Weekend Grab Bag: Getting Back to a Place where Hockey is a Thing

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Obviously it’s been a surreal week in Ottawa, and not one I’m going to spend any time on this hockey blog pontificating about. Let’s repress with the best of them and take a look at our Sens, and around the league a lil’ bit, as we come up on the 10% mark of the NHL season.

All prayers are dedicated to the health of Erik Karlsson and our goaltenders, for without them we are but dust

We’re only seven games in, but the new Sens look an awful lot like the old Sens. Which is to say, they allow a butt-load of shots, have terrible possession stats, and it’s only by the grace of our outstanding goaltenders and Erik Karlsson playing in all situations and 30 minutes a game that Ottawa is anywhere near contention. According to that link we’re only outperforming Calgary and Buffalo who, according to this Swiss Chalet wet-nap I consult on all NHL related questions, are terrible teams barely disguising their desire to tank.

Interesting to see MacLean dip into his coin satchel of psychedelic line combinations already. Mark Stone sits last night against Chicago? Sure, why not. Cowen is now officially in Siberia? Works for me. Erik Karlsson with Patrick Wiercioch, no wait, Chris Phillips? Ulp. The only constant, it seems, is Chris Neil on that second unit power-play, which I’ve just come to accept at this point the way I’ve come to accept that a Conservative majority government will force anti-democratic measures through Parliament by way of omnibus bills. Give me the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

Happy to see our one legitimate scoring line of MacArthur – Turris – Ryan reunited and looking consistently dangerous. But outside of those golden three, we’re just going to have to summon all good thoughts and all of the hosts of hoggoth that Robin Lehner (.944%) and Craig Anderson (.936%) can keep up this play / stay healthy / not go insane under a constant barrage. Only in the NHL would this count as a game plan.

Let’s lookit the schedule. Dammit shouldna done that.

Ottawa’s a respectable 4-2-1, and it’s only because everyone else in their division has also been putting together respectable records and have been playing more games that they aren’t in a better position in the standings. But this next little while is going to get turbulent.

This week they’ve got a beaten up Columbus, who are co-opting our “secretly not very good / pesky!” approach to hockey. They are eminently beatable, but this will likely come down to a one goal game either way. Then they play Chicago again, who looked lazy last night and played a goaltender who’d never played an NHL game before and still won. Then there’s Boston, who Ottawa are contractually obligated to lose every game to, then Detroit and Minnesota – both very respectable, veteran-laden teams. If Ottawa can’t steal some points from the Winnipegs, Torontos, Edmontons and Calgarys to follow, then they’re going to be in a tough spot come the end of November when the fan base yells “I hate you!” and runs into its room, slamming the door behind it.

Jason Spezza is still Jason Spezza

Let’s check in on the One Who Got Away. No, not Alfie. No, not Heatley. Nope, not Chara. I mean Jason Spezza! (*waits for laughter to subside*) I mean, we all agreed he would go to Dallas, play on a line with Ales Hemsky, and be an absolute beast for them, right?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, he’s got 11 points in 8 games which, according to the wet nap, is extremely good. He’s also a -5, which is the Spezzaist-Spezza-to-ever-Spezza.

How about Hemsky? Not to be outdone, he’s also a -5…except he only has one assist in those same 8 games. Did anybody watch that 7-5 loss to the Islanders the other night? Holy hell, that is some premier OHL hockey if I ever saw it. We were right that Dallas is going to be entertaining to watch this year. We were wrong that they were going to be very good. Anyway, looks like we might have dodged a bullet on Hemsky, even with our totally insulting low-ball offer we never really expected him to accept.

I told you Tampa would suck

Speaking of not being as good as everyone assumed they’d be, Tampa Bay, despite spending more money than God spent when she created the NHL, is 5-3-1 with some very embarrassing losses in there. They lost to Edmonton and Ottawa. Needed OT to beat Florida and Calgary. Were destroyed by Minnesota. Ben Bishop is a decent .918%, but hasn’t been a world-beater.

I’ll keep saying it – you don’t finish third last in the league, lose Martin St. Louis, get swept in the first round, and then become a contender. It doesn’t happen in that order. You gotta take some steps in between. Watch for Stevie Y to spend even more money this off-season on whichever defenceman becomes available.

Go Preds!

My second favorite team and the little engine that could keeps right on trucking in the toughest division in all of hockey. They’re amazing, and, perhaps for the first time in franchise history, also watchable!

I have nothing novel to say here, other than Go Preds! which I guess is pretty novel after all.

Weekend Grab Bag: I want to spend Melnyk’s money edition

So, this is a thing I found on the internet.

So, this is a thing I found on the internet.

Yes, Ottawa should definitely upgrade at the deadline

Ok, look: I hear you, people. I hear the people who say we shouldn’t sacrifice the future for the present. The people who say we already don’t have a first round pick, so why would you give up even more when we’re hovering around a 40% chance to make the playoffs? These are all perfectly reasonable and valid opinions. They’re just incorrect.

The thing about this season, which might not be the case next season, is that the East is wide open. There isn’t a team outside of Boston or Pittsburg that I don’t think Ottawa could beat in a seven-game series. And even with Ottawa likely having to play Boston or Pittsburg, that’s not like, an inconceivable upset.

Ottawa has the 10th best offense in the league, and that’s with their best offensive player, Jason Spezza, playing with either Colin Greening, Eric Condra, or an out-of-position Mika Zibanejad. Sure, they’ve allowed more goals than all but four other teams in the league, but with Anderson’s numbers trending the right way, Lehner ready and willing to usurp Anderson’s role, Cody Ceci providing much needed depth, and oodles of cap room to improve, I think Ottawa can still make some noise in the playoffs.

And if they trade a 2nd round pick or some prospects and it doesn’t work out, are you really telling me our window is going to slam shut because we no longer have Mike Hoffman in our system? Depth is important, but outside of Curtis Lazar, Ottawa doesn’t even really have a prospect that isn’t already on the roster who might be considered a blue chipper. Upgrading is likely a matter of a low pick in a weak draft or mid-tier prospects going out in exchange for short term rentals and long-shots. It’s reshuffling the deck. Why wouldn’t you do it?

It’s not like Matt Moulson is going to instantly turn Ottawa into a contender. But this is the year when truly anything can happen in the NHL playoffs. If a rental helps us win that one extra game it will take to make it into the playoffs, I’m all for it, even if it ends in a glorious slaughter at the hands of the Penguins. (Again.)

Seriously though: Trade for Daniel Alfredsson

I mentioned this briefly in my post about who Ottawa should target at the deadline, so you can read my reasoning there. It’s all pretty self-explanatory, though it should perhaps be revisited today considering:

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How incredible would that homecoming be?

Sub-question: do you give him an A?

Ottawa’s new television deal

It’s been reported that between their annual payout from Bell of around $33.3 million, and the invasion fees and royalties paid as part of the new national package with Rogers, which are estimated at about $10 million for each Canadian franchise, you see Ottawa’s revenue for television going from about $7 million to $43 million.

This seems like a good a time as any to link back to the article I wrote on economics in the NHL. If this decreases Melnyk’s operational losses in the short term, and the franchise continues to increase in underlying value to the tune of 4%-7% year-over-year (not totally out of the question when you consider it generated this new TV deal and there’s nowhere to go but up), then we should absolutely, positively, not give a moment’s notice or modicum of respect if Melnyk cries poor when it comes time for a new arena.

This is a big step in the history of the franchise—the biggest, according to Leeder and Melnyk himself—and it’s wonderful to see. (Also, no more Sportsnet broadcasts, with their tinny audio and strange color correction and Nick Kypreos.) But if Melnyk insists that the franchise, after all of this, is still revenue neutral at best, then the traditional media needs to start paying better attention to the rising underlying value of his investment and calling him out on it. When Melnyk finally does sell, it will make him hundreds of millions of dollars. More than enough to make up for what I’d much rather call short term ‘investments’ than ‘losses.’

What does Ottawa’s next goaltending deal look like?

News that Semyon Varlamov signed for close to $6 million in Colorado confirms that the new price point for a starting goaltender is going to be: ridiculous. Crawford, Rask, and Varlamov all got about $6 million. Lundqvuist got north of $8 million. Steve Mason, who’s terrible, got north of $4 million. Tim Thomas, who is old and didn’t even play in the league last year, got $2.5 million fer Chrissake.

All of this makes Anderson’s $3.2 million look very reasonable—bum season or no. But it also raises the question of how much you pay Lehner, considering his very solid numbers and readiness to be a starter. If you figure that Cowen, who had less than 100 games at the time of his extension, got over $3 million per based on potential alone, then what do you pay your more experienced goalie of the future? It’s not unreasonable to see Ottawa spending close to $6 million between their two goaltenders, and soon.

Weekend Grab Bag: The Hockiest Hockey to Ever Hockey

So, this is a thing I found on the internet.

So, this is a thing I found on the internet.

You’d like to think that, on some level, the sport of hockey is moving inexorably towards self-awareness. There’s a gradual acceptance of not just advanced stats, but of basic critical analysis and dedication to evidence. The league has pushed for more and more parity, and so to such a level of competition that teams must find any edge they can – even if that means using logic and predictive analysis. But this week was a reminder that most of what you can see in the aggregate is easily washed away, at least for a few minutes, by the emotion of the moment.

First there was that roller-coaster of a game against the Habs. The team gives up three goals on 11 shots, including a shorthanded goal. The team then absolutely dominates in terms of shots and possession, scoring four unanswered to take the lead. The team then scores on its own net. The team then loses in overtime on a weak shot from the far side of two defensemen. I mean, it just didn’t make any sense from start to finish. It was chaos out there.

And sometimes all you can say is that that’s hockey at its most maddening, its most arbitrary. That Subban then celebrated as he did (which I’m fine with) only served to rub in a loss that, if we’re being realistic about it, we shouldn’t really feel all that bad about. If you outshoot your opponent 2-1 on most nights, then most nights you’re going to win. I’ll take that kind of performance, minus Anderson’s creakiness, any night of the week. Andy makes one more save and this whole thing ends differently.

Also something that was So Very Hockey about that game: I love that Ottawa finally gets to be the team to Montreal that Toronto was to Ottawa all those years. We’re the plucky, blue-collar group (relatively speaking). Montreal is the far more skilled team that wilts under pressure. It’s clear these two teams hate each other. And yet, when they get together, Ottawa plays Montreal so well and Montreal seems thoroughly intimidated. I don’t watch enough Habs games to know if they play this small against other clubs, but they look very easy to outmuscle against Ottawa. It’s refreshing to be on the other side of that, and it has nothing to do with advanced stats.

Other things that happened this week that were Just So Fucking Hockey: a team traded a league average goaltender for an expensive role player and then traded a pick for a league average goaltender. Now: try to figure out if they’re better.

I’m trying to put this in a perspective that we can all appreciate. Some of us work in offices. Very few of us get to see reports updated daily on the statistical effectiveness of our coworkers. Rather, we codify each other’s effectiveness in terms of one’s ability to be articulate, professional, friendly, and occasionally deliver a product on time and on budget. This doesn’t always lend itself to the aggregate.

And so while sports, being so statistically quantifiable, does lend itself so, it’s maybe difficult for us to remember that hockey franchises also have “the office,” with all of its intangibles. You’ve heard this all before, usually from commentators who have been in the game for years. It’s the reason why I’ll never understand Chris Neil and why the franchise extends him time and time again. It has to be intangibles. Either that or total incompetence on the part of management, but I think the former much more likely.

Perhaps it’s our instinct, as fans, to try and tear down those things we don’t have access to. To destabilize the exclusivity that is very natural in a world where millionaires sit in a locked room and prepare while the rest of us take the bus out to Kanata. Murray said as much in all of those recent interviews after he was extended: one change when he took over was drafting “quality people.” It’s so ephemeral, so unsatisfying for those of us who never gain access to that side of the game. But we got another reminder this week that to those who make the decisions in this game, hockey is a collection of personalities more than it is of statistical signifiers.

On Tim Murray’s new life in Buffalo: just a quick thought here. There was a bit written about how Murray would prefer Buffalo because of Pegula’s fortune, but I also have to think that that’s a pretty enticing roster. There’s a number of good prospects in Grigorenko, Ristolainen, Zadarov, and (to a lesser degree) Armia; there’s a number of expiring contracts after the year, giving Murray the chance to put his stamp on the team, and an opportunity to make trades for more picks; there’re only a couple of stinky contracts, including Myers, Ehrhoff, and Leino, who aren’t entirely ineffective players. And then, sure, there’s Pegula’s money.

If you had the opportunity to rebuild any team in the league, you could do a lot worse than Buffalo. Certainly given the choice between Buffalo and Calgary right now, I know who I’d pick.

Weekend Grab Bag: “Do we sort of suck? No. Maybe. I don’t know” edition

So, this is a thing I found on the internet.

So, this is a thing I found on the internet.

On Spezza

Jason Spezza has, and will always be, a divisive figure on this team, for reasons both fair and unfair. As I said during our inaugural Scotchcast, he’s a creative player who seems to pass to where another player with similar anticipation would have been, rather to where the players who he’s on a line with actually are. As a result, when his plans go awry, they seem to do so in spectacular fashion. I mean, I get it: it’s frustrating for a team that spends as little time in the attacking zone as Ottawa does to have its highly skilled, highly paid captain then whip the puck to an empty spot on the ice, effectively clearing it for the opposition.

That’s why this team went out and got Bobby Ryan, a player who excels at finding the open ice, at anticipating his playmaker, and at getting a shot off in small spaces. He seemed like a perfect compliment to Spezza. Instead, we’ve learned that Ryan can make plays too, and fits almost perfectly on a line with MacArthur and Turris, two well-rounded players who drive the possession game and make smart, simple plays consistently. Spezza and Ryan look lost together, perhaps because it’s not clear who’s driving the boat. The M-T-R line knows that you’re trying to find Ryan for the shot, and both of Ryan’s linemates are smart enough to read the situation and flow with it.

As a result, Spezza is looking a little bit lost out there. MacLean is cycling through line mates, but it’s tough to find a compliment for a free-wheeling playmaker who prefers the low-percentage, counterintuitive strategy to the traditional playbook. Michalek is invisible at times, neither able to receive nor get off a pass, and Spezza’s right side has been a motley amalgam of Neil, Greening, and Zibanejad. At this point I’m starting to wonder if Zack Smith deserves a shot on Spezza’s wing, and even I have to admit that’s a pretty stupid idea.

I’m not sure what the solution is. Ottawa’s offensive prospects aren’t really anywhere near ready (though one imagines Puempel getting his shot alongside Spezza in 2016-2017). It’s still far too early to target anyone on the trade market, not that Ottawa has the money to take on new salary anyway. And Spezza’s numbers are fantastic to start the season, though that’s buoyed by a few offensive outbursts rather than consistent production.

It’s not that I’m at all concerned, and I definitely don’t share the hate-on that some seem to have for Spezza. A few atonal improve-jazz moments are more than worth it for a point-a-game center making less than market value. (Don’t even act like Spezza wouldn’t make $8MM+ if on the free market now.) But I remember the good old days of Spezza with weapons on his wing. There were games when he looked unstoppable. He must also think about playing with an in-their-prime Alfie and Heatley when he looks over and sees Chris Neil charging the goaltender while holding his stick upside-down. As good as he is, we’re not getting the best out of Jason Spezza.

On puck movers and Weircioch

Ottawa’s transition game looked rough again against Montreal, especially in the first. Outside of Karlsson, who’s already playing about 30 minutes a night, there just isn’t anyone back there who knows how to do anything with the puck to start the rush. Cowen made a cross-ice pass in front of his own net that clearly surprised Karlsson, and which Montreal’s strong forecheck promptly turned into a chance to score. Phillips and Methot are far better at muscling someone off the puck than getting the puck to their forwards. And Gryba and Borowiecki are replacement-level AHL call-ups. That leaves the struggling Cowen, who the team has to hope is going to get his head out of his ass soon, and Wiercioch, who has a hell of a pass but who played the most sheltered minutes in the NHL last year, and who is a player more the mould of Anton Babchuck. He can play the point on the powerplay, and he can start in the offensive zone, but MacLean clearly doesn’t have any faith in Patty in the d-zone.

It’s a pretty big gap in Ottawa’s strategy, and it has a domino effect. The defense backs up and concedes all kinds of space knowing they don’t have the stick work or wheels to strip the puck away, and hoping to block a shot or stop the rush in their own end. The forwards have to carry the puck most of the way up the ice, with only MacArthur showing any success because of his reliance on simple and effective chip-and-chase plays along the boards and his excellent speed. Karlsson ends up playing more minutes than maybe he should, which results in him making mistakes. The goaltenders end up facing more shots. It goes on and on. Next thing you know, this team is outshot 2-1.

The inclination has been that Ottawa needs someone who can stop the bleeding because of how many shots the team is allowing. Personally, I think they’re allowing so many shots not because they don’t have their share of solid or all-around defensive players, but because their transition game stinks. And for that, they need to look at where the transition game starts. They need someone who can make a first pass to save his life. Even more than finding a linemate for Spezza, this team needs to find a defenseman who can move the puck. None of Phillips, Gryba, Borowiecki, Methot, or Cowen seem capable of doing that at the moment.

When do the fire sales begin?

You’ve got to feel for Panthers fans (the unicorns of the NHL): they’re about to bottom out again. They’ve already got their last several top five picks in the lineup, and they seem to be stagnating anyway. Huberdeau might be for real, but Gudbranson and Markstrom look like their souls have been crushed. Barkov is young, but already learning how little it matters to succeed in a market like Florida. Bjugstad looks frustrated. The whole team looks thwarted.

Their second-tier prospects are transitioning in, but their veterans have tuned out. (Remember that Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski are somehow on this team.) After finally parting with Stephen Weiss, and many years earlier with their prominent pick Nathan Horton, you have to wonder if they’re stuck in a perpetual mediocre machine. But as pointed out on several blogs, most of the teams in the league are within a couple million dollars of the cap. There just aren’t any trading partners out there in a season where the cap has come down.

Having said that, is anyone else surprised by the repeated mentions of Edmonton being a team ready to blow up its core? Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins are already on or approaching their second deals, eating up tons of money and cap space on a team that still has to deal with goaltending and defense. I’m genuinely surprised that they’re this bad, though. With the addition of Ference and a change-up on the team’s bottom six, I thought they were ready to at least be a bubble team. Instead, we’re all talking about who among Edmonton’s elite young players is going to be the next Tyler Seguin. Could this be an opportunity for Ottawa?

Early Week Grab Bag: “I have opinions about everything!” edition

So, this is a thing I found on the internet.

Fighting in Hockey

Uggggh…am I right? Who even wants to debate it anymore, I know. Well, I’m sure this argument will definitively end the conversation for good, and we can all go home.

It seems to me like the conversation can be handily compartmentalized thusly:

1) The ethical question of whether or not we should allow the possibility of serious injury because the person is engaged in something we may enjoy. This is a massive question that extends well beyond fighting in hockey to include pretty much everything we enjoy as a crass, materialistic society. Who cares if thousands die in car accidents every year, I hate the bus! Once again, with feeling: people enjoy fighting enough not to care if someone is hurt doing it. It seems to me like this debate is totally pointless, even if that makes me a defeatist and a shill. Whatever; we’re all culpable. You’re not going to solve it without also solving the mystery of why it’s so hard for people to be empathetic. And sports, as we all know, isn’t about empathy. It’s about Leafs suck.

2) Whether or not fighting actually detracts from the ability to enjoy a good hockey game. Ah, now here’s something we might actually talk about. Just as the shootout is viewed as a gimmicky aberration detracting from the purity of a well-contested, TEAM-based exploit, I have to ask how two ‘specialists’ dropping gloves to stop the course of play isn’t also gimmicky. We also debate hybrid icing, and the coach’s challenge, and all manner of other reforms because of the incremental way they may slow down the game. In the case of that Toronto-Montreal game where Parros was hurt, the game was wide open and all sorts of fun to watch because it was two fast and relatively skilled teams playing an uptempo possession game with lots of scoring chances. The game stopped about a half-dozen times for fights, and then for a solid ten minutes when Parros had to be stretchered off. When play resumed, it was halting, tentative, and less exciting. I don’t blame the players. They just cooled down for an extended period of time, and watched a fellow player become seriously injured. It’s not easy to get the adrenaline flowing again after that. Bottom line: is seeing a bunch of terrible fights, where they grapple each other’s jersey, miss each other’s heads a bunch of time, and then fall over, really worth interrupting the game so much? Is what I just described really that much fun to watch?

It’s impossible to understand how the same fighting apologists can talk about the shootout like it’s a sin against nature.

Zibanejad’s Demotion

Bit of a weird one here, innit? Remember, though, that Karlsson–he who can do no wrong–was also demoted in his rookie season. Karlsson was upset at the time–apparently weeping in Murray’s office–but it turned out pretty well. He was back the same season, and went on to be the Karlsson we know and love and name blogs after. Teaching the organization’s most prized young player a valuable lesson about not taking anything for granted is worth not having him in the lineup for a month or two.

Not to mention that Ottawa has a number of prospects who have been in the system long enough that if they don’t crack the lineup this year, their future in the organization is in doubt. Murray made the pointy in an interview that if you set goals for young people, and they meet them, and you don’t reward them for that, then you lose credibility. Da Costa did what he was asked to in the off season, and now he’s getting his chance. You have to give those guys a close look, because you know Zibanejad will be a part of the team for a long time to come. Plus, if it ends up saving a year on his ELC, all the better (not sure how that works though, what with him already having used a year up).

My twoonie is on Z-Bad being back in the lineup by mid-season. Nothing motivates a player more than having to ride the bus and then asking if they want back on the chartered plane.

That Kessel Contract

Toronto has to feel good about only having to sign Kessel for eight years. Sure, $8 million per is steep, but under the old CBA you could be sure they’d have to sign him well past his 34th year, which is what his new deal will take him to. If you make that a 12-14 year deal, with a long tail of ‘possibly retired’ years, you risk having to pay that player well out of his prime. As it stands, it’s a reasonable assumption that Kessel will still be productive at that age. For those who laughed at how much money Toronto tied up in one player, I can only admit that there isn’t really another player like that in Toronto’s lineup, or readily available anywhere else, and even if they overpaid it was only by maybe $1 million a year or so. In Toronto-bux, that’s nothing.

What it means for us, and the6thsens guys pointed this out already, is that Ottawa is well and truly fucked in two seasons time when Spezza and Ryan both need new contracts. (And also MacArthur and Methot and Condra and Anderson. No biggie. Just three top six forwards, a top two D, and your starting goaltender.) Last year, the St. Louis Blues spent less than anyone else in the league on salary; this year, after having signed all of their good young players (and trading Perron to make room), they’re 14th in the league in salary. (And are among six teams with less than $1 million in cap space.) With Eugene Melnyk making (yet more) noise about how much money the organization loses, and claiming to already be over budget, you can’t think that he’s up for a jump of that kind.

Obviously a lot can happen between now and then–will we even want to re-sign those two players, for one thing–but it can’t help but be concerning. Let’s enjoy this window while we can, Sens buddies.

Newsy News

Two interesting stories over on Senators Extra: How Clarkson almost ended up a Senator, and MacArthur ripping into his former coach, Randy Carlye.

Hard to imagine that if Ottawa had ended up with Clarkson that they’d have pulled off the Bobby Ryan trade. Toronto has been ripped a lot for favoring the lunchpail Clarkson so much they bought out the skilled Grabovski to make it happen, but sometimes we forget that Murray can be plenty old school in his thinking too. Especially interesting in light of the work Tyler Dellow is doing over on MC79 about how good the Devils’ possession was last year, and how Clarkson was the prime beneficiary in a contract year.

There but for the grace of god go I? Ottawa might still have Silfverberg, Noesen and their first rounder, along with a boat anchor contract and an aging power forward.

As for the MacArthur / Carlyle story…I don’t know what to say other than between Carlyle, Phaneuf and Kessel, Toronto has what must be one of the most unlikeable teams in the league.

Actual hockey

Hey, the Sens actually played! The weirdest, wonkiest opening week continues with the Senators not playing until Wednesday after having to wait a week to open their season…with back-to-back games on the road.

Observations? Nothing too specific to the Sens. Like a lot of teams, their early kinks are on embarrassing display. Lots of loosy-goosy passing plays that result in turnovers, scrambles, and three-or-two-on-ones. In other words: lots of fun to watch.

And speaking of fun, the MacArthur-Turris-Conacher line looks like it will be a ton of fun to watch all year. Turris is getting really creative out there, MacArthur is clearly a veteran in the way he can read and dictate the play, and Conacher is a royal pain in the ass. While Spezza looks dangerous and I’m so glad to have him back, that deal for Turris sometimes looks like absolute brilliance on Murray’s part.

— That’s it for now. Have a good Monday, everybody. Mark all those emails unread and go get yourself another coffee.

Not quite the weekend grab-bag

So, this is a thing I found on the internet.

So, this is a thing I found on the internet.

A little pre- and post-‘Free Agent Frenzy’ grab bag, anyone?

Save the players from themselves

What is it going to take before hockey players cast a suspicious eye in the direction of the Philadelphia Flyers? How can anyone seriously believe that the contract they sign there will be worth the paper it’s written on? Sure, Vinny Lecavalier got a full NMC out of his five year deal with the Flyers, but that won’t stop them from pressuring him into a trade or buying him out when the next flavor of the month comes along. Not to mention that the team’s near-constant wheeling and dealing comes at the expense of any semblance of stability, planning, or development. Lecavalier could have gone almost anywhere in the league, and like so many players before him, he was convinced by the Flyers of all people that this time everything will be different. Meanwhile, the last sucker who bought that line will get sent down to the minors to make room for Vinny.

If I’m the NHLPA, I look into making some sort of resource available to my clients whereby anonymous surveys of market and ownership are shared with the full membership. Maybe the Flyers organization truly is an outstanding place to work, but the optics remain terrible. Players who make a commitment to that team are repeatedly burned by an ownership that overreacts to every development. The only way the management’s behavior will change is if the resource on which they depend the most–players–collectively say enough is enough….

…but at the end of the day, I guess that’s just the cost of doing business with a large market team like the Flyers or Rangers. If you’re a 20-something kid getting paid millions, you probably want to do it in a major American city on a team where money is no object and the goal, year in and year out, is the Cup. You just have to pray you’re never caught on the outside.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to 2015-2016 when Brad Richards and Vinny Lecavalier are both playing together on the same team, probably for John Tortorella in Vancouver, and the Flyers have just signed Jason Spezza to a 7 year deal paying him $10MM per.

Melnyk’s money

The object of my offseason affection Grant Clitsome has signed a deal to stay with the Jets. My idea to go after Clitsome went over like a lead balloon with you readers, but I maintain that there’s potential there as a low-cost alternative to Sergei Gonchar. Clitsome signed for three years and just over $2MM per, which was probably more term than Ottawa would have liked to give out anyway. I’ll be watching his numbers this year to see if my prediction bears out.

Murray is going to have to find some other low cost players like Clitsome if he wants to improve his club, because everywhere else, we’re reading about how Ottawa’s ‘internal cap’ of $50MM will keep them from pursuing any high end free agents, and may even be challenging what should be a slam-dunk re-signing of Danny Alfredsson.

Look: if Melnyk doesn’t have the money, he doesn’t have the money. There’s no trying to will funding into existence if it isn’t there. Also, my comments about how if there’s any year that Ottawa should be a cap team, it’s this year weren’t meant to imply that Ottawa should go after, say, Vinny Lecavalier. Throughout the rebuild I’ve preached restraint, and I remain a fan of good value. There are a number of intriguing players available by trade, players who have potential, are relatively low cost, and wouldn’t take a massive package of prospects to land. However, Murray has to have the green light from its billionaire owner to spend. Not a lot more–just what we need to add some scoring punch up front.

But it has to be asked: if this team can’t spend more than $50MM on salary every year, why is that? I’ve written over and over again that it’s not at all clear to me how revenue on this team works. I get that we’re not New York or Toronto, and don’t have an insane television deal–but then, that describes most of the teams in the league, and we keep hearing about record revenues. Ottawa remains a top ten team in ticket sales, with an average ticket price, average merchandising sales, and one assumes an average TV deal. If a team operating in those conditions simply has to be the third lowest spending team in the league just to break even, then I think we deserve to know how that works. We suffered through two lockouts to establish cost certainty for owners. Now that we have it, we’re hearing even more about sacrifices. If that’s the way it is I’ll understand, but let’s get a little bit of transparency around here. Give the fans some credit. They can understand these things.

As for Alfie, I’ve been a lonely voice in the woods on this one: I’ve felt for a long time that he should probably play elsewhere. Not that I want him to, but just that his best bet to win a Cup before he retires is probably with another team. Let’s be honest – it’s probably not going to happen elsewhere either. He’s lucky to still be so effective at his age; this is beyond his last chance to make a push. But with Melnyk looking through his couch cushions for change just to be able to re-sign Eric freaking Condra or pay Alfie something resembling market value, I don’t think any of us would really blame him for checking out all of his options.

The draft and the media

Too bad I’m a hockey news junkie, because this cycle of hype and nothingness is getting old fast. TSN talked up the draft for days in advance, promising an unprecedented number of moves, and they weren’t halfway through the first round before they were hyping this Friday’s ‘FREE AGENT FRENZY.’ Yes, it will be quite a frenzy for the services of…Mike Ribeiro and Ryan Clowe.

As for the Senators, drafting a safe player who projects as a third line center isn’t the worst thing you can do at 17th. It’s the Zack Smiths of the hockey world that make it go around. But Curtis Lazar doesn’t help the Senators for at least a few seasons, nor is it a swing for the fences. I know every manager was asking for something insane to move up (seriously–why on earth would anyone trade Erik Karlsson to draft another player who is only potentially as good as Erik Karlsson?), but with Toronto showing it possible to get a good (not great) player in Bolland for later picks, you wonder what was actually on the table if the 17th was in play. But once again – it all comes down to money.

How long before we see teams try Kickstarter campaigns to bring in that puck-moving defenseman or backup goalie they need so badly? “Hey fans–you want us to sign David Clarkson? Pony up!” Maybe Melnyk can pass a collection plate around during exhibition games and have a pre-recorded message from Alfie begging for change on the jumbotron.

Weekend Grab Bag

So, this is a thing I found on the internet.

So, this is a thing I found on the internet.

I’ve got to post something just because I’ve had a post about being empathetic to Leafs fans on the front page for like a week and I’m over it. (Okay, one last word on it: if you haven’t read Tyler Dellow’s amazing post on the probability of seeing a game like that again, go do that now.)

MacLean for Jack!

Unsurprisingly, Piddy Macaroon got his second consecutive Jack Adams award nomination today. I think we can all agree it’s well-deserved, considering the combination of low payroll and injuries he had to deal with. But one has to wonder at what point the expectations game catches up with him.

As we all know, the Jack Adams is awarded to either the coach who is perceived to have done the most with the least, or the coach who wins so handily in this parity-filled league that the team’s success just has to be his doing, right? In the battle of the paupers, MacLean and Boudreau go head to head–as if neither of them have anything to work with. All MacLean had was Vezina caliber goaltending and Boudreau had relative unknowns like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan.

This angle is a bit of a joke. If it’s expectations we’re talking about, why not Capuano for getting the Islanders into the dance, or Todd Richards for having Columbus playing competitively all season long? Or even Hitchcock again? He has a good team, but that’s one of the lowest payrolls in the league and Blues were a regular season powerhouse yet again.

In any case, it’s probably going to be hard for the jury (or whatever ramshackle assembly of arena workers and carnies they have vote on this thing) to ignore Chicago’s record-setting start to the season. I mean, good is good, but the record books sort of elevate a person’s case beyond reproach.

And hey: Michel Therrien wasn’t nominated! Yeah, fuck that guy!

Oh yeah, the playoffs

Sigh…the Pens are pretty good. Didn’t like much of what I saw from the Sens this week, but they had their chances. It’s going to be a really fine line all series long. Ottawa has to play with grit and toughness, getting right up in the Pens’ wheelhouse. But at the same time, if you give a team like that power plays, they’re going to eat you alive. I don’t know how you do it. I don’t see Ottawa getting this team off their game through peskiness, given all the veterans they have in their lineup. Which brings us back to that old mainstay…Help us, Craig Anderson. You’re our only hope.

Playoff predictions

Anyone watch that LA – San Jose game last night? Obviously I’m hoping the Senators win two or three Cups this year, but if it’s not them, LA has the look of a team who could repeat. Just fantastic depth on that team, and their system is relentless. Perfect combination of hard work and skill-based puck possession. You can see how it pretty much wouldn’t work at all without Doughty (so glad we’ve got one of those on our team), but beyond him, I can’t think of a more serviceable and intimidating group of tough defensive defensemen than Regehr, Scuderi, and Mitchell. None of them has to be The Guy, but together it’s just a wall. Get past them, and you get Jonathan Quick. And, as the Sharks learned last night, even if you get up on them by a couple of goals, they have the kind of tenacious and skilled players in Brown, Kopitar, Carter, Richards, and Stoll that they can absolutely claw back. I’m also still blown away that a GM as incompetent as Sutter could be such a good coach. The Kings are the complete package.