Are NHL GMs a Mystery to One Another?

On October 8th, the Ottawa Senators traded a fifth round pick to the Anaheim Ducks for Erik Gudbranson. Gudbranson, having been drafted third overall by the Florida Panthers a decade ago, will be joining his fifth team, and despite being Pretty Big, is also Not Very Good.

It’s hardly the kind of deal to get worked up over. A fifth round pick isn’t worth very much, and a team who was almost $20 million below the salary floor at the time added a Not Very Good NHL veteran with only a year left on his deal to a team expected to be also Not Very Good next season. Gudbranson will probably be on his sixth team in 2022, and Ottawa picking in the top five. While a bit of a head-scratcher, the trade is the definition of inconsequential.

Then, on the same day, the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Ryan Murray, drafted second overall in 2012 and Actually Pretty Good (though not Pretty Big and also Oft Injured) for also a fifth round pick. Ottawa Senators Twitter was alight with condemnation; how could this team, having just traded away nothing for nothing, decline to instead trade nothing for something? It’s a fair question. Asking it slams us up against the opaque old boy’s club of NHL hockey relationships, leading us to conclude, by dint of our lack of information, that the team making the inferior deal must naturally be an inferior assessor of talent. There’s another question worth asking, though, which is: how do the conversations leading up to NHL trades even work? Did Dorion even know Murray was available?

A few days later, the Colorado Avalanche made a lopsided trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, sending bona fide top-six forward Brandon Saad to the Colorado Avalanche for odds and ends. These deals beg the question: is there anything resembling an open market in the NHL? Anecdotally, I’ve heard mentioned on various podcasts, like 31 Thoughts, that there’s a closely-guarded listserv of some kind where NHL general managers share information about the players they’re trying to move, and what it would take to obtain them. But I’ve never encountered anywhere information about a market, in any kind of formalized sense, where players are objectively quantified and understood in terms relative to one another and to draft picks. Anyone who’s dicked around on Yahoo fantasy hockey has seen it: the trade boards, where one designates what they’re looking for, and what they’re willing to give up. Is it naïve of me to wonder if an equivalent doesn’t exist for NHL GMs?

It’s easier said than done, of course. Quantifying value is loaded, and the subtext of it is why there are so many people writing about and trying to get into hockey. But there are so many examples of teams making deals that seem fine in the moment only to find that these deals are sub-optimal relative to another deal that happens soon after that one has to wonder whether NHL GMs even communicate with one another. Is the GM community simply cliques within cliques?

Another puzzling rumor is that the NHL is eager to bring former Edmonton and Boston GM Peter Chiarelli back into the fold, perhaps in a role with the Arizona Coyotes. Chiarelli, though a veteran in NHL circles at this point, has been lambasted for a series of brutal trades and signings during his time in Edmonton. Why would he have not just currency in the NHL, but powerful actors within the bureaucracy of the league itself advocating on his behalf? It’s possible that he’s a good soldier, upholding the values of the league and conducting himself with consummate professionalism. It’s also possible that navigating the waters of NHL general management requires an understanding of the idiosyncratic gatekeeping that keeps any ol’ schmo from simply consulting the best practices and going about their business. Chiarelli has a membership in the Old Boys Club, and while that might seem like a self-legitimizing reason to grant him readmittance to said club, the health of the league is dependent on GMs that actually talk to and do business with one another.

This all goes back to that fateful day over four years ago when a series of bananas trades took place within hours of one another, all of the NHL media having been caught sleeping on the fact that any of them were even in gestation.

How could Edmonton trade Taylor Hall, a former first overall pick in the prime of his career, for a decent but unremarkable top four defenseman? How could Montreal trade the younger and cheaper PK Subban for Shea Weber? It’s not that these trades are not defensible if you squint and look sideways at them, but the experience is a familiar one for most hockey fans: “How could my team not have beaten that offer?” The answer, it seems to me, is that maybe they weren’t even aware that a market for that player existed. What we should wonder, as nerds on the internet, is how that can possibly be so.

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2020 Draft Grades

did you know that if you go on ottawa senators dot com, you can just download whatever pictures you see on there? pretty cool

Tim Stützle

Luke says: If there’s one thing I’ve realized while learning German, it’s that English tolerates differences between vowels sounds that make other languages a perceptual nightmare. English, in so many ways, is a linguistic wild west where everything’s made up and the structure doesn’t matter, but the vast variety of accents available to its native speakers play tricks with your mind in ways you don’t realize. Have you ever watched the Movie Accent Guy break down the differences between various Boston accents? It all sounds like imminent racism to me, but thank you for your service. Meanwhile, native German speakers have made fun of me for mis-hearing “gruselig” as “gröselig”. Make Google say those words to you and get back to me if you hear any difference whatsoever. Did you know Kafka wrote in German? I bring this up for no reason. The untrained monolingual anglophonic ear is simply not meant to discern such subtle differences between vowels when we interpret “n-EYE-ther” and “n-EE-ther” as legitimate pronunciations of “neither”. 

Anyway, after I texted all my German friends to tell them that Ottawa just drafted Timmy S., I received texts like this: 

Tough crowd! For the record, here’s how you say Stuetzle:

https://twitter.com/coolcatmum/status/1312824124562116611

Keep practicing. You will get it one day. If you do it wrong, a German WILL appear from out of nowhere and correct you. They can’t help it.

Pick Grade: Zehn out of ten

Jake Sanderson

Luke Says: Depending on who you ask, Jake Sanderson was either the best defenseman available in this draft or scout bait with bigger bust potential than a late Roman emperor. The Sens have really nailed their player assessment colours to the mast in selecting Sanderson ahead of various offensively talented forwards like Marco Rossi, Cole Perfetti, and Alexander Holtz. No pressure on this kid who is already slated to be the human embodiment of the never-ending Scouts vs. Spreadsheets debate and will singlehandedly be responsible in answering the question “Do Dorion and co. really know what they’re doing at the draft?”, at least until the next moderately controversial draft pick comes along.

Anyway, what sort of advantages do you think you’d have in hockey if your dad was an NHL player? There’s the obvious financial and genetic leg-up you’d have over someone trying to make the show off the street, but also have you ever considered the emotional release you could get from firing up NHL06 and making Tie Domi beat up your dad in a video game because he grounded you after he caught you doing your art homework instead of practising your snap shots in the driveway? Think of all the extra hours you’d spend secretly sketching in your design notebook at the hockey camp that you got sent to over the architecture camp that you wanted to go to. Imagine all the hockey sticks you’d get for Christmas instead of a single Rotring 800 drafting pencil. If your dad was in the NHL, you couldn’t help but become a great hockey player instead of the next Zaha Hadid. You and I will never suckle of these sweet nectars.

Pick Grade: One Thousand Museum out of ten

Ridly Greig

Varada says: You know what they say: culture eats strategy for breakfast. This is at once a bit of MBA cookie-cutter wisdom and one of the foundations on which the analytics community built its Church of Latter Day Contempt for the Hockey Men who themselves act as arbiters of culture. And so there is some irony in the fact that the community of relatively young men and women who use spreadsheets to split the hairs of adolescents’ competitive arcs decided that having three picks in the first round, and one of those picks being 28th, meant that the Ottawa Senators were bound by some irresistible force or cosmic justice to take a higher risk player with a higher projected ceiling. And it was with selfsame contempt that the Grown Hockey Men of the Ottawa Senators’ emaciated front office looked upon the vast and fruitful landscape of the 2021 draft and said, “Lo, bring to me a boy man who has character and gumption.” He was delivered, faithfully: Ridly Greig is described as hard-working, a half-decent passer, and a pain in the ass. It’s true that Ottawa has roughly 50,000 players in their system that you could describe this way. So, when Dorion, iPad and super-supportive girlfriend like twin winds at his back, selected Greig to the Memorial Curtis Lazar Ring of Honor, it was unsurprising that the Blog Boys and Girls felt like the moral arc of the universe was both long and bending towards bullshit. 

Having assessed the letter grades issued by numerous hockey journalists who are legally obligated to produce said grades within 12 hours of the draft’s conclusion, only those who admit that having seven picks in the first two rounds means you physically can’t fuck up deigned to give the Senators a passing grade. Most simply cannot get over Leaving Skill on the Board. For this reason, grading the Greig pick is simultaneously fait accompli – one does not simply walk into the first round and draft grit – and entirely impossible, because the factors upon which the Ottawa Senators determined the degree to which they value Greig are those to which we have no access! We were not in the room with Greig during the interviews, we cannot absorb his potential contributions to the culture, even though culture eats strategy for breakfast. It says so, right at the top of this paragraph! Greig is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of any conversation about how we evaluate hockey skill. He exemplifies the failures of traditional hockey wisdom and also we don’t know what the fuck we’re talking about. Remember last year when everybody thought Josh Norris projected as a third-line center? Get out of here!

Pick grade: Ω out of ten

Roby Jarventie

Luke says: This was not the pick that I personally would have made with the 33rd overall pick (You should see the stuff I would have written about the German language if the Senators had picked John-Jason Peterka like I wanted), but I’m trying to get out of the habit of conflating “a pick I would not have made” with “a pick that is bad”. Jarventie is alleged by some to be a one-dimensional player but luckily that one dimension is scoring goals, which I guess is the scouting report equivalent of telling people that your job “pays the bills”. Roby Jarventie is exactly like a government job in Ottawa which requires an arduous commute to a hideous building in Gatineau where you work at a cubicle in a nearly windowless room for 38 hours a week and all you get in return is a mere $80,000 a year and job security. Prediction: he works out fine.

Pick Grade: Ottawa LRT Stage 2 out of ten

Tyler Kleven

Luke Says: There’s lots of things to know about Tyler Kleven; like a specialty clothing store he’s big AND tall, and he’s never met an opposing forward whose face he didn’t want to rearrange in a manner not in accordance with God’s plan. His most important characteristic to me, however, is being Jake Sanderson’s roommate. Apparently the Senators currently believe that drafting players who are already friends will unlock some sort of latent chemistry potential for the team. To assess this drafting strategy, I invite you, the reader, to imagine working your first summer job with your university roommate. In your imagination, would the presence of your peer and ostensible friend make you a more efficient worker, or make you someone who was more likely to slack off and spend your days speculating on how that summer’s season of Entourage was going to progress? I believe this pick is like Turtle losing his management deal with the rapper Saigon, but the Senators may yet metaphorically invest in Avion tequila before all is said and done.

Pick Grade: Kleven out of ten

Egor Sokolov

Luke says: Three minutes after Egor Sokolov was drafted, someone tweeted this CTV News story into my feed, and I became a Sokolover for life. Dude couldn’t get back to Russia to see his family, so he helped out in the community that became his second home. It’s a story that we simply love to see. Maybe it’s not a great sign that he had to consistently work to improve his skating just to get drafted in his 3rd year of eligibility, but your man’s got silky hands and a wicked shot, and all of these facts mean I will be transferring my unresolved Mark Stone feelings onto him instead of going to therapy.

Pick Grade: 61 out of ten

Leevi Merilainen

Luke says: Leevi Merilainen is a goalie. He plays in Finland. As far as I know, he was not on a single draft board other than Ottawa’s. I don’t believe he was on any prospect ranking list going into the draft, and I was not able to find a single scouting report on him in the public domain. I was, however, able to find his picture on elite prospects dot com.

I have no choice but to tip my hat to the Senators’ incredible display of goalie scouting hipsterism. There’s no way that the Senators needed to spend a draft pick on this guy, but they did any way just to call their shot, just so you know it’s not an accident. The Senators are a guy who corners you at a party, asks you which goalies you like, waits for you to mention Askarov, tells you Askarov was better two years ago before he went mainstream, and then says that he like some really great goalies out of Finland but you’ve probably never heard of them. Then you tell the Senators, well I’ve heard of a couple of Finnish goalies, try me, and the Senators say “Know Leevi Merilainen?” and you say “Is he that guy from Liiga-2?” and the Senators say “You mean Mestis? There’s no Liiga-2 it’s called Mestis. Also he plays for Karpat’s U20 team. I saw him live in Vaasa last year. Just me and three other guys there. It was incredible.” and then the Senators walk away and you’re like “Shit that guy did know goalies I’d never heard of. Fuck him.”

Pick Grade: [7.6] out of ten

Eric Engstrand

Eric was a pleasure to teach this year.

Pick Grade: Any of the complex zeros of the Riemann Zeta Function out of ten

Phillipe Daoust

Phillipe was a pleasure to teach this year.

Pick Grade: Sin(Spartacat) out of ten

Cole Reinhart

Cole was a pleasure to teach this year.

Pick Grade: The Fourier coefficients of the Steely Dan song “Peg” out of ten

WTYKY Podcast: Episode 24.5 – Best of Both Worlds, Part II

In the second part of WTYKY’s Draft Podcast Extravaganza, Luke and James talk to Hockey Prospect’s Brad Allen about:

– Lucas Raymond vs. Jack Quinn vs. Seth Jarvis

– Why Tristen Robins and Ridly Grieg got moved up his list

– Why Jamie Drysdale moved down his list

– Who should Ottawa swing for the fences with in the 2nd round

– Zayde Wisdom!!!

Guest Post: Steve On Sens Presents, A Suspicious Amount of Optimism

Steve Sur Sens

Image Courtesy of Steven O. Sens Holdings, LLC

Hello, the following is a post from Internet Bad Boy and Salon Quality Hair Haver, Steve On Sens. If you like what you read, follow him for more delightful twitter jewels HERE. If you don’t like what you read I don’t know who TF you’re talking about and this post got on here by accident and I’m going to be looking into that and I’m going to look into it very strongly. Anyway, take it away Steve! 

There’s lots of uncertainty these days. If you’re the kind of person that likes keeping up with the news, I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines about COVID-19. Each week comes news about death, sickness, unemployment figures, how well the stock market is doing despite these unemployment figures, and also tweets that vaguely hint at what the NHL might do in order to finish the 2019/20 season and preserve the “sanctity of the Stanley Cup”.

If I were a fan of a contending team, I’d be really concerned. Tampa Bay, Carolina, the Islanders, and Vancouver all made big trades to improve their team now. It must be frustrating to make a big move to win the Stanley Cup and then the NHL doesn’t award the Cup that year.

While the top teams are concerned about their short term future, it is the bottom teams that need certainty from the league in order to plan their long term futures. The most recent rumour we’ve heard is that the draft lottery could be held on June 26. This is weeks after previous rumours nearly guaranteed an early June draft. Amidst all this uncertainty, there is only one thing that is certain: the Sens are looking kinda nice with it.

If you’re the kind of person that tuned out after the 2017 playoffs, or after Melnyk’s comments at the NHL 100 Classic, or when Karlsson picked up the puck at his last home game, or the allegations that Hoffman’s girlfriend was cyberbullying Karlsson’s wife, or the Randy Lee allegations, or the Boro-Melnyk video, or the actual Karlsson trade, or the LeBreton arena falling apart, or the Duchene and Dzingel trades, or the Mark Stone trade, or the various front office arrivals and departures, or the Pageau trade, this may come as a surprise. The Ottawa Senators have been a tire fire on and off the ice for 3 years. Fans have seen their favourite players get traded out for draft picks, prospects, and filler players. Amid the ashes of the 2011 rebuild are some key franchise players, lots of good prospects, and tons of draft picks. There’s many reasons for optimism. 

Starting with franchise cornerstones in D Thomas Chabot and LW Brady Tkachuk, the team has a great foundation. Chabot’s offensive skills have made it a lot easier to forget about Karlsson’s departure and Tkachuk has provided instant likability and star power. Further down the lineup are players like C/RW Colin White and RW Anthony Duclair who have shown potential and could play important roles on the team for years to come. 

Down in Belleville, players like C Josh Norris (Erik Karlsson trade), RW Drake Batherson, and LW Alex Formenton had phenomenal years. Norris and Formenton surpassed expectations and have elevated their status as top prospects in the organization. While these three players drew lots of attention this past year, C Logan Brown and LW Rudolfs Balcers (Karlsson trade) each put up over a PPG and RW/LW Vitali Abramov wasn’t far behind. Depth pieces like C Filip Chlapik could still pan out! On defence Erik Brannstrom (Mark Stone trade) had an up and down year after making the NHL out of training camp, and Christian Jaros and Max Lajoie could also serve as useful depth pieces down the road. In net, Joey Daccord had a stellar year posting a .915 SV% and Marcus Hogberg seems to have graduated to the NHL. 

In addition to the crop of players in Belleville, the Sens have drafted C Shane Pinto (2019, 32nd) and D Jacob Bernard-Docker (2018, 26th) who both had excellent seasons for NCAA North Dakota. D Lassi Thomson (2019, 19th) is an intriguing two-way defenceman with a massive slap shot based on highlight clips I have seen on Twitter. In goal, Kevin Mandolese was just named the QMJHL Goaltender of the Year and while he didn’t have a great season, we shouldn’t write off 6’7” Mads Søgaard.

The 2020 Draft is Ottawa’s opportunity to find those franchise cornerstones to add to Chabot and Tkachuk. The Sens have lots of solid prospects that will be important contributors but they currently lack the star power needed to contend down the road. The Senators currently hold the 2nd and 3rd (SJS – Erik Karlsson trade) best odds to win the draft lottery but no one is really sure when that lottery will be or what the format will be. Regardless, the Sens are essentially guaranteed 2 of Alexis Lafreniere, Quentin Byfield, Tim Stutzle, Jamie Drysdale, Marco Rossi, Lucas Raymond, Cole Perfetti, Alexander Holtz, Anton Lundell, Jake Sanderson, and Jack Quinn. In the past 20 years the Sens have picked twice in the top 5 selecting Jason Spezza 2nd overall in 2001 and Brady Tkachuk 4th overall in 2018. Now they have the opportunity to do this twice in the span of half an hour! An absolute worst case scenario is picking a guy who put up 120 points in the OHL and a defenceman who tore up the World Junior Championship for Canada. A best case, and extremely possible scenario could be drafting Alexis Lafreniere and one of Quinton Byfield and Tim Stutzle. We all joked about it at the start of the season when San Jose went 0-3 but this could actually happen.

After the 2 lottery picks, the Sens hold the Islanders’ first round pick that is currently sitting at 21st overall. This is an intriguing spot to be in because Ottawa holds four!!! 2nd round picks. As Owner/ Chairman/ sometimes CEO/ General Secretary Eugene Melnyk alluded to on Toronto sports radio, it’s likely that Ottawa will use some of these picks to trade up to get more elite talent in the first round. Depending on where the Islanders finish the season, the Sens could be picking 3 times in the top 15. The Sens also hold two 3rd round picks in 2020, their 1st round pick next year and three 2nd round picks in 2021.

In addition to all the positivity when it comes to roster players, prospects and the draft, the Senators have found themselves in a pretty desirable cap situation. Hockey related revenues will be way down as a result of COVID-19. Even if the NHL manages to finish the playoffs and award the Stanley Cup, there won’t be any ticket revenue for teams. This means that the salary cap will likely decrease —  or at a minimum won’t increase — allowing your Ottawa Senators, who have a projected 2020/21 cap space of $42 million (lmao), to exploit cap strapped teams. Give me your Gaboriks, your Datsyuks, your Hossas yearning to breathe free.

Despite all the optimism, there is a real hesitancy to support this team because of the owner. To put it simply, the guy is the worst. An unfortunate reality that I have recently come to terms with is that he’s probably not going to leave anytime soon. Eugene Melnyk has held onto this franchise as it liquidated all of its players, saw attendance plummet, and faced public criticism from crowd funded billboards to The Simpsons. I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll sell now that the team has bottomed out and looks to be trending upwards. In a normal world you could potentially make the case that with a franchise trending in the right direction it would make sense to sell high to a prospective new owner wanting to win now. Unfortunately, COVID has thrown conventional Senators ownership conspiracy theorism out the window. The pandemic has undoubtedly hurt the NHL and with it franchise values have certainly been impacted. It really makes no sense for Eugene Melnyk to sell the team when it’s likely at its lowest value in years. In a weird way, it’s possible that COVID has given Melnyk a new lease on the team. Without fans at games, it doesn’t matter if the arena is in Kanata. It also doesn’t matter that attendance has struggled. The team was certainly not counting on playoff revenue this Spring. Melnyk owns the Canadian Tire Centre and doesn’t need to pay rent on an empty arena. It feels weird to think but this NHL stoppage came at a pretty ideal time for the Senators.

This might all look too good to be true. It very well could be. There’s no certainty in sports. We didn’t know that Jason Pominville was going to make Alfredsson turn in OT. The seemingly indestructible 2007/08 Senators didn’t look like they were going to collapse until they did. Sens fans have gotten optimistic about things in the past only to see it all fall apart. I thought that Curtis Lazar was going to be captain by now. My point is that we should at least enjoy this crop of young players while they’re around. They’re likeable and play a fun, hard working style of hockey. General Manager Pierre Dorion has assembled one of the best prospect groups in the league and has hoarded an unprecedented amount of draft picks. There’s going to be tons of depth and it’ll be fun to see lots of top prospects develop into NHL players. Maybe it’ll all be for naught and Melnyk will trade all the players in their prime again. We really don’t have much of a say in it. You and I both have no control over the team. This isn’t participatory democracy, it’s the entertainment industry. 

Since you’re reading this, you are more than likely an Ottawa Senators fan. There’s also a decent chance that you live in the ever expanding City of Ottawa. I totally understand if you’d rather spend your entertainment money elsewhere. I’ve sorta realized that I really like watching the local professional hockey team. The trek out to Kanata is tedious but it’s still fun to watch live games. It’s a good time to go to a bar ( I really miss going to bars), see that all the TVs are showing the Leafs and Raptors, and then sheepishly ask the bartender to change the channel just in time to watch Question Period with Bruce Garrioch without audio. I was sitting second row at the last Sens home game before the league shut down and got to see Brady Tkachuk go top shelf against the Islanders on a 2 on 1. Strangely enough it’s probably one of my favourite Sens memories. What I’m saying is giving Eugene Melnyk some money to watch your favourite team play your favourite sport when we can safely do so isn’t crossing a picket line. This isn’t the same thing as boycotting Amazon. You won’t be cancelled because you buy a home black 2D Tkachuk jersey next year. The Sens make tons of money from TV deals and advertisements. Melnyk isn’t going to sell the team because you refused to buy a $15 USD ticket on StubHub. For the first time in a while I am really excited about this team. I think you should be as well. Go and enjoy this insane franchise that continues to ruin our lives. 

WTYKY Time Machine: Mark Stone, Again!

Look, I doubt you need a comprehensive and somber recap of the global circumstances that led to this moment on this blog, so let’s just cut to the chase: you can watch the hockey game colloquially known as The Mark Stone Again Game by clicking this link. Continue scrolling down this blog post to read my thoughts and remembrances of this iconic moment in Sens History, broken down with the use of helpful timestamps.

1st Period

19:50 – I remember Pittsburgh scoring ten seconds into this game extremely clearly. Earlier that day, I had made a tweet about how someone had asked Andrew Hammond (AKA The Hamburglar) how he was going to handle Sidney Crosby, and how His Hamburglarness had responded “You have that question backwards.” It was meant to be a parody/satire of how Andrew Hammond was, at that time, the hottest goalie since sliced bread (??), but naturally every Pens fan who read this fake quote thought it was real, because their brains are smooth as eggs. Well, imagine my surprise when Sidney Crosby scored on the first shot of the game. The entire city of Pittsburgh took to Twitter to fill my mentions like it was their own diapers. The lesson is, as always, never tweet.

19:50 (Cont’d) – Erik Karlsson does not cover himself in glory on this play, but it’s a privilege to watch Erik Karlsson make mistakes for your team. When Erik Karlsson makes an ill-advised stretch pass, you should thank him for it.

18:08 – Half-hearted “Leafs Suck!” chant from the crowd during a whistle. This still holds up.

17:15 – Let’s remember some guys! Mika Zibanejad is on a line with Curtis Lazar and Erik Condra! What on earth was happening there? This is like using your Swedish Koenigsegg supercar to transport lumber home from Rona! Naturally the Senators were in the middle of an (estimated) 24-2-1 run at the time so this was just considered more proof of Dave Cameron’s genius.

14:44 – Hey, the Penguins just scored again. I can’t point to a single Senator that looked great on that play, but I’m going to pin all the blame exclusively on Karlsson and Wiercioch, just out of habit.

12:15 – I just saw a MacArthur – Turris – Stone line and started weeping openly. Is there another line in Senators history that you’d trust more in any situation?

10:43 – Let’s remember some guys! David Legwand is on this 2nd powerplay unit! Beginning to think that maybe this Senators team didn’t have the depth I remembered.

9:56 – “Paul Martin is so good at standing in the lane.” say the Pittsburgh commentators, effusive in their praise for a player whose great skill lies in doing nothing.

8:00 – Just saw a Hoffman – Pageau – Ryan line. Not sure why you’re not putting Hoffman with one of your high skill guys like David Legwand, but maybe that’s just picking nits.

6:25 – Let’s remember some guys! Alex Chiasson sighting! Would this team be better with Jason Spezza on it instead of Alex Chiasson? Well, it would have cost $7.5 million a year for four years to find out so we’ll never know.

6:15 – Andrew Hammond makes his first real 5-alarm save of the game. Hammond’s possibly the only goalie in history who was punished for making too many incredible saves. The puck hit him so often that eventually everyone decided he must be getting lucky.

5:16 – Hornqvist scores to make it 3-0 Pittsburgh following a series of preposterous Hammond saves. In retrospect, Hammond’s style probably did him no favours. He is, in the parlance of hockey people, a battler. The guy did whatever it took to keep the puck out of the net, and teams don’t really like that sort of thing. NHL teams need their goalies to have perfect technique, and stopping the puck is secondary. It’s called “being process oriented”.

2:34 – Wiercioch takes a penalty and the Senators respond by letting the Pageau-Condra-Methot-Ceci penalty kill unit get worked like they’re Mark Borowiecki’s speed bag. The period ends 3-0, and at last the stage is set for The Fun Part Everyone Remembers.

2nd Period

19:55 – Chris Cuthbert calmly mentions that the Senators’ last 4 games had gone to overtime or a shootout. It’s almost impossible to describe how tense this felt at the time. Like watching a golden retriever walk across a minefield in search of a distant snausage.  The Senators had essentially won 18 straight elimination games, but each win seemingly did nothing except grant them the privilege of needing the win the next game as well. I remember walking into the street and staring at the stars for 20 minutes following the shootout loss to Toronto in the previous game because I was convinced that single point was going to be the difference in making the playoffs, and the Sens BLEW IT thus proving that God was dead, or at least didn’t visit Ottawa anymore. Man, remember caring about the outcome of hockey games? Different times, man, different times…

19:30 – Erik Karlsson suddenly appearing in the place you’d least expect was probably the best part of watching Erik Karlsson. I love my new garbage sons like my own family, but there’s still nothing like watching a world class talent do incredible things for your team every night.

19:09 – Chris Kunitz hurts Patrick Weircioch with a hip check. “That’s the worst thing Chris Kunitz will ever do to myself and the city of Ottawa.”, I probably yelled at the time.

18:38 – Senators head to the powerplay, and nothing happens save for some chaotic looking rebound chances. Here’s a thing I had forgotten about this game: The Ottawa Senators look like the Springfield tire fire for a significant portion of it.

15:28 – The Legwand-Chiasson-Condra line has a great chance to make it 3-1, but fail to convert because they’re the Legwand-Chiasson-Condra line.

15:11 – Turris has a great chance, but doesn’t score because it’s not overtime in the playoffs and the goalie isn’t Henrik Lundqvist.

11:42 – Chris Cuthbert mentions that Mark Stone leads the league in takeaways. Within a year, you wouldn’t be able to say “Mark Stone” on Elgin St. without at least seven Sens fans popping out of the Lieutenant’s Pump to tell you that Mark Stone leads the NHL in takeaways.

10:00 – Halfway through the game and the score is 3-0 Pittsburgh. This is taking so long to get good. It feels like I’m live-blogging The Irishman.

6:55 – Mark Stone Again? At this point I would settle for Mark Stone The First Time!

5:56 – Marc Methot takes a cross-checking penalty that’s softer than an ASMR video. “Let’s see if the Senators can grab a little momentum back while short-handed.” says Ray Ferraro, prophetically.

5:20 – The Original Garbage Son, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, throws the puck in front of the net on a short-handed rush and it bounces off Derick Pouliot’s skate and into the net. Pageau celebrates like that’s exactly what he meant to do, and honestly, who is going to disagree with him? Leave it to Pageau to score in the most annoying way possible in the biggest game of the year (until the next game).

3:56 – The Sens kill off the rest of the penalty, and the crowd noise is upgraded from “Mid-February Game Against Carolina” to “March Afternoon Game vs. Buffalo”.

2:38 – Bobby Ryan takes a tripping penalty after he falls down near Evgeni Malkin lands on him. If you thought I wasn’t going to complain about the officiating in a five year old game whose outcome I already know, you are sorely mistaken. Not complaining about the reffing in a hockey game would be like attending Catholic Mass without taking communion.

3rd Period

19:35 – TSN displays a helpful graphic that informs us that the Penguins are 29-2-1 when leading after two periods this season. “I like those odds!” says Mark Stone to himself as he scores to make it 3-2.

19:26 – “There is no way that Mark Stone cannot be in the rookie of the year balloting!” extols Ray Ferraro. Incredible to think that this is Mark Stone’s rookie season, and he’s already got all the tools that will make him great. The incredible hands, the hockey IQ, the celebrations, it’s all there!

19:10 – I just looked it up, and the 2015 Calder Trophy would be awarded to Aaron Ekblad in a miscarriage of justice so great that it’s proof that Antonin Scalia was still alive at the time.

17:50 – Fleury makes a huge stop on Mark Stone, and the Senators, who spent two periods looking about as lively as an 8:00 AM calculus class, are suddenly filled with the power of self-respect like at the end of Scott Pilgrim but with Cody Ceci instead of Michael Cera.

17:00 – Clarke MacArthur is having his jaw looked at on the bench. Not going to read into that any more than I have to…nope, not today.

13:41 – Pittsburgh hits the post on a long shot from the point, but the puck stays out of the net because hockey is a meritocracy where each team gets what they deserve, and not a series of random bounces on which the human mind, in its hubris, attempts to ascribe control, intention, and moral judgement.

11:40 – The crowd begins to chant “We want playoffs!”, which immediately becomes one of the Top 3 Most Creative Chants ever invented by the CTC fans.

9:24 – Erik Condra takes a high-sticking penalty. Chris Cuthbert declares that the Sens are “flirting with danger”, but you’d flirt with danger too if you’d spent all those years married to disappointment.

8:50 – Let’s remember some guys! Eric Gryba “accidentally” spears Sidney Crosby. Now that’s what I call Capital Waterfowling! (???)

8:31 – Stone creates another shorthanded chance by forcing a turnover in the neutral zone. I can’t believe he’s a rookie here. He’s taking over this game to a level we’d only seen from Erik Karlsson at this point. A performance Alfie would be proud of.

7:24 – The Sens kill off the penalty, and immediately send out the Lazar-Zibanejad-Condra line. Folks, I’m getting mad online about the line combinations. It’s just like old times!

7:20 – But seriously, Lazar-Zibanejad-Condra????

6:38 –

comeon

Yeah, but he’s no AARON EKBLAD. This is why Trump got elected.

5:55 – The Turris line is buzzing, then the Pageau line is buzzing, then Erik Karlsson kinda looks bad in a 1-on-1 situation. It must needs be remarked that even this version of the Senators, one that we all look back on with great fondness, really REALLY noticeably lacked that game-breaking skill that could just manufacture a goal from nothing. Mark Stone is close to having that skill, but he’s not quite there yet, and Erik Karlsson is having an off night. The Sens are having to win this one the old fashioned (i.e. pesky) way: by firing the puck at the net an infinite number of times until it goes in.

2:45 – Turris is out there again. I’ll have to check the shift charts, but it feels like Turris, MacArthur, and Stone played 7 of the last 10 minutes.

2:04 – Zibanejad is about to start in the offensive zone with Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman until Dave Cameron notices his mistake and calls a timeout. Turris is sent back out with MacArthur and Stone with Hoffman as the extra attacker.

1:48 – Mike Hoffman ties it with a wrister from the top of the circles. Nice little toe-drag to change the angle and he just shoots it over Fleury’s glove. Mike Hoffman would also get a few Calder Trophy votes this year. Hard to believe that this version of the Senators would get one solid playoff run in before having to trade everyone and start over, because this exact moment is probably the time when their future burned brightest, the high watermark stone, if you will.

28.6 – The Penguins are called for too many men, and the Sens get a powerplay to finish the game and start OT. Legwand nearly wins it in the dying seconds, but of course he doesn’t, so we finally get to what we’re all here to see.

Overtime

 
3:39 – Zibanejad feeds Karlsson right in front of the net for Ottawa’s best chance on the powerplay, but it hops over Karlsson’s stick. Fleury makes his 40th save of the night on Mike Hoffman. A real sense of inevitability settles over the game now.

2:16 – Erik Karlsson turns into Erik Karlsson at a critical moment, and from there, I’m going to let Cuthbert and Ferraro play us out.

WTYKY Podcast: Episode 23


In this episode, James and Luke interview Brad Allen of hockeyprospect.com about the 1st round of the upcoming draft. Discussions include:

– Tim Stuetzle vs. Quinton Byfield
– Marco Rossi vs. Jack Quinn
– How good is Alexis Lafreniere really?
– Possible spicy first round picks
– Possible bland and mild first round picks
– Brady Tkachuk
– Yaroslav Askarov
– How big is this draft for Ottawa really?

The most consequential moments in Ottawa Senators history

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If the league keeps with recent tradition, then shortly after playoff seeding is determined for the 2020 NHL season, it will hold the draft lottery determining where non-playoff teams will pick in the 2020 draft. Every one of the 15 teams to miss the playoffs will have a chance at the first overall pick. The odds for the remaining teams will then be adjusted proportionally for the second drawing, for the second overall pick, and then again for the third drawing, for the third overall pick. The remaining teams will then receive the remaining picks in the inverse order of the standings.

This statistical exercise in the likelihood of ping-pong balls with certain numbers to fall out of the machine first, which amounts to an exercise in controlled randomness, may be the most consequential event in the 28-year history of the modern incarnation of the Ottawa Senators. Not a playoff series, or even a particular play in a significant game, but an utterly random event that doesn’t even resemble hockey.

That’s because of four things we know, or at least suspect, to be true:

1) For a team to be a true contender, it needs at least one true ‘needle-moving’ player, a blue-chip, franchise guy who can drive play by himself if need be

2) Needle-movers have traditionally been found in the top few picks of a draft, and even then, not every year.

3) The 2020 draft is a deep one, with multiple sources reporting a higher likelihood than usual of real needle-movers being available in those top few picks.

4) As of this writing, Ottawa has two picks in the top ten. Their own is likely to be bottom five. San Jose’s, which they received in the Erik Karlsson trade, could realistically be anywhere among those 15 non-playoff teams, as the Sharks’ playoff chances currently sit at about 2.5 percent.

In the Spring of 2020, Ottawa could learn that it will select not one, but two franchise players. This has the potential not just to improve Ottawa’s chances of a Stanley Cup, but to drastically alter the competitive landscape of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference for the next decade. What happens because of those ping-pong balls could alter other franchises’ decisions about whether or not to rebuild.

…or, Ottawa could end up with two middle-round 1st, a place in the draft known to produce decent NHL players perhaps, but not of the franchise-player caliber. In this latter scenario, the Senators draft two Jared Cowens, remain a playoff bubble team for the next ten years, and hope to build by coalition a team that can sneak into the playoffs where anything can happen. (Some Sens fans are having paroxysms of agony at the sight of the words “anything can happen.”)

Maybe it’s better this way. Where we might still litigate Lalime’s 2004 playoff performance against the Leafs and just how soft those two Joe Nieuwendyk goals were, the fall of ping-pong balls is out of the control of any of the players, coaches, or managers of the Ottawa Senators. No matter what happens next, it will be neither fault nor glory of anyone in the Ottawa Senators’ organization, or of the referees, the fans, or even of the league. It is, in the space of a few minutes, an elegant testament to the chaos and indifference of a universe that doesn’t just not care about hockey – it doesn’t care if you live or die! 🤗

This got me thinking: is there anything in the Senators’ history more consequential than this upcoming draft lottery? Anything that could be said to have more meaningfully affected the likelihood of the Ottawa Senators winning a Stanley Cup?

I came up with a few contenders.

Breaking Ground in Kanata

The Senators’ arena seems oddly isolated, its location chosen seemingly arbitrarily in the suburban west end of the city, as if designed to limit accessibility and growth. It’s true that it’s only a 25-minute drive from downtown…on a good day. Add rush hour traffic, some snow, or if you’re coming through downtown from the east end, and it’s not unusual to spend closer to an hour. Anyone who’s spent that hour on a bus trying desperately to hold a game’s worth of beer in their bladder knows what I’m talking about.

This might sound like whining to someone like me, who navigates the United States’ busted infrastructure on ultra-long commutes to overcrowded cities, but in Ottawa, where people consistently have no idea how good they have it, that kind of drive to see something you could watch in your neighborhood bar seems insane. As a result, a hockey mad city that didn’t have  much competition until CFL football was revived once again in 2010 has at times faced attendance issues and trouble growing the game beyond the most hardcore of fans.

As Bruce Firestone recalled in an illuminating 2017 article, the original Senators ownership group wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with quality choices. Ottawa is laced with federal lands and a National Capital Commission loath to negotiate it away to corporate interests. (Which, don’t get it twisted, kicks ass.) While it’s true that a downtown arena could have been a game-changer in terms of making the Senators a have, rather than a have-not franchise, it doesn’t seem as if there was an actual, consequential choice at the time…unless the Senators wanted to keep playing at the 9,500 capacity Lansdown arena, home of the OHL Ottawa 67s. (Which, again, would kick ass.)

All the same, the location of the Senators’ arena has been hugely consequential in terms of their ability to raise revenue and compete, and remains a defining aspect of the franchise.

Drafting Alexandre Daigle

If you don’t think drafting Daigle was considered consequential, consider that the deal Ottawa offered to Daigle was so generous that it resulted in the introduction of a whole new class of contracts into the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the player’s association. That’s how big the hype was for the phenom: it permanently altered the legal apparatus upon which all league business is predicated.

Had Daigle turned out to be a Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid, and been added to a lineup that already had Alexei Yashin and Daniel Alfredsson, then the early years of the Senators franchise might have been quite different. Imagine if Daigle, like Crosby, turned into a lifelong franchise player, multiple trophy winner and Olympic medalist. Imagine Crosby in his prime playing with Alfredsson, also in his prime. Had Daigle brought a Cup to Ottawa, the team could have attracted free agents for generations. Everything would have changed.

Daigle, of course, would become a perfectly mediocre player even after given multiple chances and oodles of ice time, would bounce around the NHL and then finally play in Switzerland, only to be heard from along with Patrick Stefan every year when someone writes up a Biggest Busts article.

Trading Alexei Yashin to the Islanders

God bless Mad Mike, but I almost think that he gets a bad rap here. Sure, in retrospect, trading a hall-of-fame defenceman and the 2nd overall pick, which would turn into Jason Spezza, for Alexei Yashin doesn’t look great. (It wasn’t helped by the 10-year deal the Islanders handed Yashin, then subsequently bought him out of.) But in a pre-salary cap league, without the same understanding of the value of RFAs, Mike Milbury brought in a 27-year old with recent 88- and 94-point seasons, who had scored at close to a point-per-game clip for his entire career, in exchange for a defenceman who, at that point, was being used as an enforcer, and a pick that could turn out to be anything.

Imagine if, in the 2001 draft, the Senators had selected Alex Svitov, also a center, who went third overall to Tampa and scored all of 37 points in 178 NHL games. Or even Stephen Weiss, who went fourth overall and had a perfectly decent career but scored only 423 points in 732 games and retired after the 2014-2015 season.

Chara and Spezza would go on to help make the Senators a regular-season behemoth, and, after losing Chara to free agency, Spezza would center the famed Pizza Line alongside Heatley and Alfredsson and bring the Senators to the 2007 Finals, losing only three games along the way. Spezza would become captain of the team for a short time, and is even now still in the NHL, albeit playing for some fly-by-night contractors called the Leafs. Chara, of course, would become the Wolverine, complete with healing factor, captain the Bruins, win the Norris, and bring a Cup to Boston.

Daniel Alfredsson’s Best Contract in the League

Imagine that you draft a natural leader with an excellent two-way game and a goalscoring touch in the sixth round. Now imagine that he loves playing for your small-market, low-budget team, even if at one point it’s come close to bankruptcy and they reportedly had trouble cutting pay checks. Now imagine that he signs a team-friendly, five-year deal.

Now imagine that, as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the players union agrees to roll back all existing contracts by 24 percent.

While the Senators would go on to buy out Aldredsson in 2009-2010 purely so that they could re-sign him to a fair deal and make him whole, they basically got one of the best all-around players in the entire league for less than $5M per season for years on end. This allowed them, among other things, to pay Heatley and Spezza after the Finals run, and keep intact a deep team throughout numerous regular season runs. Had Alfredsson held out in the early aughts for the kind of $7M+ contract he could get elsewhere, Ottawa might have found themselves without their captain, and never had had a shot at the Cup at all.

Dominic Hasek Goes to the Olympics

Sometimes we forget just how good that 2005-2006 Ottawa Senators team was. The Pizza Line. Spezza-Fisher-Smolinski-Vermette down the middle. Redden, Chara, Phillips, Volchenkov, all in their prime. Heatley, who had one of his 50-goal seasons, and Havlat on the wings as scoring threats. Quality depth all over the lineup, including Chris Neil, Patrick Eaves, and Chris Kelly. Then add Dominic Hasek, whose GAA and save percentage at the Olympic break would be the second-best in the league.

Hasek’s equipment was left behind in Ottawa, causing Hasek to miss vital practices in Turin, and he would injure himself in under 10 minutes in the opening game. He never returned to play for the Senators, who were eliminated in the second round after starting the promising but inexperienced Ray Emery, who managed only a .900 save percentage in those playoffs. Worse, the “will he-won’t he” quality of Hasek’s return kept the Senators from getting an experienced netminder at the deadline.

It’s possible that the Senators should have played better in front of Emery, or that a team that deep should have been able to defeat the Sabres, or at least take them further than five games. (Buffalo would lose in seven to eventual champion Carolina in the Conference Finals.) It’s possible that they should have brought Hasek back the next season, considering his strong play in Ottawa and willingness to play for a base salary so long as it was for a contender. But the fact that players were permitted to engage in long-shot Olympic bids, risking injury, and that the Senators would never be quite so deep again is why the Olympics remain so contentious in negotiations between the league and the players’ union today.

Hossa for Heatley

Imagine that you draft and develop a star player, and that player leads you to seven games in the Conference Final in the last year of his contract. It’s the first time your team has gone so far, having spent the better part of a decade as the punchline of the league after navigating uncharitable expansion rules and incompetent management. Your team then signs said star to a three-year deal without a no-trade clause…and on the same day he’s traded.

It’s wild to imagine now. This would be roughly the equivalent of the Senators trading Karlsson the same day as they signed him. But while Hossa would go on to have a 100+ point season with the Atlanta Thrashers, the Senators brought back Dany Heatley and had their greatest run of sustained success in franchise history. While Heatley had back-to-back 50 goal seasons in Ottawa, he would infamously demand a trade for which Ottawa could not receive fair value and quickly go into decline. Hossa’s career outlasted Heatley’s, and, despite missing out on back-to-back Cups with Pittsburgh and Detroit, he would win multiple Cups in Chicago.

It’s not clear why Ottawa traded Hossa, let alone why they traded him in a way that would erode trust in management so publicly. It might have been that they were not confident they could extend him beyond the three years he’d just signed after what had already been a long negotiation. But given Hossa’s longevity and the sour manner in which the Heatley relationship ended, it’s possible that Hossa takes Ottawa even further or extends their success.

Choosing Redden Over Chara

This has been litigated to death, especially with Chara still in the league at 42 and Redden having retired almost a decade ago. I maintain that with Phillips and Volchenkov in the fold, Ottawa leaned more heavily on Redden’s passing than they did on Chara’s shutdown skill and were reasonable to choose as they did. It was only after Chara left for Boston that he blossomed into the complete, all-around player with multiple 50+ point campaigns. In any case, Ottawa elected not to even offer Chara a contract, and signed Redden instead, but only to a two-year deal.

Ottawa would make the Finals without Chara, but would be dummied once they got there by the physical Anaheim Ducks, and it’s the perpetual game of Mirror, Mirror to debate what would have happened if they’d had a fully armed and operational Zdeno Chara over Redden’s 10 points in 20 games.

Perhaps more consequential than choosing two years of Redden over Chara was that first Chara, and then Redden, would walk from the franchise without Ottawa recouping so much as a draft pick. Ottawa once had two franchise-quality defencemen and got so much in their own heads about choosing one over the other that they lost both for nothing. Ottawa hasn’t made a Cup Final since, and wouldn’t even come close until…

Drafting Erik Karlsson

Here it is, the closest you might come to the randomness of ping-pong balls: drafting a 150-pound puck moving defenceman at 15th and seeing him turn into the best skater and defenceman in the league since Niklas Lidstrom. Winner of two Norris Trophies, robbed of two more. Single-handedly dragged a thoroughly mediocre team to the Conference Finals on a surgically reconstructed ankle. Fifth in league scoring…as a defenceman.

Ottawa has never had a player like him and perhaps never will again. Ironically, even with the potential for two picks in the top five in a very deep draft, Ottawa is unlikely to draft a player as good as Erik Karlsson was when he was in Ottawa. It’s too bad that his time in Ottawa coincided with an ownership who could not surround him with talent, and with a relatively barren prospect pool.

There were a number of pretty good NHL defencemen in the 2008 draft, even after 15th: Jake Gardiner at 17th, Michael Del Zotto at 20th, and this year’s likely Norris winner John Carlson at 27th. This makes it even more interesting and unlikely that Ottawa would not just take a chance on Karlsson, but trade up for him. He’s only surpassed by Alfredsson in terms of influence on the direction of the franchise.

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WTYKY Podcast: Episode 21

In this episode, James, Varada and extra special guest Chet Sellers discuss:

  • The Ottawa Senators suck the life energy from the San Jose Sharks, Emperor Palpatine style!
  • The Sens have many players of varying quality on expiring contracts and we share the latest on where we think they might land based on what we’re hearing from our extensive network of well-connected insiders!
  • Some much-needed Borowiecki love after having spent hours on previous podcasts using him as an example of why the Senators are stupid!
  • The 2020 NHL draft: the most consequential moment in modern franchise history!