In this episode:
– Anthony Duclair: He keeps kicking ass, so we gotta keep talking about him.
– Colin White: Kause 5 Koncern?
– Belleville Senators: They’re good now!
– The World Juniors: We just hope both teams have fun.
In this episode:
– Anthony Duclair: He keeps kicking ass, so we gotta keep talking about him.
– Colin White: Kause 5 Koncern?
– Belleville Senators: They’re good now!
– The World Juniors: We just hope both teams have fun.
In this episode: Luke and James discuss having hope again, ask what’s going on with Bobby Ryan, decide whether they could trade Jean-Gabriel Pageau for the good of the rebuild, congratulate Nick Paul on finally finishing his development, consider the plight of Erik Brannstrom, check in on the Sharks’ first round pick, and read some journalism about how Mike Babcock should be fired.
Look, I’m not going to rehash all of the ways in which last season truly stank. You know them, I know them…and yet here we are. As I mentioned on the most recent edition of our podcast, Senators fans have proven that truly nothing can keep us away from watching our favorite hockey team. Even a practical guarantee of last place combined with the Assistant GM sexually assaulting a young boy isn’t enough for us to ask, “Books…where are they now?” Just like a broken marriage, Senators fans and Eugene Melnyk are staying together for the kids.
So! What can we expect from our 2019-2020 Ottawa Senators? Let’s just take a look at some of the predictOOOOOH DEAR LORD GOD NO. AW MY GOD.
Well, holy shit, the Senators are going to be bad according to pretty much everyone.
There’s a long string of mediocrity running from about the Oilers to the Blues where the aggregated predictions see about a ten point difference – thanks, parity! – then you have a precipitous drop to the Wings and Kings, and then, below that…you have the Sens. USA Today’s model might have left out an entire stat category by accident, given their prediction for the Senators’ season. (Is that what a team that just doesn’t score a powerplay goal all season long looks like?)
Obviously this is hockey, and these simulations, taken together, represent a huge spread. I guess it’s possible that, say, Moneypuck’s predictions for the Sens come true while, say, Sean Tierny’s predictions of the Kings come true and somehow the Senators find themselves an incredibly inspiring fifth last in the league. Either way, I’m pretty sure that under no circumstances will the Senators be in the playoffs in 2020.
Which is fine! Because they are, at best, in year two of a five year rebuild. Having already laid a foundation of could-be-anything prospects coupled with some really great, toolsy players like Tkachuk, Brannstrom, and Batherson, this is the year for the Senators to add that foundational player in the draft. They have the picks, they have the expiring UFAs, and they have the suck. All they have to do is reach out and take back their destiny by well and truly phoning this season in.
Rookie coach D.J. Smith has his hands full keeping the love of hockey and general will to live going among these youngsters, who will spend the next seven months being ritualistically humiliated and literally beaten half to death by an entire league of older, bigger, more skilled grown men. Here’s hoping he doesn’t pile on by making them bag skate after yet another tough loss in the dog days of February when they’re on a seven game road trip through a section of America on the verge of civil war.
What is there to watch for, then? Here are five things that will keep me interested during what will otherwise be a grueling exercise in self-punishment:
Beat the Leafs
That’s not just going for the applause line. The Leaf’s avail themselves of every loophole the league has yet to close via CBA negotiations, from enormous salary bonuses, to massive analytics departments, to buried salaries and IR lists, to endless, fawning coverage, and now, this year, their window of contention is thoroughly open and all that whining and spending comes down to this.
What better way to salve the wounds of having the worst team in the league than to remind our division rivals every time they play us that they have to scratch and claw for every point against a broke team in the early throes of a rebuild? What better way to remind Leafs fans that they will definitely, definitely lose against the Bruins again than to show them that they can’t even beat the Sens? If we have our way it’ll be yet another year of Leafs fans yearning for their father’s love while he plays with his trains in the basement.
Hail the Duke
The Sens aren’t going to get a lot of respect this season, and in that way they share something with Anthony Duclair, on his fifth franchise at age 23 and only now being re-signed by a team because they like what he brings to the table. The Duke showed some of that good old fashioned spite in the back half of last season, and has already impressed in the pre-season with a gorgeous goal while on the penalty kill (!). Seeing him reach 20 goals again (he did so in his sophomore season in Arizona) would be a treat, as would seeing him prove wrong anyone who’s ever said “I don’t think he knows how to play.” He’s got the talent. Hopefully now he has the chip on his shoulder, too. The Senators just might have found themselves a diamond in the rough or, if not that, someone who embodies the spirit of this rough-and-tumble rebuild.
Reuniting Brown and Batherson
Logan Brown and Drake Batherson kicked the living shit out of the AHL last season. Batherson had 62 points in 59 games, and Brown had 42 points in 56 while generally acting like a bowling ball on skates. Batherson is sticking around through training camp, but Brown was sent back to Belleville to start the season. I don’t fault that decision – Brown didn’t exactly dominate – but bringing him back up when the team hits its first slump or when they inevitably encounter injury, and then pairing him with Batherson, might boost their production while giving us a preview of a pairing for years to come. Brown, at his best, looks like a terrifying power forward. Batherson looks like a Midwesterner on a church group singing tour, but he can score. It’s a match made in heaven.
Does Signing Scott Sabourin Stunt the Development of Another More Worthy Prospect Whose NHL Ice Time Might Contribute To
Just kidding. Nobody cares.
Is Erik Brannstrom the Tea?
I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but last year, Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion traded Mark Stone, a player Ottawa drafted in the sixth round and developed into a top 10 player in the entire league, for Erik Brannstrom, a rookie without an NHL game under his belt, pretty much straight up, and then said it was one of his proudest moments. No disrespect to Oscar Lindberg, who the Sens already let walk for nothing, or the second round pick, but in that moment Dorion staked his reputation as a GM on the development of this adorable little Swede. The only thing standing between that trade being listed every single year on clickbait “worst trades of all time!” lists right alongside us getting Chara and Spezza for Yashin is for Brannstrom to work out. NO PRESSURE, MY MAN, JUST GO OUT THERE AND HAVE FUN.
He’s like 180 pounds and starts the season paired with consummate veteran but otherwise human pylon Ron Hainsey in a redux of “trading for Phaneuf will be good for Ceci’s development.” My prediction? Look, the kid is going to finish like a -47 no matter what, so may as well have some fun with it. Put him on the first unit power play. Make stretch passes that have like a two percent chance of working out. Break in those skates! Don’t lose your humanity.
I understand it’s ill-advised to put too much stock in these things, and that this entire post has basically been an exercise in preempting getting hurt by expecting the worst, but wouldn’t it be fucking great if Brannstrom ended up as good as Chabot? Dare to dream, children.
Brady Tkachuk is a very likeable young man. Thomas Chabot has the potential to be one of the best players the Sens have ever had. Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about that deal the Sharks gave Karlsson. Mark Stone is the perfect hockey player. Alex Formenton is fast? Maybe we’ll get a new jersey next season. Anyway, here’s “Wonderwall.”
In which @Luke_H_Peristy and Varada confirm that hockey is a hobby that they share and the Senators are the team they watch most often. They also confirm via analysis that re-signing Chabot was good because he, as a player, is good. We also re-litigate the Zibanejad trade (preview: who cares?) and agree that when the Ottawa Senators went to the conference finals slapped.
It’s been another season of tumult, mystery and murdered libido inside the Ottawa Senators organization. The team is now officially entering Year Two of the rebuild, a period during which it’s difficult for even world-class organizations to maintain the interest of even the most ardent hockey fan. Thankfully, the Senators are not a world-class organization, so I’m sure they will be successful in ushering in five years of unprecedented success as promised by the team owner who has no money.
Embattled general manager Pierre Dorion has carried out the equivalent of violating the Prime Directive by gutting his team to save money first and collect assets later. Acknowledging that the Senators have done little to weaponize their cap space, have hired and quickly lost all senior management staff, and have all but destroyed the faith of fans in their ability to build and keep a contender, I’ve devised a ranking system that reflects that nothing the team can do will make them good and/or fun.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant Coach D.J. Smith has the unenviable task of taking a team that finished in last place by a full seven points when it had Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel and showing some improvement without those players. According to some projections, it would not be out of this world to see the Senators finishing in last this year by a full 20 points or more, which would make them the worst team since the 2016-2017 Colorado Avalanche finished 21 points shy of Vancouver. He is almost certain to fail at this particular task, which means that his real task is to keep things fun and loose in the process of losing and losing badly so as to preserve the naive spirit and will to live of our young players.
Can he do this? I’m not sure any coach has been able to balance the contradictory expectations of being simultaneously fun and disciplinarian, defensively responsible and emphasizing uptempo puck possession. The bigger indicator of a coach’s success, it seems to me, is where the coach is in their tenure versus team expectations. It’s Smith’s first year and everyone knows the Senators are going to be terrible, so it’s safe to say that he could play Anderson on the point during a power play and keep his job. If anything, Smith would fuck it up by having the team punch above its weight, endangering the team’s ability to add a franchise forward in next year’s draft to complement the vast depth of prospects but a surfeit of blue-chippers.
I truly don’t care who the head coach of the Senators will be this season, and the addition of NHL veteran coach Capuano seems to acknowledge the same thing. Smith doesn’t matter; he’s a nice guy who’ll keep everyone happy during monumentally shitty times. If Smith screws up the only thing resembling an expectation – make sure the players don’t demand a trade – they have another coach in almost the exact same model – player-favorite (baby shoes), never won (never worn) – who can step in and clutch Brannstrom to his chest and smooth his hair. Expecting anything more from either of them would be like getting mad at the Canadian Tire Center for being far.
Ranking: St. Sebastian, tied to a tree and shot with arrows then clubbed to death, which is roughly equivalent to finishing last and then losing the draft lottery.
This was the big boy of the offseason and about a month after it happened, I still don’t know what to think about it. The Senators traded Cody Ceci, demonstrably one of the worst defensemen in the entire league, and somehow managed to get back a player who is almost as bad…but with term. Taken at that, one could conclude that walking away from Ceci after arbitration and replacing him with literally anyone from Belleville would be preferable.
The only saving grace is that after the Leafs paid Zaitsev’s signing bonus the Sens will only have to give him about $1.5 M in real cash to play in a top-four role. You might not be able to get away with that even if you’re calling up your AHLers and it’s a smart move for anyone, broke or flush. The Sens also received Connor Brown, a promising forward, if by ‘promising’ you mean can play a top-six role on a bad team and is relatively young. Somehow, of course, despite the fact that this trade is almost a wash and the added punch in the balls that we’re helping our biggest rival by wiping Zaitsev’s term from their books, the Senators also threw in a third-round pick. That’s right: the rebuilding term threw a pick to a team whose window to contend is open in the course of helping them get the cap space they’d need to sign Mitch Marner, a franchise player. Because of course they did.
There are so many ways in which this trade is infuriating, but all of them land squarely in the world of opportunity cost. Why wasn’t Ceci traded sooner, when he could have garnered a real return? Why does it have to be the Leafs? Is Brown, at 25 and probably going UFA before the rebuild is done, the sort of sweetener you want in your cap-crunch-alleviating deal and if you’re in year two of a rebuild? If the Sens had been the ones receiving a third-round pick back, but only a third-round pick, for the rights to Ceci, would it have been as bad as this? We have the five remaining years on Zaitsev’s contract to think about it.
Ceci, of course, will play about five games for the Leafs just to see if something weird happens and he becomes Suddenly Good, but let’s not act like he won’t be shipped elsewhere for a pick at some point during the season. This trade will look even worse when the Leafs get what the Sens should have gotten.
Ranking: St. Lawrence, grilled alive on a red-hot gridiron, sort of like the slow death of Senators fans watching Zaitsev for the duration of a rebuild JUST as we were on the cusp of getting rid of Ceci and getting on with our lives.
In a rare move lauded by Sens fans as Not Actually Terrible, the Sens shipped out the remainder of Smith’s contract for a comparable player making less money. We can quibble about how all this money-motivated stuff is maddening and a symptom of greater moral decay inside Melnyk’s brain (as well as the actual brain decay) and the short-sightedness of the league’s business model, and we’d be right to do so, but even on a contending team spending to the cap, this kind of move is pretty smart. Add to that that Smith was on waivers last year and Chicago could have had him for nothing, and it’s even more impressive that Dorion managed to get anything for the player whose value seems to be entirely wrapped up in character and grit at this point.
Of course, players aren’t just static assets with fluctuating value – they’re people, and Smith was beloved in the room and by a great number of fans. Even Matt Duchene, who was relatively new to the team at the time, said it was a kick in the balls when Smith was put on waivers. He played for the Senators for 11 seasons, put up 25 goals once, and was even nominated for the Selke in that season. As James and Luke noted on our latest podcast, he was a part of the glorious line-brawl beatdown of the loathsome Habs in what might have been the most satisfying Senators game in franchise history.
There is something uniquely soul-crushing when you see a product of the franchise, drafted and developed over the years and integral to the fabric of the team, traded away for the sake of $1.5M. This was a smart move from an accounting perspective, and also a sobering reminder that this game is a shitty business carried out by shitheads who run a shitty world shittily.
Ranking: St. Margaret Clitherow, pressed, on her back, over a sharp stone, with a door on top of her that was topped with an 800-pound weight, which may or may not have been a metaphor for capitalism.
Two aging veterans accept low-paying one-year deals that don’t involve them having to move their families or buy American health insurance and in exchange will probably be turned inside out every time they play a shift. Sun rise, sun set. Sun rise, sun set.
Haisey and Ennis have nothing left in the tank and would struggle to get ice time on anything but the worst teams in the league. Luckily for them, Ottawa is one of the worst teams in the league, which means they might get more exposure than they would elsewhere and be traded at the deadline to a contender. That’s really the only upside I can think of: that Tyler Ennis, receiving 20 minutes a night playing alongside Anthony Duclair and Brady Tkachuk, breaks double digits in goals despite a minus 48 +/- and the Sens manage to recoup that third-rounder they gave up in the Zaitsev deal. Hainsey, meanwhile, seems like the kind of guy who would help you move a couch.
Hopefully, they can draw on their extensive NHL experience to recede somewhere inside themselves and go zen long enough to not crack entirely before they’re traded to next year’s equivalent of the Blue Jackets for a glorious kamikaze run at a first-round flameout. Personally, I don’t want vets who played for good teams with nice facilities anywhere near my good young players, who might get ideas about getting the hell out of dodge.
Ranking: St. Cassian, Hacked to Death by Children
The Senators have a weirdly deep goaltending pool, having re-signed Handsomest Man Alive Anders Nilsson while running out the clock on franchise great Craig Anderson’s contract. (Remember when the Sens had to choose between Anderson, Lehner and Bishop? No? Me neither.) In the pipe they have Gustavsson, also re-signed Hogberg, who had a hell of a season last year but needs to put it together now or never, and Joey Daccord. This put Mike Condon, currently exiled to MacArthur Island, on the outs, and the Senators managed to turn his deal into the also-permanently-injured Callahan and a slight upgrade on inconsequential picks.
All that to say that if you were looking for a deal to help you understand the ins and outs of long-term injured reserve and contract insurance, this might be the one to do it. The Senators end up saving money and in the process, they give up a goaltender who might still be able to play (but it’s unlikely). Callahan also has a gigantic cap hit, which they can allow to count against the cap to get them above the floor. It’s the kind of move that might have once garnered all kinds of coverage and today feels like an analysis of equity tranches and collateralized debt obligations. Let’s hope that the trade of Condon’s contract was viewed with sober hindsight as a reminder NOT TO SIGN GOALTENDERS ON A HOT STREAK TO TERM FOR CHRISSAKE.
Ranking: St. Bartholomew, Flayed
I’d read somewhere that the Senators were considering re-signing PDO king Brian Gibbons, an undersized overager, and this is what victory looks like in The Broke Ass Melnyk Age of Senators fandom: they didn’t. They also allowed Cheap and Serviceable Depth Players Magnus Paajarvi and Oscar Lindberg to walk, and both of whom promptly went unsigned by any of the other 30 NHL teams. Lindberg, who came over in the fiasco of a Mark Stone trade, seemed to accord himself well on the terrible Senators, and I thought they’d re-sign him if only to keep Stone-for-Brannstrom from being one-for-one-and-a-pick. Well, folks, the Senators have now officially traded one of the very best two-way forwards in the entire league for a good prospect and a 2nd. Mark my words, shit will go down in infamy.
Let’s take a second to lament the second departure of Jim O’Brien, Bryan Murray’s first draft pick as Senators GM and legitimately On the Ice for some nice goals, including Turris’ OT winner against the Rangers.
Bringing back The Duke for another year seems like a smart move, either in the sense that he’s young enough to fit in with a young team or the Sens can pump his stats with lots of powerplay time and then trade him to his 45th team in three years at the deadline. I am genuinely surprised that the Senators re-signed him at $1.6M when they probably could have signed both Paajarvi and Gibbons for that same amount of money because they are, objectively, worse than Duclair. I take my victories where I can find them.
Ranking: St. Dymphna, Beheaded by Her Father After Refusing to Marry Him
Conclusion: There is no god and every sacrifice you make is in vain.
I subscribe to the belief that in a league of extreme parity, almost nothing you do around the edges of an NHL team will make any sort of difference. You’ve got hot and cold goaltenders, hot and cold shooters, random events, and Very Good Franchise Players who actually move the needle on a team’s ability to generate goals and wins. You only get those guys really high in the draft or when an idiot gives you Mark Stone for a prospect and a second-round pick. Your only other option is to go full Hurricanes and build out an entire system of puck possession with no finishers and bank your entire existence on enough wacky shit happening along the way to win you games. It’s terrible hockey, hence the extracurricular fun stuff the Canes resorted to keep people interested, but it can win you some games. Anyway, the Senators are being run out of a garage by Dorion’s son, so I don’t think a Tulsky-like renaissance is about to occur.
All that to say that none of this really matters. The Senators don’t have those needle-movers yet. Tkachuk, Chabot and Brannstrom might be those someday, but they aren’t now. The Senators might draft Lafreniere, but on the other hand, they might drop to 4th overall. Even if the Sens had run away with the opening of free agency and the draft, they’d be at the mercy of hockey’s capricious forces and are destined to finish dead last this season. It’s their destiny.
In this episode: Luke and James enjoy a few cold ones and discuss how Cody Ceci is a Maple Leaf, Nikita Zaitsev is our new favourite shit-talking Russian, the Senators are the Maple Leafs, DJ Smith’s number one job is keeping Brady Tkachuk happy, Zack Smith is Artem Anisimov is Zack Smith, we love our large goalies, and this podcast remains a Melnyk Free Zone.
Luke and Varada talk about a few Sens and Sens-adjacent issues, like Phaneuf’s recent buy-out, Chris Wideman’s eternal regret, and Erik Karlsson’s potential return, before talking about the Raptors and basketball for a much longer amount of time.
It’s the first night of the NHL playoffs, and the day after the draft lottery. It’s time for us to check in with our feelings and decide, once and for all, if Brady Tkachuk is our Supervisor. (He is.) We also talk about the New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, Brian Gibbons and Alex Ovechkin, who are roughly as good as one another, Logan Brown’s dad, and tailgating at a Lions game.
I’m going to try something on for size, here: optimism. I won’t go over all of the ways in which this is not an intuitive or realistic stance to take. You know them. But as I shift from Actually Watching Games to the hockey equivalent of playing Settlers of Catan, I can’t help but feel like there’s some hope that we can successfully bargain for some wheat. Not enough hope to buy a hockey ticket, of course. But reason to keep talking about the Ottawa Senators online.
Here’s what I’ve got. Do with it what you will:
The Moment Karlsson Was Gone, a Rebuild Was the Right Call
Ottawa was uniquely dependent on Erik Karlsson to drive their entire system. He played in all situations, he played half the game, he made every player on the team better, and outside of Mark Stone was the only player on the team who could hold his own against the best competition in the league. Ottawa without Erik Karlsson simply wasn’t Ottawa. They were barely an NHL team.
Ottawa wasn’t very good in Karlsson’s last season with the team, finishing second last. One could reasonably argue that the moment he was gone – ignoring how much of a cluster-fuck it is to let a player like that go under any circumstances – the team had to rebuild. A team so dependent on Erik Karlsson, even with Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Thomas Chabot, and Mike Hoffman, wasn’t going anywhere without him.
Yes, having Mark Stone to build around is also a good option. I’m just saying that if you squint and look sideways, in a way Dorion is giving the We Should Have Gone Full Rebuild in 2011 crowd what they’ve always wanted.
Ottawa Started Their Rebuild With a Respectable Base of Prospects
Before the great sell-off began with Karlsson, Ottawa had an intriguing mix of players: long-shots with high ceilings, tools-y players that projected as depth, and a ton of wild cards. But for a team that hadn’t drafted anywhere near the top five since taking Mika Zibanejad sixth overall in 2011, Ottawa could do much worse than Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton, Filip Chlapik, Christian Wolanin and Filip Gustavsson, to say nothing of stealth players on the farm like Maxime Lajoie.
In what’s become a bit of a habit, Ottawa made the most out of late round picks and their trade of Brassard to form a decent baseline of prospects. They added Brady Tkachuk to that baseline last year. That’s not one of the better prospect pipelines in the league – there’s a conspicuous lack of blue-chippers outside of Chabot and Tkachuk – but being in the middle-third of prospect systems without very high picks is not so bad given the circumstances.
They added to that baseline with the trades to come. While the only blue-chip prospect Ottawa got back in the trades of Karlsson, Stone, Duchene, Dzingel, and Hoffman was Erik Brannstrom, they also added to their intriguing mix: Rudolph Balcers, Josh Norris, Vitaly Abramov, and Johan Davidsson.
Three blue-chippers and a whole lot of upside isn’t a bad place to start one’s build.
The Only Thing Ottawa is Good at is Drafting, and They Have a Ton of Picks
I mostly agree with the notion that the only way to get true needle-movers, meaning players that significantly improve your chances of competing for a Cup, is to capitalize on other team’s mistakes or dire circumstances (as Vegas just did with us and Mark Stone) or to draft them. In the absence of very high draft picks, teams, especially teams whose strength is drafting, should get as many chances at drafting super-secret future needle-movers as possible.
As Dellow wrote about over on The Athletic, Ottawa has a near-historic number of picks over the next three years:
Ottawa’s currently sitting on 15 picks in the first three rounds over the next three years, with a possibility of getting up to 17 as things stand. The final draft of the Original 21 era took place in 1990. There have been 757 potential three-year windows for teams since then. Only one team – the 2000-02 Devils – went to the podium more than 17 times in the first three rounds in a three year period since the demise of the Original 21.
There’s potential for the Senators to add to their haul, too, by trading Cody Ceci and Mikkel Boedker at the draft. And then there are reliable depth players like Chris Tierney and J-G Pageau. None of these players will produce a high pick, but they might give Ottawa more shots at the carnival game.
While many of the teams with that number or near that number of picks were only able to produce a few NHLers, many of those years took place pre-salary cap, when there wasn’t as much emphasis on drafting and development as a key to success, and when analytics weren’t nearly as accessible to scouts and GMs. The teams that did have that many draft picks more recently produced a larger cohort of NHL players.
Some of those picks might turn out to be pretty good, too. Obviously, Ottawa’s own picks will be pretty high, so there’s potential to add another blue-chipper or two to Ottawa’s emerging core. If Columbus re-signs Duchene and Panarin and Bobrovsky walk in the off-season, they could be on the outside looking in playing in the Metropolitan. If the Sharks re-sign Karlsson, Ottawa receives their 2021 2nd rounder, and if they make the Cup Final this year that turns into a 1st. A lot would have to go right and then suddenly wrong for the Sharks, but they have one of the older lineups in the league and play in the ultra-competitive Pacific, with much younger teams. In addition to Ottawa’s 1sts, there’s a scenario where the Jackets’ and Sharks’ 1st end up being pretty high value.
I mean, let that sink in:
We’re Probably Still Boned
I know the obvious response to all of this is: “So what if we have potentially good players? If Melnyk owns this team and we don’t have a new arena, there’s no money to re-sign them.”
I don’t have a rebuttal to that.
Have a good day.
In Episode 14 of Fifth Liners: The Podcast Whose Name or Hosts are Never the Same, Luke and James do a lot of swears, talk about various trades, compare Matt Duchene to an unlucky talisman, get acquainted with a few of the newest Senators prospects, bid a
fond medium farewell to Guy Boucher, and try their hand at numerology by breaking down the Belleville Senators jersey numbers.