Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Trade Heatley" Bandwagon Doubles In Size

The 6th Sens floats a Trade Heatley trial balloon, one better argued than I did a month ago.

In the same post, he also talks about the Senators' recent run as being very admirable:
[...] I'll use this opportunity to say that I was impressed with the team's recent run because I think that they're a very average team. They're neither elite nor bad and I'm concerned that they're destined to nothing more than average for the next couple of seasons.
I think he's right.

One of the problems that everyone in the league is facing these days is how the salary cap is affecting a GM's ability to make changes and plan for the future. Where once a GM could spend his way out of a hole, they now appear to be stuck with the beds they make for themselves, and it will probably take a few years for the league in general to figure out a way to make a good-looking and functional bed to lie in while still leaving some room to maneuver. Personally I don't know what this solution will look like, but there has to be an answer somewhere.

While I am pleased, in a short-term way, with what Murray did this year up to the trade deadline, I'm still not sure that he and Melnyk really have a plan to improve this team in the next few years. I fear that we'll be battling the Maple Leafs for the title of Best Ontario Team Not In The Playoffs for some time to come.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mathmatical Futility Watch

So many in the media and blog-o-sphere are watching the Senators make what can only be described as a futile charge towards the post-season. And while the team has not yet been mathematically eliminated yet, it is coming; Ottawa is the lowest team in the East still with a mathematical chance of making the playoffs.

In the spirit of "someone's already done the math", here is a site that you can use to see how close to elimination the team is.

I like the concept of a "tragic number".

But all that aside, the team's current run does make one wonder what might have been; someone pointed out that if the team had taken the three games from the Islanders that they had lost they would be six points closer to a playoff spot, and the playoffs would be a real possibility from there. This alone shows how tight the east really is in mid-field.

Unfortunately if the Senators are a "bad team", then what it really shows is that the east is still drowning in mediocrity, at least at the back.

Some have said that if the Senators had run at their post-Clouston pace for the entire season, the team would end up with something like 105 points for the season, which would put them in the upper half of the field (the elite of the East, actually). But really, who can maintain this kind of pace for an entire season?

Overall I am pleased at seeing the better hockey being played, but I am still not entirely convinced that this team is a tweak or two away from being a contender.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Great Couple Of Days

So there are several reasons why I have not been updating much recently:
  • Work has been busy
  • The family, including me, has been sick
  • and let's face it, I'm lazy
But also, something really cool happened last weekend:

So the family was in Walmart, and the boy and I took a spin through the toy section because I like HotWheels and the boy likes toys in general. We come out through sporting goods, and they have some Senators Jersey-style sweaters (or whatever the "official lingo" for these things are) on sale from $45 to $40. Not a huge discount, but they do have one that looks like the classic away jersey that we all love. And they only have one.

So I bring the wife back to show her, because I want one of these things, and I figure the best thing that I can do is show her an example so she'll know what to get. It isn't often I know what I want, which makes it difficult to get things for me. And she says, well why not get it?

So we did.

Being a smarter shopper than I am, she notes that this is the last example of these jerseys, and there are small stains on one of the shoulders. So she asks the cashier if we can get a discount on account of it not being perfect. The cashier checks with the supervisor, and we get green-lit for a 10% discount. The jersey get scanned, and it comes up as $30. So all said and done, I got a $45 shirt for $27.

It came up on the receipt as a 2007 Jersey, which makes me think it is the last of the stock purchased during the Stanley Cup run.

But I have one now, and that makes me happy. The only thing better would be an actual game to wear it to!

So speaking of that, the next thing that happened was that on the Monday I went to Tim Horton's on the way to work. And they had a stack of cards next to the cash which advertised up to 50% off game tickets for some games -- including Tuesday's game against Buffalo. So I grab the card and start spinnign through the website, and what do you know:

...for $75. A row up from the glass. The day before the game.

I think part of this is that I wanted only a single; if I'd wanted a pair then I'd probably be much higher up, maybe in the nosebleeds. But as it was, *woot* premium seat.

Due to chaos in the parking lot I didn't get to my seat until halfway through the first (memo to the nice lady in the SUV who showed me her finger several times: I have not been sitting in line for *45* minutes just to let you merge in in front of me so GO TO THE BACK OF THE LINE!) so I missed the opening goal.

Fortunately the line-up at the concessions was short, and for $10 I got a single slice of pizza and a large drink (price two days later at a regular Pizza Pizza: $3.50, no markup there boys) and from there I slid into my seat at the next break in play.

The game has been adequately covered elsewhere, but I really felt lucky at the second break as all four goals had gone into the net in front of me. The highlights at the first break were funny: Ottawa chance, Ottawa chance, Buffalo goal, Ottawa chance, Ottawa chance, Buffalo goal... but things turned around. The refs were really picking on Buffalo for some reason, and Ottawa took full advantage.

All in all it was a great couple of days.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Throwing Games

Dean Brown on throwing games:
The integrity of your manager, coaches and players is at stake when people believe you are no longer trying to win. That is worth far more than a lost season or a chance at the #1 pick. That can lose you a generation of ticket buyers who would always wonder.
The problem is, thought, that it isn't just a season that is at risk. Ask our favorite whipping boys, the Toronto Maple Leafs, just how well this being lousy enough to miss the playoffs but not being lousy enough to get a shot at the #1 pick is doing.

The only conclusion we can draw from this is that you can't have players or coaches tank a season -- it has to be done from management, by trading away present assets and loading the team with liabilities so that you can end up with a chance to draft a new center of the team.

...hmmm, wasn't there a movie like that?

Realistically, Ottawa has a core of players who are good enough to not be the worst, no matter who's backing them up. Right now we stand a real chance of continuing mediocrity... and this city isn't as tolerant of mediocrity as some other markets.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Another Post About The Leafs

The Toronto Star wonders if fans are finally tired of bad Leaf teams:
The face time with Burke, apparently, was the latest in the line of sweeteners meant to entice a faithful that, once upon a time, didn't need enticement.
Interesting development. Now I'm sure the Leafs will lose some of their season ticket holders due to the economy; to pretend otherwise would be crazy. But the general assumption has always been that there would be people standing in line behind them ready to take the opportunity.

I've long said that Toronto could field a team consisting of Timbits and they'd still sell out, and I still think it is true to some extent.

When you think about it, the scarcity of Leafs tickets was what was driving the potential relocation of the Nashville Predators to Hamilton. The theory was that fans in Southern Ontario who couldn't get Leafs tickets would make the drive to Hamilton, if only to watch the visiting teams. Now this plan may not be as feasible as originally thought.

I do wonder if the Leafs have managed to devalue their own tickets, even as they drive the price up. Increased prices were paid by corporate customers, while your fan-in-the-street made do with increased TV coverage on CBC, TSN, SportsNet, and of course Leafs TV. Going to the rink to watch the game becomes less about the game and more about the experience of being there. If fans want to actually watch and follow the game, they stay home and watch it on TV.

It will be interesting to see how the Leafs do next year with their season tickets holders.

(Assist on the play: PPP)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Calling Out The Media

Down Goes Brown says:
Beyond that, both Berger and Garrioch are guilty of one of the most frustrating sins in modern journalism: thinking your audience is actually interested in journalism. We're not. We're interested in what you're covering, not the act of you covering it. And journalists everywhere, whether they cover sports or politics or entertainment, seem to forget this.
(emphasis mine)


Cognitive Dissonance

So to review:
  • Toronto comes to Ottawa to play a hockey game.
  • With two and a half minutes to play in the third, Toronto is one point back.
  • Toronto Coach Wilson calls for a stick measurement on Jason Spezza.
  • Spezza's stick is deemed illegal, and Spezza is sent to the penalty box for two minutes.
  • Toronto fails to win the game.
  • Coach Wilson admits that he's knowns Spezza had an illegal stick all season, but decided to wait until a potentially game-changing moment to call him on it.
  • Coach Wilson gets all huffy that his integrity gets challenged over the call.
From Pension Plan Puppets:
Well, there you have it. Working Class Howard did question Ron Wilson's integrity by suggesting that he sat on the stick measurement back when it would have made more of a difference (I don't get it. Do you get more points for wins in November?). Ronnie's reply is spot on. They weren't down by a goal with just over two minutes left in those games. I guess the reason Wilson got so angry is because it's hard having your integrity challenged by someone that has shown that he does not possess any.
See, it's crap like this that makes people wonder about your integrity. If he knew about the stick and didn't call him on it, then either he was OK with the rules violation or he was respecting this nebulous "code" that the coaches have to turn their backs on each other's equipment... let's call them irregularities.

But he did call for the measurement, which means either he wasn't OK with the rules violation (which makes his earlier silence on the matter odd) or he doesn't care about this "code".

Yes, Spezza had an illegal stick. Yes, he deserved to get called on it. Yes, Wilson's actions are legal, strictly speaking, because the rule book doesn't explicitly say anything about you having a requirement to call out violations you know about in a timely manner.

Maybe it should. Maybe it should have a passage about preserving the integrity of the game.

But it's an angle-shot. It is a cheap, lite-beer call. It shatters the illusion that the teams are trying to play the game within both the spirit and the letter of the rules to the best of their abilities, and that the team with the best game wins, not the team with the best lawyer wins.

And for that, yes, Coach Wilson should have his integrity challenged.

Sadly this is perfectly fitting with the rest of the amateur-hour officiating that happens in this league.

(You know, the officiating that leads to the requirement that players be permitted to fight to deter blatant rules violating behavior.)

Friday, March 6, 2009


The Hockey Scanner reports on Murray's reaction to Gerber's win last night:
One wise-guy reporter saw Bryan Murray walking by after the Senators game and said, sarcastically, “guess you should have kept Gerber.” To which Murray shot back: “You guys ran him out of town.”

Capology, 2009-10

The 6th Sens has a (warning, language) post up detailing the Senator's cap position for next season. It isn't good:
Now, let's humorously assume Bryan Murray follows through and retains both Chris Neil and Mike Comrie. [...] This would leave the Senators with approximately $1 to $1.5 million to improve their roster.
Now this assumes that there are not going to be any moves over the summer, but I think it is safe to assume that we are not going to be any major changes. The team still has to address the defense problem, even if we assume that those players graduating from the farm team can provide even a modicum of secondary scoring.

Put it all together, and right now there isn't much prospect for a lot of improvement in the results the team will get. Even the addition of a "legitimate starting goalie" won't do much to stem the losses if the defense doesn't get its act together and is capable of feeding the forwards properly.

Still, we are a long way from September, and after Deadline Day I'm more inclined to give Murray the benefit of the doubt right now. The problem is that on paper at least the team is threatening to dig itself into the same hole the Rangers find themselves in: big contracts with no production.

Gerber is a can't lose proposition

So Martin Gerber backstopped the Maple Leafs to a win last night over Washington. True, scoring machine Olvetchkin was out of the Capital's lineup, but Gerber hung tough and according to some managed to look pretty good.

It occurred to me that having Martin Gerber in Toronto is a can't lose proposition for Senators fans, because:
  • if they win, they are further burying their potential draft position; and
  • if they lose, they are the Leafs losing, and that's never bad.
About the only game Senators really care about is Monday's game with the Leafs in town; that one is still a must-win for both teams, even though there isn't much on the line except pride.

Still makes me laugh that the Leafs can't even tank a season properly after all these years of trying.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Capology, 2010-11

MF37 at the Bitter Leaf Fan Page explains why there were not any "blockbuster" trades and why first round draft picks were at a premium in the run-up to deadline day:
The key ingredients going foward will be a strong collection of cost-contained youth and players outperforming their contracts.
This will definitely have a downward pressure on contracts going forward. Even if a player like, say, Chris Neil is "worth" $2.5 million based on what other teams are currently paying comparable players; if none of the teams have the cap space to pay that $2.5 million, it becomes academic. Neil either takes a pay cut or is left out altogether. This could become the stark choice facing "premium" players as the current long-term contracts run out.

It also means going forward we are going to see even more volatility in the NHL coaching market; with more restrictions on even less cap space, GMs will have even less of an ability to buy their way out of the financial holes they dig. They will also be unable to dump their problem, premium contracts on other clubs since the cap issue will be widespread.

I think over the next two of three years we will see more in terms of younger looking teams, and those teams who luck-into and then develop the right cluster of talent will be the ones who have success. It goes without saying that since the teams currently near the bottom of the standings now have a better shot at the talent pool, although the element of lottery will continue.

What might be interesting going forward is that instead of paying premium players fixed amounts, players get a "cut" of the salary cap. So instead of paying a player $5 million of a %55 million salary cap, you tell him you'll pay him 9% of whatever the cap is that year. If the cap goes up, he gets a raise; if the cap goes down, the team still has room to maneuver. If everyone ends up with a percentage, it could make for more predictability.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Deadline Day Dealing 2009

So the Senators made one move, sending Antoine Vermette to Columbus in exchange for goalie Pascal Leclaire and a second round pick.

Leclaire is highly regarded for his skill; he led the league last year in shutouts with 9, while the world's greatest goalie1 Martin Brodeur only had 3. The problem is that he is fragile too, as he hurt his ankle this year in training camp and as such has been out for long periods of time.

The second-round pick, eh, by the time you get to the second round you end up in a lottery as to whether or not your pick will even end up helping the farm team, let alone make it to the NHL. So that's like saying a lottery ticket is "worth" something. Maybe the team will get lucky, maybe they won't.

In exchange, we give up a center with good work ethic, an amazing face-off capability, who has the ability to score occasionally while making chances for the rest of the team -- which pretty much sums up what you want with your second or third line center. Will he develop into an elite center? Probably not at this point, but he should continue to be a good second- or third- line center. However this team is positively dripping in prospects for center, so while his departure creates a short-term hole, it isn't likely to be a long-term issue.

So on an asset-for-asset exchange, I think the Senators have done well by this trade.

But here's my problem with this trade: it implies that the main weakness on this team has been the goal tending, and in my opinion it has not. We don't have Martin Brodeur by any means, but the guys we have had (and then tried to run out of town) are not the amateur-hour players the media would have you believe.

This trade implies that Murray still believes he can tweak this team back into contention, that the team will be in a place to make a valid run next year or the year after.

The problem on this team continues to be the defense, and the lack of defensive discipline on the part of the forwards. Martin Gerber let in some soft goals, to be sure. But the rest of the squad basically hung him out to dry many, many times. The team was better in front of Auld, and better still (at times) in front of Elliot; but consistent defensive play is still something we look for rather than take for granted.

My point: not even Martin Brodeur would look good with this team in front of him.

The Senators still lack two top-two defense players, and that will have to be on Murray's to-do list as he watches the playoffs as an observer, not a participant.

At this point I'm willing to back off of the "fire Murray" rampage I have been on. Today's deals send mixed messages as to what the plan really is, but today showed good progress towards future improvement. I think it is time to cut Murray a break and let him work the program, and next fall we will see where we really are.
[1] BOB-FM's morning man liked to describe Martin Brodeur as the world's greatest goalie, complete with reverb effects. I like that description.

Gerber to Toronto

...I wish I had a joke for this. You can't make this stuff up: Ottawa is now paying half of a Toronto player's salary.

And when Toronto comes by and beats the Senators on Monday, with Gerber in the Toronto goal... well, it will be a sight to see. I think several brains will explode. I hope that game is on TV.

My comment on one of the live blogs:
re:Gerber to Toronto -- I guess if you are going to tank, you should get a professional tanker. Although since the Toronto defense isn't as awful as Ottawa's play is, we might discover that Gerber isn't as bad as we hope he is.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wake me up when Deadline Day is done

The Internet serves up some harsh reality for Leaf Nation:
The "Tank for Tavares" dream is over, and the sooner those on board with the campaign realize that, the sooner the Canadian media can go back to focusing on bringing the Phoenix Coyotes back up north.
Meanwhile, the faithful in Toronto are taking a page from the Senators playbook and are blaming the failure of the season on goaltending:
Toskala killed our playoff hopes, now he's killing our draft lottery hopes.

Now that's entertainment

In the circus that is Trade Deadline Day, the NHL is concerned about the lack of action in the center ring.

Fortunately, there are some clowns they can send in to keep the crowd distracted:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Spezza Going Nowhere

The Ottawa Sun reports that Murray is denying any interest in Jason Spezza.

Black Aces has the context, and there's not anything more I can say to it.

He may be a screw-up, but he's our screw-up.

Wanted: One Miracle Fix, Apply Within

The Citizen's Alan Panzeri has already given up on Brian Elliot:
Are there any other goalies out there the Ottawa Senators can take a look at? Is it time to give Martin Gerber a third look? Maybe elevate Jeff Glass from Binghamton?
According to the Senator's website, the object of Mr. Panzeri's derision has a pitiful 7-4-3-0 record. That's right, after just fourteen games, we're done with him and are looking for our next savior.

Kick his ass back to Binghamton.


I understand the frustration with the team, but to blame the problems on the net minders is incredibly short-sighted. True, the defense is playing better than they were in front of Martin Gerber, but Elliot is still learning his game at this level.

Since this season is pretty much pointless, I'd say the team should give Elliot the starts he needs to see if he can fight back through adversity.

Chris Neil: pay up or go fish?

Black Aces looks at the Chris Neil situation.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't understand this part of the NHL game of hockey -- the "gritty", fighty aspect of it. As I have said before, fighting can be taken out of hockey, but unless it happens with a clean up of the officiating, the attempt will be pointless.

Today there clearly is a fighting aspect to the game, and so the Senators should address the needs that this aspect generates.

As far as Chris Neil is concerned, the questions really come down to:
  1. What role does Chris Neil fill?
  2. What is the roll that the Senators need filled?
  3. What are the Senators willing and able to pay to fill this need?
  4. Is someone else willing and able to pay more for Chris Neil?
Note that the answers to all these questions may be totally irrelevant to, and perhaps contradict, each other.

Presuming that the answer to question 2 agrees with the answer to question 1, the answer to the whole Chris Neil situation is governed by question 4. If someone out there is willing to pay more than the Senators are willing to pay (or perhaps more accurately -- if Neil and his agent are willing to take a chance that such an organization is out there), then Neil should decline the Senator's offer.

My concerns revolve around the qualifier to question 3 -- are the Senators in a position to pay Neil what he is asking. Keeping in mind the big money locked up by the big three, plus the (inevitable) coming reduction in the salary cap, plus the other requirements facing the team (defense, goal, secondary scoring...), plus the Senator's reduced income, plus, plus plus...

Keeping in mind all that, can the team afford to pay Neil what he wants?

I don't know.

Creating a hockey team is all about balancing the assets, especially in our current salary cap world. If Murray thinks that money is better spent in other areas, then Neil will either take the offer or not. The fact that he is worth more to other teams doesn't really measure in to the decision from the Senators' point of view.

Based on this, I personally think that unless Neil is willing to take less than the $2 million or more he is asking (something which is generally considered to be unlikely), Murray will deal him this week. If Neil thinks this team is on the upward trail again, he might compromise with a short term deal, but my opinion is that we won't retain his services much longer.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Toronto at Ottawa: Jason Spezza -2

Well wouldn't you know it -- after me writing two posts glowingly defending Jason Spezza from his detractors, he goes and has what can't even charitably be described as a "bad night". Sometimes I wonder about my own sanity here.

The own-goal -- well that's 90% bad luck and 90% bad positional play. But the hooking penalty that the Leafs converted to get back into the game deep in the third -- putting aside the fact that calling that kind of penalty reveals (again) how laughably bad inconsistent the officiating is -- I agree with most observers that Spezza got caught off the hop and made a lazy attempt to try to dig himself out of the situation.

An elite player should do better. Not "should do better when playing cross-provincial rivals" or "should do better when trying to protect a one-goal lead in the third" -- but should do better, period. Spezza is getting elite-player money and ice-time -- we need elite-player play from him on a consistent basis and none of this stupid, lazy-assed hockey.

Not to mention that getting a point from the game is perhaps the worst possible outcome. Beating the Leafs is always a good thing to aim for, if we can do it; failing that though, we shouldn't be trying to collect enough points to pull us out of draft position. Take the win and the opportunity to laugh at Toronto; or take the loss and the improved chances of a draft pick.

I'm still not on the Trade Jason Spezza bandwagon that so many others are on. But his value was definitely... let's say "not helped" by last night's game.