WTYKY Time Machine: Mark Stone, Again!

Look, I doubt you need a comprehensive and somber recap of the global circumstances that led to this moment on this blog, so let’s just cut to the chase: you can watch the hockey game colloquially known as The Mark Stone Again Game by clicking this link. Continue scrolling down this blog post to read my thoughts and remembrances of this iconic moment in Sens History, broken down with the use of helpful timestamps.

1st Period

19:50 – I remember Pittsburgh scoring ten seconds into this game extremely clearly. Earlier that day, I had made a tweet about how someone had asked Andrew Hammond (AKA The Hamburglar) how he was going to handle Sidney Crosby, and how His Hamburglarness had responded “You have that question backwards.” It was meant to be a parody/satire of how Andrew Hammond was, at that time, the hottest goalie since sliced bread (??), but naturally every Pens fan who read this fake quote thought it was real, because their brains are smooth as eggs. Well, imagine my surprise when Sidney Crosby scored on the first shot of the game. The entire city of Pittsburgh took to Twitter to fill my mentions like it was their own diapers. The lesson is, as always, never tweet.

19:50 (Cont’d) – Erik Karlsson does not cover himself in glory on this play, but it’s a privilege to watch Erik Karlsson make mistakes for your team. When Erik Karlsson makes an ill-advised stretch pass, you should thank him for it.

18:08 – Half-hearted “Leafs Suck!” chant from the crowd during a whistle. This still holds up.

17:15 – Let’s remember some guys! Mika Zibanejad is on a line with Curtis Lazar and Erik Condra! What on earth was happening there? This is like using your Swedish Koenigsegg supercar to transport lumber home from Rona! Naturally the Senators were in the middle of an (estimated) 24-2-1 run at the time so this was just considered more proof of Dave Cameron’s genius.

14:44 – Hey, the Penguins just scored again. I can’t point to a single Senator that looked great on that play, but I’m going to pin all the blame exclusively on Karlsson and Wiercioch, just out of habit.

12:15 – I just saw a MacArthur – Turris – Stone line and started weeping openly. Is there another line in Senators history that you’d trust more in any situation?

10:43 – Let’s remember some guys! David Legwand is on this 2nd powerplay unit! Beginning to think that maybe this Senators team didn’t have the depth I remembered.

9:56 – “Paul Martin is so good at standing in the lane.” say the Pittsburgh commentators, effusive in their praise for a player whose great skill lies in doing nothing.

8:00 – Just saw a Hoffman – Pageau – Ryan line. Not sure why you’re not putting Hoffman with one of your high skill guys like David Legwand, but maybe that’s just picking nits.

6:25 – Let’s remember some guys! Alex Chiasson sighting! Would this team be better with Jason Spezza on it instead of Alex Chiasson? Well, it would have cost $7.5 million a year for four years to find out so we’ll never know.

6:15 – Andrew Hammond makes his first real 5-alarm save of the game. Hammond’s possibly the only goalie in history who was punished for making too many incredible saves. The puck hit him so often that eventually everyone decided he must be getting lucky.

5:16 – Hornqvist scores to make it 3-0 Pittsburgh following a series of preposterous Hammond saves. In retrospect, Hammond’s style probably did him no favours. He is, in the parlance of hockey people, a battler. The guy did whatever it took to keep the puck out of the net, and teams don’t really like that sort of thing. NHL teams need their goalies to have perfect technique, and stopping the puck is secondary. It’s called “being process oriented”.

2:34 – Wiercioch takes a penalty and the Senators respond by letting the Pageau-Condra-Methot-Ceci penalty kill unit get worked like they’re Mark Borowiecki’s speed bag. The period ends 3-0, and at last the stage is set for The Fun Part Everyone Remembers.

2nd Period

19:55 – Chris Cuthbert calmly mentions that the Senators’ last 4 games had gone to overtime or a shootout. It’s almost impossible to describe how tense this felt at the time. Like watching a golden retriever walk across a minefield in search of a distant snausage.  The Senators had essentially won 18 straight elimination games, but each win seemingly did nothing except grant them the privilege of needing the win the next game as well. I remember walking into the street and staring at the stars for 20 minutes following the shootout loss to Toronto in the previous game because I was convinced that single point was going to be the difference in making the playoffs, and the Sens BLEW IT thus proving that God was dead, or at least didn’t visit Ottawa anymore. Man, remember caring about the outcome of hockey games? Different times, man, different times…

19:30 – Erik Karlsson suddenly appearing in the place you’d least expect was probably the best part of watching Erik Karlsson. I love my new garbage sons like my own family, but there’s still nothing like watching a world class talent do incredible things for your team every night.

19:09 – Chris Kunitz hurts Patrick Weircioch with a hip check. “That’s the worst thing Chris Kunitz will ever do to myself and the city of Ottawa.”, I probably yelled at the time.

18:38 – Senators head to the powerplay, and nothing happens save for some chaotic looking rebound chances. Here’s a thing I had forgotten about this game: The Ottawa Senators look like the Springfield tire fire for a significant portion of it.

15:28 – The Legwand-Chiasson-Condra line has a great chance to make it 3-1, but fail to convert because they’re the Legwand-Chiasson-Condra line.

15:11 – Turris has a great chance, but doesn’t score because it’s not overtime in the playoffs and the goalie isn’t Henrik Lundqvist.

11:42 – Chris Cuthbert mentions that Mark Stone leads the league in takeaways. Within a year, you wouldn’t be able to say “Mark Stone” on Elgin St. without at least seven Sens fans popping out of the Lieutenant’s Pump to tell you that Mark Stone leads the NHL in takeaways.

10:00 – Halfway through the game and the score is 3-0 Pittsburgh. This is taking so long to get good. It feels like I’m live-blogging The Irishman.

6:55 – Mark Stone Again? At this point I would settle for Mark Stone The First Time!

5:56 – Marc Methot takes a cross-checking penalty that’s softer than an ASMR video. “Let’s see if the Senators can grab a little momentum back while short-handed.” says Ray Ferraro, prophetically.

5:20 – The Original Garbage Son, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, throws the puck in front of the net on a short-handed rush and it bounces off Derick Pouliot’s skate and into the net. Pageau celebrates like that’s exactly what he meant to do, and honestly, who is going to disagree with him? Leave it to Pageau to score in the most annoying way possible in the biggest game of the year (until the next game).

3:56 – The Sens kill off the rest of the penalty, and the crowd noise is upgraded from “Mid-February Game Against Carolina” to “March Afternoon Game vs. Buffalo”.

2:38 – Bobby Ryan takes a tripping penalty after he falls down near Evgeni Malkin lands on him. If you thought I wasn’t going to complain about the officiating in a five year old game whose outcome I already know, you are sorely mistaken. Not complaining about the reffing in a hockey game would be like attending Catholic Mass without taking communion.

3rd Period

19:35 – TSN displays a helpful graphic that informs us that the Penguins are 29-2-1 when leading after two periods this season. “I like those odds!” says Mark Stone to himself as he scores to make it 3-2.

19:26 – “There is no way that Mark Stone cannot be in the rookie of the year balloting!” extols Ray Ferraro. Incredible to think that this is Mark Stone’s rookie season, and he’s already got all the tools that will make him great. The incredible hands, the hockey IQ, the celebrations, it’s all there!

19:10 – I just looked it up, and the 2015 Calder Trophy would be awarded to Aaron Ekblad in a miscarriage of justice so great that it’s proof that Antonin Scalia was still alive at the time.

17:50 – Fleury makes a huge stop on Mark Stone, and the Senators, who spent two periods looking about as lively as an 8:00 AM calculus class, are suddenly filled with the power of self-respect like at the end of Scott Pilgrim but with Cody Ceci instead of Michael Cera.

17:00 – Clarke MacArthur is having his jaw looked at on the bench. Not going to read into that any more than I have to…nope, not today.

13:41 – Pittsburgh hits the post on a long shot from the point, but the puck stays out of the net because hockey is a meritocracy where each team gets what they deserve, and not a series of random bounces on which the human mind, in its hubris, attempts to ascribe control, intention, and moral judgement.

11:40 – The crowd begins to chant “We want playoffs!”, which immediately becomes one of the Top 3 Most Creative Chants ever invented by the CTC fans.

9:24 – Erik Condra takes a high-sticking penalty. Chris Cuthbert declares that the Sens are “flirting with danger”, but you’d flirt with danger too if you’d spent all those years married to disappointment.

8:50 – Let’s remember some guys! Eric Gryba “accidentally” spears Sidney Crosby. Now that’s what I call Capital Waterfowling! (???)

8:31 – Stone creates another shorthanded chance by forcing a turnover in the neutral zone. I can’t believe he’s a rookie here. He’s taking over this game to a level we’d only seen from Erik Karlsson at this point. A performance Alfie would be proud of.

7:24 – The Sens kill off the penalty, and immediately send out the Lazar-Zibanejad-Condra line. Folks, I’m getting mad online about the line combinations. It’s just like old times!

7:20 – But seriously, Lazar-Zibanejad-Condra????

6:38 –

comeon

Yeah, but he’s no AARON EKBLAD. This is why Trump got elected.

5:55 – The Turris line is buzzing, then the Pageau line is buzzing, then Erik Karlsson kinda looks bad in a 1-on-1 situation. It must needs be remarked that even this version of the Senators, one that we all look back on with great fondness, really REALLY noticeably lacked that game-breaking skill that could just manufacture a goal from nothing. Mark Stone is close to having that skill, but he’s not quite there yet, and Erik Karlsson is having an off night. The Sens are having to win this one the old fashioned (i.e. pesky) way: by firing the puck at the net an infinite number of times until it goes in.

2:45 – Turris is out there again. I’ll have to check the shift charts, but it feels like Turris, MacArthur, and Stone played 7 of the last 10 minutes.

2:04 – Zibanejad is about to start in the offensive zone with Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman until Dave Cameron notices his mistake and calls a timeout. Turris is sent back out with MacArthur and Stone with Hoffman as the extra attacker.

1:48 – Mike Hoffman ties it with a wrister from the top of the circles. Nice little toe-drag to change the angle and he just shoots it over Fleury’s glove. Mike Hoffman would also get a few Calder Trophy votes this year. Hard to believe that this version of the Senators would get one solid playoff run in before having to trade everyone and start over, because this exact moment is probably the time when their future burned brightest, the high watermark stone, if you will.

28.6 – The Penguins are called for too many men, and the Sens get a powerplay to finish the game and start OT. Legwand nearly wins it in the dying seconds, but of course he doesn’t, so we finally get to what we’re all here to see.

Overtime

 
3:39 – Zibanejad feeds Karlsson right in front of the net for Ottawa’s best chance on the powerplay, but it hops over Karlsson’s stick. Fleury makes his 40th save of the night on Mike Hoffman. A real sense of inevitability settles over the game now.

2:16 – Erik Karlsson turns into Erik Karlsson at a critical moment, and from there, I’m going to let Cuthbert and Ferraro play us out.

WTYKY Podcast: Episode 23


In this episode, James and Luke interview Brad Allen of hockeyprospect.com about the 1st round of the upcoming draft. Discussions include:

– Tim Stuetzle vs. Quinton Byfield
– Marco Rossi vs. Jack Quinn
– How good is Alexis Lafreniere really?
– Possible spicy first round picks
– Possible bland and mild first round picks
– Brady Tkachuk
– Yaroslav Askarov
– How big is this draft for Ottawa really?

What Are We Even Doing Here?

 

Something I have been pondering over the last few days is the idea of identity. Is identity something you are, or something you do? Is identity wrapped up in inherent signifiers and commonalities, or is it based around an quality that can be attained or lost? If I call myself a writer, does that mean I have to sit in coffee shops, wear a jacket, and go on retreats to the mountains with a typewriter, or is it enough to simply write something, anything? Is it more important to be in a state of being or a state of doing?

I ask myself these questions, because if identity is a state of doing, derived from action, I’m not sure the Ottawa Senators are a hockey team any more.

The external signifiers are still there, little things they share with other professional hockey teams. There is a coach, and there are players, and they play games sanctioned by a league, and they have scouts prospects, and they play in a rink. Sometimes fans are there.

But insofar as being a hockey team requires active participation, insofar as being a professional hockey team means attracting or retaining top talent in an effort to win games both now and in the future, that is not something the Ottawa Senators can do at this point. We are all aware of this change. Comrade Varada pointed it out earlier this week: this is different.

Sens brass has been selling the last hellish 7 months as a rebuild, and there are certainly some rebuild-like elements of the past few days. When Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel were traded for draft picks, we (or at least I) accepted these events with relative equanimity. Duchene’s days in a Senators uniform were always numbered after the team drove itself off a cliff last December. Ryan Dzingel, while a fine goal scorer and a surprise talent from the 7th round of the draft, is the sort of player who you want to be your 6th best forward and was somewhat useless on the current iteration of the Senators as he put up 20 goal seasons that were mostly empty calories. (Dzingel is also notable for being a rare case of the Senators selling high on an asset.) The returns on both players were good picks and prospects. These types of trades have been done a hundred times before, and will be done a hundred times again until some Harvard Business School graduate invents a way to deviate from the traditional boom and bust cycle every sports team eventually goes through in a hard salary cap league. Mark Stone should have been treated differently because Mark Stone is a different type of player.

Back in December, I outlined my belief that Mark Stone was a player whose abilities to tilt the ice were unprecedented in team history. My feelings on this have only become stronger with time. Mark Stone is in a class of truly elite players with Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby in terms of his two-way ability. In terms of wingers, he probably stands alone in this regard. There is no stat available that does not bear this out. This season alone, Stone has put up 62 points in 59 games on the back of 19.4% shooting, which is only slightly up from his career average of 16.2%. He has scored 17 of his points on the powerplay, and is a remarkable +13 on a Senators team that has a goal differential of -41. He draws a remarkable number of penalties, while rarely taking them, and trails only Connor McDavid in number of takeaways over the past 3 seasons. There is no phase of the game in which Mark Stone does not excel. Additionally, at the age of 26, he is in the prime of his career and is likely to maintain this elite level for at least the next four seasons, if not longer. Furthermore, Stone assumed the mantle of leadership from Erik Karlsson with aplomb, even going so far as to have rookie Brady Tkachuk move in with him this season leading Brady’s father Keith to describe him as “instrumental to Brady’s development“. Stone has never found himself on the outs with the coaching staff for any reason. He has, by all accounts, an unimpeachable drive and work ethic, and if culture was hypothetically a thing that was suddenly very important to you for some reason, Mark Stone would be an invaluable contributor to a positive one.

In summary (and I’m going to put this next part in all-caps just to get the point across):

MARK STONE IS NOT A PLAYER YOU SHOULD EVER TRADE BECAUSE PLAYERS LIKE MARK STONE DO NOT GET TRADED

Even if you’re doing a rebuild, you don’t trade Mark Stone because the chances you ever find another player as good as Mark Stone are incredibly remote1. I think deep down inside, Pierre Dorion and the rest of the Sens brass know this. It’s why they desperately tried to convince Stone to stay. However, the (alleged) precarious state of Eugene Melnyk’s finances reared its hideous head once more and the owner’s refusal or inability to burnish Stone’s next contract with the signing bonuses that have become de rigueur among superstar contracts proved insurmountable.

Maybe I’m being overdramatic, and there are other teams that would also refuse to cut a Top 15 player in the league a multi-million dollar cheque each July 1st for the next 8 years. I doubt it. Certainly the Vegas Golden Knights are having no problem with it. Indeed, they seemed rather eager to merely be given the opportunity to do so. Distributing a large portion of a player’s salary at the beginning of July is now the cost of doing business in the NHL; it’s something NHL teams do, and if you can’t or won’t do it, can you really call yourself an NHL team? I think at that point you’re just a conglomeration of personnel attached to a brand which is slowly accruing value on some vaguely defined notion of a market, rather than a team, which would be an organization that’s making a good faith effort to win a championship in a well-defined timeline. This is reality for the Senators now. Until the organization signs multiple homegrown superstars to market contracts, it will always be an open question as to whether they are capable of doing so, and therefore an open question as to whether they are worthy of being thought of as anything other than some assets on a balance sheet.

Now we enter a liminal state of fandom. There will be little worth watching at the NHL level for the foreseeable future. The Belleville Senators, to their credit, have come on strong in the second half of the season and are now fighting for a playoff spot. Their ranks will be bolstered by some of the trade acquisitions from the past few days. Maybe they will put a little playoff run together. Hell, maybe I’ll go crazy and start getting attached to Drake Batherson and Vitaly Abramov. Maybe I’ll put my hope in the unknown future. I have no idea. But if I do, there will always be that niggling question in the back of my mind: What if they eventually want a signing bonus?

1. For what it’s worth, neutral third parties have reached out to me to say they think the return on the Stone trade was perfectly acceptable, given the circumstances, and that the centrepiece, Erik Brannstrom, looks like a potential superstar. I may come to love Brannstrom with time, in much the same way one may eventually develop feelings for someone they met through Ashley Madison, but for now I maintain that I would rather have actual superstar Mark Stone due to the famous Bird-Hand-Bush Theorem proved by Euler in the 1700s.

Mark Stone Is Incredible and Other Musings

Let’s talk about hockey. No, seriously! At the time of writing, the 2018-19 Ottawa Senators have played approximately 40% of their season, so this seems like as good a time as any to look at what the team is like both qualitatively and quantitatively. Also I have nothing unique, entertaining, or insightful to say about the ownership/Lebreton situation, so it’s either this or going back to making googly eyes at Craig Medeglia on Instagram until he makes me and the rest of this blog “Sens Influencers” and we can take our rightful place in Brian5or6’s private box.

I believe I can distill this year’s Senators team down to three key observations, which I will illustrate using the shooting heat maps provided by Friend of the Blog Micah Blake McCurdy at hockeyviz.com. These graphs, and many others, are available to you for the price of a small monthly donation, which Micah will use to keep his lights on and his children clothed and fed.

I like Micah’s heat maps because they convey a lot of information easily. Red is locations from which more shots are coming compared to league average. Blue is location from which fewer shots are coming compared to league average.

Need to impress your family with your Sens knowledge this Christmas? Here is what you need to know.

1. Mark Stone is most important player the Senators have ever had

Remember Erik Karlsson? I do! He was great! Maybe even transcendent! It is really too bad he went out for that pack of cigarettes and never came back. I’m still quite upset about it. Anyway, sorry for dredging up old shit, but I brought him up to say this: if you put a gun to my head and asked me if I want Mark Stone or Erik Karlsson on my hockey team, I’m taking Mark Stone.

The photo on the left shows where the Senators take shots when Mark Stone is on the ice. The photo on the right shows where the Senators take shots when Mark Stone is not on the ice. The quantity “Threat” is how many more goals than average the Senators would expect to score regardless of shooter talent. Basically when Mark Stone is on the ice, the Ottawa Senators play like a team with Stanley Cup winning potential. When Mark Stone is off the ice, the Senators play like a bad AHL team. Now, it’s not at all surprising that a hockey team is better when it’s best player is on the ice, but I’ve never seen a contrast so stark as with this years Sens team. For 33% of every game, the Senators are an offensive powerhouse. For the rest of the game, they couldn’t move the puck to the net with a U-haul and the vague promise of free pizza.

A similar effect can be seen with Stone on the defensive side of the ice.

The Senators are a slightly above average team defensively with Mark Stone on the ice. Insofar as “keeping them to the outside” is a thing, Mark Stone appears capable of doing that. On the right, we can see that the Senators give up too many shots from everywhere with Mark Stone off the ice. I really don’t know what else to say about this since the effect is so visually stark. Mark Stone genuinely makes the Sens look like an entirely different team.

As Mark Stone is essentially both the best offensive and best defensive player on the Ottawa Senators at this time, I believe it is in the team’s best interests to give him as much money as he asks for at whatever time he says he wants it. Travis Yost agrees. I don’t think I have ever advocated for a “blank cheque” approach to contract negotiations, but I do in this case because a Sens team without Mark Stone is literally not worth watching.

2. Cody Ceci and Tom Pyatt are not good

I don’t want to spend too much time belabouring this point, but it should still be said:

When Cody Ceci is on the ice, the Senators give up 41.5 shots on net per 60 minutes, many from extremely dangerous areas. When Cody Ceci is off the ice, the Senators are nearly defensively average if you squint a bit, insofar as giving up 34 shots on net per 60 minutes can be considered “nearly defensively average”. Now, it is true that Ceci plays many of his minutes against the hardest competition, and he only plays with Mark Stone 30% of the time. Mark Stone is a player who helps everyone he plays with and Cody Ceci’s results would look a lot better if he got to spend the majority of his icetime with Ottawa’s best player. However, even after accounting for these facts, there’s no getting around the fact that Ceci’s results are garment-rendingly horrific. Therefore, I would advocate for changing his role, and also possibly changing his team.

Tom Pyatt is often tasked with playing against top opposition. It’s a hard job, and Tom Pyatt isn’t incredibly good at it. Tom Pyatt has two points this year. Tom Pyatt is where offense goes to die. Tom Pyatt is a physical oddity who emits an extremely strong field which repels the puck. Tom Pyatt should be studied by scientists. Tom Pyatt and his linemates give up shots at nearly twice the rate at which they take them. There are some powerplays which take shots less often than Ottawa’s opponents when Tom Pyatt is on the ice. These are the facts of the case and they are undisputed.

3. The rest of the Senators aren’t incredibly great either, but they’ll still sneak up on you.

I’ll admit this one surprised me. As great as Mark Stone is, players like Matt Duchene, Thomas Chabot, and Ryan Dzingel have still been having great years themselves and I thought this would show up in the shot rates for the 1/3rd of the time when Ottawa has neither their best nor their worst players on the ice. However, even the likes of Chabot and Duchene seem unable to move the needle much offensively away from Mark Stone. Some of this, I suspect, is due to an intentional stylistic choice. I think Guy Boucher is encouraging players to capitalize on “rush chances”, turning the Sens into a One-and-Done team on offense. Anyone who has watched the Sens much can probably speak to this. The Sens generally look for a good initial chance, and if they don’t score or get the puck back immediately, everyone hauls ass on defense. They are not a team that is looking to cycle you into the ice. The Sens do not bowl you over like a pie in the face. They are quick and precise, like a pool cue to the balls. When it works, this makes the Sens exciting to watch as you get to watch the Sens exciting rookies run and gun. When it doesn’t work, the Sens are completely incapable of generating any offense at all as they have essentially no Plan B. This style does play to some players’ strengths. Matt Duchene in particular is extremely talented with the puck and having your man come through the neutral zone with a full head of steam and an opportunity to get creative is probably the best way to get the most offense out of him. That said, there can be no doubt that Duchene benefits an incredible amount from playing with Stone and vice versa. Of Duchene’s 11 primary assists, 7 of them are assists on Stone goals.

Duchene puts up results with Stone that he seems unable to generate on his own. If you think Matt Duchene away from Mark Stone is alarming, you don’t even want to know about Brazy Tkachuk. On a Senators team that still has some high end talent even after the departures of Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone still stands out as a cut above the rest.

The Wisdom

Look, the Sens aren’t, by any stretch of the imagination, good. They give up too many shots and they’re too reliant on unsustainable shooting percentages (all situations sh% of 11.25%) just to keep treading water. The goaltending has barely even been average, and I’d be surprised if 37 year old Craig Anderson ever again finds the form that took the Sens to the 3rd round of the playoffs in 2016. Also Ottawa is dealing with a spate of injuries and the 3rd defense pairing is now Justin Falk and Stefan Elliott who are two players I have literally never heard of. So, things are not great.

But with no 1st round draft pick this year, there’s no harm in trying to win, so we might as well enjoy the little bits of unsustainable shooting percentage we get along the way as the Sens battle for 20th overall in the NHL. There are enough bright spots in the current team that the path to glory is clear. All the Sens have to do is re-sign Duchene and Stone, let the bad players walk, continue to draft and develop extremely well, get the goaltending figured out, make cunning free agent signings to fill out the depth, and do this all on a shoestring budget as the team continues to be enveloped in turmoil off the ice.

Easy plan. Until all that stuff happens, we’ll always have this:

 

Game On…….ish

Erik Karlsson is playing for the San Jose Sharks right now (team high 9:11 TOI through one period) and I just poured myself a glass of Maker’s Mark and now I feel like writing a few things about hockey.

First off, there can be no doubt that these are dark times for the Senators. With Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s injury, the second line centre is now Zack Smith, a player who was placed on waivers a week ago. You know things are really popping for you when the centre of your second (2nd) line is a guy no one wanted for free. Other interesting lineup notes: Ben Harpur and Max McCormick have one way deals and made the team automatically (Harpur will likely be a healthy scratch most of the time, and McCormick is on the 4th line with Tom Pyatt, who will playing on Guy Boucher’s teams long after they’re both dead), and also Brady Tkachuk won’t start the season due to a nagging groin injury (Fun fact: 80% of all groin injuries have been described as “nagging” at some point). Even the kinda good things have a little silver lining of sadness. Remember Colin White? Well he’s on the second line now! Sure he’s on the second line because Chris Tierney (a player we traded Erik Karlsson for) couldn’t out-play him, but still! Colin White, guys! It’s ok to get excited about Colin White again! Max Lajoie is the surprise of the pre-season! He’s only 20! Made the team out of camp! Did his fellow 2016 draftee Logan Brown make the team? Absolutely not, but still! Max Lajoie, folks! He’s another late round gem from the team that brought you Mike Hoffman (traded), Mark Stone (probably going to be traded), and Ryan Dzingel (he’s cool). Craig Anderson is still the starting goalie, and surely not even he can be as bad as Craig Anderson was last year. Can a plucky Senators squad with nothing to lose recapture the magic that only a .925 sv% can provide? Maybe! Hockey is back, and the Senators are a doing a passable imitation thereof!

Let’s circle back to that first thing for a moment: remember when the Senators put Zack Smith on waivers? What in the Panko encrusted hell was that about? Pierre Dorion claimed it was to “send a message” that last year’s play wasn’t acceptable, but this was message immediately undercut by

a) Matt Duchene, who said the move was like “a kick in the balls” whose purpose was “beyond hockey reasons”.
b) Guy Boucher, who said that Zack Smith was going to keep his spot on the second line.

If I were the message sending sort of GM, I would have thought that trading the captain and the team’s most flaky forward would have done the trick, but apparently the guy with the lowest plus-minus on the team last year had to feel the heat, too. Occam’s Razor says that placing Smith on waivers was a desperate attempt to lower payroll, and even if that wasn’t the case, I’m not sure how you don’t consult Guy Boucher first, or at least get him on board with the messaging. Boucher seemed just as perturbed as many of his players that his second line centre was being left out on the curb without so much as a “If it’s cool with you…”. Ultimately, it seems the message that was received in the room was “We will attempt to ship out your friends if it’ll save us money”, so I guess what I’m trying to say is that Matt Duchene is definitely not signing here long term once he finds out that he’s rich enough to afford a private plane that can fly him to Haliburton from anywhere.

Again, not that I blame Pierre Dorion. He’s got a job to do, and he’s doing it. It can’t be easy to get a phone call from your boss and have him insist that you personally have to find a way to keep the lights on past December even though the team has more money on IR than on the entire defense right now. It’s just gross to see that management isn’t even trying any more. Used to be that you could squint at a move like Zibanejad for Brassard and convince yourself that the cash savings were a mere coincidence and really it was basically a hockey move. Not any more. The Sens are taking 2nd liners and stapling “Free to a good home” to their chests. This is some next level shit.

Being a Sens fan right now kinda feels like being a Napoleon fan post Battle of Waterloo, so here are some reasons why I might watch hockey this season:

1. Aesthetic reasons – Not only were the Senators bad last year, but they were also totally unwatchable. The Sens being a team that could conceivably be watched for fun would go a long way towards my willingness to watch them for fun. Hockey, when played well, can be an enjoyable spectator experience. I am not ready to give up on the possibility of enjoying a 2018-19 Senators game yet.

2. Habitual reasons – One of these days it’s gonna be a Thursday night, and I’m gonna need something to do. Could watching Senators hockey be that thing? It’s been a thing in past years. It’s very possible it could be a thing this year, especially if watching the team doesn’t feel like a massive waste of my time and emotional energy. Hockey: It may be the thing I watch on Thursdays.

3. Emotional reasons – I want to like Brady Tkachuk, and Thomas Chabot, and Colin White, and Alex Formenton. Hell, I even want to like Cody Ceci. With no 1st round draft pick this season, there’s nothing to be gained by losing so why not be open to the possibility of enjoying the journey of a bunch of sentient lunchboxes who are taught the true meaning of hockey by some enthusiastic rookies? That’s a rhetorical question. Do not answer that.

Ok, so on the one hand, we have a hockey shaped hole in my life that maybe the Senators can fill. On the other side of things, here are some reasons someone might not watch the Ottawa Senators:

1. Extreme displeasure with recent events including, but not limited to, the captain being traded, harassment allegations against the team’s former AGM that were only cursorily dealt with by the team, the failure to sign Mark Stone or Matt Duchene to long term deals, the owner inserting himself into the team’s operations as much as possible, and the general impression that things are going to get much worse before they get better because the team is operating in such a way as to accomplish the bare minimum associated with being a professional sports team while the franchise itself accrues value due to land development rights on behalf of the aforementioned owner who has, at various times, openly mused about relocation, referred to the fans as “finicky”, alienated several of the team’s most beloved players, alienated several of the team’s executives, and generally shown an unwillingness to be agreeable in any way.

Look, it’s a complicated time.

It’s probable that home attendance is going to be a storyline again this season, and many fans are already voting with their dollar and openly boycotting the team until the organization proves they’re worthy of support. The organization? Well, they’re working on it. I’m not going to tell you how to be a fan this year; clearly I haven’t even worked it out for myself yet. Everyone has to live their truth and whatnot. Just…please do me a favour and try to not live a truth that is completely whack, like the sort of truth that says the only way to be a true fan is by going to all the games or by burning jerseys or by picketing in front of the Canadian Tire Centre. This year will be a lot more bearable if one half of the fanbase isn’t openly calling the other half of the fanbase dirty scabs for attending a game or buying a San Jose Karlsson jersey (even if those people are dirty scabs). If anyone can find something to enjoy in hockey at the moment, well then they’re entitled to it. Hopefully soon we all will be entitled to some happiness. I patiently await the day when the Senators give us something everyone can get behind.