Your Model Sucks

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No Fancy Stats argument is actually about stats. A statistic is a number that (theoretically) represents reality, and you can’t argue about reality1. Mark Borowiecki has a 5-on-5 score-adjusted CF% of 44% this season. Can’t argue with that. Patrick Wiercioch has 3 points this season and Erik Karlsson’s got 51 points this season. Can’t argue with that.

Analytics arguments are actually (#ACTUALLY) dissecting what these numbers mean in terms of player evaluation and future performance. These are questions without easy answers2 and really more about one’s philosophy and biases than they are about actual mathematics. This is why participants in a #fancystats argument mostly end up sounding like 3rd year undergraduates trying to nail the 5% class participation mark. This isn’t math class, it’s philosophy class.3

All this to say I’m not here to talk about stats. I’m here to talk about models, which are like stats only worse. Let me explain…

Ed note: This post is about to get wild nerdy. I don’t know how to prevent this. Turns out one can’t talk about their personal philosophy of phenomenological modelling without sounding like a huge dork. So it goes.

In a perfect world, you would describe and make predictions about all physical phenomena by applying the prescribed laws. Physicists love doing this. Physicists write down some laws, solve some differential equations, and boom there’s General Relativity. Very few things ever work out this nicely. Most things worth studying contain too many moving parts to accommodate well-defined system behaviour. The real world is messy. This is where models come in.

A model takes inputs, does math to the inputs (to use the technical term), and then spits out an an output that looks hopefully looks like reality. A good model should help us make inferences about the relationship between Things. However, and this is very important to always bear in mind, just because a model looks like reality does not mean that it is necessarily a good stand-in for reality. This is the origin of the expression from the statistician George Box, “All models are wrong, some models are useful.

Which brings me back to the intentionally inflammatory title of this post: your model sucks. It does. It is in the very nature of modelling that a model is an imperfect representation of reality. Therefore, if a model is to be taken seriously, I believe that the ways in which it is imperfect must be both qualitatively and quantitatively stated (and if your default position is to say “It’s just because of variance”, I will personally wish for you to be haunted until the end of your days by the ghost of Ludwig Boltzmann.)

There is another philosophical question that must be answered, which is “What is this model for?”. Is it meant to be a descriptive model (and if so, why is it necessarily better than examining raw inputs?), or is it a predictive/evaluative model (and if so, just how predictive is it?). There’s a couple of models floating around out here, and it’s not always clear what supposed to be for.

Let’s look at the much-ballyhooed dCorsi. From Stephen Burtch’s post, “dCorsi represents the unexplained residual portion of Corsi results observed for a given skater in a given season.” which is to say it’s the difference between The Fancy Model and Reality. Even if dCorsi is repeatable (its year-over-year R-squared is about 0.15), all that would really mean is that the model is wrong in some consistent ways, which I would find worrying if it was my job to apply the model. I would rather just use dCorsi as a way to quantify the error bars on the model outputs. I think it’s difficult to properly use something like dCorsi as an evaluative tool when it is literally just an expression of what you don’t know.

Then there is this:

In general I feel like weird results such as this, where Brad Marchand has a Goals Above Replacement per 60 that is 50% higher than Patrick Kane, or where John Tavares and Jack Eichel have worse dCorsis than Zac Rinaldo really say much more about the model in question than they do about the player being modeled. It’s tough for me to read this post without coming away with the impression that the values from this Expected Goal model should have some big goddamn error bars on them. Merely posting something that basically says “Aaaaaaay, look how much better Brad Marchand is than Patrick Kane.” is slightly absurd because Brad Marchand is not a better hockey player than Patrick Kane. If anything, this tweet is best understood as an illustration of how much work on these types of models still need to be done4.

Not every deep truth about sports has to be couched in some sort of Gladwellian counter-intuition. Sometimes your model just sucks. I need to know why and by how much if I’m ever going to use it.

1. Ok just work with me on this one.

2. Don’t @ me.

3. Good example: Do secondary assists matter? Answer: it depends! Speaking of secondary assists, we here at Welcome to your Karlsson Years dot com would like to bestow the Lifetime Achievement Award in Petty Hating to Tyler Dellow for his 2012 piece (which sadly no longer exists on the internet) in which he examined every single one of Erik Karlsson’s assists in an attempt to de-legitimize EK’s point totals. You did it, boo! (You can read Travis Yost’s response here.)

4. I believe Zack Lowe’s amazing piece on the Toronto Raptors’ player tracking department is an excellent indication of how much more data (i.e. a ludicrous amount of data) modelers will need before useful models can be created for hockey. Until then, I’ll settle for some big ol’ error bars on this stuff.

Sens Spend Money on Infrastructure, Not Players. What Does It Mean?

If you have a working Twitter account, you’ll have noticed that the Senators organization rolled out Whe Welcome Wagon for social media folk and traditional media alike yesterday. The Sens wanted to showcase the new renovations that have been made to the Canadian Tire Centre. The CTC now has more Tim Hortons, food by Farm Boy, and you can now put your poutine in a wrap/burrito in what must surely be an affront to both God and nature. Poutine is not a sandwich; that’s one of The Ten Commandments. There was also some discussion of the “Enhanced security measures” which are most likely to solve a problem that never existed at a cost to some fans who will now feel even more uneasy attending games, but that’s a story for another time1. These renovations and additions come fresh on the heels of parking lot paving, new lighting systems, and a new jumbotron.

The Sens have been remarkably consistent with infrastructure improvement rollouts for the past few seasons. Whether it’s the new lights, or the parking lot paving, or TV screens in the concourse, the improvements are always modest, announced with a press release, and then mocked a bit on The Twitters because “Haha, who announces a new television outside of section 316? That’s classic small town Sens doing small time stuff!”. I will admit to my own culpability in maintaining this pattern, but I only tease because I love2.

On the real though, I’m inclined to let the Sens talk up their sexy new box seats as much as they damn well please. It was only a few season ago that there was a prominent blogger who was going hard in the paint regarding Eugene Melnyk’s finances and the overall fiscal health of the Senators organization in general. When you consider how much these financial concerns have rooted themselves in the consciousness of the fanbase, one can hardly blame the org for hitting the general public with a soft #actually every time they invest money into the off-ice product. Whenever I read a Senators press release that says something like “Parking Lot 6 is being paved”, I interpret that as the Sens saying “Oh really? Would a broke organization do THIS? *makes it rain all over a pavement roller*“.

In light of this, I think it’s time to stop thinking of the Senators as a Budget Team, and time to start thinking of them as A Team with A Budget. While still in the bottom half of spending league-wide, the Sens now spend more money on salaries than five (5) teams, and are closer to the salary cap then they are to the cap floor. They are not a cap team and they don’t look like they’ll even try to be a cap team for the foreseeable future. However, maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop looking at every single hockey personnel decision from the perspective of The Almighty Internal Budget. Every time a prospect signs a contract that could have been worth more money, there’s always a reaction that’s something like “Sens are lowballing their prospects again. Hope the fact they cheaped out because of the budget doesn’t cost them later.” Every time a team that is not the Sens makes a trade, there’s always a reaction along the lines of “Sens probably didn’t have the money to make the Boychuck/Saad/Hamilton/Sharp trade work, so they didn’t go for it.”

To this I say “Gotta hear both sides”. Hell, the Sens spent $15MM on renovations this summer alone! That’s like 2.3 Erik Karlssons (or 2 Bobby Ryans, if you prefer). Little improvements to The Gameday Experience show that the Senators are probably not incredibly tight against their operating budget unless you genuinely think Paul Maclean’s contract getting picked up by Anaheim was the difference between Lot 9 getting paved or not.

All this to say that if you enjoy griping about the Sens personnel decisions, please continue. Second guessing professionals is one of my favourite pastimes. I do it all the time on airplanes and in hospitals. Just keep in mind that it’s getting harder and harder to argue that money is the predominant driving factor behind why the Sens didn’t trade for Nick Leddy or offer Mike Hoffman more money.

If management screws this up, it’s gonna be because who they put on the ice, not because of what’s in the corporate bank account.

1. I’m aware that the Sens likely had no choice in whether or not to adopt this league wide protocol. I still think it’s bad for everyone. The Sens have to invest money to solve a non-existent security problem, the CTC’s ingress will become more congested than it already was due to the increased time it will take to get through screening, and a number of already marginalized fans will be forced through even more hoops in order to watch the team they love. Please read Andrew’s post for his thoughts on this matter. These security measures are a net loss any way you slice it. That is all I have to say on this.

2. I swear this is the reason.

Actually: The Bryan Murray Type Player is a Myth

PROLOGUE

I approached the pay phone cautiously, roll of quarters in hand. I took the Belle and Sebastian concert ticket stub out of my pocket and dialed the number that had been hastily scrawled on the back. Almost immediately, a computerized voice answered.

“Welcome to Your Karlsson Switchboard. If you know the extension you wish to reach, please enter it now.” I dutifully entered 4, 2, and 0 and waited.

Finally after 11 rings, an annoyed man picked up the phone. “If you don’t know how to turn common fruits and vegetables into a crack pipe, I don’t really want to talk to you right now.”

“Hello, James,” I replied.

James’ tone lightened immediately. “Luke Peristy! Or should I say ‘Luke Princely’! Just the man I wanted to talk to. You’re an engineer, so tell me: is an avocado rind going to have the thermodynamic properties required to get this crack on the boil?”

“You trying to make crack-amole?”, I quipped.

James sighed. “I hate you. Look, Chet and I got a little loose last night and long story short I’ve got to figure out some way to freebase using this pile of compost or I owe Chet fifty bucks. You’re calling from a pay phone, right?”

“Yeah, of course. My advice is see if you can find any bones in there and use that. Although you’ve currently got a pile of compost in your office so I think Chet’s already won, to be honest. I wanted to talk to you about something though. It’s about the internet.”

“Yeah? What about the internet?”

“Someone is wrong. The world must be told.”

“Funny you say that. We’re kinda building our brand around that sort of thing. We’re calling it ‘Actually’. You want in? It would be our pleasure to Welcome You to Your Karlsson Years.”

“James,” I said, “I thought you’d never ask.”

————————————————————————————–

Friends, bring it in. Take a knee. Unroll your yoga mat and look away from me in a Half Lords of the Fishes Pose because you want me to talk to the hand. Find your natural resting state because we’re going to have a chat.

Coming out of the All-Star Break I made a point of publicizing my boundless optimism. I said “This team’s got +50% possession under Dave Cameron and a slate of 11 eminently winnable games coming up, so if there was as time for a little run to be had, this is it.” Since that time, my faith has been rewarded by a 5-5-1 stretch which sent Ottawa’s playoff odds plummeting before recovering slightly. As it stands, Ottawa has a roughly 8% chance both to make the playoffs and 5% chance to draft Connor McDavid. These odds are infuriating as they are not so small as to be completely out of the question, but still small enough that fantasizing about spring hockey in Ottawa or Connor McDavid in a Sens jersey is a waste of one’s mental and emotional energy. Worst of both worlds! Get hype!

The good news is that unlike last year, Ottawa’s dropped out of the playoff race early enough that The Bryan and Associates (Ed note: Not a real law firm) won’t be tempted to trade a 2nd rounder for an expiring asset in an overly optimistic attempt to “go for it” or “make a push”. We didn’t even have to blow a 4-1 lead to the Habs to get to this point! #Blessed

Yes, the Sens are definitely sellers this year, although whether or not any of the players the Sens want to sell will actually get sold remains to be seen. It would be interesting to see what the market for Chris Neil and Chris Phillips would be if they weren’t out with a thumb injury and general shittiness wear and tear respectively.

(Aside: Even before The Chrisses (Chrisii?) hit the shelf, it was unlikely they were going to go get traded, which means I must ask: how crazy is it that two players, whose greatest contribution to the team at this point is ostensibly leadership, don’t want to be traded to a Cup contending team? What’s the message here? “Winning the Cup is what we all play for. Unless you own a local restaurant, in which case you’re gonna want to make sure you oversee that baby in your spare time, and you can’t do that from Nashville, let me tell you.” Nothing about that situation makes sense to me, except the idea that no one actually wants to trade for Chris Phillips.)

Anyway, having circled my point like Dave Cameron trying communicate where the puck should go on the powerplay, and with the trade deadline only a week away, I feel the need to make an observation: Whenever trade rumours start to swirl in Ottawa, I’ve noticed that the phrase “Bryan Murray type player” always seems to come up at some point.

This phenomenon isn’t just limited to Twitter.

The Bryan Murray Type Player seems to be thought of as a blunt instrument, someone you can point at the net with intent to destroy in the hope the puck goes in the net incidentally, a player big of body and small of skill. Admittedly, The Bryan’s LEGENDARY negotiations for Chris Stewart have done nothing to disabuse anyone of the notion that Bryan Murray is all about that bass and/or Colin Greening But Better Type Players. However, this is where I Gotta Hit You With The Mad Actually: There is no such thing as The Bryan Murray Type Player. Let’s take a look at some of the players The Bryan has acquired during his time as GM.

Group A: Deadline Rentals Acquired to Prop Up a Crumbling Season
Cory Stillman (Acquired via trade, Ales Hemksy before there was Ales Hemsky)
Mike Commodore (Acquired via trade, rocked awesome ginger afro but not the score sheet)
Martin Lapointe (Acquired via trade, was old)
Matt Cullen (Acquired via trade, didn’t suck)
Ales Hemsky (Acquired via trade, was the piece of rope the Senators tried to make a playoff push with last year)

Group B: Puck Moving Defensemen
Erik Karlsson (THA GAWD, acquired via draft, the earthly manifestation of perfection)
Patrick Wiercioch (Acquired via draft, the earthly manifestation of Corsi related arguments)
Filip Kuba (Acquired via trade, played with Erik Karlsson then GOT PAID then got bought out)
David Rundblad (Acquired via draft trade, made a sweet pass once)
Sergei Gonchar (Acquired via free agency, got booed at the home opener once)
Joe Corvo (Acquired via free agency, pretty cool guy)
Cody Ceci (Acquired via draft, actually kinda decent, also only 21 years old)

Group C: Players Entirely Known for Being Small
Ryan Shannon (Acquired via trade)
Corey Locke (Acquired via free agency, Ottawa legend)
Andre Benoit (Acquired via free agency, Binghamton/Colorado legend)
Cory Conacher (Acquired via trade, guy people will never forgive for not being Ben Bishop even though Bishop was going to walk at the end of the year anyway so whatever)
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Acquired via draft, has a cult following L. Ron Hubbard would be jealous of)

Group D: Defensemen Who Are Chris Campoli, Alex Picard, or Matt Gilroy
Chris Campoli (acquired via trade)
Alex Picard (acquired via trade)
Matt Gilroy (acquired via trade)

Group E: Big Scary Defensemen Who May or May Not Have Strong Feelings Regarding Experts
Matt Carkner (Acquired via free agency, had two signature playoff moments)
Andy Sutton (Acquired via trade, first Ottawa Senator who actually inspired fear of injury in opponents)
Dave Dziurzynski (Acquired via free agency, originator of the little known “i before u” grammatical rule, also not actually a defenseman which you probably didn’t even notice or maybe I’m just projecting)
Jared Cowen (Acquired via draft, frequent object of scorn who will only become The Next Chara after Ottawa trades him as is dictated in the Necronomicon)
Mark Borowiecki (Acquired via draft, fills Eric Gryba’s role despite the fact the team already has Eric Gryba on it)

Group F: Players Acquired for Dany Heatley
Jonathan Cheechoo (Acquired via trade, tried hard, loved the game)
Milan Michalek (Acquired via trade, soon to be one of the longest serving active Senators)

Group G: “Skill” Players Who Were Disappointments
Alex Kovalev (Acquired via free agency and possibly Eugene Melnyk’s coke dreams)
Stephane Da Costa (Acquired via free agency, currently a KHL ЅUPEЯSTДЯ)
Nikita Filatov (Acquired via trade, didn’t do rebounds ALLEGEDLY)

Group H: “Skill” Players Who Were Not Disappointments
Kyle Turris (Acquired via trade, is now 1st line centre)
Bobby Ryan (Acquired via trade, is one of the best players on the team)
Mika Zibanejad (Acquired via draft, has more points than Clarke MacArthur this season, turns 22 in April)
Clarke MacArthur (Acquired via free agency, was the David Clarkson consolation prize)
Jakob Silfverberg (Acquired via draft, was the forward form of David Rundblad in that in was a slightly overrated Swede who was traded for someone much better)
Mike Hoffman (Acquired via draft, skates like the wind, you’re all probably hoping he’ll be your boyfriend one day)
Mark Stone (Acquired via draft, the guy you’ll settle for if things don’t work out with Mike Hoffman)

Group I: THANKS 4 READING
Rob Klinkhammer (Acquired via trade)
Mike Lundin (Acquired via free agency)
Guillaume Latendresse (Acquired via free agency, was ragged on more than u)
Alex Chiasson (Acquired via trade)
David Legwand (Acquired via free agency)

Group J: Facepunchers
Zenon Konopka (Acquired via free agency)
Matt Kassian (Acquired via trade because we had CHRIS PHILLIPS fighting dudes at one point)

Group K: Best of the Rest
Marc Methot (Acquired via trade, holds Erik Karlsson’s jacket while EK kicks the rest of the league’s ass)
Zack Smith (Acquired via draft, may or may not still exist, hasn’t been seen for years)
Curtis Lazar (Acquired via draft, has a thousand Watt smile, might only end up being a Rich Man’s Zack Smith, but he’s only 20 so let’s not put him in a box just yet)

Looking at that (close to exhaustive) list, I don’t know that there’s definitive conclusions that can be drawn other than that Bryan Murray’s a GM who believes that it takes a lot to make a stew. Hell, even in the year he selected Jared Cowen with a 1st round draft pick, there’s footage of the guy trying to draft Nazem Kadri instead. Who’s the player in the above that looks the most like canonical Bryan Murray player? Cory Conacher? David Legwand? Has Bryan Murray ever even acquired a Bryan Murray Player?

I think the takeaway here is that Bryan Murray’s not afraid to pull the trigger. He’ll deal from a position of strength to address a weakness (Methot trade, future Legwand/Wiercioch/Lazar/Cowen/Smith trade), he’ll roll the dice on a reclamation project (Filatov trade, Turris trade, future Yakupov trade), he’ll draft a smooth skating garbage pick in the first round (Erik Karlsson), and he’ll draft a guy who’s big as a battleship and just as maneuverable (Jared Cowen). The Bryan Murray player is the one he thinks will help his team. That’s the long and short of it.

So be afraid of Bryan Murray. He’s a loose cannon.

Except when it comes to to dealing Chris Neil. That guy is going nowhere.

Actually: Wanting to move Chris Phillips has nothing to do with respecting him and his career

I think as Senators fans we tend to suffer from our nascent history as a franchise. Put simply, tonight we celebrate the legacy of a player, currently on the roster who was drafted in just the 4th year of the team’s modern existence.The reaction to this milestone has been clouded by talk of fans and potentially management’s desire to trade him away.
I would imagine Phillips standing in Ottawa is simialar to that of David Legwand’s in Nashville. A good soldier and solid player whom you can’t fault for being drafted so high and, hell, has accomplished a respectable career and earned, I stress the word earned, a spot on a roster for a very long time. I just don’t necessarily equate the respect for the person and their career with what’s best for the team and its future.

I suppose that’s where some of the perceived ambivalence toward this milestone comes from. Area man keeps job. The story of Chis Phillips has always been one where he has been overshadowed and with good reason. He simply doesn’t play the type of game that excites fans. It’s part of what makes building a successful hockey team so hard. It has to have a Chris Phillips to bolster the stars. That’s not to say he never had a hay day. He did for sure but even during his peak the spotlight on the blue line belonged to hard hitting fan favourite Anton Volchenkov. He whom I witnessed countless times skate to the bench doubled over in pain to thunderous applause after blocking another point blank shot. Was Volchenkov a better player than Phillips? I don’t know but the theatre definitely was and in the show business of professional sport that’s a huge factor in popularity and, yes, legacy. There’s a reason why Phillips been passed over 3 times for the captaincy and it’s not because he’s a bad player, leader, or person. He may be a strong voice in the room but in this day in age, the C tends to get slapped on the player who can lead on the ice, on the score sheet and further, lead kids with their parents in tow to the stadium to watch them play live.
Again, this is not an indictment of Philly’s body of work. Not even all that long ago, I used to argue that Phillips was the most underrated player on the team. That he had to be watched live, playing against the opposition’s top forwards [at the time] to be truly appreciated. It’s been long held that when Phillips is invisible it means he’s having a good night. Taking his expert care of the subtle defensive nuances that help win you games. You can’t expect that kind of billing to capture the imagination of sports fans. Regardless of his past, Father Time has caught up with no. 4 and unfortunately, he’s become quite visible on most nights. Are we wrong to be critical of a player who’s gone from backbone to one of the weaker links in an already pretty porous D corps? I don’t think so. Are we being completely fair? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure of that either. One thing I am confident about is that it doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t like the guy or wish him anything other than success if we as fans would prefer to see him move on. He’s been a solid member of our team, a key component of past success and a tremendous member of the community for a long time now. The popularity of his business here is a reflection of that appreciation, I believe. If you want proof, try getting a table at Big Rig on a Friday night. It’s crazy to think a place located in an Ikea parking lot could be so popular. It wouldn’t be if people didn’t want to be at “Chris Phillips’ bar”. I think that’s cool. I’m proud that regardless of what happens in the near future that he will remain part of our city and its community beyond his playing career.

Outside the business side of hockey (dollars and winning) I think it’s clear, we’re all buddies. Inside of that world, however, no currently we aren’t.
To get back to what I was saying about suffering from our nascent history, the “glory days” that we associate Chris Phillips (and Chris Neil) with 1. Peaked going on 8 years ago and 2. Aren’t all that glorious to be quite frank.
It hurts for me to say it, but making the Stanley Cup Final is only a big deal to those of us who witnessed it. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t special. Does anyone care that Philadelphia or New Jersey recently lost the Stanley Cup? The Vancouver Canucks have been to the Cup Final three times in their 44 seasons as an NHL franchise. As an outsider, do I look at their recent run of strong seasons as glory days? Not at all, I see them as perhaps an even more frustrating version of the early-mid 2000s powerhouse Senators teams. Back to back Presidents’ Trophies, Hall of Fame calibre players who’ve come, gone or declined in ability and no Cup to show. I, to a mercifully lesser degree, know the feeling.

In 2011, we were promised a turning of the page, a new chapter in Sens history. Admittedly, the subsequent sell off that occurred to mark its beginning scared the crap out of me as a fan. Until then, I would have argued all day that you simply cannot spare players like Chris Kelly, or Mike Fisher, that they are too valuable. The truth, I learned, was that they were too valuable to give up when Ottawa was going deep in the playoffs year after year. When the team was no longer a contender, that’s exactly where Fisher and Kelly were sent to: Teams that were current contenders or at least poised to take that step.
Kelly now has a ring and Fisher has a real chance at one. That’s where I and I think many people now see Phillips and Neil as well. We’ve been promised change, we’ve had some, we’re seen the promise and now we’re thirsting for more of it. Frustrating as the growth can be at times, we are experiencing shades of what is to be and we want management to speed the transition up. To their credit, it’s a consequence of the strength of their partial rebuild.

The unavoidable subject I will now acknowledge is, of course, Daniel Alfredsson. I can speak only for myself but I think it’s safe to say that following Alfie’s departure [the season after finally making it out of the first round of the playoffs since 2007 no less!], much, if not all, sentimentality toward the old guard died when he left.
Sure, wounds were thankfully healed with no.11 in late 2014. All is forgiven between us but fresh off the trade request of Jason Spezza after one mere season of captaincy, I cannot blame a large swath of fans for simply being exhausted with the legacies of the old guard at this point. Especially when you consider the greatest player in franchise history had already jumped ship for 5.5 million dollars and five playoff games with a division rival.

Tonight, there’s no valid course of action when they commemorate Chris Phillips’ service and devotion to the team and the community other than a wholehearted standing ovation. If you’re going to be in attendance, I urge you to scream your voice hoarse. He deserves it. He’s earned it. I was at the ceremony for his 1000th game and found myself surprised at how emotional watching the spectacle was. Tonight will be no different.
I just cannot fault many of our fans desire to move closer toward the future by making moves that are currently in play. Nor do I necessarily equate that desire with distain toward a career as respected as Phillips.The desire for change has simply become larger than this one night, this one event. If the beloved, heart on sleeve Mike Fisher had played here all 916 games of his NHL career and the same deal offered for him in 2011 was in play today, I would want Bryan Murray to make it. If Phillips wants to exercise his right to stay, that’s his prerogative as is it fans’ urge to inch closer toward the future by moving him. What’s most important is that it changes nothing of his legacy in Ottawa.

Actually: The Illusion of the Senators Lack of Prospects

Hey Girl,

Look, these are hard times *Looks at bottom of standings* k, these are hardish times to be a Sens fan. Through these months of struggle, we can focus on the holes in the line up. Perhaps the holes in the line up are the result of a top pairing defenseman missing half the year with Rubella or maybe it’s not knowing what you’ve got in your career point per game first line centerman till he’s gone. We see these problems and we look for solutions. Simply put…

We need a hero. We’re holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night. And he’s got to be 3 things:

  1. Strong
  2. Fast
  3. Fresh from the fight (?)

When things are looking grim for Les Boys, one might find themselves on old, neglected www.binghamtonsenators.biz trying to see who’s in the holding pen for their shot at the bigs and Bobby Butler us into that sacred Wildcard spot worse draft position. We’ve all done it. I think a lot of people are doing it right now and are a bit pissed at what they’re seeing. Lately on the Sensphere, I’ve come across more than a few of my fellow fans complaining that there are few to no young colts in the stable (weird, sorry).

Now, I’ve seen some soft Actuallys from other fans in rebuttal, pointing out that goalscorer Shane Prince is ripe for a long-deserved call up and that Chris Wideman is 2nd in points by defenseman in the AHL (and only back of the top spot by 1 point at the time of this writing, I might add). Others are quick to mention that Freddy Claesson’s steady play could earn him a promotion (Sens are currently carrying 38 defensemen but Ima let Freddy cook). 

Anyway, these are all good points. There are a couple of promising looking players in the AHL but hearing both sides I can see why the cupboards appear bare in terms of players who are really blowing your skirt up (again, sorry)…But here’s where I gotta hit you with the mad ACTUALLY: The cupboards might appear bare but it’s an illuuuuusion, Michael.

It’s not so much that the team doesn’t have any exciting young players ready to break out of the minors. It’s that they had a bunch and the majority have either already broken out and graduated to the big league or have been swapped for better players who make up the team’s core…

Exhibit A: First Rounders Working Out
Plain and simple, a major cause of Binghamton looking a little paltry talent-wise is that the past two 1st round picks the Senators drafted, defenseperson Cobi C.C. at 15th in 2012 and centre Courteous Lazar at 17th in 2013, respectively made the big club in their first year of eligibility. For mid round picks you can’t really ask for better than that. I can only speak for myself (blech), but I don’t think Ceci or Lazar have been rushed into the league either.
After just 30 regular season games in the AHL, Ceci was selected to fill in for Jared Cowen who was serving a suspension for copyright infringement of the TV character Jerry Seinfeld (he was later acquitted claiming he was merely a parody of the character under the stipulation that Seinfeld is “Haha funny” while Cowen’s portrayal is “Crying on the inside funny.” The judge agreed and threw out the case). What was I talking about again? Oh yes, my 2nd divorce: Ceci has not looked out of place developing as a  guy who carries Chris Phillips bottom pairing guy and has stuck with the club since his call up. He’s even looked comfortable getting some time on the second pairing with human moose Erik Gryba. As a right hand shot Ceci will (hopefully!) never usurp Erik Karlsson on the top pairing but I believe within the next couple of seasons he will only get better and establish himself a solid player with the capacity for offensive flash in the important 2nd pairing role.
As far as Lazar goes, we’re only halfway through his 1st season so it’s a bit early to tell. Having a teenager learn the ropes in the NHL seems a bit risky but with a game as refined as his is, I think his development has been handled correctly so far. Keep him in the bigs, ease him in with bottom six assignments and let him play at the WJC. While he’s be been a little cold in point production (tough to get mostly playing on the 4th line), I think captaining Team Canada to their first gold medal in five years on home ice, and playing alongside Edmonton Oilers’ first overall pick Connor McDavid might have been okay for his confidence. With nothing left to prove in Junior, he’s where he should be.

Courtesy, Confidence, Value.

Courtesy, Confidence, Value.

Sure, he would likely play a more prominent role in Binghamton (had he been eligible to even play there, which he wasn’t) but if one of the main purposes of the farm team is to help rookies round out their game, I am lost as to what the main area of improvement for Lazar would be. Smile less? He was touted as a prospect who’d be most likely be able to jump straight into the NHL and he’s lived up to that billing since day one.

Exhibit B: Dat Top 6 Tho
If you look at the most consistent top 2 lines that have been deployed this season I would say they look at little something…like…this:

MacArthur – Turris – Stone

Hoffman Zibanejad – Ryan

K, so, 50% of the top six forwards are products of in-house drafting and development. One a mature rookie, one a sophomore, and one a grizzled 21 year old vet in his 3rd season. They look remarkably comfortable in difficult roles despite having fewer than 300 NHL games combined. Perspective: Bobby Ryan is only 27 and has 488 games played. All three of them did some time in the AHL and have made the leap to the show. Let’s examine a touch closer:

Mark Stone, 2010, 6th round pick, 178th overall. Taken at a Datsyukian 178th overall, it was a long shot that Stone would even make the NHL let alone play on a top line so early in his career. He’s still finding his way at age 22(!!) but after an injury plagued first season, he’s really starting to show that he’s the real deal.

Mike Hoffman, 2009 5th round pick, 130th overall. A late bloomer through every phase of his development, and nearly getting waived last season, Hoffy is proving that the NHL level is no exception to this tendency. After hardbodying the American Hockey League last year, Hoffman finally got a proper shot at the end of last season.
Personally, I saw potential with his speed and shot but found him a non-presence in most games. This year he has blown me away as often as he’s blown past defenders. Going into this season, I thought too much stock was being placed in a player with 6 NHL points to his name but like so many doubters along the way, I judged him too quickly. Hoffman has emerged as the highlight of the Senators season. He not only leads the Sens in goals (and we have Bobby Ryan!) but is currently tied for most among all NHL rookies to boot.
The catch with Hoffman’s tendency to be a late bloomer is that his rookie season is a mature one at age 25. He might not have as much prime road ahead as say, 20 year old Nashville phenom Filip Forsberg but…if you can’t be happy because the guy leading the team in goals in his first year in the NHL is 25? As Nelly once sang, “Hmmmmmm shorty I can’t heeeeeelp ya.”

Mitchell Zibanejazz, 2011 1st round pick, 6th overall. From an ill advised development year with a to-be-relegated Djurgardens, to a shocking demotion to the AHL last year and a slow start to this year, Ziba’s growth as a player has had ups and downs. Then one foggy Christmas eve, my G got to play his natural position of centre on a steady line with Bobby Ryan and Micheal J. Hoffman. He has been an improved player pretty much since that trio was allowed to stay together for more than 2 periods.
Barring a Scott Gomez level dry spell, Zibanjad looks poised to trump his point totals from last season. I’m not quite sure he’s the top line centre Bryan Murray has said he envisions him to become, but he’s looking better and better as a second line pivot each game. At age TWENTY ONE (by the fucking way), I think he will end up sticking there and become a key contributor to the team’s offense.

Exhibit C: Trading Potential Away For Proven Top 6 Players
Again, looking at the top six above, two of the best players on the team were acquired by making tough decisions with developing talent.

Kyle Turris was acquired by selling high on slobbered over Abercrombie model David Rundblad and a 2nd Rounder. In the nearly four seasons since the trade went down, Rundbleezy has yet to play 82 career games and has put up 17 points in total. Not tremendous for “the next Erik Karlsson.”
Sure, he’ll probably win a Stanley Cup with Chicago because hockey but hey, Mike friggin’ Commodore has a Cup ring, Marcel Dionne doesn’t so whatever fuck.
Say what you will about whether he’s a true top line centre or not, but the Turris trade and his subsequent contract, might go down as Bryan Murray’s finest move as Sens GM. He may not have the numbers of Spezza but he’s easily one of Ottawa’s best forwards and looks like a favourite to wear an “A” when Chris Phillips retires after his next 3 year extension is up in 2019. HAHAHAHA….ha…that’s…probably going to happen.   

Bobby Ryan got gotted with an absolute swing for the fence trade giving up much of the Sens stockpile of prospects in fan favourite Jakobi Silvermountain, 1st round pick and 2nd Amendment defender Stefan Noesen and Ottawa’s 2013 1st round pick. That’s a punch to the prospect pool for sure but with a little luck Bryan acquired arugably top 3 forward for the long term.
Looking at Silfverberg’s numbers with the Ducks, on a team that talented, they essentially got an Alex Chiasson. He’s a top 6 forward in the East, role player in the West. He might also win a Stanley cup tho.
Stefan Noesen’s been a bit more of a tragic case. He’s suffered two consecutive season ending injuries including serious tears to his ACL and MCL. Yikes. He is only 21 years old  and can hopefully bounce back but having only played 6 AHL games in two seasons he’s got a long road ahead. I will take Matt Puempel’s “disappointing” 24 points in 36 games over that any day.
Nick Richie who was taken by Anaheim with the 10th overall pick continues to have a solid OHL career…also tho, we’d be proper fucked without Bobby Ryan. He’s quickly become a leader, a contributor to the community and most importantly, he leads the team in points. Thank God Almighty that they got that extension done or that would have been a goddamn disaster Excellent asset management if you ask me. 

Exhibit D: …K, I’ll admit things are getting mad sketchy on defense.
Your honour, I’ll admit  this is where things got kind of fucked up. I believe that the forwards aren’t really the problem on this team. It’s the defense. I’m going to come off as an apologist here but as far as this whole prospects graduating thing goes I’ll boldly say this: It’s been quite a dog show but it hasn’t been for lack of trying.
Scary Part: Basically, all of Ottawa’s best defensive prospects of the past few years ARE ON THE TEAM NOW. For better or worse…mostly worse! Marc Methot is the only defenseman currently in the line up who wasn’t drafted by Ottawa. You can argue that the Sens have been drafting a number of NHL calibre defensemen…It’s just that some of them are Erik Karlsson and others are Mark Borowiecki.

You know i have to address this up front: You gotta hear both sides on Jared Cowen. He was supposed to be an absolute beast. He appeared to be coming along nicely until he missed a season with a torn hip barfarum. Guy has not looked the same since to a frustrating degree. Maybe in hindsight the Sens should have waited to see if he fell in the draft but I think we all had visions of Chara 2 dancing in our heads when he was taken. Also, it was no shock he was taken top 10 at the time. He’d been projected even higher than 9th leading up to that draft. Bottom line: You can’t predict people and further you can’t predict injuries. It’s a risk every GM has to take. If Karlsson never played the same after his injury, that’s not something the organization could have helped. It seems to me that’s what happened to Jared. He’s getting steadier of late but as to what his ceiling is at this point? I’d say with those wheels, it’s looking like middle pairing at best. At least he hasn’t played his way out of league and retired before age 30 like other certain defensemen Ottawa’s taken at 9th overall? There’s still time! Time to get good or time to retire pre-age 30? …LET’S MOVE ON!
For me, it’s Weircioch who’s really been a disappointment to the club. I’ve waited and waited for a breakout but now I am just super concerned. I’m not sure what it is about him but this guy is just unable to get a steady assignment for going on his second coach now. That’s pretty nuts considering how much more he offers in size, talent and experience compared to say Mark Borowiecki who has just been named Director of Player Personnel because compete level. I think Wiercioch was a big part of Ottawa’s re-build plan and has just been unable to take the opportunity that was in front of him. How Boro and Phillips got to fill in for Methot over him for months…I can only scratch my head.
Cody Ceci I’ve already spoken about and Gryba? Maybe he could be upgraded on but to me its been Wiercioch and Cowen not hitting their projected ceilings that’s done the Senators defense in. Not a lack of trying to develop talent.

Funclusion: We’ve had lots and lots and lots and lots of fun not reading all the way to the end of this deathmarch of a post. Heyyyyyyyy, I didn’t even talk about Lehner, or any bottom 6 players, or that nightmarish Bishop for Conacher trade (LOOK, CONACHER WAS THE MIKE HOFFMAN OF HIS GENERATION)…maybe next time?
Anyway, maybe I’m too forgiving, maybe those prospects are only succeeding because of the crazy opportunity they’re afforded on a low paying team like the Senators (Now featuring only 3 FA signings on current roster!). The point I’ve hopefully made is that it’s not so much that Binghamton appears bare of exciting players to call up because the Sens have done a poor job drafting them, but rather that it’s a bit of a down cycle because nearly all the best prospects have either made the team and are now developing their game at the top level or they’ve been dealt to solidify the core going forward with vets who are still in their prime.
The biggest thing holding the team back has been the disappointments that Wiercioch and Cowen have been. The organization needs to focus on either drafting more defensemen or packaging up more potential in exchange for a proven guy to correct this. I suppose taking Andreas Englund is a start. Locking up Marc Methot would also be huge.
The other major thing is that the team is an a frustrating stage of mid-torch pass. It just feels like players like Chris Neil and Chris Phillips will be around forever taking up roster spots where young guys with more potential could hone their craft.
“But at least Michalek and Greening are signed for the next 27 years. So we have that going for us!” – Matt Puempel and Shane Prince, in unison.
The team has some very tough decisions to make going forward. Some vets who can no longer effectively pull their weight have to be shipped for a “shot at the cup (lol)”, the defense has to be addressed at some point, and yes, the cupboard does need to be restocked now to keep the team growing (and cheap) so plz stop giving up picks for Hemsky cokedreams. I’m not even going to pretend anyone’s going to be bought out. The team’s drafted quite well for years despite only having one lotto pick in past decade plus. The in-house talent has been there but can Murray and co. patch the holes in the line up with no money for quality free agents? To me that’s the problem that could keep this team in purgatory.