Roundtable of Death: Here We Go Again Edition

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H/t to the god @slowhnds

Luke: The thing about being the only bloggers who haven’t joined The Athletic is that we’ve had to keep our “real” jobs, so I feel like the hockey season may have sneaked up on us a bit.

I barely even noticed that the season was starting until I was suddenly inundated with articles and tweets about how Ottawa is a sure lock to miss the playoffs. You have been able to set your watch to those things for the past few years.

Here’s where the team stands:

  • No fun or interesting off-season additions to the team, unless you count Nate Thompson, which I don’t because he is neither fun nor interesting.
  • Erik Karlsson will not start the season due to his ongoing recovery from ankle surgery.
  • Derick Brassard will start the season, but is also still recovering from shoulder surgery.
  • Colin White, the prospect we were most excited about, got hurt in his first pre-season game and is on the IR.
  • Logan Brown has made the team and is now the prospect we’re most excited about.
  • Alex Formenton is on the team, even though he’s only 18 and there’s absolutely no way Guy Boucher trusts him enough to give him the keys to the Ford Mustang.
  • Thomas Chabot is starting the season in Belleville even though he was the best defenseman in camp who was also a -5 in the last pre-season game.

Besides that, there have been no interesting story lines to discuss.

I guess the over-arching question to the season is this: When will the Senators announce Duchene?

Just kidding. The question is actually this: Last year, Guy Boucher came into Ottawa with a mandate to make the playoffs. He, and the team, delivered. Can they do it again?

What do you think?

Andrew: Starting to feel like Cody Ceci is going to be a Senator for a long time and the video tribute I’m imagining for when he inevitably returns with the Colorado Avalanche or Arizona Coyotes or Winnipeg Jets or some such poorly run franchise is 2 minutes long but features zero highlights.

James: We’ll you don’t come second in your division, come within a goal of the Cup Final and then keep the team that gave you the club’s most successful season in a decade together as best you can without making a few enemies.

I certainly don’t LIKE how the Sens are forced to start the season already coming off a season of NUFF adversity but here we are. I have to admit it’s a little funny to me how the goalposts of how fucked we are keep moving despite some positive news items. I’m yet to come across anyone in the wild rejoicing in the fact that Brassard’s status went from missing weeks to a 50/50 chance he can play in the season opener or failing that back within the first couple of games. More importantly Karlsson’s status went from missing the entire month of the season to saying that he “Probably” wont be able to play opening night. Um, I’ll take that kind of update. Karlsson missed 5 games last season and the team made the playoffs hopefully he again misses under 10 here. But if he misses the first, say, 5 games I’ll take that over the first month plus. I can’t predict the future but it sounds like he’s closer than initially reported, don’t @ me no matter what happens. Thxu.

The Chabot thing is, of course, disappointing to us all, yes, but because he’s not starting the year in Ottawa in no way tells me we won’t see him this year. We all know the coach likes to play it safe defensively and Chabot plays as high risk a position as they come. Judging by comments Boucher has made publicly, it sounds like he really likes Chabot but simply doesn’t want to welcome him to the NHL under this kind of pressure (i.e. without Karlsson to insulate the entire D corps). My thoughts have already been shared on the delicate dance twixt the sun of “DON’T RUSH HIM YOU’RE RUINING HIM” and the moon of “WHY DOES BOUCHER LIKE BOROWIECKI MORE THAN CHABOT!” [Ed. Note: Why does he tho?] changing depending on what management does with him. One thing I do know is that a little time in AHL will not hurt Chabot. Will playing more established less talented players while weathering a Karlssonless lineup hurt the team? I hope not.

More concerning to me on defense is that on top of being missing Karlsson the Sens are missing Methot…poi-ma-nent-ly. Lot of pressure on Phaneuf, Oduya and Claesson to fill that void. “So, who will provide the offense from the back end then, dumbass?” Well I’m glad you asked. Since Ceci was traded for Matt Duchene earlier today, the only item of intrigue I can find is that since Chris Wideman is in a contract year and as an undersized guy with prospects like Harpur, Jaros, Englund and of course MACOY ERKAMPS knocking at the door, there’s a ton of pressure on him to keep his job/get a new job this season. Hoping he does numbers to get numbers. LOL, remember when Chris Wideman was the new hottness, shit changes quick. MOVING FORWARD…

It’s pretty exciting to see a bit of young blood up front to start the year. Doesn’t sound like Brassard will miss much time so Logan Brown will have to make an impression early and often. Now go out there kid and HAVE FUN making an impression both early and often! (Seriously, start your career as an impact 2nd line centre or I’ll frame you for murder.) Alex Formenton looked great in the preseason…which is nice! Another thing: I am well aware it is impossible to be excited about Nate Thompson, the fact is Boucher trusted the fourth line so little last year that he barely played them. Have to think that with Kelly and Neil out, a Formenton – Thompson – Burrows 4th line will at least get ice time.

Sure, other than Duchene for Ceci straight up, there were hardly any moves this off season but I don’t know why that hurts a team that just stormed through a few rounds of the playoffs. Considering these guys are used to Boucher’s system, an improved 4th line and Anderson not having to miss half the damn season, I don’t know why these guys are a lock to miss the playoffs. Still, there are a lot of things up in the air. Is Playoff Bobbito Ryan the Real Bobbito Ryan? Will Karl and Brass miss a few games or a month? Etc. The first month is really sketchy and important for us (a GREAT combo!) and I praise Jah every day that the early schedule is filled with Tomato cans. Unpopular opinion but after what I saw this team do last year in a really challenging season chalk this one up to “I aint never scared you aint never there.” It will be stressful AF but yes the Sens can make the playoffs.

Varada: Here’s the interesting thing about last year’s Ottawa Senators: they should have been absolutely stuck in the mud. Their possession numbers weren’t very good, nor was their PDO, so they weren’t purely lucky. They didn’t score many goals. (23rd in GPG.) They had one of the worst defensive pairings in the league playing big shutdown minutes in Phaneuf and Ceci. Key forward Bobby Ryan had a putrid year. Clarke MacArthur was out almost all season. They didn’t have depth until some late season trades. They were not, on paper, good.

So how did they do it? Yes, Karlsson is a god who accounted for a huge segment of the team’s offense. But, more to the point for me is that Craig Anderson was very good in a league where a good goaltender is everything. He was 7th in the league in save percentage among goaltenders with more than 20 games, and Ottawa won quite a few one-goal games. That is, as they say in hockey, the ball game. They landed four points above the playoff cutoff.

Now, in the off-season they lost Methot and learned that MacArthur would be out indefinitely again. So, again, they are starting from a position of weakness. But the question remains: can Craig Anderson play at or near the level he did last year? Sure, we can talk about players like Stone and Hoffman taking another step, or the theoretical contributions of rookies, or a bounce-back year from Ryan, or having Burrows for a full season. All of these, to me, would be incremental contributions to the team’s competitiveness. But Anderson is the key. If he can play, this is a playoff team. If he regresses, even to league average, then Ottawa might find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble. I think those picking Ottawa to miss the playoffs seem amplified and provocative because of Ottawa’s run last year, but really all they’re saying is that Ottawa looks about the same as they did last year. That seems fair to me.

Another key: how does the rest of the division look? This is where I think Ottawa’s critics may have overstated the case for Ottawa’s dire state.

  • Montreal: yup, they’re good. Best goaltender in hockey and lots of depth throughout. But let’s not act like they aren’t a Carey Price ankle injury away from AL MONTOYA being their starter. Also, you can’t act like adding Drouin and Hemsky is world changing if you don’t ding Tampa and Dallas for losing them, which nobody is doing.
  • Boston: also good, especially that first line. But Chara is 40, Torey Krug is on injured reserve, and the rest of that defensive corps is a mix of unspectacular reliability and young promise.
  • Toronto: this is the same team as last year plus 38-year old Patrick Marleau and 36-year old Ron Hainsey. Last year they took the last wild card spot. They’ll probably be improved given the development of young players, but acting like they’re Cup favorites all of a sudden is bananas.
  • Tampa Bay: good team, but I don’t see how they’re improved. They lost Drouin, added 38-year old Chris Kunitz and the absolutely brutal Dan Girardi. Their starting goaltender is 23 and their backup is PETER BUDAJ. How people are penciling these guys in as Cup contenders is beyond me.
  • Florida: hahahahahahahahahahahaha
  • Detroit: see “Florida.” They’re the same team as last year except they just signed DAVID BOOTH. Did you know this team still pays Stephen Weiss?
  • Buffalo: they fired everybody who used to run the team at Jack Eichel’s request then gave Jack Eichel $80 million not to demand a trade. I hope Jack Eichel scores 700 goals this season.

Man, don’t tell me that that is the super-intimidating group that every hockey analyst is looking at and saying Ottawa can’t hang with. I’m not saying Ottawa is the best team in the league, or even in their division, but Craig Anderson, a little PDO fairy dust, and one or two of that group of basket cases playing the way they did last year is all it’s going to take for Ottawa to make the playoffs again.

Andrew: Varada speaks the truth. Last summer I wrote about the Atlantic division being crap and how that was a good thing for the Sens and not that much has changed. Yeah, Montreal made a splash, but turns out Shea Weber still isn’t P.K. Subban and sure they added Drouin but lost Radulov etc etc. Luke and I have talked a lot about how everything went perfect for the Leafs last season and a) they were the 8th seed and lost in the first round b) that….never happens? They are almost surely not going to have everything go perfectly this season, plus they have the weight of expectations now, and Toronto media is just bursting to explode. The Bruins are crap and old and thin, Detroit is abysmal and has cap issues, Florida? Whatever. Tampa will be good if healthy, Buffalo’s collection of shitty dudes should make them not so bad, but really, the Metro is a much harder division, so let’s not buy into any crap about the relative strength of the Atlantic.

Here’s the most likely scenario for the Sens, at least as I see it: they’re actually a better team this season, but don’t go as far in the playoffs. Why? Because they did really really well last season and success is hard to replicate. I pretty much always bet against a team making the conference finals in back to back years because…it’s really hard and there are 30 other teams. In high school I had friends who had an annual Stanley Cup bet. She would bet that the Leafs would win the Stanley Cup (they were at least a good team when I was in high school….I’m old) and he would bet….that they wouldn’t? And while this represented a rare glimpse of intelligence on his part (dude once ate a vat of mustard for $2 and then was sick for 3 days), it’s a pretty good idea to always bet against any one team when your options include all the other teams. So, while I’ll be pumped to be proven wrong, it’s just unlikely the Sens are a goal away from a Final against Pekka Rinne quality goaltending.

But I do think they’ll be better this season. We sort of forget that the first couple of months of The System were rough. But now the Sens know The System, so I think they’re better position to weather storms if Brass is maybe not 100% to start the season and EK might miss a few games. As with any season, the Sens go as far as Mike Condon err Erik Karlsson takes them. And that’s actually cool? Erik Karlsson was the best player in the league through 3 rounds in a playoffs that featured McDavid and Crosby and he was doing it through a pretty severe injury. That’s not to glorify injury, but holy hell if he was healthy they would have won. I think about this a lot and it makes me sad. Anyway, I have faith in both his recovery abilities and his commitment to rehabbing injuries, so he’s gonna perform at shoe-in-Norris level only to be denied by some by some campaign for Ron Hainsey shit by hacks like Pierre LeBrun. It’s cool, EK moved on when Keith won his second Norris.

This also feels like a pretty good time for Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone to have career years and hit 30 goals. It’s totally doable. Maybe Johnny Oduya won’t be as bad as Mark Borowiecki (which is the minimum a defender must do). At some point, Chabot is going to get called up and then never visit an AHL rink again, so it’s cool. Logan Brown feels like someone I’m very interested in watching for 9 games but will be replaced with Colin White whenever he’s physically ready. In conclusion, I’m not really worried about a forward group that no longer includes Chris Neil.

Regardless of how this season pans out, we’re switching to the O logo at the end season, so we all win in the end.

Luke: It seems strange on the face of it, but all last year’s success did was further convince us that winning is a fragile and many-splendoured thing like a butterfly made of tissue paper that alights on a Faberge egg. People act like the Penguins’ journey to last year’s Cup repeat was a foregone conclusion, but lest we forget, if Viktor Stalberg actually breaks up the pass he gets his stick on and goes the other way, he’s a hero and I’m wearing a commemorative Ottawa Senators 2017 Stanley Cup Champions bomber jacket right now. Enjoy Switzerland, Viktor.

I guess this is what the manifestation of parity in hockey is. The spread of team possession stats has tightened up league-wide, and now success and failure is largely dictated by goaltending and shooting percentage and other such “random” quantities. As such, Ottawa’s got Top 5 or Top 18 goaltending, depending on who you ask, and some truly talented shooters in Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, and Kyle Turris, and a single transcendent generational talent in Erik Karlsson, and really that’s going to be good enough to get close most years. Better depth, a full season of Craig Anderson, and Erik Karlsson playing at or near 100% for the majority of the season should push them over the top of last year’s high water mark. It seems eminently reasonable. On the other end of the spectrum, the team might forget how The System works, Craig Anderson might implode, and injuries may hang over the team like a miasma and we’ll have to deal with a lot of smug pundits telling us “I told you so”. This is also a scenario that can’t be rejected out of hand. Hockey is great. I love it. I wish it was MORE random, actually.

The one wild card that no one is talking about this year is special teams. The Senators had a decent penalty kill and a terrible powerplay (for the 17th year in a row) last season and noticeable improvement in either of those areas could go a long way in insulating the team from regression. By this point, an above-average Senators powerplay is about as timely as a long-term solution to the Eurozone debt crisis, but hope springs eternal that this is the year someone comes up with a cogent zone entry plan beyond “get the rock to Karlsson and get out of the way.”

I will close by saying how nice it is to have some prospects in the lineup that are actually worth getting excited about. Logan Brown is going to start his first NHL game tonight, and Alex Formenton beat out several more established players to get his roster spot. On top of this, the team isn’t really counting on them to be difference makers right out of the gate, and instead is hoping that they’ll augment an already solid roster. A Logan Brown or a Colin White or a Thomas Chabot putting up a decent 40 point rookie season could be a stealth difference maker this year, rather than a necessary one.

I’ve talked myself into it: the Sens are a playoff team unless something happens to Erik Karlsson or Craig Anderson. There are too many ways for them to improve.

Time to get a big ol’ dose of Vitamin W. (That means win the game.)

Guest Post: Thoughts on Methot

Today’s post is by Stefan Wolejszo. Stefan is a criminologist and social scientist who often writes about the intersection of hockey, analytics, and “intangibles” such as grit and leadership on his blog Stories Numbers Tell. If you read his blog enough, you’ll come to realize that these intangibles are, in fact, much more tangible than one thinks. Just because we don’t measure something doesn’t mean we can’t. In general, I find Stefan to be an extremely pleasant and thoughtful person, and if you need more people like that in your life, you can follow Stefan on Twitter here


Although fans were braced for this exact scenario, the loss of Marc Methot in the Las Vegas expansion draft still stung. Some fans focused on positives such as the possibility of reinvesting Methot’s salary elsewhere or greater opportunities for Freddie Claesson. Others (as Wayne Scanlan hints at here) sharpened their respective pitchforks and made angry comments on talk radio or social media that laid the blame for Methot’s loss on management’s overvaluation of Cody Ceci, or Dion Phaneuf’s refusal to modify his No Trade clause.

Thinking through the sequence of events leading up to the loss of Methot, it seemed clear, at least to me, that overvaluing Ceci and being required to protect Phaneuf were really just symptoms of larger issues in player assessment and Ottawa’s ability to work within limited means, issues that have plagued the team for years. The story of these issues, and how they led to the loss of Methot, was like a tragedy that unfolded in five main acts.

Act I: The Mini-Rebuild

The Ottawa Senators traded Nick Foligno for Marc Methot on July 1st 2012 after deciding to let Filip Kuba go via free agency. The idea was that Erik Karlsson needed a stable stay-at-home type of defenceman as a partner in order to free him up to work his magic. An equally important factor was that the Senators were shedding money from their budget at the time. Marc Methot had three years left in a deal that paid him $2.75 M, $3.25 M, and $3.75 M in real dollars, whereas Kuba was looking for, and eventually received, a contract that paid an average of $4 M per season. The only consistency Foligno had shown to that point was in never passing on an opportunity to run an opposing goaltender, and Kuba was what is commonly referred to as “crappy at hockey,” so it all seemed pretty reasonable at the time.

The mini-rebuild that led to good decisions such as trading for Methot was also at the heart of a youth movement wherein plodding vets were replaced by inexpensive ELC players like Jared Cowen. Inexpensive assets are never inexpensive for long in the NHL, and after holding out and missing a large part of the team’s 2013 training camp, Cowen signed a four year deal with an incremental pay structure ($1.5 M, $2.5 M, $2.7 M, and $4.5 M) that was apparently built on two assumptions: 1) that Cowen would gradually develop into a top four defenceman, and 2) that the budgetary restraints the Senators were working under would improve by the time the bigger dollars kicked in. Those assumptions were equally wrong.

Act II: The Second Pairing Collapses

Hockey careers eventually wind down, and the organization correctly decided to part ways with Sergei Gonchar in the summer of 2013. Gonchar was an aging veteran who was what is commonly referred to as “very good at hockey,” and his calm play under pressure helped to stabilize the defence. While he was a Senator, Gonchar helped to bring along Patrick Wiercioch as well as Cowen, and his wonderful all-around play made up for any rookie mistakes his partners were making.

When the well-past-his-prime Gonchar left to mentor whatever semblance of a defence Dallas claimed to have, it left the Senators with limited options for addressing the new hole in their top 4 D. Chris Phillips was also in the twilight of his career and was best utilized in limited minutes. A strict internal budget meant the Senators were no longer big players in the UFA market, and they used the 2013 summer UFA period to acquire depth signings such as Mike Lundin and a final contract version of Joe Corvo. Their own choices were to trade for solid D on reasonable contracts (good luck with that) or promote D from within. In the end they rolled the dice on Wiercioch/Cowen as the second pairing with paper-thin depth behind it and the results could best be characterized as “hoo boy”, to use the lingo of industry insiders.

Just as the addition of Methot marked the start of an era when the Senators had one of the best first D pairings in the league, the loss of Gonchar marked the beginning of an ongoing “the Sens have to fix their second D pairing” discussion. Wiercioch became the “analytics versus eye test” poster child, as his often stellar underlying numbers never quite jibed with how awkward he looked while generating those numbers. Still, at least he was clearly an NHL player. Cowen was a big lumbering D who was a throwback to the days when GMs thought Jim Kyte was a good idea, and despite serious red flags in his game, the team seemed content to patiently wait for him to slowly morph into Zdeno Chara. In reality, a series of injuries that hampered his already subpar movement effectively ended any chance he had of actually becoming a top 4 defender.

Things really came to a boil in December 2013. By this time it was already apparent that Ottawa’s second pairing was not working out, and then-GM Bryan Murray began working the phones in an attempt to add another D. Media began widely reporting that, despite the Senators being one of the lowest spending teams already, due to the team’s internal budget any deal would need to be “dollar-in/dollar-out.” When Marc Methot went down with the flu, the Senators were forced to recall Cody Ceci who promptly scored a huge goal in his first game. Team management then proudly declared that Ceci had “stabilized the D”, and gave him a regular spot in the top 4 playing alongside Chris Phillips.

Act III: Stabilizing the D or “Stabilizing” the D?

Ceci’s first season results were “meh”, as the old coach’s saying goes, but at least there was reason at the time to believe he could grow into a larger role as his development continued. It is tempting to view keeping Ceci, who was on a $925k entry level contract, with the big team was a purely financial decision. Although finances clearly forced the team’s hand, I think there were more contributing factors at play, and I am convinced the team genuinely believed in Ceci’s potential. Considering the cost in assets of trading for a young D with high end potential, and the financial cost of picking an established D as a free agent, it is hard to blame the team for giving Ceci every possible opportunity to succeed. There is nothing inherently wrong with giving players in your system every chance to succeed.

Bringing Ceci into the fold left the team in an uncomfortable position. Karlsson and Methot were cemented as the top pairing and were paid accordingly. The organization felt it best to pair Ceci with Phillips with the latter acting as a mentor both on and off the ice. That was all fine, but then what should have been done with Wiercioch, who was making $2 M per season, and Cowen whose back loaded contract was looking worse by the day? GM Bryan Murray, who never really warmed to Wiercioch, seemed to continually push for Cowen to get more ice time to allow him to build up his confidence and work on his game. While there is nothing wrong with giving players in your system every chance to succeed it is essential to know when to pull the plug on a given experiment.

Quietly, behind the scenes, the team began to explore trade options for Cowen. This occurred in the team’s usual fashion, which was to leak to the media something to the effect of “Edmonton offered Jordan Eberle for him but the Senators don’t want to give up on Cowen just yet.” When blowing smoke around failed to produce a fire, and with Cowen’s contract heading into the budget crashing $3.7 M and $4.5 M years, the team was over the proverbial barrel. In addition, with Phillips at the end of his career, it seemed that the team had no plan in place or resources in terms of finances and movable assets, to fix the second pairing. What was worse was that the strategy of using back diving contracts to save money now at the expense of later was starting to catch up with the team.

Act IV: Killing two birds with one stone, or just killing birds?

It is in this context of a collapsed second D pairing and having budget killing contracts with which a team of limited means could never compete that the Senators traded for Dion Phaneuf. On Feb 9, 2016 the Senators moved out Cowen, Milan Michalek, and Colin Greening, along with a second tier prospect and a 2nd round pick, to Toronto in exchange for Phaneuf and four minor league players. In this deal the Senators gained a top four defenceman earmarked to play with and mentor Ceci in exchange for players on shorter term “bad” contracts that would expire within a couple of years. Phaneuf’s long term and expensive contract, which had no-trade provisions on the off chance that the dollar figures alone weren’t enough to keep less than stellar NHL GMs away, is what fans often characterize as “hahahahahaha.”

Buyouts are verboten under the current regime, so that was never an option for the team when it came to getting out from under really bad contracts. However, a major criticism of the deal was that the Senators could have exercised a bit of patience and got out from underneath those other contracts in a shorter amount of time. But the Senators felt that adding Phaneuf was a long term solution to their lingering problem with the second pairing and were fully willing to accept Phaneuf’s contract as-is. The team was also committed to the idea that Ceci was still developing into a top player and needed a mentor to help him reach his potential. Much like the back loaded contract signings that marked the low budget era, the last few years of the Phaneuf contract were a problem that would be left aside for another day.

Act V: The Expansion

The 2017 expansion draft could not have come at a worse time for the Ottawa Senators. If it had occurred a few years ago, the Senators would likely have lost a marginal player or could have explored burning assets to try to entice Las Vegas into taking Cowen off of their hands. As it turned out, expansion happened when the team had just come off a good season capped with a final four playoff run. Chris Wideman, who stepped in and gave the team a legitimate 3rd pairing, was a huge and often underappreciated part of the team’s regular season success. Freddy Claesson had spot duty during the regular season and was brilliant in the playoffs. For the first time in years the Senators had depth at D and so it always seemed to be a given that Las Vegas would take one of those good defenceman in the expansion draft.

Karlsson was always going to be protected and the no-trade clauses in Phaneuf’s contract meant he had to be protected unless he agreed to being exposed. This left one spot open that would go to either Ceci or Methot. The team tried asking Phaneuf to waive in order to free up an extra spot on the protected list for Methot but Phaneuf rejected that idea. Somewhat ironically, some fans who cheered Phaneuf for saying that he loves playing in Ottawa jeered him for exercising his contractual right to avoid any possibility of leaving. The problem for GM Pierre Dorion was that offering Las Vegas something to the effect of a first round pick and a prospect for bypassing Methot would mean they would likely also lose Claesson. Also, Methot is set to earn $4.9 M the next couple of seasons and the salary savings could be redistributed elsewhere. To no one’s surprise Las Vegas claimed Methot in a selection Senators fans referred to as “aww, fuck.”

Conclusion: (Less than 50) Shades of Grey

Many fans, including me, were emotional over the loss of Marc Methot. This makes sense given that he is a very popular player who had successfully formed a bond with the fan base. While fans have every right to their opinions regarding why Methot is no longer an Ottawa Senator, and some will inevitably play the blame game and focus on one isolated factor or another for why he is gone, I think it is also worthwhile to step back a bit and take a look at the bigger picture of how decisions have been made by the organization. For years now, a limited budget has impacted decision-making just as decisions, both good and bad, have had an amplified impact upon what the team can do within their budget. A fair bit of bad luck, such as Gonchar hitting retirement age at the worst possible moment and the timing of the expansion draft, was also at play. All of these factors played a part in the story that ended with the team losing one of its top pairing D.

Thanks That Was Fun

Maybe I’m in the minority on this, but I don’t feel the crushed by the weight of history this morning. The playoff losses of the early 2000s had a way of compounding each other until we got to a point where watching even the most formidable teams in franchise history felt like spending time with disappointments that hadn’t happened yet. This year’s Sens team was so unlike those that came before it that I feel like the loss is separate from that history. The idea of “heart” is entrenched in hockey vocabulary, but what made this year’s Sens special went beyond heart. This year’s Senators team had soul, to use Guy Boucher’s phrase. I’ve never watched another Sens team that had such an intrinsic will, such a deeply ingrained ability to give a fuck. This team’s ability to bounce back after a bad shift, a bad period, a bad game, was unprecedented for the franchise. If someone asks you “Did you enjoy that two-goal comeback OT win?”, the correct answer is “Which one?”. The upshot of this is that going into last night, I’d never been more confident that the Senators would not let me down. They did not. Sure the Senators franchise was 0-5 in Game 7s going into last night and now they’re 0-6, but to me it feels more like they’re 0-5 and there’s this other team I cheer for that is 0-1.

Seriously, how can you possibly put that last night on the same astral plane as the other Game 7 losses? The rest all have some sort of shorthand to refer to the exact cause of the disappointment. Tugnutt’s glove, Jeff Friesen, Ed Belfour, Nieuwendyk skating down the left wing, and Henrik Lundqvist are all phrases designed to conjure extremely precise memories. They are shibboleths of pain. What are you going to say about last night? The Senators did everything right and were a single bounce away. The OT winner was a screened shot off of a nothing looking play. It could have happened to anyone. The Sens didn’t beat themselves, and that’s not something you can say about many Sens teams of the past. We don’t need to wonder “what if” this year. They were right there right up until they weren’t.

What a disappointment though, good lord. After the franchise and its fanbase waited 15 years to make its first Cup Final, we had to wait another decade for the mere opportunity to make it back. Who knows how long it will take for everything to break for the Senators again? I worry about the future. Smart people will paint the journey to success as linear. Smart people will say there’s no reason that next year’s Sens team can’t be even better with Thomas Chabot and Colin White in the lineup. Smart people will say that Ottawa’s core will be back next year, and that their window, such as it is, is still open. These smart people are full of shit. There is no such thing as momentum from season to season. Anything can happen. Just ask Tampa Bay or Dallas or San Jose or Philadelphia or every team that isn’t Pittsburgh, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Success in the NHL is delicate. You can’t go around assuming you get unlimited opportunities.

I leave you with Warren Zevon’s words, famously uttered during his last Letterman appearance: “Enjoy every sandwich.” I enjoyed the hell out of this one.

I hereby dedicate this last cut to Eugene Melnyk.

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How to Talk About A Team You Don’t Care About

Legend has it that this blog was first formed many moons ago by a group of socialist nerds who, after reading a particularly heinous Don Brennan column, concluded that there was no reason they couldn’t write about hockey better. Whether or not that is actually true is still up for debate, but the fact remains that this blog’s roots are planted firmly in the garden of Media Criticism. We’ve always been interested in, not just The Story, but The Story Behind The Story and the ways in which we can frame and talk about The Story.

In light of this, it is with a heavy heart that I must report that The Media is at it again. This is hardly a new state of affairs. To be a Senators fan is to be reminded almost constantly that your team is an afterthought, even in its own market. The Leafs and Habs get the lion’s share of the media coverage on television and on national media, and while Ottawa has many fine writers covering the Senators locally, Ottawa simply doesn’t have the critical mass of fan eyeballs necessary to propel those writers to bigger outlets.

Media professionals such as Down Goes Brown and Steve Dangle have been able to break into the mainstream simply by being well-known Leafs fans who produce good content that is enjoyed by fans of many teams. I would never suggest that DGB or Steve Dangle are undeserving of their professional success, but there’s no denying that they enjoyed a huge advantage by way of their audience possessing a certain cultural literacy apropos of the Leafs. The ubiquity of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the national consciousness and discourse means that even fans of other teams, myself included, are able to enjoy the content that DGB and Steve Dangle produce. It will be considerably more difficult for even the even best Ottawa-focused writer, podcaster, or video producer to break through because the audience for Ottawa-focused content is comparatively limited1. There is such a thing as Leafs Privilege.

I am not speaking out of bitterness, I am merely stating fact. Ottawa’s small fanbase means that the incentive to respectfully cover the Senators is small, and many of those who cover hockey, particularly on the internet, make no effort to hide their disdain for the Senators. James Mirtle, Tyler Dellow2, and Ryan Lambert (A dumb person’s idea of a smart hockey writer, although to Lambert’s credit this seems to be something he is unconsciously aware of) have all been the most openly dismissive of the Senators throughout the season or longer. Most Leafs bloggers are beyond hope at this point, which is fine because one does not expect Mouse Blogs to have balanced takes on Cats.

If Ottawa Senators fans are overly ornery or defensive, it’s because we have correctly ascertained that in this media landscape, it is literally Us against The World, and we don’t really care for The World at this point. When Bruce Arthur tweets “I have just learned that Marc Methot’s nickname is ‘Meth’.”, all he is doing is revealing the extent of his ignorance regarding the team he’s supposed to be covering for a national-ish outlet. If I went to England to write a travel column and earnestly tweeted, “Did you know they call a truck a ‘lorry’ here?”, it would be comparatively risible.

But here is the thing about this particularly lazy Bruce Arthur article: discussion of the ticket sales, or lack thereof, is a legitimate story. It’s one that has been covered from a few different angles, but it remains a newsworthy story in its own right. Discussion of the Senators’ ongoing lackluster attendance reminds me a great deal of post-election analyses of Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 US Election. There are a myriad of factors which have contributed, and many of them are interconnected. In addition, if just one of the factors was changed, the outcome would almost certainly change materially to the point where there would no longer be a story worth discussing. Therefore, one can confidently state “Factor X is the reason for this phenomenon”, and simultaneously be correct, narrow-minded, and un-nuanced in their analysis. The reason on which you choose to focus says more about you than it does the about the actual ticket sales. Case in point: Bruce Arthur looked at Ottawa’s attendance and concluded the problem was……….TORONTO! Do a CTRL + F on Arthur’s article about Ottawa’s “oversensitive fan base” and you’ll find 8 references to Toronto. There you are. We are weird because Toronto made us this way. I read it in the paper.

What pushes Arthur’s hackery into the realm of diabolical is that he even talked to several Senators bloggers/media members to mine them for quotes that would support his article’s premise that he’d clearly already decided on well ahead of time, to say nothing of the fact that any pushback against his (flawed) premise would de facto prove that Sens fans are oversensitive. Credit where it’s due: It’s impressive that a Toronto based columnist managed to gaslight an entire fanbase using their bloggers’ own quotes. This is probably the finesse of the century, and I take my hat off to it. I also spit in that hat and mail it to the Toronto Star.

I say all that to say this: we all know the mainstream media doesn’t care for the Senators. It’s extremely obvious. Still, we must reach some sort of detente. The media has a job to do, and I’m sympathetic to it. In this spirit, please enjoy this short guide titled “How to Write About A Team You Don’t Care About”.

1. Don’t.

It’s ok! Just don’t do it. Don’t do it Dave Lozo. We know Twitter is abuzz with takes about how boring the Senators are, but you don’t need to have a take. If you can’t write something good, don’t write anything. We will understand, and we will be thankful. The mainstream media gets to mould the discourse and it’s the gateway to knowledge for thousands of casual fans. Don’t bother talking about Ottawa unless you have some insight to pass along to the average media consumer.

2. Write something good.

You can produce good journalism about the Ottawa Senators. It can be done. I have seen it. I’ve even seen Bruce Arthur do it.

Shannon Proudfoot routinely produced exquisite work at the national level, and also talked about this blog once. Ian Mendes is the most consistently excellent mainstream writer covering the Senators. Jack Han has produced some excellent analysis for The Athletic.

There are good stories about the Senators to be written. Need some ideas for what would make a good story? Please enjoy this partial list of pitches I have:

a. The resurgence of Bobby Ryan, an idea so easy even Cabbie thought of it.
b. A discussion of Craig Anderson, one of the most underappreciated goalies of his era, who is on the verge of his first Cup final at the age of 36.
c. How does Guy Boucher’s playoff success this year compare to his playoff success with Tampa Bay?
d. What was the professional relationship between Marc Crawford and Guy Boucher in Switzerland? Is this Crawford’s next shot at a head coaching gig in the NHL?
e. Is Pierre Dorion really deserving of a GM of the Year nomination or did just get lucky? How many of Bryan Murray’s fingerprints are still on this team?
f. How has Dion Phaneuf, a frequent target of criticism in Toronto, adapted to his reduced role in Ottawa? Is he enjoying a renewal of his reputation now that his team is going on a longish playoff run?
g. Does Marc Methot’s strong play make him an expansion draft target?
h. How has the flooding in the Ottawa area affected various members of the Sens’ fan base?

I literally made up this list in 30 seconds, and hey, Game 6 is tonight and we may only need this list for another eight hours. Still, if you’re a journalist who is not used to covering the Ottawa Senators and you are interested in more ideas for Things That Are Good, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m sure I can come up with a few more by deadline.

1. I am at peace with this. I think most in the Sens Content Sphere are at peace with this. It is a labour of love. I contribute to a blog and podcast because I enjoy it, and the day I stop enjoying it is the day I’ll stop contributing.

2. What I find particularly hilarious about Dellow’s work here is that the fact that Ottawa would play Boston closely could be predicted by someone who was merely moderately intelligent and just happened to be paying attention.

Your Half-Assed Round 3 Preview: In the Event of an Emergency, The System Will be Deployed

The Story So Far:

Making the NHL playoffs is no great feat. It’s much better than the alternative, but more than half the league does it every year. Basically any team is capable of making the playoffs in any given year if everything goes right for them. Winning a single round is good, but it’s hardly something one could ever characterize as “A Run”. Sens fans don’t look back fondly on the 2013 Playoffs as anything other than “The Time We Beat The Habs And It Was Great”. Winning a single playoff round is making out with a stranger at a club: pretty fun for what it was, but hardly worth mentioning in the long run.

But making the Conference Finals? That’s rarefied air. By the time you make it that far, hockey media has no choice but to talk about you. Your games get a whole night to themselves. Pierre McGuire is there. It’s the Final Four. You’re in the 87th percentile. The teams you play are Actually Good. It’s real and meaningful. Even if Ottawa gets swept by Pittsburgh, this will still be the 3rd most successful season in franchise history. This team is Special now, and we shouldn’t forget to appreciate every moment. Ottawa doesn’t see this type of thing every year. Few teams do.

And the reason for that is because winning two series in a row is HARD1. We’re awash in “The Sens got lucky and had an easy bracket” takes at the moment, but if winning “easy series” is so easy, let’s see you do it. Go on, Montreal. Beat the Rangers if it’s so simple. Boston got to play The Easiest Playoff Opponent of Them All and they’ve been on the golf course for weeks now. There are no free lunches in the playoffs.

Well, except for Calgary. Brian Elliott is The Free Lunch GAWD.

Don’t be taken for a ride by Take Hucksters. If Ottawa is getting lucky, they aren’t getting lucky in the traditional sense i.e. by having their goalie float them while getting dominated in shots and possession. They’re getting lucky by going 5-1 in overtime games. They’re getting lucky by having Erik Karlsson on their team. They’re winning games in the margins, but they’re also giving themselves opportunities to succeed and that is not luck.

That said, Ottawa only led against the Rangers for something like 60 minutes total, and continuously coming back from one or two goals down is no way to live. That stuff isn’t going to cut it from here on out. Ottawa will have to win games now. It’s no longer enough for them to not beat themselves.

The Bad News:

My desire to see Ottawa make some “Win Now” trades was no secret. With the Atlantic Division going through a transitional period and no real juggernauts in the Western Conference, it wasn’t hard to conceive of a reality where Ottawa could make the Stanley Cup Final by only having to play one truly elite team. I regret to inform you that the time to play that elite team is now.

I doubt you need me to tell you all the myriad ways that the Sens are up against it in this series. There are bunch of series previews out there all telling you the same thing. Have at it, knock yourself out. You’re probably not here to read the same doom and gloom analysis offered on other (worse) websites, but in truth I have very little to add to what is already out there. The Penguins are the defending champions for a reason. They’re fast, they’re deep, they’re well coached, and they just beat the consensus Cup favourites. The Cup favourites were the Washington Capitals, but still. Ottawa’s only won 3 games combined in their last 3 playoff series against Pittsburgh. Sure Ottawa’s had the occasional bright spot against Pittsburgh, but in general the Penguins are a bad matchup for Ottawa. They’re a bad matchup for Ottawa because they’re a bad matchup for almost everyone. God I hate them so much.

However, there are enough questions in my mind regarding the strength of the Penguins that I believe an upset win for the Senators is not totally outlandish. If you wish to harvest the crop of a beautiful and bounteous Stanley Cup Final berth for our beloved Sens, here are the Seeds of Doubt that must be planted.

Can the Penguins goaltending hold up?

I basically believe the Washington Capitals were a smart team who did everything right this season, but let me also say this: that team was NOT inspiring to watch play from behind. No doubt this is a very results oriented observation, but the Senators only won Game 2 and Game 5 against the Rangers because they were extremely successful at desperately throwing the kitchen sink at Henrik Lundqvist. The Capitals not only refused to throw sinks, but they refused to even consider a basic remodeling of the guest bathroom. They made some passes, took some shots, and then Marc-Andre Fleury (NOT EVEN PITTSBURGH’S GOOD GOALIE COME ON!!) saved the shots and that was that.

Meanwhile in the other Nation’s Capital, the Sens plan in the offensive zone throughout the playoffs has been to get the rock to Karlsson and go hard to the net. Many goals scored by Ottawa have not been especially sexy, but as they saying goes “They don’t ask you how, they just ask how many.”, and to this point the answer to “How many?” has been “Enough”.

Ottawa will have to get in Fleury’s kitchen and continue to chip in goals of the Extremely Garbage variety to have a chance in this series. Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone should be good for a couple nice looking goals, but to be honest, plays from Hoffman and Stone have not been carrying Ottawa so far. Give me that “Erik Karlsson scoring from behind the goal line” and “Pageau tipping in some wildly Hater-ass goals” shit.

Should Ottawa get to Marc-Andre Fleury early in the series, he will no doubt be pulled in favour of the superior Matt Murray, in which case Ottawa will have to continue to do what they were doing before so who cares?

Can Ottawa adequately dominate the front of the net against Pittsburgh to give themselves a chance? Well this brings me to my next question…

How good is the Penguins defense really?

Avert your eyes, children. I’m about to show you the Penguins’ defense pairings in Game 7 against Washington.

Dumoulin – Hainsey
Maatta – Schultz
Cole – Ruhwedel

Really? I need to be afraid of a top pairing with 36 year old Ron Hainsey on it? Really? Justin Schultz is a viable 2nd pairing defenseman now? Really? The Sens are gonna get rolled by a guy named “Chad”? REALLY??

Don’t get me wrong, it’s very impressive that the Penguins are getting it done with a defense held together by hopes and dreams, but lest we forget: Washington just dominated the shot clock against Pittsburgh for a whole series and the only reason the Pens are here now is because they got bailed out by their backup goalie. Very little about the last series indicated that Pittsburgh was even on the same astral plane as Washington in any categories other than Goaltending, Will to Win, Clutchness, having The Heart of a Champion, and Not Being Huge Chokers. Pittsburgh’s not playing as well as you think.

If the defending champs have a soft underbelly, it is here. Ottawa must take any potential advantage on defense and cling to it like grim death.

This brings me to my next question…

Which team has Erik Karlsson?

I just checked this and the team with Erik Karlsson is the Ottawa Senators. This trend should persist throughout the series.

The Wisdom

The Sens are playing some of their best hockey of the year, and for that reason alone I’d be surprised if Pittsburgh dominated this series. In addition, Ottawa has played Pittsburgh pretty close in two out of three games this season. It’s clear the problems the Penguins present are not insurmountable, and the Pens’ superior forward depth could be counterbalanced by their thin defense. That said, a few things must go right for Ottawa:

– Craig Anderson must outplay whoever Pittsburgh starts in net.
– The System must limit Pittsburgh’s zone time and effectively clog the neutral zone.
– We can’t have the Crosby Line AND the Malkin Line going Bergeron on us. Pick one line to get crushed by and stick with it i.e. match Cody Ceci with Malkin.
– Ottawa must take fewer penalties than they draw.
– Erik Karlsson must continue to play at an unprecedented level.
– Ottawa’s top two lines must contribute. Ottawa will not beat Pittsburgh with their depth.

That’s six things. Can we have six things go right just once? One time?

I wouldn’t say it’s likely that Ottawa pulls off the upset, but as they say, you make it in and anything can happen. Let’s make it happen.

Sens in 7

1. Man, winning two series in a row is hard, and you’ve got to do that TWICE to win a Cup. Somehow I don’t think the Stanley Cup gets enough credit for how hard it is to win. Even if there existed a team that was an overwhelming 70% favourite to win every series they played, they’d still only win the Cup 0.74 = 24% of the time. The Blackhawks have had to win two Game 7s to win their three Cups. Sidney Crosby is 2-0 in Game 7s in years in which the he wins the Stanley Cup. The Kings won THREE 7 game series on their way to the Cup in 2014. Regardless of how good they are, every Cup winner is lucky, whether it’s through staying healthy or just winning coin flips. Imagine you’re a GM and ownership gives you a mandate to win a Cup in the next three years. There’s at least a 50% chance you get fired at the end of 3 years even if you do your job perfectly and your team is historically excellent. I say all that to say this: my heart goes out to Capitals GM Brian MacLellen.

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Roundtable of Death: “We Won a Playoff Round!” Edition

Luke:

I’d like to start us off with a stat. According to Some Guy on Twitter, the Senators and Bruins were tied or separated by one goal for 367:47 of 404:31 total playing time in their series (90.9%). Now that is unsourced information from an anonymous internet account, but I have no reason to doubt it because it feels right. That series felt like watching a guy cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope for 18 hours. Six one goal games, four overtimes, and the only game that didn’t feature either team giving up a lead at some point was Ottawa’s 1-0 win in Game 4, a game which felt like someone said “We’ve had 2 straight overtime games, so now here’s a game that is just entirely overtime”.

There are many things I will remember about the series. Bobby Ryan showed up and wouldn’t go away, and I’ll always remember thinking “DON’T THESE ASSHOLES EVER LEAVE THE ICE” after Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak cycled the puck relentlessly against whoever Ottawa had out there for minutes at a time, and Erik Karlsson had multiple moments which will be shown during his Hall of Fame induction montage.

But as great as Karlsson was, this series is just gonna be another page in a very long book of Karlsson Greatness. The guy who I’m gonna always associate with this series is Clarke MacArthur. What can you even say at this point? That MacArthur’s career would continue was in such doubt that he literally test-drove retirement after failing to pass his baseline concussion test in January. Three and a half months later, he scored his first goal in two years and brought the Canadian Tire Centre to such a roar, they heard it in Orleans. A little over a week after that, he clinched the series in overtime from basically the same spot. Before returning to the lineup last month, MacArthur said that he couldn’t retire because he thought he still had more to give. He was right. What a story. I couldn’t be happier for him.

On a team level, this series felt like the culmination of everything Guy Boucher has been trying to instill since the beginning of the year. From the obvious commitment to defense in all three zones to the team’s mental resilience and ability to bounce back after a bad period or game, one thing is clear: this is not the Senators you grew up with.

The Sens could have rolled over after going down 0-1 in the series and 1-3 in Game 2, but they did not. After Ottawa blew multiple chances to close the series in Game 5, and went down 1-0 after failing to convert multiple powerplay opportunities early in Game 6, the Sportsnet Panel (may peace and love be with them) spent the 1st intermission talking about how Boston must be “destined” to force a Game 7. I read what you all said on Twitter so don’t .@ me when I say that you all agreed with them. Of course the Sens responded by scoring two powerplay goals and winning the series.

Now, I understand that a series that close with essentially even Corsis, shots, and expected goals (and 4 games decided in overtime) was basically a coin flip, but Erik Karlsson and the Sens’ relentlessness weighted the coin just enough.

Having survived The Best Line in Hockey, we now get to look ahead to the Rangers and I have just one question: We can totally take them, right? Not saying Ottawa should be the favourite to win or anything, but still…we can take them, right?

New York has some of my favourite players outside of Ottawa in Zuccarello, Zibanejad, Nash, and Lundqvist, but is there anyone over there who inspires fear the same way Patrice Bergeron just did? If anything, New York seems like an alternate universe version of Ottawa: a flawed team with the individual talent to outrun the flaws for a little while.

What are your takes, people who have watched the Rangers as much as or less than me?

Andrew:

Sens in 5.

Conrad:

A few nights ago, I discovered that my friend is not really into sports. Don’t worry: we’re not friends anymore. But as I was burying his body in the desert, I couldn’t help but admit that I understood where he was coming from. He’d say “sports are so arbitrary.” And because we were watching a game between two teams from cities in which he’s never lived, I could understand. To him, all hockey is is the puck and the net and grown men getting upset or ecstatic about the location of the puck at any given time.

Of course, hockey isn’t even remotely about that. Hockey’s about Clarke MacArthur spending his entire life in the service of doing one thing, and having his ability to do that one thing threatened, only to come back and do that one thing again, at the highest level, in front of thousand and thousands of people openly wishing for him to do it or fail at doing it, and all of us looking at the expression on his face, and on the faces of his teammates after he’s done it, and from our thoroughly compromised, banal deskjobs and meaningless commercial consumerist lifestyles, recognize an authentic expression of feeling. That’s what sports is. Simultaneously absurd and meaningful, low stakes and the highest stakes, vicarious enjoyment. For those of us who can accept this bargain, last night was what we call “A lot of fun.”

This playoffs it seems like the ultimate winner will not be any single team, but The Narrative, omnipresent and suffocating and awesome. You can see The Narrative at play everywhere, and it never dies. “The Bruins are the better team,” though they lost the season series to Ottawa in a sweep. “The Bruins are built for playoff hockey,” though the Sens managed to eek out these one-goal games and get clutch performances from key players. “The officiating lost it for Boston,” even though they took five delay-of-game penalties in two periods of hockey and in a series of one-goal games. “I hope this run doesn’t overshadow the weakness of certain players,” from a pile of wet towels who’s been writing the same story over and over for years. The Narrative, like Goldblum describing life, “finds a way.” Those with fully developed biases toward a certain team or a certain thesis about hockey will find those biases completely intact, even after the Sens win the series, and even if they beat the Rangers.

I’m saying this because a lot of hot noise is about to emerge about the Sens not being able to beat the Rags. That’s only true in the contact of The Narrative, which will be imposed, largely, but a bunch of people who don’t watch the Senators and don’t care about the Senators. But we know the truth. Our own narrative is just and true and shining like a beam of light right about the Clarke MacArthur’s golden farm boy heart and jesus christ did you see that interview with his parents? Clearly the Senators are God’s Team this year.

And even if you don’t believe any of that? Erik Karlsson is the greatest hockey player on the planet right now, playing the best hockey of his career, and he plays for the goddamned Ottawa Senators.

Chet:

The Bruins and the Sens were so close that not even the scalpel of Dr. Don Chow could separate them, and I hated every minute of it. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a playoff series that dramatic – sure, they went seven games with the Rangers five years ago, but those Sens weren’t really supposed to be in the playoffs so early into the rebuilding process, and so we all agreed that series was a good learning experience that would lead to imminent, multiple championships as we continued to construct a team around our young franchise future captain and would never make a bad roster decision ever again. I see you, Leafs fans. Truthfully, I don’t remember being that stressed out by a playoff series since the Battle of Ontario years, and that’s mostly because that was a stress that compounded over time. I see you again, Leafs fans. You’re everywhere, uninvited. One day there’s going to be a guy in a Tie Domi jersey that just shows up at my colonoscopy for no reason.

All that to say a series with the Rangers can’t possibly be as close, one way or the other, and so I’m looking forward to it. Bring on the 7-4 games, and the goaltender meltdowns, and the ongoing checkers match between Cody Ceci and Dan Girardi. Bring on the silly Brassard and Zibanejad narratives. On paper, the Rangers just look like a slightly more famous version of the Ottawa Senators, and this fact alone is enough for most pundits to favor them. Remember election night. Do not trust these people.

James:

It’s pretty fun to see hockey pundits or “experts*” get dragged on twitter this time of year for stuff like unanimously picking Tampa Bay to win the Atlantic but here’s the thing: Whatever.

I love a retweet of that “Can Anyone Beat the Blackhawks?” headline as much as you do but the hockey media have a job to do. We’re all just guessing and they get a paycheque to put their guesses in print. Hey, maybe next year Carey Price and his Tampa Bay Lightnings might end up challenging for the division after all.
A lot of this shit could go either way and the NHL is more fun for it…especially when Buffalo still can’t buy a bucket.

I say this because, as Conrad pointed out, these writers and talking heads are paid to find not just a narrative for each series but the narrative that the most people will enjoy reading. I saw one NY sports writer come up with “The Rangers will win because New York is a cooler place than Ottawa.” Dynamite stuff. Honestly, I gotta make some changes.

Proof of the tin-eared ‘never let a good story get the way of a ton of clicks” motivation was the headline I saw on TSN “Leafs Emerging as Feel Good Story of the Playoffs.” Look, as a dyed in the wool hater I’ll admit, it’s a deec story. Team comes in last, drafts first, new kid lives up to enormous hype and they make the wild card spot by one point. They then stun the President’s Trophy winning team in the early games of the first round then lose three straight and its #ACTUALLY good they lost in the first round because apparently everything is actually good And ws;dlkfjdgfdsf;gfkjfafaf ikja;g” until you just wish Flanders was dead. To further summarize this feel good story: Plan going decent.

What a tale, let it sink in.

I’ll just ignore WHY Craig Anderson is up for the Masterton, or the shots of he and Nicholle embracing in the stands after not seeing each other for weeks, or how a career backup played over 20 straight games helped to get us to the playoffs at all in his absence, or the sound of the Canadian Tire Centre when Clarke MacArthur scored his first goal in two years, or the most fronted on elite player in the NHL taking his game to new heights while injured, or the fans whipping boy becoming a scoring machine when it matters most, or the new GM’s biggest off season acquisition leading the team in points. This isn’t even touching that Bryan Murray is in the stands looking strong as an ox or that OUR HEART Jonathan Pitre is somehow finding the strength to cheer on the boys.

Honestly, as far as feel good goes I feel spoiled. I’d have just settled for “Former hated rival Dion Phaneuf scores overtime winner!”

This is our feel good series. We know what the life of a Sens fan is. We’re wedged in an original 6 hellscape of fanbases with a century head start, full of people trying to come up with a way to bond with their dads while rooting against their home city in favour of other places that look down on us. Sens fans against everyone. All we’ve got is us and all we’ll ever have is us and I like it that way. This is the Rangers series to lose as it was Boston’s. I’ll say what I said at the beginning of the first round: I like our chances.

* – LMFAOOOOOOOOO

Steph:

Bob Cole is like a series of Onion headlines that have have just enough reality to get a minority of people to read them and give them credibility while everyone else shakes their head in disbelief. Truly, listening to Bob Cole is as fun as having a really old person jump into your conversation in the grocery store to give you their opinion about kids and their computers nowadays. Guy is not good.

That said, nothing could make this series less dramatic-even Cole saying “Ottawa Sens” constantly. I think I got at least one ulcer from watching these games, for realsie. One goal games are the devil and Bergeron is Beelzebub. There was no time while I was watching this series when I was comfortable, also it destroyed my relationship with MomPuckpossessed so I guess I can take back her mothers day gift (I named a star after a Bruins player-“Punk Ass Bitch”). There is a joke to be made about fans throwing garbage on the ice and Brad Marchand playing but it’s just not coming to me. Bruins fans I know have had a pretty solid “officiating was biased” refrain- which is tired and lazy- but I can’t hear because I have my…first round winner rings plugging my ears.

I am more than a little confused about Karlsson talking about his hairline fractures before the Sens run is finished, but maybe it’s some sort of intimidation technique. Like, he thumbs his nose at regular mortals who do things like rest when they’re injured, or who play less than 55 minutes per game. From what I hear, this series will determine who won the Brassard/Zibanejad trade-an issue which I give zero cares about but since it looks like Brassard is winning, it is a #fun #thing.

Lundqvist is a terrifying prospect, and from the previews I’ve read-New York is pretty heavily favoured to win. Blah blah their Powerplay is soft blah blah physical play. Sens are always more comfortable being underdogs-this isn’t new information. Craig Anderson said in an interview recently that his wife’s health issues have given him new perspective on hockey. It’s supposed to be a fun game-and it’s always fun to win.

Sens in 7.

Your Half-Assed Round 2 Preview: The System is Merciful to Those It Loves

Folks, welcome back.

I’m sure lots of people are surprised that I get to write a Round 2 preview for Ottawa, but I’m not one of those people. However, I am surprised to be writing a preview for an Ottawa Senators v. New York Rangers series. I was mentally preparing to construct a grim preview for a Sens-Habs series filled with all sorts of anecdotes about how the Habs were a bad matchup for Ottawa and how we’d all better buckle up because the series might really suck for the Ottawa Karlssons. Instead, Henrik Lundqvist and Brian Elliott broke whatever Freaky Friday body-switch spell they were under, and Max Pacioretty turned into Max Patio-Ready, and now I get to read the tea leaves to see what sort of chances the analytically suspect team with good players has against the other analytically suspect team with good players. Let’s get to the graphs!

1. The New York Rangers are not the Boston Bruins. At all. Not even a little bit.

For all the hand-wringing from Boston fans about how Ottawa’s “boring” “1-3-1” neutral zone play was bad for the game of hockey, it’s important to note that Boston was equally culpable: outside of one line, the Bruins simply didn’t have the speed or talent to be able to gain the offensive zone reliably. This is not true of the Rangers. New York has speed and they have it everywhere.

The Rangers are a counter-attacking team who don’t mind dumping the puck out of their D-zone because they know they can force a turnover and attack with their deadly transition game. New York’s first line of J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Mats Zuccarello are all fast enough to turn nothing into something if Ottawa isn’t alert in the neutral zone. Going down the lineup, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Michael Grabner, Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash, and Jesper Fast (I assume) are all plenty quick as well. With New York’s focus on quick transition, the Senators-Rangers series is going to have a much different rhythm of play compared to the Senators-Bruins series.

2. The Rangers are good at getting to the net and scoring once they are there.

You need to give New York credit: as much as they are analytically suspect, lacking in Corsis and barely break even in terms of Expected Goals (AKA xG – my favourite nerd stat because it takes into account shot location in addition to shot volume), they are extremely adept at getting the puck to the front of their opponents’ net. You go up and down the Rangers’ forwards and it’s difficult to find one who isn’t above average at getting shots away from close to the net. (Ok, I did find one.) Add in the fact that Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, and Michael Grabner have all been shooting at a greater than 10% shooting percentage this year, and it’s not hard to see what drove the Rangers offense to the 4th best Goals For in the league this season. Check out that list again. Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan, arguably the Rangers’ two best forwards, aren’t even on it. Essentially the Rangers have three full lines who can take the lotion to the basket and put it in there without needing to be threatened with the hose.

Ottawa will have to be even more disciplined in the neutral and defensive zones than they were against Boston in order to slow down New York’s extremely effective scoring forwards.

3a. The Rangers are bad at keeping pucks away from their net.

Now that I have successfully terrorized every Sens fan reading, I will get to the other side of the Rangers coin: they are bad at defense. In fact, they are about as bad at keeping the puck away from their own net as they are good at getting pucks to the opposition’s net. This is a trend that has held when playing Ottawa specifically. In all three games against the Rangers this season, Ottawa has taken a lot of shots from dangerous locations. Ottawa also dominated the Corsi battle in two of those games, including their 3-1 victory on April 8th where Ottawa had more than 75% of the shots with Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf on the ice (???). The takeaway here is that as much as New York’s speed is going to be a bad match up for the Borowieckis, Phaneufs, and Kellys of the world, Ottawa’s offense seems to pose just as many problems for the Rangers.

3b. On New York’s Jekyll and Hyde defense corps.

Ryan McDonagh is very good, so naturally he’s often paired with Dan Girardi who I’m told is “like if Mark Borowiecki got 1st pairing minutes”. Brady Skjei is a sneaky good puck mover and offensive threat in the mould of Matt Niskanen who lately spends his time playing with Brendan Smith (who is O.K.) or Kevin Klein (who barely moves the needle in either direction). This leaves The Pairing With Marc Staal On It, which is the pairing with Marc Staal on it. Marc Staal isn’t exactly known for his offense but on the other hand he’s also not known for his defense. Lately Staal has been paired with Nick Holden who managed to keep both their heads above water against Montreal.

As deep as New York’s forwards are, there are opportunities to be had against the Rangers’ defense, especially if Alain Vignault continues to deploy Girardi with McDonagh. Moving out of the top 4, Ottawa’s defensive depth of Wideman/Claesson/Harpur may be just-ever-so-slightly less dodgy than the Rangers depth of Staal and Whoever, even with Borowiecki and Cody Ceci occasionally driving Sens fans to the edge.

4. You didn’t really think you were going to read a playoff preview that didn’t mention goaltending, did you?

In the blue corner is Henrik Lundqvist, the perennial Vezina candidate and poster of a .920 or better save percentage for every year from 09-10 to 15-16. King Henrik had an extremely average year this season, and at the age of 35, it’s possible he’s finally coming down from the elite level he’s played at for most of his career. On the other hand, he just posted a .947 sv% against the Montreal Canadiens and basically won the series singlehandedly. The only thing hotter than Henrik Lundqvist in a suit is Henrik Lundqvist in the playoffs.

In the red corner is Craig Anderson, a playoff gamer whose .921 sv% against Boston was still disappointing to some because Anderson’s career playoff sv% is .931.

For all the weaknesses both teams have, they are extremely strong in net. This means that it’s time for the phrase all my playoff previews must have: “If either goaltender gets hot, it will likely prove to be the difference in this series.”

That’s the WTYKY difference right there. Only I’m going to tell you goaltending is important.

The Wisdom

I suspect that this series will be one that Nerds would refer to as “high variance”. You could play this series 100 times and each team would win it 50 times for a different reason each time. I think something weird and unpredictable will be the difference in this series, be it Henrik Lundqvist posting 3 shutouts, or Mike Hoffman scoring 9 points in 4 games, or every single Senator doing nothing but bounce off Rick Nash for a whole series, or Dan Girardi and Marc Staal melting down into puddles of goo at the sight of Erik Karlsson. Where Ottawa vs. Boston was a series decided by Ottawa’s strengths (AKA The System) against Boston’s strengths (AKA The Bergeron Line) (Decision: The System), the winner of Ottawa vs. New York will be the team whose weaknesses were exploited less. If Ottawa’s commitment to team defense can slow the Rangers’ counter-attack, I’ll see you for a Half-Assed Round 3 Preview. If Henrik Lundqvist can adequately wallpaper over the holes in his team’s defensive structure, we’ll be left with lots of time to ponder how a traditional rebuild five years ago would have been better for Ottawa.

I leave you with this bit of advice apparently still unlearned by most experts at ESPN: when in doubt, pick the team with Erik Karlsson on it.

Sens in 7.