Friday, February 27, 2009

Ottawa 1, Brian Lee -2

Sometimes these things happen -- a stupid call leads to a even stupider reaction given in the heat of the moment, which leads to an opportunity for the opposition. And when that opposition is the San Jose Sharks, you know they will be all over it. Brian Lee may be a bit of a hot-head, but he's playing an otherwise solid and dependable game, and I think that this kind of incident should be a rare event once his playing history is all said and done.

Regarding the game overall, I did watch the last period on TV, and I liked what I saw. This is back to one of Clouston's first games as a coach, where even though the team lost there is a lot to like. The Senators kept the class of the Western conference from running away with the game, even if the Sharks didn't have to work very hard to stay ahead.

And man, did I like Jason Spezza's clinic in puck handling as he undressed the Sharks' defenders on several plays. Other pundits then take Spezza to task for not shooting the puck while in position, but in my opinion it is better to try to generate a chance somewhere else than to definitely toss the puck away into a goalie who is right there ready for you. It didn't pay off this time, but the vast majority of plays won't either, and I'm not going to fault the choice he made. Overall though Spezza did have a number of shots, a number of attempted shots that got deflected on the way, and generated several opportunities. If management can keep him motivated and focused, the results will come.

So next up is the Leafs on Saturday. I have to sadly nod my head in agreement with The Senate Committee:
I remeber a time when those four words were not an invitation to laughter, ridicule, and poorly thought out one-liners... Sigh.
Stand by for the stands chanting We're not the worst! We're not the worst! Given the Leaf's fans' desire for road trips, it could be either fanbase chanting that at game end...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Retire The Futility Meter; Trade Heatley

Word tricking out from the Senators through amongst other places is that Brian Murray is making statements indicating the Senators will be sellers rather than buyers as the trade deadline approaches.

I'm going to be incredibly generous and interpret this as meaning that the Senators have seen the light. Therefore no point in continuing to beat a dead horse with the Futility Meter if management's view is now where it should be, which is on next year and beyond.

Murray's list of untouchables is pretty short:
Murray said he won't be asking captain Daniel Alfredsson, defenceman Chris Phillips, sniper Dany Heatley or two-way centre Mike Fisher to waive their no trade clauses.
The notable absence on this list is Jason Spezza, who's no-trade-clause doesn't kick in until July.

I'm not really sure what I think about that. On the one hand, Dany Heatley is a goal scorer. He has a rocket shot and knows how to use it. On the other hand, Heatley's production rate is very low unless he is matched with a quality play-maker; in that, Heatley definitely relies on Spezza's quality of play. When Spezza is on, Heatley can finish; when he's off, Heatley is just another guy with one trick that he can't use to best effect.

Of the two players, I'd rather let Heatley go if forced to choose between the two (or perhaps more accurately, I'd prefer Spezza stay). I know this isn't what your average pundit thinks, but hear me out. Heatley is a finisher, yes. The two problems are that (A) he is an expensive finisher that is only functional if (B) the rest of the team -- from mythical puck-moving-defense through playmaking center -- is firing on all cylinders. Right now it is clear that the Senators are not. Heatley is an asset the team can't afford and can't effectively use.

Spezza's value is in the chances that he takes in trying to create plays. Yes, pundits love to hate those no-look drop-pass turnovers that create odd-man rushes; but when they work, they work beautifully. Spezza is the man who can create the chances.

Besides, we've seen Heatley at work on lines without Spezza, and it hasn't been productive.

Without Heatley on the payroll, the Senators would have more money to look for that combination of assets, that mythical puck-moving-defense as well as more secondary scoring. I think the last two years have shown us that maybe putting all your scoring eggs into one line makes that scoring very vulnerable to being shut down. It may make more sense to have three lines of guys who are "secondary" scoring rather than the one "primary" line with two lines of "gosh it'd be nice if some of you could put the puck in the net once in a while please?" that we seem to be stuck with.

In the medium term, this is all just pie-in-the-sky. Heatley isn't going anywhere... yet. But I don't doubt that if Spezza leaves, Heatley will be next on the list to be run out of town when his production dries up.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mats Sundin Goes (Back) To Toronto

First things first, it looks like Ottawa tried to play their normal game upside down -- lead with the strong energy, then try like crazy to go flat. Fortunately they got enough of a jump out of the gate that the late-game collapse couldn't quite cancel out the early effort. I listened to the game on the radio (over the internet, natch) and it sounded to me like the team started with good energy and discipline while Carolina came out flat. Alex Auld comes off as the hero despite letting a soft goal, while "starter in training" Brian Elliot cooled his heels.

This adjusts the Futility Meter to -13, 6-2-2.

But what got me thinking this morning was a post from Dean Brown on Mats Sundin's return to Toronto, and the resurrection of all the debate about how last season ended. While he does try to come at the debate from a balanced and even-handed view, he does come to the wrong conclusion:
The actions of Mats Sundin do not match his words. It doesn’t diminish his contribution to the Leafs for 13 years it just means he had a no trade clause, no desire to move and no concern about what that might do to the Leafs. It’s not what he said it’s what he did that tells the story.
The bottom line should be that Sundin had a contract with the Leafs. Contracts are agreements, whereby one party agrees to do something and the other party agrees to do something in exchange. When Sundin (or his agent, but let's keep this simple here) negotiated the contract, the value to Sundin was the entire package. A no-trade clause is something that has value to both parties, in that if the player is willing to accept such a clause in exchange for less money, then the team doesn't have to pony up the extra money.

Look at it this way. What if the team had gone to Mats and said hey there, you know we're only six points out of the playoffs and we think that with a little tweaking we can really make a run at it and go deep this year. But we're tight on cap space for this year, so can you just agree to waive a million dollars from this year's salary so we can pick up someone to help?

Put that way, I doubt that there'd be anybody who'd give Sundin a hard time about saying no. Putting aside the fact that the league wouldn't let the team do that, it would be insane for a player to waive negotiated compensation. A no-trade clause is also compensation, and I don't see what at all was different.

The team had a deal with Sundin, and arguably got their money's worth. The fact that in trying to save a bit of money they dug themselves a hole with no-trade clause(s) with strategic players in no way increases the responsibility of the player(s) to help the team dig up.

That some players did anyways is perhaps a credit to them; but expecting the exceptional makes it unexceptional.

Sundin's fine words to the media was a spin to "justify" him doing what was fully within his contract agreement. To try to hang him later with them is no better than ambush news reporting.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rev up the bus: Ottawa 3, Montreal 5

So that was fun, wasn't it? Two weeks of renewed hope and enthusiasm? A pleasant diversion from the unexpectedly spectacular train wreck happening in Montreal?

Well, one coach change later, and what's happened? Business as usual. Three losses in a row, none of which can be credibly laid at the feet of Captain Alfredson's absence. Mr. "Savior Of The Season" Elliot has been yanked in two of the three losses, and we've gone back to Mr. "Second Third Coming" Auld to keep the damage to a minimum. Meanwhile, the Futility Meter sinks ever-lower to -15, and the team is behind the Leafs again.

On the positive side, I like the trade that Brian Murray made this week. Chris Campoli possibly isn't the mythical "puck moving defenseman" we have been seeking, but the fact that in his first outing, prior to a proper full-on practice with the team, he contributed two assists. He's under contract for next year, and the price is right. As for Mike Comry, I liked him on the 2007 spring team (but who didn't?), and he's a legitimate secondary scoring threat (or at least as legitimate as anyone else on this team) and so can help the team on the ice while remaining a trade-able asset on the balance sheet.

Going out in exchange -- I was never a fan of McAmmond, who always seemed to act like a fourth-line forward who aspired to be a third-line defenseman, even though his game was stronger as a forward. The draft pick is the San Jose pick we acquired as insult to injury in compensation for Mezaros' flight to Tampa Bay. San Jose is doing well, so even the first round pick isn't likely to help us too much in either the medium or long term.

Well that's enough for Hockey Day In Canada.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thirteen points out of... fifth?

Can't let the day go by without congratulating the whole team for bringing back nine of a possible ten points on the road. Makes it hard to believe that this is the same team that only got fifteen points from their first 25 away games this year...

Hopefully any time that Alfredsson loses to the puck-in-the-jaw he took will be minimal, and the team will be able to keep up the momentum and work ethic that's done so well over the last seven games.

But I have to come clean -- with every game, my previous defense of Craig Hartsburg (and by extension, Brian Murray) looks more and more wrong. I'm not ready to hold Murray up as an example of stellar management, but hockey is a results-driven business.

And yes, having written that, I wonder if I am just as guilty as the other band-wagon jumpers who jump on whatever the latest short-term trend is. For example, Alex Auld. First he was a backup. Then he was a starter. Then he was The Guy. Then he was The Goat. Then Elliot became The Guy. But suddenly Elliot gets pulled, Auld puts in some solid games, and he's The Guy again. Short-term trends are easy to cheer, but proving that they are indicative of the future is hard to do -- even Martin Gerber was briefly The Guy after he had just two solid games earlier this year. Just about the only person involved with the team who doesn't have a bad record is "interim" coach Cory Clouston... who's record is all of seven games long at this point. All it would take is two or three more consecutive losses, and I'm sure Clouston would lose his shine and we'd be clamoring for Murray to be shoved under the bus again (along with both goal tenders).

But I wanted to mention something weird that happened today. With all the teams going down (New York Rangers) and stalling out (Montreal), there is a four-way tie for fifth overall. This means that while the Senators are thirteen points out of eighth, it also means they are technically thirteen points out of fifth. One of those strange statistical coincidences that won't last as the teams will start to separate again, but interesting to look at.

Overall I still think that the playoffs are a fantasy at this point. But for your entertainment, Steve Warne has a detailed fantasy that gets the team into the post-season.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tick, tick, tick... Five!

Five in a row is a bona-fide streak, baby. And all this hard work bumps the Futility Meter up to -12.

And we are ranked ahead of the Leafs, and we all know that's always good.

More importantly, the last-10 is now 6-3-1, which means it is the second game where the last-10 has been 5-x-x or higher. It also means no matter what happens tonight, we will be 5-x-x or higher tomorrow, for the third game in a row, which you may or may not remember as being my threshold of hope.

But seriously. James Duthie predicts that this year the Senators will be afflicted by M.S.S or Middle Standings Syndrome:
It describes the condition of teams that finish somewhere between 9th and 12th in their conference every year. No playoffs. No lottery picks. No hope.
...but somehow convinces himself this is a good thing. Or at least tries to.

While I am sure that a surge now and a strong run towards the dead zone just outside of the playoffs would be good for next year's season ticket sales (or at least better than the flush down to just above the Islanders would be...) the question still remains as to whether or not such a run would be good for next year's playoff prospects.

I remain unconvinced.

In other news, I am firmly of the opinion that the Senators will lose tonight, perhaps spectacularly. I could cite several reasons -- the longest streak of the year just has to end sometime, or the fact that Auld will again lose his game now that he's the second coming again, or the fact that this is the second of a back-to-back set of games on the road. But no, the reason why I think the Senators will lose tonight:

I'm in a position to actually watch for once.

Oh wait, it doesn't start until 9:30. Maybe I'm not in a position to watch more than the first period. So maybe the guys have an actual chance of making it six in a row.

Well hopefully we'll see.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Four In A Row

Maybe there is something to this "work harder" theory that the call-in monkeys have been on about. However, four wins in a row and the Futility Meter is stubbornly stuck at -14, even if the last ten improves to 5-4-1. This shows the scale of the mountain to be climbed.

The playoff predictor shows that the chances of playoffs this year has improved to 3%, or roughly 1 in 33. Still a long way to go though... and if a sustained run is made and we then fall short... well building for the future gets that much harder.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Three In A Row

OK, "real life" is interfering at the moment, but I must take some time out to make a few comments about the three wins in a row (holy crap, three in a row? Is that right?... yes, it is. Huh).

First -- three wins in a row, and the Futility Meter rises to -14, 5-4-1. Three wins are good, but there is still a long, long road ahead to any potential spring this year. There's still only a vanishingly small, highly theoretical chance of playoffs this year. Working hard and winning more will only put us into the same boat our beloved rivals favorite puppies, the Maple Leafs.

Second. If Clouston is right about the team not having the jump on the ice because they have not been forced to jump in practice and their conditioning has fallen off... well not only does it mean that I was wrong about Hartsburg (and maybe Paddock too), but it means that every monkey who's been calling the call-in shows to say the problem has been that the team needs to work harder has been right. Chew on that -- just because someone's a monkey doesn't mean they are always wrong.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Stupid Question Deserves A Stupid Answer

Man, it happened even faster than I guessed it would. According to Five For Smiting, TSN's Dave Hodge asked the stupid question:
If Bryan Murray gets fired before the end of the year, or even in the off-season, does Clouston keep the job?
...and while conceeding that even contemplating the question three games in to Clouston's tenure is more than a tad premature, FFS responds in the affirmative. Why?
In May 2002, Bryan Murray, then GM of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks promoted a young head coach out of the AHL nobody outside of The Bryan's inner sanctum had ever considered as NHL Head Coaching material. A year later, the Ducks came out of nowhere before losing the Cup Final in seven to New Jersey. That guy's name? Mike Babcock. And that has to mean something.
...and oh yeah the team's been playing better the last three games, all of which can CLEARLY be credited to the change behind the bench, and has nothing to do with a bunch of players who have been shamed into putting in a better effort against three teams, two of three of which were playing the second night in a row.

Well, Murray's gone off the reservation since '02 in looking for head coaches, I seem to recall that neither this guy nor this guy worked out so well -- not to mention the clown he had finish out the end of last season.

Of course, this is all merely statistical clustering. To suggest that Murray merely got lucky by hiring the right guy at the right time for the right team, when he's managed to spectacularly fail to build all three of those conditions here in Ottawa, would be heresy.

Ottawa's problems were not behind the bench. They are on the bench. And that's the fault of the guy who watches from the front office.

Maybe Murray has a plan and a strategy. Maybe his hands are being aggressively tied by Melnyk. But right now I see a team which has been "tweaked" and "character-built" into a threat to the New York Islanders, and in hockey as in everything else it's "what have you done for me lately" more than reminiscing about past glories.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Thwarted by a PVR with other things to watch

...but hey, a win -- a shoot-out no less! Go team!

One little tweak to the Futility Meter, up to -14, and we're off.

Friday, February 6, 2009


So you know what? That Boston game was fun. Well, right up until Elliot ran out of luck in the shoot-out, but over all it was fun. Both teams in it, closely played, with jump and mojo on both sides.

I know it isn't a popular sentiment, but I really don't mind losing games like that, if only for the sole reason that I come away feeling that I've been entertained. Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather come away feeling entertained and glad my team won; but the bottom line should be entertainment.

Unfortunately for our heroes, Florida beat New York, which means that not only does eighth in the east slip a further point out of reach (notching the Futility Meter to -16), but the Senator's shoot-out loss gains them a point, putting them another point ahead of the Islanders.

But seriously! More hockey like that please! Yeah!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Maybe he gets it?

Sens' Murray will listen to offer as deadline approaches
With one month to go before the National Hockey League trade deadline, Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray thinks his phone will be ringing a lot.
The Senators might be sellers this year -- hooray. Maybe Murray and Melnyk finally understand that there will be no spring for Ottawa Senators fans this year, and the time has come to leverage today's assets to build tomorrow's team.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

So what's changed?

Let's see:
  • New coach
  • New system
  • New discipline
  • New drive to win
  • New low on the Futility Meter at -15
...uh, yeah.

Now to be fair, expecting an instant, 48-hour turn around is totally unreasonable. You really have to give the new coach a dozen games to see what the team he can really do. And I listened to last night's game on the internet -- it's hard to tell for sure, but the Senators sounded a lot more together than they have in the past. Good or bad, last night was a close hockey game and the Senators were genuinely in it for a change.

The problem is that we don't have a dozen games, not if we are going to make the playoffs -- in fact, such a turn around inside the end of the year will only drag us out of the prime draft positions, prolonging our misery.

Build for the future -- and I don't mean the '09 playoffs.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Non Negotiable Currency

From Puck Daddy:
Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk will pay a $1 million US to settle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In a related story, Alex Auld was left on the doorstep of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this afternoon.

What He Said

Ken Campbell says the Senators fired the wrong man.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Found: One Scape Goat

TSN reports Hartsburg is fired:
Craig Hartsburg was fired as head coach of the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night, only 48 games into his first season behind the team's bench.
One could spin this saying that Brian Murray is grasping at straws to save his own job.

I've said before that it was too soon to lower the boom on Hartsburg as the problems on the ice are a direct result of management's (lack of) player movement. The team doesn't have the pieces it needs and therefore can't succeed; firing Hartsburg was like blaming a carpenter for failing to build quality furniture when all he has to work with are driftwood and rusty nails.

Now to be sure the Senators are not driftwood and rusty nails. But they are not, by any means, complete as a team.

We should have reserved judgment on Hartsburg until he'd had a proper team to fail with.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Can I look now? Is it over yet?

I've been trying an experiment. On the theory that whenever I look at something too closely it immediately goes to hell, I've been deliberately not paying attention to hockey for the past week or so. Yes, it's the I'm the center of the universe theory, also known as the everybody's sick and work is very busy and who has time for hockey? theory.

What was the result? I apparently only missed one game, although the Senators graciously traveled to Columbus and Washington to scrimmage with the local teams.

Let's check in on the Futility meter: -14, 4-5-1.

Hmmm. Maybe I'm not the center of the universe after all. My entire world-view is shattered.

OK, I lied. I did watch some of the Columbus scrimmage on TV. The way the Columbus team ran the Senators over the ice wasn't just embarrassment to the Senators -- it was an embarrassment to Senators fans watching on TV. If the game had gone the other way, no doubt we'd be waxing poetic about the team's ability to play strong defensively, forcing the opposition to play from the edge of the rink and not the middle.

But seriously -- if Mr. Melnyk's delusions are to be reflected in reality, these are the games we have to win, folks. We have to be able to beat the best (and the worst) of the league in their rinks if we are going to have a shot. Even if we played the previous night. There just are not enough games left to permit softie losses any more.