The Olympics are here. Time to collectively ignore the way an international cabal of corrupt tycoons seized tens of billions in public assets at a desperate time of austerity (caused by a different international cabal of corrupt tycoons) in order to ram through infrastructure development without a modicum of democratic consultation all while locking up dissidents, displacing the poor, not paying workers who worked in deplorable conditions, and just generally sinking their constituents into decades of soul-crushing debt all while militarizing and nationalizing and asking our preeminent journalists to lower their standards so as to explain that the Olympics are not about any of those things but actually are about “the spirit of competition” and “excellence.”
I know, it’s hard to tell where I stand on the whole thing. Let’s not get into it. I want to talk about the Ottawa Senators at the Olympic break.
Here are a selection of BURNING QUESTIONS(TM) to get you through this drought of watching a mediocre bubble team during which you’ll have nothing with which to console yourself except all of the best hockey players in the world playing against one another.
Can Bobby Ryan make it to 30 goals again?
Ryan had 10 points in 12 games in October, then 15 in 14 in November and 11 in 16 in December to put him at a .086 PPG rate through the end of 2013…and then he fell off a cliff. 6 points in 12 games in January isn’t anything to look down too hard on, even if he only had 2 goals, but he has one point in five in February. Should we be concerned that he’s down to .058 PPG and has scored three goals in a month and a half?
You can see the media straining to find new narratives, but right now they’ve hung their hats on Ryan’s slump since being left off of the US Olympic team. It’s a compelling enough narrative, so you can’t blame them. At the end of the year, and once the Olympics are done, however, I think Ryan’s success will be determined by his ability to maintain his underlying career narrative: perennial 30-goal scorer.
When Ottawa traded for Ryan, his ability to hit the 30 goal plateau was viewed as a key facet of his value to the team. You didn’t hear about Ryan without “four-time 30-plus goal scorer” added to it. If you see anything starting with a 2 at the end of the season, fair or not, watch for the trade to be called a failure.
Can Bobby Ryan score at least 10 goals in 23 games? It’s a pretty reasonable expectation. Here’s hoping that the two week vacation resets his seasons, gets him out of the mind space that saw him missing open nets and putting shots into Enroth’s pads, and turns this thing around.
But really, it’s too bad that this the discussion now. It didn’t seem too long ago that we were discussing what new heights Ryan would reach as a scorer on Jason Spezza’s wing. Now we’re hoping that he can just barely reach his career norm. Oh well. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Jakob Silfverberg said that once.
My call? I think he scores 31. Making him a “three time exactly 31 goal scorer.”
Is Ottawa a buyer or a seller before the deadline?
Ottawa only has three games when back from the Olympic break: Detroit at home, Vancouver in the Heritage Classic (afternoon game!), and the Oilers on the road. On the day of the deadline they’re playing the second of back-to-back games, on the road in Calgary. That doesn’t give them a lot of time to assess where they are. If they lose all three of those games, they’ll still only be about 3-4 points out of a wildcard spot. For this reason, I say Murray makes his move. It’ll either be low picks for role-playing forwards, or some prospects thrown in for a player with term, but I still think that Murray makes a move—and I don’t blame him.
Ottawa management has put themselves in a situation where they want to compete in the near future. Late picks and prospects don’t help them on that timeline. Playoff time for their young players and established NHL players do. So, even if Ottawa stumbles out of the post-Olympic gate, I can see Murray, on the last contract of his career, swinging for the fences.
Is Jared Cowen a top four defenseman?
As was mentioned briefly and calmly on Twitter, Cowen was on the ice for six of Boston’s seven goals. Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus noted that watching Cowen play with Karlsson is basically watching a bona fide superstar in this league given nothing to work with. (Brief, positive side note about the Olympics: how psyched are you to watch Karlsson play on team Sweden? Y’know, with actual players?)
I don’t want to lose sight of Cowen’s occasional contributions. He’s playing more than 20 minutes a night now, and has had a few games of dominant Corsi—though it’s hard to say how much of that has to do with playing with Karlsson. Even if you strip out those metrics, you can see a disconnect between what management expects of the player and what he’s delivered so far. Murray mentioned again in another recent radio interview that he thought Cowen was only going to “get better and better.” I don’t claim to have evidence to the contrary. The point is that nobody has any evidence that Cowen is a top two, or top four, defenceman in the league yet.
But he’s being paid like one, which means that he’ll be played like one. And if he doesn’t learn from these mistakes, then the season will look increasingly sunk. But right now he looks in over his head.
What exactly is Chris Neil’s role on this team?
I know, I know: shut up about Chris Neil already. But when I see Chris Neil sent over the boards on power play after power play, I start to wonder if Ottawa is really any better than a Toronto team that plays Jay McClement 20 minutes a night and dresses two enforcers. It’s the definition of insanity: they keep putting him out there and expect different results.
I only asked the question above only because I know what the answer is already. Despite being a terrible hockey player, Chris Neil is a core player on this team, he’s signed for two more seasons after this, and he makes almost $2MM per season. So that’s the type of player he is, which is to say, he’s here to stay.
There are five afternoon games in March.
That’s not a question. But still…FIVE MORE AFTERNOON GAMES.
Maybe I’m stretching the definition of afternoon to include the 5 o’clock Sunday games against the Flames and Avalanche. But I think I’m sufficiently freaked out by Ottawa’s performance in afternoon games to look at them with a hairy eye.
Can Ottawa go 13-8-2 to close out the season?
That’s the record that Ottawa needs to have about a 57% chance of making the playoffs. Even 12-8-3 drops them to a 34.4% chance. That’s how crazy tight the standings are right now. A shootout loss can make a 22% difference between making the playoffs or not. Now tell me how freaked out you are about all of those afternoon games. (And how much you hate the shootout.)
Let’s play a bit of a simulation game here, following nothing except my heart:
Feb 27th – at home against Detroit – WIN: Detroit is tied for sending the most players to the Olympics, so hopefully they’ll be good and injured for their first game back. Ottawa is sending I think only…one? Plus Ottawa has played Detroit well and home ice is supposed to be an advantage, even if for Ottawa it isn’t. 1-0-0.
March 2nd – in Vancouver for the heritage classic – LOSS: it’s in the afternoon; it’s a west coast team, and it will be heavily televised. Ottawa can’t overcome those kinds of odds. 1-1-0.
March 4th – In Edmonton – WIN: Ottawa really wants to get that home loss against Edmonton back. Plus just look at the odds. They should beat the 2nd worst team in the league most of the time, right? 2-1-0.
March 5th – in Calgary – OT LOSS: second night of a back-to-back; Anderson is played both games and stinks it up. Ottawa loses in OT despite heavily outshooting Calgary. 2-1-1.
March 8th – in Winnipeg – LOSS: afternoon game, automatic loss. 2-2-1.
March 10th – at home, against Nashville – WIN: Nashville is having a horrible season, can’t score, and will face a team that just lost against Winnipeg. 3-2-1.
March 15th – in Montreal – WIN: This is weird: Ottawa doesn’t play for four days between Nashville and Montreal, and it’s not as if they have to travel far to play the Habs. They’ll be well rested and they usually get up for Montreal anyway. 4-2-1.
March 16th – at home against Colorado – LOSS: afternoon game, automatic loss. 4-3-1.
March 18th – at home against the Rangers – WIN: this is a tough one to call because the Rangers have played Ottawa very well this season. I almost called it a loss. But I think they’re due. Let’s say they win it in OT. Kyle Turris scores, obvs. 5-3-1.
March 20th – at home against Tampa – OT LOSS: Ben Bishop and the shootout at home. 5-3-2.
March 22nd – in Dallas – LOSS: afternoon game, automatic loss. 5-4-2.
March 24th – in Tampa – WIN: continuing a season long tradition, they’ll play an identical time twice as well when away from Ottawa as they did when at home. 6-4-2.
March 25th – in Florida – WIN: Florida is fucking terrible. 7-4-2.
March 28th – at home against Chicago – LOSS: Chicago is not fucking terrible. If this was an away game I might call an upset. 7-5-2.
March 30th – at home against Calgary – LOSS: afternoon game, automatic loss. 7-6-2.
March 31st – at home against Carolina – OT LOSS: they always play Carolina terribly, and it’s the second of back-to-back games and at home. I don’t think you could give me tickets to this game. 7-6-3.
April 2nd – at home against the Islanders – WIN: Not a good team, at this point playing for nothing but pride. 8-6-3.
April 4th – at home against Montreal – WIN: Pretty close. Maybe goes to OT. Chris Neil scores the game winner off of his dong. 9-6-3.
April 5th – In New York against the Rangers – OT LOSS: second game of back-to-backs. Rangers are a pretty good team. 9-6-4.
April 8th – in New York against the Islander – WIN: Ottawa gets to spend two days off in New York having a good time. They come in nice and loose against the terrible Islanders. 10-6-4.
April 10th – at home against New Jersey – WIN: this game could be absolutely huge. New Jersey, like Ottawa, has been fighting for the wild card spot all season long. I’ll just pick the result I want most. 11-6-4.
April 12th – at home against Toronto – LOSS: c’mon, it’s the Leafs, on Hockey Night in Canada, in a game where our rivals can potentially knock us out of the playoff race for good. We probably lose this game huge. 11-7-4.
April 13th – in Pittsburgh – WIN: tough one here. Ottawa is playing for their lives while Pittsburgh locked up their playoff spot weeks ago. They might rest their best players. And it’s a potential first round matchup if all the dominos fall right. I say Ottawa brings it. 12-7-4.
So, there you have it: 28 points. Which, you may have noticed, is exactly the number of points Ottawa would earn if they went 13-8-2. The percentage chance of taking the wildcard spot it in this case is lower given the way tiebreakers work, and that Ottawa would have fewer regulation wins, but it still gives Ottawa around a 50/50 chance of making the playoffs depending on how Detroit, Columbus, Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina, New Jersey and every other team in the Eastern conference does, and providing every single game doesn’t go to a shootout.
So…does Ottawa make the playoffs or not, you idiot?
I hate to say this, but I think they miss out on the tie breaker.
How many games does Robin Lehner get into down the stretch?
Good question. Thanks. And it’s a tough one, since Robin Lehner probably should have been handed the reins about six weeks ago, but here we are.
I don’t see MacLean changing his tact now. If you look at Lehner’s career games played, he’s gotten into way more games this season. If management’s goal is to ease him into the starting role—give him an increasing number of games until, in the last year of Andy’s contract, he’s splitting the role evenly, then hand it over full time (re-signing Andy as a backup), well then, they’re sticking to the plan. But over the course of the season Lehner’s had better stats in every category. And with the standings coming down to a point or two, it’s hard to see why they wouldn’t give the better goaltender a few more games. I don’t know if there’s a history of that kind of workload ruining a young goaltender.
Are we ever going to be comfortable with Jason Spezza?
No. Sorry. It’s just not going to happen. He’s a sublime offensive player, the essence of a creative playmaker, captaining a team in Canada that employs Chris Neil and plays Chris Neil in key minutes. Asking people to root for Spezza is like asking the DJ at a wedding to put on an improv jazz record. The record is no less brilliant just because people hate it. But it doesn’t mean that you were right to ask for it, given the context.
What are with these heroic prospects who come up, score a few goals, make everyone excited, and then when you look at their career stats you notice they have 3 points in 27 games?
Yeah, I know what you mean. Da Costa. Pageau. Hoffman will get there. What can I say? The NHL is a tough-ass league. You can surprise a team if they haven’t seen your video tape, but to keep producing, game-in and game-out is a different story.
All this to say: Stone was looking real good before he was injured. Here’s hoping he’s back after the break and finds whatever chemistry he had with Spezza. If only because I don’t want to read any more articles about how we need to find a winger for Spezza.
Seriously though: who are you picking in the Olympics?
I think we’re going to do a Scotchcast about this, but I can’t see how some combination of Canada, USA, and Sweden don’t come out top three. Finland is the sexy dark horse pick because of their goaltending. Russia has that special sauce of it being home ice advantage, of sorts. I don’t fucking know, it’s a one-and-done tournament. I’m going to pick Sweden because I want Alfredsson to win another medal, for Karlsson’s year to get better, and because there aren’t really any players on that team I just can’t stand.
In women’s hockey, of course it comes down to Canada and the US in an epic and unbelievable hockey game that features 14 goals and 200 penalty minutes. I refuse to call anything for fear of jinxing. But it’ll be incredible.