Friday, October 22, 2010

Paid Attendance

I'm guessing Sens owner Melnyk looks at these pictures and stops worrying so much about having a fan attendance problem.

It is a continuing mystery to me why the NHL continues to keep franchises in markets which clearly don't want them.

(Not that I'm assuming that places like Hamilton, Winnipeg, or Quebec City would be successful mind you. It just seems like the possibility of finding a fan base willing and able to support the team would be far more likely than where they are now.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

This could be a long year

Tonight was simple. The Senators made more mistakes than Montreal did, and that's why they lost. Oh and lets not overlook the fact that Montreal looked like they wanted the win more too, although only barely.

Scoring on 67% of your second period shots is an awesome stat, until you notice that they only scored twice. That's going to hurt Elliot's save percentage somewhat, even if he was the best Senator on the ice tonight.

But all over the ice there was a great steaming pile of mediocrity. There just doesn't seem to be any speed anywhere on the team any more. Even (especially?) Alfredsson looked slow. And there was poor discipline which is drawing too many penalties.

Unless something magically turns around soon, this could have "long year" stamped all over it.

Wouldn't it be nice to have something like a nice, soft, goaltending controversy instead?

I still don't think things are as bad as the record -- or even tonight's effort -- makes the team look. There are bright spots here and there.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Foligno Owns Last Night's Near Disaster

Nick Foligno got away with one Thursday night, even if the Senators as a whole almost didn't.

Foligno's hit to Carolina Hurricanes Patrick Dwyer was a clear case of a blindside hit to the head. And in keeping with the fine, high quality officiating for which the NHL in general has become known for, there was no penalty on the play. Dwyer was unhurt as a result of the play, and didn't miss a minute of the game.

The Carolina bench was justifiably incensed.

But just to ensure that the reputation of the officials was tarnished, Ottawa was victimized by a practically bogus interference penalty on Michalek. Carolina converted on the penalty, this rattling Ottawa enough that Carolina quickly got a second, equalizing goal.

This, I think, was karma. Foligno's hit is one which has no place in hockey, and permitting Carolina back into the game was just compensation for the keystone-cops caliber officiating.

Beyond that I think the Ottawa fans were probably over-reacting -- the instant replay on one non-called alleged interference on Jarko Ruutu made it look like had a penalty actually been called, Ruutu should have gone in the box for holding the stick. But officials routinely turn a blind eye to this kind of theatrics.

Now all of this can be taken with the firm knowledge that had Dwyer actually been hurt in this play Foligno would have had the proverbial book thrown at him.

Foligno nearly threw away the win that the team had worked so hard to earn, and I hope that he learns from this experience.

Of course, not to be left out, the NHL has fined Foligno $2500 for the play. This certainly fits, a non-punishment for a play that wasn't penalized, and it is nice to see that the league refrained from the "wheel of punishment" style dicipline that has been characteristic of such incidents. (Left out of the story was whether or not Foligno merely peeled three $1K bills off his roll and told the league to keep the change.)

Foligno skated on this one.

Fear of numbers

Watching the game last night, and in the first intermission Dave Hodge gets on about how the salary cap is bad for hockey. He had a litany of complaints, including "trades don't happen", "for hockey news all you hear about is cap impact", "millionare players getting sent down to the AHL", amongst others.

My favorite? In his gripes about how the salary cap is supposed to save money, he says that the cap "just ends up requiring capologists, who cost money..."

Yeah seriously, when we are talking about owners who want to sign stars to obscene contracts for millions of dollars per year, complaining about having to pay some guy on staff what, $80K to $120K per year is going to be a franchise-breaker?

I think Mr. Hodge is an old-school hockey guy, probably one who resents the fact that modern hockey management includes math that is more complicated than "one goal plus one goal equals... uhm... oh look, the scoreboard has been updated for me. Two goals!"

The bottom line is that the cap is good for the NHL. The last lockout was triggered by the owners who had made commitments for all these high-value contracts and now wanted out of them because the money to pay them just wasn't there. The owners can't be trusted with the health of their franchises. By putting a cap in place that is at least reachable by most of the league's revenues it ensures that the franchise ownership picture is going to be a lot more stable.

Yes there are always going to be teams that can't generate the revenues to reach these levels, but does anyone seriously think that the financial or ownership situations in Nashville or Phoenix would be helped in ANY way by letting the New Jersey Devils pay Kovalchuck $15 million per year? Like... ANY way.

Removing the brakes on player spending will just let stupid owners dig their own holes again. And the complexity in the rules is there to balance flexibility for the real world while simultaneously preventing stupid owners from digging their own holes while circumventing the intent of the cap.

Reducing the trading activity certainly makes the media dig harder for something to talk about, but really, why is having a mostly-static roster bad for the local fans? Besides, Brian Burke's dumping of a third of his roster last year shows that if you are a motivated seller you can still get deals done.

Whether or not the cap is good for hockey is another issue, although without a healthy NHL, this hypothetical hockey would remain nothing more than a fantasy.

Personally I think the cap is good for hockey, in that it prevents teams which have (or think they have) deep financial pockets from assembling high-cost superstar dream teams and dominating the league. Here, everyone has the same starting field and over time this will lead to different teams being good at different times.

The cap even promotes younger talent, as the "middle class" hockey player is the one who is going to get squeezed out. Teams will keep a few high-priced stars, and balance the books with younger, cheaper players. Players who are "better" than the younger ones, but not superstars, will have to be careful when negotiating their contracts as they could price themselves out of a job, especially with hot youngsters with potential development upside waiting to take their place for a fraction of the cost.

But I don't feel sorry even for those players squeezed out or sent down to the AHL. More guys getting a briefer chance means sharing the wealth around. It is a net gain.

So I think that those old guys, the hockey purists, are just going to have to live with the cap. Just like they live with 4-on-4 overtime, the shoot-out, the trapezoid, and all those other non-purist rules that the NHL has.

Keep the cap.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Has The Alfredsson Era Passed?

I don't know about you, but when I see stories like:

Alfredsson okay to play
Daniel Alfredsson will be in the lineup when the Ottawa Senators face the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Place Thursday night. The Senators’ captain suffered a lower-body injury in a game against Washington Monday and it wasn’t certain he’d be ready to play. Zack Smith will likely come out of the lineup as a result.
...after three games, I get worried.

Seems like immediately after the end of the last two or three seasons, Alfredsson always cops to playing hurt for a portion of the year, especially the end of the year where the run-up to, and through, the playoffs is so important. Heck, we all remember him breaking his jaw and missing just one game before being back in the lineup.

But if he's already starting to suffer mystery injuries and missing morning skates so early in the season... maybe the iron has worn.

Not that if it has Ottawa has any cause for complaint. Alfredsson has been the heart and soul of this team for so long, and this team has been so bad without him in the lineup.

If I was Brian Murray, I'd be worried about what I would do in the post-Alfredsson era... and that it had already, quietly, started without anyone really noticing.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope Alfredsson can continue to play well... well, forever, even though that isn't going to happen. But immediately, for this season, this month, this week, this game...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Defend The Starter

Nice to see the blogosphere defending Leclaire instead of the usual habit of piling on.

I'm not entirely sure I agree with defending him. Last week in the opener Leclaire looked no better than anybody else out there, flopping around like a fish out of water at times.

But the key point right now is than anybody else.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thoughts on 2010

As a brief, casual fan, I'm a bit torn here.

Firstly, I've been long on the record as saying I don't buy that the Senators have bad goalies. My position is that the goalies are not nearly as "bad" as the guys in front of them made them look.

You can tilt numbers any way you want. For example, the dreaded Save percentage. A lower save percentage means that the goalie is letting a higher percentage of shots-against past him into the net. However, consider this: if the defense is doing their jobs, all the soft easy shots should never make it to the net, meaning that the goalie is left dealing with the hard (or bad) ones. A far more difficult prospect.

For the last two years I've said that defense needed to be a priority for this team. Last year we had a couple of solid shut-down shot-blocking monsters in the form of Volchenkov and Sutton. After that, we had journeyman Kuba, solid if uninspiring Phillips, future star Karlsson, alleged tough guy Carkner, and... um. It was, in a word, thin.

This year we have more of the prototypical "puck-moving defensemen". Gonchar should teach Karlsson his trade. Carkner's back. Brian Lee, who I've honestly never even noticed, is back. Kuba managed to hurt himself even before the pre-season got going. Campoli is still around.

I'm not entirely sure that this lineup is much of an upgrade. It is certainly less tough than last year's, and I think that is going to be a problem.

The point to all this is that this year's defense is more of an offensive defense, which isn't going to do the guy in the net any improvement. There are going to be nights, especially during road swings through the west, when these guys are frankly going to get run over and its going to be painful to watch.

Whomever gets put in the net for Ottawa is therefore going to have to deal with defenders who are possibly not optimized for defending; those ugly scrambles in the defensive zone will mean opponents' shots-on-net counts will be correspondingly high, and the quality of those shots will also be high, meaning that the goals-against will be higher rather than lower.

I've said this before: not even Martin Brodeur could win behind these guys some nights.

Now when everything works, it doesn't matter. When Elliot had those wonderful runs last year, the defense stepped up to help both defend him and to help the offense. This fed back to Elliot encouraging him to raise his game, and the whole thing lifted the rest of the team too. But nobody can play over their heads like that for an entire season.

All this said means I don't think that the media or the blogosphere is going to be happy with the goaltending this year. I think goals-against and the shots-on-net counts are going to be horribly high.

And unless the offense can generate more goals than they give up, the team will be in trouble on some nights.

Problem is, that's the essence of run-and-gun. And last year anyways Ottawa was doing this without the "gun" part of the plan. Ottawa's failed with this before, just as Washington is failing with it now.

The larger problem is, even with a mixed an mediocre defense and an offense that can't score, this team is probably still a lock for one of the second-tier playoff spots... at which point they'll be dumped in the first round (again) by one of the East's few quality teams.

There's no immediate incentive to really deal with the problem, especially with Toronto just down the road constantly tinkering with varied collections of spare parts in an attempt to somehow build a winning team -- a plan, I believe will only work briefly, and only if they get unbelievably lucky.

I think Murray's done the right thing with his drafts and prospects trades to build a bunch of good defensive prospects. They are all going to be ready at the same time, and Murray can trade a few away in exchange for some forwards. With some careful trades and some luck, the team could have real potential in a couple of years.

This year, though, I think will be more of the same.