Good news, everyone: this outdoor NHL game is an opportunity to appreciate the subtle pleasures of incremental policy development

As a person who has worked in health care policy for a few years, I’m a lover of the technocratic and the incremental. While policy can be dry, and seem arbitrary to those who locate themselves some distance from its construction, for those steeped in its norms there can be a subtle, democratic beauty to its underlying principles: each policy is a snapshot of the compromises required at a given time in order to move the needle on something that actually affects people.

Vision is important. Describing bold and beautiful things causes people to rally together and inspires civic engagement. But those of us in the policy world understand that most of the decisions that affect day-to-day lives are made in the cultureless voids of hotel meeting rooms and committee hearings, where people with a deep knowledge of maybe two or three things wordsmith far from the peeping eyes of the public.

This tends to create two groups: one large one, of frustrated people who don’t understand why something can’t simply be done, and another, much smaller, who kind of stink at communicating the hows and whys of policy and tend to stick to their niche as a result.

Which is why the latest imbroglio surrounding the Ottawa Senators not being able to play their outdoor game on Parliament Hill, and Senators owner Eugene Melnyk’s frustrated letter to the Ottawa Citizen about the situation, is interesting to me, and feels very much of our time.

I think we can all agree that the visual of an NHL game being played in front of the Parliament Buildings is a cool one. That’s not really that heavily debated. But anybody who spent longer than a minute thinking about what it would take to hold a heavily commercialized for-profit event on the front lawn of the seat of the federal government would not be surprised to discover that it’s not possible.

From the question of security, to construction, to parking (I’m starting to think that all of pro sports is a proxy war for a much larger conflict about parking), to the simple debate over who is going to pay for all of it when most of the money goes back to the league, it’s not hard to see why this would be a legal non-starter.

For example: would the increased security provided by the RCMP be paid for by taxpayers, and what laws might be in place that would limit the sharing of profits generated, in some small part, from these revenues with U.S.-based owners? This might be an exceedingly small issue, but the law is the law, and it exists in the dangerous world of precedent.

 

Melnyk’s letter mentions that he “fought hard” for an outdoor game. This I do not doubt. I’m sure that he really, really, really wanted it, and said so many times. What his letter does not allude to is whether the team engaged in the nitty-gritty of teasing out these abstruse policy questions. What safeguards would the league put in place to ensure that the Canadian taxpayer wasn’t on the hook for ancillary expenses associated with the event? What legal measures, if any actually exist, could be put in place so that next year a country and western music festival doesn’t say, “We can meet all the same criteria as the NHL – we’d like to rent Parliament Hill please”?

Policy, for those who don’t work in it, seems capricious. After all, the levels of government and division of assets between public and private spheres are social constructions, so why can’t we simply suspend those constructs when it suits our needs? Can’t we simply have a game on Parliament Hill because it would look cool and then go back to how things were as soon as the stands are torn down?

The answer is no, of course not, and you’re being ridiculous. We live in a world where the actions approved by our governments have the force and effect of precedent. Boldly conflating private profit with public space would take years to achieve, and have complex side effects we couldn’t possibly predict. It’s a fucking hockey game. Just have it in a fucking hockey arena, you know?

Which, of course, anyone who really works on the problem would allow as reasonable. But Melnyk is the kind of stubborn strongman we are unfortunately too familiar with these days. He thinks that through sheer will he can make this happen, and that by manipulating public sentiment in the newspapers he can turn popular opinion to his side. Even if he’s successful, these structures are in place precisely because they do not bend easily under public pressure. It’s for that reason the Conservatives can’t privatize the front lawn of the Parliament Buildings and turn it into a Tar Sands-themed amusement park.

The outcome, unfortunately for a fan base who seem pretty sick of Melnyk, is that he’s gone and made himself and the team look like a doof again.

What’s particularly frustrating is that this market, with its history of negotiating with the federal government for land rights to build an arena, should be acutely aware of the challenges of business in the federal capital. Melnyk won’t be able to play at brinksmanship to produce the outcomes he wants any more than being upset produced a downtown arena on NCC lands back in 1992. And yet here we are, mere months from when the damned thing is supposed to happen, and the owner is stamping his feet saying, “If this doesn’t happen, don’t blame me.”

What Melnyk needs to understand is that this is a conversation he will largely be having with himself. There is nobody to actually lobby in this situation: the government is insulated from the business interests of a local businessman, which is how we’ve thankfully designed these things. As I type this it occurs to me that maybe Melnyk is only so interested in Parliament because, as a governmental entity, it might be illegal for the government to charge the team to use the space, which means Parliament would be cooler, but, more importantly, cheaper.

So the question is no longer, “What can we do to make Parliament happen?” This was never a real question anyway. Policy nerds could have told you that a long time ago. The question is, “Does it make financial sense for this owner with this team to have an outdoor game at TD Place?” And if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t make sense to have an outdoor game at all.

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Remembering you like hockey

It’s that time of year, when NHL previews start to creep into our feeds like reminders of our father’s disappointment that we didn’t go to med school.

“I know you miss hockey, and can’t wait to cheer on the home team. Just remember… *whispers* Ottawa will finish bottom five.”

We’re about a month out from this appearing in magazines. Twitter, as always, is way ahead of the game.

Let’s forget for a moment what an unbelievable wet shit in the pants this is from a narrative standpoint, an example of a writer literally ignoring their audience, privileging their need for hot takes over the need for the reader to interact with something interesting and/or joyous. It’s asshole behavior, a phalanx of Actuallys carpet bombing what’s left of your childlike wonder . But I want to concentrate on the wrongness of the prediction itself.

Indulge me: I want to get excited about hockey.

Ottawa finished last season with 85 points, good for 19th in the league. Outside of Clarke MacArthur, they didn’t have much in the way of injuries. They need about 95-96 to compete for a wild card spot. So you can say, with some accuracy, that the team was not great. They weren’t close to sneaking into the playoffs, let alone contending.

They were also about 10 points up on the worst teams in the league.

So here’s the crux, which also happens to be a thing you can’t really sell a lot of magazines or generate a lot of blog hits writing about: 10 points in the standings, in either direction, is a big shift. Something has to go either really right or really wrong to experience a 10 point change.

Let’s look at some assumptions about the 2016-2017 Ottawa Senators, and at what kind of impact those assumptions might have on their place in the standings:

Everything goes as planned

  • Injuries can happen to anyone, and are totally unpredictable, so let’s look at the ecosystem of players as static, assuming every team gets to keep their lineup as is. Karlsson, in this universe, is invincible.
  • There’s a new coach. I think good players have a much bigger influence on performance than good coaching, but let’s assume Boucher’s system is appropriate for these players, and having NHL experience imbues some intangible whatevers. Let’s say that’s good for an extra 3 points in the standings.
  • Derick Brassard does turn out to be a better player than Zibanejad at this point in their careers, and pairs well with Bobby Ryan, bumping up his production. Let’s say, together, this accounts for another 2 points in the standings.
  • A full season of Phaneuf in place of Wiercioch might be a wash, but let’s say it provides an extra .5-1 point.
  • Clarke MacArthur plays a full season. Maybe another point.
  • Boro doesn’t play at forward. Or anywhere else. Maybe another point.
  • The team’s powerplay and penalty kill improve. They win 1-2 more shootouts than they did last year. Another 2-3 points.
  • Chris Kelly is a serviceable depth player. The youngins keep developing. This is a wash for weird and nice things that happened last year, like Zack Smith scoring 25 goals. (Which, btw: remember that?)

So that’s an extra 10 points in the standings. An unsustainable run of great goaltending, some high shooting percentage, some random puck luck and you’ve got better than a wild card team. It’s not likely, but if you squint and look sideways you can see a scenario in which Ottawa improves that much.

Nothing goes as planned

As simplistic as this math is, let’s just reverse all of the above, with the correlative subtraction of the same point totals. You end up with the team scoring about 8 points less in the standings (because in this scenario their PP and PK don’t get worse, they just stay bad), and with bad luck you can stretch that to 10-12. Only then do you have your situation where Ottawa is competing for 30th in the league.

My point here being that a lot of things have to line up just so for this to happen. It’s equally unlikely that Ottawa would be truly awful as it would be for Ottawa to suddenly be a scary playoff team. It’s almost as if what I said at the beginning of this article was something I intended to swing back to right here: 10 point swings in the standings are exceedingly rare, especially in a league with parity and shootout points.

Which brings me back to the same point I make every year around this time: what exactly is the utility of a person who writes season previews predicting a 10 point swing for any team? And why does it seem so much more fun for them to predict a negative swing for Ottawa than a positive one?

When they do this, it’s usually in the form of “popular team X has added popular free agent Y, so now they’re a legit contender,” which almost never happens. Or “less popular team X has made fewer moves and weren’t great last season, so they’ll be terrible” which reeks of having to fill out the bottom halves of their brackets to account for the wild optimism of predicting success for larger markets.

To a degree, I understand selling this crap for magazines. They’re trying to sell paper to as many people as possible, and are hanging on by their fingernails doing it. I don’t fault them putting Crosby on the cover, or covering the Leafs and Habs to death, or skewing their predictions to make hockey exciting for the greatest number of people. They’re selling the narrative, not the science, and that’s OK. I didn’t read No Country for Old Men to learn about our aging demographics.

But when it comes to the online community, including Sens fans, I’m not sure if I’ll ever understand the doom-and-gloom predictions that start to poke up every fall – their intensity or their perpetuity. There’s a robust community of fans, local and otherwise, who truly look at this team and see something that is 10 points worse than last year. How is that possible? Who is their audience? Where does this come from? And why isn’t there an equally large community looking at the equally unlikely scenario of the Sens being 10 points better?

I write a post like this every year, but maybe there’s more utility in talking about what we’re excited about, how things can go right, than there is in acknowledging that things might go wrong.

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New Yorker Long Reads: Mike Hoffman Edition

robert-mankoff-geez-you-re-the-worst-focus-group-i-ve-ever-seen-new-yorker-cartoon

Varada

Hello.

Mike Hoffman. Mike Hoffman is a thing now. Is he a legitimate thing? What is legitimate? What is “thing”? What we know is that he’s 26, has 84 points in 137 games, and, oh, is currently on pace for 51 goals with a totally sustainable 19.8% shooting percentage.

So, where are you on Hoffman? Sign him long-term? Trade him while his value is high? Give me your delicious takes.

Luke

Man, I hope I can keep this under 3000 words because this thing’s got more angles than a mid-90s rendering of Lara Croft.

First off: Mike Hoffman’s pace is more torrid than that love affair I had in Europe last year, and to Hoffman’s credit it seems to be considerably longer lasting. I’ll get our friends at Silver Seven to break it down:

– Since last year, tied for 5th in even strength points per 60 minutes played.

– Since last year, Hoffman is tied for 3rd in goals scored per 60 minutes played.

– Tied for 4th in goals this season.

What’s more is he’s just as strong at even strength as he is on the powerplay.

Is that 19.8% shooting percentage gonna come down? Yeah, obviously. Is he, statistically speaking, at his exact peak right now? Yes, almost certainly. After Destroyer of Worlds Mike Hoffman turns back into Normal Mike Hoffman, will he still be good? Yeah, I think he will be.

Hoffman’s just one piece of a very strong core. Erik Karlsson is the best player on the team, and I’d put Mark Stone 2nd on that list because he’s the only player I can remember who can look to be in the midst of a soul crushing slump while still being a point-per-game player. (Seriously, we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of Mark Stone.) After that, you can put Bobby Ryan, Mika Zibanejad, Kyle Turris, and Mike Hoffman in any order depending on the night. (Get a healthy Clarke MacArthur back and good lord is that Top 6 ever cooking with gas. Get well soon, you curly-haired rescue puppy of a man.)

The thing I like most about Hoffman is that what he creates is different than almost any other player on the team. I watch Kyle Turris and Mark Stone and I see two players with high end skill who are cerebral and can slow the game down to play the game at a different pace than other players. I watch Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan and I see two players who are heavy on the puck, gifted with superb vision, and can finish plays with the best of them. I watch Erik Karlsson and see one of God’s Original Creations, a player who can do it all and usually does because he has to.

Hoffman’s not like those other guys. He can create for himself with his speed, but because his shot is so lethal, he creates for others by drawing the defense to him and opening up space for his teammates to operate. Mike Hoffman is pure, distilled liquid offense in a way no other player on the Senators is.

For what it’s worth, I think Hoffman’s ability to “drive the play” *makes wanking motion* is a little too ballyhooed around the Sensphere. Looks to me that Hoffman’s excellent With-Or-Without-You (WOWY) percentages are more a function of playing with Erik Karlsson than Hoffman being The Chosen One (Please click on these images from Friend of the Blog, Micah Blake McCurdy for more), but that is really a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. Area Player is Pretty Good in General but is Goddamn Outstanding When Playing With Karlsson is not a headline I’m ever going to feel rage towards.

Put it all together and I get one conclusion: Mike Hoffman is A Thing now.

What does this mean for The Future? Well, I don’t think Ottawa’s ever had an asset as tradeable as Mike Hoffman is this season. I think most teams would consider him an established known quantity at this point, he’s still going to be under team control for another off season, and Ottawa would be dealing him from an area of relative strength (high end forwards) to address a position of weakness (goaltending. lol jk it’s the defense obvs).

I was struck with a sudden case of The Fear yesterday because I imagined a future where all of Mike Hoffman’s money was being given to Jared Cowen next season so they had to let him walk. I am more of a Murray Apologist than most, but a scenario where next year’s Ottawa Senators are paying Jared Cowen $4.5MM and paying Mike Hoffman $0.0MM would be unforgivable. Luckily with Chris Phillips coming off the books and a buyout of Jared Cowen coming down the pipe (please God), I foresee a solid $5.5MM in monies easily being available for Mike Hoffman’s next contract. We’ll even have enough cash left over to re-sign Chris Neil (a thing that is definitely going to happen, by the way).

In short, I don’t think The Infernal Budget is going to be a factor in Mike Hoffman’s future.

Which finally leaves us to wonder the following: Should Noted Good Player, Mike Hoffman, be traded so that the Ottawa Senators can acquire a Noted Good Defenseman?

The answer to this question is yes.

This is not to say I don’t have concerns. It may be many moons before we get another player of Mike Hoffman’s unique talents into the organization. Proper evaluation of defenseman is obscenely tricky, so I worry about getting fair value back in return. However, I do not believe the Ottawa Senators can seriously expect to compete in the playoffs with one NHL calibre defense pairing. The Chicago Blackhawks recently showed you only need to play 4 good defenseman to win a Stanley Cup.  Making a trade in Today’s NHL™ seems to be about as easy as hammering out a legally binding international carbon emissions agreement, but in much the same way ending the world’s reliance on coal and oil is necessary to the long-term survival of our civilization, acquiring a Legitimate Top 4 Defenseman is an important next step if Ottawa is to be considered a serious threat to win more than one playoff round.

Enjoy Mike Hoffman while you can. His speedy sharpshooting is soon to be replaced by steady but unsexy defending, and we will be both better and worse for it.

Or maybe Clarke MacArthur will come back, Patrick Wiercioch will find his Sea Legs again, and everything will be fixed. I’m not made of answers.

James

As Chort Smelters and Lunch Pairisty mentioned on “Advanced Chats: the Blogger Show with your host The Gawdbody Ian Mendes, a Presentation of Robillard Hearing Centres Now With Nine Convenient Locations to Serve You,” Hoffman is an interesting case as he is kind of an unprecedented type of player.

Basically, Bobby Ryan earned a lucrative contract on an otherwise cheap team mainly because of his success during his formative years with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (Ed Note: Actual professional sports team name). His reputation preceded him coming here. We paid for those 30 goal seasons in Anaheim. Hoffman, however is still very much in the process of establishing his reputation hence the arbitration case in the summer and why this upcoming contract is such a tricky one.

Especially tricky when you consider his age. It’s not unusual for players to start hitting their “prime years” around Hoffman’s age, but typically they’ve been in the league longer than a season and a half by then. There’s a reason that he lost his arbitration case and I would think it was lack of a track record at the NHL level. That said, while I’m running my yap about sample size the kid is snapping twine…you see what I did th– twine is what nets are made out o— let’s move on…

If Turris was worth the risk of a long term deal without much of a track record, then so too is Hoffman. Mistakes were made with this philosophy, signing Greening and Cowen [thxu Tim Murray], but I think we can agree Hoffman is clearly a much better hockey player than both of them…combined.

Whatever he’s worth, pay it, but I just don’t know what that is. 5 million? 6? I don’t know. I’d be fine with it in that same way Bobby Ryan might not be worth his contract price but I’m more about keeping him in the fold going forward than getting a bargain every time. The elephant in the room on this one is “Can the organization do it?”

The funny thing is, name me a player Murray has failed to re-sign during this budget era. Ryan, Anderson, Lehner (RIP), Stone, Zibanejad, MacArthur, Methot, Pageau, etc. were all re-upped during that parade of signings.

[Shameful afterthought: Hi, I totally forgot that he failed to re-sign Alfie which is TOTALLY understandable seeing as he was a marginal AHL 3rd string goaltender and not much was made of the story in the local media. SORRY SO SLOPPY! Anyway, back to me ranting despite not being very smart…] 

Spezza, I guess, but we were going to have to foolishly overpay for him and Hemsky was simply not worth what he asked.  Anyway I just want the team to have space and funds for Erik Karlsson’s impending 10 billion dollar raise, so lock up the as many good players as possible before then.

The thing I was glad to see with one more year before pushing the chips in on Hoff was that his game is more than his speed. That was my only concern after last season. The guy’s got insane wheels but as demonstrated the other night against the Los Angeles Krangs, his hands are as deadly as his feet. If he slows a bit as he ages (which will probably still be above average speed tbh), it’s not like he will stop being able to release the puck like he has been doing night after night. I think the risk is actually decently low despite the unique situation.

So put me in camp “PAIY HEEM HEEZ FAAKING MAHNEE.” I am really, really enjoying having one of the most exciting and productive forward corps in the East and I don’t want to change that. 1000 years of putting five past Jonathan Quick.

All this said, as per Andrew’s recent post, Hoffman is exactly the kind of player who could net us not just a top four defenceman but a KWALIT-E defenceman, which is what is clearly holding this team back from taking the next step. Gets into this thing where maybe we’d rely on Hoffman’s scoring less if we had better defence…so…uhh….gotta go!

Andrew

What Luke said, basically.

I think Hoffman is legit and has been for awhile, but the organization, for whatever reason, seems cool on him, so I’ve kept my distance. This is actually something that can be measured, like I don’t want to invest 30 hours working on a Mike Hoffman painting only to see him in St. Louis next year.

I think he’s going to be traded for blue line help, or rather, one of our decent/good forward pieces should be moved for a good defender, and he seems the most likely candidate. But I would also rather “PAIY HEEM HEEZ FAAKING MAHNEE” because I like blowouts and this team can score and that’s a lot more fun.

For the record, Mike Hoffman, you had me at TEEN WOLF CASTING CALL.

Steph

Hey guys, I only have 20 words left to work with after those responses. Anyway, shouldn’t trade Mike Hoffman, he’s

Sent from Outlook Mobile

Varada

Guys, guys, guuuuuuuuuuys….we’re forgetting about Mike Hoffman’s EPIC attitude problems and the fact that, in the NHL, you always take the coach’s side. Lest we forget that the last time we had an elite sniper who hated his coach, one enchanted ventriloquist’s doll named Cory Clouston, we chose CORY CLOUSTON over one of the three players we’d basically built our entire team around. Thus was heralded in the Cheechoo era.

All this to say, while the undisputed champion of Torching His Relationship with Management remains Jared Cowen, Mike Hoffman is also turning a wee bit into a sour patch kid. I don’t think it’s his fault or anything, but there’s a track record evolving here. They go to arbitration. He shoots daggers at Dave Cameron. He clearly wants term and to be paid – as is the right of any human who can score goals like this at the highest level of hockey in the world.

All that to say that I would love to see Michel Hhaffmann re-signed, and I wouldn’t mind tacking on a couple of extra years on the end to keep his cap hit down, knowing that he’s waiting an extra-long time to make the NHL and wants to stay in the show now that he’s here. But it’s hard for me to see giving the guy the $6m-$7m an elite scorer would get on the open market. His speed and shooting percentage are not the sort of thing people build strategies around, because both erode in time and he’s already 26.

I guess I’m overthinking the part here where Hoffman occasionally gets nailed to the bench for defensive lapses that are all but naked to my untrained eye. Maybe the coach is saying, “Go out there and execute play x and y” and Hoffman is saying “I’m just going to shoot the puck, you wiener” and so the coach benches him. There’s something happening there that we don’t necessarily have access to.

And if Ray Emery can get us to the Cup Final, get re-signed, then bought out for being Not Our Kind of Guy, then an RFA with snooty-patootie airs is going to get shipped off for 2017’s Marc Methot.

Just to be clear I DON’T WANT THAT.

James

Not trying to Actually you here just playin a little word jazz as something you brought up got me thinkin’.

It’s interesting the examples of Bad Attitude Bears you mentioned:

Corey Clouston was maybe the worst choice of coach to side with over player but, disaster that it was at the time, it’s crazy to think the Sens actually won a trade where they were handcuffed from getting maximum value for a two time 50 goal scorer and, like you’re saying, guy Ottawa built the team around, for Milan Michalek, a 2nd round pick and Jonathan Cheechoo.

Sure, because of chronic knee injuries Milo’s more of a 3rd line player and, sure, Cheechoo is in the KHL, but at least Michalek is still IN the NHL and at least Cheechoo has recently been an all star in the KHL. Heatley is in the GERMAN LEAGUE. And after not living up to a one year, 1 million dollar deal and getting waived. In his last year with the Sens homie was making TEN MILLION DOLLARS. Ovechkin money! He was making 8 million as recently as the season Karlsson won his first Norris. What a world.

Meanwhile at Geppetto’s Workshop: Clouston was recently fired from the WHL.

Oh, and that ever-so-valuable second was traded for Andy Sutton for our LEGENDARY 6 game playoff run of 2010.

I will always be fascinated by this ever-unfolding saga.

As for Ray Emery, despite that Cup Final run, I think we have a special case here as well. Dude was getting into a Latrell Sprewell level of bad eggness at the time. Being late for practice [not a game] is one thing but fighting your teammates, threatening to kill the townsfolk, “partying” *rubs gums* to the point that it’s local lore even on a roster where a dude KILLED a guy? I mean, dude played himself out of the whole league for a while there. No one wanted to pick up a relatively young, pretty cheap goalie who just started in the big dance? Who is he, Annti Niemi? *Rim shot, mean-spirited applause* He wasn’t let go because he showed up to games dressed like The Mask and drove an iridescent Hummer.

To his credit, he’s rebuilt himself into an inspirational redemption story, but when the Sens cut ties with him he seemed like a nightmare douche…even for a pro athlete.

AAAAAAAAANYWAAAAAAAY, all this to say, if the same treatment were to happen to Hoffman because something something he got mad at being demoted despite being one of the league’s top scorers, t’would be some new heights of mismanagement. Especially considering Jared Cowen, who, I don’t know if you’ve heard this, stinks at hockey and seems like a tool, is still a regular fixture in the lineup. Pray4FenceMending.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

As those of you who have been following the Ottawa Senators’ 2015-2016 season know, everything is terrible.

Ottawa, who currently sits tied with Detroit for second in their division, sixth in the conference, and fourth in the league in goals-for, is not-so-secretly actually a horrible team and all of this is a mirage. They give up more shots than any other team. They don’t take that many shots. So none of the enjoyment that you feel when you watch hockey is real. If you think it is, you’re a dunderheaded neanderthal who probably shouts “shoot!” every time the team gets the puck.

The team has enjoyed above-average goaltending and has, to use the technical term, a golden horseshoe in its collective bum. “This too shall pass,” say the ghosts of Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, and Toronto Maple Leafs teams of christmas past.

Not only that, but the team only has three years left of Erik Karlsson playing generationally supreme hockey on an affordable contract, at which point Methot will be up for renewal too, and by then Stone and Zibby won’t be on their team-friendly contracts anymore, and Hoffman is going to get paid like next year if they don’t trade him, and Anderson will be older and they traded away their goaltender of the future, and the owner is still broke, and Colin Greening Milan Michalek something something, and, and, and…

…and here’s the thing: we get it. We understand. The concept is understandable. It is going into my head and down into my tummy and being understood and then I pee it out. That’s how understanding works. (WebMD™)

What I don’t understand is the impulse to have this discussion in precisely this way over and over and over again to such dwindling returns. It is not, for lack of a better descriptor, spiritually nourishing.

It wasn’t much different during the team’s run to the playoffs last season. What was the refrain then? “This is unsustainable.” Every damned game. Periodic moments of miraculous sunshine allowed to peek through the curtains until someone would storm into the living room and draw the curtains shut while screaming about the dangers of skin cancer.

This isn’t real. What you’re experiencing is not real.

Except it is real. It’s happening, right there, in front of you.

I’m not saying that the team is actually amazing or that we should derive all truth from a team’s record. I’m saying that there are different ways to talk about, and to experience, the local team winning at a popular sport. That different way is called gratitude.

I know Twitter is not a place for gratitude. It’s a place for hysteria and theatrics, and that’s ok. There’s a place for that. It’s often fun, and engaging, and great. It can also be tiring.

So I’m using this blog say that I’m grateful that the team went on a miraculous run last year. It was fun to watch. Really special. That’s the stuff of which sports are made. Not the predictability of statistically-verified trends unfolding as outlined. But a team improbably doing something that, outlier though it may be, allows us to speak about the event with excitement and shared purpose precisely because it bucked the trends.

I’m grateful that Ottawa is having a decent season this year. They’re scoring a lot of goals. Those are fun to see. Am I stupid for saying so? And they’re doing it despite the fact that they’re not the best team in the league. I think there is as much validity in me saying this as me writing a post saying “Ottawa needs to fix the defence,” though there are literally zero defencemen available on the free agent or trade markets, as evidenced by the fact that no other team is signing or trading for defencemen either.

I’m grateful that we have this community of hockey appreciators and buds, people who can write about sports in a way that is calculating and rigorous and also makes room for the emotional and tangential. I’m grateful for the comedy and the tragedy inherent to all that we label entertainment.

And most of all, I am grateful for Erik Fucking Karlsson. He’s one of the best players on the planet, having one of the best seasons of his life, and he plays for the Ottawa Senators. Our team, in our city, which most people outside of Canada couldn’t pick off a map. You can go see this guy play for like forty bucks. You can sit in a chair and see him, 400 feet away, do things that maybe seven or eight people ever in history have been able to do. You don’t have to get on a plane, or follow the band around on tour, or anything.

Anyway.

Game is on in a couple of hours. I’m really looking forward to it. Have a good game, everyone. Put the phone down for a few minutes during a shift, maybe turn the color commentary off, put on some soothing music, and just watch Erik Karlsson skate.

A primer on how to talk about Ottawa Senators hockey during the 2015-2016 season

apollo_and_dionysus_by_comicgeek86

Pictured left: Erik Karlsson Pictured middle: Jared Cowen Pictured right: a deer

After having spent the last few years being one of many, many, many voices in a discussion about one particular team in one particular sport, I’ve concluded that there are a few ineluctable truths about this team (spoiler: Ottawa) on which we can each and every one of us agree. That isn’t to say that the details can’t be debated in one form or another, like a squabble of ducks nibbling around the edges of a delicious saltine cracker. But the distilled nougat at the center of each truth (editor’s note: saltine crackers do not contain nougat) should be common knowledge by now, and so, require no further writing.

After this post. In which I write about them.

In acknowledging the truths articulated below, it’s my hope that we, the fans—the collective heart, and perhaps a small part of the brains of this team—might come to some sort of understanding about how to constructively talk about the Ottawa Senators and thereby enjoy watching them play hockey maybe a little bit more.

They are as follows:

  • The team owner, Eugenious R. Melnyk III, does not have enough liquid cash on hand to spend to the cap. This fact often inflates a concept we understand and describe through clenched teeth as, “The Infernal Budget.” (See what I did there? Thanks, I went to college for like 9 years.)
  • Though 1) exists, it does not mean that the owner doesn’t have enough money to operate the team, which is to say he can keep selling tickets and merchandise and just generally keep the ship floating as the franchise’s underlying value accrues.
  • However, also because 1) exists, the team can’t spend the next 4-5 years tanking and not making any money, because Eugenious can’t float the losses.
  • It makes absolutely no sense—zero whatsoever—for the owner to sell the team now. The league keeps growing. Revenue sharing is in place. There’s a TV deal kicking in. Expansion is on the way. There’s money to be made on this team over the next decade.
  • Though the team might have a couple of clunker contracts on the roster, they don’t have any absolute stinkers, and those that do stink are of a small enough order as to not significantly tie management’s hands. Yes, Colin Greening’s contract didn’t work out. Sure, Bobby Ryan should make like $1M less. Jared Cowen is paid like a defenceman he’s never been. Chris Neil and Chris Phillips are old and ineffective. But none of those deals were made without justification at the time. Some of the guys  are well loved and have been with the franchise their whole careers. Some were given Turris-like low risk / high reward contracts that didn’t pan out. Jared Cowen has prestige and punched Ian White in the face that one time. That doesn’t mean that management is inept. Whatever swings for the fences that fell short are more than than made up for by the high value contracts for Karlsson, Turris, Anderson, Stone, Zibanejad, Methot, MacArthur, Hoffman, Chiasson, and Wiercioch.

What does this mean for people who write and read about the team? Well:

  • The team can’t spend money that isn’t there, so don’t suggest that they go out and get whomever.
  • The owner will not sell the team just so we can have a new owner who has the money to go out and get whomever.
  • The team is going to keep trying to sneak into the playoffs where “anything can happen” ™ for the foreseeable future. No five-year rebuild.
  • Though we can note when a contract didn’t pan out, and how a team that needs to spend money wisely can’t have too many bad contracts, spilling literally twenty million words every year about what amounts to about 14% of their cap space delivering 7% of its value just isn’t compelling enough a story to convince anyone that ownership and management don’t know what they’re doing.

So, with what does that leave us? How can we possibly write about hockey in Ottawa if we’re not wringing our hands about finances?

Well, for starters, acknowledging that everybody knows the above and closing those discussions for a wee period of time allows us to focus on the individual games being played right there in front of us, every other night, like magic. It allows us to enjoy and to talk about the experience of watching live hockey, and the myriad moments in any given game that contribute to the end result.

Letting go of the bugaboo of ownership dollars and Greening’s contract allows us to give in to the dizzying highs and desultory lows of watching a small-town hockey team, led by the greatest defenceman of his generation and an undrafted goaltender with hamburgers painted on the side of his helmet, as it attempts to snatch divine inspiration from the vain clutches of the media-market gods.

It allows us bloggers, unwashed and uncouth, to write about important topics like fairness, and inclusiveness, and community, and to participate in something larger than any one of us, and to revel in celebrations of Asgardian scope and become deeply and inconsolably depressed when the team blows a lead in the last minute.

It allows us to put aside the petty, daily distractions we are each faced with and to enjoy sport as entertainment. And, when we aren’t enjoying it, to change the channel and watch something else.

And it allows us to identify the many, many other things to write about and talk about that will come to us spontaneously after one too many plastic cups of $9 draft.

What I’m saying is that I’m supremely looking forward to this year, not least of which because we have an exciting young team, but also because it’s possible for us to create the conditions in which to enjoy it. Hockey is a lot of fun. It’s the best sport in the world. Let’s start talking about it that way.

At least until we start talking about the new arena. During the construction of which we will all die.

THE TOTALLY EMPIRACLE, OBJECTIVELY RELIABLE NHL FRANCHISE LIKEABILITY SCALE

It’s July. The draft is over. The “free-agent frenzy” *shudder* is over. The playoffs…(checks internet)…appear to be over. That means we’re as far from meaningful hockey as a person can be. Which gives me a little bit of breathing room to run as spurious an article as I can think of.

How LIKEABLE are the Sens, anyway? I mean, but really. I like them. You probably like them. But how about relative to other teams? Is that not the true barometer for likeability—comparing oneself to one’s peers in a way that undermines one’s confidence? I think so.

So here, in ascending order, are the 30 NHL teams in terms of likeability.

The Horrible Stinkers

30: Toronto Maple Leafs

Huge surprise, I know. This isn’t (just) Sens-fan bile. They’re a terrible team who are totally undeserving of the love they receive and whose overlords throw money around to the degree that should they ever win a Cup it should come with an asterisk. They got a little more likeable sans-Kessel, but the brand and market are so unlikeable that it transcends the actual makeup of the team. All these guys need to do to be the least likeable team in hockey (maybe even pro sports) is to put on that uniform and dominate the media regardless of performance. Leafs suck.

29: Philadelphia Flyers

I guess you could argue that these guys being unlikeable means that they’ve achieved their goal. They want you to hate them. Well, mission accomplished. Even their fans hate them because of how often they make laughably bad decisions in an attempt to recapture a glory that never existed. These guys are what you end up with when you take a “team identity” and privilege it over every rational metric for team building.

28: Montreal Canadiens

This might be an example of an otherwise only mildly obnoxious team and brand being dragged down by the most obnoxious fan base in hockey. Toronto is in a hysterical panic all the time. Montreal is trying to explain the meaning of the universe outside a bar and won’t stop dominating the conversation even though people are shooting looks at one another behind its back. Plus Brendan Gallagher.

27: Boston Bruins

See Flyers, Philadelphia. Totally willing to trade immensely talented players in an attempt to get “Bruins tough.” Also completely have Ottawa’s number. Saved from a bottom three finish because it’s a nice uniform and it wasn’t Chara’s fault Ottawa didn’t re-sign him. And Bobby Orr. Points detracted for Don Cherry.

26: Florida Panthers

Because you forgot they existed until now. Only exist because they’re attached to a shopping mall with valuable parking real estate. Elevated a bit by Luongo, who seems like a genuinely nice and funny guy.

25: Anaheim Ducks

Built like Philly, except with skill. Perry is immensely hateable…and awesome. Obvious deduction of likeability points for Things that Happened in 2007 That Shall Not Be Articulated Here. Stupid name for a stupid team. Product of capitalism synergy lifesuck peak oil go to hell.

24: San Jose Sharks

They have what seems like 6-7 really great players and have never scared anyone. They’re entering their desperate, “it’s all about identity!” panicky, scrambling-for-answers-before-the-window shuts mode, AKA Ottawa Senators 2008-2013.

23: Vancouver

Mediocre team with Toronto-lite hysterical market that employs Alex Burrows and once employed Matt Cooke. Fans burned down the town once, which is Montreal’s dick move.

22: New Jersey Devils

It takes a special kind of team to not just be uninteresting, but to actually ruin hockey for everyone else through their very style of play. Wasn’t even a particular coach that did it. Boring hockey is who they are.

21: Edmonton Oilers

An embarrassment for the sport. Yeah, those dynasties were awesome, but present day Gretzky is like the king of a minor country if he lost a bet and could only wear golf shirts for the rest of his life. Even has his own clothing line is mostly golf shirts. Institutional cronyism on skates.

20: Calgary Flames.

Hired Brian Burke. Hired Bob Hartley. Saved from lower finish because of (lingering) association with Jerome Iginla, Nicest Man in Dodge.

The Slightly Stinky Middle

19: Carolina Hurricanes

I could not generate an interest in this team if I had a gun to my head and had to name six players on their roster to prevent my own murder. Bad team that overspends to be bad, bad uniforms, obnoxious colors, flukiest bunch of flukes that ever fluked. Won a Cup, lessening the value of the Cup.

18: Tampa Bay Lightning

See Hurricanes, Carolina, except with the added detriment of having more money than god. Do gain some points by virtue of Stamkos being awesome and cool and Yzerman being awesome and cool if over-valorized for his GM work because he spends like a drunken sailor.

17: Pittsburgh Penguins

Points added for Lemieux, uniform with skating penguin on it. Points deducted for winning generational lottery, inventing the modern tank model, Matt Cooke’s career.

16: New York Rangers

They have the unfair advantage of being located in the best place on earth. But points added because every weekend I’ve spent in New York has been one of the best weekends of my life. Henrik is Handsome. Sean Avery was annoying but in a sort of innovative way?

15: Dallas Stars

Brett Hull: amazing hockey player who sort of lowers the tone…of America. Players only want to play there because it’s in a state full of insane anti-tax libertarian Tommy Lee Joneses so they get to keep all of their millions at the expense of schools and art and stuff.

14: Winnipeg Jets

Feel good story about getting their team back followed inexorably by realization they were the Atlanta Thrashers except in Winnipeg. All of these years later STILL not using classic Jets logo, which is a crime.

13: Los Angeles Kings

Good team playing modern style. Coach seems to hate life itself, but in a ha-ha way. Come back against crazy odds (except this year). I don’t know, I’ve got nothing against the Kings.

12: Arizona Coyotes

They’re boring and I don’t care about them and I’m seriously sick of reading about their financial problems, but Antoine Vermette is, what, a top five most likeable guy in the league? And he went back there after winning a Cup with Chicago? I’m rooting for them, if only because I’m rooting for him.

11: Washington Capitals

They’re sorta due for some vintage love. Never quite a bad team, never quite a threat. One of these days they’re going to go on an insane run, and I get the sneaking suspicion that most of us will be closet Cap fans. That might be a bit strong. We won’t actively be rooting against them to lose in the first round again.

10: Colorado Avalanche

Roy leaves Montreal, wins Cup in Colorado, cements Colorado at #10 on this list. Joe Sakic.

The Teams with Hardly Any Stink 

9: New York Islanders

Former embarrassment of the league turns into seriously fun team to watch. Dynasty memories. Moving to Brooklyn (which…I don’t know, could seriously impact their place in these standings one way or another…). Jack Capuano’s hair is so, so bad. He looks like fat Def Leppard.

8: Ottawa Senators

Probably higher than what other people would rate them, but come on! Hamburglar! Poor ass team wins over cynical city hearts on miracle run! Loses points for every single iteration of their uniform ever and Eugene Melnyk, but Erik Karlsson is an angel sharing mana from heaven through a diamond trumpet.

7: Minnesota Wild

People can love or hate that high-concept puma headed logo, but this is a hockey crazy state that, for me, sorta exemplifies what you want the sport to be. They sort of suck and have a GM who rails against player salaries and then pays out $200 million for two players. But it’s not like they’re unique in that.

6: Buffalo Sabres

They were one of my least favorite teams as recently as 3-4 years ago. They employed guys like Steve Ott. Their uniforms are awful. They’re an embarrassment to the league most nights. But being the #1 underdog goes a long way in my books, and they were one of the historically worst teams in league last year. Imagine poor old Matt Moulson having to actually put on skates and do that night after night. And the good people of Buffalo have suffered – oh lord have they suffered. So I hope this #6 spot on an Ottawa Senators blog wipes away all of that indignation, which I’m sure it does.

5: St. Louis Blues

Sort of so unremarkable that you forget they keep demolishing the regular season and have some killer players on their team. Classy uniform. On the verge of becoming the San Jose Sharks by overcompensating for never winning, but for now I like them. Which according to this scale, makes them likeable!

4: Nashville Predators

Play prototypical moneypuck hockey. Them against the world, since nobody cares about them. Philly tried to push them around with the Weber offer sheet and they matched. Speaking of which: Second best defenceman in the league. Guitar strings running through the numbers on the uni. Points deducted for Mike Ribeiro.

3: Chicago Blackhawks

Toews. Kane. Modern dynasty. Nobody unlikeable on them (maybe Bollig?). Hossa. Keep having to lose the lineup for cap considerations; keep being good. The rare original six team that isn’t totally drunk on its own history, mostly because they don’t have to resort to history. They’re good right now.

2: Columbus Blue Jackets

Loveable losers and misfit toys who take it in the teeth over and over. The market loves them. The team loves the market. There’s not a person alive who would hate for the Jackets to go on a nice long playoff win streak. Giant fever-dream bee or wasp or something in Civil War uniform for a mascot. That is, when it isn’t a cannon that looks like genitals.

1: Detroit Red Wings

Sigh. It’s like this was destined. Nobody hates the Wings. Maybe Colorado fans, but even they respect the Wings. They’ve got everything: fun players to watch, great vets to admire, a winning history, a smart system, beautiful uniforms, and a city that needs good news. Nobody hates the Wings, and in this league, that’s the same as loving them.

Is consistency the unrecognized analytics factor?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this Senators’ goalie situation and the fact that we just absolutely MUST trade a goaltender and get good value back otherwise everyone’s going to write 200 blog posts about how we didn’t. I was also thinking about how Chicago is probably going to have to trade another 3-4 good players to stay under the cap next year, and Cory Crawford, he of the lucrative new deal could be on the block.

If I were a GM in either situation, what would I do? Could Chicago really go into next year with Scott Darling as its starting goaltender? Would Ottawa go into next year with an injury-prone older starter and Wildcard Hammond? How about Lehner, who has all of the potential in the world but is in the middle of his own personal time travel journey?

This led me to think about how much GMs pay for potential and projections, and how little they pay for consistency. Here’s a theory:

In an analytics-driven, salary-cap era, a player’s value is expressed in three ways: 1) The degree to which he drives possession. 2) His statline relative to his peers. And 3) How much money he makes.

Each of these three factors are dependent on one another. It’s why expensive Alex Ovechkin can be one of the best players in the world and still have people question his value, and why scoreless Erik Condra can be cheap and drive possession but be allowed to walk for nothing.

(I guess there’s a fourth factor in here encompassing all of those other intangible qualities, like sticktoittiveness and likeability and being a good dude.)

One factor that I think might be missing in all of this is if a player performs consistently. I know, you must be thinking “this is obvious. If a player performs well consistently, then a GM knows it and factors it in.” But I’m talking about if a player performs only averagely, but consistently. I’d like to argue that that consistency provides a level of value over and above the player’s statline and possession metrics.

Because a player is consistent, it means that a GM can plan around him. He can better understand the gaps on a team in a coming year and spend his meager resources, in terms of picks and cap space, to plug those gaps, confident in the knowledge that they won’t produce yet more gaps.

This is the place in the blog post where I would love to include a spreadsheet of the most consistent players, but frankly I don’t have the data. War on Ice will give you cumulative totals, but I don’t have the patience to download stats season-by-season and run the spreadsheets to describe variance. What I’d love to see, though, is which players above a certain threshold for possession (so we weed out the players who are consistently bad) display the lowest variance from season to season. Basically what you end up with are players about whom you know what to expect. And that, in itself, has value.

I know I’m mixing up skaters and goalies here, and I don’t know if Chicago will trade Cory Crawford, especially if he helps them win another Cup. But I do know that if Chicago can find a cheaper option with less variance in his statline, they can reliably pour the savings elsewhere to compensate. The same holds true for Ottawa. Lehner might have a higher ceiling, but also a higher variance than, say, Craig Anderson. And knowing that variance has value.

I hope you enjoyed this summertime blog post. Stay safe everyone, and wear sunscreen.