Roundtable of Death: Goodbye Yellow Brick Banana Jazz

Eug

In which James, Conrad, Andrew, and Luke discuss the sudden departure of the Senators’ second-most beloved Swede in exchange for Derick Brassard.

James:
Hello.

Let’s start this off with a little Konfeshun Korner:

When I first caught wind of this trade I was M.A.D.D. I really, really like Zibanejad as a player. I thought it was dumb and stupid and dumb to give up on him for a comparable but older guy…and a second round pick to boot. Not even the dignity of a one for one swap. Ugh, again, with the thrown in pick.
For all the talk of Ziba needing to hit another gear, I’ve spent some time and energy arguing that by passing the 50 point mark at age 22/23, he’s already hitting that next gear. This all goes back to the landmark case of The People vs. Viable 2nd Line Centre Mike Fisher. In his respectable 16 season career, he has eclipsed the 50 point mark only twice. Just once in his younger days with the Senators. Z-Bad’s output was shaky at times, sure, but it seemed he was definitely getting there. I always thought that fan disappointment might come from the expectation to cement himself as a top line player at such a young age. With Turris filling that top line role, I didn’t see the big rush.

When the trade went down, however, I saw all the immediate red flags. A local guy (WE ALREADY HAVE A CENTRE FROM GATINEAU GODDAMN IT) and the cost certainty of his super reasonable salary hit with his signing bonus paid out by the Rags. Are you glad I went over these two items? I’m sure this is the first time they’ve been discussed. Damn Melnyk back at it again with the tight cash. I must admit however, the more the smoke is clearing on this trade the more I’m starting to see a bit of strategy to go with the belt tightening.

  1. The Sens currently have 73 roster players who are natural centres plus player/coach Erik Karlsson who can fill in as the entire team in a pinch.
    Highkey Facts: The Senators have taken a centre in the first round of the past 3 drafts. Last season, the team could put Zibanejad, Turris, Smith, Pageau, Lazar or Nick Paul down the middle. Something had to give. Zibanejad is a huge ‘give’ though. I think it’s TROU-BL-ING that the organization essentially chose Smith and Pageau over giving Ziba a potential big payday next off season. Probably didn’t help Ziba’s case that the Godbody JG Pageau totally outshined him when Turris went down for the season with an injury.
  2. This team reaaaaaally needed a skilled left handed playmaker down the middle. Judging by how mad Rangers fans are, it would seem we are indeed getting that in Brassard. I don’t know about you Eddie, but if you’re perennially disappointed in Bobbito Ryan’s goal totals, I’m okay with him getting more looks from a left handed centre. I’m thinking if Guy Boucher is supposed to be a power play focused tactician, he might have asked for a left handed centre who can create offense. No shade to Zibanejad but the ability to make plays was probably the biggest shortcoming in his game. Zibanejad’s more of a shooter…who should also shoot more.
  3. The budget, the schmudget, the fludget ALRIGHT ALREADY. Finally, I get to talk about the budget! Dreamz kome tru. Seriously, it’s painful but it’s a reality. I want Mike Hoffman and Cody Ceci locked up. Brassard is signed for 3 more years at a number Dorion can hang his hat on (?). I think this only helps those other signings happen. We keep a Zibanejad-level player who’s left handed and we have a better chance of signing Hoffman? I can live with that. We’d never get a guy like Hoff on the market and we don’t really downgrade on Brassard. I’m not going to pretend a 28 year old with good shot suppression metrics and who led the Rangers with 27 goals is bound for the glue factory. With 3 years left on his deal and centres White and Brown OR WHO KNOWS WHAT COLOUR on the way, this is starting to make more sense.
    That second rounder stings but can still be recovered. Zack Smith is a UFA at the end of the year *thinking emoji*

So I guess that just about wraps it u—or sorry, did anyone else have any thoughts

Conrad:

The conflicted thoughts I’ve encountered in the past 33 hours:

  1. The Sens should be looking for players on high-value contracts because they’re a budget team. Except in this case, where Brassard is making $10M over three years – which can we take a moment to acknowledge is amazing value, maybe even Kyle Turris value? – it’s yet more evidence that they’re broke AF.
  2. Similarly, Sens being a budget team, they waited until after July 15 so they wouldn’t have to pay Brassard his bonus, which again means they’re broke AF and not that they are smart business people. You definitely want your team paying $2M for 2nd round picks like the Rangers just did.
  3. The Sens gave up a second round pick, which is the sort of thing that’s killing them in the draft, except when they get a pick, which is then worthless because we know that every pick outside the top 15 in the first round is basically a lottery ticket who won’t play for like 3-4 years at best, and so sacrificing the draft to save money is evidence that they’re broke AF.
  4. Zibanejad never lived up to expectations, and so he needed to be traded before he was due a huge payday which, as we all know, disappointing players always receive. Because broke AF.
  5. The Sens should be more focused on analytics, unless they’re trading a young player for a superior possession player who’s cheaper because they’re oh you know.

I’m starting to think that part of enjoying one’s local hockey team is to compete with others on the basis of your team being worse and stupider than any other hockey team, and so every transaction, even when you can see the logic behind it, becomes yet more evidence of recurring ineptitude or behavior inspired purely by a broke owner. Melnyk being broke has, in this case, become a kind of zen mantra for some. It’s the WWJD bumper sticker of Sens fandom. I imagine fans tying thread between pins on a pushboard, connecting Ottawa Sun articles, looking for patterns, only to find that they’re spelled the words “Melnyk.”

The Sens just brought in someone who happens to be a center, happens to be left-handed, happens to be local, happens to produce goals, happens to be on an affordable contract, happens to be experienced, and instead of saying “I can see how this might make sense in the context of needing to sign these other RFAs,” it’s become another opportunity to say “Why don’t we have a richer owner?”

Here’s the thing: you CAN have a richer owner. It’s called following another team. You have a ton to choose from. Go be a Tampa Bay Lightning fan and cheer when they buy out Vinnie Lecavalier for $32M so they can sign Valtteri Filppula for $25M.

In this summer of trades that made zero sense – I’m still wondering how Edmonton doesn’t get at least a pick in that Hall-Larsson trade – I’m enjoying the fact that the Sens are able to make trades that take care of their needs while ALSO saving money. I’m enjoying watching a team operating under constrictions be strategic.

Andrew:

I am currently feeling really good about the fan base’s ability to handle disappointment and the reality that economics are a part of sport as we head into Phase 2 of the LeBreton process.

What’s funny to me is, yes, the economic reasons are fairly self-evident from an Ottawa standpoint, but like this was also a money/cap trade for the Rangers. New York saves some very important cap $$ which they needed to do because….they have some absolutely terrible deals? If I’m a Ranger fan, it’s like we let Stralman walk, Yandle go, traded Brassard, so we could keep salaries like Marc Staal’s and Dan Girardi’s? That would be a serious WTF. Instead of cries of “We’re wasting Erik Karlsson’s prime!” I’d be seriously bemoaning that Henrik Lundqvist is 34 and has a pair of high-priced Boro/Gryba/Cowen Take Your Picks in front of him. This is an example of another team not named Senators which has Some Problems.

There was that silly “fan confidence” poll circulating around twitter a few days ago about GM/front office confidence and the Sens ranked 23rd or something (it was 23rd, no “or something”) and like, that’s not remotely surprising? The methodology was not really overly useful (approx. 200 fans voted on all teams in the league). Like I pay a lot of attention to hockey and to other teams, but I don’t give a fuck about New Jersey’s front office and I try and block to Kings from my mind etc. Simply put, fans across the the league can’t really accurately rate this, there’s not enough info about what teams do, and fans are singular in their focus (ie pay attention to only their team). But even if this was somehow more accurate or the voting was just for the team for which you cheer, Ottawa fans would totally slam their management. Why? Because like Maryland and crabcakes, it’s what we do. Off the top of my head, only Winnipeg’s front office impresses me more, possibly, of the Canadian teams but they also seem to be in a perpetual, “building a strong foundation for the future – maybe” mode. Ottawa isn’t perfect and at times they make mistakes. But lots of Sens fans don’t seem to realize that “not perfect” and “makes mistakes” are constants with other teams too.

My point is this: I don’t think Ottawa has a front office full of geniuses, but that’s ok. I think being smart in the NHL is a lot like an episode of Pinky and the Brain: one might be a genius, but episode after episode, he gets proven wrong by Pinky. These artificial distinctions about which front office has it going on/is smart/is cutting edge/tells you all about the analytics hires they don’t listen to etc, are just that – artificial. The line separating a Ron Francis or Jim Nill from a Jim Benning or Marc Bergevin is shorter than most of us think. But most of us – me included – are too involved with our own shit (i.e. Euge’s bankrolling of the Institute for Horse Analytics) to realize.

It’s fun to laugh at the “Buy Local” portion of the deal but I don’t think Ottawa trading for or signing players with roots in the area (outside of Boro tbh) is anything more than successive GMs now trying to make the most of what little competitive advantage in terms of location this team has. They don’t have the tax advantage of teams based in Florida, Texas, or Tennessee (as a citizen of this province, I am more than ok with that), they don’t have the nightlife, the weather, the team history, contender status, or other big draws. But they’re one of the biggest cities in Canada and one of the few (only?? I didn’t look at a map) with two junior teams. So lots of guys have ties to the area and if that helps keep the budget low while bringing in decent and good players? Fine.

As for the trade pieces, I like Mika, so that sucks. You get attached to the players you know, especially those your team drafts and that you get to watch mature in your system. Will Mika be a better player than Brassard this season and in the future? Quite possibly and that sucks too. But so far it seems like this deal is fairly even and might suit both clubs right now and in the immediate future. Fine.

This is where I’m at with the Senators: I want to spend to the cap every year, to not make Toronto pay (or not pay, as the case may be) for our buyouts, but have the resources to do it ourselves. I want to pay top dollar for coaching, and hockey ops, and management, and facilities. I want to get a new arena built without what I’m sure is going to be considerable consternation. But mostly…

I want to win the Stanley Cup 65 straight times. I want every season engraved on the Cup’s 5 rings to start with “Ottawa Senators”. After that 65th straight win I want the rest of the teams to finally capitulate and disband. But I also get the realities of Euge’s wallet (it looks like mine after all), that this team (like most teams in the league really) is just trying to make the playoffs, that they are currently a bubble team (though the division is shit so that’ll probably be enough), and that only one team gets to win every year. I am capable of carrying two versions of this team in my head; I firmly believe that WE’RE GONNA WIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! every night, while understanding that the Sens are a bubble team who will in fact, lose on many occasions.

So yeah, this trade hurts, because Mika is almost 6 years younger and therefore would have been around for at least a few more of those consecutive Cup wins. But this is a fairly even trade at this point, it’s just not without risk, which is true of all trades. We’ve been talking about how Bobby will look with Brassard, and with good reason, but I think I’m most looking forward to him playing with EK. It’s possible we’ve have a player for the first time since Spezza left that can accept a hard pass from Karlsson.

Erik Karlsson is going to have the biggest Fuck You Haters season with 30+ goals, 100 points, and Shea Weber winning the Norris.

Luke:

Look at you emotional bastards. I’m going to analyze this trade the old fashioned way: with Objective Fancy Stats.

Right off the bat, I’d like to address the notion that *today* Derick Brassard is a better player than Mika Zibanejad by saying that this is likely true, but the statistical evidence of that is not overwhelming. Over the past 2 seasons, Brassard’s 5v5 fancy stats are slightly better, but not overwhelmingly so. Brassard has an all-situations primary points per 60 minutes of 1.7 compared to Mika’s 1.6, which is driven by Brassard’s slightly better goals per 60 minutes. Their usage is pretty much identical, both in terms of zone starts and quality of teammates/competition. On an individual basis, Brassard gets shots on net more often, whereas Zibanejad shoots at the net more often. Brassard’s s% over the past two years is 13.1% compared to Zibanejad’s 12.3%. Brassard’s shot 11.5% over the course of his career, and Mika’s shot 10.9% over the course of his. Brassard’s spent most of his time playing with Mats Zuccarello whereas Mika’s spent most of his time playing with Bobby Ryan. Brassard’s play may have been suppressed playing under Alain Vignault’s non-optimal system. Ditto Zibanejad and Dave Cameron’s system. Gun to my head, I’d say that Brassard’s results have been slightly better over the past two years, so I guess we can chalk the player part of this deal that in the Win Column for the Ottawa Senators. Add in the 2nd round pick for a 7th round pick part of the deal and this deal is that rarest of animals: a fair trade.

The Objective Hockey Reality part of this trade seems to be pretty much airtight unlike some other Subban-for-Webers I could Hall-for-Larsson, but let’s talk about this trade in the context of where this game is #ACTUALLY played: off the ice. The subjective, off-ice considerations that factor into this trade have people getting into their feelings like they’re auditioning for Inside Out 2. Now, I’d love to just ignore the context of this trade, just like we all love to ignore the contexts of so many other trades around here like Bishop-for-Conacher (Context: team had 3 goalies and Bishop was a UFA at end of season), Spezza-for-Chiasson (Context: Spezza had no-trade clause and was UFA at end of season), and The Phaneuf Trade (Context: team needed a defenseman and needed to dump contracts), but when there’s so little to argue about objectively, you gotta be willing to go to the dirty areas for the sake of the roundtable.

So here’s some context:

a) “Time and Age” or Constructs Denoting the Continuous Progress of Existence and Events as the Entropy of Both Ourselves and The Universe Continues to Increase Indefinitely.

Mika Zibanejad is 23 years old and Derick Brassard is 28 years old. What this means is that Mika Zibanejad is likely to improve as a hockey player somewhat over the next 5 years, whereas Derick Brassard is not. How much is Mika Zibanejad likely to improve? Who can know for sure? Let’s put a pin in this one until we know the answer, at which point we can all talk about how it was a complete certainty things were going to turn out that way.

b) “Finances” or The Ability of An Organization to Conduct Its Business Both Successfully and Sustainably

Mika Zibanejad makes $3.25 Million this year, after which he will be an RFA in need of a new contract. Derrick Brassard has a cap hit $5 million per year for the next 3 years, but only must be paid $10 million in real dollars over that same period. It’s likely that Ottawa will get the next three years of Derrick Brassard for much less money than New York gets the next three years of Mika Zibanejad. Given that the Senators need to provide new contracts for Cody Ceci and Mike Hoffman this season, and J-G Pageau and Curtis Lazar next season, the importance of this newfound cost certainty cannot be overlooked.

c) “Hockey is a Team Sport” or The Extent to Which Small Factors Such as Playing Style and Handedness Affect a Group’s Overall Quality of Play

Watching Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan on the same line was kind of like watching someone bail out a leaky rowboat using a live pelican; it sort of worked, but you always got the feeling there had to be a better way. Now Bobby Ryan’s going to be getting those silky smooth Brassard forehand passes instead of the weird clunky Zibanejad backhand passes. Now the Senators powerplay has a specialist at centre. Now the Senators have a guy who is Good In The Room and doesn’t have a reputation for coming into camp out of shape. None of these things may matter, but I like how there’s the possibility of some team-building inside baseball going on here. If you told me the trade was Zibanejad for Some Other Team’s Older Zibanejad Who Also Makes Bobby Ryan Better, I’d pull the trigger on that all day. Maybe Derick Brassard being left handed won’t matter at all, but I say it will! Let’s see your spreadsheets explain the relationship between centre handedness and right winger goals, NERDS! (Seriously, that’s a neat idea for analysis. I would read that.)

In conclusion:

One of the main (and entirely justified) knocks on Bryan Murray was that he was too attached to His Guys. He liked who he had on his team, and he believed in their potential, often to the point of overvaluing them. The line always went that Ottawa needed a GM who could rationally assess various factors, and wasn’t afraid to move players if he thought he’d be able to find value. I don’t know if Pierre Dorion is that GM, but I think the Zibanejad for Brassard trade is the sort of move that GM would make.

It’s a pretty nifty trade when you get right down to it. Ottawa traded a promising player due for a big raise for a player of equal or slightly superior hockey ability who has a high degree of cost-certainty for the next 3 years, and they did it by trading with a team who is in some not-insignificant cap trouble. It’s a trade that’s easily justified on both hockey and financial levels, and that’s pretty damn impressive to me. If you think making a Hockey Trade at the same time you make a Business Trade is easy, I would like to introduce you to the Chicago Blackhawks trading Nick Leddy, Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, and Teuvo Teravainen.

In short, I respect this trade a lot. I might even go so far as to call it “creative”.

But mostly I hate it. I don’t even hate it for what the trade means about the financial state of the team or ownership. While I realize that we’re not exactly immune to the occasional gripe regarding ownership around here, mostly I believe that getting upset about the team being poor is like getting upset at the Law of Universal Gravitation. I’d love to be able to dunk a basketball, but I can’t. I can either write a thousand columns about how much better my life would be without gravity, or I can write some columns about the stepladders I’m looking at buying. I’ve made my choice.

I hate this trade because I like Mika Zibanejad and I always believed deep in my heart that this was not his final form, that he had one more gear. Now when he finds that gear, it won’t be with Ottawa, and where is the fun in that?

Point: The Senators are not a worse hockey team after this trade. They might even be better in both the short and long term.

Counterpoint: I don’t like Derick Brassard (yet). I like Mika Zibanejad. I hate this trade.

Conclusion: I also like winning, so let’s make me feel better by doing that.

One thought on “Roundtable of Death: Goodbye Yellow Brick Banana Jazz

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