Okay, so our hearts were torn out. But is our favorite hockey team actually better?

Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators - Game Four

There’s been a lot of talk of last Friday being one of the most transformative in franchise history. While it’s definitely, say, top five, I don’t know if it’s up there with the launch of the rebuild; with letting Chara walk; with running the jewels AKA trading Yashin for everything in the Islanders’ cupboard; or with trading Hossa for Heatley. Ottawa lost two top six forwards and gained two top six forwards. Before we assess whether or not Friday was a game changer, we should ask if Ottawa is actually a changed team, and if they’re any better.

Here are a couple of assumptions:

  • It’s easier to predict the performances of Bobby Ryan at age 26 and Clarke MacArthur at age 28 than Jakob Silfverberg at age 22 and Daniel Alfredsson at age 40. The former are in that sweet spot of being in their prime and having a few NHL seasons under their belt. But Silf is a sophomore and Alfredsson may be due for a major regression. The latter’s performances could be all over the place.
  • The Bobby Ryan trade probably would have happened even if Alfredsson stayed, which makes it a Ryan v. Silfverberg comparison, and a (very unfair) MacArthur v. Alfredsson comparison.

On the face of it, the answer to the question of whether the Sens are a better team seems to be yes and no. Alfie’s intangible factors don’t lend themselves to quantification and measurement. Leadership, connection to the community, “being clutch” (if that’s actually a thing and not just creating enough positive memories over many seasons in one market to be thought of fondly in that market) may or may not actually win you hockey games. However, when looking purely at the on-ice skills Alfredsson brought, the unpopular conclusion has to be that he’s actually a replaceable player. Not easily replaceable—he’s an experienced two-way forward who played in all situations and drove possession—but it’s possible. And, when we look at what MacArthur brings, Murray’s done it.

Looking purely at possession stats via behindthenet, Ottawa is pretty clearly better off. Relying primarily at QoC and Corsi Relative, Mac faced stiff competition and tilted the ice in the right direction, though he played two minutes less a night than Alfredsson on average. His shooting percentage has remained near 14% his whole career, too, implying reliability; he isn’t due for a sudden dip. As a one-to-one comparison, and with Alfie’s intangibles removed, MacArthur has better statistics, is younger, and is cheaper. Without being in the dressing room and not knowing how the rest of the team’s performance is affected by the leadership void (again: if that’s a thing), if we’re being unsentimental about all this, then I think it’s very fair to say that Clarke MacArthur is at least a serviceable replacement for Alfredsson as a second line winger.

(As an aside: what Toronto is thinking in paying Clarkson $5.25MM for seven over paying MacArthur $3.25MM for two, I’ll never know. But given the community’s reaction, nobody really knows.)

Ryan, as you might expect, received some favorable matchups in a bid to create offense—but not nearly as favorable as Silfverberg received in his freshman season. Silfverberg is really the X factor in all of this, given that he’s so young and could, any season now, take a step beyond the perimeter shooter that he was in 2012-2013. He shot the puck more than anyone on the Senators not named Karlsson (aside #2: Karlsson is fucking amazing), but had long stretches of ineffectiveness where MacLean kept him on the top line anyway, perhaps for lack of options. Without Silfverberg stepping forward, Ryan is pretty clearly an upgrade in every conceivable category except salary.

And speaking of salary, Ottawa does end up spending about $2MM more of it, though the possession boost between Ryan and Silfverberg is very significant. If you treat the MacArthur / Alfredsson swap as a wash (Mac is younger, cheaper, and has better statistics, but doesn’t have the intangibles), Ottawa pays a little bit more, easily upgrades on Silfverberg’s 19 points in 48 games last season, and is still spending less on salary that almost every other team in the league. My nutshell conclusion here is that, at this point in time, Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur at $8.35MM is better than Jakob Silfverberg and Daniel Alfredsson at $6.4MM. Obviously this changes as Silfv develops, Noesen becomes an NHLer, and Anaheim uses that first round pick. But that’s the snapshot.

Of the other X factors here, I think the biggest is whether Ottawa will use the (relative) cap savings of having these two cheaper scorers to go out and spend on another veteran player and silence the intangibles crowd. There are some enticing names still out there, and Ottawa could still leave the free agency period up a forward instead of swapping out two for two. If we’re really concerned about what ephemeral leadership qualities we lost when Alfredsson and Gonchar walked out the door, then Murray could always throw some money at Brenden Morrow. Won’t Jagr play for anyone who pays him? Hey, even Milan Hejduk is available–he won a cup, right?

6 thoughts on “Okay, so our hearts were torn out. But is our favorite hockey team actually better?

  1. Pingback: Senators News: July 9th | eyeonthesens

  2. I find when thinking of the Alfredsson intangibles I think of that last minute goal against the Penguins. We needed a goal so bad it hurt and who was there to score it? The guy who always scores those kind of goals for the Sens. It’ll definitely be a big change for us. That being said, with a healthy roster maybe we’re winning more games 4-1 than by the skin of our teeth at 2-1 or 3-2. Maybe we don’t need clutch when we have more firepower.

    • Yeah that one is definitely fresh in the ol’ mind. Unbelievably clutch.

      Buffalo Game 5 ECF’s overtime, Calgary 400th career goal in overtime, etc.

      But, I’m officially over Alfie leaving. So what if he doesn’t wanna just retire and grow old and die in Ottawa after earning like $40M in his lifetime. I’m sure he gets hounded everywhere he goes and maybe he’s treating this as a year-long vacation.

      That being said, we – the Senators I mean – are gonna kick the living shit out of some of our opponents this year. Our roster is just too jacked up with offensive talent not to do so. Remember beating the Leafs 10-0? Glory days. They could be coming real soon. We sign an effective D-man (maybe COWEN) and this team is 100% for real.

      Too bad Alfie can’t be here to see it. 😦

    • I just wonder if we tend to assign the ‘clutch’ category to players we already like, or if enough clutch goals makes us like a player. I mean, Carkner scored a huge double OT goal against the Pens a couple of years ago, and nobody thinks of Carkner as clutch. Nick Foligno was as pesky and clutch-y of any Senator I can think of in recent years. Anyway…it’s an interesting designation.

    • Lots of good stuff going on here, playboys.
      I couldn’t agree more that anyone who’s watched Alfie over the years knows that he is a special player and some of what we’re going to lose is going to be hard to put your finger on.
      Once or twice per season I love to get tickets for the first or second row of the 100 section b/c even though the view from down there is a little overrated, watching from ice level can be a reminder of how insanely fast and skilled NHL hockey has become. Nothing to make you appreciate the vision of Spezza like seeing him take a heads up pass on a full speed rush and see him instantly feather it off his stick onto his wingman’s blade with an audible “crack” that makes you say, “Yeah….this guy’s hands are rare.” I bring this up b/c on that same note from ice level it is just crazy how much Alfie controls the pace of a game when he has possession of the puck. He takes a pass and it’s like that time bending scene from the Matrix. He’s gotten particularly good at it with age. I find the more injured or old he gets the more he relies on his possession skills. (Of note: Karlsson is particularly good at this too).
      That said the last season or two I’ve been secretly wondering to myself, “when are we going to stop relying on our oldest player to save the day year after year?” Not like I was in a rush to see him retire but watching him basically play first line minutes as a 40 year old was a bit much. Of course only Alfie could pull it off but it was a model that that was just unbelievably precarious.
      To speak to the clutch thing, I think Alfie had this way of willing the puck into the net when the chips were down. When he put a huge point on the board….there was just nothing like it. I also agree with what Varada is saying about how new heroes will emerge in the coming years. I mean, I know Karlsson alone has some OT winners up his sleeve. To go along with Alfie’s heroics in the playoffs we also saw huge moments from Greening and Conacher and let’s not forget Turris two years running. Not putting them on the same mantle per se but with a healthy lineup I think this team will put some pucks in the net. This year I’m hoping to see the team graduate from Pesky to Pushy.

      • Iain, great post as usual.1. I knew this would happen to the Blackhawks berfoe the season even started. They dismantled the team after winning the Cup. They’re not even close to the same team they were a year ago.2. The game against Ottawa should definitely be a shoe-in yet Les Boys always seem to have a problem against the bottom-feeders and then do well against teams they have no business crushing.3. This is the only game I’ll get to watch this week and Mike will be here from Ottawa. I’m going all out- bar in my Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. James Reimer is definitely HOT; he’s been racking up points for me in fantasy hockey.The Habs need to come out strong tonight. All three of these teams can be defeated (and should be) by the Canadiens but at the same time I have this nauseating feeling in my stomach because I know how dangerous all three of these teams can be too. I am praying that our berth in the playoffs doesn’t come down to a shoot out against the Leafs. Will be a very interesting and long week if the Habs don’t secure the win tonight.Go Habs Go

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