Monday, March 31, 2008

Some Senators Playing For Contracts Down The Stretch

Here's a quick look at the Ottawa Senators players who will become unrestricted free agents this coming summer and their chances (going into the playoffs) of getting another contract from the team.

Chris Kelly

Kelly’s stats are down from last year but some might say that’s because he didn’t have a very defined role under John Paddock who coached most of the season. There was also a long period of time when Kelly played in place of an injured Jason Spezza in 2007 and to expect him to match those offensive numbers this year might be a little much.

Regardless, Kelly is a perfect third line penalty killer and should be kept if his salary demands don’t rise above the 2 – 2.5 million mark.

Shean Donovan

Almost a complete bust under the Paddock regime, Donovan seems to be thriving while playing under Bryan Murray’s tutelage, showing the speed and tenacity he was once known for across the league. Donovan is on pace for his lowest point total since 2000 but he will be given another opportunity to impress during the playoffs when guys of his ilk seem to matter more than in the regular season.

The jury is still out but at his salary, Donovan is a risk free signing and may stick around next year if no youngsters step up to replace him.

Randy Robitaille

The journeyman centre hasn’t even convinced anyone that he should be in the lineup every game let alone get another contract. Passive and invisible some games, Robitaille has the ability to get streaky and pop a few goals in before going away again. He is also small and shies away from physical play. He doesn’t even seem to enjoy himself out there. The only player who smiles less is Markus Naslund in Vancouver.

There is no way that Robitaille should be kept in the fold. He has probably played his way out of the league at this point.

Martin Lapointe

The ex-Red Wing brings 2 Stanley Cup rings to the dressing room and has been fairly decent in his short time with the team despite having lost about two steps since his glory days. He is still a tough player and the Senators can use more like him. Unfortunately, it looks like Lapointe’s days are done in the NHL and expect him to retire a Senator this summer.

Cory Stillman

Since coming from Carolina, Stillman has 18 points in 22 games and there’s not much more you can ask for than that. Given that Stillman has already expressed his desire to stay in Bytown, there’s a good chance that Bryan Murray will make him an offer this summer. Making just under $2 million this season, Stillman won’t be getting a large raise but he’s a good option to keep some secondary offense on this team for next season. Depending on how you rate Jesse Winchester, there isn’t any immediate offensive help on the way from the farm.

Wade Redden

Everybody is convinced that Redden is as good as gone – and they’re probably right, but there are signs that Redden may extend his stay in Ottawa. Murray has already suggested that he may try to keep him despite asking him to waive his no-trade clause twice. Redden has also shown that he wants to stay in town.

As long as that stays consistent, Redden might surprise everyone and stay right where he is. He isn’t the same player he once was but he’s not as bad as the reactionary fans claim him to be. He can still run a play from the backend but seems physically shy since the new rules came into effect a few years ago where forwards are allowed to rush into the zone unimpeded. This might be a case of “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone”. If Brian Lee continues to play well, that hurts Redden’s cause significantly.

Luke Richardson

Ottawa’s own version of Reggie Dunlop has played way better than expected but it looks like he’s beginning to wear down as the season comes to a close. The question of re-signing Luke is not even realistic. He won’t be wearing a Senators sweater next year, or any NHL sweater. Look for Luke to perhaps get into coaching, maybe even as an assistant with Ottawa depending on who comes in to take over the head job.

Mike Commodore

This is a guy the Senators should do everything in their power to get under contract, despite his penchant for underwhelming everyone thus far. He will be cheap and has always been dependable throughout his career. The Senators should be getting bigger on their back end and losing Commodore won’t help that cause. He’s a proven winner and a future fan favourite.

The only problem is that Commodore isn’t sure he can play the Senators system and has said so publicly. It probably didn’t help that all hell broke loose in the organization right after he was acquired. First impressions are significant.

Senators On The Verge With Gerber

What is Bryan Murray supposed to do now? His choice of Martin Gerber to be the team’s number one goalie had some positive effect on the team in the short term, but now the ship is starting to list.

Despite fan rantings to the contrary, the defensive play of the Senators has vastly improved of late. When Murray did the unthinkable by breaking up Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov, the resulting new pairings have looked rock-solid at times with most of the egregious giveaways being committed by the forwards trying to help clear the puck out of the zone. Mike Commodore and Andre Meszaros are a great fit as is Wade Redden and Volchenkov. Murray now has balance on all three units, with offensive players buttressed by defensive ones. Right now Luke Richardson is the odd man out but he might play better in spot duty anyways.

But then it all comes back to goaltending doesn’t it? Murray was so adamant about Gerber being the number one guy that Ray Emery started collecting dust on the bench and his game is nowhere near where it should be in case Gerber gets injured, or worse, collapses in the playoffs.

And make no mistake. Martin Gerber is a disaster waiting to happen for the Ottawa Senators.

He’s certainly a fan favourite right now, but how much of that is due to the fans rejecting the “antics” of Emery en masse? It’s hard to fathom how anyone can have so much confidence in a goalie with one playoff victory in his entire career and a history of folding under pressure in almost every situation.

Yet Murray has chosen his man and he will have to live with the consequences. It’s hard to fault Murray as he seemed more preoccupied with putting the Emery media circus in the rear-view mirror. Starting Gerber in every single game but one since he took over was the way he did it… and it worked. There has hardly been a whisper about Ray except for the usual knife-in-the-back jabs from a still morally outraged Bruce Garrioch.

But what if the team has to go back to Emery to salvage their season? It shouldn’t surprise anyone if this becomes a real situation. Emery is the most successful goalie the Senators have ever had. Yet John Paddock very early in the season decided to stick with Gerber once Emery was healthy and we all know what happened after that.

Both Ray Emery and the Ottawa Senators organization have made some colossal mistakes this season. But they may need each other in the end anyways.

Clearly, the pressure is on Gerber to step up and start stealing some games the way every number one goalie does from time to time when his team is slumping.

The question is, does Gerber have what it takes? Has he ever?
It's not too late for him to turn around his reputation and live up to his billing. But who's willing to put money on it?
Not me.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Two Faces Of Patrick Roy

Patrick Roy is the new convenient target for the anti-fighting interests in the NHL and there has been a colossal amount of newsprint dedicated to the now infamous scrap between the Remparts (who Roy coaches) and Chicoutimi in the Quebec juniors.

But the single best article has been written by legendary journalist Red Fisher of the Montreal Gazette and I highly urge you to take a look and see a master at work.

Fisher captures the strange dichotomy of Roy's personality like no one else. I don't agree with Fisher that Roy is ineligible to get his jersey retired in Montreal but he makes some good points.

"Roy was a man of many faces throughout his brilliant career. Pleasant one minute, a mean, arrogant and unforgiving SOB the next. The Patrick Roy who came to play and to win every night could be abrasive, controlling and vindictive, but that does not diminish his accomplishments. His NHL-high 551 wins speak for him, as does his four Stanley Cups (two with the Canadiens and two with Colorado), three Conn Smythe trophies and three Vezinas. ...

Early in the 1998-99 season, a furious Roy smashed two television sets and a VCR in the visiting coaches' office in Anaheim. The reason: he was not credited with a victory because he was pulled by first-year coach Bob Hartley. Even though he did not face one shot, backup Craig Billington got the win because he was in net when the winning goal was scored. Roy lost it again when the Denver Post reported the incident and falsely accused Valeri Kamensky of leaking the story. That led to a lengthy meeting between Roy, Kamensky, the player's agent and reporter Adrian Dater, who wrote the story. "

Then Fisher goes on to talk about Roy doing something really great for a sick young boy and even Fisher doesn't pretend to understand the split-persona that he's writing about.
Getting off Roy for a moment - About six years ago I was in the Ottawa bus terminal waiting in line for a Greyhound to Montreal. Suddenly I realized that Red Fisher was standing right in front of me, waiting for the same bus.

The first thing that popped into my head was, "Why the hell is Hall of Famer Red Fisher taking the bus?" and the second was that I should say something to him. I was going to Concordia University at the time for journalism and he was one of my biggest idols.

But I decided not to bother him. The weird thing is that Fisher looked incredibly vital for his age, despite being short and wearing the craziest pair of coke bottle glasses left on the planet earth. On television he looks like a mix between Woody Allen and Spencer Tracy but in real life he looked like he could break my neck if he wanted to.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Major Rule Changes Coming ... Goalies Main Target

Al Strachan made an appearance on The Spin last night (a show on The Score) with host Steve Kouleas and outlined some of the many rule changes the NHL is looking to make next year and one rule change that the NHLPA is fighting like hell to get passed.

Rightfully so, the NHL is set to put a target on the ever-ballooning goalies.

Strachan pointed out that there are serious discussions taking place that would see the goalies banned from playing the puck at any point behind the goal line.
Yes, that would mean the trapezoid would be eradicated and the netminders would be forced to intercept pucks they want to play ahead of the goal line. Any infraction would be a 2 minute penalty.

Strachan said that this rule had been discussed before and that the trapezoid was instituted as a compromise because teams that had strong puck playing goalies (Dallas, New Jersey) were selfishly opposed to the change. Now that almost every goalie coming into the league can play the puck as well as everyone else, no team is going to be adversely effected more than another and thus the GM’s are prepared to bite the bullet “for the good of the game”.

There is also an interesting rule change proposed that would see goalies forced to play the puck (instead of freezing it for a faceoff) on shots that come from outside the offensive zone.
That means that goalies will not be able to stop the play when an opposing team shoots the puck in and beats the defending team to the net. If the goalie does not keep the puck in play, a 2 minute Delay of Game penalty would be assessed. Strachan noted that teams will change their strategy if this rule comes into effect by sending wobbly, off-speed bouncing pucks in from the blueline and skating hard by the defence who won’t be able to rely on their goalie stopping the play by collapsing.

The next change Strachan thinks is a done deal is that after a penalty call, the ensuing faceoff will take place in the offending teams zone no matter where on the ice the play was whistled down.
The thinking behind this is that teams who take a penalty sometimes get off easy when the faceoff takes place in the neutral zone. This will allow teams on the power-play to more fully maximize their opportunities. Right now, some believe too much time is spent just trying to get set up in the offensive zone. Undoubtedly this will result in more goals, something the league is pushing for.

The goalie equipment is set to shrink again and Strachan says that the upper body armour will be the main area targeted. He also said that the leg pads will be shrunk “another few inches”. The NHL plans to force the goalies on this one, using the threat of bigger nets to back down the very vocal and powerful goaltender fraternity. Black Aces suggests that those insanely huge catching gloves be reduced to at least 1/3rd their current size. Why do goalies need bigger gloves than baseball catchers? It’s an absolute joke.

And lastly, Strachan suggested that the NHLPA is adamant that the league institute no-touch icing strictly as a safety issue for its members. New NHLPA boss Paul Kelly is said to be pushing extremely hard for this despite stubborn opposition from NHL GM’s.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Hockey News Weighs In On Emery ... And You'd Be Surprised

The "Bible of Hockey" has centred their coverage this week around the Ottawa Senators with Jason Kay and senior writer Mike Brophy weighing in on the misadventures of Eugene (What Fraud?) Melnyk's boys.

Perhaps the most controversial piece is Editor Jason Kay's column. Kay is probably the first national writer to give Ray Emery the benefit of the doubt and see through the massively overblown media circus that has engulfed the 25 year old goalie.

From The Hockey News (Jason Kay):

"Somewhere, somehow, Emery has become the greatest "scourge" in Ottawa since Alexei Yashin; an individual so contagious with disease, he has single-handedly dragged a championship-calibre team to mediocrity. ...

But if, as we suspect, this story has cascaded from a leaky faucet into Niagara Falls, could somebody please call a plumber?

We don't doubt Emery has caused a distraction in a dressing room anxious for a turnaround, but in this industry, rumors, innuendo and "true stories" tend to balloon like a baseball player on HGH. ... Fans and the media ... love to look for scapegoats, something with horns on which to hang juicy stories. ...

The players may not be able to control their netminder, but they can control how they feel about it and how they react to it. Using it as an excuse for the team's second half swoon is lame and, quite frankly, wearisome."

If anything, it's refreshing to hear a pundit have a rational take on the Emery situation. It's not a popular position to infer that Emery is anything but Satan himself and I get reminded of this every time I write about it with people calling me an idiot in the comments section and filling my email box with suggestions that are... well, impossible.

Conventional wisdom and popular opinion are a funny thing. You either get on board with the screaming masses or you get scalped by insane Martin Gerber fans out to squash any dissident opinion.

The only thing keeping Yashin the all-time goat in Senators history is the fact that some lunatics in Arnprior actually burned Yashin in effigy in 2000.

Some will call that passion. I call that "stay away from Arnprior...forever."

Winchester Skates, Redden Still Out

According to TSN, newly signed Jesse Winchester skated with the Ottawa Senators today at practice and might even get into Thursday's rematch against Buffalo.

Who would sit? Has to be Randy Robitaille who didn't do much last night after playing uncharacteristically physical against Montreal on Monday. The only snag is that Winchester is still recovering from a shoulder he injured in college.

Also of note, Wade Redden is now listed as having an "injured left knee" and the defense pairings stayed the same as last nights successful experiment which means that rookie Brian Lee will get another chance to play with Chris Phillips on Thursday.

Give Bryan Murray credit for pairing Lee with Phillips, who's as solid and reliable as they come. It means that Lee will get a lot of minutes for a guy with one game under his belt but he seems capable so far.

It would be one hell of a story if both Lee and Winchester stick around and play during the Senators playoff run.

From the looks of it, Winchester played centre between Chris Neil and Christoph Schubert at practice but they also have Chris Kelly pencilled in between Shean Donovan and Martin Lapointe.

Has Kelly magically healed ridiculously early or is TSN inaccurate?

We'll wait and see.

More Fallout From Buffalo

As can be expected, the fans and media in Buffalo are in shock about the Sabres third period collapse against a very fragile Senators squad that all but eliminated them from the playoffs.

John Vogl captures the mood quite nicely for the Buffalo News:

"The sign kept popping up on the video board, and the faithful would cheer whenever they’d see it. “If you still believe make some noise.”

In the end, there was no one around to make noise. If the kid holding the sign was still around, that kid was the only one. During a collapse like that, fans and belief disappear in a hurry. ....

“It’s devastating,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “That really hurts.”

Bucky Gleason points out that goalie Ryan Miller is not having a strong season and that he has to share a lot of the blame for the Sabres lost season:

" ... when was the last time Miller won a game by himself?

He’s ranked 21st in goals-against average and 25th in save percentage this season. He made his 29th consecutive start Tuesday night. On Thursday in Ottawa, he’s expected to tie the franchise record for goaltenders with his 72nd appearance this season. There have been times he’s looked mentally fried, but Ruff has refused to buy into that excuse. And nobody else should, either.

Mike Harrington of the Sabres Edge blog sounds depressed:

"Tuesday's 6-3 loss to Ottawa was the most inexcusable one in a season full of them. Five goals in the last 7:40. A short-handed goal waking up an Ottawa team clearly dead from two games in two nights.

There were a good number of empty seats tonight. Those folks have given up. They're probably right. Anybody care to disagree?"

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sabres Collapse In Third Period ... Senators Switch Up Defense Pairings

That was quite the see-saw game between the Sabres and Senators which saw Ottawa score 5 goals in the last 8 minutes to overcome a 3-1 deficit.

The biggest surprise of this game was definitely the new defence pairings that Bryan Murray put together. And it paid off.

Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov were finally broken up and if last night is any indication, it might stay that way.

Phillips played with rookie Brian Lee who was very good in his first NHL game. Volchenkov paired up with veteran Luke Richardson and Mike Commodore played with Andre Meszaros as Wade Redden sat out due to a leg injury.

All three pairings played well through most of the game with only a few breakdowns, notably with the Commodore-Meszaros pairing. Richardson seemed a little more assertive playing with Volchenkov and Phillips easily meshed with the slick skating Lee.

Daniel Alfredsson will get most of the accolades, but the comeback was started by a nifty shorthanded goal by Dean McAmmond. His fourth line with Shean Donovan really stepped it up in the third. Until that point, Ottawa's first line was invisible and they still look fatigued from a long season. Murray has to find a way to rest Alfredsson if they clinch a playoff spot.

Martin Gerber was average and the three goals were largely the product of giveaways and bad bounces, but he has to play better and make those stops once in a while. His rebound control continues to be abysmal but with Ray Emery rustier than a farm nail, there is no other choice but to live with it.

The only Ottawa Senator who played less than ten minutes was Chris Neil with 6:58 of ice time as Murray slowly works him back into game shape after missing some time with an injury.

Win or lose, at least the whole team is contributing under Murray and not just an elite few who toiled under John Paddock's ill-conceived reign.

The Sabres get a chance for redemption on Thursday night in Ottawa but are now 5 points back of Boston (who crushed Toronto Tuesday night) for 8th place. The Sabres still have six games remaining, including two against the Bruins.

Ottawa meanwhile has only 5 games left until the playoffs.

The bar owners on Elgin Street, re-dubbed "Sens Mile", are licking their chops at the prospect.

"We Hate Those F*!#ing Guys"

With the Senators in Buffalo tonight, home of the wretched Goo Goo Dolls, the Queen City papers are trying to rev up the Sabres fans by painting the matchup as a fierce rivalry.

John Vogl of the Buffalo News tells us how the Sabres players are trying to get newcomer Steve Bernier into the spirit:

"Steve Bernier is still new to the Buffalo Sabres, so he was getting the quick rundown on the rivalry with the Ottawa Senators. Buffalo knocked Ottawa from the playoffs two years ago. Ottawa eliminated Buffalo last year. The teams had a huge brawl.

“We hate those [expletive] guys,” one of Bernier’s teammates chimed in.

Yeah, that about sums it up. Imagine how much the hatred will grow if Ottawa knocks Buffalo out of the postseason again, this time before it even starts."

Bryan Murray has decided to put Martin Gerber back in the net tonight. This is an absolutely huge game for Gerber if he's to put away those criticisms that are coming back to haunt him (as Roy MacGregor notes in his column). The notoriously streaky and mentally fragile goalie is starting to look twitchy again. Bring in the shrinks.

Kevin Lowe's Revolution

Kevin Lowe's unhinged spending spree last summer when he offered huge contracts to Group II free agents Thomas Vanek of Buffalo (unsuccessful) and Dustin Penner of Anaheim (successful), is having a massive effect on contracts across the league.

Kevin Allen of USA Today has an interesting story on the subject:

"The number of (young players) signing was mind-boggling," said agent Steve Bartlett. "And it was clearly in anticipation of, or warding off the possibility of, a Thomas Vanek-type offer next summer."

Anaheim general manager Brian Burke says the Edmonton Oilers' decision to give offer sheets to Group II restricted free agents last summer caused "the elimination of the second contract." ...

Younger players are now getting more money earlier, and in a cap system that means there will be less money for the older veterans who are not stars.

"What we are talking about is the elimination of the middle class," said agent Matt Keator. "It's a concern, but if you look at every single cap system, that has happened. But that's the system we have, and that's no choice."
In a strange way, this has turned out to be a benefit for the fans. Teams are no longer taking any chances with predators like Kevin Lowe out there and are signing their players to extensive contracts. In Ottawa's case, core players that the fans love have been locked up for years to come, including Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher and Chris Phillips.

But it also means that there will be fewer trades and less movement overall due to the massive amounts of money involved. Struggling teams will find little recourse during the season to shake things up and the majority of moves will take place in July and at the trade deadline.
Perhaps Brian Burke is on to something when he proposes that teams be allowed to eat up to $500,000 of players contracts that they want to move. It would mean a large amount of "dead money" sitting on team's payrolls but it would allow some trades to happen which has always been a big part of the excitement.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Comeback Falls Short ... So Does Ottawa Goaltending

The Senators get blown out after two periods by the Canadiens one night, but get a chance to redeem themselves against the Sabres the next.

That's an opportunity the Senators must make good on as they fly out of Montreal and land in the Queen City. There's a positive in there as well due to a belated comeback that fell short in the third period against a high flying Montreal team that is looking like a true contender down the stretch (There's no truth to the rumour that I picked them to miss the playoffs....ahem...).

Martin Gerber played badly but Ray Emery was no better when he came in at the start of the second period. Granted he made some big saves early on but his rust started to show after sitting 11 straight games. If Gerber continues to falter, Emery's banishment to the bench for such a long period might be construed as a mistake by Bryan Murray. But it's hard to blame him for trying to instill some stability to the team with Gerber in goal.

More and more, it's looking like the defense core might have to be overhauled during the summer with the only safe players being Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov and the young Andre Meszaros. Wade Redden hurt himself against Montreal but he has largely been ineffective on both offense and defense anyways. Somewhere along the way, Redden lost his confidence and that decision by John Muckler to let Zdeno Chara walk just looks worse after every game Redden struggles through.

Yet Ottawa fans shouldn't completely write off the team just yet. The Senators look tired physically and mentally right now but once the playoffs start, a new infusion of energy will happen and they will at least be focused, even if they lack the stamina for a long playoff run.

If they can clinch a playoff spot, the first thing Bryan Murray should do is shut down Daniel Alfredsson for a few games to get him some rest. Alfie just isn't the same player he was the first half of the season. Perhaps it's a lingering hip problem.

My bet is it's mental and physical fatigue.

Happy Easter - Senators Owner Charged With Fraud

Eugene Melnyk looks like the next Ottawa Senator owner in line for a mind-blowing flameout of his empire. Both previous owners, Bruce Firestone and Rod Bryden went tits up financially but Melnyk has added a new twist in that he intends to go out fighting massive fraud charges.

Perhaps a nice, clean and respectable gentleman like millionaire Ottawa mayor Larry O'Brien should buy the team. Oh wait... he's been charged for influence peddling. Is there a virtuous rich man left in Ottawa?

The Globe and Mail's Richard Blackwell has the story on Biovail Corp's $10 million fine and the charges against Eugene:

"The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Biovail Corp. ... , its founder Eugene Melnyk, and three other current and former executives with accounting fraud. ...

The SEC alleges that the executives, “obsessed with meeting quarterly and annual earnings guidance, repeatedly overstated earnings and hid losses in order to deceive investors and create the appearance of achieving earnings goals.” When it became impossible to continue concealing Biovail's inability to meet its own earnings guidance, the company “actively misled investors and analysts about the reasons for the company's poor performance,” the SEC said. The Ontario Securities Commission has also filed a statement of allegation against the company and the same employees, with many of the same claims."

This just isn't the Senators year.

Andre Roy Still Feeling Shame In Tort's Doghouse

Tampa Bay enforcer and ex-Senator Andre Roy is still paying for having that mouth foaming meltdown against Philadelphia earlier in the month.

Roy lost a fight to Flyer Riley Cote which was shown over and over again on the video screen above the ice, inciting the already rabid Philly fans to ridiculous heights of derision. Roy had to be restrained on the bench by coach John Tortorella who looked like he was going to unload a few fists of his own. Roy was then suspended by the team but was brought back in when Vincent Lecavalier and others went to the coach to plead on his behalf.

Even if Roy gets to sit in the locker room, Torts won't play him and that's a shame, says Erik Erlendsson from the Tampa Tribune:

"It's a shame that a guy who stands up for his teammates on the ice - and has his teammates stand up for him off the ice - and is asked to play with an edge can't be forgiven when he crosses that line. It's not like Roy went Chris Simon on anybody and cross-checked an opponent in the mouth or deliberately stomped onsomebody's foot. ...

But Roy, who for the most part this year has stayed on the right side of that edge he has to play on, doesn't deserve to be treated like an outcast. He is a stand-up guy who is asked to play a sometimes-difficult role. Roy is liked and respected in the locker room, and that goes a long way."

Interestingly enough, Bruce Garrioch wrote in his Sunday column that the Senators would be interested if Roy makes it to free-agency this summer. Roy is definitely a better all-around player than Brian McGrattan is but it's important to remember that McGrattan is also a very popular guy in the dressing room. Dany Heatley even gave McGrattan his All-Star jersey to show his appreciation for what McGrattan does.

Unfortunately, neither John Paddock or Bryan Murray seemed to have any interest in playing him.

Now that's the real shame.

Senators Have Deal In Place For Winchester - Ottawa Sun

The Ottawa Senators are expected to announce the signing of college free-agent Jesse Winchester some time today according to Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun.

Here's a description of Winchester from an early March article in the Ottawa Citizen:

"Winchester is among the most coveted free-agent collegiate players in recent memory.

"He's a hard-working kid with a big body (6-1, 205 pounds) and what we call good hockey strength, (someone) who sees all the ice and makes the plays all night long," Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray said from Los Angeles. "He is 24, he's mature, and we feel he's ready to play. Maybe with a season in the (AHL). Maybe right away."

Murray Sticks With Gerber

I can’t say that I agree with Bryan Murray about who should be starting in goal for the Ottawa Senators, but at least Murray is handling the situation in the right way.

Martin Gerber has now had two bad games out of three, and in my opinion really let down the team on Saturday night against the Maple Leafs. Yet Murray is starting Gerber tonight against the Montreal Canadiens.

It’s a little late to turn to Ray Emery who is probably as rusty as he’s ever been after sitting on the bench for 11 straight games. Murray has decided to stand by his decision let Gerber lead the team into the playoffs and a couple of bad games isn’t going to change his mind.

This was the tactic I thought should have been used when it came to Emery but the way it turned out, Gerber is getting the chance. By doing this, Murray is giving Gerber every opportunity to succeed and that’s the proper decision going into the playoffs. If Gerber can’t rise to the occasion in this scenario, he likely never will.

I still think that the Senators have chosen the wrong goalie but at least Murray made a firm decision and is sticking to it.

If anything, the Senators will now have a clear choice to make in the summer. There is no way in God's green hell that Gerber and Emery can co-exist on the team next year. If Gerber can't step up and win at least one playoff round, he'll be gone.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Neil In, Randy The Ghost Out

It's about time.

Randy Robitaille has been coasting with the Senators all season long, showing no physical commitment or emotion or doing anything to diminish his reputation as a wallflower.

Bryan Murray went out of his way to bring in Robitaille, a local boy, from Russia and Murray even gave him a chance to play on the first line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.


The only thing rarer than a smile from Robitaille is a Luke Richardson goal. Perhaps those are some of the reasons he's played for 9 organizations in just over 10 NHL seasons.

The player replacing him couldn't be any more different. Chris Neil is a guy who has to keep his emotions in check. He may not have half the talent of Robitaille, but Neil is ten times the hockey player Robitaille is. Even though Robitaille was brought in by Murray, you can't help but notice that Robitaille still seems like he's playing for a John Paddock coached team. I guess he didn't get the memo.

The Ottawa Sun says that Neil will play with Mike Fisher and Cory Stillman.

That's a nice little Easter present for Ottawa Senators fans.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Frat Boy Commodore Does Good

At first glance, Mike Commodore looks less like an athlete and more like a guy you could hammer some beers with down on Elgin Street. He looks like the kind of dude who carries the keg on his shoulder into a house party. The kind of guy who never wears any socks and orders pizza with the change he finds in his couch cushions. He's like the hockey version of Johnny Damon or John Kruk.

But he's a surprisingly good hockey player.

And now he's finally starting to show it in a Senators uniform. Against St. Louis, Commodore was blazing into the offensive zone on numerous occasions, looking nothing like the nervous and tentative player he was in his first month with the team. More and more, he's in position to assert his strength along the boards and is somewhat deft with a breakout pass, better than advertised anyways.

It's true that he has zero points in 18 games with Ottawa, but fans and media will start to notice this guy during the playoffs where I'd put my money on him scoring a huge goal. Especially if he gets that red afro and beard going. It will look like Spartacat is patrolling the blueline except he won't be shooting hot dogs into the stands with an air bazooka during TV timeouts.

Speaking of Spartacat, have a look at this article I wrote a few years back for the Ottawa Xpress. It's a tale of a tinfoil wrapped hot dog, a bazooka ... and a human eyeball. I actually interviewed the guy who got smoked by the hot dog and it was one of the funniest pieces I ever worked on.

"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. The ushers came down and one of them apologized to me many times. The weird thing is that they took my name and number but they never got back to me."

Tony O Goes Vintage

Even though the Hawks are fading badly in their playoff pursuit, they are at least riding high in all other departments. First they brought back Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita a few weeks ago. Last night they brought back Tony Esposito and unbelievably, Tony O donned his old creepy mask for a few moments and the crowd went insane.

That's one of the best pictures of the year right there. The crowd was so pumped that they cheered through the national anthem like they used to at the old Chicago Stadium. I'm even finding myself hitting the Hawks games on Centre Ice more than any other Western team other than Anaheim.

To top it all off, Nikolai Khabibulin slammed down a shutout on Ovechkin and company.

From the Chicago Tribune (Bob Verdi):

"The notion of the Hawks exploring a brave new world involving ambassadors—let alone goodwill ambassadors—still feels a bit revolutionary. But this gesture is not about living in the past, only appreciating it in proper context. That's what makes Chairman Rocky Wirtz and President John McDonough so different. They're contemporary throwbacks.

"It's not only their ideas that are good, they're good people," Esposito said. "What's exciting for me, besides being a small part of the Blackhawks again, is how the team is getting better, along with the crowds. Detroit used to be a terrific hockey city. Then it went down for a while but came back big. Well, it feels like Chicago is

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Atlanta Teammates Fight Each Other During A Game! .... Kovalchuk Disgusted ... Waddell Fails The Sniff Test ....

I've heard of teammates scrapping at practice and perhaps after a few cold beers at a nightclub, but during a game? Fantastic.

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution (Craig Custance):

"The Thrashers continue to drop to the bottom of the NHL standings, and now even teammates are turning on each other. Slava Kozlov had to break up some shoving between Eric Boulton and Bobby Holik in the second period as the players were headed to the bench.

"We got caught in our end for a minute and a half. I was coming off, and we were all frustrated at the time," Boulton said. "Bobby broke his stick, and pieces went flying everywhere. I just got a little upset. It's obviously frustrating the way we're playing right now. Emotions are running high."

Boulton said there are no lingering hard feelings between him and Holik.

"We made up," he said. "So everything is cool."

Actually Eric, everything is not cool. Ilya Kovalchuk has called this season the most disappointing of his career, saying, "After I sniffed playoff hockey, I'm really disappointed. I'm hoping next year we're going to battle not just for the playoffs but to win the Cup. It's my sixth year here, and I've never had a sniff."

Speaking of taking a sniff, Scott Burnside took one and he had to pull away his nose. He advocates a complete flushing of the management.

"Hockey observers often cite the Toronto Maple Leafs as the most dysfunctional team in the NHL, and their 41-year Stanley Cup drought lends significant weight to that argument. But the Thrashers are in many ways worse. At the least the Leafs have made changes in an effort to move forward, firing GM John Ferguson and now beating the bushes for a candidate who might build a winner. The Thrashers may be in a worse position given that they appear clueless about what ails the team and how to go about fixing it.

With season-ticket holders dwindling in number and the prospects for the immediate future grim, the future in Atlanta is as dire as it's been in its

I tend to agree with Burnside but there's another element at work here. Apparently Ilya Kovalchuk (who has two years remaining on his contract) is very loyal to GM and coach Don Waddell and if he is removed, Kovalchuk might get it in his head that he can be better served playing elsewhere. Atlanta without Kovalchuk would be like Different Strokes without Arnold. All you're left with is Willis and his dating problems.

No one has the stomach for either scenario.

Habs Heading Down Failed Senators Path With Goalies

There's no doubt that Carey Price is GM Bob Gainey's "guy" in Montreal. Whether head coach Guy Carbonneau feels the same way about Price is up for conjecture.

There are many out there who feel that Gainey's shocking trade of Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals was his way of giving the middle finger salute to Carbonneau for the following reasons:

1. Carbs refused to play Price early in the year

2. Gainey and Carbs are reputed to have butted heads over this issue in the past with the coach winning the argument in the short term. Gainey took care of that with a few plane tickets to the murder capital of America for the mild mannered Frenchman Huet.

But it's hard for Gainey to really criticize Carbonneau because Montreal is playing like a purebred down the stretch.

Now Carbonneau is at it again. That's two straight starts for AHL call-up Jaroslav Halak and he got the second because he shut out the crumbling Islanders last Saturday on a freak start in place of Price.

Now that Halak lost last night in a shootout against the Blues, it's almost certain that Price will be back in goal tomorrow against the Bruins.

But you have to wonder why Carbonneau is trying to start some half-assed goalie competition with less than ten games remaining before the playoffs. The Senators tried this option all year and it blew up in their face like a nail bomb. They still haven't fully stopped the hemorrhaging from the John Paddock fiasco.

When Bryan Murray took over the Senators, he chose Martin Gerber to be his guy and he seems prepared to live with the consequences in a search for stability that has been lacking all season long. Those consequences might include a colossal failure by Gerber in a pressure situation but you have to give Murray credit for at least making a firm decision, something Paddock was incapable of doing.

Now the Montreal players are starting to get asked the same questions Ottawa players were earlier this year. Who's the number one goalie?

Is all of this because Carbonneau is defying Gainey in a petulant manner? Does Carbonneau really believe he can implement a platoon system in goal this late in a critical season?

Even the Montreal Gazette has succumbed to the temptation of screwing with something good by proposing that Halak play all the home games and Price play on the road.

If Montreal goes down in flames this post-season, look for fireworks between Gainey and Carbs despite the fact that Carbonneau might be a finalist for the Jack Adams award.
For further reading on this subject, I recommend you head over to All Habs and check out this article:
"Carbonneau's decisions were a textbook case on how NOT to handle goaltenders.
Even after training camp, Gainey had to override Carbo when he wanted to send Price to Hamilton to start the year. But then Carbo pouted and didn't start Price is a reasonable a number of games. As Pierre McGuire said recently: "if Habs (Carbonneau) had made it a fair fight, he (Price) would be the rookie of the year. No question!" Gainey had to intervene again at the trade deadline sending the team's #3 goalie (in terms of talent) to the Washington Capitals."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bleeding Green

It's crazy to think that there are a lot of hockey fans out there who weren't even around the last time the Hartford Whalers played a game. One of the leagues most lovable franchises, they picked up and moved to Carolina at the end of the 96-97 season after missing the playoffs five years in a row. (By the way, that's original Ottawa Senator Peter Sidorkiewicz pictured above who represented the Sens along with Brad Marsh in the 93 All-Star game)

Now someone has made a quirky little film about the remaining hardcore Whalers fans who get loaded at dimly lit arenas and cry in their beers when the "Brass Bonanza" is played during pick-up games. This documentary, called Bleeding Green, is made by and for Whalers fans and more information on it can be found here. Be sure to check out the Official Hartford Whalers Booster Club here as well.

Even though the Hurricanes managed to win the Stanley Cup in Carolina, many team records are still held by players who wore the classic green (and later blue) uniform.

Blaine Stoughton scored the most goals in a season in franchise history with 56 in 1980.

Hall of Famer Ronnie Francis racked up the most helpers in one season with 69 in 1990.

Mike Rogers (who?!) twice notched 105 points in a season (1980, 1981) which is a record that still remains today.

Torrie Robertson holds the penalty record with 358 minutes in 1986.

It goes on and on with players like Dave Babych, Geoff Sanderson and Sylvain Turgeon (another original Ottawa Senator) setting franchise marks while the team was still in Connecticut.

And don't forget that Gordie Howe ended his NHL career wearing the Whale along with a toupee wearing Bobby Hull.

I don't think there would be too many fans uncomfortable with a new Whalers team in Hartford. If I could, I'd be there opening night raising a beer to the glorious sounds of Brass Bonanza while wearing a green Kevin Dineen jersey.

Blues Limp Into Montreal and Ottawa - Murray in Purgatory - Kariya A Distant Memory

"When this vicious, nine-game road trip began, the Blues were still above .500 (28-27-10) and were 11 points ahead of the NHL's last-place team, the Los Angeles Kings.

As the Blues get set for Game 7 of their trip tonight at Montreal, they are the furthest below .500 they have been this season (29-32-11), and with the third-fewest points in the league (69), they're now just seven ahead of LA. "
There are a lot fingers being pointed in the gateway city. The coach Andy Murray is getting ripped by everyone and the incredibly shrinking superstar Paul Kariya can barely find the arena anymore let alone do anything on the ice.

"Kariya, whose career average is 31 goals and who's coming off 24-and 31-goal seasons at Nashville, hasn't scored since Feb.14 -- a stretch of 16 games. He has registered only five assists over that span.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder, who leads St. Louis with 204 shots, has only one multiple-goal game this season, scoring three against Dallas on Dec. 29."

Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch was writing about the hellish spiral of the Blues back at the start of March when he said this:

"Is Murray losing the locker room? The grumbling is intensifying over Murray's many meetings and other matters. For his part, Murray has publicly questioned the players' effort. This isn't a happy group. The players responded dramatically when Murray took over for Mike Kitchen on Dec. 11, 2006, but the charm has worn off. Since March 3, 2007, the Blues are 34-35-14. Since Dec. 9 of this season, the Blues have the fewest wins in the league. The talent level hasn't dropped, but the morale seems to be sinking. Can he pull his team up? "

Others have noted that Andy Murray-coached teams always tend to fade in the last half of seasons.

Murray is now in that realm of purgatory, between life and death, where the Islanders motivational speaker Ted Nolan, Flyers door opener John Stevens and Leaf stool-pigeon Paul Maurice reside. Chances are they're gonna get whacked but not until the fans and media have ripped every shred of meat off their bones first.

Of all four of those guys, only Ted Nolan and Andy Murray stand a real chance of getting hired elsewhere. Maurice will probably live on in agony for one more year because the organization can't agree to do anything in an expedient manner.

The very stoic (ie. marble statue) John Stevens will end up like John Paddock - NHL roadkill with no chance of resurrection.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Kolzig Should Be Embarrassed

Just check out the shoulder "pads" on Olaf Kolzig in this picture. In fact, look at his entire chest armor.

Olaf looks like he's been paved over in concrete. He's as big and wide as the broad side of an outhouse.

We all know the NHL blew it when they brought in restrictions for the leg pads and blocker but didn't lift a finger about the chest and shoulder "protection". But at some point the athlete has to look in the mirror and feel embarrassed about himself. Kolzig has had a fine career but this is akin to a basketball player walking onto the court wearing enormous Acme springs on his shoes or a baseball player walking to the plate with a ten foot four by four instead of a bat.

If these goalies have no shame (ie. Roberto Luongo, J.S. Giguere, Martin Gerber), the NHL has to step in and drastically reduce the size of the equipment, and they shouldn't stop at the shoulder pads. The catching gloves need to be reduced by at least 1/3 of their current size. Get those leg pads down another two inches and make sure their pants conform to their body shape.

The fact that we're looking at only 3 players possibly scoring 50 goals is almost incomprehensible considering the talent that the league is stacked with. The game has been tilted in the goalie's favour for well over a decade now and it's no surprise that ratings have fallen in tandem with that fact.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of all this is listening to announcers and sports radio hosts saying over and over again that a goal "wasn't the goalie's fault".

If they are wearing that much equipment and they still let a goal in, ..... dude, it's their fault. If they happened to let in a tic-tac or an M&M thrown from the stands, it's their fault.

Playoff Scenarios For The Senators

Hard to believe but the Ottawa Senators are only 9 games from that first faceoff of the postseason. But you’d be wrong to say that this season just blew by like the others.

Not since the 1995-96 season has the organization been through so much turmoil and negativity. The Senators had three head coaches that season – Rick Bowness, Dave “Sparky” Allison (who is best known for the story about how he allegedly held a séance in the Civic Centre to bring back the ghosts of Senators glory from the 20’s) and of course Jacques “Mr. Personality” Martin.

Unlike in 1996, Senators fans can at least look forward to the playoffs and that’s what we’ll try to do here.

Over the coming days we’ll go over possible playoff opponents the Senators might face in the first round, starting with the surging Pittsburgh Penguins.

Scenario #1

Ottawa Senators VS Pittsburgh Penguins

This is the matchup if the playoffs started today. The most striking element of this series would be the abundance of scoring and the lack of playoff experience in the nets for both teams. The Penguins would have an edge on offense with a healthy Sidney Crosby and MVP Evgeni Malkin but the Senators would be close and have a bit more experience in scoring during close playoff games. The defense is a toss-up with Ottawa having a more physical edge but giving way on offense to Sergei Gonchar who is the best power-play quarterback on either team. That would leave it up to the goalies.

Who the hell can predict this? Martin Gerber (assuming that Bryan Murray has chosen him as the starter) has no proven playoff record (1 win, 1 loss, 3.48 GAA, .854 save percentage) to speak of and tends to shrink in big games. Marc-Andre Fleury has been hurt most of the year but is playing well coming down the stretch. He too has little playoff experience, sporting a 1-4 record with an .880 save percentage. Those stats were put up against the Senators in last years first round.

Premature Prediction : The Penguins in 7 games. This is a team that will be impossible to keep off the scoresheet and Martin Gerber will be exposed badly. Even if the more proven Ray Emery were put in nets, he’s hasn’t played enough to get on a roll. Senators like Wade Redden and Andre Meszaros will get run over in their own zone by guys like Malkin, Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone.

Scenario # 2

Ottawa Senators VS Boston Bruins

If the Senators catch the Montreal Canadiens for first in the NorthEast, they could very well be playing the Boston Bruins in 7th place. You have to think that the Senators would be looking forward to this matchup.

No one is really sure what’s ailing Zdeno Chara but many think it’s his shoulder and he’s missed a handful of games indicating that it might be serious. This alone would undercut the Bruins chances. The thing going in Gerber’s favour in this series would be that the Bruins simply can’t score goals. Their two main threats are Marco Sturm with 24 goals and Chuck Kobasew with 22. Ottawa native Marc Savard is having another stellar year points wise but only has 14 goals. After that trio, the Bruins are surprisingly easy to stop but they don’t allow many goals either.

Tim Thomas has played in zero playoff games while Alex Auld has played in 4 (all with the Canucks). This might be the only team to make Martin Gerber look like a playoff veteran.

Premature Prediction: Ottawa in 5 games. The Senators are simply the better team here and should make short work of the Bruins who are starting to look very susceptible the past month.

We’ll be back with more scenarios later this week.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday Vintage

Let's start things off with a good old fashioned brawl here between the Detroit Red Wings and the Boston Bruins in 1991 which, for local Bytowners features Brad Marsh and Gary Galley (who gets run over pretty good). Vladimir Konstantinov could really throw them as well as hit.

How about Steve Yzerman getting cranked in the face by a Bruins fan?

Might as well continue the chaos theme. This is an all time classic between the Bruins and the Rangers in the late 70's. Terry O'Reilly is the first one over the glass into the stands but it's Mike Milbury beating a fan with his own shoe that makes the highlight reel. Probably one of the most memorable incidents in the history of the NHL.

And we'll finish it off with the biggest fight in Ottawa Senators history, an absolutely raging donnybrook against the Flyers from 2004 that was so long that it seems like it just finished yesterday.

Have a nice Sunday.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bruce Garrioch - Witchfinder General

Even though the Ottawa Senators are on a three game winning streak and have seemingly turned the corner with Martin Gerber in nets, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch is obsessed with continuing his rabid crusade to run Ray Emery out of town, damn the consequences.

Remember, this was the reporter who almost had an emotional breakdown the second time Emery was late for a practice and was filmed pleading with General Manager, Bryan Murray to suspend him, his voice breaking with anger and emotion. He was in a such a state that it wouldn't have been surprising to see him with a torch in his hands leading a pack of outraged "journalists" to the Senators locker room to flush out the evil.

Ever since, Garrioch has been on the warpath and nothing short of buying out Emery will do. That's the focus of today's article where Garrioch suggests that the troubled goalie can be bought out of his contract for only 1/3rd of the money remaining.

This was obviously Garrioch's own idea as he has no quotes from Senators management saying that this is an option going forward. There is no analysis as to what the Senators will do without any depth in goaltending (despite what everyone believes, Brian Elliot is not having a sensational season down in Bingo) or the consequences of giving up on a player who they have invested so much time and money in. Nope. It's just "off with their heads" and figure it all out later.

If the Senators win the Stanley Cup, the next day Garrioch will lead with a story about Ray Emery, blaming him for the Senators not winning in four straight. This guy puts the Communist witch hunter Joe McCarthy to shame for zealousness.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Murray Getting The Best Out Of Redden, Meszaros......Plus: Stillman's Strange Quirk

This was the game.

The first time you could legitimately say that the Senators have turned the corner on their strange winter train derailment where they could do nothing right. By beating Montreal, and racking up their third win in a row, coach Bryan Murray has swiftly changed the look and feel of this team in a subtle but convincing fashion.

What really stands out for me is the decision by Murray to put Wade Redden and Andre Meszaros back together as a pairing. Under John Paddock, the two were split up for a long period of time, and for good reason - they were terrible. While Meszaros was dropped to the third pairing with Luke Richardson, Redden played with either Joe Corvo, Christoph Schubert or Mike Commodore.

Nothing fit.

Murray correctly realized that Meszaros needed to be given back a larger role on the team and it has paid off in spades. It's not like they're burning up the league with offense but Redden and Meszaros are now a calming influence for the team on the ice, lessening the burden on Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov.

Besides the absolutely stellar play of Martin Gerber, the re-emergence of Redden and Meszaros is biggest godsend this team could have asked for.

Stillman A Goal Parade No-Show?

Has anyone noticed that Cory Stillman doesn't do the high five parade past the bench after a goal is scored? I've seen it multiple times now since he came to Ottawa. If Stillman is on the ice after a Senators goal, he skates to the bench and immediately takes a seat while everyone else does the traditional glove taps all down the line.

Not that I'm criticising him for it. It's just something I've noticed and I'd love to know the story behind it. When did this high-five tradition start anyways? I'm not sure I remember players doing this after goals when I was a kid in the 80's but my memory might be failing me.

It just looks like Stillman doesn't believe in it and that's just the way it is. Like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer refuses to wear a ribbon during a charity walk. It seems ridiculous to force someone to wear one and it seems ridiculous to even discuss how people celebrate goals.

But it's interesting all the same. Maybe the last time Stillman did it he went into a scoring drought and now he's just being superstitious? This is the kind of question Don Brennan should be asking.

It's All That Matters

Making the playoffs is everything.

Money (lots of money). Prestige. Bragging rights. Maybe even the Stanley Cup.

You'd be surprised how making the playoffs can rescue even the most moribund franchises from fan apathy and turn them into raging hockey markets overnight (ie. Tampa Bay, Carolina).

But the magic from one post-season visit doesn't last long. Just look at the Atlanta Thrashers. They gambled prospects and draft choices (including future all-star Braydon Coburn) for veterans like Keith Tkachuk in order to sneak in last year but now find themselves back in a malaise that has surrounded the franchise since its inception.

The real trick is getting there year after year, and in today's climate of parity, that is going to be much harder in the years ahead. Despite that, a handful of teams have managed to cultivate a winning tradition in the regular season. Others have wallowed in their own misery, creating a "loser" atmosphere that is hard to shake.

Here's a quick chart showing the leaders in both categories.

Made Playoffs Streak (In Years)

Detroit Red Wings ...............+16
Ottawa Senators ..................+10
New Jersey Devils ...............+10
Dallas Stars ..........................+4
Tampa Bay Lightning ...........+4
Calgary Flames ....................+3
Nashville Predators .............+3
San Jose Sharks ...................+3

Missed Playoffs Streak (In Years)

Columbus Blue Jackets .........-6
Florida Panthers ...................-6
Chicago Blackhawks .............-4
Los Angeles Kings ................-4
Phoenix Coyotes ..................-4
Washington Capitals .............-3

The remaining teams are all in streaks of no more than two years either way.

Detroit is set to go 17 straight years in the post-season but they are a long way off from the Boston Bruins record of 29 consecutive appearances (1968-96). In fact, the Red Wings don't even rank in the top 5 all-time. Chicago is in second with 28 straight (1970-97), St. Louis in third with 25 (1980-2004) and two different streaks for Montreal round out the list.

The Ottawa Senators are by far the most successful Canadian team with Calgary on a modest 3 year streak and the Canucks barely hanging on with only a one year cushion to work with. They may not be able to add to it if they can't score any goals down the stretch (with Alain Vigneault in charge, it's a miracle they've scored any at all).

The current teams with minus streaks are all likely to add another year of futility with only Phoenix and Washington with a realistic chance to end their slides. If they get lucky and make it, there are two teams waiting to take their place in Toronto and St.Louis with a current streak of two years out.

If Cliff Fletcher can't sort things out in a hurry, Toronto will be challenging for that top spot in no time.

Yashin Still Wants To Play For Senators

According to agent Mark Gandler who was interviewed in a piece that runs in today's Ottawa Citizen. As usual, it's all about the money as far as Gandler is concerned. You ask Gandler a hockey question and he gives you a money answer. Hugh Adami has the story.

"Yashin is making a "significant amount" in salary, Gandler said, enjoys playing back home and is very comfortable with the quality of life as a professional hockey player in Russia. Gandler said the team uses chartered planes for road trips, has a Mercedes-Benz bus and stays in fine accommodations that may not have the grand lobbies found in five-star North American hotels, but are first-class just the same.

Though Gandler said players in the Super League aren't pampered as they are in the NHL -- "They have to carry their (equipment) bags from the bus to the locker-room" -- they're "well-treated" by their clubs. ......

Gandler hasn't given up on getting Yashin signed by Ottawa, though he seems a little more realistic now than he was last June when he suggested that Yashin would be a perfect fit as a reborn Senator. "... Ottawa isn't a team that is courting Alexei (at the present time) ... Maybe he doesn't fit in Ottawa at all. We don't know because there are other (players in Ottawa who now hold the centre roles). But Alexei is certainly capable of being a No. 1 centre or a No. 2 centre ... and he can play wing." ....

He should be paid what he's worth. We're not asking that he be paid (more) because of his name. Just what he's worth today."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tough Break For Kid

You have to feel for rookie (and Calder Trophy candidate) Nicklas Backstrom who has been the brunt of jokes and criticism after he accidentally scored on his own net in a crushing loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.

Teammates and owner Ted Leonsis have rightly come to his defense, using a little humour to calm Backstrom's frayed nerves.

"Washington Capitals rookie Nicklas Backstrom accepted full responsibility yesterday for his gaffe late in Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, saying he simply lost his bearings on the ice.

"I feel sorry for my teammates," Backstrom said, making in his first public comments about accidentally scoring into his own net. "I'm surprised by myself. I don't know how it could happen. [But] it happened." ...

Several of Capitals, including Alex Ovechkin, said they reached out to Backstrom on Sunday night and Monday to comfort and support their teammate. After yesterday's practice, majority owner Ted Leonsis sought out Backstrom and embraced him outside of the locker room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

"I'm sure he feels terrible, but the kid is going to win a hundred games for me in his career," Leonsis said.

Brooks Laich cracked: "I told him before the Pittsburgh game that we're both going to score a goal. I just [joked] with him today that I forgot to say what net to score it on."

Feud Between Nolan and DiPietro Brewing On Long Island

The Islanders playoff hopes took a beating after Tampa Bay dropped 8 goals on them last night.

Greg Logan over at Newsday reports that things are a little heated between coach Ted Nolan (who opted to start backup Wade Dubliewicz in a big game against the Rangers last week) and franchise goalie Rick DiPietro.

"The thread by which the Islanders' playoff hopes were hanging came completely unraveled last night in an 8-4 loss to Tampa Bay that left coach Ted Nolan at odds with goaltender Rick DiPietro and at a loss to do anything about his team's physical breakdown. ....

"We ask him over and over again not to play the puck as much," Nolan said of DiPietro. "He's one of the best puck-handlers in the league, but you just can't overhandle it. When you overhandle it, you get yourself in trouble a little bit." .....

Showing his frustration, Nolan said of DiPietro: "The only thing you can do is keep going through it over and over again. You can't do that. You've got to let our defense handle it a little bit more. He just wants to play it. What can you do?" .....

Asked if he had any response to Nolan's criticism of his puckhandling decisions, DiPietro shrugged and said: "No. Whatever."