Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ottawa Buries Another Goalie's Career

Having tricked* Pascal Leclaire into reporting to the Senators' AHL affiliate, Murray today ensured Leclaire would stay there a while by putting him on waivers. Leclaire's fragile nature being common knowledge, the likelihood of another team picking him off waivers is approximately zero.

This is one of those moves I don't really understand. If Leclaire reports, and there's every indication he will, Melnyk is still stuck paying Leclaire's salary. And frankly at this point there's no need for cap space, Murray having done nothing with the availability provided through the departures of Fisher and Kovalev -- well except for paying for "Mister" Anderson's increased cost over Elliot's salary.

(Thinks: Murray did the same thing to Cheechoo last year, and I didn't understand it then, either.)

Leclaire played some lights-out games for the Senators. I thought he showed glimpses of being the true #1, franchise goalie that the Senators have been waiting for. His second biggest problem was that when he wasn't getting let down by the lack of defensive zone coverage, he was getting let down by the almost total lack of generated offense at the far end of the ice.

However, since he couldn't stay healthy for 60 consecutive minutes, it was all academic anyways.
* I kid. (I think.)

Friday, February 25, 2011

This Man Has A Plane To Catch

Le Artiste has left the building. Alexi Kovalev has played himself into a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In exchange, Brian Murray has got himself the princely return of... nothing. Well OK, a seventh round draft pick, which lets face it is nothing, which might turn into (hold your breath for this) a sixth round pick, which lets face it is... nothing.

The real win is the $5 million per year cap space freed up, and more importantly to Mr. Melnyk, the something like $1.2 million in real money he no longer has to pay for the rest of this year.

Since Kovalev was gone at the end of the year anyways, converting on this trade to relieve real money pressures now is a win for Melnyk. And even at the trade deadline Kovalev probably wouldn't have returned much more than what Murray got for him as it is. Given that, the sooner he's gone, the sooner some other sucker owner starts to pay his bills.

So I count this as an organizational win, although not a hockey win.

Personally I liked to watch Kovalev do his thing, skate, shoot, and play. The problem is, he didn't do much of any of that with any frequency or reliability. With this new world order, I'll still get to watch him on the highlight reels, but he won't be dragging down my team the rest of the time.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Just Visiting

So having a bunch of time this weekend where I basically do nothing but wait for the kids to start fighting so I can break them up, I got to thinking. And I'm not sure we should get exited about "Mister" Anderson remaining here past the end of this season.

Let's game this out.

Lets say Anderson basically keeps playing lights out for the rest of the season. The Senators win a bunch of 1-goal games that they would usually lose (and by a larger margin than one goal, too... but that's another problem.) The Senators rise in the draft and lose out on the cream of the crop. Anderson basically resurrects his reputation as a miracle worker -- and after back-stopping Ottawa, especially after Ottawa had shipped out anything/everything closely resembling talent, to any number of wins, who wouldn't call him a miracle worker? -- and expects to get paid accordingly.

"Accordingly" would appear to be "more than $7.5 million over two years", which is what he turned down in Colorado. He might want more years, but I suspect that the per-year amount of money he'd sign for would be at least what he turned down in Colorado.

Ottawa is still very much a "rebuild" team. Would he even want to be here, knowing that his term would still be likely shorter than the "success" end of the rebuild? Never mind that the fans and media stand at the ready to run him out of town at the first sniff of being a mere mortal. I say that unless he falls in love with the city, he says no, and elects to try free agency. Given the state of the goalie market, where anyone remotely resembling a hot goalie can command big bucks, he'll probably find the money he wants at a team further along their rebuild curve.

So, long story short: if Anderson succeeds, he's probably gone. And Ottawa is still short two goalies.

What's the alternative?

OK, so Anderson returns to the form that got him canned in Colorado. And really, with this Ottawa team in front of him, there are not many people who would expect a stellar record resulting from the end of this season. The media and fans demote him from Mighty Leaf Blower to Goat in three days.

And frankly, would the team even want a goalie that "fit" the poor state of the rest of this team? The Senators would pass on resigning him, and he gets dumped into free agency, where he will probably find a back-up gig somewhere, although not for the money or term he wants.

So short story... err, shorter... if Anderson fails, he's gone, and Ottawa is still short two goalies.

So "Mister" Anderson is either going to be a delightful interlude or business as usual... and then we get to see what Murray (or whomever Melnyk hires to replace Murray) is really going to do about goaltending.

The only way I see this happening differently is if Anderson shows flashes of brilliance, but not enough to resurrect his reputation as a miracle worker. He doesn't get the signals that free agency will result in buckets of money for him. He for some reason decides he likes it here. He figures that the rebuild will be shorter rather than longer, and that the team's future depth is defense -- which will help him do his job, meaning that even if he ends up with losing games it will be because of problems at the far end of the ice. Murray doesn't get fired, and signs him after the regular season -- but before free agency -- for a couple of years for around $3 million per.

If all that happens... he'll stay.

But frankly at this point I think he won't be back.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

As Long As There's A Process

So there is an immediate upside to Anderson: he can win err not lose a shootout.


We are now awaiting this singular performance to be the cornerstone of Mr. Anderson being hailed "the next franchise goalie" by the masses, an event which will be quickly followed up by those same masses trying to run him out of town after two consecutive losses.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Respect The Contract

I think the media, both professional and blogosphere, seriously needs to lay off Chris Phillips.

Phillips negotiated for, and got, a no-trade or no-movement clause of some sort. This was given to him as part of his compensation. Presumably had the no-movement not been on the table, Phillips would have asked for more real money to make up some commensurate value to him.

Now everyone is on him to waive his no-movement, and several quarters are giving him a hard time about his potentially not waiving, meaning that the Senators are not able to maximize the value they can get for him by trading him.

The perceived risk here is that Phillips will not waive, and then sign elsewhere at a rate that Ottawa can't or won't match -- thus losing him "for nothing".

Heck, after the last couple of weeks of blather about it, "not living in Ottawa" might be a required part of his compensation, something Ottawa can't deliver.

Think about it this way: would it be right for the club to go to him and ask him to waive salary so that they could either save money or get some players for a playoff run? For one, the league wouldn't let them, and for two -- it is trying to re-negotiate after the deal closes.

Phillips is having an off year here, and frankly I don't think the club needs both him and Gonchar next year to mentor the young 'uns. Of the two, I would rather keep Phillips, but facts are that barring someone being in an excessive WTF mode, Gonchar is unmovable and he will be here in Ottawa next year. That makes Phillips the odd man out on July 1st, trade or no trade.

From a professional standpoint Phillips could use a deep playoff run to help his value in the offseason. To put up some results while separating himself from the mess here in Ottawa would only help.

But the bottom line is: he has the no-movement.

If he wants to play out his contract with Ottawa, let him play out his contract. We'll all see what's up after then.

He's earned that respect.

(Different player, but we've been here before.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Hits Keep On Coming

Brian Elliot has been shipped to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for similarly-struggling goalie Craig Anderson.

(Am I the only one who hears Agent Smith from The Matrix saying "Mister Anderson" every time they read Crag's last name? ...yeah, probably. Ok then.)

Elliot wasn't an elite goalie by any means, but I think his name is best added to the (long) list of goalies who's performances were worsened by the dubious quality of the players in front of him. I know the blogosphere loved to hate on him.

I am a bit stunned that Murray managed to find a taker for Elliot (my precise words when reading the news were "Holy Sh!!"). However, the exchange of struggling pending-FA goalies (Elliot is R, Anderson a U) points to two clubs who think that maybe a change of scenery might spark a return to form for at least one of these players -- and frankly at this point in the season the clubs both probably think they have nothing else to lose.

Hard to see who wins or loses with this trade. But at the rate things are going, we won't have to worry about it too long, as there is sure to be more movement.

Energy Line Totally Disbanded

Jarko Ruutu lands in Mighty Duck country.

I have to admit I am surprised both by how quickly Ruutu was shipped out, and by how little the team got back in return -- a 6th round draft pick, basically noise. Ruutu wasn't heavy salary, but I suppose when you are circling the drain, every dollar that you don't have to spend, counts. From a business standpoint, that makes this trade a win for Ottawa. From a hockey standpoint the short term is a wash, since Ruutu had been scratched for the last few games. Long term...

Kind of interesting to me that even though Ruutu had been scratched so much recently, someone thought he was worth picking up. And here's us thinking the reason he was scratched was so that the team could showcase Brian Lee!

With Kelly already gone (even if he hasn't left the country yet -- story is there are visa issues), this leaves Chris Neil as the sole survivor of the so-called "Energy Line".

I didn't particularly like Ruutu's play -- his role as a pest was to get other players riled up and draw penalties, and I really don't like this aspect of the game. It also didn't help that Ruutu had a role in perhaps the most ridiculous episode of recent Senators history.

Still, he had a part in one of the bright lines from the past year or two, and so we'll miss what he brought.

Incidentally -- this is the third trade that has followed within 12 hours of a call-up from the AHL club. I guess if bodies are coming in, then somebody has to be going out...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fight Night

So on Saturday morning, I saw the 17-minute "highlight" reel of the Islanders-Penguins game the night before. This reel included such classics as the full-ice-brawl, the blind-side sucker punch, a skater fighting a goalie, and someone leaving the bench to get involved in a fight. By the end of it, Pittsburgh had five skaters on the ice and three on the bench. Everyone else had been tossed out.

On Saturday there was the predictable round of lamentations that this was a disgrace to hockey. On Monday, Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux gets on his high horse over the lack of action taken over the event, saying something to the point that he needed to "reconsider his involvement" with the league.

The whole thing was sickening to watch.

The kicker for me? The commentator on the highlight reel mentioned that the evil deed perpetrated by Pittsburgh had been deemed a clean hockey hit. Now I have not seen the offense myself, but this goes to show you how out-of-control the "self-enforcement" of fighting has become, when a clean hockey hit leads to this kind of carrying on.

The sick feeling carried over into Saturday's afternoon game between Ottawa and Edmonton, where there was some pushing and shoving after some non-event or other on the ice. There were a couple points in the game where I nearly gave up on it.

I'm for contact in hockey.

I'm just not for fighting.

If the players fight because the refs don't call the rules, then either fix the rulebook or fix the reffing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Domino Two

Brian Murray kept the hammer down on the rebuild machine, sending Chris Kelly to Boston in exchange for a second round draft pick. By dealing another highly popular player, Murray confirms to everyone else that nobody should consider themselves safe.

Considering that again Murray didn't have to take salary back to get the trade done, and got a pick out of it, this trade is at least a short-term win for Ottawa. Longer term it does depend on the actual draft -- or whatever deal Murray puts together with this draft pick.

Personally I'm sorry to see Kelly go. I personally had him listed as "tradable but would prefer to keep". This is because Kelly is the kind of player that brings a solid, two-way game every night. When he centered the third line between Ruutu and Neil, this "energy" line would frequently be the line that could get the important goal or make the important play to bring a game back on track. However with Ruutu all but shipped out as an impending UFA, the energy line was probably doomed anyways.

Unlike Fisher, who won't be back at Scotiabank Place this year, Kelly is back here on Friday with the Bruins and since he's still in the east will be a regular visitor back here.

I would like to thank Kelly for his hard work for the team, and hope that the crowd gives him a warm reception when he comes back on Friday.

Good luck for the future, Chris, and thanks.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Rebuild Starts Here

Brian Murray's first move in the rebuild effort happened today, when Mike Fisher was traded to Nashville in exchange for a 1st round pick and a conditional pick.

Ottawa gets in return:
  • a first round pick, value to be determined later;
  • possibly a second pick, depending on how far through the playoffs Nashville goes (meaning Nashville is Ottawa's favorite playoff team this year), value to be determined later;
  • cap space savings to the tune of $4.2 million per year; and
  • real money savings to the tune of $4 million this year and $3.2 million next.
All together it means that there is real money savings in the future, plus it gives Murray room to take on more short-term salary in trades from other teams in order to make other deals work.

All in all, a solid rebuilding move.

Since Fisher is popular with the local fan base, I wonder how popular this move will be.

Despite not playing up to his salary level, he was still an asset who could make things happen. Fisher had some good years here, and he will be missed both on the ice and in the stands.

Best of luck down the road, Mike. I hope the fans give you the love you deserve when you visit us back here.

(That darned modern logo is everywhere, it seems -- do you have any idea how hard it was to find a picture of Mike Fisher stylin' the classic jersey?)

These Guys ALSO Go To 11

I'm guessing the Spinal Tap jokes will be thinner on the ground this year than they were this time last year.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What I'd Do

So it has been a couple of weeks since the money behind the team announced that he'd seen the light, the cup isn't coming to Ottawa this year after all. Mr. Melnyk also announced that both Clouston and Murray would remain in their jobs for the rest of the year.

Color me underwhelmed.

I am of two minds about this.

Firstly, I approve of keeping Clouston as the coach for the rest of the year. Mr. Melnyk is already paying two other guys to not coach the team, he doesn't need a third. I've long said that the coach isn't the problem with this team.

Secondly, I have mixed feelings about keeping Murray. I think that the on-ice product that the team has now has to be laid at his feet, no matter how badly the ice was tilted against him by his predecessor. Murray's handling of the big team's roster can only be described as poor, as if he is spending his time looking for the single missing piece that would return the team to their 2007 form. The problem is that those single pieces that he's come up with have underperformed, while at the same time key pieces have been slipping through his fingers.

On the plus side, he's drafted like a bear. The prospect larder is well stocked, perhaps to the point where the team will have to trade some defense prospects to avoid wasting their value. Forwards-wise we have some prospects who should fit in the second- and third-line positions quite nicely, even if we don't have any elite prospects in the pipeline.

The problem is, the draft is a long time away. The run up to deadline day has been about trading, and Murray's trading record isn't very strong.

He's also still making noises about a "one year rebuild", which isn't that much of a softening of his "one tweak and we're in" pattern of action over the last few years. So while he says everyone but Alfie and (we presume) Karlsson are for sale, I don't buy it.

So personally I'm worried about keeping him in place through this important trading period. The only thing keeping him in place as far as I'm concerned is a lack of a credible candidate to drop in right now to replace him.

My personal attitude is that we are looking at a full rebuild here, and the sooner Melnyk signs on to that the sooner we'll start actually building something and stop sinking further behind. This means a three, maybe five year program.

With that kind of schedule you have to wonder where your players are going to be in their careers when the stretch run comes. Of the current team today, who is still going to be playing like they belong on a contending team in three years?

If it were me:


Alfie: the fans love him, and he's given his life and soul for this team. That said, if a contending team offered anything, I'd approach Alfie about the trade. Alfredsson deserves a cup ring, and Ottawa won't be able to deliver him one. If a chance comes up, he deserves the opportunity to take it if he wants. Personally I doubt he'd take the chance. But should the opportunity arise, the decision needs to be his.

Spezza: Like him or loath him, Spezza is an elite centre. He can playmake out of nothing and when he's on, magic can happen. That said, where will he be in three to five years? Right now if a decent offer came, I'd trade him if possible because I know the team surrounding him can't make decent use of his skills, and I wonder if he'll still have it when the stretch run comes. And this better be a trade where in hind-sight we look back and say "that was worth it". No Heatley-style trades. Odds are he's untradable due to cap and no-movement. I'll enjoy his play if he stays, he's definitely an asset. He'll be the leadership of the immediate future if he stays.

Michalek: If I can keep him cheap, I'd keep him. He isn't the elite we perhaps hoped he would mature into, but he's a grinder and can make things happen. His speed seems to be coming back, too. He'd provide a good sense of leadership for the younger players.

Fisher: I would trade him if I could. Fisher is a popular player with the ability to score and make things happen, bu the bottom line is that he hasn't been playing to his salary. I would trade him for a salary dump from another team as long as the incoming contract ended before Fisher's does, just to get his money off the books.

Foligno: I would keep him. I suspect he will be cheap to re-sign next time around because he certainly isn't lighting up the numbers right now. I personally think he's capable of more, and if I can have it cheap, I'll take it.

Kelly: Probably too expensive to keep, trade if I can. I would prefer to keep, since the Kelly-Ruutu-Neil line provides energy, is entertaining to watch, and is liked by the fans. Plus they can get goals here and there too.

Kovalev: I love the guy's play to death, but he hasn't been worth $5 million by any stretch of the imagination. Trade him if I can -- even at firesale rates. Don't re-sign if I can't.

Neil: Keep for now. Personally I doubt contenders will be trading for his kind of "character".

Regin: Like Foligno, is underperforming and will probably be cheap to re-sign. I say keep.

Ruutu: His contract is up again this year. While he's a bit expensive for my tastes, I'd keep him, but I wouldn't consider it the end of the world if someone else wanted to trade for him.

Shannon: Another underperforming youngster. I say keep.

Smith. See Shannon, Regin, Foglino. Keep.

Winchester: I think his window is closing. Trade if we can.


Campoli: If we can keep him cheap, he might have a spot. The problem is that right now we are drowning in 3rd-pairing defencemen. If we can get value for him in trade, I say take it.

Carkner: He is what passes for muscle on this team, and I think for next year anyways we'd need to keep that around until we see if any of the new kids are capable of stepping up.

Gonchar: He's unmovable, but I'd keep him even if he wasn't. No wait, stop laughing. While he may be past his best-before date, and is almost definitely overpaid for what he produces, this guy has been there, done that, at the highest levels. Keeping him around should be a good on-ice influence on these allegedly elite defense prospects like Karlsson and Cowen et al.

Karlsson: I would keep him unless someone offered me the crown jewels. And I'd make them throw in a 1st and a 2nd on top of it. If the right offer came, I'd take it. But the price will be very, very high.

Kuba: I wonder if he is perhaps at the end of his line, he's making too many mistakes and doesn't seem to have much upside. I wouldn't protect him from a trade.

Lee: Seriously, why is Lee even still here? I'd trade him for future considerations, just to get rid of him. Plus it might get his career going as well. Neither the Senators nor Lee are benefiting from the current arrangement.

Phillips: I like Phillips' play. That said, he might have the kind of character that a contender might like. If the right offer came along, trade.

In goal:

Elliott: I'm not one to fit Elliott under the bus by any means. I think he's suffered from poor efforts on the ice in front of him, and to expect excellence from a player in that situation is virtually impossible. Even though I don't think he's a bad goalie, I don't think Elliott will be back next year.

LeClaire: Also suffered from poor efforts in front of him, even when he did play like the elite he's shown flashes of in the past he was let down by a total lack of offense from the guys up front. However since he can't stay healthy for 60 consecutive minutes it is entirely academic. He's untradable. He's injured, so he's unplayable. I think he's done here in Ottawa.

Lehner: Goalie of the future? I dunno, I don't see it. His two starts he was lit up like a pinball machine, even if both times the team provided some offense for once (even if ultimately in a losing cause). I think he'll be the next in a long line of guys who play reasonably well, but not well enough to compensate for a lack of offense up front and poor defensive coverage behind them. He'll be flavor of the month, then get run out of town like Elliott, Auld, Gerber, Emery...

What I'd want in trade: Primarily, picks and prospects. I'll take rookies with potential as well. I'll prefer forwards, since my larder is a bit bare there and I'm reasonably well stocked with defense. I'd make available select prospects in my farm system, but not too many of them, and they won't be cheap.

For long term contracts going out, I'll take short-term salary back as long as it ends this year.

My Plan:

I'm hoping for a three-year rebuild here, but planning for a five-year. Next year is going to be a brutal year for the team, since it will be composed of rookies and veterans who are perhaps past their best. If next year's rookies look like a core we can build around, then I'd go for the three year program; if not, I'd wait another year to see who else we can draft.

As far as my veterans go, I would keep who I could fit from the existing team. The fans like guys like Spezza and Fisher, plus the energy line of Neil-Kelly-Ruutu is entertaining.

In goal I want to grow my own goalie rather than trade for someone who might or might not be done. If Lehner's the guy then great, but I would still be on the prowl for another hot prospect. I'd also be looking for a senior goalie, someone who can be steady in net and can provide mentoring to Lehner (or whomever the next flavor of the month is) before he too gets run out of town, but frankly I'd expect I can pick up someone cheap in free agency for that role.

That's my plan. Not quite fire everyone, but trade who I can, discard who I can, and pack the team with kids with potential. Build the defense around Karlsson. Keep some veterans around to mentor the kids and entertain the fans here and there.

But what do I know?