL game is an opportunity to appreciate the subtle pleasures of incremental policy development

As a person who has worked in health care policy for a few years, I’m a lover of the technocratic and the incremental. While policy can be dry, and seem arbitrary to those who locate themselves some distance from its construction, for those steeped in its norms there can be a subtle, democratic beauty to its underlying principles: each policy is a snapshot of the compromises required at a given time in order to move the needle on something that actually affects people.

Vision is important. Describing bold and beautiful things causes people to rally together and inspires civic engagement. But those of us in the policy world understand that most of the decisions that affect day-to-day lives are made in the cultureless voids of hotel meeting rooms and committee hearings, where people with a deep knowledge of maybe two or three things wordsmith far from the peeping eyes of the public.

This tends to create two groups: one large one, of frustrated people who don’t understand why something can’t simply be done, and another, much smaller, who kind of stink at communicating the hows and whys of policy and tend to stick to their niche as a result.

Which is why the latest imbroglio surrounding the Ottawa Senators not being able to play their outdoor game on Parliament Hill, and Senators owner Eugene Melnyk’s frustrated letter to the Ottawa Citizen about the situation, is interesting to me, and feels very much of our time.

I think we can all agree that the visual of an NHL game being played in front of the Parliament Buildings is a cool one. That’s not really that heavily debated. But anybody who spent longer than a minute thinking about what it would take to hold a heavily commercialized for-profit event on the front lawn of the seat of the federal government would not be surprised to discover that it’s not possible.

From the question of security, to construction, to parking (I’m starting to think that all of pro sports is a proxy war for a much larger conflict about parking), to the simple debate over who is going to pay for all of it when most of the money goes back to the league, it’s not hard to see why this would be a legal non-starter.

For example: would the increased security provided by the RCMP be paid for by taxpayers, and what laws might be in place that would limit the sharing of profits generated, in some small part, from these revenues with U.S.-based owners? This might be an exceedingly small issue, but the law is the law, and it exists in the dangerous world of precedent.

 

Melnyk’s letter mentions that he “fought hard” for an outdoor game. This I do not doubt. I’m sure that he really, really, really wanted it, and said so many times. What his letter does not allude to is whether the team engaged in the nitty-gritty of teasing out these abstruse policy questions. What safeguards would the league put in place to ensure that the Canadian taxpayer wasn’t on the hook for ancillary expenses associated with the event? What legal measures, if any actually exist, could be put in place so that next year a country and western music festival doesn’t say, “We can meet all the same criteria as the NHL – we’d like to rent Parliament Hill please”?

Policy, for those who don’t work in it, seems capricious. After all, the levels of government and division of assets between public and private spheres are social constructions, so why can’t we simply suspend those constructs when it suits our needs? Can’t we simply have a game on Parliament Hill because it would look cool and then go back to how things were as soon as the stands are torn down?

The answer is no, of course not, and you’re being ridiculous. We live in a world where the actions approved by our governments have the force and effect of precedent. Boldly conflating private profit with public space would take years to achieve, and have complex side effects we couldn’t possibly predict. It’s a fucking hockey game. Just have it in a fucking hockey arena, you know?

Which, of course, anyone who really works on the problem would allow as reasonable. But Melnyk is the kind of stubborn strongman we are unfortunately too familiar with these days. He thinks that through sheer will he can make this happen, and that by manipulating public sentiment in the newspapers he can turn popular opinion to his side. Even if he’s successful, these structures are in place precisely because they do not bend easily under public pressure. It’s for that reason the Conservatives can’t privatize the front lawn of the Parliament Buildings and turn it into a Tar Sands-themed amusement park.

The outcome, unfortunately for a fan base who seem pretty sick of Melnyk, is that he’s gone and made himself and the team look like a doof again.

What’s particularly frustrating is that this market, with its history of negotiating with the federal government for land rights to build an arena, should be acutely aware of the challenges of business in the federal capital. Melnyk won’t be able to play at brinksmanship to produce the outcomes he wants any more than being upset produced a downtown arena on NCC lands back in 1992. And yet here we are, mere months from when the damned thing is supposed to happen, and the owner is stamping his feet saying, “If this doesn’t happen, don’t blame me.”

What Melnyk needs to understand is that this is a conversation he will largely be having with himself. There is nobody to actually lobby in this situation: the government is insulated from the business interests of a local businessman, which is how we’ve thankfully designed these things. As I type this it occurs to me that maybe Melnyk is only so interested in Parliament because, as a governmental entity, it might be illegal for the government to charge the team to use the space, which means Parliament would be cooler, but, more importantly, cheaper.

So the question is no longer, “What can we do to make Parliament happen?” This was never a real question anyway. Policy nerds could have told you that a long time ago. The question is, “Does it make financial sense for this owner with this team to have an outdoor game at TD Place?” And if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t make sense to have an outdoor game at all.

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I’ve Got Something To Say: It’s Been Emotional.

andy

I feel compelled to write something about what happened last night because I hardly know how to talk about it. It’s rare that such truly important circumstances factor into something as inconsequential as sport. Most of what we experience as a collective of fans is emotional. Last night’s game really highlighted that. All we can do is sit there, watch and hope. I decided to tune in for the late game last night, in an odd way to “be there” for Craig Anderson. It’s of course a bit of a silly sentiment as I was just passively watching a hockey game on a screen over 3000 kilometers away. But as a fan of his I, for lack of a better way of explaining it, wanted to see if he was okay. Of course we all know, deep down, he’s not okay. We can only hope for a couple of hours, within the focus that his job requires of him, Craig Anderson found some respite from the difficulty of the situation that he, his wife Nicholle and their children are experiencing.

Part of what had me anxiously bouncing my legs and wincing at every Edmonton shot like it was a game 7 of a playoff series was this: Sports is not a movie. The drama is not scripted. As Sens fans we unfortunately know this all too well. So many times we’ve wanted things to come together for those who are hurting. For the success of our team to in some small way honour the legacy of those our community has lost. Those like Pat Redden, Roger Neilson, Daron Richardson and Mark Reeds. Since he revealed the severity of his illness, I assume we’ve all at some point imagined the glory of Bryan Murray raising a well deserved Cup over his head. These are only small honors but they carry big meaning for our community. A complete stranger donated a piece of his body to the team’s owner Eugene Melnyk and saved his life. He withheld his identity but left only the message that Melnyk help bring home a championship with his new lease on life. As much as I try to brush it off at times I must admit, this stuff is in its own way important. If a Senators win puts some wind in kids like Jonathan Pitre’s sails, that is important. If what her husband did under immense pressure put a smile on Nicholle Anderson’s face during the hardest time of her life, that is important. That importance is why you had Edmonton fans on their feet applauding the goaltender whom they just spent time and money watching shut their home team out.

Again, this is a sport, a game. We as fans play the role of customer much of the time. We all in our own way believe the customer is always right and feel it our duty to criticize when we are dissatisfied. I am definitely no stranger the world of calculating salaries, referring to players as “assets” or “pieces” arguing who should not play or be demoted to the minor leagues or bought out of their contract completely. The game we watch together is so often referred to as a product and when facing the most challenging times in their careers, the players who play, echo the reality that, “It’s a business.”

What made last night so special is that the business stuff all went away for a few fleeting moments. What we saw was a truly human display. In a game that is more reliant than ever on intricate strategy, mathematic analysis, speed and skill I believe we did witness the power of the often admonished element of will. Craig Anderson and his teammates “wanted it more” in a way that I don’t think you can get away with every night. The Senators won’t pull out every game on that extra incentive to win and Andy will not pitch a shutout every night to seek temporary relief from the hard time he’s going through. But last night they did and they did it as a team. If you follow the Sens closely you saw, especially as the game wore on, that battles for lose pucks were fought more tenaciously than usual, shots were blocked with no hesitation, sticks deflected incoming pucks away from danger with noticeable precision, the puck was repeatedly carried out of the defensive zone with fierce speed. Hell, this team that often struggles defsensively managed to contain the best offensive team in the league featuring a kid who looks like a first ballot hall of famer at age 19 for a full 60 minutes. Chris Kelly looked 10 years younger killing penalties, Karlsson looked 20 pounds heavier and 2 inches taller muscling larger opponents off pucks, Borowiecki looked nothing like the guy we regularly put on the seat of the proverbial dunk tank week after week and Andy, well, he was perfect. Maybe it’s just me and they were the same guys they always are and played a great road game as the did in Vancouver last week. Looking at the clip of the players hugging Anderson at the end of the game with Chris Neil fighting back tears in the background tells me otherwise.

The truth is many people get out of bed and go to work while facing similar challenges at home every single day. There’s no spectacle for them. No fanfare. But Craig Anderson has a pressure filled job that is broadcast on national television. An off day at the office, a few false moves can mean failure for he and all of his coworkers. Last night under the bright lights of the arena there was nowhere for him to hide. To see a fellow human being who is dealing with such a tough time literally win, literally be cheered for his efforts for one night was truly rare, truly special.

Thank you to Nicholle for her bravery and unfathomable generosity in urging Craig to rejoin his team. We do not deserve it. We are with you and we wish you all the best.

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