Hearing is Believing

There are plenty of valid theories on why the Sens have fallen flat since returning to action after the All-Star break. Not enough scoring punch, average goaltending, coaching failures, management issues, and of course, the generously porous defense. The Sens blockbuster trade with the Leafs for defenseman Dion Phaneuf has not yet brought a win.

But the true culprit of this slump has been ignored: Julia Robillard has forsaken us.[1]

Since February 2 (the date of the first Sens game post-ASG break), when a new Robillard Hearing Centres commercial that did not feature Julia aired, the Sens are 2-4. Ottawa surrendered 6 goals against Pittsburgh, was blown out by the hapless Oilers, mustered nothing against the Red Wings Petr Mrazek, and fell behind Colorado 3-0 before attempting a failed comeback last night. Yes, the Sens blew out Tampa and the Leafs since the ad aired, but even in these trying times, there are rules and Julia wouldn’t let us lose to teams wearing blue and white.

It seems like only yesterday[2] that we were celebrating the opening of the new Perth showroom with the Robillard clan. It marked the pinnacle achievement of Robillard ads. As the commercial explores the benefits of the new location, Julia, a mainstay in these ads is nowhere to be scene, until she triumphantly returns to close the commercial while confirming the worst-kept secret in capital region advertising: Julia is a diehard Sens fan. Resplendent in a Sens heritage jersey dress, she rightfully ascended to Sens celebrity royalty along with Anne Murray, Rihanna, and Zayn Malik (sorry not sorry Matt Perry).

Think how far we’d come: it was only a few short years ago we were being asked during play stoppages and intermission breaks the non-rhetorical question “do you like pizza?” as if the answer could possibly be anything other than “I like pizza”. Now, we had Julia proudly declaring her Sens fandom. Hearing truly was believing.

And yet there were signs of trouble. That glorious heritage dress ad featured the least screen time for Julia in an ad to that point. It was as if she was preparing us for the new, terrible reality we now find ourselves in. It’s not that the new ad is bad. On the contrary, the new ad features a Robillard customer telling viewers how Robillard products have changed his life. Hearing definitely is believing in this ad. It’s just without an appearance from their spokesperson, it’s nowhere near the same experience. Collectively, Sens fans are waiting for Julia’s return. We know in our hearts things won’t turn around for the team until she does.

Help us, Julia Robillard, you’re our only hope.

 

[1] If there’s a reason she’s no longer appearing in ads, we’re sorry Julia and the WTYKY gang is thinking of you.

[2] It was last month

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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