The arbitration period of the summer is typically the low point of the hockey year. So little is going on that fans spend hours debating the merits of a player asking more than his employer on his next deal as if this was not an utterly predictable exchange and tactic. But it does shine a light on what is deemed valuable within the current mood of the NHL and who is assigned value.
Ottawa has had its fair share of heroes; players who have put up big points, scored crucial goals, or strung together remarkable victories. These players get a lot of ink, but what about the underrated and underappreciated? The guys who aren’t subject to round after round of Senators Revisionist History by bored fans on brutally hot summer nights. Who are the most underappreciated Senators?
McEachern was part of the best Sens era in team history but gets overshadowed by offensive players like Alexei Yashin, Daniel Alfredsson, and Marian Hossa. Yet in his six years in Ottawa, McEachern twice finished second in team scoring to Yashin and finished third on another occasion. There was a period of a few seasons where Alfredsson had horrible injury luck and the Yashin saga was playing out when McEachern was the reliable veteran who could be counted on for top-six offensive production in the dead puck era. Two 30+ goal seasons as well as a season with 29 goals, Shawn wasn’t depth scoring, he provided key production, yet has been all but forgotten in the decade+ since his trade to the Thrashers.
Jason York and Igor Kravchuk
Neither were key contributors or flashy players. What they were is what we now crave: reliable blueline depth. Good for 25-35 points a season and generally more than 22 minutes/game, York was in Ottawa for five seasons and Kravchuk for three and a half. They didn’t take a lot of penalties, they didn’t hurt their team. They were just quietly steady. They were the kind of blueline depth that fans now crave but the type of players that are easy to forget when they’re in the lineup.
Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly
These two go together because my memory of one seems to always include the other. Young players during Ottawa’s golden age, Kelly and Vermette came up as inexperienced, inexpensive, depth players, the type good teams need to cultivate to stay good. They spent most of their time on the third line and killing penalties, where they were not only an effective shutdown force, but a force for good with a knack for chipping in shorthanded goals (8 between them in 06-07 alone). Trapped behind Spezza and Fisher, Vermette was too good for the third line but couldn’t break into the top six. Still, he had seasons of 19, 21, and 24 goals for the Senators, but never received the attention of the surprisingly comparable Fisher. Chris Kelly is remembered more as a useful, but limited, defensive specialist. However, he always hit double-digits in goals, and twice notched 15 as a Senator. That’s awesome production from a third line player, especially one who is so versatile defensively – the original Erik Condra if you will, but with twice the goals.
Foligno was another young player who the Sens moved in his mid-20s like Vermette. During his first couple of seasons with the big club, the Senators were still under the illusion they were an elite team. As Foligno continued to develop, he played on some truly crap Sens incarnations yet seemed to have trouble sticking in the top-six and often played a third line role under Cory Clouston (Q. how much did that guy fuck with things?) Yet Foligno kept contributing and his last season as a Senator was his best (15 goals, 47 points). His penchant for taking ill-advised penalties seems more an anomaly instead of habit in retrospect, but one which contributed to him being traded. He’s not the biggest guy in the league, but he’s a physical player who’s comfortable setting up in front of the net. Essentially, he’s the player Bryan Murray envisioned when signing the Colin Greening contract. Even his goalie hugs, which have become the stuff of legend in Columbus, were underrated in Ottawa.
It might seem odd to see Phillips on this list. A Senator since 1964, Phillips was key in choosing a new Canadian flag. But he also gets lost in the shuffle somewhat, as Ottawa’s blueline has traditionally been pretty strong. Behind Redden and Chara on the depth chart for the prime of his career, his pairing with Volchenkov was given its due, but his-hard hitting partner was the more celebrated of the duo. Since Erik Karlsson’s emergence, a litany of defensemen (Kuba, Gonchar, and Methot) have all been more vital to the Sens success. That Phillips was not one of the team’s two best defensemen for much of his career shouldn’t diminish the fact that he was a valuable one for the bulk of his years in the NHL and deserves the corresponding appreciation. His rapid decline post-35 is being weighted too much right now. His last days in the capital have surely been his worst, but like Bryan Mulroney or George W. Bush who also left at their lowest, there’s nowhere for Phillips to go but up.