The Jail Phone: When’s Bobby Ryan Gonna Get It Going (Out of Ottawa)?

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Automated voice:
You have received a collect call from an inmate at an Internet Detention Facility. This call will be recorded and blogged for cultural purposes. To accept the charges please press 4 – 2 – 0 – 6 – 9 – 6 – 9 followed by the pound sign.

Luke:
*lets out 14 second long sigh, dials 4206969#, whispers “nice” under his breath*

James:
Luke, bon système a toi, listen, I need to calmly and casually talk to you about Bobby Ryan.
Before you muted me on Twitter you may have caught me defending ol’ hickory ham Bobby from time to time in the past. I would get a rise out of pointing out that he would get slammed if he fell into a scoring slump but would never be praised when he’d get hot and in some cases even float the team offensively for games at a time. This, of course, indicated to me that he’d entered dangerous territory with many fans: The Jason Spezza Memorial You Can’t Win Zone. As the highest paid player on the team, it seemed for many fans that if he wasn’t at his best, well, in the words of whatever Joe Pesci is called in Casino, “The dollars. It’s always the fucking dollars.” My view was that if he wasn’t scoring his expected 30 goals but was at least contributing, I could deal with it.
Well, I’m here to announce today that I’m off that.

I once etched in the marble of Dave Cameron’s Head Coach Mausoleum, “He Played Mark Borowiecki As A Forward More Than Once (More Than Once).” That event was my line in the sand with him. I don’t claim to know nothin’ about no coachings. It’s insanely hard and there’s usually a lot going on behind the scenes that influences decisions that fans are not privy to BUT…how do you not put Binghamton’s best or even just most positionally sound forward in that slot over the team’s worst defenseman who admitted he hadn’t played forward since high school? Like, what is the farm system even for then? Also, fuck you.

Well, after weeks of invisibility, something happened against Dallas that I will likely be unable to forgive: Dion Phaneuf Tied Bobby Ryan In Points. Dion Phaneuf. On a shorthanded goal no less. Come on, man. This would be an unnerving experience in November and here we are past the All Star Break and approaching mid-February. Imagine if on that fateful day when Ryan was traded here that I traveled back in time to tell that guy who did a cameo in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York would be president of the United States and also that you’d soon find Zack Smith or even Ryan Dzingel to be more valuable (or even noticeable) contributors to the team than Bobbito?

Luke:
Imagine tying those two disturbing threads together by mentioning that Bobby Ryan is also a huge fan of President Home Alone. We live in troubled times.

Like you, I also want to mention my Defending Bobby Ryan bonafides. Bobby never really had a chance of being given a fair shake and was always going to be beset by the twin narratives of “We gave up too much to get him” (false) and “We gave him too much to keep him” (Insufficient information, but my dude has to make some changes). Even though Bobbington Q. Ryan’s been a streaky guy since he got to Ottawa, but he’s also improved his production each year. He went from 100th in scoring to 75th in scoring to 60th in scoring over the past 3 years. Those are the sensible 1st line winger numbers of a first line winger. My time defending The Bobberino was always predicated on the idea that the expectations of the fanbase were ridiculous and everyone just had to chill out and realize that my guy had put up the same number of points as Logan Couture, Brad Marchand, and Patrick Hornqvist over the past 3 season.

Where are we at now? Dion Phaneuf tied with Robert Ryan in points, you say? Is Dion just having a particularly good year? Let’s see what kind of company His Bobishness is keeping this year:

bryanpoints

*takes stage at karaoke night*

What are thoooooooooose, what are thoooooooooose, what are thooooooooooooose?

Not only has Corn on the Bob had a bad year statistically, but he also looks wild disinterested on the ice. Erik Karlsson’s has given Bobara Ann (like the Beach Boys song) the business a few times for dogging it back to his own zone on defense. That’s not a good look. If Erik Karlsson so much as blocked me on Twitter, I’d delete my account. I can’t imagine how bad I’d feel if EK actually yelled at me in person for not doing my job well enough.

K. Now that the elephant in the room has now been fully illuminated from all angles by our Woodward-and-Bernsteinian investigation, (Follow up question: WHY ARE WE THE ONLY ONES TALKING ABOUT THIS???), I’d like to mention a few other things:

1) Bobby Ryan’s been through some stuff this past year.
2) Bobby Ryan still might be going through some stuff?
3) I think Bobby Ryan’s politics are terrible. I don’t really have a follow up to that, I just wanted to make it clear.

Having a kid and losing a parent are the sort of things that can happen away from work that can really drastically affect your performance. There was also the weird time earlier this season where Ryan was healthy scratched for an odd reason that neither he, nor Guy Boucher, were willing to comment on publicly. The fact that the Ottawa media is still mostly treating Ryan with kid gloves tells me that they may know something we don’t about why The Bobster is not looking or playing like himself this year. I’m not saying it’s an excuse, but there might be an explanation in there somewhere.

We agree that The Bobblet’s level of play is unacceptable this year, so let me ask you this: what do you want to do about it? Are you at the “Trade this guy for magic beans or someone else’s bad contract” stage yet? Are you willing to give him another season to turn it around? Do you think he even can turn it around? We all have feelings, but when the dust of our heart settles, what must be done?

James:
I think you bring up fair points and I too have thought of these things. It has not been a great time for Bobby personally. If I may apply a more clinical lens to the subject, I will reiterate my concern thusly: After much searching I think Boucher and The System are here to stay and if there is one forward not named Chris Neil that I do not think fits in with The System it is Bobby Ryan.

If, in layman’s terms, I could sum up the game that Boucher has brought to Ottawa: First on puck in the defensive zone, hard along the boards, defensive in the neutral zone, shoot first mentality in the offensive zone. In other words, playoff hockey.
In our most private discussions Luke, you have cited Eric Staal and Thomas Vanek as similar cases of players who had their rep enter the turlet and turned it around in their “post-prime” years. Signed through 2048 with his current stock at a career low, playing on the 3rd line, I VVVVVVV much hope for such a turn around. Where we’re at tho: Even if Ry Guy absolutely wrecked shop and went point per game for the rest of the season he’d hit last season’s point total. We know he’s not going to do that but even if he did, do you think it would take a complete revamp in his playing style to regain Boucher’s trust? Is that more inconceivable than the PPG thing? I’d like to see him succeed but when you see an unheralded 7th round pick like Ryan Dzingel who’s more or less in his rookie season come in and take on the same role and best Bobby at it kind of gets me thinking, could we just get Patrick Eaves to come in and do this shit for a million bananas? It could be wise to free up some money for a slightly better Bobby Ryan. We’ve already possibly lost MacArthur [I love you] for good can we really afford to let another top 6 forward “figure it out”?

Luke:
It’s true that hope is not lost for Calvin and Bobbs, but for every Vanek and Staal there must be a Mike Richards. I think that Ryan’s at a tipping point here. I thought he might have another season or two in him before this happened, but instead it appears that Bob’s Your Uncle has started his “Noticeable Decline” years at the age of 29. Is my guy gonna hit the gym, get some core power, work on the old man strength, and turn into a grindy grinder with good hands who is cash money in the shootout, or is he gonna check out his own CapFriendly page and figure “I’m gonna keep getting cheques for another 5 years so I’m good.”? (Holy god, 5 years? I really wasn’t prepared to have this conversation until 2019 at the EARLIEST.) I hope for the former.

With respect to how Ryan fits into The System, I agree that he has not looked like Guy Boucher’s favourite player at times. However, I think The High Priest of The System may just be starting to come around. After trailing guys like Pyatt and Pageau in icetime for most of the year, Ryan’s finally getting minutes that could be described as “Top 6”. Also Boucher was asked about Bobby Ryan last night, and had nothing but good things to say about him. It might not be too late for an Old Bob to learn a New System.

Still, things are definitively at the point where if the opportunity to move Ryan to another team presents itself, it must be considered extremely seriously. I’ve always said that Bobby Ryan would be difficult to replace via the open market, but this year’s version of Bobby Ryan looks wild easy to replace. If you could trade a Struggling Bobby Ryan + Cody Ceci for A Struggling Gabriel Landeskog, I’d pull the trigger on that faster than a nine year old with a sugar high at laser tag. While earlier this year I’d argued that the Senators should not protect Bobby Ryan during the expansion draft, I can now report that I am off that line of thought entirely, even though the idea of losing Ryan for nothing still strikes me as extremely gross. If I was Pierre Dorion trying to swing a deal, I’d be casually mentioning that all Bobby needs is a change of scenery and hoping that someone agrees. It might be true. Hell, he might only need time to work out whatever it is hangs over his game like a dark cloud. However, the consequences of keeping Ryan and being wrong are far graver than the consequences of losing Ryan and being wrong. Time to make like Better Homes and Gardens and hedge.

The Jail Phone: Win Now Edition

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Luke: Good day and good System to you, James.

I was still coming down off the high from watching Our Boy Chat Salters on Jeopardy last night when I checked my phone this morning to see the glorious news that Claude Julien had been fired by the Bruins. Now, I am not the most brilliant hockey mind of my generation, but I am someone who reads a few things and here are the things I know:

a) The Bruins’ Fancy Stats were very good
b) The Bruins’ roster consists of Patrice Bergeron, Ratticus from Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective, a 39 year old Zdeno Chara who has the skating mobility of the continent of Australia, and 18 different versions of Adam McQuaid.
c) Given the dubious roster, you’d have to think Claude Julien was pretty much the only thing keeping the Bruins afloat and you’d have to be an idiot to fire him.
d) The Bruins’ front office consists almost exclusively of idiots.

Conclusion: the firing of a good coach can only be a good thing for the Ottawa Senators because it’s extremely unlikely the next Bruins coach will not be as good. Interestingly, Julien’s the second coach fired in the Atlantic Division this year, and there’s a good reason for that: the Atlantic Division is terrrrrrrrrrrrrrible. The Atlantic has been so bad that the Sens sit in 2nd place basically by accident. Ottawa has been occasionally good, and occasionally bad, and they had to trade for someone’s 3rd string goaltender who they then played for 37 straight games, and this has been good enough for 2nd place! That’s home ice in the first round! God Bless The System.

This situation has got me thinking: If the Sens might make the playoffs by accident this year, what would happen if they actually tried to Win Now by trading for some players who will help them Win Now? Who are Ottawa’s likely opponents in the first two rounds of the playoffs? A young and inexperienced Toronto team, and Montreal, the NHL’s least intimidating “elite” team. Ottawa would have a decent chance against both those teams now, so why not try to acquire a player or two who might give them an even better chance to make the Conference Finals?

Am I crazy James? This is all I can think about?

James: And may the grace of The System (peace be upon It) also be with your spirit, Brother Luke .

Standing ovation to Chet, whose real name, Chet Boyardee, was revealed last night on his impressive performance on the best game show of all time Jeopardy! (the fuck is up with that exclaimation mark tho?). The podcast brand has never been stronger and thankfully he did not mention this blog keeping us in our rightful place as 7th most popular Ottawa Senators/Erotic Barbershop Music blogs.

Re: Tomorrow’s Sun headline: JULIEN FRIED
I had heard that there’d been some personality clashes twixt Julien and The Bruins Brass (who seem truly pretty fucking stupid – check out Seguin tape and past) and he’d been hanging on by his Cup ring sporting pinky for quite sometime. I can’t recall the sources because I did a lot of LSD in high school but I’m pretty damn sure I heard that.

Anyway, true indeed that it’s a crushing way to get eliminated from playoff contention by YOUR Ottawa Senators (6 to 1 BTFingW) in the 82nd game of the season. But also, I don’t think a guy who brought your franchise it’s first Stanley Cup since Nixon traveled to China to begin talks with Mao is the fall guy. H_ck, he got them back to them Final the season following the Cup win and even nabbed the least talked about President’s Trophy in NHL history all the way back in 2014 AKA Covered Wagon Tymes.
I’ma chalk this one up to the classic “it’s not like this guy forgot how to be a good NHL coach.”

Me, I can’t speak for his personality but I think Boston’s welcome decline has been more due to big roster shaping events like absolutely, positively fucking up the gift of the Phil Kessel trade. You know shit is quiet for your team’s management when the laughter transitions from Toronto to your front office. Damn. I wont rehash all the details but its bad enough not having Tyler Seguin and Douglas Hamilton to show for the first round picks they got bur they don’t even have Loui Eriksson who they traded Seguin for anymore. Plus, they lost him for nothing! SMH.
Also, clearly it’s Coach Julien’s fault Zdeno Chara is turning 40 next month. He’s probably also to blame for management missing Colin White, Thomas Chabot and Joel Eriksson Ek with their THREE first round picks in 2015 but at least they drafted Malcolm Subban, rocking that 2.58 GAA in the AHL with a first. In conclusion, they made the right call just like they did when they decided that a young, perennial all star who puts up an average of about 35 goals per year was not in keeping with the Bruins Culture™. I couldn’t agree more.

You’re not brazy to propose a win-now trade given the weakness of the division. It sounds like you’re not talking a typical Scottie Upshall (The OTHER Tommy Wingels) bottom six bolstering but more a Landeskog / Duchene type ‘really fr_gging go for it’ type situation aren’t you? You know that’s gonna be a painful ass get, huh?

Luke: I think the plan right now is to have College White bolster the bottom six at the conclusion of the school year, and I personally couldn’t be more excited. I think some combination of White-Kelly-Lazar-Wingels-The Conspicuous Absence of Chris Neil has just enough zest to form a credible 4th line, and I don’t think there’s anything with the Top 6 that can’t be solved by putting a magic hat on Bobby Ryan (more to follow on this later this week).

So yes, I’m talking Big Splashes here. I’ve very much enjoyed the surprise success Ottawa has had (so far) this season, but even when wearing my most United in Red Tinted goggles, I can’t say that I think this is a team that is a few minor tweaks away from becoming an approximation of a serious threat. Luckily, I think there are some major tweaks on the board that P.R. Dorion might consider playing.

With Colorado playing as bad as the Sabres team Tim Murray had to tank for 2 YEARS, they are beginning to acquire the air of a team that might do something stupid just because they think it’s better than doing nothing at all. Matt Duchene is now at the point of his trade rumours where he just goes “I don’t mind getting traded if it means you all stop asking me about it.” (AKA The Jason Spezza Zone), and Gabriel Landeskog is having the sort of season Bobby Ryan is having only if Bobby Ryan was playing on a team that was much MUCH worse and was also THE CAPTAIN. I don’t know how seriously either of those guys are being shopped, but they’re the types of players who would improve anyone’s team in the short and long term.

Here’s a guy I really want, though: Kevin Shattenkirk. He’s got offensive chops, he’s extremely good at protecting the front of his net, he’s in the last year of a $4.25MM deal, and he’s on a team that’s barely clinging to a playoff spot, just fired their coach, has Jake Allen as their starting goalie, and just lost Robby Fabbri to injury for the rest of the year. The conditions are ripe to snag this guy as a rental.

Not only would Shattenkirk be a welcome addition as a good player, but he allows other players to slot in more comfortably in the lineup. Here are my dream defensive pairings:

Karlsson – Shattenkirk
Ceci – Methot
Wideman – Phaneuf

Ceci – Methot and Wideman – Phaneuf pairings have shown excellent Fancy Stat results in limited minutes (about 4 games worth) this season, and Karlsson’s great with everyone he plays with, except apparently Marc Methot this season (seriously they’re getting crushed in the Fancy Stats this year, which I know doesn’t show the whole story, but also isn’t meaningless either).

I don’t know what the cost of a Shattenkirk rental would be, but I’d be willing to give up nearly any prospect other than Chabot to make it happen. Who are the objects of your affection, James? Who are the Untouchables? Who would you part with gladly?

James: I’m confused. College White? That could literally describe any student enrolled at Boston College. Anyway, kokedreams korner, after the watching the World Juniors I think Colin White could step right in as a 4th liner and be the best 4th liner the Sens have. Also, Wingels has been an improvement so far. No need to do anything there. Don’t @ me.

In an NHL with very few major trades per season now, a terrible team like Colorado offering up two of its best players for some reason, is an opportunity as rare as Mr. Clean with hair. Dorion would have to plug his nose and likely give up a great package of pick(s)/player(s)/prospect(s) to make shit real and get one of those guys but with known commodities like Duchene or Landeskog you cant really miss…Right? I mean that’s what I said about trading for Bobby Ryan and his stock has never been lower for me! What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, your divorce. No, the big thing is, The Sens have some really good offensive weapons but its kind of fucked knowing that Clarke MacArthur may never play again. Even if he does return, I hate to say it, but it has to be acknowledged that he’d re-enter the line up having not played an NHL game in two full seasons. Think about how long it’s taking Anderson to get back to game shape after missing two months. It would be unfair to expect much more than a limited role from Clarkey until further notice.

This problem with the top 6 comes in addition to top line forward Roberto Ryan magically becoming less effective than Ryan “Unheralded Rookie 7th Round Pick making 750K” Dzingel. We need a dependable top 6 forward contingency plan now that we can’t count on Grizz returning to form (or even returning to be really, really real) and that’s compounded by Bob Ryan’s unannounced early retirement.

Fortune favors the brazy, P.R. Dorion, and I’m too much of a coward to even propose a trade that would get this done (thanks for reading, btw). I can’t help but think that Logan Brown’s best case scenario tops out to BECOME as good as Duchene or Landeskog. I doubt that would do it. Still, remember how the asking price for Patrick Sharp was a still in Junior at the time Curtis Lazar? Gotta no look pass on that tho because Lazar gunna grow up to be like TWO Patrick Sharps…right…riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight? *dies* *unfortunately, comes back to life* let’s move on…

Shattenkirk is a very interesting proposition. I have to admit I’m salivating at the idea of bumping all the left side defenders down a pairing. No shade to the boi Marc Methot, I do think he’s a solid partner for EK. He reliably hangs back and lets 65 hit us with The Art. One thing that increasingly bothers me with each passing season, however, is that Meth has next to ZERO offensive upside. It can be painful to watch him defer to a double covered Karlsson over and over again when he gets the puck. You can plainly see that the opposition is fully aware that if Methot gets the puck at the point he’s dishing it right. The only thing that makes the scenario work is that Karlsson happens to be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart of defensemen and he could get shots off even with triple coverage. Still, imagine a world where it wasn’t guaranteed that a possible shot from the left side of the top pairing wouldn’t be a wobbler? Be still, expired pizza pop where my heart should be. Having two good point shooters means more rebounds means more Mark Stone making goaltenders his first born son in the low slot.

The benefits would continue down the D corps. Methot could continue his Johnny Cash rhythm guitar level steadiness and allow Ceci to be the trigger man he has completely gotten away from being and hopefully build back his confidence. Lastly, your bottom pair would be Wideman – Phaneuf. That would give your 5-6 slots two pretty serious shooters (say what you will about Dion, dude’s got 6 goals and 20 points). Wideman could open it up a bit and Phaneuf’s toughness would make Mark Borowiecki completely obsolete. *dusts hands*

In conclusion, I also hold the CONTROVERSIAL opinion that it would be quite beneficial to substantially upgrade Ottawa’s defense. What would I give up? I mean, like you said, he’s a rental (tho Ottawa hasn’t been terrible at retaining UFAs but I digress) I’d give up Lazar. He’s been awful but I guess he still has potential? A goaltender of STL’s choice of O’Connor or Dreiger, my guess is they don’t want Hammond after seeing him on Tuesday. Lastly throw in someone good? Jesus would you have to give up the love my life Jean Gabriel Pageau to make this happen? Giving up JGP would not exactly help Ottawa’s playoff hopes to lose JGP. He was put on this earth for the playoffs. Is this trade proposition HF Boards level terrible? I’m not good at this (thank you again, sincerely, for reading).

Cokedreams Conclusion: Shayne Gostisbehere for GOOD PHILLY BOY AND EVER’THINK LIKE THAT Bobby Ryan and one of the above mentioned goaltenders. Philly is about to lose Steve Mason and that is apparently a bad thing.

Luke: Yeah, in a post Hall-for-Larsen/Subban-for-Weber/Jones-for-Johansen World, I just have no idea what it takes to get trades going anymore. Seems like there’s a lot of other factors to be taken into account like “Is this guy’s contract a problem?” or “Are we likely to lose this guy in the expansion draft anyway?” that I would find hard to balance. Also, this year’s 1st round pick might be in play because this is considered such a weak draft. On the other hand, presumably everyone knows this is a weak draft so maybe a 1st just won’t get you what it used to. The value of these things fluctuates like the price of gold.

Still, can’t hurt to go for fleeting short term glory. The line these days is “The Sens have one playoff series win since 2008”, and making a move now could help change that. Do it, Pierre. Pick up the phone. You have nothing to lose except picks, prospects, and a roster player.

4 Pithy Observations of Questionable Importance from the Season Opener

Hey, there was a hockey game last night. Did anything interesting happen? Anything historic? Oh, a 19 year old consigned to many years of indentured servitude in the most vicious market in the NHL due to the vicissitudes of some ping pong balls had an outstanding individual game in his team’s OT loss.

On Auston Matthews:

I can’t really work up much of a froth about Auston Matthews himself. Any player scoring four goals is an incredible feat. That Auston Matthews scored four goals in his first NHL game ever is remarkable. The Auston Matthews chants that went up around the CTC were well deserved. I have no comeback to any of that.

I still gotta get on my Hater Grind though, and let’s face it, that is also why you are here. Let’s throw up that picture of Goldstein on the screen and get to…

THE TWO MINUTES HATE

It’s gotta be said that the Sens did lots to help Matthews look good. No one could clear the garbage on the first goal. Matthews’ second goal was a great showcase of his doggedness on the puck and the highlight that brought peace to the Middle East, but all I see when I watch that highlight is Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman failing to control pucks, Erik Karlsson being too soft on his own stick, and Craig Anderson getting beat by a really bad angle shot. If just one of those Sens does their job, Steve Dangle’s gotta find a new tombstone. Moving on, why are the Sens so soft on Morgan Reilly’s zone entry here? What is Dion Phaneuf covering, other than his own house in deep shame? What position does Cody Ceci think he’s playing in the buildup to Matthews fourth goal? The Sens had horrific breakdowns on all their goals against last night, and a single player benefited considerably from each of them.

Auston Matthews is gonna have a great individual career, but Toronto’s seen great individuals that still couldn’t drag the entire team to wins. This has also been the norm in Edmonton. Personally, I’d be wild tight if my team’s best player scored four goals in a losing effort. That’s the most Oilers-ass thing I’ve ever heard of.

Good game from Matthews though. Good for him. He’s good, a very good player. Good good good.

Good.

On the crowd at Canadian Tire Centre:

I saw a lot of rending of garments and gazing of navels on Twitter in the leadup to the home opener apropos of the (large) number of tickets still available. Ordinarily, a team’s first game of the season should be one of the better attended games of the year. It’s an Event! Hockey’s been gone for so long and it’s back! You get to see new players for the first time! Erik Karlsson is there! If you can’t bring out a big crowd to the home opener, you might as well pack it in, right?

Counterpoint: I can totally understand why Average Sens Fan wouldn’t want to pay Premium Ticket Prices to go out to a game mostly populated by Leafs fans on a Wednesday. Those Leafs/Habs tickets are ~3 times as expensive as a game against Minnesota or New Jersey. I know I wouldn’t pay that. If I didn’t know a guy who gave me a deal, I wouldn’t have gone either.

Leafs-Sens games in Ottawa make me believe in segregating supporters like they do in European soccer. It’s not a good vibe at the CTC for these things. It just isn’t. It’s always got tons of weirdly aggressive Leafs fans who just come out of the woodwork. I don’t mind that people cheer for the Leafs, but why do they have to be so in-your-face about it? Cheer for whoever you want, but I don’t want to have to see it.

So yeah, Loudmouth Bro in the Matthews Jersey negatively affected my experience. I’m not about to judge any Sens fan who stayed home because they wanted to watch the game on their television or mobile device sans pants and fans of the other team. Who did or did not show up to the game on Wednesday is not a commentary on the fanbase; it’s just a commentary on socioeconomic factors over which most of us have very little control.

On the Sens being bad:

The Senators were not good for long stretches of the game last night, and they were not good in many interesting ways. For all of Guy Boucher’s talk of systems and defensive structure, I didn’t see any last night. On an individual basis, the Sens were also sloppy. Between the failed zone exits, missed passes, pucks fired blindly up the middle, and lack of puck control, the Sens put on a masterclass of Bad Hockey. For all the fans who spent the off-season bemoaning the team’s mediocrity, this must have been very satisfying. You did it, my Boos. You were right all along. The team was bad. (A BAD TEAM THAT WON, THAT IS.)

The good news for the rest of us is that sloppiness is often transient. Anyone will tell you that the only way to get game reps is in games. Maybe we can send the whole team to Binghamton for a conditioning stint before the next game on Saturday so they can all play through whatever malaise is gripping everyone’s normally silky mitts.

As for the defensive zone coverage, we’re working on it. Still……working on it. *places shirt collar on Elon Musk’s shuttle and has it tugged it to Mars*

KOACHING KORNER
1. Cody Ceci needs to watch this game tape until he’s internalized the message.

2. Thank you for that demonstration of Mark Borowiecki. I am now ready to see Thomas Chabot for comparative purposes.

On the Sens being good:

Erik Karlsson’s going to have 400 shots and 100 points this year. Dude is playing Sweet Georgia Brown in the offensive zone at Petersonian speeds.

I think Dave Cameron encouraged EK to be more of a distributor instead of a shooter last year, and early signs are that Guy Boucher has instructed Karlsson to bomb the net like he’s Bruce Willis and it’s the only way to save the Earth from an asteroid strike.

Derick Brassard is good, extremely good. I think he might be better than Mika Zibanejad. His goal on a great individual effort was soul soothing and restored my waning spirit.

While Ottawa didn’t score on the powerplay, they should have as Mike Hoffman was robbed by Andersen off a beautifully worked shot late in the 1st period.

Finally, I would like to express my great appreciation for that piece of performance art that was Ottawa’s overtime shift. Everything about those 37 seconds was perfect. Karlsson’s patience to enter the zone, and then leave it again after he didn’t like what he saw was consummate professionalism. The tic-tac-toe setup to finish the game was the greatest existing argument for giving Michelin stars to hockey plays.

Some people might give Matthews a hard time for losing Turris on the play, but I don’t really think it’s right to do so. He’s only 19 years old. He’s got time to learn. Plus, Matthews had already scored 4 goals! Toronto isn’t even in the position to lose that game in overtime if not for Matthews. One defensive lapse does not wipe out all the good Matthews did in that game. In short, I will not stand for the Spezzification of Auston Matthews. I know a lot of people will want to hang the blame for this loss on Auston Matthews, but it’s wrong and anyone doing such things should be ashamed of themselves. If you’re someone who is perpetuating the idea that it’s Auston Matthews’ fault that the Leafs lost, you should ask yourself if you’d still want him on your team. I think we all want Auston Matthews on our team, we just don’t want him on the ice in overtime when one defensive mistake can cost you the game. That said, he’s just one man; he can’t be expected to do it all himself against all-world talent like Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Kyle Turris. Even if Auston Matthews could have done better on that play in particular, it’s not good form to point it out. Let’s just celebrate what an amazing night this young man had, instead of dwelling on the single fly in the ointment which is the blown defensive zone coverage on Turris’ overtime winner. I will not send The Soup of Matthews back to the kitchen simply because The Cockroach of Kyle Turris resides within. Such bad defending during a critical moment of the game could have happened to anyone, but it didn’t; it happened to Auston Matthews and that’s not his fault, except for the ways in which it is entirely his fault, which is most of the ways. Ok, even if it is his fault, there’s a kind of cosmic justice in the fact that he got to ruin his own debut. Sure, Kyle Turris’ glorious snipe over the listless glove of Frederik Andersen was like Sidney Crosby’s mustache painted over the Mona Lisa, but at least Da Vinci himself i.e. Auston Matthews was the one who painted it. As Thelonious Monk once said, “If you make a mistake, play it loud. Then people will think you did it on purpose.”, and by that standard, there can be no question that Auston Matthews made this mistake loudly, and on purpose. Let us all just move on from this mistake that Auston Matthews made.

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.

Instant Analysis: Mike Hoffman’s Extension

The Ottawa Senators announced they have signed Mike Hoffman to a 4-year contract worth an AAV of $5.1825 this morning.

Here is my analysis of this deal.

  1. Mike Hoffman is good.
  2. Mike Hoffman’s contract is good. He will stack paper.
  3. Mike Hoffman will help the Ottawa Senators win because Mike Hoffman is good. The Ottawa Senators will stack paper.

Verdict: A very fair deal for a player who is ok when he wants to be. This deal accomplishes some things which I believe to be good.

Grade: 6/10

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Reply

Roundtable of Death: Goodbye Yellow Brick Banana Jazz

Eug

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

James:
Hello.

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke:

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

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

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

So here’s some context:

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

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s July 4th. Do You Know Where Your Restricted Free Agent Is?

It’s got to be difficult to be mainstream hockey media/blogosphere at this time of year. Every team has pieces in motion as they try to get multiple RFAs signed. Each year, there are several teams vying for the services of the biggest names. Rumours are flying, terrible deals are handed out, and when the dust settles, the mainstream hockey writer has to take stock of the league and sum up the events with discerning brevity. Some are better at it than others. Just check out this quote from Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert:

dtmah

Damn, how do these guys do it? Slow down, Ryan. Leave some insight for the rest of us. It feels like there’s barely anything for me to add, but I’m going to try anyway.

Let me begin by stating my belief that planning to improve one’s hockey team in free agency is a very risky strategy. If you identify a player you wish to pursue in free agency, you can rest pretty assured that there will be some other hockey teams trying to sign them. Thus signing the player you want is never a sure thing. Even if you do manage to sign The Object of Your General Managerial Affection, the contract will almost certainly be subject to The Winner’s Curse wherein the the contract you give out will be, almost by definition, an overpayment because it is more than what every other team offered. Sometimes there are reasons that players might not sign the contract worth the most money (such as the desire to remain in their hometown of Ottawa), but sometimes those players are also Mark Borowiecki so even that strategy comes with some inherent risk.

If you can pick up an undervalued gem in free agency, so much the better. Everyone loves finding a crumpled up $20 in an old pair of jeans. However, the recent league-wide improvement in analytics and scouting has made this more and more difficult. I’m not sure signing each off-season’s rescue dog-esque free agent is something on which you can count on a year to year basis.

All this to say that if Ottawa’s big splash in unrestricted free agency was to sign an American drummer/songwriter whose name can also be satisfyingly sung to the tune of “My Sharona”, I don’t mind. It means that Ottawa did not use their already limited resources to overpay for a player of dubious utility. I am becoming increasingly convinced that 50% of being smart is not being dumb, and by that standard, Ottawa’s July 1st was perfectly acceptable.

The flip side of Ottawa not signing any big names is that they haven’t signed any of their largely monikered RFAs either. At the time of writing, RFAs Cody Ceci and Mike Hoffman remain unsigned. Mike Hoffman’s next deal remains the subject of some debate, as the fanbase is split over whether Hoffman should be offered “A lot of money” or “All of the money”. In past years, you could count on Bryan Murray to leak some negotiation details to the press, and Bruce Garrioch would tweet somthing like “Mike Hoffman’s latest ask is $9MM AAV for 8 years and he wants his face to replace the Sens logo. Sens have only agreed to the logo thing.” Now that Pierre Dorion is running the show, the Sens organization has been watertight in a way that Lot 9 could only dream of until recently. This is new and exciting, and gives us all the opportunity to either panic, recklessly speculate, or both. For my part, I am responding to this lack of news, good or bad, with the equanimity for which I am justly famed.

That said, I would like to address the growing sentiment on Twitter that reads something like “Why isn’t this done yet?” and “Just pay Mike Hoffman his goddamn money already.” I like Mike Hoffman very much. I would like Mike Hoffman to sign with the Ottawa Senators for 5+ years. I would also like to point out something that we must remember above all during these negotiations:

This is a negotiation.

We all have cokedreams ideas of what we should obviously pay Mike Hoffman in order to keep him with the club, but it’s entirely possible Mike Hoffman doesn’t want that totally reasonable deal you’re sure he’d accept. Also coming out and offering your highest “good” deal is not the most airtight negotiation strategy. If one offers $5.5MM for 5 years, how high are you actually willing to go? $6.5MM? $7MM? What if Hoffman doesn’t want to sign long term unless it’s also worth a very high AAV? What if Hoffman would rather sign for a single season, and then use the threat of leaving as an UFA next year to get even more money next year? These are questions without easy answers, and it’s almost certainly why these negotiations are taking so long it feels like George R.R. Martin is writing them. Dorion has already mentioned arbitration once or twice in the media, and it seems like a a distinct possibility at this time. It would be annoying if Mike Hoffman and the Ottawa Senators went to arbitration again, but at least Dorion’s willingness to bring up arbitration indicates an interest in keeping Hoffman with the club. An interest in keeping Hoffman with the club was something that was considerably less obvious during the Bryan Murray era, by the way.

The fact that the player has some say in the negotiations is one that is often lost on people. Signing good young players to long term deals is great when it works, but it’s entirely possible that not every good young player wants to lock themselves into a deal that’s going to severely limit their earning power during the prime of their careers. This is why I don’t opine about how it was a huge mistake to not lock up someone like Mark Stone for a longer term. I’d have loved it if Stone had signed a Turris-type deal, but I find it plausible that Mark Stone knows he’s really goddamn good, and plans on getting paid accordingly in a season or two. That’s not an organizational failure; that’s just the free (restricted) market. Players have some power.

So that’s where I’m at.

Do I want Mike Hoffman back with the Senators long-term? Yes.

Would I break the bank to do it? Not without reservation.

Will arbitration be the end of the world? No.

Would I still like to avoid it? Yes.

Is this stuff way more complex than it seems? Yes.

Am I just a guy with a laptop howling at the moon? Also yes.

Hang in there, folks. It’s only going to get more nerve-wracking when they actually start playing the games.