The Jail Phone: Training Camp Battles

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“How you never gonna be slow? Never be late?” – Avon Barksdale worries about the Bobby Ryan contract

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. Today’s discussions are about theft…theft of roster spots.

Mike Costco vs. Mark Borowiecki vs. Thomas Chabot vs. Freddie Claesson vs. Patrick Sielof vs. Infinity

James: Ahh, nothing like starting off with the high stakes drama that is The Battle of the Bottom Pairing.

Playing 63 games with the big club in 2015-16 (SPLITTING TIME BETWEEN DEFENSE AND FORWARD BECAUSE NEVER FORGET) one would think that Mark Borowiecki was a lock for the bottom pairing job to start this season. A few things have changed over the past few months however. As we all know, Mark has a reputation as the Senators’ Extremely Local Boy and that he gets the more ice time than he deserves because of his local work ethic more than his local abilities. Fair. This year could be a bit different. First of all, along with a new General Manager under a lot of pressure in his first season on the job, there’s also an entirely new coaching staff with a ton to prove. This staff features a head coach who is billed as an offensive/power play mastermind who has embraced analytics as a tool for decision making. Offense and advanced stats; that cannot bode well for Borowiecki can it? The other thing no one seems to be talking about is that Boro missed the last stretch of the season with a knee injury. Do you think Boro could see a lot of scratches this year and be used sparingly for regional face punching in games against Boston or teams of that nature? As much as it’s pumped up that he can do no wrong with the organization I think it could get quiet for Borocop and that this door is wide open. For a broke team, they sure didn’t seem to have a problem burying former Golden Child Colin Greening in Binghamton at nearly two and a half times the price. He’s got the heart and all but can Boucher and co. afford to roll with the least talent player on the team game in and game out? If not, who do you see making that electric slide into his spot?

Luke: I think Mark Borowiecki is my 6th or 7th favourite defenseman on the Ottawa Senators, but I can’t honestly say that I dislike him with the Nerudian passion of others. I’m never going to sit at a bar and tell you about all the ways Boro is good, but I also find the ways in which he is bad pretty inoffensive. He couldn’t move the puck if you rented him a U-Haul and offered free pizza, but he’s generally in the right spot on the ice and he doesn’t shy away from the physical aspects of the game. As a honest, hard-working man, I can appreciate some meat and potatoes in my blue-collar lunchpail as much as the next unionized steelworker.

THAT SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAID…Mark Borowiecki was feeling good about himself to a degree that was, frankly, inappropriate last year. Here’s what he had to say about Erik Karlsson, his captain and the greatest defenseman of his generation:

“Karl, offensively, skill-wise, he’s a generational talent,” Borowiecki says. “You’ve got to let him do his thing. But it definitely is the coach’s job to kind of keep him reined in a little bit.”

Counterpoint: Your single goal last season was scored into an empty net so maybe you want to shut the fuck up until you start producing some offense that needs reining in, my G?

No doubt Boro is gonna go out there and give it 100% in camp, but for me the best case scenario is that his good example leads to Thomas Chabot also giving it 100% in camp and subsequently winning a permanent spot on the 3rd pairing, because I honestly don’t think Kostko or Claesson are any stronger in the areas where Boro is weak.

STAT TO WATCH: Can Patrick Sielof keep his goal-per-game pace at the NHL level?

CONCLUSION: Even if Chabot doesn’t win a full-time spot on the team, Boro should be the same as he always is. Expect Chabot to get his full 9 game tryout at the NHL level regardless.

James: So what you’re saying is Thomas Chabot AND Mark Borowiecki could both be working out their lacking defensive games at the NHL level. Moving on…

Francis Perron vs. Nick Paul vs. Ryan Dzingel vs. Matt Puempel

James: With Zibanejad, Prince, Noesen and 2014 first round pick all playing elsewhere now can we agree that Matt Puempel is pretty much playing for his NHL career with the team that drafted him…5 years ago. For a first round pick, this egg is going to have to step up to if not Faberge status at least omelette usefulness levels(???) if they are going to keep him around (or make him captain of the Binghamton Sens). There are many different paths to the big leagues, ask Mike Hoffman or Andrew Hammond but some stats are creeping up on Puempel. I wont take the low hanging fruit of how stridently he’s been surpassed by fellow 2011 draftee and National Treasure JG Pageau. But how about this? 2011 seventh round pick Ryan Dzingel now has more points at the NHL level than Puempel and in 9 fewer games. No question that Matt’s ceiling is higher but when you consider that the Dorion likely identifies Dzingel as “Erik Condra who can put the puck in the net occasionally” the chances of him finding a spot on the roster are likely better than Puempel’s of “Probably a good goal scorer who was outscored by several of his less skilled contemporaries who’d played fewer games” A lot is made of player usage and again, that’s fair but you gotta outshine future 4th line meat bag Max MacCormick. Not like he’s spent any time on a line with Bobby Ryan like Puempel has. Most damning is that Buddy Robinson got within one point of him in THREE games. I acknowledge that these numbers are all very close and of small sample sizes but you’d think Puempel should be pulling away from the pack at some point soon.

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I know I’m coming off like a Negative Nedra (?) but there’s more to this than simply giving it to you straight like a pear cider made of 100% pears. I think because all of the questions and concerns I’ve outlined, barring a very unlikely poor showing at camp, Puempel gets a full time slot on the team. They know what they have in Dzingel and he’s a great injury call up. Paul is only 21 and could still stand some AHL time, Perron looks fantastic but weighs 160 pounds despite being 6 feet tall and needs to spend time riding the bus hitting all the Broome County Denny’s locations to bulk up. I see Puempel getting a last chance to show his worth.

Luke: Ah yes, The Battle of the Left Wing Prospects of Dubious Ceiling.

My infatuation with “Pope” Francis Perron has not been a secret. The Sens took a flyer on him in the 7th round in 2014, let him develop in the Q for two more years and he responded by putting up 141 points in 80 total games last year. Yes, I understand that he was an over-age player in the Q, but wouldn’t you rather have a guy like that totally dunking on fools instead of being *ok* in their Draft+2 Year? Pope Francis was dunking last year. He’s barely signed his first pro contract and he’s already drawing comparisons to Mike Hoffman. Mike Hoffman is…*googles “is mike hoffman good?”*…quite good, so that’s an encouraging sign. So yeah, he’s young, he hasn’t done anything in a pro league yet, he’s probably too small to make the NHL out of camp, but he’s got a shot like a sci-fi weapon and he’s full of hope and promise, and I refuse to be anything but a shameless homer about his chances to develop into a great NHL-er. When was the last time the Senators had a prospect who just dominated a junior league? This guy is our Mitch Marner and I’m going to act like it, dammit.

Where there is optimistic Yin, there must also be cynical Yang, and it is at this point that I must ask Matt Puempel to step forward. Matty P had 30 goals a few seasons ago in Binghamton, a fact about which we were all very excited. He’s followed up on this by scoring an underwhelming 6 points in 39 NHL games, and things have not been amazing in Binghamton either. Since that 2013-14 30 goal season, Matt Puempel hasn’t scored 30 AHL goals total, soooooooooo………I think that’s a wrap. It happens. Sometimes your late 1st rounders aren’t as good as you’d like. Maybe Puempel comes out and has a great camp and pre-season and eventually finds a home on the 3rd line, but at 23 years old, I’d say this is definitely his last chance to make that happen and I wouldn’t bet on it.

Nick Paul and Ryan Dzingel are similar players in that they both looked decent in their limited NHL time last season despite their crippling handicap of playing on the same line as Chris Neil and Scott Gomez respectively. Based purely on some arbitrary eye test shit, I’d say I like Dzingel’s game more than Paul’s, although Paul is three years younger and probably has the higher ceiling. Basically I expect Paul and Dzingel to be the main combatants for the bottom 6 left wing spots and I don’t have a problem with either or both of them earning it.

James: I wouldn’t say it’s cynical to doubt that a first round pick will become something. In that post you linked to that a guy who’s extremely not a virgin wrote, you’ll note that two previous Bingo 30 goal scorers included Mike Hoffman (definitely an NHL player) and Ryan Keller (help Wiccanpedia by expanding this stub). Just because Puempel is a first round pick don’t mean homeboy has a leg up on his competition. He might just get a little more of a look as clubs hate to flop on first rounders. I’ve done a couple posts over the years examining the pedigree of various Sens lineups and my findings are that full time players tend to be from both poles of the draft. Take last year’s top six:

MacArthur (3rd rounder) – Turris (3rd overall) – Ryan (2nd overall)
Hoffman (5th rounder) – Zibanejad (6th overall) – Stone (6th rounder)

That’s the most fun thing about the draft and watching prospects develop. The high end guys obviously get every chance to make it but no one can predict that a sixth rounder will rocket up the depth chart and put up a Calder worthy rookie season. The first round is weird. You can be just on the cusp of the 2nd rounder but still have those first rounder expectations. “I’m not playin wit u” – Jim O’Brien, person. Zibanejad developed much better than Puempel has…which is likely part of why he was selected 18 spots ahead of him. Anyway, when you have a season like Francis Perron just did your lack of pedigree no longer matters. He’s made himself one of the team’s top prospects like how Stone did a few years ago. Speaking of NHL players lacking pedigree…

Max McCormick vs. Chris Neil

James: I will say, Max McCormick is not the type of player who will ever set the advanced stats crowd aflame. We’re not even allowed to get excited about Zack Smith scoring 25 goals. Not even for a minute. His goals are bad. Whatever don’t @ me, I digress. Max is the type of player who has that “Hardest Worker at Rookie Camp” stank on him that will never wash off with some fans and yet makes him a legit award winner to others and I say all that to say this: Regardless of how you feel about him, you have to admit McCormick did not really look out of place at the NHL level. He knows what his assignment is and looked pretty capable of it. He is the heir apparent to Chris Neil’s…uh…throne? Chair? Chair as a GOOD BEAUTIFUL RURAL WISCONSIN BOY KEEPIN EM HONEST OUT THERE AND EVERYTHINK LIKE THAT. That said, there are a couple of factors that I think will have Max Keeping (‘Em Honest) in the Southern Tier region of New York State another year. The first is, despite getting up there in years, Neil upped his game from “Bullshit” to “Deec” last season. He did nothing to make me think that will be healthy scratched going forward. Especially given the organization’s emphasis on the need for veteran leadership. Second, he’s 24 games from hitting 1000 as a Senator. Regardless of your feels toward the B U S I N E S S of sport (aka why we all got into this stuff as kids) I think Neil hitting 1000 games is important to both him and the organization. I believe that this will likely be Neil’s final year with the team and possibly in the NHL. They’re going to play him a lot. Hopefully he can cut down on his 165 penalty minutes (down 46 minutes or a full episode of the hit TV melodrama Nashville from his last full season). I have no reason to think Neiler won’t show up to camp slim with the tilted brim as he impressively did last year. The only thing keeping him out of the starting line up is injury.

Luke: I hope Max McCormick turns into Chris Neil 2.0 i.e. a pesky spark plug who’ll chip in 20 points, won’t be a defensive liability, and will occasionally punch someone in the face if his coach thinks that’s important. (Ed. Note: I don’t think punching people in the face is important, and I hope that one day no hockey player will have to punch another hockey player in the face, but changing the hockey culture that is responsible for facepunching is beyond the scope of this Jail Phone.) Until that time, as you say, I guess we will deal with Chris Neil Classic.

I have no idea how to feel about Chris Neil. You’ve got to respect the hustle of a 6th round pick (who once had 354 PIMs in a single IHL season) who manages to have what will likely be a 1000+ game NHL career. I’ve been to many an Ottawa game where Neiler would wake up an otherwise sedentary winter weeknight crowd with a big hit or a fight. (Remember that time Neil nailed Dany Heatley? Who didn’t love that?) Also, as physical as the guy plays, I don’t think I’d characterize him as a dirty player. Like Chris Phillips, he’s been a fixture at various Ottawa area charity events for years. He had a big playoff goal. He’s been in commercials that aired only on Ottawa Public Access Television. He’s been on Ottawa teams that won a bunch. He’s been on Ottawa teams that were terrible. I guess the takeaway is that as good as Chris Neil was at his role, it wasn’t a role that had much effect on the fortunes of the Ottawa Senators. Like your family’s ancient cat, Chris Neil’s been around forever, but it’s not difficult to imagine a past without them as your life would be largely unchanged, except you’d have cleaned puke off the carpet much less. (P.S. RIP My Family’s Ancient Cat. 1998-2016)

How best to commemorate an such a veteran in what is likely to be their last season? Probably with a hashtag. I would like to submit #RE25ECT for consideration.

James: Sorry 2 hear about your Ancient Cat’s Passing. Speaking of an Ancient Cat and little pukes…

Curtis Lazar vs. Logan Brown vs. Chris Kelly

James: *Thinking emoji* This is weird. I didn’t even consider something like this. You’d think Kelly is a lock but I’m not about to talk smack about Borowiecki coming off a rough injury without acknowledging Kells coming off a far worse one at almost 10 years his senior Luke, can you tell us how we feel about this?

Do you really think Brown has a shot?

Luke: Chris Kelly was brought in to provide some more options on the 4th line, but I think it would be foolish to write him into the lineup using permanent marker when Curtis Lazar’s been working on his shot all summer. Just as a little X-factor, we’ve got The New Hotness Logan Brown coming in with his first ever pro contract looking to turn some heads. No doubt Curtis Lazar and Chris Kelly have more NHL experience than Logan Brown, but Brown does have the advantage in one critical area: being 6’6″.

Also, I’ve been watching Logan Brown on tape, and that dude dishes the puck so well, he could make passing a kidney stone look easy. I think there’s a non-zero chance Brown shows enough in camp that Boucher pretty much has to keep the kid around. You wouldn’t normally expect your 18 year old 1st round pick to make an NHL team unless they were Connor McEichel or Sidney Hall, but again: Six Feet Six Inches Tall.

This spot is Kelly’s to lose, but Lazar and Brown will push him.

Craig Anderson vs. The Passage of Time

James: Thing I’ve been avoiding thinking about: Craig Anderson is getting up there in years. At a freshly turned 35, he’s in the top 5 of the Golden Goalie Oldies but I suppose it is comforting that there are other capable starters close to him in age. Luberto Rolongo and Ryan FUHHCKIIIN MILLAH are both older than him. Hunk Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne and Mike Smith are just a year younger. Some of those guys might be considered a little past their prime years but I think you could easily see another good year out of any of those dudes. Ah, on the topic of another good year, I think we probably have another good year max left out of Andy. This is curious as he has two years left on his deal but I suppose that’s another post about the Las Vegas Harlem Knights altogether. Anyway, if the legends are true that Boucher can improve defensive zone structure and that Dion Phaneuf is better than Wiercioch and Cowen than I think Anderson can get away with being solid instead of the usual outstanding that he has to be to keep games from being 8-2 by the second intermission. I guess you can say I think the bigger factor than Andy’s age is the team’s defensive play.

Luke: Craig Anderson is second all time in games played and wins by a Senators goalie, and there’s a pretty decent chance he passes Patrick Lalime in both categories this season. Should that happen, I think anyone would have to say Craig Anderson’s the best Senators goalie ever.

To your point about old goalies, I see what you are saying. Sure he’s 35, but he’s got as many minutes played as Carey Price and Pekka Rinne. Roberto Luongo is 37, and he’s still stoning youngsters like he’s Willie Nelson hotboxing his tour bus.

However, Price, Rinne, and Luongo have all dealt with extremely serious lower body injuries in the last two years. Rinne hasn’t been the same since, and while we’re going to have to see about Price and Luongo, it’s possible they won’t be the same either. (Interesting to note: Luongo’s team went and picked up a VERY competent backup this off-season, whereas Price’s team traded their best defenseman. Which one of these teams is more likely to be run by Smart People? HMMMMMM…mmmm…) Hey, does Craig Anderson have a history of injuries? Can anyone remind me?

I’m not yet entirely filled with predictions of Doom about Anderson’s level of performance, but he is getting into his “This guy could drop off a cliff for any number of reasons” years. Three years ago if Anderson had a bad season, it was because he was a goalie and these things happen. If Anderson has a bad season this year, it’s going to be because he’s old.

James: So what you’re saying is, be safe tho?

Zack Smith vs. Shooting Percentage Regression

James: Look, my Ayatollah Bromeini, I’m not out here saying Zachariah Smith is the new Mike Hoffman or some shit but it’s not like he was tapping in pretty Spezza dishes like Greening did when he put up 17. Smith had a really good season and I am really happy he’s coming in to camp thinking “I can score 25 goals.” Many refuse to admit it but Zack Smith is a very useful mid-6 player. As such, it’s not his job to score 25 goals again so I’m not expecting it. One thing I have said time and again over the years is Smith seems to either score 14 goals or 4. I am hoping he breaks his one again off again pattern and has one of those 14 years.

zmith

Luke: Not sure if you heard about this, but P.R. Hussein Dorion said on the radio that he thinks he has nine (9) twenty goal scorers on the team this year. I would guess he means Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan, Derick (sic) Brassard, Mike Hoffman, Erik Karlsson, Zack Smith, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Here’s the thing about that: with the exception of Pageau (who had 19 goals last year) all those players are only 20 goal scorers in the sense that they have literally scored 20 goals in past seasons. Why is Dorion out here defining his players based on what they’ve achieved in the past? This dude lives in a fantasy world.

Anyway, Zack Smith isn’t going to score 25 goals again this year unless he takes a lot more shots, and that’s FINE. He’s not supposed to be the 25 goal scoring dude, but he stepped into a 25 goal scoring dude’s role and filled it anyway because he’s a goddamn professional. Having a bottom 6 guy who can also produce in the top 6 if he has to is aka “The Dream” by the way. Given that The Smit_Treat (???) nearly didn’t have a spot on the team following a fairly horrific wrist injury two seasons ago, I think it’s great that he had himself a career year if only to prove to himself and others that the game hasn’t passed him by.

Hell, maybe Zack Smith is the hockey version of Rookie of the Year and his injury was directly responsible for his improved scoring prowess. Keep your eye on that storyline.

Bobby Ryan vs. Expectations

James: We’re sorry, Bobby Ryan cannot meet expectations in this area code at this or any time. Please hang up and try your call to the Gabriel Pizza Hotline again. Seriously. As if the price of that trade wasn’t enough hanging over his head, that contract of his really sealed the deal. He will never be able to meet the expectations of many fans. Case in point, he’s increased his point total every year since coming here, including his best in 5 years last season. Yet he is seen as a massive disappointment. Getting paid more than Erik Karlsson will do that. I know, of course, it’s mainly because of his failure to meet the expectation of hitting 30 goals. At this point though, I believe the guy could put up 35 and be met with “Took you long enough” or “It’s not real unless you do it again.” With the addition of the play making Brassard I think he will be able to focus on his role as a goal scorer again. That’s something he’s barely been able to do since coming here from Anaheim. A lot is riding on he and Brass having good chemistry for sure. I hope at the very least it can allow Ryan to be a bit more consistent in his production throughout the season. I find his cold streaks as frustrating as the next fan I just wish he’d get some credit for the times he’s absolutely carried the team’s offense. Regardless, I think the minds of many are made up on the guy. It’s kind of a bummer that our fan base seems to have a tough time embracing such a likable player. I do understand it to a degree. How’s by you, @Perist_Treat?

Luke: From the fanbase that brought you “Jason Spezza turns the puck over too much” comes “Bobby Ryan gets paid too much”. You don’t go top 60 in NHL scoring without making a few enemies I guess. Here are some players Bobby Ryan outscored last year: Tomas Plekanec, Ryan Kesler, Gabriel Landeskog, Patrick Hornqvist, Nathan MacKinnon, T.J. Oshie, Henrik Zetterberg, Scott Hartnell, Patrick Marleau, Jarome Iginla, Dylan Larkin, Tomas Hertl, and Nazem Kadri. Hell, he was only two points back of Jonathan Toews. Maybe it’s time to *adjust* the expectations of what constitutes a good season. Top 60 scoring used to be 64 points in 2007 and now it’s 56 points. Put another way, what was Top 100 scoring in 2007 is now Top 60 scoring. It happens.

CONCLUSION: Bobby Ryan’s got a kid now, which means he’s gonna have Dad Strength, which means he’s gonna have a great year. Also Super-Genius Guy Boucher is gonna work magic with Ryan and Brassard on the powerplay. The Haters may now advance upon my position.

Derick Brassard vs. Kyle Turris

James: This battle is the one that I find the most interesting but no one is talking about it…UNTIL NOW! *Awkward pause*

Turris and Brassard will be a solid 1A and 1B combo. Well I think that just about wraps it u—. I don’t dispute the 1A/1B thing but there is still the matter of who(m) is the 1A and who(mb) is the 1B. When it was Zibanejad here, Turris was clearly the better of the two and as such was the top line guy. The much more comparable Brassard spices things up. I’ve heard Brassard referred to as the Sens new number 1 centre in a couple of articles. You can definitely argue that but these are competitive beings and the worrrrld is a competitive fuhhckin place. Kyle Turris will be entering his sixth season(!) here in the capital. Coming off an injury plagued year he started off hot but never got a real chance to follow up on his 64 point career season of 2014-15 . If he’s fully healthy, I’d imagine he’s coming into camp at least slightly picanté and isn’t about to give up the job he’s earned over the years. A lot is made of the left handed Brassard being a boost for Bobby Ryan but one wonders if a sub-competition emerges twixt Turris and Brassard of who gets to play with the more productive Mark Stone who seems to give zero fucks about the handedness of his centre nor if the other team has the puck for that matter. I really like the idea of these pretty similar players competing for top line duty. We all win if Brassard blows Turris out of the water as no.7 would make a pretty dynamite 2nd line pivot. Well, in a more accurate way, everyone but Turris wins there. Ultimately it’s up to Guy Boucher but I can’t imagine Turris won’t be trying to outshine Brassard and hang on to the 1A job.

Luke: If I were going to describe Kyle Turris as a hockey player, I’d use the phrase “relentlessly competent”. What can’t that guy do at an extremely high level? I hope we get a whole year of Pre-Injury 2015 Kyle Turris this season because he was on pace for 70 points before his leg was bent in a way not in accordance with God’s plan. Even if we don’t get Next Level Fuego Turris, I’m not worried about Kyle Turris Classic: The Relentlessly Competent Centre.

Before I continue, I must make the confession that I don’t know a goddamn thing about Derick Brassard. (Thx 4 reading? Thx 4 reading.) However, I did pop over to (Friend of the Blog) Micah Blake McCurdy’s website to check out how Brassard was being used in New York and the answer is…like a number one centre, so yeah, this is a legitimate battle. In terms of stats and usage, there’s very little to choose between Turris and Brassard, which is I’m perfectly ok with because if you’ve got a good player, why not have two? Brassard didn’t get as defensively important assignments as Derek Stepan in New York, but is that because Stepan is the better defensive centre or because Alain Vigneault is weird? It’s hard to say.

Ultimately, as you point out, the question of “Who is the number one centre?” might not be answered by ice time but by who is playing with Mark Stone, and there I’d have to say Kyle Turris has the inside track.

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