Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stop the madness.

Assuming the status quo is intact, tonight's game against the Wild will mark Brian Lee's 26th consecutive game as a healthy scratch. Though the tale of Brian Lee has been told and re-told, and the laments of taking him over Kopitar and Mark Staal have been heard ad nauseum, at what point do the expectations drop, if ever? He is by no means a bad player, just caught in an awkward situation. His agent's pushing and Murray's acceptance in giving Lee a one-way contract has limited Lee's options pretty severely. At this point, the Senators can either sit him while they try to find a trade partner or send him down to Binghamton and risk losing him at half-price if they need to call him back up.

But wait, there's a third option! How about actually playing the kid? If Murray is pushing Lee in trade offers, why not play him, showcasing him to the league's GMs? It seems irresponsible to allow an asset to sit and not let him develop his play in game situations. Further, if we don't play him now, and we can't find a taker for his one-way contract this season or next, then it's a virtual certainty that we're letting a former 9th overall pick walk away for nothing. We discuss Ottawa's poor asset management regularly -- letting Chara walk, getting scraps for Havlat, trading Tim Gleason and Brooks Laich for Bryan Smolinski and Peter Bondra.

At this point, getting ANYTHING for Lee is most likely impossible, or Murray would have already pulled the trigger. If there's no league-wide interest in Lee, what good is served from letting him sit? The whole team has been nothing short of an unmitigated train wreck this season. Is the message Clouston and Murray are sending that even our current defense is better than putting in Lee? I don't see it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of Lee's, nor do I expect I ever will be. Some of that can be attributed to his being a product of the Muckler era, and the rest to the fact that he never takes the body. To treat a former top prospect so badly, though, is just not right, especially when slotting him in as a 6th defenseman couldn't possibly hurt your team any more than it already is hurting. Besides, it's not like he's getting any more attractive to GMs, sitting up in the press box.

I just hope, for both his sake and that of the Senators, that Lee can find a team where he can show why he was drafted so high. It's clear that day will never come in Ottawa.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Same Old Song and Dance

Though Martin Gerber is often mocked for looking, and occasionally playing like the Gerber baby, last night's match made him seem much more like the military knife of the same name. Not because he was sharp or precise, but because watching the Senators lose to the last-place Oilers so spectacularly was about as much fun as being stabbed with one of these.

And really, what can be said in anyone's defence? The entire offense was invisible, the defense gave up chance after chance, Elliott was his usual mediocre self, the crowd sounded flat (though, in fairness that may have just been Sportsnet). Hell, the only goal scored came off an Oilers defenseman's skate. And this wasn't exactly the Darth Gerber we all fell in love with for the two weeks where he was good in Ottawa -- he nearly scored on himself in the middle of the second, for christ's sake!
At this point, though, I'm at as much of a loss as anyone as to how this can be fixed or salvaged. Any trade at this point will be a reactionary one, similar to the Stillman-Commodore deal a few years back. Trading scraps for proven players seems unlikely at this point, and our assets are just too severely undervalued right now to get anything of worth. At the same time, though, something has got to be done. The team needs a shakeup. Some emotion. Anything.

We can always hope that Dany Douchebag's return on Thursday will spark some kind of emotion among the players. It's definitely got the fans going, obviously, and anti-Heatley stories are already popping up all over the Sun, Citizen and online with no sign of relenting until puck drop. Personally, I'm really looking forward to not only the game, but the fans' reactions as well. Something tells me that the Gap-Toothed Asshole will be getting more than just a shower of boos; fans boo players who did nothing wrong to us, like Chara and Havlat.
No, I'm expecting at least a few "Heat-ley Sucks" and "Fuck You Heat-ley" chants, maybe a couple of jerseys making their way to the ice, and it wouldn't surprise me to see an effigy of the overpaid whiny glory boy burning in front of SBP. Anything you guys want to see happen, aside from the obvious curb-stomping of the Sharks and their "all-star" winger who wanted more options that weren't Edmonton?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On the B-Sens...

I got an opportunity to check out the Binghamton Senators take on the Hamilton Bulldogs at Scotiabank Place last night (thanks again for the ticket, @CassiieD!) and, as someone who doesn't get much of a chance to check out the farm team, thought I might take a moment to list a few thoughts on the "stars of the future" like Martin St. Pierre Patrick Wiercioch, Robin Lehner and others.
  • Jim O'Brien was one of the best-looking players out there. He dug into corners, got the puck to open players, and played an all-around gritty game. My GOD does he need a haircut, though. Just saying.
  • Oh, while I'm on about Jimbo, new nickname idea: O-B-Jim. Eh? Eh?
  • Patrick Wiercioch was pretty much invisible for most of the game. He made a few nice passes about halfway through the third, but for a supposed offensive defenceman, he need to be more visible out there. He's still a few years off.
  • Robin Lehner looked solid. He reminded me a bit of regular season Patty Lalime. Coincidence, he also wears the same number. So, here's hoping he changes his number to 1 for the playoffs...
  • Bobby Butler and Corey Locke, the so-called "dynamic duo", looked a bit weak last night. All of Butler's shots were either hesitant, resulting in deflections off Bulldogs' sticks, or wide of the net. Locke, meanwhile, wasn't feeding him the puck and was really weak on faceoffs.
  • Another player who really impressed was Colin Greening. All night long, he made the smart play. Assuming he continues developing, Greening could be a great 4th-liner on the big club.
  • Lastly, and this is more of a question to anyone who was at the game... anyone know why the Bulldogs pulled Sanford after the 1st?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Team's Lack of Offense is Offensive

What do you mean, that's the wrong kind of "no offense"?

Last night's "game" against the Stars was a real eye-opener -- please note that I use the word "game" very lightly, as games are supposed to be fun and entertaining, not so boring that they lull you to sleep -- insofar as the team's complete lack of goal-scoring prowess. Sure, our favourite scapegoats, the goaltenders, haven't been stellar. Common consensus is that our defense is softer than Alex Daigle's nurse uniform and more apathetic than an emo kid. Hell, you know it's bad when popular opinion is that a future phenom who's been a bit light on the physical play should be scratched for a journeyman 7th defenseman.

But beyond that, how often do you see anyone attacking the team's offense, or lack thereof? After scoring seven goals in the past seven games, you can bet that these articles will start popping up everywhere, but the bare facts are simple: with goaltenders like Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott, you need more than one goal per game to win. And the "regular contributors" sure as hell aren't helping issues.

Players who were counted on to bring a scoring touch this year have been very hit and miss. Some, like Spezza, are maintaining their usual production. Others, like Alfredsson and Kovalev, are exceeding expectations so far. But the vast majority of the offense lines -- the Michaleks, Regins, Folignos and Fishers of the team -- just aren't cutting it. Together, they've combined for 32 points through the first 22 games of the season. To put this in perspective, that's the same amount of points that Alfredsson and Gonchar have, combined.

Of course, no one expected any of the secondary scorers to be competing with a top-tier guy like Alfie or Spezza. But when Alfredsson is nearly doubling the scoring pace of Regin or Michalek, that's a sign that the secondary isn't doing its job.

Adding to the struggles of the four aforementioned players...
  • Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil have only got one goal each on the season.
  • Our defence (combined) has accounted for 10G, 29A.
  • Milan Michalek has the team's second best shooting percentage among regulars (14.3%) but is only 8th on the team in shots (35). Maybe he needs to shoot more?!
  • Two young goal-scorers, Regin and Foligno, have the third-worst and worst shooting percentages, respectively, among Sens forwards. (2.9% for Regin, 0% for Foligno)

At some point, something has got to be done to fix this glaring problem. We've tried stacking the top line, that didn't work. We tried spreading the offense out. That didn't work. We've tried everything short of, y'know, actually scoring. What would you do to fix this, readers?

Friday's game at Pittsburgh is an afternoon game (1 p.m.). Hope they do better offensively, or you'll be reading an article from me after I get back from the Binghamton game, insisting that we call up Butler and Locke and send down Shannon and Winchester.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Karlsson t-shirt winner

First off, thanks to everyone who entered the contest for the Erik Karlsson jersey t-shirt. I wish I could give each and every one of you something, but at the same time I'm not independently wealthy, so there can only be one winner.

I was impressed at the originality of some of the nicknames, and it was really hard to pick a winner, but in the end I went with Dan's entry of 'Special K'. The rationale behind it? According to Dan, "the obvious... Karlsson starts with a K and he's a special player but also like the drug his play makes you believe you're imagining it at first". Congrats, Dan, I'll be e-mailing you shortly to grab your info.

Thanks again to everyone who entered, and look for more awesome stuff in the near future!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Would you start Leclaire?

This picture: Relevance? None at all. Awesomeness? Directly proportionate to the mustache.

So last night's game saw the Sens suffer a complete ass-kicking at the hands of the Flyers. A couple of early tipped-in goals were all the goals Philly needed, but they kept pouring them on. Ottawa, meanwhile, looked sloppy in our defensive end. Our offence had no spark. Our shit-disturbers were taking more penalties than they were drawing. At the end of the day, it was just a miserable team effort.

The team is flying back to Ottawa today for Daron Richardson's funeral, which is definitely a class act, before heading to Raleigh for a game against the Hurricanes. Clouston can say they "
need a better-rounded game" all he wants, but after a game like that, changes have to be made. This is a team that won seven of their last nine games prior to last night, but a blowout like that kills so much momentum.

So why not shake things up by putting in Leclaire? After the game in Vancouver, Leclaire was scapegoat #1, despite the team not playing well in front of him. There were a few goals he should've had, yeah, but the same could be said about Elliott last night. Most people, myself included, seem to think that the Canucks were too much, too soon for the newly-healthy Leclaire. Why not play him against a weaker team and get his confidence back up? No disrespect to the Hurricanes, but they're not in the same class as the Canucks.

I'm no fan of the 'win-and-you're-in' methodology, don't get me wrong. But after the game in Carolina, the Sens go on to play the Blues, the Kings and the Stars, three great Western Conference teams. If not against Carolina, when does Leclaire get his next start? Pittsburgh? Too good of an offense. Toronto? Sure, why not throw him to the wolves if he stinks it up? If not Carolina, the next best option would probably be the lowly Oilers on November 29th. A goalie like Leclaire just doesn't do well if he sits on the bench for a long time between starts. Though, for that matter, Leclaire doesn't do well if he sits on the bench, period. Still, no pucks to the face this year yet.

The stats speak in Elliott's favour against the Hurricanes. He has a lifetime record of 4-1 and a 1.87 GAA against the 'Canes, compared to Leclaire's 1-3 record and 2.88 GAA. But y'know who else Elliott has a good record against? Philadelphia. And we all saw what went down last night.

Is playing Leclaire tomorrow the smartest move? Maybe, maybe not. But this team needs to be shown that efforts like last night's will result in change. It's only one game, so I'm not proposing trading everyone and their mothers. I'm just suggesting a minor shakeup. Besides, between a few bloated contracts and having Hale and Lee up, but not playing, it's not like we have much wiggle room to call up Zack Smith or Bobby Butler.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section. Also, don't forget that you have until the end of the day tomorrow to get in your nickname ideas for Erik Karlsson to thebreakoutpass [at] My favourite suggestion wins an Erik Karlsson jersey t-shirt, size large.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thrashers Quick Hits and a contest!

Quick hits on last night’s game
  • Campoli looked very solid, yet again. He already seems far more poised and calm around the puck than he did last year. Who knows, maybe the deal to get him in Ottawa could still work out.
  • Alfredsson seemed a bit slow and uneasy, almost like his head wasn’t in the game. He’s due for a good game. If my memory serves me right, his last GOOD game was in Phoenix in late October… and yet he’s still putting up about a point per game. Amazing.
  • Spezza’s been doing a hell of a job being in the right place at the right time. If the rumours of him wanting out were true, I’m glad we weren’t able to find a new team for him. I don’t know how we could possibly be doing anywhere near as well if we had traded him for lesser parts.
  • Matt Carkner’s mustache is far more impressive than Erik Karlsson’s, begging the question: next Movember, will Carkner finally challenge someone who can actually grow facial hair?
  • Best sign seen at the game: Free Mustache Rides, held by a guy sporting a Mario mustache.
  • On that same note, the Sens have not lost this year when I’ve been at the game. Just sayin’. Also, I was impressed at the great view from section 316. Thanks to The 6th Sens and the Ottawa Senators for the seats!


This past Monday, I had the opportunity to listen in on a discussion with Ian Mendes (Sportsnet), James Gordon (Ottawa Citizen), Erin Nicks (The Universal Cynic) and Sean McIndoe (Down Goes Brown) regarding the usual traditional media vs. blogs debate. Though the closing message seemed to be that there aren’t many jobs to be had in sports journalism these days, something was said that really hit home with me: blogging should be treated as a hobby. A lot of hobbies people undertake cost them money, and little to no recognition comes out of it other than self-pride. But, blogging is free to do and any money you make is a bonus.

But my favourite part of blogging isn't the cost (or lack thereof). It's not the fact that it doesn't feel like work because it's fun. It's not even having a venue where you don't have to censor yourself. For me, the best part of blogging is the awesome people you can meet through your writing. And, though this blog is still pretty much in its infancy, it always brightens my day when I get people telling me I write well, or that a piece is well-thought out or well-detailed. And, for all the times I’ve had my day brightened by you guys, it’s my turn to return the favour.

So, here’s the deal: I’ll be giving away an Erik Karlsson jersey t-shirt (size men’s large). Entering the contest is quite simple: send me an e-mail at thebreakoutpass [at], suggesting a new nickname for Karlsson. I’ll pick my favourite, and that person will get the shirt. It’s that simple!

The contest will close on Wednesday, November 17th at 11:59 p.m.

Also, be sure to follow @thebreakoutpass on Twitter!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thoughts on the Islanders game

Mercifully, this jersey didn't make an appearance.

Sorry I didn't get much of a chance to write a summary of the Islanders game, but chances are that either a) you've read/seen enough to know what went down yourself, or b) you just don't care. The upshot of it is that there's not much to recap, anyways. It was a sloppy game, a cheap win and most people will agree that Smith's hit in the first was reckless, unnecessary and left us in a terrible place to start the game.
I was in attendance on Thursday night, and the one thing that really hit me, and that I tweeted about unnecessarily on my personal Twitter account, was the sheer amount of Jersey Fouls seen in Scotiabank Place. I guess part of the experience is tackiness and personalized jerseys, but this just left me overwhelmed. I've been to somewhere between 10-15 games since I started following the Sens, and never before have I seen such an array of failure. Jerseys I saw include:
  • "Sens R" (number 1)
  • Toronto Maple Leafs (to be expected, I guess)
  • Chicago Blackhawks
  • Manitoba Moose
  • Val D'Or Foreurs
  • Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Team Sweden (Forsberg on the back)
  • Calgary Flames
  • Not technically a foul, but a Daigle jersey worn unironically
  • A "Jim Watson" (number 10) jersey.
  • A Kovalev jersey, no number
  • A Heatley jersey, no name. I understand taking off Heatley's name, but now that Smith has the same number there's no excuse.

It just seemed so asinine at the time, and still does. Where's the logic behind wearing any jersey but the teams who are playing? Would you wear a New England Patriots jersey to a St. Louis Rams vs. Pittsburgh Steelers game? Probably not.

Irritation at the jerseys aside, I particularly enjoyed the fight near the end between Zack Smith and Matt Martin -- not necessarily for the entertainment value, but because there were only a handful of us left in the stands, and it's the perfect reason why you should stay until the end of a game. It astonishes me that people will pay $100+ for a seat in the lower bowl but leave before the final buzzer. I don't know about you, but if I'm shelling out that much money to attend, you'd better believe I intend on getting as much value out of it as I can.

At any rate, we play the Habs tonight in Montreal. We've been pretty bad on Saturdays recently, as detailed by
Jeremy Milks at Black Aces. Let's hope that this recent streak-ish thing we've got going (4 wins in our last 6 games) keeps rolling. 7:00 start on CBC, AND we won't have to put up with Cole or Healy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coyotes recap/Panthers thoughts

Maybe the idea of 'tough love' isn't as efficient as it's suggested to be.

After a few days of the media focusing on Clouston's new "good cop" routine in practice, (as opposed to the bag skates and screaming of the few practices beforehand) the Senators came out and played their best game of the season Tuesday night against the Coyotes. Kovalev looked inspired, Campoli and Karlsson were at their play-making best, Alfredsson was showing shades of his 2005-06 self, Elliott didn't let in any deflating goals, and the 3rd and 4th lines provided energy every time they hit the ice -- in a nutshell, nearly everything that was going wrong seemed to right itself. Hell, even the powerplay was strong.

It's important to keep in mind, first of all, that the Coyotes played 3 games in 4 nights. Weak excuse, maybe. But there's no denying that they looked sloppy in the first period and only appeared to get going in the second. Secondly, take back the weak goals Jason LaBarbera let in by Kelly and Kovalev and it's a whole new game. And thirdly, while it'd be amazing to say that the team has turned a corner and are back to our usual selves, it's just one game. You can't make the playoffs by just winning one game. Unless it's the last game of the year and you're tied for 8th... but I digress.

Tonight's game against the Panthers should be a much better test for the team. Florida, coming off a controversial 3-1 loss to the Maple Leafs in which the game winner came as goaltender Tomas Vokoun was essentially being assaulted in his own crease, will be fighting hard to avenge this loss.

A few key points to consider:
  • Milan Michalek has missed the past two practices and will play, despite his knee not being 100%.
  • There's a huge difference in penalty minutes between the two teams: Ottawa has five players (Neil, Ruutu, Carkner, Fisher, Michalek) with more penalty minutes than Florida's PIM leader (Wideman)
  • Ottawa won the last matchup between these teams by a score of 5-2.

It should be a good game if the same team as Tuesday shows up tonight. The game's on at 7:00 p.m. on Sportsnet Ottawa.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I'm going to take a page out of The 6th Sens book and recap this game with a haiku.

Daniel Alfredsson
The man, the myth, the legend
Nothing more to say.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Disaster Strikes

Amazingly, still better than his play last year.

Frustrating. Aggravating. Irritating. Pathetic. Hopeless.

Pick any three, and that pretty accurately describes what it was like to watch the Senators get spanked by the Penguins last night. Sure, 5-2 doesn’t look HORRIBLE, but don’t let the score fool you—they really, really were that bad. If you didn’t see this game, consider yourself lucky. The entire 60 minutes of play was a frustrating combination of no firepower, even less defense and a general inability to stop even a feather, let alone a Penguin, from getting into the offensive zone.

About the only highlight worth mentioning is that Robin Lehner, wunderkind extraordinaire who came in halfway through the second to replace Elliott, still hasn’t let in a goal at the NHL level and leads the league in save percentage and GAA. You know you’re reaching for a silver lining when your subject hasn’t even played in a full game yet…

Flat-footed, uninspired, effortless games like those seem to be the norm so far, this season. Brian Lee, for one, seemed way more useless than usual. It’s still too early to write the team off for the year, but they need some wins and they need them fast. Of their next three games, (Buffalo on Friday, Montreal on Saturday, Phoenix on Tuesday) our best chance to win looks like Buffalo. The team having Tuesday through Thursday off will undoubtedly be dedicated to bag skates, intensive workouts and a lot of yelling from Cory Clouston. And for all we know, this might help. It definitely can’t hurt, anyways.
It’s the lean days like these where you can really separate the true Sens fans from the bandwagoners, but goddamn do I miss the days where it was easy to be a supporter. The days where we had secondary scoring… hell, the days when we had primary scoring. The days when our defense was the class of the league. The days where our goaltending sucked a bit less. But what about the days when players still gave a shit? Because I’m not seeing any of that so far this season.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Musings on Squandered Opportunity

If only things worked out the way they look on paper...

My apologies for the lack of recaps. With mid-term session in full swing, it's been hard to find a moment to sit down and blog.

That said, there's been an abundance of time to watch the Sens play, and there's no doubt in my mind, or anyone's, really, that this is a team that needs a lot of work. On paper, this roster should not be 1-3-1. Theoretically, we should've been able to beat Buffalo in the season opener. Practically, we probably should have beaten Washington instead of getting a charity point. Factually, we DEFINITELY should have beaten Montreal on the weekend, and would have if not for the typically deflating bad goal by Brian Elliott, combined with a total team collapse in the late 2nd/3rd period.

Is it the coaching? Logic would say no. Clouston's been solid behind the bench for us since he was hired in early 2009. He turned around the fortunes of a then-horrible team and hasn't looked back. Can it be blamed on the 3rd and 4th liners? Hardly. The Ruutu-Kelly-Neil line has been mostly dominant, while players like Jesse Winchester and Ryan Shannon have been solid on the puck.

No, the real blame should be placed on the first liners and the defence. Apart from Milan Michalek's 3-point game against the Canadiens and Mike Fisher's 2-pointer against Carolina, they've been virtually invisible. None of Nick Foligno's success in the pre-season is translating to the regular season. (Brandon Bochenski, anyone?) Peter Regin's great two-way play in the playoffs has returned to the way it was before--reliable defensively, but not putting up many points. Alexei Kovalev has been his usual self, vanishing off the face of the Earth for the first five games. Jason Spezza, although contributing at a point per game average, hasn't done anything to really spark the time. And Daniel Alfredsson, Lord and Saviour though he may be, is beginning to show that he can't make plays single-handedly like he used to.

The defence, meanwhile, has been a clusterfuck, to say the least. It speaks volumes to the atrocity of our defense when people are singing the praises of Brian Lee (that said, his play has improved this year). Chris Phillips is looking flat-footed, Sergei Gonchar is providing none of the firepower he was signed for, Matt Carkner has shown that he can't handle top-4 duty, Chris Campoli has been mediocre and Erik Karlsson is suffering from the "sophomore slump" something fierce.

The only constant on this team, Pascal Leclaire, may as well be a porcelain vase--hell, I'm sure even it would break less. Look for Pazzy to try and rush himself back. On a contract year immediately following a bad year statistically, Leclaire's got something to prove if he wants to stay in the NHL.

The Senators are in Pittsburgh tonight to face the Penguins, who have only won one game (vs the New York Islanders) at their new arena. Ottawa should have a good chance at winning this one... but then again, if things happened as they "should", Ottawa wouldn't be a 1-3-1 team and Toronto sure as shit wouldn't be undefeated. Pittsburgh has Brent Johnson in nets, while the Sens are going with Elliott. Should be entertaining if for no other reason than the growing rivalry between the two teams. The game will be on Sportsnet at 7pm.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Memo to the Senators

Did you get the memo?

To: Ottawa Senators
From: Lewy
Date: October 10th, 2010
Re: Shellacking by the Leafs

At this point it's painfully obvious that no one got the first memo I sent around except Leclaire and Foligno, so here's the upshot of it: THE SEASON HAS STARTED. Though, Nick, any time you want to pretend it's the preseason again is fine with me.

After being two games in, usually a fanbase has a sense of direction as to how the season's going to go--Cup contender? Dark horse? Sneaking in the backdoor of the playoffs? In line for a top draft pick? If the first two games have shown anything at all, you should probably be brought to a shed out back and be put down. No effort. No heart. Two goals, both scored pretty much the same way. 0/9 on the powerplay despite bringing in powerplay specialist Sergei Gonchar. And if it weren't for another great game by Snoopy, you would have lost by a wider margin than four goals. Against the Leafs.

I'll let that sink in.

The fans are starting to panic, and rightly so. A one-goal loss would've been acceptable if there had been any real sense of trying. A four-goal loss is pretty much always unacceptable, but last night's was made all the worse by bad skating, sloppy passes and some of the worst penalties I've ever seen a team of "professionals" take. Zack Smith's boarding on Schenn in the first, right after theteam showed their first signs of being awake? Terrible timing. Chris Kelly's holding the stick after being knocked down? Nearly as selfish as Fisher's penalty against the Rangers in the preseason. And, to top it all off, Kelly's penalty (along with a smart penalty by Gonchar) led to the 4-0 goal.

And the goal to make it 5-1? Good for you, Spezza, for not celebrating much. For one, the game was already over. Two, it was a lucky bounce on a bungled icing call. Thirdly, that pass was so perfect even Jesse freaking Winchester could've scored it.

Pull your heads out of your asses and show up for Monday's game against Washington, because the last team to have an 0-3 start was the Toronto Maple Leafs from last year, and we all know how well that season ended.

So, get it together, already.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

One game down, eighty-one to go in the regular season. Though the 2-1 final score seems to indicate a close game, the Senators were outplayed for a large part of it, including most of the second period--oddly, the only period in which they picked up a goal.

If Ryan Miller weren't Superman, we might have a different game recap here. In the span of the first few minutes, Ottawa forwards were buzzing around the Buffalo end while the Sabres defensemen looked stymied. Crisp passes and great scoring chances were there, but Miller shut down each and every one, and the Sabres never looked back from then on. They dominated most of the game except for the last bit of the 3rd period, in which the Sens had two powerplays and a pulled goalie but couldn't score the equalizer--this despite a great chance by Alfredsson at the side of the net and another where Leopold got a stick on the puck before Regin could.

The story of the game for the Sens though, of course, has got to be Leclaire's game. As a self-admitted Leclaire apologist, I was beyond happy for Snoopy, who seemed to be getting nothing but flak last year (most of which was rightly deserved, mind you). He made a few great saves, including a couple where Connolly was essentially pushing Leclaire out of his crease. As the always astute Ryan Classic (editor at Silver Seven Sens) pointed out on Twitter:

"Pascal Leclaire is the pitcher who gets no run support, no matter how well or poorly he plays."

And really, if you think about it, there's a lot of truth to that analogy. The offense rarely shows up when he's lights-out, and when he flops completely, there's not much the offense can do to salvage the situation. A strong defensive team seems like the best place for Leclaire, but... uh, have you seen our defense? Then again, having a point-per-game player in Jason Spezza sitting out tonight's game didn't help the offensive production, either.

But for all the above, there's one really important thing to remember: it's only one game. There's no way we can safely assume that this one game is a microcosm of our season. Otherwise, Chris Kelly would be an 82-goal scorer and Daniel Alfredsson would be held scoreless all year long. Likely? No. So there's no point getting irrationally upset or torn up about tonight's loss.

If we lose to Toronto tomorrow night, though? Whole other issue.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hockey's Future Update

Hockey's Future has been updating their list of organizational depth for each team, and today was finally the Senators' turn.

I'm particularly happy that Jim O'Brien isn't in our top four, like he was last year. It speaks very much to the great job Murray & co. have done to restock the proverbial cupboards. Ignoring the question of whether Karlsson should be considered as "graduated" from the prospect list or not (he should), a few quick observations about the list:
  • In what should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody, four of our top five prospects, according to HF, are defensemen. Our depth at D, while nice on paper right now, will be beastly in practice a few years down the line. This, of course, assumes that Karlsson, Cowen, Wiercioch and Rundblad continue their development instead of falling into the Brian Lee Downward Descent into Development Doom.
  • I find it interesting that Louie Caporusso is listed higher than Wick, Butler and Smith. I've never seen Caporusso play, so for all I know he could be great down the line, but it seems to me that a prospect who's closer to cracking the NHL is a more valuable commodity than one who hasn't gotten much buzz since being nominated for the Hobey Baker award in 08-09.
  • Hoffman at 19 seems a bit low, given the outstanding seasons he's had over the past two years and his training camp, which has been solid, albeit unspectacular. Having him below O'Brien seems less about their respective skill levels, but more about O'Brien's high draft position.
  • Lehner's ranked a solid 5 on our list, but Sens need to draft another goalie or trade for one. There's just not enough long-term depth there to sustain. (This comment assumes that Brodeur bolts once his contract is up after this year.)

Thoughts on the list? A prospect you like not getting enough love? Someone on the list that you feel is overrated? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comment section.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Kuba takes a hit

If this is any kind of indication about the upcoming season, we're screwed.

Less than fifteen minutes into today's first practice of the year, Filip Kuba's skate caught a rut in the ice and he crashed awkwardly into the boards before being helped off the ice. No word yet on the seriousness of it, but the fact that it's Kuba is cause enough for concern. He missed 29 games last year and 11 games the year before with various injuries, most of which were classified as "lower-body injuries" -- though it's important to note that a lower-body injury could be anything from a sore hip to a hangnail on his pinky toe.

Does Pascal Leclaire take the backseat in terms of the team's official Player Made of Glass™? Will Kuba recover anytime soon? More importantly, if Kuba's still sidelined when the season begins, does that spot in the defensive corps become Jared Cowen's to lose? Will Brian Lee finally show why he was drafted 9th overall? Does Patrick Wiercioch or Eric Gryba make enough of an impression at camp to be kept on, even if only temporarily? Or, failing all of the above, what about David Hale?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Regin locked up

News out of the Senators organization today is that Peter Regin has signed a two-year contract with the club, avoiding an arbitration hearing which was scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. The deal will pay Regin $950,000 in his first year and $1,050,000 in the second for a cap hit of $1M.

For what it's worth, I believe this deal is one of the better ones in the NHL at the moment IF Regin can keep up the pace he was setting during the playoffs. Finding a top-6 left winger at $1M a year is a steal. For that matter, I'm not sure such a player exists as of now.

Regin, who was born and raised in Herning, Denmark, has the potential of becoming an offensive dynamo on the first line, alongside Jason Spezza and one of Alexei Kovalev or Daniel Alfredsson. And while some have gone so far as to call him Denmark's Gretzky, it's important to keep things in perspective and realize that, while his playoff production was stellar, it was a somewhat radical change from his game in the regular season, where he tallied 13 goals and 16 assists -- impressive for his first full year in the NHL, but nothing spectacular.

I'd argue that it's likely for him to be, at worst, a solid 2nd line winger with speed and a scoring touch. He has the size to be a third line grinder, but that just isn't his style. It would be a complete waste of talent, much like sending Chris Kelly in alone with just the goalie to beat would be a complete waste of a breakaway.

I like Regin's game, and this year looks like his time to shine. The fact that Bryan Murray was able to sign him to a cap-friendly deal and let him prove it wasn't a fluke can only help the organization, both in the short-term (less money locked up in a guy who hasn't proven much) and long-term (hopefully, easier future negotiations because of the loyalty the organization is showing and the faith they have in him).

With this signing, the only potential roster player still unsigned is Chris Campoli, who was acquired along with Mike Comrie in exchange for San Jose's first round pick and Dean McAmmond in 2009. The predicted salary range for Campoli, should he get to arbitration, is somewhere around $1M. At that price, the Senators would have no choice but to accept the ruling, as any award of slightly over $1M or less must be accepted. Allowing Campoli, Lee and Cowen to fight it out for the last spot on the defensive corps could be beneficial and create competition so no one gets too complacent.

Just food for thought.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Foligno Signs / Kovalchuk Thoughts

In the first bit of legitimate news for the Sens since the Locke signing, Nick Foligno has signed a two-year deal with Ottawa. Figures haven't been released yet, but should become public knowledge soon enough. Personally, I'm hoping for less than a million, but I'll be fine with anything up to $1.2M.

Oh, and also, I wasn't the first blogger to say this, and I won't be the last, but that Kovalchuk contract was just putrid. Good for the NHL on putting their foot down, but it makes you wonder where they were for the Luongo/Hossa/Holmstrom contracts...

EDIT: According to the folks at HFBoards, the deal is for two years at a cap hit of $1.2M.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Locke and Load

The Ottawa Senators announced today that they signed ex-67 and former Ranger/Canadien/Wild Corey Locke.

Personally, I love this move. Locke was never given much of a shot by the Rangers, and the Canadiens weren't willing to play him in a role where he can excel. His game style is that of a top-6 forward--playing him for cheap minutes on the 4th line just doesn't work. I remember watching him light it up in a game against the Kingston Frontenacs back in the day, thinking that he was too small (he's 5'9" according to the AHL's website) to succeed in a league like the NHL. Then, the lockout happened and the game was changed. I really think he has a shot at success if he's played in the right role and is developped properly.

In terms of immediate impact, he adds depth to Bingo and could realistically be expected to continue his PPG pace in the AHL.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Draft Recap

Having slept on the Rundblad situation, I still don't particularly like it. I would love to be proven wrong but at some point you have to draft forwards, especially with Karlsson - Cowen - Wiercioch coming up. I won't deny that adding Rundblad makes that defensive depth even more impressive, but having an Etem or a Tarasenko in the forward ranks would have been much more useful in the long run.

I'm pleased with the picks we made today. I was fairly high on Jakub Culek and may or may not have screamed at my TV in joy when he was drafted. Culek, a 6'4" centre with the Rimouski Oceanic, slides into our prospect pool as arguably our top forward, ahead of guys like O'Brien and Bass. For the first time since drafting Spezza, it appears we finally have a player who can play in the top-6 and put up points. He's a bit of a project in terms of skating ability, but he has several skills you can't teach, including size, hands and hockey instinct.

Markus Sorenson, our fourth-rounder, is a virtual mystery. As the guys at Silver Seven Sens
pointed out in their open thread, he's on Facebook. That's about all we know. He's on the smallish side and plays in Sweden. Oh, and he's a right winger.

Our sixth-round pick, Mark Stone, is a big RW from the Brandon Wheat Kings. He scored 28 points in 39 games this year, but his playoff stats are a bit worrying. Seems to be a safe pick, which is probably a good choice after taking a gamble on Sorenson.

Our last pick, Bryce Aneloski, is a defenceman on a USHL team. He scored about a point per game this year, has a fun name to say (though not as fun as Brock Beukeboom or Calle Jarnkrok) but will most likely be a stretch to ever even play for Binghamton.

And, of course, our defacto first round pick who will forever be known as David "not Etem" Rundblad. By all accounts he's a solid puck moving defenseman. According to Hockey's Future, he "tends to not play it simple enough at times", which will most likely infuriate those who want Spezza gone. Despite being a "potential liability in his own end", Rundblad was selected 17th overall last year, in what is considered to have been a deeper draft than this year's.

To summarize quickly, the Senators got one top-six forward (Culek), one bottom-six forward (Stone), two defensemen (Rundblad and Aneloski) and one wild card (Sorenson). We got one Czech, two Swedes, a Canadian and an American, none of whom are NHL-ready.

But damn, I wish we could have that first rounder back.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Draft Outlook - Part Five (Toffoli)

In the fifth and final segment of this series (parts one, two, three and four here), we'll be taking a look at Ottawa 67s right winger Tyler Toffoli.

If you're in the Ottawa area and have been to at least one 67s game this season, chances are you've heard of Toffoli. Great shot, adequate skating, but doesn't show much enthusiasm or drive. His stats in the OHL are at more than a PPG average in the last two years (125 points in 119 games), which shows that he has finish. What he lacks, though, is basic foot speed. In a few 67s games I watched this year, he seemed to be a half step behind some of the faster guys. His shot though, as mentioned above, is a cannon. He talks briefly about it in the video clip here, although he seems to be pretty humble and kind of downplays it a bit. Make no mistake, though. When he shoots, it's not exactly something you would want to block.

Most mock drafts have him going anywhere
between 25th and 29th, with some even suggesting a fall out of the 1st. Keep in mind that a few of those drafts don't have the right order, but even at that Toffoli's ranking hasn't changed all that much. Although he's a solid shooter, I personally see his upside to be much like Cheechoo's, specifically his 2007-08 season -- a 20 goal, 15 assist power forward whose lack of speed prevents him from taking it up a notch.

Taking Toffoli at 16 would be a huge reach, to be sure. In addition, if Ottawa Senators draft history has told us anything, it's that we don't draft local players just because they're available. Since our inception, we've only ever drafted two 67s players: Will Colbert and Corey Cowick. With more talented forwards hypothetically available at our spot, my money would be on Toffoli joining many of his former teammates in San Jose, who have drafted Lukas Kaspar, Jamie McGinn, Logan Couture, Derek Joslin, Julien Demers and Will Colbert (when his Senators rights expired) in recent memory.

It's definitely possible that the Sens draft exactly as I've written it, swap it up a bit, or go way off the board. It's even possible that we draft one of the skilled Russians like Tarasenko, Burmistrov or Kabanov, though I wouldn't put money on it. Zubov, Kaigorodov and Nikulin have all burnt us recently and I'm not too sure any of us want to head down that road again too quickly. Also, sleeper picks that I wouldn't be surprised to see us pick up include Beau Bennett, Calle Jarnkrok and Riley Sheehan. Players I would like to target in the 3rd round and later include Jakub Culek, Matt McKenzie, Phillip Grubauer and Jared Knight.

Round one of the draft is on Friday at 7pm. Be sure to tune in!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Draft Outlook - Part Four (Watson)

Good morning, ladies and gents. In the fourth segment of this series (parts one, two and three here), we'll be taking a look at Peterborough Petes forward Austin Watson.

Watson, 18, is the prototype of a forward who does everything well, but nothing spectacularly. This year, he tallied 20 goals and 34 assists in 52 games, 42 of which were with the Windosr Spitfires, and the other 10 with the Peterborough Petes. Interestingly enough, he scored at a 2PPG pace in Peterborough following a trade on January 11th. This would seem to label him as a purely offensive forward, but don't let the numbers fool you.

Although I haven't seen too much of the other prospects I've touched on, I had the opportunity to see Watson play a few times this year, and one moment that stuck with me was the CHL Top Prospects Game. He is definitely a warrior. He blocked shots, stopped odd-man rushes and had an excellent defensive game, despite breaking his ankle after stopping a shot with it.

Peterborough Petes' GM, Jeff Twohey, is unsurprisingly pretty high on Watson. After the trade with the Spitfires to acquire the 6'3" winger from Michigan, Twohey was quoted as saying that Watson delivers "
assets that are priceless down the road" and that he is a "solid all-around player". The best comparable I can think of off the top of my head is an offensively inclined Chris Kelly.

Certainly, there are better options available for us. Granlund, Etem and even Tarasenko would be worth pursuing over Watson, in my opinion, even though Watson better fits Murray's style of player. But what do you think? Would a left-winger be preferable over a center at this point? And if Watson is the best player available, do you take him regardless of position?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Odds and ends

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks for their Cup-clinching win in overtime last night (on a TERRIBLE goal by Kane...) If it couldn't be the Sens, I'm glad the Blackhawks were the ones to win it. Toews had a paltry series, but I guess his accomplishments in the other three rounds got him the Conn Smythe, not that I'm complaining.

Extra congratulations are in order to Marian Hossa, the first Sens draftee to win the Cup legitimately. No, I don't count Neckar's two games in the ECF with the Lightning as a legitimate win.


Unless you've been living under a rock, you know there's buzz around the NHL that Spezza may or may not be traded. You also more than likely already have your opinion made, but my viewpoint is this: I don't want Spezza gone. He's a good player, and definitely the best we have at this point, glaring back-passes aside. But why not listen to offers? For all we know, a team like Columbus could be offering Filatov, Brassard, Voracek and the 4th overall. Longshot? Sure. But why not listen to offers? The team might be better for it.

I'm not the first person to say this, and I won't be the last, it October yet? The Calder Cup Finals are still going on (tied 2-2 between Hershey [WSH] and Texas [DAL]), but I have no vested interest in that series, or much of the AHL in general. I need the Sens back. At least the summer is good for speculation, I guess?

Draft Outlook should be back some time this weekend with a look at Austin Watson.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Draft Outlook - Part Three (Etem)

Good day to y'all. In today's third prospect watch, we'll be looking at centre Emerson Etem from Medicine Hat in the WHL.

The two players mentioned previously would be 'fallers' in the draft -- that is to say, they're ranked considerably higher on most other teams' lists, and we'd be lucky to have them fall to us. Etem is a more reasonable player to hope for, even though suggests that he may go earlier than believed. He definitely won't be winning any height competitions at 6' exactly, but the way he plays almost seems to add a couple of inches to his frame. Don't let his stats fool you: Etem's game is more power-forward than sniper.

Think a combination of Vermette and Jordan Staal, only considerably less talented. In his rookie year at Medicine Hat last year, Etem put up 37 goals and 28 assists in 72 games, pretty impressive considering that the WHL isn't known for goal-scorers. Even ISS' 9th ranked skater, Nino Niederreiter, had one goal and 4 assists less than Etem playing with the Portland Winter Hawks in the WHL, albeit in 7 less games. By comparison, Vermette had 27 goals and 38 assists in 82 games with the Blue Jackets this year. If Etem can put up similar numbers in the NHL, he may be worth grabbing with our first-rounder.

Before going to Medicine Hat, Etem played pivot at Shattuck-St Mary's high school, a boarding school in Minnesota that has produced NHLers like Zach Parise, Jonathan Toews and Jack Johnson, among others. And while Etem will never be confused for any of the above, the fact that S-SM has consistently developed good players indicates that, at the very least, he's receiving good training. He also played for the USA in the U18 league, where he scored solid, but unspectacular numbers.

The Hockey News Draft Preview and the Medicine Hat Tigers website disagree, with the former claiming Etem shoots left, and the latter suggesting he's
a right shot. At this point, I don't think handedness will matter all that much, considering the team we have now may not be the one we have in a few years. Etem is the kind of player you try and build around, not the kind you select because of which side he shoots from. Point is, Etem seems to be a dynamic player, albeit one who "doesn't give you a good feel away from the puck". Still, seems like a solid choice if no one we're particularly high on is available at #16.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Draft Outlook : Part Two (Granlund)

In the second part of this ongoing series (part one can be found
here), we'll take a look at the second of five prospects likely to be available at the Senators' draft spot in the 2011 NHL Draft.

Today, our potential draftee, from Helsinki of the Finnish SM-Liiga, is diminutive center Mikael Granlund. He's consistently put up a point per game or more for the last three years, with his highest point total of 57 points in 35 games coming with Karpat in the Jr. A league. He's also good in the clutch, having scored the game-winner in the WJC Under-18 bronze medal game.

The NHL's official website lists Granlund at 5'10", 180 lbs. With Spezza standing 6'3" and Fisher at 6'1", it's definitely worth considering getting a smaller center. Although he's not a speedy player by most accounts, he can make plays with the best of them, with many scouts comparing him to a young Saku Koivu.

The major downside to Granlund's game, much like Bjugstad's in the last entry, is fairly self-evident. His size is both a blessing and a curse, in that although a few feet less can make a player less easy to hit, it also kills their own ability to be a particularly physical player. That isn't Granlund's style, but the option of physicality would be a nice one to have. Still, at best it's not a hindrance, and at worse it will limit his potential.

Also, side note: lists his favourite team as the Canadiens and his favourite player as Crosby. Ew.

Personally, I'm hoping for Granlund. He seems like as sure a bet as any in this draft, and if he falls to us I'll be cartwheeling down Bank Street. What do you think?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Draft Outlook : Part One (Bjugstad)

In the first of a few segments, I'll be taking a look at some of the players the Senators could be looking at in the upcoming draft. Keeping in mind that we've got Cowen, Wiercioch, Karlsson, Gryba and Smith either already on the team or on the verge of making it, I'll assume that our first round pick will be used on a forward. Furthermore, based on our recent troubles with Russians, (Kaigorodov, Nikulin and Yashin to name a couple) I'll also assume that we'll be steering clear of guys like Kabanov, Burmistrov, Tarasenko and Kuznetsov. Lastly, I'll only be profiling the players Ottawa has any chance of drafting. If you're looking for a bio on Taylor Hall, then I'm sure there's hundreds of Bruins and Oilers blogs to assuage your desires.

Without further ado, on to our first prospect - from Blaine High School in Minnesota, Nick Bjugstad. He looks like Brian Lee and he comes from Minnesota, sure. But that's where the similarities end. Bjugstad, a big-bodied centre, is a good fit for the Sens, assuming he keeps up his current pace. According to The Hockey News, he is a "huge, talented player bound for the University of Minnesota", which is exactly the type of player we need. No, not necessarily "bound for the U of M", but someone who can play the second-line centre role behind Spezza. Bjugstad's 60 points in 25 games this season indicate to me that he could definitely slide into that role if needed, with a bit of training up. Of course, it's worth noting that those numbers were put up against high school opponents - definitely not the fiercest players. Scouts interviewed by THN seemed to think that Bjugstad suffers from consistency issues, and while this isn't exactly comforting news, it's not like he'd be the first player in Sens history to do so. He's also big enough, with a 6'4", 188 lbs. frame to throw around. He has said in interviews that he tries to model his game after Joe Thornton. Spezza is the unquestioned #1 centre on this team, that's nothing new. It would be nice to be able to ease the burden on his shoulders, though, and Bjugstad would probably be able to do so and allow Spezza to be the high-risk, high-reward player we know he can be.

The downsides are also easy enough to list. Firstly, the inconsistency issues brought up are worrying. The best case scenario would be an offensive dynamo like the aforementioned Thornton. Worst case scenario? Does Alex Daigle ring any bells? 137 points in the QMJHL didn't transfer to the NHL style of play, and Daigle was traded away to Philadelphia. The same thing could happen with Bjugstad. A lack of consistency coupled with weak opponents could result in a bigger draft bust that Lawton and Wickenheiser, or it could result in the greatest #9 overall pick since Dion Phaneuf. Only time will tell.

What do you think, Sens fans? Will Bjugstad fall to Ottawa at #16 overall?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Goaltending. Seriously, what the hell?

Another year come and gone, same goalie questions. Neither of our goalies have legitimate starter numbers. Both are maddeningly inconsistent. We have our “goalie of the future” in the system. Meanwhile, our best paid goalie, usually a benchwarmer, puts up stellar numbers in the playoffs and all of a sudden the fanbase is rabid with cries of “Leclaire for life!” and “Worth every penny!”, while collectively shunning Elliott.

I’m a Leclaire fan, so this isn’t exactly fun for me to write, although it’s so ridiculously obvious to most that follow the Sens. Leclaire isn’t the answer. When he’s on, he puts up Hasek-esque numbers. When he’s off, think Lalime in the playoffs. Unfortunately, he’s off more than on. His numbers aren’t exactly confidence-inspiring either. 34 games, 12 wins, 16 losses, two of which were in OT or shootout. 0.887 save percentage, 3.20 GAA. Definitely not starter numbers, and although his 0.920 save percentage and 2.84 GAA in the playoffs is more encouraging, it’s just not enough to say he deserves the larger chunk of time in nets.

Take Elliott, now. Polar opposite of Leclaire. Lights out in the season, especially during that 11-game streak. Streaky down the stretch, invisible in the playoffs. His numbers in the season are decidedly better than Leclaire’s in the season: 55 games, 29 wins, 22 losses, 4 of which came in OT or SO, .909 save percentage, 2.57 GAA. Those numbers are somewhat similar to Leclaire’s playoff numbers, but Elliott’s playoff .853 save percentage and 4.14 GAA are a lot closer to Leclaire’s season numbers, which are the kind of numbers you just can’t win regularly with, especially not in the playoffs. Both goaltenders had win-loss records of 1-2, but those numbers are misleading. One of Leclaire’s losses should be attributed to Elliott, since the team really only woke up once Ells was pulled after allowing 4 goals on 19 shots.

What of our goalie of the future, Robin Lehner? Past goalies of the future range from disastrous (Mathieu Chouinard, a two-time Sens draft pick who only ever started one game in the NHL with the Ducks), to adequate (Jani Hurme was a solid, if unspectacular backup) to pretty good (Ray Emery…say what you want about his attitude, but he could stop a puck). The jury’s still out on past goalie of the future and current goalie of the present, Brian Elliott. Sens fans beating themselves up over our less than stellar goaltending point to Lehner as a bright spot. I’d love to believe that he’ll become the next incarnation of Patrick Roy and steal games left, right and center. But I’m a cynical person. I’ve heard of enough Matt Chouinards, Jim Careys, Justin Pogges, Al Montoyas and Rick DiPietros to know better. I think it’s more likely that Lehner turns into a serviceable goalie, like any number of goalies that have come through our system. I just don’t see him being the long-term answer.

As a general rule, the players who are paid the highest are also given more opportunity to succeed, so it’s a fair bet that Leclaire will initially be appointed starter next season. If he can stay healthy, great for him, and I look forward to a productive season from him. If not, Elliott can hold down the fort, but I wouldn’t expect a finish any better than the one we got this year. At this point, there’s really only three options for a bright future at goaltender, and only the last one has the possibility of happening this year: pick up another via trade or free agency; hope that Lehner is the secret lovechild of Brodeur and Roy; or pray to the almighty hockey Gods that Elliott and Leclaire put up decent numbers this year.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hennessy gone

According to the official website of HC Lugano, Josh Hennessy has signed a one year deal overseas. With this signing, Patrick Wiercoch is the only leftover of the Martin Havlat no pressure, Pat.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Left, Right and Center

The bottom six forwards in place, it's time to turn our attention to the top-6. I think it's fairly obvious who goes in there, but chemistry is even more important on the first two lines than the last two. Sure, you could put Kovalev, Michalek and Spezza together, but all you get out of that is a trio that passes the puck too much. There's just not much firepower there. And you could put Regin, Alfredsson and Cullen (should he re-sign) together, but Regin needs someone to get him the puck. I don't have a doubt in my mind that Cullen can get it done, but if the playoffs showed us anything, it's that Regin and Spezza just clicked. For what it's worth, I think either you put Spezza and Regin together, or you drop Regin to the third line. Regin's a solid player, but take away his playmaking center and you're left with a grinder-type player, something Ottawa doesn't need.

So let's try it this way:
Regin - Spezza - Kovalev
Michalek - XXXXX - Alfredsson

I can already hear both my readers complaining that Kovalev hasn't played like a first line player. And hey, no argument here, you're spot on. But if Regin stays as dynamic with Spezza feeding him the puck, can you imagine how explosive he'll be if he's taking pucks from Kovalev AND Spezza? Think about the positive impact Regin's hard-nosed backchecking could have on Ottawa's favourite whipping boy, Spezza. Think of how dangerous this line would be to contain, especially if Spezza and Kovalev gel.

Second line... Michalek is fast. We know this. Alfredsson's losing a step, partly because of injuries, partly because of age. Pairing these two together is a high-risk, high-reward duo. Either you get an offensive force with a defensive touch, or you get a disjointed crew of misfits. The Xs, of course, are placeholders. Ideally, I'd like to see the Sens re-sign Cullen and move some money around (maybe by dealing Kelly, who I've never really cared for), but in the Cap world, that's not always doable. An M-C-A line would definitely be a speedy line with a fair amount of defence. The question is, can Murray pull it off?

And, more importantly, what if he can't? That leaves a pretty gaping hole at center. Fisher, a good player by reputation and historically, has proven that he's not a number two center-type player. He's best suited to the third line where he can play his style of game. If NEEDED, of course he'll take this spot. A glance at the depth chart on
Hockey's Future, combined with the info from my last post, tell me that, while we have Silfverberg, Caporusso and Greening on their way, there's not much in terms of immediate help. Zubov crawled off to Russia after he didn't get his way. At the rate they're playing, O'Brien and Bass look unlikely to crack the roster anytime soon. And I'll admit I don't know much about Derek Grant, but that's not a good thing.

Where do we go from here? Do we make a trade for a top-6 guy, shedding unwanted cap bucks in the process? Do we re-sign Cullen and hope we can replace Volchenkov on the cheap? Do we roll with lines anchored by Spezza-Fisher-Kelly-Winchester? Or do we play a winger at center to see if they can successfully transition? There's definitely no lack of fringe NHL talent on this team, but when the chips are down, our second line is as identity-less as Stephen Harper. Too soon to be cracking politics jokes? Fair enough. But it's never too soon to think about how we're going to balance our lineup this season to get the most competitiveness out of this team.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Depth perception

Ottawa was once touted as a 'one-line team' not too long ago. Since the trade of Dany Heatley, winner of the Douchebag of the Year award, and Murray's signings of cheap college students and veteran grinders, this previously one-dimensional team can now boast its depth, one that is nearly unparalleled in the entire NHL--among the bottom six forwards, at any rate. Murray's drafting, free agent pickups and remnants of the Muckler era have left our bottom two lines looking fairly solid, if not spectacular.

The lines and pairings are always subjective, but the way I see it, our bottom two lines as they stand are:

Foligno-Fisher-Z. Smith
Ruutu - Kelly - Neil

The 3rd line above is a gritty one that can definitely provide a spark of energy in any system. All three guys on the line aren't afraid to go into corners or get aggressive. The major downfall of this line, though, is the lack of finishers. Most of the goals scored by this line will be garbage goals, rebounds and the like. In short, don't expect the finesse you'd get from the top line.

The RKN line, meanwhile, is the very definition of a 4th line: Ruutu agitates, Neil enforces and Kelly dumps the puck into the offensive zone. All three are decent defensively, and there's no real liability to speak of in putting these three on the ice, beyond a lack of firepower. Then again, the 4th line isn't typically a high-scoring unit.

Beyond the aforementioned lines, other players that aren't listed include Shean Donovan, Ryan Shannon, Jesse Winchester, Jonathan Cheechoo, Bobby Butler, Martin St. Pierre, Kaspar Daugavins, Ryan Keller, Cody Bass and Josh Hennessy. We've seen all these players, with the exception of Bass and Hennessy, log some minutes with the Sens this season. Some were good (Donovan), some were average and unnoticeable (Daugavins, Keller) and some were disastrous (Shannon, Cheechoo). The fact reamins, however, that we have enough depth players to form three more lines of bottom six pairings.

This depth was tested during the playoffs, with the loss of Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek. Both big guns went down due to injuries, making Coach Clouston put Cheechoo, Shannon and Donovan in the lineup at varying points in the series. Donovan played effectively in his few games, while Cheechoo was average and uninspired, and Shannon proved he is too small to be a factor in a playoff series. In an ideal world, none of these three would have drawn into the lineup, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Depth is key to any kind of success, and the Senators aren't lacking in that sense. A good aspect of having such a deep prospect pool is the advantage of being able to rotate roster spots to put in, say, a small forward against a fast team, or a grinder against a tougher team. The upshot of the situation, though: would you have confidence in a 4th line of Shannon-Winchester-Cheechoo? Didn't think so. Depth is nice, but only if you can be sure that it won't lose you games. There's a reason these guys aren't full-time NHLers.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

On the defensive

Most elite teams in the League have
at least one all-star defenseman. Detroit has Lidstrom, San Jose has Boyle, Pittsburgh has Gonchar, Washington has Green, Chicago has Keith...the list really goes on. Ottawa will one day have Karlsson as our elite, go-to guy, but he's not quite there yet. For now, our anchor in the back end is Anton Volchenkov, a shot-blocking machine and probably the best goalie, let alone defenseman, Ottawa has ever had.

The sad truth is that we've probably already seen the A-Train's last game in a Senators jersey. Since rejecting a 5-year, $20M offer shortly after the Olympics, negotiations haven't looked too promising from an outsider's perspective. It's rumoured that he's looking for $5M a season, definitely a hefty price tag for a one-dimensional defensive defenseman, albeit one of the best in the League.

Comparing numbers between Volchenkov and defensemen with similar stats:

--Anton Volchenkov: 64 games, 153 hits, 172 blocked shots, UFA (made 2.5M in 2009/10)

--Stephane Robidas:82 games, 269 hits, 177 blocked shots, 3.3M

--Andy Sutton: 72 games, 197 hits, 204 blocked shots, UFA (made 3M in 2009/10)

--Dennis Seidenberg: 79 games, 166 hits, 215 blocked shots, UFA (made 2.2M in 2009/10)

--Brett Clark: 64 games, 55 hits, 162 blocked shots, UFA (made 3.5M in 2009/10)

--Zbynek Michalek: 72 games, 80 hits, 156 blocked shots, UFA (made 1.2M in 2009/10)

Considering the amount of games he's played, it's pretty impressive that Volchenkov finished 8th in the league in blocked shots this season, behind Seidenberg, Sutton, Keith Ballard, Greg Zanon, Chris Pronger, Dan Girardi and Robidas. The list above clearly shows that the market for shot-blocking defensemen is very rich this year. Volchenkov is an important part of our blue-line, obviously, but we really can't afford him if he wants anything more than 4.5M, and I'd be willing to bet that if he doesn't, one of the UFAs with similar numbers will.

As for Andy Sutton, we all saw him completely devour Leopold's soul in the playoffs. That's the exception to the rule, though. Aside from his occasional big hit, he's looked slow and out of the play quite often. I wouldn't mind keeping him on, but nothing more than $2M a season, a figure that I doubt he'll take.

So where does that leave our defense? Ideally, we could sign both Sutton and Volchenkov for $6M and be set in terms of shut-down guys. But that's just a pipe dream. Realistically, I think both Volchenkov and Andy "Are you an expert?" Sutton will walk, freeing up some cash to go after a similar defenseman. It wouldn't surprise me to see BM go after Michalek, in the hopes that having his brother, Milan, here will make Ottawa an easier sell. I wouldn't want him to go after Seidenberg, the price will be way too high. Paul Martin from New Jersey would also be worth considering, and since he's coming off an injury-reduced season, the price would probably be a bit cheaper. The question that has to be asked, though, is whether or not he's damaged goods. The last name I'll throw out is Dan Hamhuis, who Nashville has not yet re-signed and who could probably be had for a bit cheaper than the others.

The same names will be thrown out countless times before July 1st and/or Ottawa's re-signing of Volchenkov/Sutton. But count on Murray to try for one of them. Every team with high aspirations has a high-level defenseman. If we hope to stay competitive for the next few years, we'll need a guy who can inspire confidence back there. God knows the goalies aren't doing it for us.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Hope you like golf...

If you're reading this, there's a very good chance that you know that the Senators got knocked out of the first round of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4 games to 2. Getting knocked out in the first round is never fun, but I guess it's better to make the playoffs than to have a horrible season and trade away your first round pick. (Hi, Leafs fans.)

Where does that leave us? Last off-season, the biggest two questions were:

1. Will the Heatley trade severely handicap us, or will it be in the best interests of the team?

2. Will Leclaire be the answer to all the issues we've had in goal?

Hindsight is 20/20, so the first question can be answered pretty easily. Short term, it hurt our goal production, but gave us a speedy forward who can chip in offensively, some dead weight in Cheechoo, and a second-round pick which led to Andy Sutton, an impending free agent. It's the long term that we're not sure of, but losing Heatley and gaining Michalek is definitely a defensive improvement. Less one-dimensional players is usually a positive.

As for question number two, clearly the stability in goal is as much of a question mark as ever. Leclaire showed flashes of the goalie we hoped we were getting in the playoffs, but his regular season was maddeningly inconsistent, at best, and disastrous, at worse. Elliott was a stabilizing force on most nights, but his effort down the stretch and in the playoffs was disappointing and a cause for concern. Lehner is coming in the system, but he's certainly not NHL-ready. All signs point to us rolling a Leclaire-Elliott tandem again this year, but the questions remain the same as they were last year: will Leclaire be good enough? If he isn't, will Elliott pick up the slack?

New blog should be up tomorrow about the defense and how I see the situation with Volchenkov, Sutton and free agency playing out.