Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hartsburg Survives

If radio reports were correct, the players may have saved the job of head coach Craig Hartsburg with their hard fought road win over Edmonton.

Steve Lloyd, co-host of the Ottawa afternoon drive show on the Team 1200 confidently said that he had it from a trusted source that if the Senators lost in Edmonton last night, there would be major consequences for the coaching staff.

That execution has probably been staved off for at least a few more days.

In a flurry of ever-changing line combinations, the Senators Big 3 found themselves reunited and Jason Spezza played one of his best games of the season.

Of particular note was the newly formed line of Mike Fisher, Chris Neil and Nick Foligno who were a nasty force all night. Fisher and Neil have always played well together and Foligno seemed to instantly find chemistry with those two, also playing one of his better games of the year. He absolutely cranked Oiler center Marc Pouliot with a clean check along the boards and Pouliot never returned after getting helped off the ice in a daze.

Brian Lee looked like a young Wade Redden out there tonight, making crisp passes to forwards on the fly and venturing into the offensive zone, something unseen from Senators defensemen thus far this season.

Maybe it was the great ice in Edmonton. Maybe it was a team that was finally loose enough to play after hitting rock bottom in Vancouver the other night.

Regardless, the brutal 12 game road streak is over.

So what happens next?

More of the gong show or a modest turnaround in time to save the season?


Ian Mendes of Sportsnet asked Jason Spezza after the first period if the Senators needed "to win this one badly".

You think Ian?

But let's not to be too hard on Mendes. He's one of the best in the business and a funny guy to boot.


Ottawa hockey fans have already felt the sting of local cable carrier Rogers not offering TSN 2 in their package. Toronto Raptors fans are even more pissed.

They've taken to protesting outside the Rogers offices in Hogtown.

"A small, but noisy group protested yesterday against Rogers Cable, which is refusing to pick up TSN2 and its 23-game package of Toronto Raptors games.

The demonstrators carried signs, blew whistles and voiced their complaints outside the Rogers offices in downtown Toronto.

"Not a great turnout," said organizer Andrew Ebanks, a fan living in Toronto. "But a few were better than none. Eighty-three had signed up, but it was pretty cold out there."

Ebanks said he was encouraged by the reaction.

"The traffic along Bloor Street slowed down, even stopped," he said. "One guy got out and had his picture taken.

"People were honking horns and yelling support. Even the employees of Rogers gave us thumbs up, because they know the situation and they want to get it resolved as well."

-Globe and Mail


If you haven't seen the sweaters that the Hawks and the Wings will wear during the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, here they are below.

Once again, the NHL seems to always get it right when it allows teams to go retro. When they let teams design new stuff... well that's a different story.


Have a happy new year hosers.

Monday, December 29, 2008

No End In Sight

The question is not when things will get better but how much worse can it get right now?

If you divide the team into three basic functioning parts – goaltending, defence and offense – it quickly becomes apparent that each group has to overachieve to have any success.

Now what are the chances of all three groups overachieving on the same night?

With this team? Virtually nil.

A game is usually winnable for the Senators if at least two of those groups overachieve in a game but not even that is happening anymore.

For most of November and December, the goalies and the defense were holding them in games while the offensive forwards went through an agonizingly dry patch. Then just before Christmas, the offense woke up but the goalies and the defense went into the tank (well, Auld joined the already triple tanked Gerber).

During last night’s debacle in Vancouver, the Senators managed the perfect troika of having all three groups underachieve at the same time.

Martin Gerber let in his regular soft goal from the blueline, the speedy Canucks blew past the defense all night and the offensive group was M.I.A. yet again.

The fans are pissed but it’s frustrating for the players too.

You don’t make it to the NHL if you don’t care and don’t work hard. The usual pundits and fans mark it all off to lack of hustle but they’re wrong. The Senators work their asses off and the majority of the guys, if not all, have excellent character.

But these guys are packing knives in a gun fight.

It’s bad enough that they don’t have a true number one goalie. Or a true power-play quarterback. Or that they have 6 players who should be developing in the AHL but find themselves playing big minutes in the NHL (Brian Lee, Alex Picard, Cody Bass, Nick Foligno, Jesse Winchester and Ilya Zubov).

What’s even worse is that everyone is having an off-year at the same time, with the exception of a few guys (Chris Neil, Jarkko Ruutu and Shean Donovan) who can’t effect games much even when they are going full steam.

The latest fan target (and Kulka target) seems to be Chris Phillips who is hovering around the minus 20 mark. Listening to the radio, you hear fans who want him traded or even propose having the “A” ripped off his jersey.

Outside of the injured Filip Kuba, Phillips plays the most minutes on a bad team.

Unlike Kuba, Phillips is not a guy who has ever generated offense. That’s why his plus/minus is so bad. It doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how to play hockey. It’s just that he’s always on the ice and the Senators are always losing. That’s life.

The problem is that because Bryan Murray thought he could get by with an AHL caliber defense core with zero offensive capability, Phillips is now playing a role which he is not suited for. Phillips has always been the 3rd or 4th defenseman on this team. With Wade Redden and Andre Meszaros gone, Phillips has been asked to step into the void, something that he is not equipped to do.

So the fans shouldn’t demand nice guy Phillips be traded. They should go after Murray for putting Phillips in a position where he has no chance to succeed.

Both Phillips and Mike Fisher have played the points on the power-play this year. No opposing team is going to be scared of that combination.

But what is Craig Hartsburg supposed to do?

He was given the keys to a car missing some vital parts.

And no help is on the way.

There is nothing in the minors which will help this team.

The trade market is tighter than most peoples post-Christmas waistbands and GM’s don’t want Murray’s garbage.

Players like Antoine Vermette and Mike Fisher aren’t going to magically turn into players the fans want them to be no matter how much money Murray has thrown at them.

Bryan Murray gave the fans the team they wanted. Less skill. Less Wade Redden. Less Andre Meszaros. Less Ray Emery. Less exciting.

This is what you wanted Sens fans.

Now swallow your peas.


More great action on the colossally inept Over The Edge program today as Kulka ripped into more callers for daring to voice a different opinion than his (play the MP3 for the audio).

Someone named “Joe” tried to defend Phillips by saying that he was at least the only consistent NHL defenseman in the Senators lineup but Kulka took it as the caller saying that Phillips was having the best year of his career. This set the stage for a lot of raging, especially when subsequent callers took the Kulkster to task for his mistake.

The worst call-in sports show in Ottawa history rages on….

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No Christmas Luck

Despite the valiant comeback, this game changed on a very strange coaching move by Craig Hartsburg early in the second period that I still don't truly understand.

Ottawa went on the power play when Randy Jones tripped up Jarkko Ruutu. Of course, the first power-play unit went out until Ottawa found themselves up two men when Braydon Coburn took another penalty only 19 seconds later.

8 seconds into the double advantage, Jason Spezza perfectly set up Dany Heatley for the goal to tie the game at 2 - 2. At that point, the first power-play unit had been on the ice a total of 27 seconds (with two whistle breaks). With the Flyers still a man down for nearly two minutes, Hartsburg decides to pull the top unit and put on the second group which consists of players like Nick Foligno and Christoph Schubert.

You'd think Hartsburg would try to go for another goal using his best players but instead, Schubert coughs up the puck at the blueline and then proceeds to trip Jeff Carter on the breakaway and nullify the power-play.

And then Carter scores with Schubert in the box. With that kick in the gut still hurting, the Senators give up another goal just two minutes later to go down 4-2.

There's a lot of blame to go around, including to Alex Auld who has continued his streak of spotty play, but Hartsburg had a chance to keep his best players on the ice and if they had scored, it would have been a different game. It's not Hartsburg's fault that Schubert made a boneheaded play but he's responsible for who's on the ice.

With only 27 seconds under their belt, that first power-play unit had a lot of wind left. Now it's all just a bunch of hot air.


That flowing curly hair peeking out from under a white Flyers helmet had me thinking that Michael Handzus had somehow sneaked back onto the Philly roster when I wasn't looking but it was only Scott Hartnell.

The Kentucky Waterfall style didn't look good on Handzus (who has since cut it) and it still doesn't look good on a guy Hartnell.


Anyways, Black Aces will take a little sabbatical until after the Vancouver game on Sunday night.

So Happy Holidays to everyone and we'll see you soon, perhaps just a little fatter.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


With the craziness of Christmas upon us, the posts will be few and far between on Black Aces until the first week of January, when everything will return to normal.

As for the Friday and Saturday games, two Christmas parties in two nights didn't make for any detailed viewing but it was pretty wild to see Jason Smith deliver a win for the Senators in overtime.

To me, the biggest question remains (other than the immediate health of Alfie) whether or not Hartsburg decides to go with Martin Gerber against the high scoring Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.

The coach seems pretty hesitant to let Auld get on a roll again by playing him after a bad game but Gerber almost sunk this team last night with his usual mediocre play.

If neither goalie can get hot again, it's going to be a long road trip.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Senators Should Learn From San Jose

The San Jose Sharks are off to the best start in NHL history, and in a recent article from The Hockey News print edition, the players are attributing it to the fact that the coaching staff lets them play without fear of reprisal after every single mistake on the ice.

One can easily relate the situation to the current plight of the Senators where it looks like many of the forwards are so afraid of making mistakes defensively that they are thinking way too much on the ice.

Everyone and their grandmother wants to see these players get thrown under the bus by Hartsburg and Murray, but maybe the San Jose approach, as seen below, is more of an answer than the constant negativity that has engulfed the Ottawa franchise in recent years.

"One reason many of the Sharks are performing so well this season ... is the fact (Todd) McLellan and his staff recognize hockey is a game of mistakes. And each one doesn't need to be pointed out on the spot or have serious consequences.

Defenseman Douglas Murray, for example, coughed up the puck on Oct. 28 to Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in front of the San Jose net. ...

"It was an absolutely bonehead play and I came back to the bench and didn't get yelled at," Murray said. "I think in the past they would have made a much bigger deal of it."

Sophomore right winger Devin Setoguchi ... said team confidence is up because players are less afraid to make mistakes.

Which is part of McLellan's plan.

"I want the players to have the courage to make plays on the ice," McLellan said. "When it's a real obvious mistake, I don't know if we have to be in their ear. They know they've made it."

Bringing Down The Whip

In case you missed this great call by Dave Schreiber and Gord Wilson on the Team 1200 last night during the Jarkko Ruutu - Jim Slater scrap:


Craig Hartsburg bag skated the players today and told the media that the Big 3 will all be on separate lines.

It seems like the right thing to do at the moment and it's probably right for Hartsburg to show a little more of a mean streak. It might work for a game or two but it could also weaken his position significantly if the players don't respond well. And it may not be their fault either. Like Jason York said on the radio today, it's not a lack of effort but a lack of execution.

Hartsburg might need to open things up here and let the players (and specifically the defenseman) go for it and just hope Alex Auld can handle more quality shots that he would inevitably face in such a system.

It's kind of funny. Hartsburg was hired to tighten up the defense but now his job may depend on him finding some offence.

That's life in the NHL. It's cutthroat and all coaches know this going in. I think Hartsburg is a good coach and definitely deserves some more time because you can't have constant chaos in the organization, even if you're losing. But he's subject to the same conditions that every coach faces.
Hired to be fired.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Crime Scene Investigation

After another embarrassing defeat with only one meaningless goal scored against Atlanta, all eyes in Ottawa will now be turning to general manager Bryan Murray.

Unfortunately for Murray and head coach Craig Hartsburg, this brutal loss comes on the heels of Eugene Melnyk going on Toronto sports radio and predicting that the Senators would storm back and finish in the top four of the Eastern Conference.

Sorry Geno, but that's about as likely as Bill Muckalt getting his Senators jersey retired.

At this point in the season, it's become pretty clear that the Senators just don't have the skill to compete in the new high octane NHL and like it or not, Bryan Murray has to take the responsibility for this dramatic drop in team fortunes.

Murray was the one who thought he could get away with a trio of minor leaguer's to boost his offense from the back end after losing the likes of Wade Redden and Andre Meszaros. Now his team looks like it couldn't break out of Mooney's Bay let alone their own end of the ice to execute simple offensive plays that were once taken for granted.

He also hired a coach who now seems to be panicking in a way that only John Paddock managed to surpass. Hartsburg has stopped playing four lines and has somehow managed to find a reason to play energy forwards Shean Donovan and Jarkko Ruutu just over 5 minutes a game, despite the rest of his lines looking like they're skating in mud (an apt description of the heavily criticised ice surface at Scotiabank Place this season).

Hartsburg has also instituted the dreaded "win and you're in" philosophy when it comes to the goalies, despite already having a bonafide number one in Alex Auld. After 2 months of steady play, Hartsburg bizarrely decided to banish Auld to the bench in favour of Martin Gerber who has already done irreparable damage to this team in the past. Now he's got a genuine goalie controversy on his hands and it's his own fault. Auld should have been given one game to rest and then put back in, regardless if Gerber played the game of his life.

Now nothing is certain. The forward lines change from game to game, shift to shift. Shean Donovan was a folk hero a week ago, now he's basically warming the bench.

It's a complete mess and now Bryan Murray has to fix it.

What's clear is that these players are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Big 3 look worn out and defeated and it's not even Christmas.

Murray needs to make a move to spark some life into this team. But with the holiday roster freeze going into effect this Friday and a huge road trip coming up, things might actually get worse.

And not to look too far ahead, but Filip Kuba is an unrestricted free agent after this season. In my mind, he's not even worth keeping at what he's getting paid right now but Murray will be forced to overpay just to try to keep an NHL worthy defense roster. That sort of defeats the purpose of the Meszaros trade in the first place doesn't it, especially with Picard looking like he's a marginal player at best.

Merry Christmas.


For some reason, when I look at the above picture of Heatley exploding off of Garnet Exelby, I keep hearing the opening of C.S.I., as if upon their explosive impact you hear Roger Daltry of the Who screaming "Yaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!"


For those of you who had the (dis)pleasure of listening to the latest installment of Over The Edge (Tuesday morning), you were treated to nearly 3 hours of Kulka and Versage railing against what the Senators players wear on their way into the rink from the parking lot.


They took Don Cherry's now infamous "thug" comment and ran with it, saying that the players toques and winter coats (worn in minus 20 weather) are not allowing the players to get into the "proper mindset" to succeed. They seemingly had no explanation about how past Ottawa teams with the same dress code managed to be so successful and overcome their toque problems.

This show, easily the lamest in Ottawa sports radio history, has sunk to a new, once unthinkable low.

At first they told us that it was just "hard work" (ad nauseam) which was the sole criteria for winning games in the NHL. Now it has been expanded to include whether or not the players wear toques and appropriate winter jackets as they pass through the rear shipping doors at the rink.

Over The Edge caters exclusively to the type of fan who feels the inner need to "punish" professional athletes for whatever reason, be it money, fame or whatever it is they don't have themselves.

These types of fans project unrealistic expectations onto athletes which they know can't be fulfilled, giving them an excuse to call them lazy and unprofessional, whether it's based in fact or not.

Kulka and Versage specialize in this type of crap and substitute meaningless (but usually slanderous) chatter for real, informed hockey talk. And if someone calls in and disagrees with them, they get slaughtered live on-air by a raging Kulka who seemingly hasn't grasped the simple fact that talk-radio is supposed to be a two-way platform.

These real "thugs" should get a one-way ticket to the cold street and they better not be wearing toques and winter jackets either.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Big Reclamation

There's an insightful article in today's Toronto Star about the KHL, Ray Emery and some of the bizarre circumstances that North Americans find themselves in over there:

"In a holdover from Soviet times, Emery and his teammates must stay on a "base" near their arena the nights before a game. The menu, said Emery's Finnish teammate Esa Pirnes, who played in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings, hasn't changed in four months.

"I saw Esa put ketchup on his spaghetti and I wondered what he was doing," Emery said. "But they don't put sauce on it and it's impossible to find. It's just plain spaghetti. Now I'm reaching for the ketchup."

There have been other adjustments, like getting used to squads of cheerleaders dancing on platforms right behind his net in some buildings. "You kind of look up and they're right there at ice level."

Ketchup on spaghetti? Dude..... Forget the shoddy medical treatment. That might be the biggest deterrent right there.

Emery's quotes from the rest of the article indicate that he's really beginning to put last season behind him and is showing a level of maturity that was lacking in the past. If he's willing to plow ketchup spaghetti to get his career back on track, that shows some dedication to the game.

Expect "Rayzer", who has put up All-Star numbers in Russia, to make a winning return to the NHL, if not next year, then the next when his contract is expired.

And you know where he might fit? How about Detroit? With Chris Osgood starting to fade and Jimmy Howard on a seemingly eternal learning curve, Emery might be a cheap and ingenious addition to a team that is going to contend for some time. There is no denying his skill and athletic ability and if his head is screwed on straight, he's a top ten goalie in the NHL. That would also give Detroit time to nurture their top 2008 draft pick, goalie Thomas McCollum.

Detroit is pretty decent at reclamation projects. Joey Kocur, Darren McCarty, Daniel Cleary and even Chris Osgood all got second chances with Detroit and all contributed to at least one Stanley Cup championship.

People will laugh at the suggestion, but remember - you heard it here first.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Weekend Notes

It's probably tough for Senators fans to get excited after barely squeezing by the last place Tampa Bay Lightning but it at least sets up a possible mini-streak with the almost equally struggling Atlanta Thrashers coming to town on Tuesday.

Not to put too much dramatic emphasis on it, but the Atlanta game is another must-win for the Senators. Pundits are already starting to count them out for the playoffs, including Adam Proteau of the Hockey News who points to the fact that the Senators have 9 more games against Boston and Montreal. He didn't even mention their 3 gargantuan road trips left in the season.

But if you're looking for positives in a game that still felt a little like a loss due to a flaccid performance by the top line, there's a few to mention.

Obviously, Martin Gerber getting the shutout is a big leap forward for the beleaguered goalie but this might only be setting up another headache for the team. Gerber should never have been on this roster going into the season but now a few good games is going to force Craig Hartsburg's hand and the whole circus is about to start again.

Don't be fooled. The technical issues that have hampered Gerber's game have not suddenly gone away and they will rear their ugly heads again at the worst possible moment if Gerber is given another shot to play meaningful games.

Unfortunately, it looks like that's the direction the team is headed in. Still - Gerber gets kudos for a solid game.

Other positives: Alex Picard and Brendan Bell are starting to look better and call-up Brian Lee played a solid, if uninspiring game.

If you watched the opening half-hour of Hockey Night In Canada, you would have seen footage of Brendan Bell escorting the two hockey bag carrying Bingo call-ups (Lee and Ilya Zubov) to the Senators dressing room and seemingly calming their nerves by making a few jokes - if the big grin on Zubov's face is any indication. Bell seems like a natural leader and a guy who commands respect, if not for his actual play but for his character. It's hard not to cheer for a guy like that.


Speaking of hallway encounters, Don Cherry showed some more footage on his Coach's Corner segment but he didn't like what he saw.

First he showed the Washington Capitals entering the Molson Centre in Montreal from the team bus and praised the first-place club for wearing sharp looking suits, saying they exuded "class". Then they ran film of the Lightning and assorted Senators players entering the arena looking like "thugs".

What may have shocked some is that the Senator player he was referring to was none other than Mike "milk and cookies" Fisher who was wearing a (gasp!) wool toque and a heavy winter jacket. God forbid Fisher sets a bad example for the nation of Cherry's kids by wearing proper winter attire on a bitterly cold night.

The main Lightning player they showed was Andre "everybody hates me" Meszaros who, similar to Fisher, was wearing a toque and winter jacket but was guilty of the ultimate sin - talking on a cellphone. When they showed Fisher and Meszaros having a quick talk outside the locker rooms, Cherry went into a hilarious routine, insinuating that they were agreeing not to hit each other on the ice. He was even incensed that half the Senators were talking to Meszaros before the game, calling it a love-fest. To end the segment, he called the whole thing "sickening".
It was prime Cherry.


What actually disturbed me was a quick shot of Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson dressed in military fatigues in the middle of a bush somewhere, rifling down geese or birds or whatever the hell they were shooting. Fisher already admitted to killing a bear this past summer (classy) but we were also informed that he's an avid deer hunter. I don't want to go on a big anti-hunting rant here because people will freak out, but ... dude, take it easy.

The only solace was that we were told Alfredsson has resisted the deer hunting so far. Maybe Cherry was right about Fisher after all....


The first period scrap between Chris Neil and Zenon Konopka was an absolute beauty. Neil was having his way with Konopka but the feisty ex-Ottawa 67 repeatedly ignored Neil's body language which was clearly trying to shut the fight down. At one point Neil was just holding Konopka off and smiling at the linesman like "this guy is nuts". So Neiler decided to throw a few more and decisively won the fight but it looked like he cranked his hand off the glass, possibly hurting himself, though he did return later in the game. ..... People have been hard on Neil this year but I don't understand why. He's doing his job perfectly. I don't have the numbers in front of me but he's probably on pace to have the most fights of his career in a single season and there's not many heavyweights he won't take on. Some claim that Neil is expendable because Ottawa already has Jarkko Ruutu and Cody Bass. Except that Bass is not an enforcer by any means and only drops the gloves once in a while, usually when someone like Neil is out of the lineup. It would be like asking Mike Fisher to be the enforcer on the team. There's a big distinction between being a physical player and a regular scrapper. Ruutu backs his antics up with a scrap when he needs to but he's also not a frequent flier. Hopefully Bryan Murray finds a way to get Neil under contract for the next few seasons. There's not too many players in the league with Neil's character and spirit...... It was interesting to see Jesse Winchester singing along with the national anthem before the game. You don't see that too often..... Speaking of enforcers, it was revealed yesterday that Brian McGrattan was in the voluntary NHL substance abuse and behavioural program. The Phoenix Coyote and ex-Senator joins the long list of past NHL enforcers with similar problems. It might be toughest job in pro sports and it certainly takes its toll on the guys who do it. Here's hoping Gratts gets it together and gets back on the ice soon...... Speaking of problems, I was so into the game last night that I plowed about 10 mini peanut butter cups into my trap during the first period and was nearly in a coma by the third because of it. The Christmas season is very dangerous.....

You know what drives me insane? The NHL refuses to go to no-touch icing because they claim they like the exciting aspect of races for the puck but the referees always call the play in favour of the defender when it's close. So in reality, there's no exciting races because the only way to negate an icing is to be so far ahead of the defender that it's no contest anyways. Shean Donovan beat the Tampa defenseman last night in a close race for the puck but the linesman ruled in favour of the defender yet again, almost mechanically. It's brutal. Just go to no-touch and be done with it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Washington 5 Ottawa 1

Okay, now it's time to panic.

Black Aces will be back on Sunday with the usual Weekend Notes column.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Business As Usual

There's no point in rehashing the same old story. The Senators lost because they lived up to their billing as the lowest scoring team in the National Hockey League. Not much is going to change until Bryan Murray brings in some real offence.

How long can he wait? Forever?

Sorry for the brevity, but is there anything more to say?


It makes much more sense to think of Antoine Vermette as a role player similar to Sami Pahlsson in Anaheim. When the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, Pahlsson was one of their best players simply by being the best defensive forward on the ice during every series.

When you imagine what Vermette could be, think back to Jere Lehtinen in his prime (or even a Kris Draper but with a little more skill). Vermette is not going to score 30 goals but he can be a hell of a speedy defensive forward, possibly even a Selke nominee down the road.

The problem is that he's being paid like a second-line offensive forward and he's in a tough situation with the fans and Ottawa management because of it. Pahlsson only gets 1.4 million in Anaheim but you could say that they both play a similar role, even though the expectations are different. That's why Vermette is a likely asset to be traded. GM's love defensive specialists but they don't necessarily like to overpay to get them.

Bryan Murray has a small window here where Vermette is still considered by many to have offensive potential. At the end of this year, if Vermette hasn't scored 25 goals (and he won't), his 3 million salary for next year will be unpalatable to both Ottawa and any other trade partners around the league.

If Vermette can somehow reform his image from an underachieving offensive guy to an underrated defensive force, he might still have a bright future in Bytown. But that money is a big stumbling block.


It's become Chris Neil's trademark to flash that toothless grin during every scrap he's in and tonight was no exception as he was smiling all the way through his fight with Chicago's Troy Brouwer after taking a healthy run at Patrick Kane. Then there's Jarkko Ruutu. He's always smiling too but he's got a full gleaming set of choppers that makes him look a little like a shark. That's got to be infuriating - a guy who's so chippy having a perfect grill. ....... There's a new book on the original dynastic Ottawa Senators called "Win, Tie or Wrangle" written by local hockey researcher Paul Kitchen. It's received at least one glowing review and hopefully it winds up under a few Christmas trees this year, including mine......... Chicago coach Joel Quennville is a pretty snappy dresser behind the bench. Purple shirt, metallic green tie. Almost as nice as his players who wear the nicest jersey's in the league...... Speaking of which, imagine if the Hawks designed a 3rd jersey where their side profile "Chief" was turned to stare straight out like the Senators current Spartan logo? It wouldn't happen because even a team with a stormy past like the Blackhawks know that tradition and simplicity far surpass gimmicks and endless alternate logos in building a brand. Someday the Senators will go back to their original side-profile logo and wonder why they ever changed in the first place. It's sad when you realize that teams like the Florida Panthers, the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes have more easily identifiable logos than the Senators. Are the Senators headed down the long and dirty road that the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks have trudged through over the years? Falling head over heels for every new trend that happens to come along? Man, we're already there.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Perpetual Road Trip On The Horizon

Putting Martin Gerber in the nets against Chicago on Wednesday night seems reasonable enough but the decision is also a risky one.

The game is not a must-win by any means but soon enough the Senators are going to be in a tough position schedule-wise.

Starting on December 23 in Philadelphia, the Senators are on the road for 8 straight games to make way for the World Junior Championships here in town. Unfortunately for Craig Hartsburg and company, only the Toronto Maple Leafs are considered somewhat of a soft-touch but the Senators have already lost to them once this season.

What's even worse is that the Senators are on the road for 11 of their next 14 games and also face two separate road trips of 5 and 6 games in February and March respectively.

The moral of the story?

The Senators need to rack up points right now because they are not the type of team that can win an upcoming 6 out of 8 on one road trip. It's just not going to happen.

When Gerber is in the net, who knows what the result will be? I doubt that he provides the best option to win the game but at some point, Alex Auld needs a break.

Now "Super Mario" gets his chance. But he better stop that first shot...


More problems for Senators fans. The game tomorrow night is on TSN 2, a channel that is not carried by Rogers Cable. It's not being shown on Centre Ice either. Maybe it's because I live in the city, but I don't know one person who uses satellite cable, which is the only way to watch the game.

Just add it to the already lengthy list of nights this year that fans haven't been able to watch their hometown team. It's starting to feel like we're the Bill Wirtz owned Chicago Blackhawks circa 2000.

At least us Rogers subscribers have about 30 Sportsnet regional channels all showing the same thing - poker and UFC.


I keep telling you, with Tampa falling apart, Ottawa should try to get their hands on Mark Recchi. If Ottawa moves a certain forward to get help on defence, Recchi would be the perfect replacement. He's fast, he's cheap, and he's got at least one more playoff run in him. He'd be a great replacement for Cory Stillman (who would have been useful in Ottawa this year) and the time and price couldn't be more right.


And for the record, yes, Glenn Kulka disparaged Jason Spezza today on Over The Edge, saying the youngster needs to do more for the team.

Four goals in two games doesn't provide a big opening for criticism but Kulka somehow managed to find the justification. Now that takes pure skill.

Congratulations Kulkster.

The sceptics said it couldn't be done. Even I thought you'd have to go at least one day without it.

But you showed them. Don't ever let the facts get in the way of a good ol' Spezza shitkicking.


In case you missed this, Sports Illustrated ranked the NHL's new third jersey's and Ottawa fared poorly, finishing 17th out of 19, just ahead of Atlanta and Dallas. Like everyone else, the main problem seems to be with the "Sens" patch on the front.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Minor Setback

I don't have much time to write anything lengthy after getting back from the game tonight, but it should be said that no one should be freaking out over the sudden-death loss to the Florida Panthers.

Ottawa played a strong game against an equally fired up Florida squad and hit a few posts while being the recipient of some bad calls (and more importantly, some non-calls in the third period).

Losing games you should have won is all just part of a long season. I saw nothing in their game that represented a step backwards but just a few bad bounces that made the difference.

Daniel Alfredsson in particular played an inspired game and the Big 3 looked dangerous all night. It was also nice to see Anton Volchenkov laying a couple of major hits, something that he has gotten away from in the last year or so.

But damn, that Jay Bouwmeester would sure look good in black and red...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Notes

For all the doubts that still exist about this Ottawa team, there is a palpable feeling right now that things are somehow different from the confused and unconfident group we saw at the start of the year.

Just listening to Daniel Alfredsson's post-game interview on the Team 1200 would have allayed the fears of even the most hardened pessimist.

He seemed almost jubilant at times but it wasn't just the afterglow of a single good game. You could hear the relief in his words as he traced back over the past 7 or so games and pointed out that there had only been one average effort in the whole lot and that was the loss against the Islanders last week.

When the captain is happy, the rest of the team must be too. For a change, they look like they are having fun again.

Despite everyone's brave words, it was clear that the negative atmosphere from the second half of last year was still weighing on the core players and that the new additions were too busy trying to adjust to a new team and city to do anything about it right away. But slowly, a hardened team is starting to emerge.

I really like how Craig Hartsburg is not too proud to change his mind, altering some concepts he brought in from the start.

The first was the idea that Martin Gerber was the number one goalie and that all he needed was a vote of confidence and a stretch of games to prove himself. Hartsburg let Gerber play himself out of the spot and that was that. Alex Auld has taken over and Hartsburg hasn't played around since. The rumours of trading for the expensive Nikolai Khabibulin seem almost absurd at this point.

Hartsburg also paid lip service to the notion of having to break up the top line to spread the offense around. Even when they were losing, he kept them apart to try and see if the team could come through it. When it became clear that this team needed some offense, he changed his course and now the Senators are inching their way up the standings.

Hartsburg could have extended the misery of this team if he was too hard-headed but he's shown that he's of the modern variety of coaches - adaptable and capable of motivating his players without resorting to the bag skates and the media call-outs (his early mistake of putting public heat on Spezza aside).

I said after the Atlanta win that the contest against the Penguins would be real test for this team and they came through with top marks. Now with some careful moves by Bryan Murray to bring in a little more skill, this team has the potential to do some damage down the line.


Eric Duhatschek has a good quote from Buffalo Sabres president Larry Quinn on how the NHL can break through into the American television market:

“I talked to the NFL guys last year,” said Quinn, “and I asked them: How did you change your game from the off-tackle, three-yard running play and scores that were 13-10 to what you have right now? And a wise old guy said to me: It's very simple. Roone Arledge walked down the street and said to Pete Rozelle one day: Listen, I have this idea. It's called Monday Night Football. I can make you lots and lots of money, but here's what I can sell: I can sell quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. That's what I can sell to the American public.

“Well, if you look at what we do, we sell goaltenders. I think it's fair to say, both Canadians and Americans, that's not what they love about the game. They love Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Guy LaFleur and Jean Beliveau.”

According to Kelly, if the NHL could get goal-scoring up in the seven-per-game range, that might be enough to make the long-awaited breakthrough on television in the United States."

He's right. The goalie worship, which started around the time Patrick Roy won his first Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986, is way overboard. How else can you explain Roberto Luongo, despite winning zilch in his NHL career, being more of a star than any single player on the Detroit Red Wings roster?


More goals might help the ratings, but is it too late for the Phoenix Coyotes? According to the Globe and Mail, the franchise is on the brink of bankruptcy. ... Jim Lang of Sportsnet actually hissed and booed at the Senators third jersey's when showing highlights of the Pens-Sens game this morning. Then again, this is the guy who thinks "slobberknocker" is a catchy phrase which must be repeated every time a home-run has to be described during the baseball season. ... Ron Maclean and company probably want their first-intermission commentary back as they went on and on about Jason Spezza using an all-composite stick and said it was the reason he was having trouble controlling the puck. Except Spezza uses a wooden blade jammed into a composite shaft and ended up with a hat-trick by the end of the afternoon. Whoops......While he had another great game, Spezza might have the ugliest moustache on the team. That thing is brutal.....If you ever feel the need to torture yourself, just listen to the post-game show on the Team 1200. It is the worst collection of phone callers outside of the weekday Over The Edge show. Unbelievably, people still found opportunities to vent their Spezza hate, saying that his latest scoring exploits only increases his trade value. .... How many of you at home for the game were contemplating making an irate phone call to CBC when 2:00 rolled around and they were still showing a curling match? Only a play or two was missed but you can bet that the Toronto Maple Leafs would never have to endure a similar problem. .... The Penguins are good now but wait until they get Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney back from injury. At that point, they may become Eastern Conference favourites.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sens Rink Sometimes A Danger Zone

With news that a guy fell out of the 300 section down into the 200's last night at Scotiabank Place, it brought me back 3 years to a story I actually had to cover for the Ottawa Xpress about a guy who took a flying hot dog in the eye from the "Master Blaster" of Spartacat.

Thankfully he ended up being okay but it might have been the funniest story I ever had to do. He was genuinely upset about the whole thing (and rightfully so) but I could barely keep a straight face during the interview. It was just so ridiculous.

"I took a hot dog bazooka right in the eye. It was wrapped in tin foil and a cup, I think, I don't know. I didn't even get the hot dog in the end. It landed in the aisle and someone must have grabbed it. The people sitting next to me were like 'Holy cow, are you all right?' because the impact was pretty loud. "

- Ottawa Xpress

The thing that breaks me up to this day is that he was so bummed that he didn't get to eat the hot-dog. He also resembled a certain singer of the band Journey. A real good guy with a really funny story.


It looks like the war is over. The Senators theme song is a goner and the ad-hoc campaign to keep it playing during the game openings is dying a slow death to the much flashier and hipper Rev Theory.

But for those who remember, and who want to relive the good ol' days, here's the MP3 of what is now just a dusty old relic.

It was corny, but it was ours.

Somewhere, a single tear falls down Jacques Martin's face.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Big Breakout

With the big win tonight, the Senators made their Long Island loss on Saturday look like a minor blip in their steady resurgence.

Losing on the road is a given for every team over the course of the season. But bouncing back with wins at home (albeit against a struggling Atlanta squad) shows some fortitude and the Senators may now be slowly turning things around with 3 straight home wins and 8 points out of a possible 12 in their last 6 games.

The big line really let loose tonight but they've accounted for nearly 50 percent of the team's goals all-season, so that's not so unexpected.

What really stood out was the play of guys like Jesse Winchester, Brendan Bell, Anton Volchenkov and Mike Fisher.

And let's not forget Shean Donovan who cranked a team high 7 shots at backup Ondrej Pavelec.

But no one should get too excited. People were on the ledge after Saturday's loss and they'll be popping the champagne tonight. But the real test will be Saturday's game against the Penguins who are now just starting to hit their stride after an uneven start.


I may owe Jesse Winchester an apology. Just a few posts ago I said that it might be inevitable that Winchester and Nick Foligno find themselves in the minors if the Senators trade for some veteran help. Then Winchester gets in two scraps and plays chippy all night, looking like a real NHL'er. What can I say? I was wrong. I still think Foligno might need time in the AHL but now he'll probably get a hat-trick on Saturday. That's life in the blog writing business ........ Jarkko Ruutu was a little quiet tonight and probably for good reason. Once Dany Heatley opened the scoring early in the first, it would have been counter-productive for Ruutu to wake up the Thrashers who were playing their second game in two nights. He'll be at his best on Saturday versus his old team, the Pens......... Not that Sidney Crosby will be intimidated by the likes of Ruutu. Crosby looked like he was going to drop the gloves with the Rangers Colton Orr tonight until Brooks Orpik stepped in. ............ For what it's worth, Christoph Schubert played really well tonight on defense, but so did everybody. He still might have a future with the team if injuries strike. You never know...... You want my take on the Avery thing? I agree with Matthew Barnaby from TSN in that he should have been fined and not suspended. "Sloppy seconds"? It was totally crude and stupid but is it worth all this fuss? Some newspapers wouldn't even print the words "sloppy seconds", instead using "ex-girlfriends" in its place. Really? But at the same time, I wouldn't want Avery on my team. He's amusing when he's somebody else's problem.......... Now that the Senators have won, what are they going to talk about on Over The Edge tomorrow (today)? Who are they going to tell to work harder? Who are they going to demand to be benched?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Roberts and Recchi a Good Fit For Ottawa

I know that Ottawa has much bigger needs than a couple of past-their-prime warriors, but down in Tampa, Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi only make 1.25 million each this season.

With Tampa sinking even faster than the Senators, could either one of these veterans be plied away for a bargain? Perhaps for a Christoph Schubert who would be able to rejoin his best friend Andrej Meszaros in the Sunshine State?

Recchi (who is having a great year and inspiring his teammates) can still skate and would look good on the second power-play unit. Roberts ... well, he's 42 and injured but he might still have one more playoff run in him.

I know, I know, it's crazy. Players like Nick Foligno and Jesse Winchester would probably get less time or even be sent to the minors.

But if Bryan Murray is going the character and experience route, he couldn't do better than these two. And they might just be available, given that Tampa seems eager to make move after move.

I'm just saying, that's all...

Roy's Right

As usual, Roy MacGregor is right on the money in his Saturday column for the Globe and Mail.

It's nice to see someone with a real writing job inject some sanity and intelligence into the Senators universe where skill has been on a rapid decline, partly driven by irrational fan antagonism towards star players in the red and black.

Now Roy is not saying that players like Alexei Yashin and Alex Daigle should have been retained. Far from it. But that's where the root of the deep distrust of skilled players began in Ottawa. In particular, the deep scars in the fans psyche from Yashin's no shows in the playoffs (remember 2001 and the Shayne Corson shadow) are still being felt today. Only Daniel Alfredsson has escaped the wrath of the fans, and even he just barely survived.

I feel comfortable in saying a majority of fans wanted Alfredsson out of town as late as December 2006. When the Over The Edger's (my new euphemism for the legions of reactionary Sens fans, aptly named after the equally obnoxious local radio show) finally run Jason Spezza out of town, Dany Heatley will be the next to get the knife in the back.

Count on it.

Most people have already forgotten that Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley all tied for the playoff point lead during this team's ONLY Stanley Cup run but at least two of them are still having their manhood questioned by mobs of short-attention spanners.

As Roy pointed out in his article, maybe fans really do get the team they deserve.


I've said it before, but one of the best hockey books ever written is MacGregor's "Road Games", chronicling the Senators disastrous first season in the NHL. It's a must read for Senators fans. If you think the team is in the dumper right now ....

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Notes

If (or as some believe, when) the Senators don't make the playoffs this year, they might look at their record against the Islanders and realize that's where those important points slipped away.

Coming into this campaign, the Senators had only lost 11 times in their whole existence to the Islanders but now they've lost their last three and 4 out of 5 going back to last season.

And this is an Islander team currently without Rick DiPietro and Mike Comrie. Something is still not right here.

I'm not sure that there is any sort of scoring slump to break out of. Outside of the Big 3, nobody on this team seems capable of pitching in consistently.

And you can't blame the loss on the Big 3 here either. They did their part. They were responsible for both of the Senators goals. But who's helping them out?

Antoine Vermette is a lost cause and now possibly untradeable. Mike Fisher is playing great and is probably the hardest working guy out there. But he's not a natural goal-scorer. He contributes in other ways although Bryan Murray has put him in a position (second-line centre) to fail even if he plays his best.

Then you go to....

Wait. There's no one else on this team who is even expected to reach 40 to 50 points.

Maybe that's the problem.


I am already sick of the Brian Burke story. I have nothing against the guy but today's Sun has two articles on the guy who (as Al Strachan likes to point out) "invented hockey". That matches the amount of stories they have on the Ottawa Senators.

Hey, in a town that allows its own captain to be booed by Leaf fans in their own rink, I guess that's just the way she goes.


The latest media tirade against Jason Spezza came from Bobby Clarke. He complained that players don't fear playing against Spezza because he can only make you look bad by "making plays" but won't lay a hand on anyone.

What, you mean like Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, Mike Modano, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Pat Lafontaine, Ron Francis, Joe Sakic, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Elias and Jaromir Jagr?

If it was good enough for them, why not Spezza?

Bobby Clarke is full of shit and always has been.

This is the same guy who said about his head coach Roger Neilson, who was stricken with cancer in 2000:

"The Neilson situation - Roger got cancer - that wasn't our fault. We didn't tell him to go get cancer. It's too bad that he did. We feel sorry for him, but then he went goofy on us."

How is anyone supposed to take him seriously after that?

And where is Bryan Murray? This guy should be dropping a few F-Bombs on Clarke to the media in defense of his star player.

Could you imagine guys like Pat Quinn, Glen Sather or Brian Burke allowing Clarke to get away unscathed after having their star players ripped like that?

Murray loves to be blunt with the media only when he's ripping his own team. He doesn't seem prepared to defend them in the same manner.

And that's pretty soft, don't you think?


Brian Lee still doesn't look right out there. And I don't think he'd fare too well in a moustache growing competition......... Contrary to public opinion, Nick Foligno is having a bad year. He's got great character but is he really an NHL forward on a majority of other NHL rosters? I doubt it. He needs more playing time and that can only come in the AHL. But what other options do the Senators have right now?..... Mike Fisher really impressed me the last two games with his forechecking and gutsy effort. Whatever rumours are out there about trading this guy should go away. Fast.......... A lot of people are upset about another Senator game not being shown on Hockey Night In Canada but can you blame them? The games this year are as boring as any New Jersey or Columbus sludge-fest....... Islander rookie Josh Bailey seemed afraid to make eye contact with Jarkko Ruutu after getting a stick in the back as the two were coming off the ice at the same time. His expression was priceless, as if to say "Who the hell is this guy and why is he smiling at me like that?"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday Notes

Now that Alex Picard is out of the lineup with a jammed wrist, call-up Brian Lee has a chance to show that he belongs in the Senators organization and to make management think twice about including him in a package for an established NHL power-play quarterback.

There is no doubt that the Senators have been disappointed in Lee this year after a poor training camp and an even worse stretch of games in the regular season that saw him get booted back to Bingo to get his game - and head - in shape.

After looking solid during his late season call-up last year, Lee seemed afraid of the puck and afraid of taking a hit in the new campaign and did nothing to stop the criticisms that Ottawa blew their 2005 draft where they chose Lee over the likes of Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal, the late Luc Bourdon, Ryan Parent and even Steve Downie.

Bryan Murray has since revamped his scouting staff after taking over from John Muckler and Brian Lee doesn't seem to fit the Murray mould. Not helping Lee is the fact that he only has 1 goal and 5 assists in 16 games with Bingo since being demoted. That's simply average and that's not going to get Lee a permanent spot in Ottawa.

I think that the team is already looking to the arrival of Erik Karlsson rather than waiting for Lee to suddenly transform into a saviour on the blueline. Lee is a player that the Senators might regret trading but he has some value right now.

It's up to Murray to decide if he wants to cash in on Lee now for some immediate help or be patient and play the waiting game.

I'm not saying it's a make or break game for Lee, but if he doesn't play well, he might not get a chance to do so in a Senators uniform again.


Also called up was Zack Smith, who has exceeded expectations and might be the most NHL-ready Senators prospect in Bingo if you listen to management. He leads the B-Sens with 9 goals and is 6th amongst AHL rookies in points. But the word is that Smith will only play if Shean Donovan is out with one of those ridiculous undisclosed upper-body injuries. If teams are allowed to get away without telling anyone what the injuries are, why do they even have to disclose if it's an upper or lower body injury?

Why can't they call an ankle sprain a concussion? If they are allowed to half-lie to the media and thus the fans, you might as well let them go all the way.

It's a joke.


I'm not sure if Luke Richardson is planning to shave off his team-bonding moustache now that he's been forced into retirement but is there anything more symbolic (and genuinely sad) than the idea of Richardson standing in front of a mirror shaving it off and knowing that he's crossed over to the other side?

He's had a great career and it would be especially nice if the Senators organization honoured him with a video presentation similar to what they did for Wade Redden at their next home game.

I know he was only with Ottawa for a year and bit but he's a homegrown player and it would be a classy move by the Senators.

To be honest, I'm getting the chills just thinking about it. But then again, I'm the guy who cried like a little boy when the Rangers retired Mark Messier's number. And when they brought him back from Vancouver. And when he started crying at Gretzky's Ranger retirement. Basically every time he has to try and get through a press conference.

Did I ever tell you that Mess is my favourite player of all-time?


Richardson was involved in a nasty confrontation while with the Leafs when Minnesota North Star Dino Ciccarelli was criminally charged after hitting Luke over the head with his stick in 1988.

One of my favourite quotes of all-time came from Dino describing his brief two hour stint in jail after being found guilty.

"The first thing I saw was a big fat cop eating a jelly donut. Then I stood around signing autographs for the other poor guys in there."

Check out a series I ran last year of Classic NHL Quotes over the years right here.


Sergei Samsonov scored the overtime winner for Carolina against Philadelphia last night but it was only his second goal of the season.

It's been a long time since Samsonov and Joe Thornton came into the league together with Boston after being taken only 7 picks apart in the 1997 draft. After Samsonov won the Calder trophy as best rookie while Thornton struggled to a 3 goal, 7 point performance, some were saying that Samsonov would turn out to be the real superstar.

Boston cashed in on Samsonov's potential at just the right time. As part of the package from Edmonton, they got the Oilers 2nd round choice who they used to pick Milan Lucic.

That might be one of the reasons (along with the Dustin Penner mistake) that Kevin Lowe was pushed out of hockey operations into the President' s role earlier this year.


Speaking of the Flyers, their throwback 3rd jersey's are the nicest in the league next to the Oilers and the Islanders vintage sweaters.

I really love the vintage all-white nameplates too.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Even The Political Junkies Are Coming Down On The Senators

You could look long and hard but you will not find a more frank or critical piece written on the Ottawa Senators and their recent history than the sledgehammer that Jeffrey Simpson brought down today in the Globe and Mail.

Perhaps it takes the perspective of the outsider which might be the reason that no local beat writer has taken on the task of penning such a thought out and all-encompassing take on the Senators precipitous drop of the last two seasons.

Jeffrey Simpson is not usually a hockey writer, in fact he's a "national affairs columnist", but you wouldn't know it by the depth of his knowledge on the Senators and their recent travails. Some might be tempted to tell Simpson to "stick to his knitting", but when a writer of his stature drops an atomic bomb on a team from out of nowhere, it’s something that should be taken notice of.

I agree with a lot of what Simpson says here and I have written about many of these issues in the past but I also think he went too far in some cases and I’ll point them out as we go.

There is so much to wade through here that I thought I’d go through some of the main points of the story, line by line. You might not have the patience for this sort of thing but during a slow week, I think that this type of story merits attention.


Jeffrey Simpson: “They have burned through two coaches — John Paddock and Bryan Murray — and are not responding for the third, Craig Hartsburg. He whips them like a mule, but a mule is a mule. It can speed up a little under the whipping, but it remains a mule.

The Senators won Saturday 4-1 against the New York Rangers, offering a spirited effort. They won the only way they can, given a limited amount of talent, playing a chip-and-chase game and outworking their opponents.

The days of a fast, skilled Senators team are over. Apart from the trio of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, they have nothing but pluggers up

Black Aces: I think Simpson might be exaggerating for effect when he says “a mule is a mule” in the case of the Senators, but in essence, he’s right. Hard work can take you far but you need skill to win in the NHL, especially when most teams play very similar systems. The Senators can probably scrape into the playoffs if they play extremely hard-nosed every night but that very fact makes them just one of many teams in the same position. The last team to win a Cup without an elite defenseman was Carolina but they made up for that with a team deep in forwards who could score.

Lumping Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette in with the “pluggers” is probably unfair but they have to take the criticism because they haven’t produced this season.

As for Simpson’s suggestion that the players aren’t responding to Hartsburg, I think he’s dead wrong. Not since Jacques Martin has this team played in such a structured way (in stretches, mind you). If anything, Bryan Murray just took off the reins when he came in and was able to win games on pure skill alone. John Paddock was a complete disaster in his short time as head coach and it would take someone more knowledgeable than me to figure out what kind of system he wanted to implement, other than to play the Big 3 to death.

Hartsburg’s challenge is much bigger than his predecessors and he deserves more time to mould this team in his image.

Simpson: “Senators fans are smart. They can see the team for what it is, a shadow of yesteryear's dynamic units, crippled by a long series of management errors under general managers John Muckler and Murray that have finally caught up to the franchise.

It's a team with only three bona fide scorers, two backup goalies, four sixth defencemen, no speed on the back end, little secondary scoring, not much size and, chillingly, little help on the farm.”

Black Aces: Senators fans are smart? If they were so smart, why are they so outraged at the play of the team thus far? Smart fans would recognize that losing Andrej Meszaros and Wade Redden without proper replacements would mean trouble. Instead, these fans cheered those moves and were dumbfounded when the team couldn’t move the puck efficiently through the neutral zone with solid passes that were once taken for granted. These are the same fans who want to trade Jason Spezza every time the team loses. They once wanted to trade Daniel Alfredsson too.

Smart fans? Please. (I’m mostly talking about the vocal minority of insane callers to the Over The Edge show on the Team 1200. I realize most real fans don’t bother writing blogs or calling radio programs.)

Simpson says that the team has “four sixth defenseman”. I’m not sure out of the three who he’s describing as a sixth defenseman – Chris Phillips, Filip Kuba or Anton Volchenkov but he’s wrong on any one of them. I would call them all third or fourth defenseman and that’s no disrespect. It’s just that they’re not elite offensive players although Kuba has surprised everyone with his point production.

Simpson: “The start-again strategy would require a new general manager. One intriguing choice would be Steve Yzerman, who played some hockey before turning professional in Ottawa and is popular in the city.”

Black Aces: Wow. That name, Steve Yzerman, just sort of jumps out at you and until Simpson said it, I haven’t heard his name linked to Ottawa in even the wildest of rumours. Obviously it’s just speculation on Simpson’s part, but if ever Melnyk decided to change GM’s, wouldn’t Yzerman be a perfect fit in this town?

To be clear, I don’t think that Bryan Murray deserves to be fired and one of the positives is that he’s managed to lock up the core of the team to long contracts. Some might see that as a negative but it will probably pay off down the road, especially when Alfredsson departs in four years. Spezza and Heatley are still young and will be playing in their prime for the Senators for years to come. That alone will give them a chance to win every year.

Simpson: “Muckler had inherited a brilliant team and proceeded to erode its foundations. Sami Salo, still a top-four defenceman for Vancouver, was traded for Peter Schaefer, who is no longer in the league. He blew the draft after the lockout, in which the Senators got a huge break by picking ninth. He selected Brian Lee, who remains in the minor leagues, while passing on other players such as Marc Staal and Anze Kopitar, now young stars. …

Chara, Redden, Havlat, Corvo, Eaves. For these players, the Senators have nothing to show today. No team so mismanaged can remain competitive. Coming up empty for these five, coupled with indifferent draft picks, plus those end-of-season Muckler trades, meant that past mistakes suddenly caught up with the Senators.”

Black Aces: It’s easy for Simpson to look back at the Salo trade now and say it was a bad move but Schaefer was a good pickup who was effective for a number of years in a defensive role and occasionally on offense. Salo was injury prone when he was traded and the Senators didn’t suffer on the backend as they had the likes of Chara and Redden in the mix with a young Volchenkov and Meszaros soon on the way. If no one had ever heard of a salary cap, then yes, the trade looks bad now. But they got good mileage out of Schaefer and they still have Shean Donovan so it hasn’t been a complete wash like the brutal Havlat deal or the Chara free-agency loss.

I do agree with Simpson on Muckler though. The seeds of the fall were planted in that brief era when he let Chara go for nothing. If Muckler had kept Chara, maybe Bryan Murray, his successor, would have been forced to play hardball with Mike Fisher or even trade him to stay under the cap, but this team would be in much better shape regardless.

Simpson: “So did the demise of Ray Emery, the goalie who showed promise of evolving perhaps into a solid No. 1, only to play himself out of the league through what are euphemistically called "off-ice" distractions. He is now playing in Russia.”

Black Aces: Simpson only devotes one line to Ray Emery. And that’s probably about all it deserved. Emery might have been the biggest scapegoat in recent NHL memory and the overblown fuss about his “antics” last year were mind-boggling. Emery didn’t help himself but the local media went out of their way to destroy this guy. Now it’s on to Spezza I guess.

Simpson: “Gerber had played for Anaheim when Murray ran that organization. Apparently, he liked Gerber and argued for signing him to the albatross contract.”

Black Aces: I’m not sure if Simpson has some insider information on this one but it seems strange to blame Murray for Muckler’s mistake just because Gerber and Murray once worked together. Murray has enough on his plate and can’t be blamed for this contract. He also brought in Alex Auld who is playing great right now so it sort of makes the Gerber problem moot at this point.

Simpson: “The team will not make the playoffs with the current mess, so existing or new management either has to make short-term trades to try for rapid, if ephemeral, improvement; or clean house, fall further to the bottom, and try to put together in three-to-five years the kind of team that not so long ago was the envy of the league.”

Black Aces: “Cleaning house” doesn’t seem to be a logical option at this point. The Senators have a trio of forwards in Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson that are at an elite level. You could never get full value in a trade for either of those players. The way forward is to build around them.

The Senators are still a valid team to make the playoffs in their current form if they scratch and bite for the rest of the season and keep to Hartsburg’s defensive game plan. But they need a few vital upgrades to turn into a challenger. You’d be surprised the difference a real puck-mover would make on the back end for this team - on the power-play and in 5 on 5 situations.

If Auld can keep playing well, they could do some damage in a playoff series. In a way, the Senators are a bit like the Toronto teams who used to knock them off in the earlier part of the decade – a couple of high end skill guys surrounded by a lunch-pail crew with tons of character and a few irritating pests for good measure.

There are worse places to be.

Like Tampa.

At least the Senators don't have their nickname on the front of their...errr.. nevermind.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lemaire Rips Goalies ... and Liam Macguire Calls Hossa a Prostitute

Here's one I didn't see coming:

Ultra-defensive Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire has come out swinging against the goaltenders of the NHL and their (still) gargantuan equipment:

"Now you look at the goalie, they look like they are going to war,” Lemaire said. "The game has changed because of the goaltender equipment. It's not because the guy is tall. Ken Dryden was 6-foot-3. He was a big guy. But when you looked at him, he looked like that lamp stand over there -- thin. That's how he looked (to opponents)." ...

"It's not for protection," Lemaire said. "It's to stop the puck. If it's for protection, they can get a lot smaller. Ever hear of Kevlar? Stops bullets. Let's go to the police station and get them vests. They'll all be OK."

- NHL.Com

Go to the police station and get them vests? Amazing.

Every blogger or fan sort of has their own personal pet peeve that they keep on about incessantly and mine has always been the ridiculous goalie equipment and the snails pace that the league is going at to change it.

According to Kay Whitmore, the league's goalie supervisor, it now looks like the NHL is about to make a bigger step next year in that they will judge the legality of equipment based on the individual goalie's size and not league-wide maximums.

"There will be more changes next year with more proportional fittings for protection only. We have to get back to the beginning of what equipment was for in the first place."


Not sure how many heard it in Ottawa but "trivia expert" Liam MacGuire was on the afternoon call-in show and called Marian Hossa a "hockey prostitute" for signing with Detroit instead of Pittsburgh.

If Hossa was a "prostitute", why would he have only accepted a one-year deal in Detroit instead of the other major offers that were on the table? I guess you could call it a one-night stand but...come on Liam.

That was brutal.

Macguire also managed to call Andrei Kostitsyn something that sounded like "Kozeenittsen" (obviously on purpose), belittled Zdeno Chara for not fighting Georges Laraque the other night (after Milan Lucic turned him down) and said that he doesn't like the Red Wings.

Anti-Euro bias perhaps?

Anyone who has had the distinction of listening to the trivia whiz when he makes his infrequent visits to the booth knows that he's more of a Euro-baiter than Don Cherry. Yet Cherry somehow manages to entertain while MacGuire just sounds like a redneck with an ugly disposition.

It's too bad because he's great at telling stories about old-time hockey. But I guess they didn't have many Euro's then.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Notes

He had only one assist in the game but is there any doubt that Jarkko Ruutu was the real star of the Senators win over the Rangers yesterday afternoon?

That shark-like grin never left his face all day as he drove players like Paul Mara and Colton Orr to outright attack him and take ill-advised penalties, the first of which directly resulted in Jason Spezza's game opening goal to put the Rangers on their backs right away.

Even the linesman got in their physical shots at Ruutu after he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for hitting Mara near the end of the first period. Right after the hit, one of the linesman freaked out and threw Ruutu to the ice and gave him a few spirited shoves once he had him pinned. Now that's called being an "agitator".


As for the new sweaters, I'm probably with the majority of "Senators" fans in that I find the word "Sens" on the front to be the weakest part of the jersey. I can understand that the organization didn't want to put an "O" on the front to avoid people calling it a "zero", as in "zero Stanley Cups", "zero character", "zero fun" or whatever the current criticism will be.

But the "Sens" script is somewhat weak and they could have went for the often used but still sharp Ranger design which spells out the whole team name on a sharp angle down the front.

I do like the stripes on the elbows - it's almost barberpole style if you look real quick - and they finally fixed their damn socks by dumping the grotesque "Tron" style angles they use for their regular outfits. This time, the stripes go all the way around and look like real NHL uniforms instead of gimmicky minor league fashion statements

It's not a disaster by any means but it's not a home run either. Black seems to look good on the Senators and unlike the other teams who switch to black for their third jersey's (dulling the league's look in the process), the Senators can lay claim to it being one of their original colours.


I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Wade Redden got a modest standing ovation to congratulate him on 11 great years with the team. If you were listening to call-in radio shows, reading blogs or scouring Senators message boards, you'd think fans were ready to throw batteries at the guy from the stands but it's a good reminder that the vast majority of Senators followers don't feel the need to write blogs or call the radio shows. They watch the games, go to work the next day and get on with their lives.

Something we might all need to do huh?


Ilya Zubov got sent down to Bingo and it wasn't because he played badly or because one of Chris Neil or Mike Fisher made a miraculous recovery. The Senators don't play again until next Thursday and they get to save a little cash with Zubov off the payroll.

The conspiracy theorists might say that the Senators could be interested in Wade Belak who was put on waivers by the Florida Panthers yesterday. Belak, known as a really good locker room guy, could provide that missing muscle on the fourth line and (now we're really stretching) be a familiar face for Mats Sundin when he decides to pick the Senators.

Far fetched? Definitely. But not impossible. The Senators would get one of the first dibs on Belak because of their lowly position in the standings.


You think the Big 3 have it tough being the only real scoring option on the Senators this year? Imagine being Rick Nash in Columbus or Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta over the past few years.

The strange thing is that neither of those players are actually leading their team in scoring. In Columbus, youngster Derrick Brassard has one more point than Nash and in Atlanta, Kovalchuk is tied for the team lead with the ancient Slava Kozlov and the 21 year old Bryan Little.

How long until both Nash and Kovalchuk get worn down by all the losing? Maybe we're already seeing the signs.


The biggest moment so far in the season has to be Milan Lucic of the Bruins beating the tar out of Mike Komisarek on November 13.

Since then, the Bruins are running the board and the Canadiens are falling apart. Georges Laraque tried to goad Lucic into a fight last night but the young Cam Neely clone wisely declined and ended up scoring a big goal later in the game. It was revealed afterwards that coach Claude Julien told Lucic not to fight anybody.

“Do you think we’re going to send him against probably the toughest guy in the league?” said Julien, who told Lucic before the game not to fight. “I know Georges Laraque was doing that because he was told to. Georges is not that type of guy. He respects the young kids, he knows what it’s all about. There was no way it was going to happen.”