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.

Your Half-Assed Round 1 Preview: Get At Me Haters

Have you heard the news? The Sens have no chance in this series and you’re an idiot for thinking otherwise. So that pretty much wraps that up. Objectively the Sens suck and will lose.
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HA JUST KIDDING! Now let me outline some arguments in favour of the notion that the Senators are not screwed.

Argument By Way Of Match-up

Consult any Fancy Stat you care to name, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: The Bruins are good at the things that correlate with winning. During 5-on-5 play they generate more shots than anyone, and they give up fewer shots than anyone except Los Angeles. They have arguably the most effective line in the league in Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak/Backes, and they’ve got such effective depth that very few of their players could be considered a possession drag in anything other than a relative sense. Oh and Boston also has one of the most effective penalty kills in the league. Ottawa plays safe, well-structured hockey but they can’t really compete with Boston in terms of shot metrics or Expected Goals or any other nerd stat. This is why Boston is considered by most to be an overwhelming favourite in this series.

However, there is reason to believe that the Sens and The System™ pose problems for the Bruins that other teams do not. Over at WTYKY’s sister blog, TSN.ca, Travis Yost broke down some possible 1st round matchups by looking at head-to-head performance. Yost concluded that regular season success in terms of Corsi/shots (the terms are used interchangeably) or Head-To-Head goal differential is somewhat predictive of post-season success against a certain team, and that a combination of Corsi and H2H goal differential advantage is an even stronger predictor of success.

Well, the Sens have a non-trivial goal differential advantage against Boston and have played them to a near-draw in terms of Corsi (This is particularly remarkable when you see the Corsi advantage Boston holds over other playoff teams.) so you’d have to say the Sens have done something right against the Bruins this season. Personally, I think that Ottawa’s success is attributable to a combination of good neutral zone play and a defensive system that’s explicitly designed to prevent shots from the areas Boston gets to most effectively. In both cases, this advantage will only persist if Ottawa executes well. Luckily executing well is the thing that got Ottawa into this position to begin with.

Now, Pierre Dorion and Guy Boucher and pretty much every Senators player who has been asked has said that the playoffs are different and the regular season success means nothing, and in a way they’re right. However, I’d still start with matchup considerations if you’re looking for reasons to believe that Ottawa has a chance in this series.

Argument By Way Of Health

Boston is likely to be without Torey Krug for much of the series. Nearly half of Krug’s 51 regular season points came on the power play, so it’s safe to say that his loss will be felt at 5-on-5 and 5-on-4. In addition, rookie Will McAvoy will take Krug’s spot in the lineup and will have to be babysat by Zdeno Chara for much of his ice time.

Meanwhile, Ottawa will be nearly as healthy as possible going into this series. The returns of Zack Smith and Clarke MacArthur give Ottawa a scoring depth all the way down the lineup that they have not enjoyed all season, and even if Marc Methot doesn’t start Game 1, Freddie Claesson has shown himself to be an excellent defensemen in his own right during Methot’s absence. Oh and also Erik Karlsson is coming back.

TL;DR – Ottawa has all their good players and Boston does not.

Argument By Way Of Depth

Don’t get it twisted: Boston is a formidable opponent simply on the strength of their top two forward lines, who are some of the best lines in hockey. However, once you get out of Boston’s top 8 scorers, you get into players like Dominic Moore (25 P, 82 GP), Frank Vatrano (18 P, 44 GP), Riley Nash (17 P, 81 GP), and Tim Schaller (14 P, 59 GP). Drew Stafford has also been an effective deadline acquisition for Boston. For Ottawa to have a chance to win the series, they will need guys like Bobby Ryan, Zack Smith, Alex Burrows, and Viktor Stalberg to outscore their “complimentary piece” counterparts. This is plausible because Bobby Ryan and Zack Smith are actually kind of good at scoring (or at least they used to be), and Burrows and Stalberg were literally brought in as ringers for just this situation.

On the defensive side of the rosters, Boston’s 2nd defense pairing of John-Michael Liles and Adam McQuaid are not known for their scoring prowess. The likely 3rd paring of Kevan (sic) and Colin Miller have produced modestly this season, although their Points per 60 Minutes rates are comparable to Chris Wideman’s. If Ottawa can get secondary scoring from defensemen like Freddie Claesson, Chris Wideman, and even Dion Phaneuf during this series as they have throughout the year, it will go a long way to mitigating some of the advantages Boston has at other areas.

Argument By Way of Goaltending

I will be straight up here: Tuukka Rask has not been good for the last two seasons. In fact, his year-over-year 5-on-5 save percentage has been steadily declining since 2014.

goalies

Meanwhile, Craig Anderson is in the middle of a season that would see him getting Vezina consideration if he’d played 60+ games this year instead of only 40. Tuukka Rask has won a Vezina trophy and a Stanley Cup, but it’s clear that he hasn’t been that player for years, and unless Rask turns back into that player overnight, Ottawa is likely to have a significant advantage in goal.

Rask could totally turn back into Vezina Rask overnight though. I don’t understand goalies.

Argument By Way Of Recent Form

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corsica2

Ottawa comes into this series playing some of their best hockey of the year (measured in terms of Fancy Stats). Boston comes into this series playing some of their worst hockey of the year (measured in terms of Fancy Stats). I’m not saying that it’s definitely going to persist, but it’s still a good time to be peaking.

Argument By Way of We Have Erik Karlsson And You Don’t

The Wisdom

Sens fans seem to be feeling pretty confident going into this one, and who can blame them? The team is healthy, The System is systeming, Ottawa has Erik Karlsson and home ice advantage, and Boston’s a team that’s looked extremely beatable this year. Still, I can’t shake this nagging feeling that we’re all in for more than we bargained for. Boston’s got too much talent and they’re too well-structured to be anything other than an extremely difficult out. Even though Ottawa won all their games against this Bruins this year, Patrice Bergeron was outstanding in all those games. The Bergeron line figures to be the linchpin of the whole series. If Ottawa neutralizes Bergeron enough to keep his line off the scoresheet, they win; if not, they lose. Not helping matters is the fact that Boston figures to have the special teams advantage on both PK and PP.

Still, Ottawa’s coming together at the right time, and if this lineup can’t beat Boston with home ice advantage, when else would it ever happen?

Sens in 7

Roundtable of Death: Playoffs Against Not-Toronto Edition

Luke:

You know, even though the Senators are a team that’s spent almost the entire season in a playoff spot, the last few weeks were still emotionally fraught for me. This culminated in an extremely dramatic final regular season weekend where I went through The 6 Stages of Playing The Leafs in the Playoffs

Stage 1 – Denial
“No way the Leafs are gonna beat Pittsburgh and Columbus on back-to-back games. They’re gonna miss the playoffs for sure.”

Stage 2 – Anger
“Goddamn the Penguins. They are truly useless. They haven’t the faintest idea of when to lose, and absolutely no idea of when to win.”

Stage 3 – Bargaining
“Ok, even if this happens, the Sens will have home ice advantage. That’s gotta count for something right?”

Stage 4 – Depression
“Whelp, the Leafs are up 2-0. This series will take years off my life. Why did I have to live to see this?”

Stage 5 – Acceptance
“I guess this is happening. I’m ready. Let’s do it. Bring it on.”

Stage 6 – The Leafs Choking
“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

So after all that wasted emotional energy, Ottawa’s got home ice advantage in a playoff series against Boston. I think Boston’s a good matchup for Ottawa, but more than that, they’re also the perfect playoff opponent. They check all the boxes. All the ingredients are there:

a) The Good Player You Grudgingly Respect – Patrice Bergeron
b) The Good Player You Will Never Respect – Brad Marchand
c) The Grizzled Tank Defenseman Who Plays 47 Minutes A Night and Never Gets Tired – Zdeno Chara
d) The Flashy Prospect Who Is Incredibly Young – David Pastrnak
e) The Incredibly, Obnoxiously Homeriffic Play-By-Play Guy – Jack Edwards
f) The Deeply Annoying Anthem Singer – Rene Rancourt
g) Some of The Dumbest Fans In Hockey – Self-explanatory

You don’t even have to try to hate them. They’re like if Richard Nixon was a hockey team. Plus they’re a team Ottawa has quietly owned over the past two seasons. Add in the fact that we’re learning today that Boston’s pretty beat up and likely to be without Torey Krug for much of the series and I have to ask you a question: Is this all a little too perfect? It feels like the Senators are getting everything they could have wanted and I don’t trust it. It feels like Tuukka Rask is gonna suddenly turn into an immovable object after spending the last 2 years being extremely average. It feels like The Universe is trying to set me up to get my heart broken by Adam McQuaid or some other useless scrub who will immediately fade into back into obscurity after assassinating my hopes and dreams. It feels unwise to hope.

Is this just me? Where are you folks at in your spiritual journey to Wednesday night and beyond?

Andrew:

Sens in 5.

Conrad Varada:

There seem to be two emotional levels on which all hockey victories are processed:

1) the coldly utilitarian, a culmination of an objective process, under which we are as likely to see 1000 game player Chris Neil thrown under the bus as a promising prospect slotted into an area for which he’s been projected.

2) a cathartic expression of relief from anxiety over every perceived shortcoming and insecurity.

If I’ve learned anything from generations of movies about rich men who grew up to say, “Wait, maybe it isn’t about getting rich after all…” it’s that the latter scenario is more capricious but has to happen before anyone will take you seriously.

Sens could win the Cup, but if they do they likely won’t have to go through the Leafs to do it. And so there will always be an asterisk, and if will largely be imposed by the Sens’ own fanbase.

And what better year would there have been to do it! A Leafs team full of kids might have lost to a team of veterans (and some kids) reversing the armchair psychoanalysis of yesteryear. We could have read a summers worth of think pieces praising the Sens, because the Toronto media would have to play the Sens up to explain the Leafs’ exit. How could the team of destiny lose to anyone except a truly formidable opponent?

All this to say: the Sens matching up against a team they’ve played well against, and who are missing two defensemen to boot, is preferable. But rarity is value in and of itself, and a Sens-Leafs series would have been good in a rare way, with potential for real catharsis.

Oh well. Fuck the bruins, too. Go Sens!

James:

Varada, I only say this out respect for you and the community: I feel the need to present, as the ancient Olmecs would say, “L’autre cote” of this mindset. Are we really that messed up that we’d impose our own asterisk on winning a GD Cup without playing the Leafs? I don’t want to discount the psychological implications of an Ottawa-T-ONto* series but if the Sens made their first serious run in 10 years (Ed Note: fuuuuck) the last thing on my mind would be “Ahh but we didnt fade the most fadeable team on the wayyy tho.” Maybe its the decade with one playoff round win talkin’ but I find all victories to be of the cathartic relief over anxiety nature at this point. If I had to pick beating the Leafs and getting swept the next round or making the Final without playing them I know where I’d put my money every time. After getting so close to glory in ’07 only to see things go downhill the very next season, I would take an efficient game 5, 2-1 Cup victory against Las Vegas Golden Corrals in the Pacific timezone and live out my days in my ugly commemorative jacket hating out the door like “Kiss the ring!!!”. I’d also likely live 4 or 5 years longer.

Will I ever despise another professional sports franchise as much as Toronto? I mean, the Sens are set to play their first post-season game Wednesday against Not-The-Leafs and we’ve spent the majority of this post talking about them all because they failed to seal a game on home ice against a Columbus squad that had nothing to play for. I for one look forward to the think pieces about how Auston Matthews let the Caps sweep them on purpose to teach his teammates the true meaning of working hard in the offseason to come back stronger than ever.

Anyway, what I’m saying here is we have sitting in front of us what’s likely going to be a very good series. We’re seriously one Brad Marchand slewfoot away from hating the living shit out of this Boston team. Two series, one win, one loss and the very sight of a Canadiens hat brings the bile to the tip of my throat. Ditto the penguins. Even that series against the Rangers had an interesting effect. After taking them 7 games as the 8th seed does anyone else get that “Ahh, you guys ain’t shit” vibe every time Ottawa plays them? Trust me, we’ll find enough to chew on. Holy shit, speaking of which I just remembered Alex Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron in the ’11 series. It’s officially lit.

We’re about to witness some new franchise history here and I’m pretty damn excited about to dive in there with our first coach with NHL playoff experience since Bryan fucking Murray.

*T-ONto is the new way Drake shortens Toronto. He’s moved on from the VERY cool nickname “The T dot” (v cool)

Chet:

Look, we all wanted the Leafs. We all wanted the Count of Monte Cristo reboot where the guy plots his revenge for 15 years, drafts Erik Karlsson, and comes back to town to methodically destroy his enemies with a series of timely overtime goals. But now that tacky, overpriced cruise ship has #actuallysailed, and trying to recycle those white-hot Leafs takes we were all preparing for our series previews is pretty much just writing that kind of speculative fiction where the South wins the Civil War, helps Hitler win World War II, and worst of all, we end up living in a world where the Leafs don’t blow 2-0 leads. Unseemly.

How is Boston the favorite in this series? What am I missing? The Senators are getting most of their key players back at the same time the Bruins defense is down to a bunch of kids trying to save their orphanage by putting on a big show. Craig Anderson is going to steal at least one game, and Alex Burrows is going to goad Brad Marchand into getting suspended. Each of Pierre Dorion’s blazers is more Bob Hope-ass than the last. What else is there?

Luke:

I’ll try to write more about this later, but basically anyone who is looking at this series from a predictive point of view is boiling this matchup down to “Sens Goal Differential = Bad, Bruins Corsi = good, Bruins win in 3 games.” Never mind that Ottawa has matched up well against Boston this year, or that Ottawa’s fully healthy for the first time in weeks while Boston is banged up. The Corsis have spoken.

Boston’s perfectly capable of winning this series, and I’d probably even put them as slight favourites with a gun to my head, but I am skeptical about the 70%(!!!) winning chance they’ve been getting from some sportsbooks/models.

Let’s look at their players and sort by points this year.

1-3) Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci. – Those guys are good.

4-6) Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug, Ryan Spooner – These guys are also quite good.

7-8) David Backes, Zdeno Chara – These guys are Old, but I have heard of them.

9) Dominic Moore – Ummm??

10) Frank Vatrano – ….???

11) Riley Nash – What?

12) Brandon Carlo – Are?

13) Tim Schaller – THOSE?

Is Boston just a team with 2 lines and a bunch of Erik Condras? The answer is a HARD maybe! You can’t tell me that you wouldn’t like the chances of a 4th line of Pyatt-Smith-Wingels against a guy named Kevan.

Andrew:

Fuck the Leafs. Sens in 5.

Craig Anderson is the Best Ottawa Senators Goalie Ever, and He’s Better Than You Think

Craig Anderson became the best goalie in Ottawa Senators history so gradually, you may not have noticed until now.

You definitely noticed when he put up a 47-save, 65 minute shutout against the Maple Leafs in his first game as a Senator, and you also noticed when he went toe-to-toe with Henrik Lundqvist for seven games in the 2012 playoffs, posting a shutout and a .933 save percentage in the process. You’ve probably also noticed how he’s 5-3 against Carey Price in the playoffs. We all noticed earlier this year when he shutout the Edmonton Oilers in his first game following the cancer diagnosis of his wife, Nicholle, and last night several media outlets noticed when he tied Patrick Lalime for most wins as a Senators goalie.

However, outside of the occasional top shelf performance, Craig Anderson has rarely been incredibly noticeable. He’s the guy who posts the 2 half of 3-2 wins and 2-1 losses. A few times a year, he’ll single-handedly win a game, but it’s far more rare when he single-handedly loses it. All told, Anderson occupies a largely ignored space within the goalie hierarchy: consistent above-averageness. Ask anyone about Anderson and they’ll all say the same thing, “Yeah, he’s a good starter, but he’s no…”, and then they’ll rattle off six or seven goalies who are better, and some who are Jonathan Quick. Anderson’s never been a starter for the USA National Team, he’s never received Vezina buzz, and he’s only won a single (albeit memorable) playoff series in his career. He just doesn’t have the extraneous signifiers of a truly elite goalie. More than anything, if you look at Anderson’s competition it’s easy to come to the conclusion that Craig Anderson is the best goalie in Senators history by default.

Ottawa’s goalie history is littered with big misses and players whose best work was done elsewhere. Pascal Leclaire, Tom Barrasso, Ben Bishop, Alex Auld, Robin Lehner, and Mike Brodeur all make up a Who’s Who of goalies about which you can say “Oh yeah, that guy played for the Sens once”. Among goalies with more than 100 games with the Sens, Damian Rhodes and Ron Tugnutt were a fun tandem with fun names, but the games the Sens won with them were generally in spite of them, not because of them (Rhodes: .902 sv%, Tugnutt: .906 sv%). Brian Elliot and Martin Gerber were even worse than Tugnutt and Rhodes, and while Ray Emery showed flashes of brilliance, he more often showed flashes of immaturity and could only post a .910 sv% on some of the most stacked Senators teams in franchise history. Anderson and Lalime are the only other goalies with more than 100 games played for the Senators and now that Anderson has the most wins and a better sv.%, I guess we’re done here. Craig Anderson is the best goalie in Senators history and he did it by never being bad or young enough to be traded.

This line of analysis, while snappy and factual in a way that Vox could only dream of, does Craig Anderson’s excellence (that’s right, I said excellence) a serious disservice. To understand how excellent Craig Anderson has been, you have to go deeper than his HockeyDB page.

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Look at those numbers season by season and here is the conclusion you draw: Craig Anderson can be excellent when he doesn’t play very much, but he can’t keep a high level over the course of a full season. He hasn’t even touched the Senators gold standard for goaltending consistency: Dominik Hasek posting a .925 sv% in 43 games in 2005-06. Here’s the thing: if you look at his play on a game to game basis, Craig Anderson has actually out-performed Dominik Hasek several times.

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Check out those HockeyDB numbers again. Even though Craig Anderson has been on some garbage Senators teams, he’s never failed to put up a points percentage greater than 50% over the course of a season. No matter how bad the Sens have been, Craig Anderson always gets them more points than they give away. Also, Craig Anderson has a .933 sv% in the playoffs. He’s been at his best when the pressure is highest. ALSO also, Anderson putting up a .941 sv% in 24 games in 2012-13 means he was performing like The Hamburglar before Andrew Hammond even conceived of purloining his first ham. Even the cloud of Anderson’s injury history has its own, largely ignored silver lining which is that he always seems to come back from long layoffs so sharp that it’s as if he never left. After Hamburglar Fever died down in 2015, Anderson entered as the starting goaltender down 0-2 in the series and promptly posted a .977 sv% for the next 4 games. Is there any doubt Ottawa would have beaten the Habs in the playoffs for a second time if Anderson had been starting since Game 1?

But wait, I’M NOT DONE YET! Not only are Craig Anderson’s streaks of peak performance more impressive than any other Sens goalie you could care to name, his play at 5-on-5 puts him among the best goalies of the past 5 years1.

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Goalies with >4000 minutes played since the start of the 2012 season ranked by save percentage .

Take a hard look at that table. Look at the names on it. The last five Vezina winners are on that list, and since 2012, Craig Anderson has been better than three of them at even strength. For this, he has finished fourth in Vezina voting one time in 2013.

Anderson is so much more than the best Sens goalie; he’s one of the best goalies of his era and no one cares.

Perhaps this is a function of Craig Anderson’s unconventional journey to the top. Anderson was drafted twice, and was bounced between the AHL and backup duties for eight years before he even got a shot at a starter’s job. Then after flaming out in Colorado during his second year as a starter (a year following one which saw him play in 71 regular season games), he saw himself get a shot with his fifth career NHL team at the age of 29. By the time he arrived in Ottawa, all I knew about Craig Anderson was that time he put up a 51 save shutout in that one playoff game where San Jose scored on themselves in overtime, and I also knew that he wasn’t Brian Elliot and was therefore an extremely welcome sight. Things I would find out later is that Anderson is occasionally injury prone, and that he likes Corvettes and The Punisher. This is not the narrative with which the sport of hockey anoints its great ones.

Screw that. I’m anointing him now. He’s one of the great goalies of his day who has made his bones getting a bunch of teams farther than they had any right to get, and he did it by putting in work at the NHL and AHL levels for more than a decade. Anderson’s story is one of persistence, one Ottawa has not adequately appreciated to this point.

If the Sens keep playing hockey deep into this spring, everyone will notice that Craig Anderson is a major reason why. It would behoove us all to not act at all surprised when it happens.

1. Ok, so I’m sample hacking a little bit here by only using 5-on-5 save percentage, but this is what we know to be true: 5-on-4 save percentage is much less repeatable than 5-on-5 save percentage. Therefore, 5-on-5 save percentage is considered a much better indicator of goalie talent than all situations save percentage. A goalie has much more influence over their own save percentage at even strength vs. on the powerplay. My point still stands. There are great goaltenders on that list and Craig Anderson is better than almost all of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bryanpoints

*takes stage at karaoke night*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jail Phone: Win Now Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karlsson – Shattenkirk
Ceci – Methot
Wideman – Phaneuf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4 Pithy Observations of Questionable Importance from the Season Opener

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

On Auston Matthews:

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

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

THE TWO MINUTES HATE

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

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

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

Good.

On the crowd at Canadian Tire Centre:

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

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

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

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

On the Sens being bad:

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

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

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

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

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

On the Sens being good:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jail Phone: Training Camp Battles

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“How you never gonna be slow? Never be late?” – Avon Barksdale worries about the Bobby Ryan contract

Once a month, James and Luke sit down separated only by a piece of plexiglas and talk shit for a few hours. The Jail Phone is a recurring segment containing the transcripts of those conversations. Today’s discussions are about theft…theft of roster spots.

Mike Costco vs. Mark Borowiecki vs. Thomas Chabot vs. Freddie Claesson vs. Patrick Sielof vs. Infinity

James: Ahh, nothing like starting off with the high stakes drama that is The Battle of the Bottom Pairing.

Playing 63 games with the big club in 2015-16 (SPLITTING TIME BETWEEN DEFENSE AND FORWARD BECAUSE NEVER FORGET) one would think that Mark Borowiecki was a lock for the bottom pairing job to start this season. A few things have changed over the past few months however. As we all know, Mark has a reputation as the Senators’ Extremely Local Boy and that he gets the more ice time than he deserves because of his local work ethic more than his local abilities. Fair. This year could be a bit different. First of all, along with a new General Manager under a lot of pressure in his first season on the job, there’s also an entirely new coaching staff with a ton to prove. This staff features a head coach who is billed as an offensive/power play mastermind who has embraced analytics as a tool for decision making. Offense and advanced stats; that cannot bode well for Borowiecki can it? The other thing no one seems to be talking about is that Boro missed the last stretch of the season with a knee injury. Do you think Boro could see a lot of scratches this year and be used sparingly for regional face punching in games against Boston or teams of that nature? As much as it’s pumped up that he can do no wrong with the organization I think it could get quiet for Borocop and that this door is wide open. For a broke team, they sure didn’t seem to have a problem burying former Golden Child Colin Greening in Binghamton at nearly two and a half times the price. He’s got the heart and all but can Boucher and co. afford to roll with the least talent player on the team game in and game out? If not, who do you see making that electric slide into his spot?

Luke: I think Mark Borowiecki is my 6th or 7th favourite defenseman on the Ottawa Senators, but I can’t honestly say that I dislike him with the Nerudian passion of others. I’m never going to sit at a bar and tell you about all the ways Boro is good, but I also find the ways in which he is bad pretty inoffensive. He couldn’t move the puck if you rented him a U-Haul and offered free pizza, but he’s generally in the right spot on the ice and he doesn’t shy away from the physical aspects of the game. As a honest, hard-working man, I can appreciate some meat and potatoes in my blue-collar lunchpail as much as the next unionized steelworker.

THAT SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAID…Mark Borowiecki was feeling good about himself to a degree that was, frankly, inappropriate last year. Here’s what he had to say about Erik Karlsson, his captain and the greatest defenseman of his generation:

“Karl, offensively, skill-wise, he’s a generational talent,” Borowiecki says. “You’ve got to let him do his thing. But it definitely is the coach’s job to kind of keep him reined in a little bit.”

Counterpoint: Your single goal last season was scored into an empty net so maybe you want to shut the fuck up until you start producing some offense that needs reining in, my G?

No doubt Boro is gonna go out there and give it 100% in camp, but for me the best case scenario is that his good example leads to Thomas Chabot also giving it 100% in camp and subsequently winning a permanent spot on the 3rd pairing, because I honestly don’t think Kostko or Claesson are any stronger in the areas where Boro is weak.

STAT TO WATCH: Can Patrick Sielof keep his goal-per-game pace at the NHL level?

CONCLUSION: Even if Chabot doesn’t win a full-time spot on the team, Boro should be the same as he always is. Expect Chabot to get his full 9 game tryout at the NHL level regardless.

James: So what you’re saying is Thomas Chabot AND Mark Borowiecki could both be working out their lacking defensive games at the NHL level. Moving on…

Francis Perron vs. Nick Paul vs. Ryan Dzingel vs. Matt Puempel

James: With Zibanejad, Prince, Noesen and 2014 first round pick all playing elsewhere now can we agree that Matt Puempel is pretty much playing for his NHL career with the team that drafted him…5 years ago. For a first round pick, this egg is going to have to step up to if not Faberge status at least omelette usefulness levels(???) if they are going to keep him around (or make him captain of the Binghamton Sens). There are many different paths to the big leagues, ask Mike Hoffman or Andrew Hammond but some stats are creeping up on Puempel. I wont take the low hanging fruit of how stridently he’s been surpassed by fellow 2011 draftee and National Treasure JG Pageau. But how about this? 2011 seventh round pick Ryan Dzingel now has more points at the NHL level than Puempel and in 9 fewer games. No question that Matt’s ceiling is higher but when you consider that the Dorion likely identifies Dzingel as “Erik Condra who can put the puck in the net occasionally” the chances of him finding a spot on the roster are likely better than Puempel’s of “Probably a good goal scorer who was outscored by several of his less skilled contemporaries who’d played fewer games” A lot is made of player usage and again, that’s fair but you gotta outshine future 4th line meat bag Max MacCormick. Not like he’s spent any time on a line with Bobby Ryan like Puempel has. Most damning is that Buddy Robinson got within one point of him in THREE games. I acknowledge that these numbers are all very close and of small sample sizes but you’d think Puempel should be pulling away from the pack at some point soon.

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I know I’m coming off like a Negative Nedra (?) but there’s more to this than simply giving it to you straight like a pear cider made of 100% pears. I think because all of the questions and concerns I’ve outlined, barring a very unlikely poor showing at camp, Puempel gets a full time slot on the team. They know what they have in Dzingel and he’s a great injury call up. Paul is only 21 and could still stand some AHL time, Perron looks fantastic but weighs 160 pounds despite being 6 feet tall and needs to spend time riding the bus hitting all the Broome County Denny’s locations to bulk up. I see Puempel getting a last chance to show his worth.

Luke: Ah yes, The Battle of the Left Wing Prospects of Dubious Ceiling.

My infatuation with “Pope” Francis Perron has not been a secret. The Sens took a flyer on him in the 7th round in 2014, let him develop in the Q for two more years and he responded by putting up 141 points in 80 total games last year. Yes, I understand that he was an over-age player in the Q, but wouldn’t you rather have a guy like that totally dunking on fools instead of being *ok* in their Draft+2 Year? Pope Francis was dunking last year. He’s barely signed his first pro contract and he’s already drawing comparisons to Mike Hoffman. Mike Hoffman is…*googles “is mike hoffman good?”*…quite good, so that’s an encouraging sign. So yeah, he’s young, he hasn’t done anything in a pro league yet, he’s probably too small to make the NHL out of camp, but he’s got a shot like a sci-fi weapon and he’s full of hope and promise, and I refuse to be anything but a shameless homer about his chances to develop into a great NHL-er. When was the last time the Senators had a prospect who just dominated a junior league? This guy is our Mitch Marner and I’m going to act like it, dammit.

Where there is optimistic Yin, there must also be cynical Yang, and it is at this point that I must ask Matt Puempel to step forward. Matty P had 30 goals a few seasons ago in Binghamton, a fact about which we were all very excited. He’s followed up on this by scoring an underwhelming 6 points in 39 NHL games, and things have not been amazing in Binghamton either. Since that 2013-14 30 goal season, Matt Puempel hasn’t scored 30 AHL goals total, soooooooooo………I think that’s a wrap. It happens. Sometimes your late 1st rounders aren’t as good as you’d like. Maybe Puempel comes out and has a great camp and pre-season and eventually finds a home on the 3rd line, but at 23 years old, I’d say this is definitely his last chance to make that happen and I wouldn’t bet on it.

Nick Paul and Ryan Dzingel are similar players in that they both looked decent in their limited NHL time last season despite their crippling handicap of playing on the same line as Chris Neil and Scott Gomez respectively. Based purely on some arbitrary eye test shit, I’d say I like Dzingel’s game more than Paul’s, although Paul is three years younger and probably has the higher ceiling. Basically I expect Paul and Dzingel to be the main combatants for the bottom 6 left wing spots and I don’t have a problem with either or both of them earning it.

James: I wouldn’t say it’s cynical to doubt that a first round pick will become something. In that post you linked to that a guy who’s extremely not a virgin wrote, you’ll note that two previous Bingo 30 goal scorers included Mike Hoffman (definitely an NHL player) and Ryan Keller (help Wiccanpedia by expanding this stub). Just because Puempel is a first round pick don’t mean homeboy has a leg up on his competition. He might just get a little more of a look as clubs hate to flop on first rounders. I’ve done a couple posts over the years examining the pedigree of various Sens lineups and my findings are that full time players tend to be from both poles of the draft. Take last year’s top six:

MacArthur (3rd rounder) – Turris (3rd overall) – Ryan (2nd overall)
Hoffman (5th rounder) – Zibanejad (6th overall) – Stone (6th rounder)

That’s the most fun thing about the draft and watching prospects develop. The high end guys obviously get every chance to make it but no one can predict that a sixth rounder will rocket up the depth chart and put up a Calder worthy rookie season. The first round is weird. You can be just on the cusp of the 2nd rounder but still have those first rounder expectations. “I’m not playin wit u” – Jim O’Brien, person. Zibanejad developed much better than Puempel has…which is likely part of why he was selected 18 spots ahead of him. Anyway, when you have a season like Francis Perron just did your lack of pedigree no longer matters. He’s made himself one of the team’s top prospects like how Stone did a few years ago. Speaking of NHL players lacking pedigree…

Max McCormick vs. Chris Neil

James: I will say, Max McCormick is not the type of player who will ever set the advanced stats crowd aflame. We’re not even allowed to get excited about Zack Smith scoring 25 goals. Not even for a minute. His goals are bad. Whatever don’t @ me, I digress. Max is the type of player who has that “Hardest Worker at Rookie Camp” stank on him that will never wash off with some fans and yet makes him a legit award winner to others and I say all that to say this: Regardless of how you feel about him, you have to admit McCormick did not really look out of place at the NHL level. He knows what his assignment is and looked pretty capable of it. He is the heir apparent to Chris Neil’s…uh…throne? Chair? Chair as a GOOD BEAUTIFUL RURAL WISCONSIN BOY KEEPIN EM HONEST OUT THERE AND EVERYTHINK LIKE THAT. That said, there are a couple of factors that I think will have Max Keeping (‘Em Honest) in the Southern Tier region of New York State another year. The first is, despite getting up there in years, Neil upped his game from “Bullshit” to “Deec” last season. He did nothing to make me think that will be healthy scratched going forward. Especially given the organization’s emphasis on the need for veteran leadership. Second, he’s 24 games from hitting 1000 as a Senator. Regardless of your feels toward the B U S I N E S S of sport (aka why we all got into this stuff as kids) I think Neil hitting 1000 games is important to both him and the organization. I believe that this will likely be Neil’s final year with the team and possibly in the NHL. They’re going to play him a lot. Hopefully he can cut down on his 165 penalty minutes (down 46 minutes or a full episode of the hit TV melodrama Nashville from his last full season). I have no reason to think Neiler won’t show up to camp slim with the tilted brim as he impressively did last year. The only thing keeping him out of the starting line up is injury.

Luke: I hope Max McCormick turns into Chris Neil 2.0 i.e. a pesky spark plug who’ll chip in 20 points, won’t be a defensive liability, and will occasionally punch someone in the face if his coach thinks that’s important. (Ed. Note: I don’t think punching people in the face is important, and I hope that one day no hockey player will have to punch another hockey player in the face, but changing the hockey culture that is responsible for facepunching is beyond the scope of this Jail Phone.) Until that time, as you say, I guess we will deal with Chris Neil Classic.

I have no idea how to feel about Chris Neil. You’ve got to respect the hustle of a 6th round pick (who once had 354 PIMs in a single IHL season) who manages to have what will likely be a 1000+ game NHL career. I’ve been to many an Ottawa game where Neiler would wake up an otherwise sedentary winter weeknight crowd with a big hit or a fight. (Remember that time Neil nailed Dany Heatley? Who didn’t love that?) Also, as physical as the guy plays, I don’t think I’d characterize him as a dirty player. Like Chris Phillips, he’s been a fixture at various Ottawa area charity events for years. He had a big playoff goal. He’s been in commercials that aired only on Ottawa Public Access Television. He’s been on Ottawa teams that won a bunch. He’s been on Ottawa teams that were terrible. I guess the takeaway is that as good as Chris Neil was at his role, it wasn’t a role that had much effect on the fortunes of the Ottawa Senators. Like your family’s ancient cat, Chris Neil’s been around forever, but it’s not difficult to imagine a past without them as your life would be largely unchanged, except you’d have cleaned puke off the carpet much less. (P.S. RIP My Family’s Ancient Cat. 1998-2016)

How best to commemorate an such a veteran in what is likely to be their last season? Probably with a hashtag. I would like to submit #RE25ECT for consideration.

James: Sorry 2 hear about your Ancient Cat’s Passing. Speaking of an Ancient Cat and little pukes…

Curtis Lazar vs. Logan Brown vs. Chris Kelly

James: *Thinking emoji* This is weird. I didn’t even consider something like this. You’d think Kelly is a lock but I’m not about to talk smack about Borowiecki coming off a rough injury without acknowledging Kells coming off a far worse one at almost 10 years his senior Luke, can you tell us how we feel about this?

Do you really think Brown has a shot?

Luke: Chris Kelly was brought in to provide some more options on the 4th line, but I think it would be foolish to write him into the lineup using permanent marker when Curtis Lazar’s been working on his shot all summer. Just as a little X-factor, we’ve got The New Hotness Logan Brown coming in with his first ever pro contract looking to turn some heads. No doubt Curtis Lazar and Chris Kelly have more NHL experience than Logan Brown, but Brown does have the advantage in one critical area: being 6’6″.

Also, I’ve been watching Logan Brown on tape, and that dude dishes the puck so well, he could make passing a kidney stone look easy. I think there’s a non-zero chance Brown shows enough in camp that Boucher pretty much has to keep the kid around. You wouldn’t normally expect your 18 year old 1st round pick to make an NHL team unless they were Connor McEichel or Sidney Hall, but again: Six Feet Six Inches Tall.

This spot is Kelly’s to lose, but Lazar and Brown will push him.

Craig Anderson vs. The Passage of Time

James: Thing I’ve been avoiding thinking about: Craig Anderson is getting up there in years. At a freshly turned 35, he’s in the top 5 of the Golden Goalie Oldies but I suppose it is comforting that there are other capable starters close to him in age. Luberto Rolongo and Ryan FUHHCKIIIN MILLAH are both older than him. Hunk Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne and Mike Smith are just a year younger. Some of those guys might be considered a little past their prime years but I think you could easily see another good year out of any of those dudes. Ah, on the topic of another good year, I think we probably have another good year max left out of Andy. This is curious as he has two years left on his deal but I suppose that’s another post about the Las Vegas Harlem Knights altogether. Anyway, if the legends are true that Boucher can improve defensive zone structure and that Dion Phaneuf is better than Wiercioch and Cowen than I think Anderson can get away with being solid instead of the usual outstanding that he has to be to keep games from being 8-2 by the second intermission. I guess you can say I think the bigger factor than Andy’s age is the team’s defensive play.

Luke: Craig Anderson is second all time in games played and wins by a Senators goalie, and there’s a pretty decent chance he passes Patrick Lalime in both categories this season. Should that happen, I think anyone would have to say Craig Anderson’s the best Senators goalie ever.

To your point about old goalies, I see what you are saying. Sure he’s 35, but he’s got as many minutes played as Carey Price and Pekka Rinne. Roberto Luongo is 37, and he’s still stoning youngsters like he’s Willie Nelson hotboxing his tour bus.

However, Price, Rinne, and Luongo have all dealt with extremely serious lower body injuries in the last two years. Rinne hasn’t been the same since, and while we’re going to have to see about Price and Luongo, it’s possible they won’t be the same either. (Interesting to note: Luongo’s team went and picked up a VERY competent backup this off-season, whereas Price’s team traded their best defenseman. Which one of these teams is more likely to be run by Smart People? HMMMMMM…mmmm…) Hey, does Craig Anderson have a history of injuries? Can anyone remind me?

I’m not yet entirely filled with predictions of Doom about Anderson’s level of performance, but he is getting into his “This guy could drop off a cliff for any number of reasons” years. Three years ago if Anderson had a bad season, it was because he was a goalie and these things happen. If Anderson has a bad season this year, it’s going to be because he’s old.

James: So what you’re saying is, be safe tho?

Zack Smith vs. Shooting Percentage Regression

James: Look, my Ayatollah Bromeini, I’m not out here saying Zachariah Smith is the new Mike Hoffman or some shit but it’s not like he was tapping in pretty Spezza dishes like Greening did when he put up 17. Smith had a really good season and I am really happy he’s coming in to camp thinking “I can score 25 goals.” Many refuse to admit it but Zack Smith is a very useful mid-6 player. As such, it’s not his job to score 25 goals again so I’m not expecting it. One thing I have said time and again over the years is Smith seems to either score 14 goals or 4. I am hoping he breaks his one again off again pattern and has one of those 14 years.

zmith

Luke: Not sure if you heard about this, but P.R. Hussein Dorion said on the radio that he thinks he has nine (9) twenty goal scorers on the team this year. I would guess he means Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan, Derick (sic) Brassard, Mike Hoffman, Erik Karlsson, Zack Smith, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Here’s the thing about that: with the exception of Pageau (who had 19 goals last year) all those players are only 20 goal scorers in the sense that they have literally scored 20 goals in past seasons. Why is Dorion out here defining his players based on what they’ve achieved in the past? This dude lives in a fantasy world.

Anyway, Zack Smith isn’t going to score 25 goals again this year unless he takes a lot more shots, and that’s FINE. He’s not supposed to be the 25 goal scoring dude, but he stepped into a 25 goal scoring dude’s role and filled it anyway because he’s a goddamn professional. Having a bottom 6 guy who can also produce in the top 6 if he has to is aka “The Dream” by the way. Given that The Smit_Treat (???) nearly didn’t have a spot on the team following a fairly horrific wrist injury two seasons ago, I think it’s great that he had himself a career year if only to prove to himself and others that the game hasn’t passed him by.

Hell, maybe Zack Smith is the hockey version of Rookie of the Year and his injury was directly responsible for his improved scoring prowess. Keep your eye on that storyline.

Bobby Ryan vs. Expectations

James: We’re sorry, Bobby Ryan cannot meet expectations in this area code at this or any time. Please hang up and try your call to the Gabriel Pizza Hotline again. Seriously. As if the price of that trade wasn’t enough hanging over his head, that contract of his really sealed the deal. He will never be able to meet the expectations of many fans. Case in point, he’s increased his point total every year since coming here, including his best in 5 years last season. Yet he is seen as a massive disappointment. Getting paid more than Erik Karlsson will do that. I know, of course, it’s mainly because of his failure to meet the expectation of hitting 30 goals. At this point though, I believe the guy could put up 35 and be met with “Took you long enough” or “It’s not real unless you do it again.” With the addition of the play making Brassard I think he will be able to focus on his role as a goal scorer again. That’s something he’s barely been able to do since coming here from Anaheim. A lot is riding on he and Brass having good chemistry for sure. I hope at the very least it can allow Ryan to be a bit more consistent in his production throughout the season. I find his cold streaks as frustrating as the next fan I just wish he’d get some credit for the times he’s absolutely carried the team’s offense. Regardless, I think the minds of many are made up on the guy. It’s kind of a bummer that our fan base seems to have a tough time embracing such a likable player. I do understand it to a degree. How’s by you, @Perist_Treat?

Luke: From the fanbase that brought you “Jason Spezza turns the puck over too much” comes “Bobby Ryan gets paid too much”. You don’t go top 60 in NHL scoring without making a few enemies I guess. Here are some players Bobby Ryan outscored last year: Tomas Plekanec, Ryan Kesler, Gabriel Landeskog, Patrick Hornqvist, Nathan MacKinnon, T.J. Oshie, Henrik Zetterberg, Scott Hartnell, Patrick Marleau, Jarome Iginla, Dylan Larkin, Tomas Hertl, and Nazem Kadri. Hell, he was only two points back of Jonathan Toews. Maybe it’s time to *adjust* the expectations of what constitutes a good season. Top 60 scoring used to be 64 points in 2007 and now it’s 56 points. Put another way, what was Top 100 scoring in 2007 is now Top 60 scoring. It happens.

CONCLUSION: Bobby Ryan’s got a kid now, which means he’s gonna have Dad Strength, which means he’s gonna have a great year. Also Super-Genius Guy Boucher is gonna work magic with Ryan and Brassard on the powerplay. The Haters may now advance upon my position.

Derick Brassard vs. Kyle Turris

James: This battle is the one that I find the most interesting but no one is talking about it…UNTIL NOW! *Awkward pause*

Turris and Brassard will be a solid 1A and 1B combo. Well I think that just about wraps it u—. I don’t dispute the 1A/1B thing but there is still the matter of who(m) is the 1A and who(mb) is the 1B. When it was Zibanejad here, Turris was clearly the better of the two and as such was the top line guy. The much more comparable Brassard spices things up. I’ve heard Brassard referred to as the Sens new number 1 centre in a couple of articles. You can definitely argue that but these are competitive beings and the worrrrld is a competitive fuhhckin place. Kyle Turris will be entering his sixth season(!) here in the capital. Coming off an injury plagued year he started off hot but never got a real chance to follow up on his 64 point career season of 2014-15 . If he’s fully healthy, I’d imagine he’s coming into camp at least slightly picanté and isn’t about to give up the job he’s earned over the years. A lot is made of the left handed Brassard being a boost for Bobby Ryan but one wonders if a sub-competition emerges twixt Turris and Brassard of who gets to play with the more productive Mark Stone who seems to give zero fucks about the handedness of his centre nor if the other team has the puck for that matter. I really like the idea of these pretty similar players competing for top line duty. We all win if Brassard blows Turris out of the water as no.7 would make a pretty dynamite 2nd line pivot. Well, in a more accurate way, everyone but Turris wins there. Ultimately it’s up to Guy Boucher but I can’t imagine Turris won’t be trying to outshine Brassard and hang on to the 1A job.

Luke: If I were going to describe Kyle Turris as a hockey player, I’d use the phrase “relentlessly competent”. What can’t that guy do at an extremely high level? I hope we get a whole year of Pre-Injury 2015 Kyle Turris this season because he was on pace for 70 points before his leg was bent in a way not in accordance with God’s plan. Even if we don’t get Next Level Fuego Turris, I’m not worried about Kyle Turris Classic: The Relentlessly Competent Centre.

Before I continue, I must make the confession that I don’t know a goddamn thing about Derick Brassard. (Thx 4 reading? Thx 4 reading.) However, I did pop over to (Friend of the Blog) Micah Blake McCurdy’s website to check out how Brassard was being used in New York and the answer is…like a number one centre, so yeah, this is a legitimate battle. In terms of stats and usage, there’s very little to choose between Turris and Brassard, which is I’m perfectly ok with because if you’ve got a good player, why not have two? Brassard didn’t get as defensively important assignments as Derek Stepan in New York, but is that because Stepan is the better defensive centre or because Alain Vigneault is weird? It’s hard to say.

Ultimately, as you point out, the question of “Who is the number one centre?” might not be answered by ice time but by who is playing with Mark Stone, and there I’d have to say Kyle Turris has the inside track.

Instant Analysis: Mike Hoffman’s Extension

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

Here is my analysis of this deal.

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

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

Grade: 6/10

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