Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I've been thinking about this whole "fighting in hockey" issue that has been floating around recently.

I'm clear about my position: I don't like fighting. I also don't like some of the plays that go on around fighting, and I especially don't like the fact that the referees seem oddly disinterested in calling some of these plays.

Fighting, some of its proponents claim, is a way for the players to police each other. You'll be less likely to commit some of the various fouls if you know that the pest or enforcer on the other team is likely to come and share his fists with you.

Well if the refs actually called the rule book, and not just the "when they feel like it", the game would be policed already.

I'll even respond to Five for Smiting's comments on the matter:

I want the proponents of a fighting ban tell me that the game is more entertaining without a fight than it is with one, that the 18000 or so ticket buying souls who stand and roar during every single fight have been wrong all along. I want them to swear to me that now that fighting has been eliminated, they will flock to the rink and buy jerseys and beer and pizza and car flags in numbers never seen before.

OK, in order:
  • The most entertaining hockey I've ever seen is four-on-four sudden-death overtime. And the reason for that is that since there's less margin for surviving a possible penalty, you can't piss around hitting, hooking, or holding: you have to play the damn game. So yes, for me, "less fighting" is equivalent to "more entertaining".
  • I'm not going to presume to tell people who buy their tickets whether or not they are wrong. That's up to them. They clearly like fighting.
  • Bitter Leaf Fan has the numbers on that: suffice it to say that if you want to grow your hockey audience, you have to consider what those who are not in your audience (who by definition are the ones you need to pull from to grow) do, or do not, want to see.
Now of course I'm not going to sit here and claim that eliminating fighting will cause all of those non-hockey-following people to start demanding season tickets -- that's just stupid. Just like I'm sure that fighting proponents are not predicting that every current fan is going to burn their season tickets if fighting is eliminated. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

(O.B. Maple Leafs shot: although that might happen in Toronto, since people are clearly not buying tickets to see skilled hockey.)

I suspect it's closer to the "no fighting" side than it is the "fighting" side, and the quantity of vitriol being spewed suggests that they suspect that, too.

I'm going to skip the rest of Five For Smiting's comments because it mostly boils down to the players need to be reactive to rules violations not punished by the refs -- and honestly my view is the fix for that problem is to fix the officiating at all levels. Yes the system is broken, but trying to band-aid it with another broken system is still stupid.

But in the end does it matter what I think?

Fighting can end in the NHL in a number of ways:

  • The players stop fighting. Unlikely due to the state of the players (typically impressionable, adrenaline-driven young men) and the "history" of fighting in the game. Fighting gives an advantage, and attempting to get that advantage is blessed, or at leased tolerated, by the rules and officials, so giving that up would be stupid on the part of the players.
  • The owners and the league deciding to get rid of it. But unless the issues with the officiating are addressed at the same time, this avenue will be pointless.
  • The fans not showing up for games unless or until fighting is banned, although realistically this will just be the trigger for the owners and league deciding to follow through.
None of those ways have my name on it. But since this is the internet, I get to write my opinion.

Personally I suspect fighting will be in the NHL for quite a while to come yet.

Same Old Same Old

Well, clearly the All-Star break is responsible for the Senator's sudden dropping of a hockey game. This is a change from taking seven points from the four games prior to the break. It has nothing to do with the fact that one of the hottest teams in the east was visiting one of the... uh... other teams in the east.

After this first post-break game, the Futility Meter drops to -13, 3-5-2.

The team needs to win, and win often if there is to be any hope for this year, and personally I don't see it happening. There's no mojo here anymore.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Someone's Already Done The Math

This is the internet; there's always someone out there who's done the heavy lifting and has a page up telling you what you want to know.

In this case, the "what you want to know" is what are the odds of making the playoffs this year, based on the relative performances of the first half of the season?

Presto: has the bad news: they are predicting a 97% chance that there will be no playoffs for the Senators. Digging deeper into the numbers, the chances of the Senators getting in is dependent not only on a turn-around of historic proportions, but on collapses of similar proportions of the teams currently ahead.

The time has come to start shaping next year's team. We have to look carefully at the unrestricted free agents who are at risk this year, and decide now who will be a part of the team and who can/should be shopped around for future prospects and draft leverage.

Holding on to the dream of playoffs will only see those dreams dashed, and the misery prolonged.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Less Leafs == More Viewers

Sayeth The Globe:

And the CBC, despite losing three Toronto Maple Leafs telecasts in its new NHL deal, is drawing prime-time audiences that are up 4 per cent from last year, to 1.206 million a game.

Kind of gives lie to the theory that the CBC's ratings are dependent on interest in Southern Ontario, although in the years when Toronto made the playoffs, the viewership ratings looked like they fell off a cliff after Toronto's inevitable exit.

Perhaps Canadians are starting to realize that there are other teams besides them there Leafs, and what do you know some of those teams can actually play an entertaining game of hockey.

...either that, or with Leaf Nation stuck for things to do when the playoffs pass their team by, they are multiplying faster than the rest of us.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On a roll... to nowhere

Yes, the Senators are on a roll! They've won three of their last four, and the loss was an OT-loss, meaning the Senators have collected 7 of the last 8 points available to them.

And reflecting their hard work, the Futility Meter rises to -12, 4-4-2.

Well maybe "rises" is too strong a word here. We're still tied for second-last. We are still twelve points out.

We have closed the gap to Toronto, but really that's more reflective of Toronto sinking to our level than a real improvement in our play.

I still say the playoffs are out of reach. Gone. A hard push will only result in the team just missing (see: Toronto for the last three years), resulting in little improvement through the draft (see: Toronto for the last three years), which will result in further mediocrity (see: Toronto for the last... well, you get the idea).

On the other hand, if the team does push for the playoffs, and manages to make it, their record through the second half will arguable make them as serious contenders to go deep in the playoffs.

But the bottom line is that it is too soon to get our hopes up. My hope-threshold is still 5-x-x for three or more consecutive games... and I don't anticipate reaching that any time soon.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dogfight for the bottom

Quickly checking in on the Futility Meter, we find a respectable predictable -13, 3-5-2. We are third last in both the East and Overall, effectively tied for second last with Atlanta at 37 points on the year so far. Only the fact that we have three games in hand over Atlanta (and the delusion that we'd actually get points out of those three games) keeps us "ahead".

The New York Islanders appear to have a lock on the bottom of both the East and overall, a cool 8 points behind Ottawa and Atlanta. The odds of New York catching anyone else this season look to be devastatingly non-existent at this point.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Back To Regular Programming

Ahh, so yesterday's bump in the Futility Meter (currently still -11, 3-6-1)was an aberration brought on by the Senators being out of sync with their contemporaries. Now that Tampa, St. Louis, and Toronto have played games last night, most of our gauges of futility are back:

  • we are now second last in the east (Tampa has passed us)
  • St. Louis has re-passed the Senators to put the entire Western Conference ahead of us; and
  • Toronto is again four points ahead.
But as far as being out of a playoff spot, it is the points gap which counts the most. The game against Montreal is the next step in the Senators journey to draft bliss or sustained mediocrity as exampled at length by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Two on the run

It's amazing what two wins can do to the Futility Meter, which we find this morning at -11, 3-6-1:

  • the team is up from 14th to 12th in the east, and from third-last to fifth-last overall;
  • the team is no longer behind the entire western division;
  • the first place team no longer has twice the number of points that Ottawa has; and
  • the team is within spitting distance of Toronto in the standings again.

I have to admit I am torn here. I like seeing the wins come. I like seeing the top line roll on. I like seeing solid goaltending.

But realistically, this team will only barely make the playoffs as most media estimates have the team requiring at least 60 of the remaining 82 possible points to just squeak in. The team won't go far in the post season, so aside from the playoff gate revenue there is no point to the team even getting in.

The other problem is that beyond the first couple of quality picks or so, the draft turns into a lottery as to whether or not a player will turn into a solid contributor, with the odds against it most of the time. A franchise player only comes along once in a while.

The road to the top goes through the bottom.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Where did that hockey team come from?

I... well... wow.

Top line scoring, secondary scoring, unquestionably the best power play effort since... well, I can't remember. Unquestionably the best sustained effort in a long, long time.

Out of respect of the effort and result, I am suspending the Futility Meter for today.

I think part of the result comes from the fact that Carolina rolled into town expecting an easy two points -- the track record of the team this year would lead them to assume nothing less. However even when the Senators were at the top of their game, they'd roll into one of the bottom-ranked teams expecting an easy two points and get their heads handed to them. If you relax too much and the other team gets a jump, you lose the momentum. It's happened to better teams before, and will happen again.

Tonight will be a better test of where this team really is at. The Senators have been playing leap-frog with Atlanta in the standings for a while now, so we will have to see if the team can give another sustained effort against a team with similarly low expectations.

It doesn't change the fact that we need a rebuild. Trying to grasp the playoffs, and then getting driven out in the first round does nothing for us but sustain the mediocrity -- Toronto being a case study in how limping around the midfield can turn into a perpetual motion machine. The Senators successes of the previous years has been built on draft picks we got during the awful first few years before then.

The route to the top goes through the bottom, and unfortunately we are not there yet.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Want My Saturday Night Back

So the Futility Meter drops to -15, 2-7-1. This whole "Futility Meter" thing might not be fun anymore.

I watched the first and third periods of tonight's game. According to the scoreboard, I missed precisely nothing by missing the second period, and instead got to enjoy a Law And Order episode about slavery instead.

Three comments about tonight.

First, Mike Fisher was out of position on both goals tonight. While both goals were a result of a cascade of errors, it was interesting that Fisher featured in both. Hockey is a game of moments, and you need to be in the right place at the right time, and tonight Fisher wasn't. Being in the right position the entire rest of the night can sometimes not make up for one (or in this case, two) mistakes. Fortunately, these are details that a player can work on and improve.

Second, it's kind of a relief that Brian Elliot wasn't some magic tonic that immediately delivered wins. I think Elliot played a solid game, but there wasn't enough effort at the far end of the rink, or detail hockey being played immediately in front of him. I am personally with Scott Morrison who worries that summoning Elliot now risks his long-term future. It's time to close the door on 2008-09 and preserve assets for next year and beyond.

I think really we are now in a race to the bottom so we can start to rebuild. Which is a shame considering the top line we have today.

But the real reflection on tonight's game? After Ottawa and New York had finished, we got to see the last five minutes of the Washington-Montreal game. There was more action in those five minutes in Montreal than I saw through forty minutes in the Ottawa game. I actually cheered when Montreal got the winning goal with 34 seconds to go.

...remember when Ottawa had a hockey team?...

Friday, January 9, 2009

A New Measure Of Futility

So in last night's game with Boston, there are four goals -- which in and of itself is reason for celebration -- and better yet, none of which come from the top line. Jason Spezza does pick up two assists to keep his scoring run going, so the top line wasn't TOTALLY sitting on its ass.

Yay secondary scoring! Can we have more like that PLZ K THX? Oh, and I know it's just "Darth" Gerber in goal, but could we reduce the number of defensive turnovers a bit?


So today's check finds the Futility Meter sitting at -13, 2-7-1. But look, there's a whole laundry list of low bars we can't get over:
  • Atlanta bags a win, dropping us to 14th in the East. This is only good from the perspective that we are no longer five points back of the next team in the east (formerly Toronto).
  • We still share the worst last-10 numbers with the Islanders.
  • We are last in the Northeast Division.
  • The entire Western Conference is ahead of us overall.
Today we add a new measure of how bad this season is going: the #1 team in the East, Boston, has twice as many points (64) as we do (32).

However we're still four points ahead of the Islanders, so we'd have to see a collapse of mythic proportions in order to come dead (and I mean dead) last overall... but I have faith, I know that this team can deliver.

Please, someone make the hurting stop.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Faint Praise

In response to vicious rumours telling of the imminent firing of both Murray and Hartsburg, owner Melnyk springs to their defense:
"Contrary to what is being reported today by the media, I have made no decisions with respect to any personnel changes within the Senators organization. Winning remains our No. 1 priority and there is a collective focus by our management, our coaching staff and our players to deliver this to our fans.

I, along with our fans, will do nothing but continue to remain fully committed to our Senators and enthusiastically cheer them on to a successful second half of the season.

This is crunch time. Now, more than ever, is the time to rally behind our team. We don't surrender half-way though the season.

Every victory from here on in matters. We know it and the fans know it. Period."

Mmmm.... hardly a ringing endorsement.

I've made my position on the problem clear: Murray should go. We should defer a decision on Hartsburg until he has a complete team to fail with.

NHL Code Of Ethics

So what have we learned today, boys and girls?

Sticking your thumb into someone else's mouth: NOT BAD; biting the thumb that someone else has stuck into your mouth: BAD. A bite to the thumb is worth a two game suspension. That's right, when someone sticks their thumb into your mouth while trying to do who knows what, you must take it like a man.

At least grandstanding about getting bitten is worth a two-minute unsportsman-like-behavior penalty. Not that the Senators can convert an opportunity like that these days...

We knew that once the officials got into it that it would change into something other-worldly, but this takes the cake.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Futility Meter: -13, 2-7-1

I guess it goes without saying that if the team in the 8th and final playoff spot beats you, they get two points and you get nothing. This drops the Senators to 13 points out of the postseason.

What doesn't go without saying is that the Senators are currently the proud co-owners of the worst last-10 numbers, sharing the 2-7-1 "record" with the New York Islanders.

We are not even at the All-Star break yet. At what point can we declare 2008-09 officially over?

When things are bad, behave badly.

...biting? In the NHL? What is this, sandbox?

Things must be pretty bad if we're resorting to biting the opposition.

I am pleased that the Buffalo player was the one who drew the penalty for unsportsmanlike behavior -- and yes, I do know that had there not been any drama with the biting, there would not have been any penalty.

And then the rest of the period really took off, didn't it. Sticks to the face, a little dance with Neil and Peters, and ended with Vermette enjoying a stick in the groin. It looked like Buffalo was getting the worst of it, but it looked a near thing.

Fortunately for me, the PVR can only watch two things at once, and the wife had a House episode and some other thing queue'd up, so I wasn't forced to sit through any more of this garbage.

All this, and a regulation loss, too.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Senators Futility Meter: -11, 3-6-1

Going into tonight's game in Buffalo, the Senators are a brisk 11 points out of a playoff spot.

And just to ensure we enjoy our kick in the pants, I'll note that we are still behind the entire Western conference overall.

Word on the street is that GM Brian Murray is about to fire coach Hartsburg, on the off chance that the problem with the Senators is, in fact, the coach.

While such an idea is easy to dismiss, history does suggest that this is not the totally absurd idea that it initially sounds like. Previous GM John Muckler fired coach Jacques Martin, and his successor, Brian Murray, got so much credit for the following year's run to the cup final that he got Muckler's job.

Hartsburg is however the third coach to fail to inspire the Senators. John Paddock and Brian Murray Himself split the blame last year. Now it's Hartsburg's turn on the chopping block.

In my opinion, the larger share of the blame for the current dismal showing lies on the desk of Hartsburg's boss, Brain Murray Himself. While some of the depletion of the defense corps can be expected, Murray has done little to try to stem the flow of talent out of the club.

True, the Shiny New NHL has a much tighter trading environment, and franchise defensemen are few and far between. One would hope that the team would instead turn to trying to develop talent in-house and in the farm team. Only time will tell if there will be any significant fruit from that side of the operation.

But the proof is in the pudding, and this year the pudding has curdled. When the "best top line in the NHL" can't find the back of the net, something has gone seriously wrong.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

One Win Does Not Minus 10 Fix

Hey, it is great to see a win, any win, and a win on the road is twice as nice (because it is about that unlikely).

But the Senators are still 10 points out of eighth, and I personally refuse to get my hopes up until the last-10 goes above 5-x-x (which the current 3-7-0 certainly isn't) and stays there for two or three games.

Just to show that the rest of the season is not totally without entertainment value -- a win in Toronto on Saturday would be nice on its own merits, no matter what the points gap or the last-10 numbers are.