Bobby Ryan, Coded Language, and Prejudice

(CW: prejudice and racism)

On the surface of things, Bobby Ryan’s answer to who he’s cheering for in Super Bowl 50 tomorrow might have seemed innocuous. He was just expressing a preference for one team, one set of players over another. He’s an NHLer with an understanding of what makes for a great professional. He just doesn’t like dabbing. It would be easy to read it this way.

Ryan’s been welcomed into the Ottawa community with open arms. In his three seasons with the team, he’s ingratiated himself to fans and the media alike, with his low key personality, honesty in interviews, and willingness to take responsibility for his and the team’s failings. He plays through injuries. He interacts with fans on social media and is willing to pose for pictures. He does a lot of things you want a player to do.

But he also has a pattern of racial prejudice expressed online and in the media that reflects the racist framework of North American pro sports like hockey. In today’s Ottawa Sun, a piece ran in which an informal poll of the dressing room asked which team the Sens players wanted to win tomorrow’s Super Bowl. Some expressed a desire for a Broncos win to see veteran Peyton Manning go out of top. However, a few players admitted to actively rooting against the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers. Clarke MacArthur commented that Carolina has “Just too much show after every play,” and Bobby Ryan echoed his teammate’s frustration. I don’t know if MacArthur’s comments are indicative of a professional conservatism often found in Canadian hockey players. They might be, as it’s certainly possible to dislike the Panthers and Newton for reasons other than race. But Ryan’s comments stand out because of how he pushed the issue and his personal history when it comes to topics of race. Here’s the relevant section from the Sun:

“I’m not a big Cam Newton fan,” Bobby Ryan said of the Carolina Panthers quarterback. “As a player, yes, I think he’s unbelievable. But I can’t stand the stuff he does.”

Over-the-top celebrating?

“Yeah, it’s idiotic,” said Ryan. “You’re up by 30 last week and you’re still doing it all over the field.”

Particularly annoying to Ryan (although apparently not to Mark Stone) is the dab, a dance move Newton has made even more popular that sees him stick both arms out to one side and bury his nose in the bent elbow.

“Guys do it around here now, which is really disappointing,” said Ryan. “It’s seeped its way into the NHL and I’m not a big fan.

“I don’t know the origin. I feel like it’s a song that’s been played, but you have to ask Stoner because he loves it.”

Prejudice and racism are easier to spot when people hurl slurs and are explicit in their language. It’s why it’s easier to denounce Donald Trump as racist but why we struggle to see why leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement take issue with many of Bernie Sanders policies.

Ryan doesn’t use slurs so many will just see these comments as a preference for the celebration style of Manning instead of Newton. Except it’s not. This is coded language, designed to obscure that race is the objection here. During the media frenzy that is the build up to the Super Bowl, Newton’s celebrations, pants, sandals, and general fashion sense has been interrogated in ways they never are for white athletes. Newton is just the latest in a long line of black quarterbacks who have been subjected to harsh criticisms their white counterparts never received. Interrogating personal choices such as fashion or on-field celebrations of black athletes is an attempt by mainstream media, professional leagues, and fans to control expressions of black masculinity, often perceived to be threatening. When white athletes, coaches, league officials, and media members talk about how to “act like a pro,” it is most often an attempt to discourage expressions of difference, whether it be sexuality, gender identity, religion, or in this case, race. “Act like a pro” more often means, “act like us” – white, cis, straight, and male.

It’s funny that in his concern for professional conduct, Ryan did not mention Manning’s longstanding misogyny, his documented sexual harassment, and his continued refusal to leave his victim alone. Peyton is viewed as professional; his substantial promotional work for pizza and insurance helps cement that image despite what we know about him. Another former NFL MVP, Aaron Rodgers, celebrates touchdowns with a wrestling title-belt gesture to cheers. Cam Newton is not granted similar leeway. Instead, Ryan attacked Newton’s ebullience after scoring plays, which as someone who has watched Bobby’s euphoric celebrations after each of his Ottawa goals, seems hypocritical. Bobby can fist pump, jump into the glass, shout, and hug teammates because his intensity is never viewed as threatening. He’s white. This also provides Ryan the protection to criticize a black athlete for a practice he himself engages in.

Ryan’s dismissal of dabbing is similarly coded and not a principled stance against appropriating black culture. Rather, his ignorance of dabbing’s roots in the hip-hop community and his refusal to acknowledge its current popularity are in some ways a rejection of black expression as valid, as culturally relevant. It’s a rejection of black culture’s influence on the professional sports landscape.

This isn’t a simple difference of opinion rooted in the respective distinctiveness of football as compared to hockey. Players of colour have been subjected to similar critiques in the NHL as well. P. K. Subban’s enthusiastic goal celebrations have been denounced by some Senators in the past and frequently by mainstream hockey media. When Ryan took ownership for his late slump last season by stating “I just suck right now,” it was seen as leadership. When Subban explicitly expressed his frustration at Montreal’s lengthy ongoing slump last month, it was a “profanity-laden tirade” and comments from his parents were sought. But when Erik Karlsson swears, the media doesn’t turn it’s focus to Sweden to consult his mom and dad. In both Subban’s and Newton’s cases what fellow players and media hope to contain is their expressions of individuality, what they hope to maintain is white privilege.

If you’re concerned that this examination of Ryan’s comments is a stretch or an overreaction, please note it fits a pattern of behaviour with the Sens winger. Last year when the Sens were visiting St. Louis, Black Lives Matter protests were in full swing. These activists and community members were protesting the murder of black teen Mike Brown by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. Ryan callously tweeted that the protests were interrupting his pregame nap. It showed disdain for both the protesters and their cause. It would have been a perfect metaphor for white privilege except it wasn’t a metaphor, it was real life.

Ryan’s prejudiced behaviour on twitter goes beyond his tweets. His “likes” are a dumpster fire of racism. They reveal a penchant for agreeing with the worst racists active in American politics right now. He’s liked tweets about Donald Trump preventing Muslims from entering the United States and racists tweets about Barack Obama. There are more examples. This is a pattern, this is prejudice. Like everyone, he’s entitled to his opinions. Like everyone, he’s not above criticism.

Bobby Ryan is polite. Bobby Ryan scored a goal and got a kid a puppy. Bobby Ryan was kind to you when he posed for a photo at the grocery store. Bobby Ryan has done all of those things.

But Bobby Ryan is prejudiced and he’s made that pretty clear too.

Nothing is served by ignoring this pattern in Ryan’s behaviour. Equally, nothing is gained from refusing to interrogate how Ryan’s actions fit within the larger racist framework of professional sports in Canada and the United States. When playing the game the right way is so often code for playing the game within acceptable white standards of behaviour, we will continue to have players like Ryan maintain those standards, and continue to attack players like Newton and Subban who challenge such arbitrary norms.

 

 

All the Offseason Signing Questions You Have, Answered*

*Except the one you constantly ask.

Look, the future of Mike Hoffman is probably the most important question Bryan Murray has to answer in 2016. If they can lock him up long term, you do it. But if they can’t, or at least strongly suspect they can’t, Mike Hoffman might feature pretty prominently in a trade for Jonathan Drouin Kevin Shattenkirk or some such useful piece to improve the top-6 blueline. And while it’s the question most Sens fans want answered, I honestly don’t know how it’s going to go down.

So this post isn’t about Mike Hoffman, instead it’s about all the other burning offseason questions about which RFAs/UFAs the Sens should bring back.

But first, quick shout out to Bryan Murray. Whatever you might think of Bryan, he’d never royally screw over one of his players the way Arizona GM Don Maloney did yesterday. He’d never do the league’s dirty work the way Maloney, Nashville GM David Poile and Montreal GM Marc Bergevin did either. He hasn’t been perfect, but even in his most prominent disagreements with players, he’s never traded someone 4,000 miles away from where they want to be out of spite while calling it a hockey move.

All salary info from General Fanager

The burning questions

Chris Neil, Shane Prince, and Patrick Wiercioch

This is an odd sort of grouping of players, but I think for various reasons these three will cause the most stress on management and fans to work out (after Hoffman). A year ago, it seemed like the Sens would be moving on from Chris Neil, if not at the trade deadline when he suffered injury, then at the conclusion of his current deal. In all honestly, I started hearing Barbara Streisand’s voice sing “Mem’ries, light the corners of my mind, misty water-colored memories, of the way we were” when Neil was on the ice (the question remains, who was our Robert Redford!?) But then a funny thing happened. Neil opened the 2015-16 season strong and here we are, more than three months later, and he’s still going strong. Yes, much of the value the fourth line brings can be attributed to his linemates, but Neil has looked quicker, better, and more productive than in recent seasons. Sure he still leads the team in minor penalties, but he’s settled down since a not overly disciplined October. Does it make sense to lock up a fourth line player who will be 37 in the summer? No, but offering Neil another two-year deal was always more about his longevity with the team and what he’s meant to the community. If he can repeat his play from this season (a tall ask) it’ll be ok and any new deal will likely look a lot like his current deal.

Shane Prince is easy in some senses because he’s a young player who’s still an RFA. He’s part of why the fourth line has spent a lot of time in the opposition end and he produces points at one of the best rates on the team. No brainer. It’s going to have to be a one way deal and he’s going to get a bump in dollars. I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets a one year “prove it” deal and Prince strikes me as the type of player to bet on himself.

Patrick Wiercioch might be the most interesting Sens player to watch. He’s played better of late, but has had a disappointing season to date. Any perceived value he built up with his strong finish to 2015/World Championship appearance has been squandered. Wouldn’t be shocked to see him shopped (and have no takers) at the deadline. Why give up an asset for a guy the Sens have repeatedly offered when you think he might be available for less in the summer? Of course, he won’t come free, he needs a new deal. He’s still an RFA, but he made $2M this season and established NHLers in their 20s pretty much never take pay cuts. PW on a three-year deal with a salary ranging from $2.5M-$3.5M (especially when you bring the advanced stats into the negotiations) doesn’t seem too farfetched but does seem like a deal that might make Murray and co. pause (aka the Jared Cowen EffectTM). I don’t know what the future holds for PW, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it takes place somewhere else.

The Automatics

Max McCormick, Cody Ceci, Fredrik Claesson, Chris Wideman, Matt Puempel

McCormick and Puempel have had decent looks at the NHL level this season (and last in Puempel’s case) and seem like decent enough bottom-six NHL players. McCormick is doing all the things on ice that the organization would expect from Neil’s heir apparent. Puempel also has the benefit of being a former first round pick. They’re controllable, won’t be making that much more, and are cheap, controllable replacements. I wouldn’t be shocked if one or both sign a contract that pressures the team to keep them at the NHL level in 2016-17.

Claesson is interesting in that he seemed completely overlooked by the organization until this past month and suddenly looks like he’s a natural and appreciated part of the blueline. Yes, he’s been sheltered with Karlsson, yes he’s made some bad giveaways, and yes he has the smallest of sample sizes in the NHL, but when it comes down to it, he won’t be commanding a huge raise. With the Senators hopefully moving on (dumping) Jared Cowen at the deadline (endless laughter) or in the offseason (likely our sad reality) and with Chris Phillips’ inevitable retirement, the blueline is less cluttered in 2016-17. Claesson easily fits a 5-7 spot on the depth chart but won’t be paid like a Cowen (more like a Boro).

Cody Ceci is where things get interesting. It’s clear the organization loves him and he’s a former first rounder and a local boy. Things are looking good for Ceci to get paid. And that’s fine, he deserves a raise on his ELC. He’ll probably have just over 200 NHL games when the season ends and is still only 22; these are things NHL GMs value. It’s not a question of if Ceci gets a raise, but rather how much and for how long. I think PW’s current deal (AAV $2M) is an acceptable range for Ceci (though I suspect 2 years instead of 3 more likely). The goal with Ceci’s new deal should be more like PW and less like Cowen.

Chris Wideman is going to get a raise and locked up for a couple seasons. He will be seen as a cheaper PW (in relation to the new deal PW is going to sign). I wouldn’t be shocked if Wideman replaces Wiercioch in the eyes of management.

The Alex Chiassons

I don’t really know what Murray is going to do here. I know a lot of Sens fans think he’s a lock to be re-signed because of his inclusion in the Spezza deal but I don’t know how much Murray cares about that. Chiasson isn’t dead weight or anything, doesn’t make a lot of money, and wouldn’t get too much of a raise. He’s a fine fourth line player, but they’re not really the type you should be going out of your way to sign. I think he’s been better this season, but his lack of goals and points in going to hurt him (like it hurts us). Would prefer a Bingo guy (Puempel or Schneider, who also needs to be re-signed) get his spot.

Bingo RFAs

I don’t follow Bingo closely and there are Bingo experts you should certainly be reading (Jeff Ulmer at Silver Seven for starters). All I can say is that if I was a betting person, Alex Guptill won’t be re-signed.

Why I loved the Daley x2 and Scuderi trades

The quick and snarky answer for why I loved the trades that sent Trevor Daley to Chicago and then to Pittsburgh for Rob Scuderi is that the Senators, in need of defensive help, avoided acquiring one or both of these bad options. That’s terrific from an Ottawa perspective.

The longer answer for why I loved these moves is because these trades illustrate how difficult it is to both improve your team and trade from a position of weakness in the NHL. For all the talk about how NHL front offices still have trouble accurately assessing a player’s worth outside of traditional stats like goal and point totals, GMs are fairly adept at recognizing when another GM is in a bind.

Chicago was predictably in cap hell this past off-season and would need to move a few notable pieces to be able to dress more than 14 skaters when the season started. Patrick Sharp, a four-time 30+ goal scorer, with multiple Cup wins, and an Olympic gold, things GMs generally salivate over, was made available. Chicago GM Stan Bowman, who’s generally regarded as smart and a cap maven, knew this and set the bar high for Sharp: a first round pick in the most anticipated draft in years, an A-level prospect, and a top-six forward still on his ELC. Now Sharp, on the wrong side of 30 and making nearly $6M, wasn’t going to command such a lucrative haul, but it was a big ask designed to pry a prospect and high pick or some variation out of another team. It’s pretty standard practice. The problem was no one bit. What the other GMs saw was the Cup champs were in a bind and why help them out unless you get a sweet deal. In reality, Bowman had to give up one of his own well-regarded prospect in Stephen Johns to send Sharp to Dallas for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt. A win for Dallas and not a good salary dump for Chicago.

So it was a bad deal. But it also seems just as obvious that Bowman didn’t want to give up Johns and would have made a better deal if he could, but was stuck and took the lesser of two evils.

There are reasons Daley didn’t work out in Chicago (he isn’t that good, they expected him to fill a role he wasn’t capable of filling, Joel Quenneville wasn’t a big fan etc.), but at least Bowman wisely tried to move on from a player who wasn’t working quickly. Again, the asking price was set fairly high for a player of Daley’s age, calibre, and cap hit: a second round pick and a prospect/young player (of the Shane Prince and Matt Puempel ilk in Ottawa’s case). After being part of the rumour mill for weeks, Daley was eventually traded to Pittsburgh for 37-year-old and frequent healthy scratch, Rob Scuderi. While Pittsburgh retained a third of Scuderi’s salary (saving Chicago $1M off the cap) for this season and next, Scuderi is simply one of the worst defenders in the league at this stage in his career and he’s under contract until 2017.

How could this happen to a smart, with it, analytics-accepting GM and architect of the first, cap era NHL dynasty? Because other GMs knew he was up against it and wouldn’t budge an inch.

All of this reminds me of the Jason Spezza trade. Yes, the rumoured deal to Nashville (including Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling, and the 11th overall pick, used by the Preds to select Kevin Fiala) would definitely have been better in the short term as Hornqvist is a legit top-six forward. It may still be better in the long term. But Spezza didn’t want to go there and he controlled the move. Unfortunately, Dallas was the only option.

Could Ottawa have made a better trade with Dallas? Sure. Could Bryan Murray have insistent on receiving a first round pick instead of a second? Sure, though I suspect Stars GM Jim Nill, generally regarded as a Very Smart Hockey DudeTM in his own right, knew Murray had no other option unless he wanted to risk losing Spezza for nothing, so Nill obviously refused. Should Bryan Murray have asked for pre-NHL breakout John Klingberg? Absolutely! It’s possible he did! It’s also exceedingly possible, Dallas had some understanding of the players in their development system and didn’t want to give up a potential star on defense, deciding instead to give up a player from a position of depth.

It wasn’t a good trade. Could they have waited it out and tried to trade Spezza at the deadline? Sure but the fear of a Spezza injury probably prevented that.

Wanting a better outcome is understandable. Wanting your team to make trades that improve your team makes sense. But expecting a GM to win when they’ve been dealt a losing hand isn’t realistic. GMs know the score and can tell when a team’s in a bind. Stan Bowman knows it, Bryan Murray knows it. Sometimes they lose.

Creativity, Dave Cameron, and the Everyday Nature of Ottawa’s Problems

Creativity is an interesting concept in sports. Ottawa’s lineup over the past week might be confused by many as a creative solution by Dave Cameron to his team routinely being outshot. But it’s not. It’s a reliance on grit, toughness, and some sort of nebulous understanding of defensive prowess (plays in the bottom six/lower pairings, therefore he’s defensively-minded) in hockey that lots of coaches fall prey to. To truly think creatively about hockey requires a different understanding of what it is defenders and forwards do during the course of a game and how skill impacts how both groups work together to create offense. So this isn’t creative on Dave Cameron’s part. Zack Smith is not a top six forward nor is he a line one winger. He is, at times, a useful fourth line player, but for that designation to stick he needs to keep penalties to a minimum and his astronomical shooting percentage needs to continue to orbit Saturn. As neither of those things are likely, the case for him being effective in the right role isn’t a solid one, let alone an argument to give him more minutes. The case for Mark Borowiecki at forward is much like the case for Mark Borowiecki on defense: it shouldn’t be made. At least on defense Ottawa’s lack of depth makes it somewhat understandable that Boro makes his way into the lineup, but he’s simply not a forward at this or other professional levels.

Those who like to point out Dave Cameron only made appealing lineup choices last season because players like Chris Phillips, Chris Neil, and Zack Smith were injured are being a bit disingenuous. Those injuries took the burden of certain decisions off the coach, but there were interventions from behind the bench that played into the team’s short term success under Cameron. A somewhat elevated role for Mike Hoffman, increased playing time for Mark Stone, and riding the Andrew Hammond wave are all things I don’t think Paul MacLean would have done. Some key healthy scratches here and there and you have a historic winning streak.

While there’s no excusing current lineup decisions, especially the roles for Smith and Borowiecki, if Cameron had his whole roster available, we’d most likely see a preferred lineup with Clarke MacArthur and Milan Michalek in place and Smith and Boro as far away from the top six forward group as possible. Neither injured player is going to return anytime soon so the question becomes one of doing the best with pieces available.

So what is Cameron doing with Prince? I don’t know. For the record, I think he should be in the lineup, and I think with current injuries, he’s your best bet to fit with Ottawa’s top six group. That said he’s a rookie known for his offense, not necessarily his defensive game, and Cameron’s established a pattern of rightly or wrongly (wrongly) holding offensive players to a higher standard in this regard. That’s not to say I don’t think it’s ok to expect more from players like Mike Hoffman, I do, I just think you give them a role that lets them rise to the opportunity. I’ve written about this before in relation to Prince and Cameron’s apparent preference for Matt Puempel, but I still think that’s part of what’s going on here.

I think it’s also possible Shane Prince isn’t Ottawa’s favourite prospect. His waiver eligibility may have forced the team’s hand in training camp and his rumoured trade request last season probably didn’t sit well with Ottawa’s brass. I don’t think this means Ottawa treats its prospects poorly. I think they’re more in line with league averages than we’d like to admit. I mean, I can think of organizations where it’s a lot harder to get a shot (Detroit) and the team costs its young players two or three years of NHL salary in the process by marinating and slow cooking them in the AHL smoker like they’re a prize-winning bbq recipe. I think this is an organization that actually ‘rewards’ prospects for doing things the ‘Senators way’ (I guess that’s a thing). See the David Dziurzynski call up or that Boro contract. Puempel got a long look.

No, the biggest knocks against Cameron are moving Hoffman up and down the lineup, the Chris Wideman stuff, and this past week’s lineup. If his minutes are still top six forward minutes, I don’t mind moving Hoff around so much. He’s been one of Ottawa’s best this year, he’s a spark plug, he creates, he scores a lot, and he helps balance scoring. For this team to be successful they need more than one line going and Hoffman’s demonstrated he doesn’t need an adjustment period to click with various linemates. The Wideman stuff, from fans at least, was a bit much at the start of the season. Sure I’d rather have him in the lineup than either Cowen, Boro (or this season Ceci and Wiercioch) but I think it’s ok that a coach took a few games to decide if an NHL rookie deserved a full-time spot in the lineup. We’re not talking weeks or months, but a few games. Not ideal in the short term, but also not an international crisis. As for this week, yep, Cameron’s made some bad decisions, though resorting to grit and toughness game plans centering on players like Boro and Smith is a pretty conservative coaching move in some respects. Playing a player out of position when you realize something is out of whack and you’re getting outshot by a considerable margin may seem creative, but it’s not. Relying on guys with conservative games when things get tough is not exactly a unique solution in the NHL and is the type of strategizing I think many NHL coaches resort to.

This is not a creative league and those in coaching and management generally punish or at least don’t lend their full backing, to the creative (see Hoffman). Unfortunately, to solve what truly ails this team (incredibly crap defense and the loss of Mac and Michalek), coming up with a creative solution is necessary.

That such a solution hasn’t presented itself from a coaching stand point isn’t surprising. Our defense is a hydra, if you bench Cowen you still have to play three struggling blueliners. If Hoffman plays on the first line, then you still have a hole on the second. If you move Smith around, then your surprisingly effective fourth line is weakened.

While many among us now actively wish for a coaching change, a recent, cautionary tale out of Pittsburgh should give us pause. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford fired Coach Mike Johnson over the weekend as a result of the Pens season-long struggles. However, even Rutherford had to admit, he shared some of the blame for not assembling a better defense group. Dave Cameron’s in a similar position. It seems highly unlikely he’ll be fired if the Sens hover around a playoff spot, but if he does become the fall guy, it will make little difference. Most of his decisions are decisions most NHL coaches make and coaches still can’t bolster the blueline or add scoring depth.

 

Shane Prince gets the Mike Hoffman treatment and other thoughts

(Content warning: 12&13 discuss Patrick Kane, domestic violence and sexual assault)

  1. Matt Puempel was sent down today and joined the BSens. It’s hard to say that it was a move necessary to get Puempel additional playing time as he’s been consistently in the lineup and played decent minutes. It makes more sense that he was sent down because he hasn’t done much when in the lineup. Maybe Ottawa wants to bring up another winger from Bingo or something or get a different look at someone else. It’s clear that Puempel hasn’t made the most of his opportunities.
  2. Why was Puempel a fixture in the lineup for so long if he wasn’t exactly noticeable? He’s essentially hipster Curtis Lazar. Puempel’s smiley, plays a two-way game, is responsible on the ice, and has been given leadership responsibilities in rookie tournaments and pre-season. The essence of coachable. Oh, and a first rounder too.
  3. It’s not that I think Shane Prince isn’t coachable, but it’s not a stretch to suggest the organization isn’t enamored with him (that rumoured trade request out of Bingo probably doesn’t help). Think some of it is just style of play though. Last season Mark Stone was a darling and Mike Hoffman was inexplicably dropped down the lineup. The rational was Hoffman’s defensive awareness or lack of it and the preference for the two-way Stone suggests there are some rookies Dave Cameron and co are more comfortable playing.
  4. Now, I don’t think there’s anything in Prince’s game to suggest he shouldn’t be playing and he’s at least been better than 25, 15, 90, and 27 when he’s been in the lineup. Prince even made the fourth line look good when he played with them. He’s absolutely someone who can help this team and with the various top-6 vacancies (McArthur, Stone, and Hoffman) is someone who can actually keep up as part of the top 6. However, he’s an offense-first type of player and given his inexperience at the NHL level, I’m not shocked he’s been kept out of the lineup. I think it’s the wrong move, but think that’s what’s going on here. Cameron has questions about his defensive game so he sits.
  5. Craig Anderson needed to be better. And he is. Andy is a zone right now and that’s a good thing because Ottawa’s defense is still porous.
  6. Excited to watch Ottawa play the Stars this week. I still have some questions about Dallas, but watching that high-powered offense play Ottawa’s defense should be…interesting. Good thing Andy is playing better.
  7. Mike Kotska was called up after the unfortunate injury to Patrick Wiercioch. I don’t follow the BSens closely so what follows might be complete crap, but it seems like the right move regardless of whether he plays or sits in the press box. He’s a vet with ample NHL experience for a call-up (70 games) and he’s used to splitting time between the AHL, NHL, and press box. His development isn’t going to be harmed if he sits out a few weeks and it’s hard to imagine he’d produce worse results than some of the combos the Sens have put out there this season.
  8. It’s got to sting if you’re Freddie Claesson though. He’s been in Bingo for a while now (it’s his fourth season with the BSens) without a sniff of NHL action. He’s a left-shooting defenseman and the Sens, like most teams, have a glut of those. He doesn’t have the offensive upside of guys like Wideman or Wiercioch or the size of someone like Cowen. He feels like someone who’s not really in the organization’s long term plans.
  9. Ottawa’s fourth line had a really good game against Columbus. However, Ottawa’s bottom 6 hasn’t been as good this season as they were to finish the season in 14-15. There’s only so much you can do with that fourth line that must include Chris Neil and Zack Smith. Where it’s really hurting is on the third line. I think Michalek is having a decent year, but Pageau has slowed from his start and Curtis Lazar is still young I guess. During the run last season, Ottawa was a great three-line team and they need to get back to that.
  10. Jared Cowen physically contained a slumping Voracek last night with a couple big hits which is an achievement for Cowen. But it reminded me of a lot of other “Cowen back in the lineup” games. Remember when he came back from injury against Carolina, had a big hit on Jeff Skinner and a fight? He makes a big physical statement then the physicality just sort of goes away, he doesn’t use his size effectively in his own end, and just reminds you of the old Cowen pretty quickly. It’s because Cowen doesn’t get so much of what’s going on around him and rejects the valid criticisms of his game. It’s an adrenaline rush, not an actual adjustment.
  11. Don’t love Garry Galley in the booth. He celebrates a lot of things about hockey I don’t like. He was big on praising Cowen last night but failed to emphasize miscues like giveaways and failed zone exits. That’s not a criticism specific to Galley, lots of analysts don’t notice or comment on this stuff in real time. I get that it’s hard, but it’s also their job and just leads to more interesting and useful analysis.
  12. Speaking of commentators, Nick Kypreos made some pretty offensive comments regarding Patrick Kane during Saturday night’s Chicago-Vancouver game. Kypreos was referring to Kane’s offensive totals this season when he said Kane “wants to shove it down peoples’ throats”. It’s a totally inappropriate phrase given the rape investigation surrounding Kane to start the season but it highlights larger issues in the hockey broadcasting community. For starters, those who go on TV to discuss NHL hockey on regional or national networks need more training for how to discuss topics such as domestic violence and sexual assault professionally and respectfully. Unfortunately, such incidents aren’t going away and it’s thankfully getting harder and harder for mainstream media to just ignore these cases. Do your job and do it better.
  13. But it also illustrates what too many in the broadcasting community believe: that assault victims lie and the true victim is Kane in this specific case. I’m sure networks like Sportsnet are telling their employees not to discuss certain things about Kane’s rape investigation. But if employees like Kypreos really believed domestic violence and sexual assault are serious crimes and that victims (not just perpetrators) need to be treated fairly, they’d take steps to ensure they talk about assault and rape investigations differently. If they really stood with victims, with women, the unscripted parts of Hockey Night in Canada or weekly intermission panels wouldn’t refer to Kane shoving anything, they wouldn’t use language that suggests consent is optional. They wouldn’t use chicken shit terms like “incident” to describe violence and rape or talk about players like Kane overcoming “adversity”. But that’s what they do. If TV’s hockey experts didn’t think all women were liars, they wouldn’t frame excellence on ice as proof of Kane’s innocence off ice. But that’s what they do and that’s what Kypreos did last night. It matters not to pundits like Kypreos that Kane was on pace to win the Art Ross last season before his injury; that he’s contending to do so this year justifies all of Kane’s actions, Chicago’s gross incompetence and revolting behaviour, and the league’s continued negligence.

Mike Hoffman and the cost of improving Ottawa’s defense

So you say you want a top-4 defenseman (or *gasp* two)? Cool. This makes a lot of sense. Ottawa’s sieve-like blueline has been a problem for a few years now (really since Zdeno Chara left, but who’s counting). The pairing of Jared Cowen and Mark Borowiecki have been predictably among the worst pairings in the league and unfortunately Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch have modelled their current play on the example of 2 and 74. Don’t pine for Eric Gryba, if he was still here we’d be talking about having five defensemen who should be healthy scratches (an embarrassment of riches!). Even Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot haven’t hit their stride yet. Boro looks better playing on his natural side with Chris Wideman, who’s been decent, but this is more like that moment at the end of Titanic when Rose climbs on that door but Jack, despite his significant experience as a carefree outdoorsy American, somehow forgets that timeless lesson of how to climb on a dock with another person at the same time. Now one problem pairing is being kept afloat, but the water is still rising on another.

We don’t need more life jackets, we need some lifeboats (or not to hit the iceberg in the first place but you know). I’m not really one for trade speculation. I’m not into prospects for much the same reason. I’ll talk about them from time to time, but those things are beyond my control and not the most productive use of my time (but if you’re into it, cool, and Trevor at S7 had some potential targets). Still, this problem has lingered for so long that it’s now a common topic of discussion between me and industry experts (it’s Luke, I talk to Luke about this a lot). I’m all for trading for a top-6 forward if it improves on our current top-6, I’m a fan of the ‘improving the team is improving the team’ school of thought, though I’d still prefer this improvement happens on defense first.

The thing is, it’s going to cost a lot to get the necessary improvement. There are lots of teams looking for top-4 defensemen and few teams with a surplus of quality blueliners (maybe St. Louis, Calgary and Anaheim have suggested they’re willing to deal). Yes, there are still holdouts like Boston who don’t seem to think quality defensemen are something you want to stockpile, but generally, the league is starting to value these guys a lot more, both in terms of salary and trade value.

My point is, if your hypothetical trade packages hinges on Curtis Lazar being bankable, Jared Cowen’s involvement, or a depth player like Zack Smith, it’s not likely to fly. Maybe Cody Ceci and PW are appealing to another team, but neither player is going to get Ottawa a top-4 defenseman. Everyone’s forgotten about Colin Greening. Picks are an option, but given how the Sens misjudged their playoff chances after the Bobby Ryan trade, not sure they go this route. Shane Prince might be interesting as part of a larger deal, but it’s a reach to suggest a top-4 player for him. It’s hard to imagine another GM getting excited about Matt Puempel or most if not all the players, currently in Bingo. It’s not that they’re all bad (though that Bingo blueline is thin), it’s that other organizations are full of similar players/prospects. Nobody’s as high on Freddie Claesson and Tobias Lindberg as the Sens organization, that’s how these things go.

It’s going to take Mike Hoffman. I mean, maybe not Mike Hoffman, it could be Mika Zibanejad or Mark Stone (but not really because he is locked up for another two years on an affordable deal, the organization understandably loves him, and he’s a golden god), but it’s going to be a player who already has some decent NHL numbers, is youngish, and still has potential upside. So, no, not Milan Michalek. Hoffman makes the most sense because the organization, for whatever ill-conceived reason, doesn’t seem to value him as much as those other guys. Hoffman’s good, generates offense, has a terrific shot, and has a cheap deal that can easily fit into a lot of budgets, even at this point in the season (seriously, $2 million). He’s not the perfect option as he’s not locked up beyond this season but that’s not a huge problem as he’s still an RFA at the end of the year. He’s not a player you want to lose if you’re the Sens, but it’s probably going to cost a lot to sign him to his next deal and the blueline situation is critical.

If you don’t want to give up a player of value like Hoffman, trade with Colorado I guess. Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy are real winners.

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30 Thoughts of Dubious Quality, Questionable Importance, and Debatable Insight

1. Big news today is Mark Stone’s suspension. I was ok with the phone hearing and ok with the two games. Am I happy about losing Stone for two? Nope, he’s leading the Sens in scoring, is terrific to watch, and one of my favourite players. Ottawa’s better with him in the lineup. Do I think it was an attempt to go for the puck that was awkward more than anything else? Sure. Do I think the hit was intentionally targeting the head? No, but I also don’t really think that matters. Sometimes intent seems clear, but often it’s hard to judge what a player’s thinking, so remove that from the equation. What it comes down to for me is Landon Ferraro got hit in the head, Stone was responsible, admitted as much publicly, and there are consequences. The NHL’s frightening lack of consistency on matters of discipline is irritating but consistency has to start somewhere and Stone’s hit is as good a place as any to start.
2. Stone’s a clean player and doesn’t have a history of these hits and some argued that a fine should have sufficed. But I’m ok with suspending players for first offenses and for harsher penalties in general when it comes to NHL discipline. In real life, I appreciate more nuance and think things like mandatory minimums are crap. But the NHL isn’t real life. Fines don’t get the job done. Maybe we should spend less time worrying about whether a player or individual play is clean or dirty. It seems a bit counterproductive.
3. What about Henrik Zetterberg’s leaping elbow to the face of Jean-Gabriel Pageau? Well, yeah, I would have given him like 10 games for that (I would have given Stone more too; I’m draconian when it comes to safety), but I’m not Director of Player Safety (I could sure use the money though). Player Safety was wrong about Zetterberg and their explanation was inadequate. I suspect there are a variety of factors that contributed to this: Zetterberg’s star power, Pageau’s less than star power (how can they not know about the Pageau chant?!) and probably most significantly, Pageau wasn’t injured (thankfully). The NHL responds to the severity of the injury and while I think that’s not the most impactful way to eliminate dangerous play, it’s what they do. The Zetterberg case is unfortunate, but doesn’t change things for Stone. If you’re being honest about your desire for consistency, than you want that Stone hit punished even with the knowledge Zetterberg got away with something more flagrantly against NHL rules. Ultimately, that’s how you get to a league that would actually suspend for both infractions (also, hire less former players to do these decision-making jobs, but that’s not going to change anytime soon).
4. Two reactions from two fanbases on hearing the Stone suspension news were disappointing: Ottawa fans upset that Stone was suspended only because he’s a Senator and Montreal fans suggesting this is karmic justice for P.K. Subban getting suspended for breaking Stone’s wrist. Worst.
5. I would like to see more follow-up when teams and players break concussion protocol. Ferraro went down hard (rightly so) and was slow to get off the ice. He went to the dressing room as per concussion protocols to be evaluated (so far, so good). But he was back on the bench and playing in a few minutes. I’m not suggesting Ferraro was trying to trick the refs into punishing Stone (he wasn’t) and I don’t think he’s guilty of anything more than being an eager young player trying to do everything to secure his place in an NHL lineup. I just hope he really is ok, because if he’s not, it’s another instance of players, and more so the medical staff charged with caring for them, failing to protect their patients.
6. Detroit isn’t especially duplicitous in this either. Every team fails in this department. For an Ottawa example, look no further than Clarke MacArthur. He’s currently on the sidelines recovering from his third concussion in 8 months. I’m not a medical doctor nor am I privy to all the details of each incident and his recovery process, but it’s concerning. I don’t know if he was fully recovered when he returned to the Sens lineup late in the season for Ottawa’s playoff push and first round series against Montreal in the spring. I don’t know if his training camp concussion was handled properly in September and if it’s just an awful coincidence he was out with the same type of injury a few weeks later, but it’s certainly possible. I hope the Sens and MacArthur are taking the long view this time and are concerned more with his wellbeing for the rest of his career and post-playing days.
7. Andrew Hammond has only played two games and is coming off injury so I don’t really have any opinions on his play so far. He looked bad in his debut, he looked good in his follow-up. I don’t love his new mask. Intermission panels can stop asking if he can live up to a mark literally no other goalie achieved anytime though, that would be nice.
8. Craig Anderson has had the bulk of the starts. That’s good, that’s the way it should be and it’s nice to not have a goalie controversy. We have a clear starter and I’m comfortable with Anderson in that role.
9. He’s looked terrific in a few games and has been lit up in a couple others. In the games he’s let in 4+ he hasn’t exactly been supported by his porous and mystifying blueline. Still, there’s room for improvement with Andy.
10. I cannot get worked up about line combos in practice and before games anymore. I get it, things aren’t optimal, but this doesn’t seem like the best use of my rage.
11. Absolutely tired of discussing Jared Cowen and Mark Borowiecki. I get that this is the main topic of conversation for Sens fans right now, and whatever, have at it, I guess, but I’m out. It’s boring and tedious and no matter how many words I write about it, it isn’t likely to change Bryan Murray’s or Dave Cameron’s mind. So, I haven’t written about either player in a while and it’s likely to stay that way. I might get frustrated about their play during a game, I just can’t be bothered to debate it endlessly each day of the week. The topic is so tired, it’s almost a matter of consensus: they’re bad, we’d be better with other internal options, we should have made a trade. For me, it’s simply not interesting to talk about this anymore
12. I will say that I think each of Ottawa’s regular defensemen can be better.
13. Cody Ceci’s game is a bit different so far this season. He’s definitely more willing to not only join the rush, but lead it with speed through the neutral zone and into the other team’s end. This led to a Ceci goal against Arizona on a rush with Bobby Ryan. It might be the sign of a young player more comfortable in the NHL or with his role on the team, but it will be interesting to see if his game continues to grow in this area given his offensive flare with the 67’s and B-Sens.
14. Erik Karlsson hasn’t scored. He will.
15. Digging a bit further, Ottawa’s powerplay is struggling and EK hasn’t managed a PP goal yet. I have no doubt that he’ll pot a half dozen goals on the powerplay by time the season’s finished, but as it stands currently, he hasn’t. The Sens have been fairly good (especially the first unit) at building pressure but don’t have much to show for it yet. If you’ve been watching at home, you’ve no doubt seen a few clip sequences of EK not being able to get his shot through all the bodies in front of the net, EK having a shot blocked, and EK not being able to find a lane. Here’s the thing: one of Karlsson’s most underrated skills is his ability to get his slapshot and his wrist shot through traffic. The shots and goals will come.
16. That said, maybe a change on the powerplay isn’t the worst idea. Karlsson regularly can and does play the full two minutes with the advantage. There’s a few reasons for this (Cameron wanting to roll four forwards, no other overly offensive defensemen, EK is amazing etc.) and while it might be the best option for the powerplay, I’m not sure it’s the best option for even-strength play. Given the team’s depth issues, I’d rather have EK play more at even strength.
17. I also think, despite his struggles so far this season, that Patrick Wiercioch is capable of running the second unit. It’s not a move designed to break him out of his funk or whatever, but his strength is his passing ability/distribution and that’s what you need from your PP quarterback. Wouldn’t mind seeing Ceci here too. What’s the harm in keeping the pairing together on the PP?
18. Part of this is I’ve always hated the forward playing the point (or playing along the point/along the boards) on the PP. It’s not that defenders don’t get burned or make poor decisions that lead to odd-man rushes, they do, it just feels like this is something defending teams try to exploit when there’s a forward back there. The Sens might be ok if it’s Turris as the forward back there, but the first unit tends to oscillate between Turris and Ryan, with Karlsson as the fulcrum. When Turris is in an advanced position, it means Ryan is on the point. I’m less confident in Ryan’s defensive play and speed. The shorthanded team is more willing to challenge that forward. It’s entirely possible this is confirmation bias on my part. Still, not having a forward back there gives Cameron a chance to add some more skill to the second unit.
19. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by Milan Michalek of late. He seems to have his legs back and has found a home on the third line. He’s chipping in offensively and is spending a lot of time near the opposition net. He’s picking up penalty killing duties too. With all the Ottawa penalty issues the last few games he’s logged a lot of minutes recently and I do have questions about whether he can sustain it, but basically, he’s been a good third liner so far. But what about his contract? Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s bad and not what you want to pay a third liner. But right now he’s not going anywhere and I’d rather him find a niche and contribute.
20. A lot of people felt like this would be Mika Zibanejad’s breakout year. There’s still plenty of time for that, but right now Kyle Turris and Pageau are doing more to get noticed. Turris’ hot start seems to be ending the silly “Is he really a number one centre, tho?” conversations. He’s getting noticed as a really good two-way centre on his own merits by more people around the league. Before the season started I had a chat with a fellow WTYKY member about whether Turris could hit 75+ this season. He was of the opinion it was too much of a jump, I thought it would be a lot, but doable, especially if he played with Stone all year (to be fair, I hedged a little too). I don’t think either of us expected a start like this (7G, 5A, 12P in 11G). When they’re all in the lineup, Turris-Hoffman-Stone look like one of the most dangerous lines in the league. Now, I don’t expect him to keep up this goal scoring pace all season; his shooting percentage is currently over 23% well above his career average of 10.7%. However, I do think Mark Stone will start scoring more and Turris will factor into that.
21. Pageau keeps getting better and better. We wondered how much Erik Condra stirred the drink on Ottawa’s excellent third line of Pageau, Condra and Curtis Lazar and while Condra’s departure hurts, Pageau seems like he’s taking another step forward this season. Ottawa’s had some great third line centres over the years and guys like Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly really defined the role in Ottawa. Pageau’s taken a page from their books combining speed, enthusiastic forechecking, and strong defensive play to be a threat at both ends of the ice and on the penalty kill as well. He’s already got three goals, including one shorthanded and it would be great if he can keep building on that. A third line Dave Cameron can feel comfortable rolling out there is essential if this team is going to make the playoffs.
22. So what’s up with Mika Zibanejad anyway? There’s still plenty of time for his season to get rolling, but through the ten game mark things have looked a little shaky. The point totals are fine (2G, 6A, 8P, 11GP) but the advanced stats aren’t kind to him right now. Some of this is due to who’s on his wing and he’s really missed the speed of Mike Hoffman. He also seems hesitant (for some reason) to drive through the middle of the ice using his speed and size (both the neutral zone and his centre lane). I’d like to see him have at least one speedy winger (Hoffman most obviously, but maybe Shane Prince?) to work with in addition Bobby Ryan. I think Mika and Ryan can work as linemates, but if Cameron is going to do that, he needs to give Zibanejad some help stirring the drink.
23. Chris Neil looks better than he has in a few years. Like Michalek, I have questions about whether he can keep up this play all season and with everyone fit I’d still rather see someone else in his spot. That said, it’s a marked improvement from last year and the season before. It’s also helpful for him to have some jump if there’s any possibility he’ll be moved at the deadline (I’m holding out hope).
24. However, penalties remain an issue with him. He’s got 37 minutes already and while there’s misconducts and a fight mixed in, he’s taken 6 minor penalties so far and that’s too many in 11 games. It’s a liability and it’s hurting the team because the Sens only have one reliable PK defensive unit. Adding to the problem is linemate Zack Smith, who also has 6 minors (including 2 costly penalties against Detroit). This needs to change.
25. It’s not just fourth liners spending too much time in the box. Erik Karlsson has 6 minors so far (perhaps the best example that he’s not yet at midseason form, aside from the fact that it’s the start of November), Patrick Wiercioch, Alex Chiasson, and Mark Stone all have 5 minors. Ottawa needs some discipline. It’s not just as simple as discipline issues. Ottawa’s porous blueline means the team spends too much time defending and getting trapped in its own end. The result is an increase in minors.
26. Shane Prince. Like what I’ve seen so far from him. He’s chipped in despite the limited role (playing primarily with the fourth line). We got a chance to see him in the top-6 the last couple of games and I think we’ll see more out of him if he stays there. Given that Mac and Stone are both out of the lineup currently, seems like that’ll be the case.
27. Alex Chiasson is playing like someone who listened to his coach’s concerns, but it’s just not paying off so far. He’s trying to use his speed and size more and while he’s had some jump on a line with Milan Michalek and Jean-Gabriel Pageau and is a better option in front of the net than Chris Neil on the PP (not that this is saying much), the results haven’t come so far. He has just one goal and one assist in 11 games and the penalty minutes are accumulating (10 PIM). If I had to guess, he’s the most likely candidate to come out of the lineup if Dave Cameron changes things up.
28. The news that Mike Hoffman and Curtis Lazar are ready to return doesn’t exactly mean Matt Puempel and Max McCormick are headed back to Bingo (especially with the Stone suspension). Correct me if I’m wrong (I’m probably wrong, I don’t pay as that much attention to roster moves), but the Senators started the season with 22 players. Add to that the fact that Clarke MacArthur is still dealing with a concussion and both players might stay up since there’s room. There’s probably a procedure since both were emergency call-ups (I think?) but the point is, there’s room for an extra body once everyone’s in the lineup.
29. Given a choice between McCormick and Puempel, it seems Puempel is the clear choice. He’s chipped in a goal in his three games this season, had an extended look with the team last year, and Cameron has shown a willingness to move him up and down the lineup, sometimes pencilling him in on the second line, sometimes third, with some penalty killing duties. McCormick had a goal correctly called off against Detroit and hasn’t been bad or anything, just less noticeable. Part of that is playing on the fourth line but that’s also a result of not being as trusted as Puempel.
30. Daniel Alfredsson. When former players return to take front office jobs, their responsibilities are often nebulous or poorly defined (to the public anyway). Alfie’s back in the fold and while I’m still not clear exactly what his job entails, he’s not shying away from the hands on stuff. He was on the ice with the injured Curtis Lazar last week, talking and instructing. On a team that still has a lot of young players, it’s nice to have that kind of experience available. Hoping Chris Phillips can find a similar role with the Sens when he officially hangs them up.