Your Half-Assed Round 3 Preview: In the Event of an Emergency, The System Will be Deployed

The Story So Far:

Making the NHL playoffs is no great feat. It’s much better than the alternative, but more than half the league does it every year. Basically any team is capable of making the playoffs in any given year if everything goes right for them. Winning a single round is good, but it’s hardly something one could ever characterize as “A Run”. Sens fans don’t look back fondly on the 2013 Playoffs as anything other than “The Time We Beat The Habs And It Was Great”. Winning a single playoff round is making out with a stranger at a club: pretty fun for what it was, but hardly worth mentioning in the long run.

But making the Conference Finals? That’s rarefied air. By the time you make it that far, hockey media has no choice but to talk about you. Your games get a whole night to themselves. Pierre McGuire is there. It’s the Final Four. You’re in the 87th percentile. The teams you play are Actually Good. It’s real and meaningful. Even if Ottawa gets swept by Pittsburgh, this will still be the 3rd most successful season in franchise history. This team is Special now, and we shouldn’t forget to appreciate every moment. Ottawa doesn’t see this type of thing every year. Few teams do.

And the reason for that is because winning two series in a row is HARD1. We’re awash in “The Sens got lucky and had an easy bracket” takes at the moment, but if winning “easy series” is so easy, let’s see you do it. Go on, Montreal. Beat the Rangers if it’s so simple. Boston got to play The Easiest Playoff Opponent of Them All and they’ve been on the golf course for weeks now. There are no free lunches in the playoffs.

Well, except for Calgary. Brian Elliott is The Free Lunch GAWD.

Don’t be taken for a ride by Take Hucksters. If Ottawa is getting lucky, they aren’t getting lucky in the traditional sense i.e. by having their goalie float them while getting dominated in shots and possession. They’re getting lucky by going 5-1 in overtime games. They’re getting lucky by having Erik Karlsson on their team. They’re winning games in the margins, but they’re also giving themselves opportunities to succeed and that is not luck.

That said, Ottawa only led against the Rangers for something like 60 minutes total, and continuously coming back from one or two goals down is no way to live. That stuff isn’t going to cut it from here on out. Ottawa will have to win games now. It’s no longer enough for them to not beat themselves.

The Bad News:

My desire to see Ottawa make some “Win Now” trades was no secret. With the Atlantic Division going through a transitional period and no real juggernauts in the Western Conference, it wasn’t hard to conceive of a reality where Ottawa could make the Stanley Cup Final by only having to play one truly elite team. I regret to inform you that the time to play that elite team is now.

I doubt you need me to tell you all the myriad ways that the Sens are up against it in this series. There are bunch of series previews out there all telling you the same thing. Have at it, knock yourself out. You’re probably not here to read the same doom and gloom analysis offered on other (worse) websites, but in truth I have very little to add to what is already out there. The Penguins are the defending champions for a reason. They’re fast, they’re deep, they’re well coached, and they just beat the consensus Cup favourites. The Cup favourites were the Washington Capitals, but still. Ottawa’s only won 3 games combined in their last 3 playoff series against Pittsburgh. Sure Ottawa’s had the occasional bright spot against Pittsburgh, but in general the Penguins are a bad matchup for Ottawa. They’re a bad matchup for Ottawa because they’re a bad matchup for almost everyone. God I hate them so much.

However, there are enough questions in my mind regarding the strength of the Penguins that I believe an upset win for the Senators is not totally outlandish. If you wish to harvest the crop of a beautiful and bounteous Stanley Cup Final berth for our beloved Sens, here are the Seeds of Doubt that must be planted.

Can the Penguins goaltending hold up?

I basically believe the Washington Capitals were a smart team who did everything right this season, but let me also say this: that team was NOT inspiring to watch play from behind. No doubt this is a very results oriented observation, but the Senators only won Game 2 and Game 5 against the Rangers because they were extremely successful at desperately throwing the kitchen sink at Henrik Lundqvist. The Capitals not only refused to throw sinks, but they refused to even consider a basic remodeling of the guest bathroom. They made some passes, took some shots, and then Marc-Andre Fleury (NOT EVEN PITTSBURGH’S GOOD GOALIE COME ON!!) saved the shots and that was that.

Meanwhile in the other Nation’s Capital, the Sens plan in the offensive zone throughout the playoffs has been to get the rock to Karlsson and go hard to the net. Many goals scored by Ottawa have not been especially sexy, but as they saying goes “They don’t ask you how, they just ask how many.”, and to this point the answer to “How many?” has been “Enough”.

Ottawa will have to get in Fleury’s kitchen and continue to chip in goals of the Extremely Garbage variety to have a chance in this series. Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone should be good for a couple nice looking goals, but to be honest, plays from Hoffman and Stone have not been carrying Ottawa so far. Give me that “Erik Karlsson scoring from behind the goal line” and “Pageau tipping in some wildly Hater-ass goals” shit.

Should Ottawa get to Marc-Andre Fleury early in the series, he will no doubt be pulled in favour of the superior Matt Murray, in which case Ottawa will have to continue to do what they were doing before so who cares?

Can Ottawa adequately dominate the front of the net against Pittsburgh to give themselves a chance? Well this brings me to my next question…

How good is the Penguins defense really?

Avert your eyes, children. I’m about to show you the Penguins’ defense pairings in Game 7 against Washington.

Dumoulin – Hainsey
Maatta – Schultz
Cole – Ruhwedel

Really? I need to be afraid of a top pairing with 36 year old Ron Hainsey on it? Really? Justin Schultz is a viable 2nd pairing defenseman now? Really? The Sens are gonna get rolled by a guy named “Chad”? REALLY??

Don’t get me wrong, it’s very impressive that the Penguins are getting it done with a defense held together by hopes and dreams, but lest we forget: Washington just dominated the shot clock against Pittsburgh for a whole series and the only reason the Pens are here now is because they got bailed out by their backup goalie. Very little about the last series indicated that Pittsburgh was even on the same astral plane as Washington in any categories other than Goaltending, Will to Win, Clutchness, having The Heart of a Champion, and Not Being Huge Chokers. Pittsburgh’s not playing as well as you think.

If the defending champs have a soft underbelly, it is here. Ottawa must take any potential advantage on defense and cling to it like grim death.

This brings me to my next question…

Which team has Erik Karlsson?

I just checked this and the team with Erik Karlsson is the Ottawa Senators. This trend should persist throughout the series.

The Wisdom

The Sens are playing some of their best hockey of the year, and for that reason alone I’d be surprised if Pittsburgh dominated this series. In addition, Ottawa has played Pittsburgh pretty close in two out of three games this season. It’s clear the problems the Penguins present are not insurmountable, and the Pens’ superior forward depth could be counterbalanced by their thin defense. That said, a few things must go right for Ottawa:

– Craig Anderson must outplay whoever Pittsburgh starts in net.
– The System must limit Pittsburgh’s zone time and effectively clog the neutral zone.
– We can’t have the Crosby Line AND the Malkin Line going Bergeron on us. Pick one line to get crushed by and stick with it i.e. match Cody Ceci with Malkin.
– Ottawa must take fewer penalties than they draw.
– Erik Karlsson must continue to play at an unprecedented level.
– Ottawa’s top two lines must contribute. Ottawa will not beat Pittsburgh with their depth.

That’s six things. Can we have six things go right just once? One time?

I wouldn’t say it’s likely that Ottawa pulls off the upset, but as they say, you make it in and anything can happen. Let’s make it happen.

Sens in 7

1. Man, winning two series in a row is hard, and you’ve got to do that TWICE to win a Cup. Somehow I don’t think the Stanley Cup gets enough credit for how hard it is to win. Even if there existed a team that was an overwhelming 70% favourite to win every series they played, they’d still only win the Cup 0.74 = 24% of the time. The Blackhawks have had to win two Game 7s to win their three Cups. Sidney Crosby is 2-0 in Game 7s in years in which the he wins the Stanley Cup. The Kings won THREE 7 game series on their way to the Cup in 2014. Regardless of how good they are, every Cup winner is lucky, whether it’s through staying healthy or just winning coin flips. Imagine you’re a GM and ownership gives you a mandate to win a Cup in the next three years. There’s at least a 50% chance you get fired at the end of 3 years even if you do your job perfectly and your team is historically excellent. I say all that to say this: my heart goes out to Capitals GM Brian MacLellen.

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Roundtable of Death: “We Won a Playoff Round!” Edition

Luke:

I’d like to start us off with a stat. According to Some Guy on Twitter, the Senators and Bruins were tied or separated by one goal for 367:47 of 404:31 total playing time in their series (90.9%). Now that is unsourced information from an anonymous internet account, but I have no reason to doubt it because it feels right. That series felt like watching a guy cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope for 18 hours. Six one goal games, four overtimes, and the only game that didn’t feature either team giving up a lead at some point was Ottawa’s 1-0 win in Game 4, a game which felt like someone said “We’ve had 2 straight overtime games, so now here’s a game that is just entirely overtime”.

There are many things I will remember about the series. Bobby Ryan showed up and wouldn’t go away, and I’ll always remember thinking “DON’T THESE ASSHOLES EVER LEAVE THE ICE” after Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak cycled the puck relentlessly against whoever Ottawa had out there for minutes at a time, and Erik Karlsson had multiple moments which will be shown during his Hall of Fame induction montage.

But as great as Karlsson was, this series is just gonna be another page in a very long book of Karlsson Greatness. The guy who I’m gonna always associate with this series is Clarke MacArthur. What can you even say at this point? That MacArthur’s career would continue was in such doubt that he literally test-drove retirement after failing to pass his baseline concussion test in January. Three and a half months later, he scored his first goal in two years and brought the Canadian Tire Centre to such a roar, they heard it in Orleans. A little over a week after that, he clinched the series in overtime from basically the same spot. Before returning to the lineup last month, MacArthur said that he couldn’t retire because he thought he still had more to give. He was right. What a story. I couldn’t be happier for him.

On a team level, this series felt like the culmination of everything Guy Boucher has been trying to instill since the beginning of the year. From the obvious commitment to defense in all three zones to the team’s mental resilience and ability to bounce back after a bad period or game, one thing is clear: this is not the Senators you grew up with.

The Sens could have rolled over after going down 0-1 in the series and 1-3 in Game 2, but they did not. After Ottawa blew multiple chances to close the series in Game 5, and went down 1-0 after failing to convert multiple powerplay opportunities early in Game 6, the Sportsnet Panel (may peace and love be with them) spent the 1st intermission talking about how Boston must be “destined” to force a Game 7. I read what you all said on Twitter so don’t .@ me when I say that you all agreed with them. Of course the Sens responded by scoring two powerplay goals and winning the series.

Now, I understand that a series that close with essentially even Corsis, shots, and expected goals (and 4 games decided in overtime) was basically a coin flip, but Erik Karlsson and the Sens’ relentlessness weighted the coin just enough.

Having survived The Best Line in Hockey, we now get to look ahead to the Rangers and I have just one question: We can totally take them, right? Not saying Ottawa should be the favourite to win or anything, but still…we can take them, right?

New York has some of my favourite players outside of Ottawa in Zuccarello, Zibanejad, Nash, and Lundqvist, but is there anyone over there who inspires fear the same way Patrice Bergeron just did? If anything, New York seems like an alternate universe version of Ottawa: a flawed team with the individual talent to outrun the flaws for a little while.

What are your takes, people who have watched the Rangers as much as or less than me?

Andrew:

Sens in 5.

Conrad:

A few nights ago, I discovered that my friend is not really into sports. Don’t worry: we’re not friends anymore. But as I was burying his body in the desert, I couldn’t help but admit that I understood where he was coming from. He’d say “sports are so arbitrary.” And because we were watching a game between two teams from cities in which he’s never lived, I could understand. To him, all hockey is is the puck and the net and grown men getting upset or ecstatic about the location of the puck at any given time.

Of course, hockey isn’t even remotely about that. Hockey’s about Clarke MacArthur spending his entire life in the service of doing one thing, and having his ability to do that one thing threatened, only to come back and do that one thing again, at the highest level, in front of thousand and thousands of people openly wishing for him to do it or fail at doing it, and all of us looking at the expression on his face, and on the faces of his teammates after he’s done it, and from our thoroughly compromised, banal deskjobs and meaningless commercial consumerist lifestyles, recognize an authentic expression of feeling. That’s what sports is. Simultaneously absurd and meaningful, low stakes and the highest stakes, vicarious enjoyment. For those of us who can accept this bargain, last night was what we call “A lot of fun.”

This playoffs it seems like the ultimate winner will not be any single team, but The Narrative, omnipresent and suffocating and awesome. You can see The Narrative at play everywhere, and it never dies. “The Bruins are the better team,” though they lost the season series to Ottawa in a sweep. “The Bruins are built for playoff hockey,” though the Sens managed to eek out these one-goal games and get clutch performances from key players. “The officiating lost it for Boston,” even though they took five delay-of-game penalties in two periods of hockey and in a series of one-goal games. “I hope this run doesn’t overshadow the weakness of certain players,” from a pile of wet towels who’s been writing the same story over and over for years. The Narrative, like Goldblum describing life, “finds a way.” Those with fully developed biases toward a certain team or a certain thesis about hockey will find those biases completely intact, even after the Sens win the series, and even if they beat the Rangers.

I’m saying this because a lot of hot noise is about to emerge about the Sens not being able to beat the Rags. That’s only true in the contact of The Narrative, which will be imposed, largely, but a bunch of people who don’t watch the Senators and don’t care about the Senators. But we know the truth. Our own narrative is just and true and shining like a beam of light right about the Clarke MacArthur’s golden farm boy heart and jesus christ did you see that interview with his parents? Clearly the Senators are God’s Team this year.

And even if you don’t believe any of that? Erik Karlsson is the greatest hockey player on the planet right now, playing the best hockey of his career, and he plays for the goddamned Ottawa Senators.

Chet:

The Bruins and the Sens were so close that not even the scalpel of Dr. Don Chow could separate them, and I hated every minute of it. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a playoff series that dramatic – sure, they went seven games with the Rangers five years ago, but those Sens weren’t really supposed to be in the playoffs so early into the rebuilding process, and so we all agreed that series was a good learning experience that would lead to imminent, multiple championships as we continued to construct a team around our young franchise future captain and would never make a bad roster decision ever again. I see you, Leafs fans. Truthfully, I don’t remember being that stressed out by a playoff series since the Battle of Ontario years, and that’s mostly because that was a stress that compounded over time. I see you again, Leafs fans. You’re everywhere, uninvited. One day there’s going to be a guy in a Tie Domi jersey that just shows up at my colonoscopy for no reason.

All that to say a series with the Rangers can’t possibly be as close, one way or the other, and so I’m looking forward to it. Bring on the 7-4 games, and the goaltender meltdowns, and the ongoing checkers match between Cody Ceci and Dan Girardi. Bring on the silly Brassard and Zibanejad narratives. On paper, the Rangers just look like a slightly more famous version of the Ottawa Senators, and this fact alone is enough for most pundits to favor them. Remember election night. Do not trust these people.

James:

It’s pretty fun to see hockey pundits or “experts*” get dragged on twitter this time of year for stuff like unanimously picking Tampa Bay to win the Atlantic but here’s the thing: Whatever.

I love a retweet of that “Can Anyone Beat the Blackhawks?” headline as much as you do but the hockey media have a job to do. We’re all just guessing and they get a paycheque to put their guesses in print. Hey, maybe next year Carey Price and his Tampa Bay Lightnings might end up challenging for the division after all.
A lot of this shit could go either way and the NHL is more fun for it…especially when Buffalo still can’t buy a bucket.

I say this because, as Conrad pointed out, these writers and talking heads are paid to find not just a narrative for each series but the narrative that the most people will enjoy reading. I saw one NY sports writer come up with “The Rangers will win because New York is a cooler place than Ottawa.” Dynamite stuff. Honestly, I gotta make some changes.

Proof of the tin-eared ‘never let a good story get the way of a ton of clicks” motivation was the headline I saw on TSN “Leafs Emerging as Feel Good Story of the Playoffs.” Look, as a dyed in the wool hater I’ll admit, it’s a deec story. Team comes in last, drafts first, new kid lives up to enormous hype and they make the wild card spot by one point. They then stun the President’s Trophy winning team in the early games of the first round then lose three straight and its #ACTUALLY good they lost in the first round because apparently everything is actually good And ws;dlkfjdgfdsf;gfkjfafaf ikja;g” until you just wish Flanders was dead. To further summarize this feel good story: Plan going decent.

What a tale, let it sink in.

I’ll just ignore WHY Craig Anderson is up for the Masterton, or the shots of he and Nicholle embracing in the stands after not seeing each other for weeks, or how a career backup played over 20 straight games helped to get us to the playoffs at all in his absence, or the sound of the Canadian Tire Centre when Clarke MacArthur scored his first goal in two years, or the most fronted on elite player in the NHL taking his game to new heights while injured, or the fans whipping boy becoming a scoring machine when it matters most, or the new GM’s biggest off season acquisition leading the team in points. This isn’t even touching that Bryan Murray is in the stands looking strong as an ox or that OUR HEART Jonathan Pitre is somehow finding the strength to cheer on the boys.

Honestly, as far as feel good goes I feel spoiled. I’d have just settled for “Former hated rival Dion Phaneuf scores overtime winner!”

This is our feel good series. We know what the life of a Sens fan is. We’re wedged in an original 6 hellscape of fanbases with a century head start, full of people trying to come up with a way to bond with their dads while rooting against their home city in favour of other places that look down on us. Sens fans against everyone. All we’ve got is us and all we’ll ever have is us and I like it that way. This is the Rangers series to lose as it was Boston’s. I’ll say what I said at the beginning of the first round: I like our chances.

* – LMFAOOOOOOOOO

Steph:

Bob Cole is like a series of Onion headlines that have have just enough reality to get a minority of people to read them and give them credibility while everyone else shakes their head in disbelief. Truly, listening to Bob Cole is as fun as having a really old person jump into your conversation in the grocery store to give you their opinion about kids and their computers nowadays. Guy is not good.

That said, nothing could make this series less dramatic-even Cole saying “Ottawa Sens” constantly. I think I got at least one ulcer from watching these games, for realsie. One goal games are the devil and Bergeron is Beelzebub. There was no time while I was watching this series when I was comfortable, also it destroyed my relationship with MomPuckpossessed so I guess I can take back her mothers day gift (I named a star after a Bruins player-“Punk Ass Bitch”). There is a joke to be made about fans throwing garbage on the ice and Brad Marchand playing but it’s just not coming to me. Bruins fans I know have had a pretty solid “officiating was biased” refrain- which is tired and lazy- but I can’t hear because I have my…first round winner rings plugging my ears.

I am more than a little confused about Karlsson talking about his hairline fractures before the Sens run is finished, but maybe it’s some sort of intimidation technique. Like, he thumbs his nose at regular mortals who do things like rest when they’re injured, or who play less than 55 minutes per game. From what I hear, this series will determine who won the Brassard/Zibanejad trade-an issue which I give zero cares about but since it looks like Brassard is winning, it is a #fun #thing.

Lundqvist is a terrifying prospect, and from the previews I’ve read-New York is pretty heavily favoured to win. Blah blah their Powerplay is soft blah blah physical play. Sens are always more comfortable being underdogs-this isn’t new information. Craig Anderson said in an interview recently that his wife’s health issues have given him new perspective on hockey. It’s supposed to be a fun game-and it’s always fun to win.

Sens in 7.

Your Half-Assed Round 2 Preview: The System is Merciful to Those It Loves

Folks, welcome back.

I’m sure lots of people are surprised that I get to write a Round 2 preview for Ottawa, but I’m not one of those people. However, I am surprised to be writing a preview for an Ottawa Senators v. New York Rangers series. I was mentally preparing to construct a grim preview for a Sens-Habs series filled with all sorts of anecdotes about how the Habs were a bad matchup for Ottawa and how we’d all better buckle up because the series might really suck for the Ottawa Karlssons. Instead, Henrik Lundqvist and Brian Elliott broke whatever Freaky Friday body-switch spell they were under, and Max Pacioretty turned into Max Patio-Ready, and now I get to read the tea leaves to see what sort of chances the analytically suspect team with good players has against the other analytically suspect team with good players. Let’s get to the graphs!

1. The New York Rangers are not the Boston Bruins. At all. Not even a little bit.

For all the hand-wringing from Boston fans about how Ottawa’s “boring” “1-3-1” neutral zone play was bad for the game of hockey, it’s important to note that Boston was equally culpable: outside of one line, the Bruins simply didn’t have the speed or talent to be able to gain the offensive zone reliably. This is not true of the Rangers. New York has speed and they have it everywhere.

The Rangers are a counter-attacking team who don’t mind dumping the puck out of their D-zone because they know they can force a turnover and attack with their deadly transition game. New York’s first line of J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Mats Zuccarello are all fast enough to turn nothing into something if Ottawa isn’t alert in the neutral zone. Going down the lineup, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Michael Grabner, Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash, and Jesper Fast (I assume) are all plenty quick as well. With New York’s focus on quick transition, the Senators-Rangers series is going to have a much different rhythm of play compared to the Senators-Bruins series.

2. The Rangers are good at getting to the net and scoring once they are there.

You need to give New York credit: as much as they are analytically suspect, lacking in Corsis and barely break even in terms of Expected Goals (AKA xG – my favourite nerd stat because it takes into account shot location in addition to shot volume), they are extremely adept at getting the puck to the front of their opponents’ net. You go up and down the Rangers’ forwards and it’s difficult to find one who isn’t above average at getting shots away from close to the net. (Ok, I did find one.) Add in the fact that Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, and Michael Grabner have all been shooting at a greater than 10% shooting percentage this year, and it’s not hard to see what drove the Rangers offense to the 4th best Goals For in the league this season. Check out that list again. Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan, arguably the Rangers’ two best forwards, aren’t even on it. Essentially the Rangers have three full lines who can take the lotion to the basket and put it in there without needing to be threatened with the hose.

Ottawa will have to be even more disciplined in the neutral and defensive zones than they were against Boston in order to slow down New York’s extremely effective scoring forwards.

3a. The Rangers are bad at keeping pucks away from their net.

Now that I have successfully terrorized every Sens fan reading, I will get to the other side of the Rangers coin: they are bad at defense. In fact, they are about as bad at keeping the puck away from their own net as they are good at getting pucks to the opposition’s net. This is a trend that has held when playing Ottawa specifically. In all three games against the Rangers this season, Ottawa has taken a lot of shots from dangerous locations. Ottawa also dominated the Corsi battle in two of those games, including their 3-1 victory on April 8th where Ottawa had more than 75% of the shots with Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf on the ice (???). The takeaway here is that as much as New York’s speed is going to be a bad match up for the Borowieckis, Phaneufs, and Kellys of the world, Ottawa’s offense seems to pose just as many problems for the Rangers.

3b. On New York’s Jekyll and Hyde defense corps.

Ryan McDonagh is very good, so naturally he’s often paired with Dan Girardi who I’m told is “like if Mark Borowiecki got 1st pairing minutes”. Brady Skjei is a sneaky good puck mover and offensive threat in the mould of Matt Niskanen who lately spends his time playing with Brendan Smith (who is O.K.) or Kevin Klein (who barely moves the needle in either direction). This leaves The Pairing With Marc Staal On It, which is the pairing with Marc Staal on it. Marc Staal isn’t exactly known for his offense but on the other hand he’s also not known for his defense. Lately Staal has been paired with Nick Holden who managed to keep both their heads above water against Montreal.

As deep as New York’s forwards are, there are opportunities to be had against the Rangers’ defense, especially if Alain Vignault continues to deploy Girardi with McDonagh. Moving out of the top 4, Ottawa’s defensive depth of Wideman/Claesson/Harpur may be just-ever-so-slightly less dodgy than the Rangers depth of Staal and Whoever, even with Borowiecki and Cody Ceci occasionally driving Sens fans to the edge.

4. You didn’t really think you were going to read a playoff preview that didn’t mention goaltending, did you?

In the blue corner is Henrik Lundqvist, the perennial Vezina candidate and poster of a .920 or better save percentage for every year from 09-10 to 15-16. King Henrik had an extremely average year this season, and at the age of 35, it’s possible he’s finally coming down from the elite level he’s played at for most of his career. On the other hand, he just posted a .947 sv% against the Montreal Canadiens and basically won the series singlehandedly. The only thing hotter than Henrik Lundqvist in a suit is Henrik Lundqvist in the playoffs.

In the red corner is Craig Anderson, a playoff gamer whose .921 sv% against Boston was still disappointing to some because Anderson’s career playoff sv% is .931.

For all the weaknesses both teams have, they are extremely strong in net. This means that it’s time for the phrase all my playoff previews must have: “If either goaltender gets hot, it will likely prove to be the difference in this series.”

That’s the WTYKY difference right there. Only I’m going to tell you goaltending is important.

The Wisdom

I suspect that this series will be one that Nerds would refer to as “high variance”. You could play this series 100 times and each team would win it 50 times for a different reason each time. I think something weird and unpredictable will be the difference in this series, be it Henrik Lundqvist posting 3 shutouts, or Mike Hoffman scoring 9 points in 4 games, or every single Senator doing nothing but bounce off Rick Nash for a whole series, or Dan Girardi and Marc Staal melting down into puddles of goo at the sight of Erik Karlsson. Where Ottawa vs. Boston was a series decided by Ottawa’s strengths (AKA The System) against Boston’s strengths (AKA The Bergeron Line) (Decision: The System), the winner of Ottawa vs. New York will be the team whose weaknesses were exploited less. If Ottawa’s commitment to team defense can slow the Rangers’ counter-attack, I’ll see you for a Half-Assed Round 3 Preview. If Henrik Lundqvist can adequately wallpaper over the holes in his team’s defensive structure, we’ll be left with lots of time to ponder how a traditional rebuild five years ago would have been better for Ottawa.

I leave you with this bit of advice apparently still unlearned by most experts at ESPN: when in doubt, pick the team with Erik Karlsson on it.

Sens in 7.

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

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

Argument By Way Of Match-up

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

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

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

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

Argument By Way Of Health

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

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

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

Argument By Way Of Depth

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

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

Argument By Way of Goaltending

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

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

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

Argument By Way Of Recent Form

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

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

The Wisdom

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

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

Sens in 7

Roundtable of Death: Playoffs Against Not-Toronto Edition

Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage 6 – The Leafs Choking
“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

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

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

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

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

Andrew:

Sens in 5.

Conrad Varada:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James:

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

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

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

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

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

Chet:

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

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

Luke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

9) Dominic Moore – Ummm??

10) Frank Vatrano – ….???

11) Riley Nash – What?

12) Brandon Carlo – Are?

13) Tim Schaller – THOSE?

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

Andrew:

Fuck the Leafs. Sens in 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorion Wrong to Defend Burrows Deal

When it comes to yesterday’s trade with the Vancouver Canucks, there appears to be consensus among Sens fans; trading skilled Swedish teen prospect Jonathan Dahlen for the 35-year-old super pest Alex Burrows was a bad move on the part of rookie GM Pierre Dorion.

Trading for Burrows, a player almost twice the age of Dahlen, whose career year came seven years ago, who’s been in steady decline for several seasons, and who was inked to a two-year extension to complete the deal  has been rightly panned by many bloggers and media members.

I share these concerns about the trade. I’m not opposed to trading Dahlen or most prospects really, but the return needs to make sense for the team in the short or long term (ideally both). When it comes to Burrows, he’s probably better than a few current Senators, but any improvement he offers is undermined by the term and financial commitment to Burrows until 2019.

In justifying this trade, Dorion spoke about Burrows as a “character guy” and that he hopes the veteran will influence young prospects like Colin White, Thomas Chabot, and Logan Brown. Here in lies my main problem with this trade. Teams make silly, ill-advised trades all the time, it happens. But when character is your justification, you better make sure the player you are acquiring is actually worthy of such adulation.

However, Alex Burrows isn’t worthy of that praise.

A pest in the classic sense, Burrows is an infuriating player on ice. He’s dirty and known for cheap play. He’s been suspended for reckless, dangerous play and his apparent bite on Patrice Bergeron in the 2011 Cup Final is still remembered. He’s had run-ins with officials. The only reason he’s been on anyone’s radar lately was a recent altercation with Robin Lehner in which Burrows provoked Lehner’s wrath. While I don’t like players who play the game this way, Burrows is in no way unique. All teams have employed players like him before, the Sens are no exception. The Sens currently have a few players whose style of play I don’t like. But that doesn’t mean I want more players like that.

Burrows’ cheap play is not the only reason he shouldn’t be praised as someone of good character. He’s said some truly horrible shit, proving he’s no one’s role model. In December 2015, Patrick O’Sullivan revealed that when both he and Burrows junior and again when they were breaking into the league, Burrows mocked the physical abuse and emotional abuse O’Sullivan suffered at the hands of his father. After O’Sullivan addressed Burrows’ behaviour publicly, Burrows offered a weak apology to O’Sullivan. Burrows expressed remorse if O’Sullivan was offended by his earlier behaviour and explained that the insults were part of his plan to earn more ice time.

It’s possible that in the intervening years between his on ice harassment of O’Sullivan and his belated apology in December 2015 that Burrows matured and grew as an individual and leader. He offered a similar explanation: “I think I’ve matured a lot. I grew as a player and a person and in today’s society, for sure, it’s something I’ve got to be careful [about]. I wouldn’t cross that line now”. A person of character would realize mocking the physical and emotional abuse of a child is simply wrong and unacceptable, not something to be “careful” about, not simply a matter of not getting caught.

But while Burrows claimed he’d matured, the O’Sullivan revelation came a mere month after Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk player in the NHL and a recovering alcoholic, stated that Burrows made “classless and unacceptable” remarks about Tootoo’s “personal life and family”. For his part, Burrows downplayed the incident, saying that he didn’t cross the line and that “What I said, I’ve been told the same in the past, and I’ve heard it plenty of times throughout my career. I kinda think it should’ve stayed on the ice, where it belongs. For me, I’m just moving on”. It doesn’t matter if Burrows thinks he crossed the line or if his intention was just to get under the skin of his opponent. The impact of his remarks on Tootoo (and O’Sullivan before him) matters more than Burrows’ intent. Burrows’ comfort with repeating offensive remarks he’s heard frequently throughout his career is also troubling.

I’m not naïve, I know NHLers say any number of vile, discriminatory, and offensive things on the ice. But from O’Sullivan and Tootoo’s reaction, it’s clear this isn’t just chirping, it’s something more. It’s also troubling that Burrows has consistently resorted to these types of insults throughout his career; from junior, to his early years in the league, and more recently during his time as a veteran leader on the Canucks, he’s shown little to suggest he’s matured. Burrows is far from the only NHLer to say such things on ice. Andrew Shaw’s suspension last year for calling an official a faggot makes it clear that this language remains a persistent problem in the league. However, that negative spotlight could easily shine on Burrows again.

If you want to justify a trade for a player like Alex Burrows, fine. But stick to hockey justifications and analysis. By making an argument in favour of Burrows’ intangibles and by suggesting Burrows’ character was a desirable addition to the Senators, Dorion endorsed the Burrows who harassed O’Sullivan and Tootoo. What kind of character is that to bring into the room? Why would you want young players like White and Chabot to model the behaviour Burrows has exhibited throughout his career? Simply put, this is a player the Sens shouldn’t endorse.