Once a month, James and Luke sit down separated only by a piece of plexiglas and talk shit for a few hours. The Jail Phone is a recurring segment containing the transcripts of those conversations.
Luke: Hi James.
I dunno if you’ve been outside today, but there’s so much white powder out there it looks like a Saturday Night Live after-party in 1979. As such, I thought you’d might like to grab a glass of your favourite winter beverage and we might have a little fireside chat about the State of the Sens Union.
Earlier this season, you looked around the mass of negativity around The Sensphere and said to me, “Imagine how bad this would be if the team didn’t just go on a historic run to the playoffs on the back of an ECHL journeyman goaltender.” Well, I think we’re about to find out how bad it can get.
For my part, I’m attempting to be as Zen as possible regarding the remaining games of this season. Some people might want to go Full Tank, but this team isn’t bad enough to go Full Tank. Toronto has that shit sewn up having cemented their place in Tank History by trading for Colin Greening and then putting him on the 2nd line. I don’t care how zesty Dave Cameron gets with the line combinations, we can’t beat that.
All this to say that I still want the Sens to win, but I’m no longer upset when they lose. I’m already looking ahead to next season. Can’t wait to see who we draft 12th overall.
Tell me about your feelings. What’s on your mind? What are you hoping to get out of the rest of this season? Why are you still here?
James: Maybe I’m comin out the gate WILD apologetic but my feelings are that the Sens sort of just had a shit season. IT HAPPENS. Remember how Columbus was talked about across the board that they were poised to make a deep run this year? Imagine as a Blue Jackets fan your most optimistic moment of the year was buying a jersey that said Saad on it? Damn.
What I’m saying is, it’s frustrating to sit through but DEEC teams miss the playoffs sometimes and don’t need to go into full out rebuilds to fix things. Yes I’m glassy eyed enough to vault the Sens into the lofty status of DEEC.
The Penguins missed last year. Washington missed a couple of seasons ago…they didn’t blow it up. They made some changes but realized they weren’t totally fucked. Sure, blowing it up is an option but let’s face it, it can be as risky a plan as they come. It’s not always the answer. Ayyyye Connor McDavid is really good! *looks at standings* WOW, Edmonton is starting to turn things around they’re only two points back of 28th place!
Peter Chiarelli: Bartender, ANOTHER round of Dalai Lama-level patience for the whole fanbase please!
Sam Malone: IIIIII think y’all have had enough.
Peter Chiarelli: Fuck. THAT. Another generational talent or two and we be battling for a wild card spot just hold tight. AGAIN.
Honestly, the negativity is such that it’s hit the point that the team gets roasted even when they win. I hate to say it but personally I don’t think Sens fans have the kind of patience to tough out a full rebuild. ESPECIALLY should aaaaaaaaaaanything not go according to plan in that time. I’m seeing a full meltdown over missing the playoffs. What would happen if we drafted another Daigle?
Luke: Alexandre Daigle? The 1st overall pick this fanbase is bitter towards 23 YEARS after we drafted him?
James: To me, Tampa Bay are one of the most annoying teams in the league because they had the good fortune of being a shit pile just a FEW times. Good the odd season, shite others. Some high end picks and a few good trades while avoiding ushering in a full on culture of losing. They picked up some key players while remaining DEEC. Because of this, they’re one of the better teams in the East, having not thrown the baby out with the bathwater (blech to that imagery).
Anyway, I’m not heartbroken if we have a high pick and a better team going into next year, which I believe we have. Why? Well, we were all experts on what was wrong with the Sens all season. “Get rid of Cowen, free up money to extend Mike Hoffman, make a big move and stop wasting Karlsson’s prime” AKA, “GET A TOP 4 DEFENSEMAN!”
Here we stand, mid-February Cowen gone, Greening gone, Milo’s money off the books (no disrespect but it’s a fair amount of money off the books), and all this for a top 4 defenseman with plenty of good years left ahead of him. This is …bad?
Luke: I’m gonna talk about the last thing you said and then bring it back around to the first thing you said because I’m the sort of writer who likes to flout the conventional rules of structure.
I feel like a lot of the negativity stems primarily from a few well-spoken, high-profile blogger/media figures who have been running with this narrative that the Ottawa Senators have no coherent plan. (Please see this James Gordon article entitled “The Ottawa Senators have no coherent plan”, and this 6th Sens article where Nichols writes of Ottawa’s “whimsical ‘get into the playoffs and anything can happen’ approach to team building.”). When you think that management is just spinning The Wheel of Moves at random, it becomes pretty easy to criticize everything management ever does, because every move is more proof there is no Plan.
People like Plans. Have you ever thought objectively about tanking? The Idea of Tanking is some Jedi Mind Trick shit. If you are a fan of the worst team in the league, the default reaction is usually extreme sadness or anger. Now if you’re a fan of the Leafs or Sabres, you love losing just because management has said “Don’t worry. We’re doing this on purpose.” It’s wild. That’s the power of A Plan, James. I don’t think fans want Ottawa to tank; I think fans want the comfort that comes with having A Plan. We are lost in a world of uncertainty otherwise.
I don’t really ascribe to the above narrative, because I think the Ottawa Senators DO have a plan and that plan is to get better one incremental improvement at a time. You know, building your team the old fashioned way. Witness these moves from the past year:
Move: Erik Condra out, Shane Prince in.
Hot Take: We all love some Erik Condra, but Shane Prince is like Erik Condra only with scoring touch so that’s an improvement.
Move: Eric Gryba out, Chris Wideman in.
Hot Take: Chris Wideman is better than Eric Gryba. That’s an improvement.
Move: David Legwand out, Curtis Lazar in.
Hot Take: Old, expensive veteran exchanged for cheap kid with (ALLEGED) upside. I don’t think this one has really worked out yet, but I understand the reasoning.
Move: Patrick Wiercioch out, Dion Phaneuf in.
Hot Take: I think this is an improvement, but let’s revisit this one in a few years. Again, I understand the reasoning.
So why does the team suck this year? If had to hazard a guess, I’d say it’s because injuries to Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris, and probably Marc Methot, in addition to major regressions in play from Alex Chiasson, Patrick Wiercioch, Mika Zibanejad, Craig Anderson, and Andrew Hammond have totally overshadowed whatever minor improvements the team made in personnel. This is part of the reason why I’m so hard on Patrick Wiercioch. I fully acknowledge Mark Borowiecki is not as good as Patrick Wiercioch, but Boro is the same as he’s ever been whereas PW is a major part of the reason why the team is worse this year. That dude had a ROLE to take on, and he was a total no-show this season. Brutal.
This all comes back to your point that “the Sens sort of just had a shit season”. Yes. Yes they did.
If we can treat this like one of those Tampa Bay anomalies, enjoy a nice-ish draft pick, refuse to panic, and then come back next year, I’ll be pleased with that.
James: I think the acquisition of Phaneuf is pretty big. Yes, it’s early but iz it ev-R 2 earl-E 4 HOTT-TAEKZ? The optics suck because the Sens haven’t managed to win since acquiring him (Ed note: #ACTUALLY), but I’m bold enough to say that so far Phaneuf has been an improvement over Wiercioch on the second pairing. (Cowen didn’t even get a sniff at the job he was so bad).
Not even a handful of games yet, but Phaneuf has looked pretty solid and in his role as a Senator. I think much of the trepidation regarding him does have to do with the contract, but also very much the fact that it’s Dion Phaneuf. This is a guy we have dragged mercilessly for years now as Sens fans. It’s going to take some adjustment…and time to believe in him. I mean hey, I feel weird even writing that. Most importantly, of course, is that he also has to earn our trust as fans. I still remember the handwringing over Marc “Regressed to the 3rd Pairing in shitty Columbus” Methot. Or how Sergei Gonchar in his late 30’s was overpaid no matter how he played. Maybe he was overpaid but I gotta say I miss the 27-37 points per year he’d put up and the wealth of experience he brought to the dressing room. In my opinion, another vet with a track record is better than rolling the dice on more than half of the D corps like the Sens were doing.
Whatever, it’s okay to be skeptical. Who knows how trades and FA signings are going to work out. I just can’t help but dwell on the fact that after a strong finish to last season, Wiercioch has been given ample opportunity to be a top 4 defender this year and hasn’t made a case for himself. At 25, is PW’s career over? I certainly don’t think so. But I think the organization realized they can’t continue down the current path by retaining him at a qualifying offer of $2.7 million. Instead they brought on Dion Phaneuf who, at age 30, has shown that in bad year (on a shite team) he puts up a higher output than Wiercioch’s career best. All this while being a guy who’s billed more as a stabilizing, physical minute muncher than a puck moving finesse player.
Basically, he’s not going to be worth his contract in blah di blah years. Okay. I thought the big criticism was the team wasn’t making any bold moves to improve the team in Karlssons prime. Well, here it goes nothing. It’s my feeling that (when healthy) the top 6 is fine, the top pairing is fine, the starting goaltender is fine. The big problem was bolstering the top 4 and a fun surprise has been a floundering bottom six. I don’t know about you, Eddie, but I’d much rather a GM on a budget tasked with improving the bottom 6 than the top.
This year might be a bit of a wrap but I think we go into next year stronger. Which is good as Imma need all that time to adjust to seeing DION PHANEUF in a Sens uniform.
Luke: I find it amazing that we, as a blog, put up nearly 3000 words of Dion Phaneuf takes and we’re still not done. At this point I’ve spent more time writing/talking about Dion Phaneuf than I’ve spent actually watching him play.
You’ve hit on something I believe though, which is that the bottom six is/has been the biggest problem this season. I’d have a lot more respect for “Sens don’t have a PLAN” takes if they were accompanied by some commentary that implied a Karlsson-Turris-Stone-Hoffman-Ryan-Zibanejad-Not Brain Damaged MacArthur core is insufficient to be competitive in the long term. That, at least, would display conviction that one truly disagrees with what The Bryan et al. have constructed over the past 4 years. However, to the best of my knowledge, most criticism of those players tends more towards something like “Kyle Turris only makes $3.5 Million a year, but he isn’t quite Anze Kopitar, is he?” or “Sure Bobby Ryan leads Sens forwards in points this year, but can he DRIVE POSSESSION?”, and outside of that, it is generally acknowledged that Ottawa’s good players are pretty damn good. (Four Senators are in the Top 35 in scoring this year TBH).
At the very least, a pessimist would have to say that Ottawa’s acquired some very good players BY ACCIDENT.
The big question for me is whether Ottawa can find some improvements over the Alex Chiassons of the team in the next six months? Honestly, I’m hopeful. If anything, being a seller at the deadline will make that easier. It’s not like Ottawa’s 2 points back of a wild card spot and has to keep Zack Smith around so as not to mess with locker room chemistry. If I’m reading these tea leaves correctly, Ryan Dzingel can easily step into that left winger role at a third of the cost. In addition, if Kyle Dubas has taught as anything, it’s that you can create a team consisting entirely of decent depth players in a single off-season. Surely finding a mere 3 or 4 of those guys shouldn’t really be that difficult, right? Then we just gotta sort out whatever it is Dave Cameron’s doing differently from last year. This off-season is gonna be EASY.