It’s July 4th. Do You Know Where Your Restricted Free Agent Is?

It’s got to be difficult to be mainstream hockey media/blogosphere at this time of year. Every team has pieces in motion as they try to get multiple RFAs signed. Each year, there are several teams vying for the services of the biggest names. Rumours are flying, terrible deals are handed out, and when the dust settles, the mainstream hockey writer has to take stock of the league and sum up the events with discerning brevity. Some are better at it than others. Just check out this quote from Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert:

dtmah

Damn, how do these guys do it? Slow down, Ryan. Leave some insight for the rest of us. It feels like there’s barely anything for me to add, but I’m going to try anyway.

Let me begin by stating my belief that planning to improve one’s hockey team in free agency is a very risky strategy. If you identify a player you wish to pursue in free agency, you can rest pretty assured that there will be some other hockey teams trying to sign them. Thus signing the player you want is never a sure thing. Even if you do manage to sign The Object of Your General Managerial Affection, the contract will almost certainly be subject to The Winner’s Curse wherein the the contract you give out will be, almost by definition, an overpayment because it is more than what every other team offered. Sometimes there are reasons that players might not sign the contract worth the most money (such as the desire to remain in their hometown of Ottawa), but sometimes those players are also Mark Borowiecki so even that strategy comes with some inherent risk.

If you can pick up an undervalued gem in free agency, so much the better. Everyone loves finding a crumpled up $20 in an old pair of jeans. However, the recent league-wide improvement in analytics and scouting has made this more and more difficult. I’m not sure signing each off-season’s rescue dog-esque free agent is something on which you can count on a year to year basis.

All this to say that if Ottawa’s big splash in unrestricted free agency was to sign an American drummer/songwriter whose name can also be satisfyingly sung to the tune of “My Sharona”, I don’t mind. It means that Ottawa did not use their already limited resources to overpay for a player of dubious utility. I am becoming increasingly convinced that 50% of being smart is not being dumb, and by that standard, Ottawa’s July 1st was perfectly acceptable.

The flip side of Ottawa not signing any big names is that they haven’t signed any of their largely monikered RFAs either. At the time of writing, RFAs Cody Ceci and Mike Hoffman remain unsigned. Mike Hoffman’s next deal remains the subject of some debate, as the fanbase is split over whether Hoffman should be offered “A lot of money” or “All of the money”. In past years, you could count on Bryan Murray to leak some negotiation details to the press, and Bruce Garrioch would tweet somthing like “Mike Hoffman’s latest ask is $9MM AAV for 8 years and he wants his face to replace the Sens logo. Sens have only agreed to the logo thing.” Now that Pierre Dorion is running the show, the Sens organization has been watertight in a way that Lot 9 could only dream of until recently. This is new and exciting, and gives us all the opportunity to either panic, recklessly speculate, or both. For my part, I am responding to this lack of news, good or bad, with the equanimity for which I am justly famed.

That said, I would like to address the growing sentiment on Twitter that reads something like “Why isn’t this done yet?” and “Just pay Mike Hoffman his goddamn money already.” I like Mike Hoffman very much. I would like Mike Hoffman to sign with the Ottawa Senators for 5+ years. I would also like to point out something that we must remember above all during these negotiations:

This is a negotiation.

We all have cokedreams ideas of what we should obviously pay Mike Hoffman in order to keep him with the club, but it’s entirely possible Mike Hoffman doesn’t want that totally reasonable deal you’re sure he’d accept. Also coming out and offering your highest “good” deal is not the most airtight negotiation strategy. If one offers $5.5MM for 5 years, how high are you actually willing to go? $6.5MM? $7MM? What if Hoffman doesn’t want to sign long term unless it’s also worth a very high AAV? What if Hoffman would rather sign for a single season, and then use the threat of leaving as an UFA next year to get even more money next year? These are questions without easy answers, and it’s almost certainly why these negotiations are taking so long it feels like George R.R. Martin is writing them. Dorion has already mentioned arbitration once or twice in the media, and it seems like a a distinct possibility at this time. It would be annoying if Mike Hoffman and the Ottawa Senators went to arbitration again, but at least Dorion’s willingness to bring up arbitration indicates an interest in keeping Hoffman with the club. An interest in keeping Hoffman with the club was something that was considerably less obvious during the Bryan Murray era, by the way.

The fact that the player has some say in the negotiations is one that is often lost on people. Signing good young players to long term deals is great when it works, but it’s entirely possible that not every good young player wants to lock themselves into a deal that’s going to severely limit their earning power during the prime of their careers. This is why I don’t opine about how it was a huge mistake to not lock up someone like Mark Stone for a longer term. I’d have loved it if Stone had signed a Turris-type deal, but I find it plausible that Mark Stone knows he’s really goddamn good, and plans on getting paid accordingly in a season or two. That’s not an organizational failure; that’s just the free (restricted) market. Players have some power.

So that’s where I’m at.

Do I want Mike Hoffman back with the Senators long-term? Yes.

Would I break the bank to do it? Not without reservation.

Will arbitration be the end of the world? No.

Would I still like to avoid it? Yes.

Is this stuff way more complex than it seems? Yes.

Am I just a guy with a laptop howling at the moon? Also yes.

Hang in there, folks. It’s only going to get more nerve-wracking when they actually start playing the games.

Sens Rule, All Other Teams Stink

Look, I realize the Ottawa Senators aren’t the best. They have a budget that’s less than the salary cap and they don’t pay enough attention to analytics and they don’t know the true value of a third round draft pick. Their report card comments perpetually read “Room for improvement”. However, at least they don’t actively douse their fanbase in lighter fluid and then incinerate them by shooting flaming arrows into their chest. I mean, have you seen some of these other teams?

How does Peter Chiarelli do it? And by “do it”, I mean “remain employed”, because I feel like that Tyler Seguin trade should have followed Chiarelli around like a lost puppy made out of regret and sadness. But no, instead he ends up employed in the ancient ancestral home of regret and sadness, Edmonton, and proceeds to make The Tyler Seguin Trade But Worse. I don’t know what I expected. I guess, maybe, some soul-searching and some humility and some quiet reflection resulting in the realization that a lack of maturity is often temporary whereas skill is permanent. It’s true that Edmonton needed a 1st pairing defenseman after the Eric Gryba acquisition mysteriously failed to work out, and it’s true that Edmonton has so many young forwards that the laws of probability dictated that at least one of them was going to be traded. Still, trading Taylor Hall, (one of the leading 5-on-5 scorers in the league), for Adam Larsson, (a human male from Sweden), smacks of a failure of talent evaluation and negotiating ability that raises comparisons to tubers. You can talk about “wasting Erik Karlsson’s prime” if you want, but how many primes are the Oilers going to waste? I’ll give you a hint: it is definitely ‘some’.

It’s probably too early to dunk on the Maple Leafs, but that’s not really going to stop me because the day that I am tired of dunking on the Maple Leafs is the day I am tired of life. Normally a free agent signing somewhere that wasn’t Toronto would not be a big deal, but Steven Stamkos is no normal free agent. For months, my life has been a living hell of “Stamkos to Toronto??” hype, and I’m glad I won’t have to hear it anymore because it was always inane, delusional, grandiose, and revealed the Toronto fans and media to be self-promoting hype-lords of the highest order. Is that too harsh? Why wouldn’t Steven Stamkos want to leave a state where there is no income tax and no winter? Why wouldn’t Steven Stamkos want to leave Florida’s three hockey beat writers to play under the scrutiny of the likes of Steve Simmons and Dave Feschuk? Why wouldn’t Steven Stamkos want to leave a Tampa Bay team that made the Eastern Conference Finals without him and go play for a team that’s in Year 2 of a rebuild of indeterminate length? Is it because Steven Stamkos isn’t a complete goddamn moron? Maybe! If you honestly thought Steven Stamkos was signing in Toronto, you are credulous nitwit. If, at any point, you talked at length about how winning in Toronto “would make Stamkos a legend”, I am sorry that you believe that Toronto receives the lion’s share of the media’s coverage because it is in any way worthy of it. Toronto is going to be better than they were last year, but it’s not going to be because God has smiled upon your desolate concrete jungle where dreams are made up. Trust your Process; there are no shortcuts.

Which brings me to the Montreal Canadiens. In truth, I never thought this day would come, and this is because I underestimated the true depths of depravity which the Montreal Canadiens are capable of plumbing. On the ice, PK Subban was a nightmare to play against. He is excellence is unquestionable, and he plays with a passion that makes it all the more infuriating when he wins. I have often said the greatest compliment I am capable of giving a non-Senators player is “I wish he played for my team”, and I say this without reservation about PK Subban. I wish PK Subban played for the Ottawa Senators. Off the ice, PK Subban is quite literally without peer. He has faced all criticism, deserved and undeserved, head-on and seems to remain as positive a human being as possible. Just look at this delightful bastard. If you can’t appreciate PK Subban, you don’t deserve him, and in that way, the PK Subban trade is totally just. In the coming days, the Montreal media will begin leaking stories about Subban’s “personality” and “character” and how Shea Weber will bring what Subban lacked and it’s going to be total bullshit. PK Subban gave Montreal everything he had and all he got in return was empty press conferences from a management group that couldn’t stand him. This is the sort of trade that curses a franchise for centuries, and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving franchise. It is to be one of the great joys of my life to watch the Montreal Canadiens collapse under the weight of their own mythology. They tried to show Patrick Roy that no player was bigger than the team. How, exactly, did that work out? At least Patrick Roy was an asshole. PK Subban was so relentlessly positive and outgoing, it burned their very soul like holy water. The only Habs fans who are pleased that PK Subban is no longer a part of their organization are, without a doubt, garbage human beings. Their hockey team is also garbage. They deserve each other.

If We Hated Ourselves Less, We’d Love Chris Phillips More

You can’t explain the psychology of the Ottawa Senators fanbase simply by referencing “new team in a small market” factors. The Ottawa Senators are not unique in this respect. They are a relatively new expansion franchise as one of eight teams who joined the NHL in 1992 or later. Two of those teams, Tampa Bay and Anaheim, have already won a Stanley Cup. Like the Florida Panthers, Ottawa made a Stanley Cup final which they lost to a much, much better team. As long as a team exists in Arizona, a shared history of the looming threat of relocation will also exist between the Senators and Coyotes. The Senators and the Predators have both employed David Legwand and Mike Fisher. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever met a fan of Minnesota or Columbus, but I’m sure both fanbases are perfectly well-adjusted. Could Ottawa have traded Rick Nash and taken it in stride the way Columbus did? I doubt it. I admire the sanguinity of Blue Jackets fans. It doesn’t matter how many dynamic forwards they trade, they’ll keep firing that cannon at home games. Making visiting beat writers piss themselves after goals is its own reward.

Other expansion fanbases have organically developed their own tics, complexes, and anxieties, but Sens have not been allowed to organically develop much of anything. Our curse is one of geography, a curse that Tampa Bay, Florida, Anaheim, Nashville, Atlanta (God bless the dead), Columbus, and Minnesota have been fortunate to avoid. Like that planet in Interstellar that consists only of shallow oceans and kilometer-high tsunamis, Ottawa is caught in the orbit of the twin black holes of Montreal and Toronto. Their inexorable pull has choked out our ability to sustain anything other than grey hopelessness.

As is befitting the more hysterical tendencies of the Habs fanbase, the prevailing sentiment from Sens fans for the past year and a half has been one of overwhelming dissatisfaction. Fan unrest is ritualistically performed and has been perfected to the point of an almost religious experience. Daily we gather in the Sanctuary of Twitter and sing the same old hymns, the lyrics familiar to all. “We have only won one playoff series since 2007”, “The Sens do not have have enough prospects with upside”, “The Sens should have tanked harder instead of doing a quick rebuild”, “Bobby Ryan and Dion Phaneuf are declining players on contracts they cannot possibly justify”, and of course, our Benediction: “The Sens are wasting Erik Karlsson’s prime”. If one performs a Twitter search for “Therrien Subban“, you’ll recognize this Sens liturgy as a pale imitation of the original. No one does guilt, imagined persecution, and eternal suffering quite like the Roman-Catholics.

The Sens have good players who are either not good enough and they have good players who are surrounded by other players who are not good enough, and they also have Good Hard Working Boys. Mark Boroweicki and Chris Neil are fine professionals, but there’s something oddly familiar about the cadence of each caller on TSN1200 who waxes romantic about about their heart and soul and blocked shots. I have found that if one mentally inserts a name like “Darcy Tucker” or “Tie Domi” into your typical post-game show call, the origin of this mentality is be laid bare: a hundred drunk uncles at a hundred Ottawa Valley Thanksgiving dinners. (“Marian Hossa just doesn’t have THE HEART OF A CHAMPION like Gary Roberts!”, pontificates some cartoon avatar of a Leafs fan in May of 2002 after his seventh Labatt 50.) A holdover from the early 2000s when Ottawa Senators teams were routinely defeated in the playoffs by ostensibly harder working Leafs squads (instead of, more accurately, Leafs teams with better goaltending), it is the conviction of a number of Senators fans that any ills with the team can be solved by trading the players who don’t try enough. No doubt that the fans who don’t believe this believe that the ills of the team can be solved by trading the players who don’t Corsi enough, which is the most recent manifestation of Toronto’s group psychology. Can there really be any doubt that any inferiority complex that Ottawa possesses is a learned behaviour from Toronto?

Essentially Sens fans have adopted the worst qualities of the fanbases that surround us, and thus there is no one better at hating the Sens than Sens fans. It’s possible mindset would be different if Daniel Alfredsson hadn’t left us. When Alfie left for Detroit, Sens fans turned into the worst type of cynics. If Alfie wasn’t special, no one was. Sens fans can’t even appreciate Erik Karlsson these days without noting that he’ll probably leave for Detroit at the conclusion of his current contract. I’d expect that sort of thing from Habs fans three seconds before I blocked them on Twitter. It’s distressing that this fanbase insists on telling it to themselves instead.

In the intersection of this cynicism and betrayal sits Chris Phillips. As our own Andrew pointed out on Silver Seven, part of why Phillips’ record of 1179 career Senators games is so unremarked upon is because the number that precedes it, 1178, is the number of games Daniel Alfredsson played with the Sens. Phillips’ spot atop the Senators’ career games played list is nothing more than a reminder of a reality that should never have happened. This is a great shame when one examines 1179 in a vacuum. 1179 is more games than Bobby Clarke played with the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s more games than Trevor Linden played with the Vancouver Canucks, it’s more games than Denis Potvin played with the New York Islanders, and it’s more games than Jean Beliveau played with the Montreal Canadiens. By any other team’s standard, Chris Phillips would be appreciated as one of Ottawa’s most consummate professionals. Any other team’s fans would be less cynical.

Think I’m wrong? Ask Sens fans which Chris Phillips goal they remember better: this overtime winner, or this own goal, and see what answer you get. When Aaron Ekblad moved in with Willie Mitchell, they got a Katie Baker profile. When Curtis Lazar moved in with Chris Phillips, they got a parody twitter account1 (although to Phillips’ credit, he’s always taken his role as punchline in stride).

I think the problem is that appreciating Chris Phillips requires resisting irony. Appreciating Chris Phillips requires appreciating the good, rather than the great, which is admittedly not a sexy look. It’s hard to get a good discussion started at the bar by saying, “Boy, that Chris Phillips sure was there, wasn’t he?”. Even as a 1st overall draft pick, Phillips was never the best defenseman on the team. There was always someone else taking bigger minutes. There was always someone else putting up more points. A perpetual complimentary piece, Phillips made a career out of quiet competency in a way that would be the envy of most other hockey players. Can we, as a fanbase, not appreciate Chris Phillips at least as much as Red Wings fans appreciate Kris Draper‘s 364 career point ass? It’s like we fear that appreciating Chris Phillips is a gateway drug to something more sinister, like appreciating Jacques Martin.

Regardless of what you think of Phillips’ on-ice accomplishments, it’s his work in the Ottawa community that should be most acknowledged. This past year alone, whether it’s showing up to We Day, or combining his love of bikes, beer, and dads, or donating $50,000 to Do it For Daron, or Phillips has maintained a charity appearance schedule that would be the envy of The Royal Family. If this is to be the form of Chris Phillips in retirement, he may be remembered more for his next 18 years than his last 18 years. All told, if one was going to construct an ideal Ottawa Senator from scratch, you could not do better than Chris Phillips. He’s everything you could want and reasonably expect from a hockey player.

I’m sure when Bryan Murray signed Phillips to his final two year deal, they both imagined the career twilight that Daniel Alfredsson never got in Ottawa. Instead Phillips’ career ended so suddenly, we didn’t even realize that night had fallen. We didn’t know that when Chris Phillips played 14:54 on February 5th, 2015 that it was the last time we’d be seeing him dress for a Sens game. I doubt Phillips himself knew that. All things end badly, otherwise they wouldn’t end. Storybook endings are just that; the real world is rarely so accommodating. Though Chris Phillips didn’t get to leave hockey on his own terms, he should be still appreciated on his own terms as an overall good player and good human who will be good in the community long after he’s finished being good in the dressing room.

I’m hopeful at some point this coming season, Chris Phillips will get A Day. There will be press conferences, and a pre-game ceremony, and then the Ottawa Senators will lose 3-1 to the New Jersey Devils on a Wednesday. But on that day, there will be a brief moment as Chris Phillips steps out onto a carpet that leads to centre ice to receive some commemorative flummery from Eugene Melnyk, and in that moment I hope Phillips gets the rousing farewell he deserves. Only a cynic would disagree.

1. It’s ok, some of my best friends are parody twitter accounts.

Cottage Life

Cottage season is upon us.

With the May Two-Four weekend quickly approaching it’s time to prep your garden, buy some fireworks from a truck in a grocery store parking lot, and think about opening the cottage for the season.

However, if, like me, your cottage has seen better days, its small, cramped quarters in need of a makeover, summer presents an endless series of chores. Fix the leaky roof, replace a few boards on the dock, prop the barbeque up with cinder blocks. At some point you wonder if that expensive Sea-Doo that doesn’t always play a 200-foot game is still going to be tied up on the lake in the fall.

It’s times like this that I start to peruse cottage rental sites and Airbnb listings and joy of joys, it turns out former Maple Leaf gawds have prime Muskoka real estate and want you, yes you, to stay for a night or two for the low cost of a year’s tuition.

Since you’ve stipulated no parties or guests, I thought I’d give you a heads up at what I’m playing to do while I stay at your place.

What would I do if I spent a weekend at a former Leaf’s luxury cottage?

I’d pick up a stencil at Canadian Tire and rename your boat the SS Fraser.

I’d stock your fridge full of hot dogs and leave a “For Steve” note.

I’d examine your fine collection of cottage Canadiana and across every carving, painting, and print of a bear I find, I’ll scrawl “It was 4-1”.

I would carve Tyler Seguin’s initials into every tree on the property.

I’ll replace all the hand towels with Sens “Young & Hungry” playoff towels

I’d break all your fishing rods in half but only pretend to throw them into the lake.

I’d replace all your family photos with pictures of EK and Alfie riding bikes.

I’d use your fridge magnet grocery list to write a love letter to Clarke MacArthur.

I’ll tape Guy Boucher’s head to your Casino Royale poster.

I’d change your answering machine to the dulcet tones of Nick Kypreos and Doug MacLean

I’ll add a “Nonis” and a “Ferguson Jr.” profiles to your Netflix account

Finally, I’d fill your house with Webber Naturals products to remind you of the big Toronto endorsement deal that got away.

The Verdict Part 4: The Real Problem

Euge

Eugene Melnyk First off, I am very glad that Eugene is healthy again. Thanks to an extremely brave and unspeakably generous person he’s been given a second lease on life. Lowkey,  the most amazing fan moment in team history.  Oh, you threw a hamburger on the ice and Curtis Lazar took a bite of it, Sheldon Cutestory?
How about this person saved the owner’s fuckin’ life and hit him with the wild “Now win us a Cup.” Swish from full court…backwards.
Okay, these real-talk transitions  don’t get any easier to do, so in the spirit of “now win us a Cup” I’ll just dive in.
As all three of you may have noticed reading through the previous 3 parts of this series, aside from coaching, the actual changes I would make to player personnel are more complimentary than core. Would I part way with guys like Wiercioch and Chiasson? Yeah, but they aren’t making or breaking the team. Despite a bad performance this season, I’d like many of the players to remain on the team.
My biggest gripe up to now was always the need for a proven top 4 defenseman. Now that it’s been addressed, I wouldn’t be against giving a similar lineup a mulligan. Especially with a healthy Turris, MacArthur and non-broken finger edition Bobby Ryan. I don’t think they’re ready for the President’s Trophy but in a Florida leading the division with a 66 point, 44 year old leading scorer paradigm,  I think the East is still open enough to do some damage without having to sign Stamkos (whom I hear is very interested in signing in Ottawa for a discount).I was okay with Murray stepping down and Cameron getting the axe but really, if they got one more year too, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Actually, Cameron played Mark Borowiecki as a forward more than once so…good luck in future endeavors (Last time I will bring that up, I promise).No, in all seriousness, for me, the main issue holding this franchise back is ownership. Eugene Melnyk saved the Sens from Bankruptcy when he came in and bought the team and now he’s ruining them. He’s BEEN ruining them for a minute too. It’s one thing that his personal finances have deteriorated. It’s another that he’s stepping on the coach and management’s toes and meddling with their ability to make the “on ice product” the best it can be. Think potential coaches didn’t notice that Dorion said the money was there to sign a big name only to be contradicted by the owner like a day later?
If you can’t pay them you can’t pay them, why state your reluctance to sign the cheque to the media? I thought this guy was a fucking businessman. I’m a BLOGGER [who’s definitely not a virgin] and even I know that was a dumb move.I’ve heard it said the The Euge is the owner with the passion of a fan. That’s true but here’s the thing: I talk about hockey with a lot of different people. He does talk like a fan but he talks like the type fan that 2 minutes into talking to them I think to myself, “This guy doesn’t really know what he’s fucking talking about…but, you know, love the passion!” What kind of fan does he sound like? Ah, yes, the type of fan that you’re glad isn’t the one making the decisions. That’s where things are messed up in the organization. He’s imposed his influence, he’s meddling and he’s not a professional. No greater proof of that than how he handled the question of Dave Cameron’s future in the press. He should take a queue from the Anaheim Ducks owner and how they handle press…oh wait I HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHO THAT IS BECAUSE YOU NEVER HEAR ANYTHING ABOUT THEM. Euge isn’t the only owner who has had a reputation for being what leading anthropologists classify as “The Worst.” Daryl Katz, Charles Wang, “Dollar” Bill Wirtz, and hell, peace to the originator Harold Ballard [thanks for making the leafs awful btw!] come to mind. Most of the time, if you know the the name of a sports franchise’s owner it is because they are: Meddling with operations, broke, holding the team back out of sheer cheapness, or threatening to move the team if some expensive toy they want isn’t handed to them [usually by the city] on a silver platter. Any of this sound familiar?

Personally, for a long time I’ve thought that Bryan Murray has flattered The Euge’s penny pinching with many of his signings and trades. But you can only really get away with dealing with those kind of constraints for so long before the cracks show. This was probably best evidenced by Alfie’s failed final contract negotiations and the “you can have Spezza OR Ryan but not both” ultimatum. See also: the current downplaying of re-signing the team’s leading goal scorer. Some of these magic moments can be blamed on managerial blunders but others are definitely due to just not being able to make certain financial commitments work because of lack of available resources.

Operating under the cap in spending is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a blessing to have payroll flexibility with a team as young Ottawa’s. As kids develop and perhaps emerge as core players they will ultimately earn bigger pay days. You have to factor that in so you need some cap space to keep them in the fold down the line. But “flexibility” isn’t really what the Sens have, do they? No, it’s a money in, money out fixed internal cap. Again, Murray’s Turris, Karlsson, Stone, and Methot contracts (among others) were amazing. A first line centre for under 4 million? A two time Norris winner and team captain for under 7? Two of the best deals in the league / sports (and for term!). Those aren’t the kind of deals that you’re going to be able to lock down over and over. Especially when trying to fill needs on the market. Also, Turris and Karlsson and Stone are going to need to be re-signed at some point. I’m sure this is the first you’ve heard of this. We Sens fans are not absolutely obsessed with this at all.

Not that you needed any of this pointed out [sad!] but why I feel like Eugene is the biggest problem facing the team is this:  Deep down I believe he is stalling the sale of his team as long as he can and operating the Sens on a shoestring season after season to pay down debt so the franchise is worth as much as possible when he eventually does sell it. It’s his business to run and I get why this would happen. However, if he truly loved the team as much as he says he does he’d realize it could be much better and more stable without such tight constraints on spending “when the time is right.”
I don’t know what to believe when he speaks (problem: I rarely believe him). I’m no Dom Trumps, you know, the business genius who bankrupted a casino, but when he says that in this market, you need to make the 2nd round of the playoffs to break even I don’t know how to make sense of that. The numbers show that attendance is very good compared to the rest of the league. This despite Ottawa being a city of 1 million people whose hockey fandom is divided in three among smart, good looking Sens fans who have pleasant smelling breath, and the remaining fucklords who attempting to connect with their parents, cheer for one of two other cities stupid, dumb teams [for jerks]. The team operates millions and millions of dollars under the salary cap, recently got a TV deal, the owner also owns the arena where Garth Brooks just had a sold out, month long residency. Oh and by the way it’s not always pretty but the team DOES make the playoffs most years. They’ve only missed 3 times in the 12 seasons he’s owned the team. The Panthers are older than the Sens, just made the playoffs for the 5th time EVER and didn’t even sell those games out. How are they making it work?
I digress. Operating the way he asks, he can’t expect things to somehow improve. We’re going to games, we’re buying the merch. We’re doing our bit. We’re also supposed to believe that the plan is that the Sens just magically make the playoffs past the first round every year, as is? That’s a risky plan when you consider the Islanders just won ONE round for the first time since Mika Zibanejad was born. They didn’t do it one time under the sole ownership of notorious cheapskate and Proto-Melnek, Charles Wang.

The Sens are still a relatively new franchise and I think a lot of current fans were converted during the Sens powerhouse years.  Melnyk is not helping develop the brand by creating an environment to scrape by in, badmouthing his employees and the players while threatening and even in some cases blaming fans in the media.

He is simply too broke to be in the business of winning anymore and it becomes more obvious with each passing season. His attitude toward his paying customers is contemptuous and alienating and this almost worries me the most as a person who lives and dies on Senators hockey. Thank you for saving the Sens, Eugene. We had a hell of a run with you writing the checks but face it now someone needs to save you.

 

Verdict: Sell the team to Rich Uncle Space Clown.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Reply

The Verdict Part 3: Coaching, Management & Moves

Verdict

Daaaaaamn, Judgey Judgerton back at it again with the inconsequential taaaaaakes

Coaching 

Dave Cameron Ugh. This.

K. As much as some seem folk out there to want it to be, this bad season is not all on Dave Cameron…but also gotta hear both sides because this guy wasn’t all that great as a coach too.
The tough thing with evaluating coaches is that you’ll never know the full story behind 100% of their decisions but at the end of the day, some of Dave’s came off kind of desperate and didn’t make much sense.
The team had a lot of injuries this year and I’m sure that messed up his plan. I’d be willing to bet it wasn’t in his grand design to have to start either O’Connor or Dreiger in the home opener or to put Pageau on the top line.
That said, when judging Cam’s performance it always comes down to one decision for me: Playing Mark Borowiecki as a forward. I know I’m like a broken record with this but it’s only because this one is cut and dried just a horrible, avoidable decision that in no way helped the team win. It’s not as if Boro had a history of playing both defense and forward in college (a time for experimentation!). Nor does Boro even have an applicable skill set to warrant the decision to move him there. If Cameron, had played, say, Chris Wideman, up front I could wrap my head around that. He’s a crafty puck handler with a great speed and a hard, accurate shot. Wiercioch as a forward for a game? I could see that too potentially, I guess. Why Boro?

Related: How TIGHT would you be if you were Cole Schneider leading the BSens in points and the shutmost of shutdown defenseman was getting the nod to fill in ahead of you. Damn.

Speaking of player usage, I’d like to bring up one thing that I just cannot forget about: One of the questions asked of Cameron in his first presser after he took over for MacLean was “Will this be the end of Line Juggling Bingo” and Cameron said, “I’ve never been big on juggling the lines.” Then less than a calendar year later we have shit like Boro at forward and Bobby Ryan in a “non-scoring” role. Like injuries shminjuries WTF? He ended up worse than MacLean with the bingo balls in just one full season.
Could Cameron have been given another year? Yeah. He’d have probably had better results with a healthier line up and a year of Phaneuf instead of Cowen/Wiercioch.
Was Murray too zesty to extend him for multiple years given mistakes of the past? Definitely. With so little NHL experience Cameron would have accepted a one year contract.
Finally, did Ol’ Coach Blue Eyes seem in over his head a little at times? I think, like every coach since Bryan Murray, it showed. Post-Hartsberg/Paddock/Clouston/MacLean and now Cameron I think the team does need to return to someone with NHL head coach experience.

Verdict: Right to part ways but I propose a media blackout of Eugene Melnyk.

André Tourigny Did you run the power play? Well you’re fuckin’ fired.

Simple as this: How you gonna have the 9th highest scoring team in the N HAITCH L and have a 15% power play?

Verdict: Right to part ways.

Jason Smith Are you the defensive coach? Well you’re fuckin’ fired.

This guy arguably did a worse job than Tourigny. I’m pretty bummed that he was shuffled around the organization and not dismissed outright but whatever. The defensive coach will be different next year and that’s what matters most to me as a fan.

Verdict: Absolutely should have been dismissed.

Rick Wamsley Uhhh, look lady, this ain’t my real job, okay?

A huge reason credited to Hammond’s emergence was Rick Wamsley’s coaching. A big factor leading Matt O’Connor to sign here was a chance to work with “Wammer”. Seems rash to get rid of him. I also heard he played a big role in running practice drills which were apparently shit, M8. So…

Verdict: I plead even more ignorance than usual. I suppose this gives the new coach a chance to fully staff their ranks going forward? Man, this coach of the future better slaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

Luke Richardson I would like to start off by acknowledging that Luke Richardson is an awesome and inspirational person who has been through unimaginable stuff. My respect for him and his family almost makes writing stuff like this objectively quite challenging. Here goes nothin…

On a professional level, one thing I’ve never quite understood is the degree to which Luke was coveted as the golden goose of the coaching staff. So much fear of Luke over being snatched away by Tim Murray was expressed over the years. Like, I wouldn’t be thrilled about that happening I guess but I don’t know if that what it is about him leaving that had people so shook. A couple of good seasons in Bingo, one DEEC season and then one brutal one. Kurt Kleinendorst won a Calder Cup and was gone just one season later. I don’t remember uproar about that. Life goes on.

Luke seems like a positive guy and a very good communicator from what I can gather from interviews. These qualities in a coach  don’t grow on trees, unfortunately. With his eyes set on a chance at an NHL job, with the Sens regime change, it obviously wasn’t going to happen for him here. I think Dorion is banking on the next coach having NHL experience and for them to be in charge for a few years. Makes sense if it will be best for both parties to move on.

Verdict: A tough one. I hate that the organization loses such a quality person but ultimately I support both a full coaching changeover as well as giving Richardson his best chance to advance his career.

Management

Bryan Murray First off, again, respect to the person. This man is a Marine and a hockey legend. I hope he winds up in the hockey hall of fame sooner than later.  I don’t know if I should really sum up his entire tenure with Ottawa in this small space. That’s another post and one that should probably be written someone more eloquent than me.

Focusing on more recent Brystory, I can see at the end of the last few off-seasons why BMurr would waver about his future only to re-up the next year. He’s built a pretty solid but still growing core here over the years. I’m sure he’d be thinking ‘just a few more moves and this could be something’. There were blunders along the way but I felt this year he cleaned up a few huge ones. Dumping a bunch of burdensome or straight up dead salary for an actual player who can fill a much needed role was undeniably huge. The Phaneuf trade has it’s critics and he deserves blame for putting the team in that position but what I see in that deal is the wizardry required to address team needs without the option of money to fix things.

Under the ever-looming shitcloud of budgetary restrictions, Murray hit some absolute monster home runs as GM. But as the years pressed on, he’s taken his share of L’s too. I think he set the table as best he can. He’s had the management reins for nearly a decade, an eternity in modern pro sport. Deep down I fell much of the heavy lifting has been done and it might be alright for a fresh set of eyes to have a look at things.

Verdict: Not happy to say it but it was probably time.

Pierre Dorion Good luck in future endeavors ha ha ha…no but seriously do not fuck up your future endeavors.

Given the restrictions that Bryan Murray had to work within for the past few years it’s not the worst idea to have a guy who was learned the ropes under a GM who did an admirable job dealing with both the budget AND A MEDDLESOME EGOMANIACAL OWNER – wow. Sorry.
Seriously, Dorion has negotiated some seriously shrewd contracts over the past couple of years. They are a shitty reality necessary to making the club “work” so it’s a vital strength to have as Sens GM. I also really like that PD’s background is in scouting. Something not only helpful for drafting but also figuring out who to acquire in the Mike Hoffman tra—ahahaha *tear*

Under Melnyk the general manager position is a uniquely tense and difficult one. Dorion has been groomed for it for years now. Unlike nearly every goalie we’ve drafted now that he’s been developed he’s actually being kept around and given his shot.

Verdict: Probably one of the few people who actually knows HOW to run this team under current ownership [theme].

 

Randy Lee Made that giant trade with Rocheste and the BSens seemed to improve greatly after. I’m no expert with the BSens (peep the gawd Alicia Straunch’s insight for that) but after an apparent lockey room rift and 2nd last place finish I’m for a new look Binghamton team. Shout out to addressing problems. Seems like they changed things up without really sacrificing whatever depth is still there.

Verdict: Brutal BSens season not a good look but at least he did something about it instead of sitting on his hands. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if he did. Good to keep him on board.

In Memoriam: A look back at the players we lost this year. Was it right to let these players set sail?

Milan Michalek Milan Michalek, man…You know, when Milo is talked about in the press it’s never long before how much respect his teammates have for him is mentioned. This is just a pet theory [thx4reading] but I think a lot of it comes from his teammates watching a guy with chronic knee injuries show up to a physical job every day and compete at a high level without complaint. No further proof of that to me than after he was traded to Toronto they promptly shut him down for the year with a knee injury. Damn, he’s had a rough career.

In terms of his usefulness as a player I’ve long said, $4M is a lot of money but blessed is the guy who can fill in on any line without issue, kill penalties and chip in with the odd goal. That said, with the injuries piling up and another 4 mill on the books for next season, it was time for our poor ass team to let go of 9MM. Basically the only player on TML’s current roster that I admire.

Verdict: Right to part ways.

Jared Cowen Is it too much to say this guy was basically the Alexandre Daigle of defence? JC had great size, some offensive upside, and WJC pedigree when he was taken 9th overall in 2009 (Seven years ago tbx!). Of course, he never had the hype of Daigle but at least Daigle was kind enough to at least be a DEEC if mediocre player. I mean, he did have a 24 goal 51 point season here. Cowen…gave Jeff Skinner a concussion…so…
Anyway, there’s not much to say about Cowen that hasn’t already been said. On paper he was the perfect partner for Erik Karlsson so can’t blame the organization for taking him high as they did (even if he was their second choice after Nazem Kadri).
Where one absolutely CAN the blame organization is for giving this guy too many goddamn chances. I can think of a few high pedigree players who the organization had the sense to cut ties with. Brian Lee and Nikita Filatov come to mind.  Thank Christ he rejected that 8 year deal that the genius Tim Murray offered him. I guess Cowen’s massive ego came in handy for something. 

Verdict: Extremely LUCKYYYYY to part ways with him.

College Greening I know it’s super outto talk about intangibles these days but if there’s a je ne sais quoi that is REAL real, it’s confidence. Good LORD. What happened to this guy? You know you fell the fuck off when you used to play in the top 3 and BOOM a $2.65M cap hit seems crazy unreasonable for your services.
I don’t know if there’s a player I feel less sympathy for than a handsome, buff 30 year old millionaire with a degree from an Ivy League school. Hope he can land on his feet. 

Verdict: Amazing to dump his contract on the leafs…I mean respectfully and amicably part ways.

Shane Prince *Vapes thoughtfully, exhales a massive cloud of Monster Energy Drink flavoured smoke*

Now that he’s gone one big question looms: Did Shane Prince get the most ideal chance to succeed here? Given Dave Cameron’s questionable player usage, it’s fair to argue he didn’t.
Still, I sometimes wonder if players like Pageau, Hoffman, and Stone really got treated much differently early into the careers. They all started off in and out of the line up by toiling away in the bottom six until further notice. Sure, Prince didn’t play with the most talented line mates but I just don’t know if I can call a player who due to his contract was pretty much guaranteed a roster spot a victim. Also, other than a few games  I must admit he was okay but didn’t exactly dazzle me. That’s not to say I don’t think he’s talented or could be something in the NHL one day but his 3 goals in 42 games left something to be desired.

Take this for what you will but I had heard that since he requested a trade last season, he and the organization did not get along well. I think that might have played a large role in why he was dealt before he’d played even 1 full pro season here. As for the return. Yes, a 3rd round pick is pretty weak but imagine for a second Ottawa acquired a guy who was drafted going on 6 years ago and had 12 NHL points. Would you expect to give up more for that player?
Regardless, I for one am looking forward to every point he gets for the next 5 years to be carefully catalogued on twitter. Please be better than this guy Matt Puempel. I’m begging you.

Verdict: The way this played out I feel like we don’t know the full story here. Probably should have waited out the year before moving him though. He was still a controllable RFA at seasons end. Remember what Hoffman got in arbitration? Could have given him another year for peanuts.

Tobias Lindberg Loved seeing people freak out to the “Lindberg could make the leafs roster full time as early as next year” headlines on TML fan blogs like TSN.ca/NHL. That or the hand wringing over him getting called up all to the bigs all, “SEE we gave away an NHL player” like, okay, also, Toronto is literally the worst fucking team in the league.

Advice: When it comes to giving up players in trades, don’t waste your energy on when the crown jewel of a trade for a top 4 defender who can play 20+ minutes is a guy putting up single digits on a shit team.
I’m calling it, Lindberg’s not going to do much that Nick Paul or Matt Puempel won’t. Save the trade rage for Vezina nominee Ben Bishop being dealt for a dude who’s now a Swiss league player and perennial candidate for the Spengler Cup roster AKA Hockey’s Purgatory.

Verdict: You gotta give up SOMETHING in every trade. Sometimes it’s handsomeness. I think he’s a good player but honestly probably wasn’t going to get much of a shot here. Again, prepare for every point he gets for the rest of his career to be chronicled, bronzed, polished and compulsively rearranged on a shelf beside Silfverberg’s.

 

The Verdict Part 2: Defenders and Goaltenders

Verdict

Today we carry on our jerky journey of inconsequential judgement. Who’s on the docket? Oh, gooood defensemen and goaltenders. This should be quick and easy. Who should stay and who should go? 

Erik Karlsson Well, you know, best player in franchise history at age 25. In a perfect world he would be a lock for his third, second consecutive Norris trophy.

Verdict: APPARENTLY NO ONE IS SAFE but I suppose keep.

Dion Phaneuf Hi, Dion Phaneuf plays for the Ottawa Senators.

Not since Rocky Balboa’s historic “We can all change” speech that ended Communism have I had to checkitty check the shit out of my feels about anything.
After hating him for years, two games into his time here it was clear to me that Dion was exactly the type of player the Senators needed. I fast realized many of the reasons I couldn’t stand him are exactly why I now love him. The biggest problem with the trade? He was acquired a little too late into the season to help turn things around. Back in September of 2015 if you asked me what the thing I’d be most pumped about going into the 2016-17 season was, I’d have definitely responded “A full season of Dion Phaneuf.” Why? Because history is written by the Victors and I am known as Victor on several prominent dating sites.

My biggest concern with Phaneuf is that his leadershipocity could spill over into “taking over the locker room” territory. After watching that 30 for 30 about Shaq and Penny Hardaway on the mid-90s Orlando Magic, I am suddenly VERY sensitive to keeping your best player happy, rich and thinking he is the undisputed leader of the team, full stop.
I suppose whether an overbearing team takeover happens or not comes down to what kind of a person and teammate Dion is. Considering I’ve only thought of him as a piece of shit from Oct. 5th, 2005 though Feb. 9th, 2016, your guess is as good as mine.

Verdict: Living in the now and not 4 years from now. Very excited about going into next season with him. Keeper.

Cody Ceci We wanted a young team and we got one. With youth comes inconsistency. Ceci is pretty representative of that inconsistency but I honestly believe in him. I think he’s the Mika Zibanejad of defense. Is he a superstar? No, but what he is is a very young kid learning to play an important and difficult role with a tiny margin of error. After struggling with a rotating cast of defence partners, Ceci was a new player when Dion Phaneuf was brought in to stabilize him. He even played with a noticeable confidence without Phaneuf after he went down with a foot injury. Ceci quietly finished 2nd in scoring among defensemen with an impressive 10 goals and 26 points. He’s 22 years old.

Verdict: I believe Ceci will develop into everything Patrick Wiercioch was hyped up to be. Keep.

Chris Wideman Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan this guy switch contracts with Mark Borowiecki? Wideman was not a player I initially had tons of faith would electric slide into the NHL smoothly. Sure he won AHL defenseman of the year…but look up some of the other winners of that award. It’s a mixed bag.

Happily, Wideman has worked out quite nicely in his role. Is his game perfect? No, but that’s why he’s a 3rd paring defenseman and that’s okay. I think he could thrive even more if he had a bit of a better partner to work with.

Verdict: Great deal for what you get. Keep

Marc Methot Kind of a quiet year for Methot…I guess that’s good? Solid player on a good deal with both the wheels to keep up with Karlsson and the acumen to hold him down while EK hits us with The Art. Injuries are becoming more and more of a concern for the 30 year old who has never played a full 82 game season in his 9 season career. Also, from time to time, I worry about his [ALLEGED] Vengaboy lifestyle catching up with him.

Methot also stands to benefit greatly from the Phaneuf trade going forward as he is no longer the sole capable, big minute shut down defender on the team. Put simply: We are no longer proper fucked if Methot goes down with an injury.
Meth put up his second highest scoring total this year with 5 goals, none of which I remember. Could he be upgraded over? Yes. Will he be? Nah but he’s fine. I do kind of hope a replacement emerges for him in the next couple of seasons.

Verdict: Keep but gotta come up with a contingency plan pretty soon.

Patrick Wiercioch If you follow my Twinder account, you already know that I don’t have any love left in my heart for Patty W nor his Patty Wagon full of almost inexplicable die hard defenders.

I know, I know, why don’t I cut the most disappointing player on the roster some more slack! In a world where we’re disappointed in Ceci for his 26 point season then YEAH, Ima stay mad at Wiercioch for putting up 5.

Offensive dynamo Ben Harpur put up one point in 5 games. How you gunna tell me PW didn’t hit 10 points BY ACCIDENT in 52? Patty was the most frustrating player on the team this year not because I hate him but because I believed in him. Believed the hype more accurately. At least we knew Jared Cowen sucked from the get-go.

Anyway, I am a fan who’s willing to accept shortcomings in exchange for offence (See: Kaufman, Mike) but if you’re not a great defender and you don’t put up points what are you? A guy who can ONLY pass? I’m sorry but that’s not going to cut it in the NHL. Just ask only good at passing, former NHL player Scott Gomez. You seem like a good dude but you blew it, Patty.  After a 5 point season, an injury and a 2.7 million dollar qualifying price, homie seems bound for Europe. I truly hope he can turn it around, just not here.

Verdict: Get rid.

Mark Borowiecki Oh goooooooooooooooood finally an opinion on Mark Borowiecki. K, the biggest trick the devil [Dave Cameron] played on the world was making this no.7 defenseman a 6th…and OCCASIONAL FORWARD?! Borowiecki should basically be a non-factor on this team like Chris Neil. You know, a tough but not offensively blessed NHLer who at the amount ice time they are [ideally] allotted, shouldn’t really be a player who wins or loses games. What’s fucked is that the coach on numerous occasions put him in a position where he had to carry out a tougher assignment than he should have. It’s not Boro’s fault that he was paired with Karlsson on the top pair or that he was played at forward [More. Than. Once.]. I just hope the Sens get a coach who says, “Wow, this guy works extremely hard and sets a great example. He will be first off the healthy scratch list when one of the better defenders is sick or injured.”

Tip: Set him up to succeed by playing him less.

Finished ahead of Patrick Wiercioch in goals scored btw. These are the facts of the case and they are undisputed.

Verdict: I’m tempted to say we are totally stuck with this guy but now that management and coaching is changing hands, I’ll be interested to see if he’s still the Golden Child next season. If Greening can be sent to Bingo at 2.65 million I could see Boro getting the heave-ho at 1.1. Should be downgraded to depth regardless. Would count him being demoted to the AHL as getting rid.

Ben Harpur I don’t know, shout out? No, for real, even though he’s just 21 the kid had kind of already became an afterthought for me once I heard he got demoted to Evansville of the ECHL early in the year. A rash of injuries to the big club certainly helped things out but you have to respect him working his way up from the ECHL to a cup of coffee in the NHL in just one season. Even one NHL game is something a lot of very talented hockey players never get to experience.

Verdict: LOL like we can give up any semblance of defensive prospect depth. Keep.

Mike Kostko Michael was a pleasant student to teach. Good luck in future endeavours. I respect him but let him go, he’ll find work somewhere.

Verdict: Get rid

Freddie Claesson I think I was one of the few people  luke warm on FC when he got called up to a struggling, injury riddled D corps . Nothing against Yung Claess per se, I was just skeptical of a young shutdown down defender with zero NHL experience saving a team who was dead last in shot suppression.

I set my expectations pretty low and his inconsistent play was in line with those expectations. Some games he looked like a guy playing in the NHL for the first time and other games you could see him getting more comfortable. Diagnosis: Prospect!

A restricted free agent, there are rumours that he has AL-LEG-ED-LY been tendered an offer to play in the Swedish league. I don’t know if that’s true but if he elects to play there at 23 after only 16 NHL games I think that really says something about his drive at this point.

Verdict: Stay or go. Up to him, I suppose.

Greg Anderton Andy once again kept the Sens in more games than he should have had to. Did he have some rough ones? Well, when you start three quarters of the season for the team who is 30th for shots against you know IT HAPPENS.

Honestly, all things considered, his 31-23-2 record is pretty remarkable. He’s put up two of his 3 winningest seasons here. One of them was this year. The Sens finished in 19th. Brazy. Could you imagine the defence started lightening his load? Oh you can’t at this point? Yeah, I know that feel.
He’s getting long in the tooth on paper but can obviously still handle a ton of games. I wish he wasn’t leaned on quite so hard but I’m convinced he can still play out his deal as a bona fide quality starter. It’s the team in front of him that needs to step up

Verdict: Keep

Andrew Hammond Ah, it feels normal to get back to my roots criticizing a back up goaltender for having a whatevs season. No one expected a repeat performance of his legendary run. I mean, dude was handed the 2nd regulation, regular season loss of his CAREER this year. I didn’t expect a Vezina from him this season but a winning record was something I did.
He got off to a rough start suffering an injury just as the season began. Never a great position to be in. Still, Hammond was shaky enough that I suspect Cameron was reluctant to play him at times especially during the first half of the season. I could be wrong but I found Anderson was overplayed a little and I believe Hammond’s slow start had to do with it. He was also in net for a few of those CLASSIC blowing a huge lead games. Not entirely his fault but as a goalie you’re always going to be blamed for those type of losses. Hammond started looking like his solid self again toward the home stretch. Hopefully he goes into next year that way.

Verdict: *Looks at the Binghamton goalies’ records* OH wow, fuckiiiing Keeeeeep

Chris Dreidger Kind of brazy to think this guy is only 21. He’s been in the pro system for over 3 seasons already. Rocked a DEEC 0.00 GAA in the NHL this season. Seriously, by all accounts he really took the reins as starter in Bingo this year. Pretty impressive he squeaked out a winning record considering the season they had down there. His numbers could stand to be better but at his age he has tons of time to improve.

Verdict: Keep

Matt O’Connor Aight, so, got a rough trial by fire by being handed the home opener against a divisional rival for not only his first NHL start but first  PROFESSIONAL start. Sans pression. He was actually alright in that game but failed to get much offensive support.

In Bingo he had a concerrrrrrningly rough go. His brutal 10-20-3 record and 3.31 GAA make one think he might need time in ECHL to build up his play. I ain’t know nothing about goalie confidence building / destroying though. Until someone comes along to change my mind, I’m starting to think this whole “sought after US college player FA signing” thing might not be something to get overly excited about. Still, O’Connor turned his play around toward the end of the year. Like the case with defence, I don’t know what is gained by giving up on a prospect after one [very] bad season given the lack of depth in net. Probably the most disappointing Sens prospect this season.

Verdict: Keep. Give him another chance but …you know…yikes.