Brady Tkachuk had three points tonight, though. That seems good!
Brady Tkachuk had three points tonight, though. That seems good!
Erik Karlsson is playing for the San Jose Sharks right now (team high 9:11 TOI through one period) and I just poured myself a glass of Maker’s Mark and now I feel like writing a few things about hockey.
First off, there can be no doubt that these are dark times for the Senators. With Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s injury, the second line centre is now Zack Smith, a player who was placed on waivers a week ago. You know things are really popping for you when the centre of your second (2nd) line is a guy no one wanted for free. Other interesting lineup notes: Ben Harpur and Max McCormick have one way deals and made the team automatically (Harpur will likely be a healthy scratch most of the time, and McCormick is on the 4th line with Tom Pyatt, who will playing on Guy Boucher’s teams long after they’re both dead), and also Brady Tkachuk won’t start the season due to a nagging groin injury (Fun fact: 80% of all groin injuries have been described as “nagging” at some point). Even the kinda good things have a little silver lining of sadness. Remember Colin White? Well he’s on the second line now! Sure he’s on the second line because Chris Tierney (a player we traded Erik Karlsson for) couldn’t out-play him, but still! Colin White, guys! It’s ok to get excited about Colin White again! Max Lajoie is the surprise of the pre-season! He’s only 20! Made the team out of camp! Did his fellow 2016 draftee Logan Brown make the team? Absolutely not, but still! Max Lajoie, folks! He’s another late round gem from the team that brought you Mike Hoffman (traded), Mark Stone (probably going to be traded), and Ryan Dzingel (he’s cool). Craig Anderson is still the starting goalie, and surely not even he can be as bad as Craig Anderson was last year. Can a plucky Senators squad with nothing to lose recapture the magic that only a .925 sv% can provide? Maybe! Hockey is back, and the Senators are a doing a passable imitation thereof!
Let’s circle back to that first thing for a moment: remember when the Senators put Zack Smith on waivers? What in the Panko encrusted hell was that about? Pierre Dorion claimed it was to “send a message” that last year’s play wasn’t acceptable, but this was message immediately undercut by
a) Matt Duchene, who said the move was like “a kick in the balls” whose purpose was “beyond hockey reasons”.
b) Guy Boucher, who said that Zack Smith was going to keep his spot on the second line.
If I were the message sending sort of GM, I would have thought that trading the captain and the team’s most flaky forward would have done the trick, but apparently the guy with the lowest plus-minus on the team last year had to feel the heat, too. Occam’s Razor says that placing Smith on waivers was a desperate attempt to lower payroll, and even if that wasn’t the case, I’m not sure how you don’t consult Guy Boucher first, or at least get him on board with the messaging. Boucher seemed just as perturbed as many of his players that his second line centre was being left out on the curb without so much as a “If it’s cool with you…”. Ultimately, it seems the message that was received in the room was “We will attempt to ship out your friends if it’ll save us money”, so I guess what I’m trying to say is that Matt Duchene is definitely not signing here long term once he finds out that he’s rich enough to afford a private plane that can fly him to Haliburton from anywhere.
Again, not that I blame Pierre Dorion. He’s got a job to do, and he’s doing it. It can’t be easy to get a phone call from your boss and have him insist that you personally have to find a way to keep the lights on past December even though the team has more money on IR than on the entire defense right now. It’s just gross to see that management isn’t even trying any more. Used to be that you could squint at a move like Zibanejad for Brassard and convince yourself that the cash savings were a mere coincidence and really it was basically a hockey move. Not any more. The Sens are taking 2nd liners and stapling “Free to a good home” to their chests. This is some next level shit.
Being a Sens fan right now kinda feels like being a Napoleon fan post Battle of Waterloo, so here are some reasons why I might watch hockey this season:
1. Aesthetic reasons – Not only were the Senators bad last year, but they were also totally unwatchable. The Sens being a team that could conceivably be watched for fun would go a long way towards my willingness to watch them for fun. Hockey, when played well, can be an enjoyable spectator experience. I am not ready to give up on the possibility of enjoying a 2018-19 Senators game yet.
2. Habitual reasons – One of these days it’s gonna be a Thursday night, and I’m gonna need something to do. Could watching Senators hockey be that thing? It’s been a thing in past years. It’s very possible it could be a thing this year, especially if watching the team doesn’t feel like a massive waste of my time and emotional energy. Hockey: It may be the thing I watch on Thursdays.
3. Emotional reasons – I want to like Brady Tkachuk, and Thomas Chabot, and Colin White, and Alex Formenton. Hell, I even want to like Cody Ceci. With no 1st round draft pick this season, there’s nothing to be gained by losing so why not be open to the possibility of enjoying the journey of a bunch of sentient lunchboxes who are taught the true meaning of hockey by some enthusiastic rookies? That’s a rhetorical question. Do not answer that.
Ok, so on the one hand, we have a hockey shaped hole in my life that maybe the Senators can fill. On the other side of things, here are some reasons someone might not watch the Ottawa Senators:
1. Extreme displeasure with recent events including, but not limited to, the captain being traded, harassment allegations against the team’s former AGM that were only cursorily dealt with by the team, the failure to sign Mark Stone or Matt Duchene to long term deals, the owner inserting himself into the team’s operations as much as possible, and the general impression that things are going to get much worse before they get better because the team is operating in such a way as to accomplish the bare minimum associated with being a professional sports team while the franchise itself accrues value due to land development rights on behalf of the aforementioned owner who has, at various times, openly mused about relocation, referred to the fans as “finicky”, alienated several of the team’s most beloved players, alienated several of the team’s executives, and generally shown an unwillingness to be agreeable in any way.
Look, it’s a complicated time.
It’s probable that home attendance is going to be a storyline again this season, and many fans are already voting with their dollar and openly boycotting the team until the organization proves they’re worthy of support. The organization? Well, they’re working on it. I’m not going to tell you how to be a fan this year; clearly I haven’t even worked it out for myself yet. Everyone has to live their truth and whatnot. Just…please do me a favour and try to not live a truth that is completely whack, like the sort of truth that says the only way to be a true fan is by going to all the games or by burning jerseys or by picketing in front of the Canadian Tire Centre. This year will be a lot more bearable if one half of the fanbase isn’t openly calling the other half of the fanbase dirty scabs for attending a game or buying a San Jose Karlsson jersey (even if those people are dirty scabs). If anyone can find something to enjoy in hockey at the moment, well then they’re entitled to it. Hopefully soon we all will be entitled to some happiness. I patiently await the day when the Senators give us something everyone can get behind.
Earlier today, Erik Karlsson was traded to the San Jose Sharks for a 6th defenseman, a defensive black hole, and some scratch-off tickets. Some quick thoughts because I don’t know how else to deal right now:
1. We’re not changing the name of the blog. That name is staying up forever.
2. Deep down inside, I could imagine a trade return for Erik Karlsson that didn’t make me want to check out entirely. This………..was not that. How do you not even get a SECOND PAIRING defenseman back? The team says it’s six assets in the return, but I say they’re pissing in my face and telling me it’s raining.
3. Until the unauthorized tell-all book is written by Michael Wolff or whoever, I’ll never understand why or how Pierre Dorion went from telling us “God created Erik Karlsson on the eighth day” to trading Erik Karlsson for pennies on the dollar in less than 500 days. I’ll bet the reasons were incredibly fucking stupid, though.
4. Speaking of Pierre Dorion, spare a thought for your man’s Vichy France ass. He knew what he was signing up for when he signed that three-year extension in February, and he did it anyway. Erik Karlsson was the crown jewel in his personal draft record. Your man had to undo his own legacy, be publicly depantsed by Doug Wilson for the second time in two months, and then talk about how he actually thinks it’s smart. Rough stuff. I’m glad I’m not him. If you’re the guy who drafted Erik Karlsson and then traded Erik Karlsson, it just means you’re the guy who traded Erik Karlsson.
5. One thing that can’t be overstated is how clumsy this all seemed from the get-go. Karlsson was going to be imminently traded for over half a year. Karlsson’s face was removed from promotional materials, the Canadian Tire Centre, etc. Your man got the full Enemy of Stalin treatment. Despite it all, we all still had to sit through the dog and pony show of the town halls and the *puts on Michael Jackson rhinestone gloves to make air quotes* contract extension offer before Karlsson got traded anyway and Pierre Dorion said “Yeah we’ve been talking about this since February”. What a waste of my emotional energy.
6. If you enjoyed doing that dog and pony show with Karlsson, I hope you enjoy doing it with Mark Stone and Matt Duchene this year. Rest assured that if they must be traded, the return will be extremely disappointing.
7. I don’t know how I’m going to engage with hockey this year. I think watching the Ottawa Senators will be tough, both in terms of quality of play and emotionally. Why get attached to Mark Stone if he’ll just gone soon? What if Thomas Chabot is good, but not quite as good as Thomas Chabot and Erik Karlsson together? Maybe I’ll get really into the Belleville Senators. Maybe Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, and Filip Chlapik will make the Senators worth tolerating. I’m not gonna put any pressure on myself to engage, though. Why waste energy trying to understand something that can’t be understood except through the lens of the whims of a disgraced former pharmaceutical magnate? This whole thing is stupid. Everything is stupid.
8. Thing I’m not looking forward to: everyone who knows me trying to talk to me about hockey. Don’t make sports your “personal brand”, kids! It’s a bad idea.
9. Check out Hockey Brunch! (Coming soon!)
Remember February? Remember the organizational turmoil and Erik Karlsson trade rumours? “Could this get any worse?” we asked ourselves. “Yes”, apparently is the answer. Not only have we not hit rock bottom, but rock bottom isn’t even in sight as the news out of Kanata keeps plumbing new depths of awful like one of those Youtube videos that just keeps zooming in on a piece of a fractal.
The common factor of across the stories is a complete lack of leadership at the top of the organization. A decisive org would have nipped any Karlsson trade rumours in the bud before they had a chance to turn into a circus. A decisive org would have also put Randy Lee on leave after his arrest. Maybe this is just my delicate sensibilities talking, but I don’t feel like ALLEGEDLY grabbing a person while making comments about your genitals while on a work trip is the sort of thing that should be ignored by the organization you were representing at the time. Not only is Randy Lee not on leave, the Senators haven’t even had the good sense to act embarrassed by the whole thing, instead hiring The Official Lawyer of Scumbag Celebrities. Being embarrassed, apparently, is left to the fans. (Ed. Note: three minutes after publishing this, Pierre Dorion announced Randy Lee had been suspended pending the outcome of his trial.)
I have little to say about the campaign of cyber-bullying ALLEGEDLY carried out by Mike Hoffman’s finance, Monika Caryk, against Erik and Melinda Karlsson other than to say that it’s horrifying. To be honest, I’m not completely sure what the Senators should have done after finding out about the harassment, but I don’t think letting Hoffman and Karlsson handle it themselves was the correct answer.
So yeah, things are extremely messed up and the reasons why are pretty obvious to anyone who is paying attention even slightly. However, the mess that is the Ottawa Senators has now drawn a crowd, and the crowd is not always paying attention even slightly.
With this sudden infamy come The Takes.
Oh how I loathe The Takes.
How I loathe the drive-by opinioning by media scrubs who would rather fart out any half-baked take than try to be thoughtful, because fuck it, it’s just the internet.
How I loathe the presumption that whatever said media scrubs have to say will be edifying to, not only the public, but to Sens fans in general as if we’re not all intimately acquainted with what the real problem is in Ottawa.
To wit, here’s some garbage from Dave Lozo, who submitted a bold “Might as well just move the team” take yesterday afternoon.
Some choice cuts:
A National Hockey League team in Ottawa. It was a fun experiment. We had a lot of good times. Well, a few good times. Actually, I’m sure a good time occurred even though I can’t pinpoint a specific moment. That time Damian Rhodes bleached his hair, maybe? But maybe it’s time to say goodbye. It’s the best thing for everyone.
Strong move coming out of the gate with as dickish a dismissal as possible of both the franchise’s existence and (modest) success. Let’s see you write the same paragraph about the Florida Panthers, coward.
Sometimes when you love something, you have to let it die so everyone can move forward with their lives. The situation commonly manifests itself in the form of a terminally ill grandparent, an extremely old pet or anything since season three of Arrested Development.
Incredibly topical reference, dude.
Fighting to keep the Ottawa Senators alive is selfish. They can’t go on living like this, if you can call this living. If you really care about their happiness, you will sign the papers, kiss them on the forehead and stand outside the room as Gary Bettman grants them the sweet release of eternity.
Don’t you think that seems a little drastic? If only there were some second option that would allow the team to remove the parts of the management structure that are plaguing it without having Gary Bettman handle a lethal injection. Some sort of legal transfer of ownership, perhaps? 🤔🤔🤔🤔
And this is all during and after a 67-point season with attendance plummeting to its lowest levels since 1996-97, a sign fans already had enough. If you look inside your heart, Senators fans, you know what needs to be done; you just need the courage to do it.
Why does this guy want me to Old Yeller my own hockey team? (see, THAT’S how you do a topical reference)
That leaves likely offer sheet target Mark Stone and pending unrestricted free agent Matt Duchene counting down the days until they are no longer Senators. Yeah, offer sheets are about as rare as sell-out crowds in Ottawa, but you have to believe Stone is telling his agent to whisper into teams’ ears that he’d be happy to sign one to escape Ottawa.
How is this idea still a thing? What offer sheet is Mark Stone going to sign that Ottawa won’t match? As if the only thing Ottawa can offer at this time is three sticks of gum and it’s only going to take $7MM and some draft picks to pry Stone out of Ottawa. Eugene Melnyk may be hurting financially, but Ottawa has a long and established history of paying players what they’re worth at this point. They can’t pay them all, but they pay the ones they keep.
But guess what! Travis Yost posted a story Thursday afternoon that makes the case that the Senators may have their very own renegade Twitter account being run by someone inside the organization.
Oh you mean the account that’s run by a random crank from the Dobber Hockey boards? Great research skills ya got there, you hack.
Some of this isn’t the organization’s fault but so much of it starts at the top with Melnyk, and if he’s there in perpetuity, why should fans expect anything to change?
Finally something sensible.
And if by some miracle the Senators do everything right in the coming weeks and months with their image issues, they still must trade their best defenseman and arguably their best forward. If Melnyk was hemorrhaging money and strapped with immense debt before this season, how does that get better a year from now? Why would he want to continue sinking money into an unprofitable team?
Lozo comes so agonizingly close to cogent analysis here. Indeed, it seems increasingly more unlikely that Melnyk will be willing or able to float a team whose operational losses continue to mount as fans check out. One of the reasons I have not been a particularly vocal supporter of the #MelnykOut movement was due to my private belief that if one wants Eugene Melnyk to sell the Senators, all you have to do is wait.
Back to the nonsense at hand. Having established that
1. Melnyk selling is the only way forward.
2. Melnyk cannot sustain operational losses indefinitely
Lozo then goes on to ignore these facts entirely to get back to his original thesis: it’s good if the Ottawa Senators relocate.
But if Melnyk won’t go, death is the best option. You don’t owe Melnyk anything. You are not obligated to dedicate your time, money, and sanity to something that so clearly doesn’t care about you or icing the best possible team. Find your way to the acceptance stage. Let the Senators go. Houston. Quebec. Kansas City. There are worse things that can happen to a fan than a team relocating.
This guy has such an obsession with killing the Senators that he ignores the logic of his previous 3 paragraphs and just invents a universe where it’s good and logical that Sens fans are forced to go without hockey. Never mind the fact that relocation is a drastic step that Bettman would almost certainly never allow. Never mind that the Carolinas and Arizonas of the world appear set to enjoy hockey in perpetuity regardless of transient market pressures. The Senators will have to move because, well, the owner is a huge wad. You know, that’s why the Los Angeles Clippers moved. And why the existence of Harold Ballard forced the relocation of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And why the only way to save New York basketball from James Dolan is by moving the Knicks. This is analysis by and for clowns. It should be ignored with extreme prejudice, except for when it should be mercilessly skewered and mocked.
In conclusion, the Ottawa has an NHL franchise essentially by accident. We should cling to it tightly, even as we temporarily wave goodbye to our emotional and monetary investment during these troubled times. I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose a battle of wills to Eugene Melnyk. My will is endless, and his bank account is extremely not.
Ed. Note: Every so often, we at Welcome to your Scarfo Years like to adopt a guest post so that we can care for it like our very own. A few weeks ago Friend of the Blog, Bragg AKA @Braggzilla, asked “What if the Ottawa Senators were WWE Wrestlers?” and I said “You should write a blog about it” and now that blog is here just in time for Wrestlemania and we are all richer for it. You can try checking Bragg out on twitter, but he has a locked account so he might not let you.
Bake it away, Tragg!
The 2017-18 Ottawa Senators as WWE Wrestlers
If you’re a normal person reading this, your awareness of WrestleMania likely starts and ends with “that’s a thing that exists, and I think Hulk Hogan used to be on it.” If you’re like me, and not a normal person, you know that today is WrestleMania Eve, and you are HYPED for that A.J. Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura rematch from their 4.75 star classic in the Tokyo Dome in 2016! Either way; you, an Ottawa Senators fan, could use a little levity as this garbage dump season reaches its miserable, stupid conclusion. In the spirit of distracting ourselves from this Hockey Hell, and the spirit of my Christmas (WrestleMania); here are your 2017-18 Ottawa Senators as WWE wrestlers!
Mark Stone – AJ Styles
Remember the Mark Stone/Auston Matthews tweet that turned Ontario Hockey Twitter upside down for a few hours? AJ Styles is the pro wrestling equivalent of that. While beloved by the good and righteous people (WWE: dorks on the internet/NHL: Ottawa Senators fans) who appreciate their talents; neither Styles or Stone have gotten the full recognition their abilities warrant because they appear on television shows that cater to an audience without fully developed motor skills (WWE: 5 year olds/NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs fans). Like Mark Stone, it’s not that no one thinks AJ Styles is good; but he had to become one of the best pro wrestlers in the world, and sustain that for years before a mainstream audience truly took notice.
Bobby Ryan – Randy Orton
Early in his career, Orton was a blue chip prospect. He had some great years early on, but settled into a pattern of mediocrity by his late 20’s that, when combined with his high salary, caused many to question his commitment to his craft. While Ryan’s career has become beset by hand and finger injuries to near tragicomic levels; Orton’s shoulders have plagued him in much the same way, peaking in 2015 when he missed months of action after dislocating his shoulder taking out his garbage. Another thing Randy Orton has in common with Bobby Ryan is their political uhhh… leanings. Yeesh.
Frederik Claesson – Cesaro
Claesson and Cesaro are Northern European imports who have shown flashes of brilliance in small samples, but have not yet been given an opportunity to do so in a long-term, consistent role. They have risen to the occasion when given the chance – Claesson in the 2017 playoffs, and Cesaro in great matches with John Cena and Sami Zayn – but nothing more seemed to come of it. Fred Claesson for Intercontinental Champion in 2018!
Ben Harpur – The Big Show
Both Harpur and Big Show signed contract extensions recently, despite looking like they probably will and should be healthy scratches most of the time. Critique their ability all you want, but you cannot refute that both Harpur and The Big Show are very, very tall men.
Mark Borowiecki – Kane
The best way to describe Kane’s strengths as a performer in 2018 is to say “he’s very popular in the locker room.” Despite this, the TV commentators talk about him as if he’s going to literally open a portal to hell and throw his opponent in it every time he’s on the screen. Take a listen to what the colour commentator says next time Borowiecki bodychecks a guy or tries to instigate a fight – it’s basically the same imagery.
Cody Ceci – Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns is the perfect golden son of WWE management. Tomorrow night, he will probably win the WrestleMania main event match for the third straight year. A role on the show you’d expect to be occupied by a Hulk Hogan/Stone Cold Steve Austin type beloved star. As WWE attempts to shoehorn Reigns into the role of their top star, and tell the audience that he is very important and tough and handsome and cool; more often than not, he tends to get this type of reaction from the crowd. Given that his entire job is basically make people cheer for him, those aren’t good results. Roman Reigns is WWE’s top star in the same way that Cody Ceci is the Ottawa Senators’ ‘shutdown defenseman.’ Someone decided that was what he is; and it seems that no matter how much evidence mounts that it just isn’t working out, they’re not going to move away from that any time soon. It’s debatable whether or not Ceci or Reigns is objectively bad as a hockey player or wrestler, but both have become lightning rods for fan criticism because they were placed in top roles before they were ready, and are cited as evidence of flawed organizational philosophies as a result.
Erik Karlsson – Daniel Bryan
If ‘making people cheer for you’ is the wrestling equivalent of ‘being a good defenseman’ in the NHL, then Daniel Bryan’s résumé is a little more Karlsson-esque in that regard. Though there was some level of expectation early in their careers – Karlsson was a first round pick, and Bryan was a star independently long before WWE – no one could have predicted either of these guys would become possibly the best in the world at their respective positions. Both are electrifying performers who use their athleticism and creativity to produce exciting moments that transcend their sport. Both Bryan and Karlsson have continually exceeded all expectations placed on them, blossomed as performers before our eyes, overcome working for sometimes dysfunctional employers, and formed a bond with their respective fanbases unlike any other.
Daniel Bryan has long been a fan favourite in the most literal sense of the term. He’s really almost every fan’s favourite. He is returning to the ring on Sunday after a two year absence due to injuries and WWE-imposed hurdles on his medical clearance. Wrestling fans, who love Bryan in the same way Sens fans love Karlsson, thought they had seen the last of him in a WWE ring. If there’s anything to be learned from that as a Sens fan, it’s that maybe there is still hope, and maybe we haven’t yet seen the last of our Swedish miracle angel in a Senators uniform, despite the existential despair and sense of impending doom that we all feel right now. Let’s all take a moment to visualize how great it will feel to see “Karlsson signs 8-year extension in Ottawa” bless our twitter timelines this summer, and then see him step on the ice again (in the heritage ‘O’ jersey, or the 2D Senator logo) next fall. Please do not remind me that wrestling isn’t real at this time – I need this!
In an effort to get out in front of Wikileaks publishing our DMs, we’re doing it ourselves. In this part of the DM, Luke, James, and Varada discuss the in-arena experience, who it is for, and whether it can be fixed.
Luke: Is a hockey game experience rocket science?
On the one hand, it can feel like some of the trappings are catered to people who think of going to a hockey game as an Event. Like the Prime Minister Race, or Timbits Game or whatever. There’s all this extra stuff around the hockey game, because maybe the casual fan doesn’t actually care about the hockey game all that much. Then there’s the Season Ticket Holders who have been seeing the same Spartacat Shell Game with Hats 41 times a year since 1997 (I have heard that being a season ticket holder is NOT always easy) and they’re basically impossible to please because their threshold for giving a shit is just too high.
But maybe there’s a game experience out there that’s basically agreeable for everyone regardless of how many games you go to. Or maybe hockey games are like the Star Wars universe in that they’re inherently limited and there’s only so many things you can do with them.
I read some tweets at some point about how the Dallas Stars (???) in-game experience is really good. Are they really thinking outside the bun on that one, or do they just happen to do the same bullshit better than other arenas?
Varada and James just did a podcast on this topic, where Varada was like “I went to a hockey game in San Jose. It was like going to a hockey game” so now I’m thinking maybe we just want too much.
James: Well, that’s what I’m saying. Varada was talking that gangster talk about it on our podcast a couple of weeks ago about going to that Sharks game, and how it was strikingly similar to going to a Sens game. Not surprising to me seeing as I cannot really think of what else you can bring to the table. It’s just 2 minute or 20 minute intervals between play. I remember it being kind of different back in the day where they first had the Sharks players coming out of the tunnel out our of a giant inflatable shark’s mouth. Then the Oilers skated out…from a giant oil derrick …then the Avs skated out of Big Foot’s dick.
Sometimes I try to consider what I actually already like about the in-game experience. I like getting there a bit early if possible and going down to the ice and watching warm up (I don’t even know what it is I like about that but I do like it), I like the 50/50 draw basically only because Varada and my mutual friend winning a bunch of years ago makes me feel like I have a chance…aaaaaaaaaand…Oh, I like during TV time outs when they do those little vignettes with players like, “What was the first car you owned?” because it’s super fun to watch with Chet because we see who can do the best impersonation of Mike Hoffman (the trick is never close your mouth all the way). After that it’s all Missing Chiclets try-too-hard shit and Mattamy Homes Presents How Long Can You Wait in Line to Take a Piss.
But back to your point Luke, we DO want too much. And by “we” I mean mainly Season Ticket Holders (I’m sorry but the main group I see on twitter that seem to complain about “experience” stuff tend to identify themselves as STH (that complaining is the actual reason is how I even know what STH stands for. Anyway, MYYYYYY main complaints about the in game experience are unfixable. Like, “People not clapping for player announcements”. I’m always personally kind of floored after “Number sixty one, numero soixante et un…MAAAAAAAAARK STOOOOOOOONE” and like maybe 1 out of every 10 people around me even bother to cheer for the like 5 seconds it takes for him to get from the tunnel to the blueline. Cmon guys, let’s get somewhat hyped?
Luke: I kinda defend the Ottawa crowd on this one a bit. If Ottawa has a reputation of being a more docile crowd, I feel like it’s because they know what the big moments are and they save it for those times. That playoff game vs. Pittsburgh was loud AF. I don’t blame people for not bringing the same energy for a Tuesday night game against Carolina in January. (But also I agree that it’s obviously more fun when everyone is into it.)
James: Every playoff game I go to is loud as fuck, it’s just funny how much the crowd can sometimes “Save their cheers” for the big moments as if it’s a finite resource. I ain’t talking about the same energy as playoff game that’s not a problem, I’m talking about some MORE energy. I feel there’s a disconnect twixt myself being heading into a game like, “Alright I paid like $60 bucks to be here and sat in traffic for like an hour LET’S FUCKING GET IT THO”, and a bunch of people around me who seem to be like, “Heartland was a repeat so I’m at this Islanders game” kind of kills my vibe sometimes.
Luke: Hot Take: The thing you dislike about hockey games is the thing you dislike about people.
James: Oh yeah absolutely. You can’t trust the Gen Pop (see also: The Current American Political Landscape) and Sports Fans have an extreme tendency toward Gen Poppiness. That’s why I’m saying I can’t fix it. While I’m jealous that the Panthers DJ is playing the dirty version of Trick Daddy’s “Thug dot Com” album from front to back, I also realize that probably 75% of the CTC is like, “YES THE NEW FOOD FIGHTERS SINGLE!”
Varada: I tweeted at Sens DJ once “You should use the new War on Drugs single, I’m not being ironic, it really works!” And after was just like “I’m an idiot for believing in things”
James: If, between faceoffs, they played Mykki Blanco, after one season I’d probably take it for granted like, “Their old shit is better tho”.
Varada: What about this: hiring someone to do funny scoreboard sketches on their Mac might be good. Tap into that internet memeness. I remember I was at the last game with the old scoreboard, and hung around after the game for a bit to avoid traffic and they played a montage of the scoreboard on the scoreboard set to “I Will Remember You” and it was basically for staff only. Why not play that shit during the game?
There’s also an element of “Ask people a question and they’ll answer it”. Maybe they should ask “How important is it to you?”. I think most people would say a winning team is more important to them than a laser show. All of the best stuff about 67s games is fan-driven. That, plus you find the tickets stapled in the Pennysaver.
Basically, I want the Constantines and Les Savy Fav to be playing in a small club in the basement of the CTC on the one night I decide to buy a ticket illegally off the internet at 1/3 face value.
Luke: Not enough bands playing unadvertised shows in intimate venues is definitely a problem with the CTC experience.
Varada: [Me, watching The Fall in the CTC parking lot]: “Pffft. They’re not even playing their early stuff.”
I have a hard time reconciling how much I like watching and talking about hockey with the fact that going to a regular season game in a league with way too may regular season games is basically a family experience. Kids will be awed by the size of everything, the brightness and the noise. And parents will pay something stupid, like $500, for tickets and merch and food to give their kids that special experience. It’s Disneyworld. And so I don’t mind if the team markets entirely that way and leaves me, a bitter man nearing 40 who’s going to wear a John Coltrane t-shirt to the game and pretend not to enjoy myself, out in the cold.
Basically, the “in-game Xperience” should be designed for everyone from the 2nd deck down – families and corporate interests – and the third deck should be about cheap tickets and beer and the scent of blue-collar failure, where people like us feel at home. Mike Fisher taking tickets at the front door, Chris Neil handing out oil change coupons in the rear.
My dad took me to games as a kid – Expos, Jays, Sens, Habs – and I remember leaving like “I am OBSESSED with hockey now” and also didn’t know where the teams were in the standings or what the score was or any of the players. They should market to more idiot children.
At the risk of sounding like a twee Etsy throw-pillow, I long ago came to the conclusion that one’s sports fandom should be about the journey not the destination. It’s supposed to be about Winning the Championship, but generally speaking, unless you’re the type of morally-bankrupt person who cheers for the Patriots or Manchester United, you are never going to watch your chosen team Win the Championship. In lieu of this, sports fandom is about Moments, it’s about The Struggle, and it’s about other metaphors for things that are actually meaningful. Sports are fake; you’re cheering for laundry. The way sports make you feel, the way you interact with sports, these are the realest thing about them.
I have grown tired of interacting with the Senators.
It’s not the losing. I have cheered for losing teams before, and it’s a near-certainty that I will continue to do so until I die. This year’s Senators isn’t nearly as bad as they are playing. They’ve had very bad goaltending, and the 3rd pairing collapsed with Chris Wideman’s injury, the team’s play has been lazy (witness the league-leading number of Too Many Men penalties), and the team is clearly just playing out the string, but there’s simply too much talent for “Draft Lottery Threat” to be the team’s true level.
No, I tire of the Senators because there is a spiritual sickness emanating from the top of the organization. Everyone from the team’s President to the organist is infected. Anonymous internet commenters whisper on Reddit and Twitter of an organization that has gone from “Bare bones” to “Potemkin”. Newspaper beat writers speak in understatement and euphemism, couching reports of ill-tidings in phrases like “it’s possible” and “sources say”. Everyone knows the same things, no one is quite willing to say them, but the implications are clear: the Senators, as we know them, are coming to an end. There will be a change; the change will either be on the ice or in the owner’s box, but deep, long-lasting changes are coming.
The Sens have been a lean organization for years now, but the canary in the coal mine for me this year is GM Pierre Dorion’s return to scouting. Granted, Dorion’s background is in scouting (by all accounts, he was a fairly good scout), but General Manager is not supposed to be a part time job. If the top hockey ops exec in the organization has to be moonlighting in Europe as a set of player evaluating eyeballs, things cannot be right.
Everyone sees where the corners are being cut. Scouts have left without being replaced, the analytics “department” is simply “a guy”, free agent acquisitions are players with whom the coach is familiar, popular players are traded rather than negotiated with, and the defensemen who are given new contracts are the ones which will come with the cheapest price tag.
It’s all so cynical. I am tired of the cynicism. I am tired of the lack of sincerity. It lacks sincerity when Melnyk announces “It doesn’t get any better than this” weeks before preparing to tear-down the current roster. It lacks sincerity when Melnyk reads off a script prepared for him by a PR firm. It lacks sincerity when the team announces a Hockey Is For Everyone Ambassador and then and fails to further acknowledge diversity in any way.
I’ll say this for Tom Anselmi: at least he seemed sincere. Anselmi brought us a commitment to the =O= logo, hot dogs, the Missing Chiclets, the outdoor game, a new jersey, and while not all those things were hits, you could at least tell that they came from a place of trying to do right by the fans. Sens fans actually want to like the team; the organization just needs to make itself likable. By God Anselmi tried to do this, but such naive and idealistic motivations could not last long in today’s Senators organization.
Friday’s press release from the organization spoke of “a renewed commitment to scouting, drafting and development”, and “changes to our lineup” and “pain with an endgame in mind: building an organization that wins”, but frankly, the organization hasn’t earned the right to have these words interpreted as anything other than a craven cover for trading away the team’s best, most-expensive players.
The fanbase doesn’t want a rebuild; the fanbase wants investment. The fans want to see investment in scouting, investment in hockey ops, investment in analytics, and most of all, investment in players. The fans want assurances that the team’s 3rd straight captain won’t be lost to another team because of money. The fans want things that we know current ownership can’t give us, and so we are sarcastic, we are unhappy, and we are tired.
I didn’t get into sports for this. I don’t want to have to give a shit about whether the team is burning through Presidents (!!) too quickly. I don’t want to do a Google search of the acting CFO and have the top two results be a harassment lawsuit and a securities commission fine. I don’t want to have to ask “Is this actually about money?” whenever the team does anything. I don’t want to talk about attendance or relocation ever again. I don’t want to have to think about how Daniel Alfredsson’s feud with ownership affects Erik Karlsson’s mindset.
So I won’t.
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not quitting yet. The Senators didn’t “lose a fan” yet. I don’t respect myself enough to do anything that drastic, and I’m too much of a sucker for the team to pretend I’m able to stand up for myself. Yet.
But dammit if I’m going to survive Late Period Melnyk Ownership, I’m going to have to make some changes. I implore the Senators and Eugene Melnyk to do the same sooner rather than later.
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:
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.
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.)
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.
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.