Monday, February 28, 2011

Positive 24 Hours For Bryan Murray

Some notes on trade deadline day:

Got to say I like what GM Bryan Murray accomplished in the last 24 hours.

Signing Chris Phillips to a reasonable deal for the next three years will help stabilize the young defense the Senators will have starting next season and onwards. Both sides gave concessions: Phillips probably left quite a bit of money on the table he could have gotten in free agency and the Senators granted a no-movement clause in return. Murray said in an interview with the Team 1200 that he was going hard after Phillips and in the end it was the right move to keep number 4 in town for the first phase of the rebuild.

But that Phillips contract necessitated further moves on that blueline, and today it was Chris Campoli who was shipped out of town. This summer may see Filip Kuba traded or bought out if they still need to make room for the likes of David Rundblad, Jared Cowen, Eric Gryba or possibly another top defenseman they snag in the upcoming draft (Murray ended up getting five extra picks in this draft after all the recent trades).

The return on Campoli was phenomenal (a conditional second rounder and 26 year old Ryan Potulny) considering that his stock had fallen ever since being in a package with Mike Comrie for a first round pick and Dean McAmmond. Campoli played somewhat decent this season, but it masks the disappointment that he couldn't find the offensive side of his game since coming to Ottawa. If Campoli is not scoring for you or playing on the power-play regularly, the other aspects of his game are not enough to warrant keeping a youngster from playing in his spot going forward. Knowing that they were going to have a headache of a contract negotiation with him this summer, Murray moved him to the Blackhawks and that's that.

If Kuba is moved out somehow, the Senators could be looking at a top six of Gonchar, Phillips, Karlsson, Rundblad, Carkner and Cowen, and possibly with the much improved Brian Lee still fitting into their plans. 3 youngsters, 3 veterans. A pretty nice balance. But who knows what can happen during free-agency.

Murray also picked up Curtis McElhinney on waivers from Tampa Bay to backstop Craig Anderson for the rest of the season, a prudent move which allows rookie Robin Lehner to get some serious playing time in Bingo.

No one is sure what plans the Senators have for the former Flame McElhinney beyond this season, if any, but this may also be an audition for the backup spot next season. It would be interesting to see the Senators go after Mathieu Garon of Columbus as a free agent to backup Anderson next season (assuming Anderson re-signs, not a given by any means) but that type of speculation is not really my bag.  All of the Senator goaltenders under contract except for Lehner could walk as free agents this summer. That's got to be a worry for management but the summer still seems a ways off.

Finally the speculation and hand wringing can end for both the players and the fans. The deadline is over and there is a month and a half's worth of hockey games to be played.

Personally, I enjoy the post-trade deadline period the most in a hockey season because it just becomes about the games on the ice, not off of it. A lot of fans get their main enjoyment from the "chess match" aspect of player movement instead of the actual games, which is strange to me. No trade deadline day can compare to any day of the playoffs, even if the team you are cheering for is not in the dance.

Contracts don't matter in the playoffs. The players do it for free.

Trade rumours and endless money discussions can go to hell for the next four months.

Too bad they can't stay there.

Phillips Stays

The first big news of the day/night before was that Chris Phillips re-signed in Ottawa for 3 seasons at a cap hit of just over 3 million and avoided being moved to another team during today's feeding frenzy where organizations make more mistakes than at any time of the year.
Signing Phillips is a great move by GM Bryan Murray, but as to be expected, a lot of the reaction has been negative, most of it boorishly so. It's almost as if people think the Senators are doing Chris Phillips a favour here. Not so. In fact, it's the other way around. Phillips would have gotten more than 3.1 million on the open market this summer, so right away Phillips is leaving money on the table. He's also taking a pay cut from his current salary, so to imply that this is a charitable contract just doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
I also find it almost incomprehensible that some fans are so spoiled that they would criticize a player who actually wants to play for the Senators. It wasn't that long ago that this team was considered a joke around the league and were in danger of being moved to an American city less than a decade ago. Nobody wanted to play here due to instability, high taxes and the tight budget this team operated under. I'm guessing a lot of "new fans" don't remember any of this. Perhaps they should brush up on their history by reading Roy MacGregor's book "Road Games" and realize it's even a privilege to have an NHL team in this city, let alone a franchise defenseman who actually wants to help this team win.
People have been so caught up in this "rebuild" that they want to see everybody thrown overboard without thinking of the consequences. To win in the NHL, you need NHL defenseman, and Chris Phillips is a damn good one who's only 32 years old right now. 3 million dollars for a defenseman who is respected around the league is a pittance, especially on a team that is going to be nowhere near the salary cap ceiling. In fact, they are required to hit the cap floor which is a bylaw put in to prevent teams from trying to tank seasons.
My guess is that Filip Kuba gets bought out of the final year of his deal if he can't be dealt today or by the draft, saving the team some hard cash in the process and opening up more spots for the younger prospects on defense.
If Murray was mulling whether to keep Phillips or Kuba, then he certainly made the right choice. It will be a good night when Phillips plays in his 1000th game next season, all of them in the black and red sweater.
We'll be back after all the dust settles after the deadline with a wrap-up of the big day.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weekend Notes

Chris Phillips first goal of the year to give his team a two goal cushion over the Flyers in the third was perfect timing no matter how the next two days plays out for the franchise defenseman. It could be his last goal in a Senators uniform and it at least gave him a chance to hear the fans roar for him one more time (he's scored some big goals over the years). It also reinforced just how popular the Big Rig is amongst his teammates. He was mobbed by the players on the ice after his point shot beat Brian Boucher, and the celebration continued on the bench with seemingly everyone wanting to go over and congratulate him, including the coaching staff. It's been a tough year on and off the ice for Phillips and it was nice to see a huge grin on his face again...... Speaking of Phillips, if he's traded, who's going to be the guy to stand by the bench after every win and glove tap every player who comes off the ice? Just like Lyndon Slewidge winking and giving the thumbs up, the Sens theme song and half hour parking lot waits, the Phillips glove tap after wins is a Senators tradition we don't want to see lost......

.....It's too bad both GM Pierre Gauthier and coach Jacques Martin are unavailable for the Senators in their current rebuild. The last time the Senators were in a similarly bleak situation was about halfway through the 95-96 season when it looked like the first attempt to build a winner was going backwards after a hot start in October. New GM Gauthier brought in Martin in late January and the Senators made the playoffs the following year. Martin would be the perfect coach for this current Sens team. During his time with Ottawa, Martin ably handled young defensemen like Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Stan Neckar, Karel Rachunek and Anton Volchenkov. Ironically, Cory Clouston has been criticised for being too conservative with the all the offensive players on his team, but with a young defense coming in next season, that's the type of system they are going to have to implement. While I doubt Clouston will be around next year, it's almost certain Martin won't be available unless the Habs colossally implode down the stretch here, and that's just doesn't happen on a Martin coached team. I'm convinced Martin could coach an AHL team to a .500 record in the NHL if he had to. Whoever is coaching the Senators next year might be faced with the same task.......

......Pascal Leclaire. What's to say? The closest Senators fans got to see what he was capable of was his brief stint in relief of Brian Elliott in last year's first round playoff loss to the Penguins. He was unbelievable at times but that was all she wrote. It only seems appropriate that he spend the rest of his Senators career in Bingo, as he owes that organization a lot of man games as they constantly had to ship Mike Brodeur and Robin Lehner to fill his spot, putting them in a tough situation for close to two seasons. I wonder if they have those magically healing hot tubs in the wonderfully modern Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena?..... But hey, that old rink has a lot of history, and not all of it hockey. Here's a partial list of some of the bands who have ripped it up on that stage: Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Kiss, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Tom Petty, AC/DC, Neil Diamond, Motley Crue, Elton John, and most special of all, folks - Kenny G.....

....Speaking of Elliott, I watched most of his Colorado debut against the Oilers, and it was same old, same old. A lot of sitting back in his crease and looking smaller than he really is. I still don't really understand that move by Colorado. The Senators made out like bandits with Craig Anderson in tow. A great move by Bryan Murray, even if Anderson walks this summer. The point is that Elliott is now someone else's problem and the Sens can move forward without that lingering doubt in their heads that was there everytime Elliott took to the ice. Elliott didn't fare much better against Los Angeles today although he did make 38 saves in a 4-2 loss.....Remember Alex Auld and his gold mask? He's been on three NHL teams since leaving Bytown and has only gotten 11 starts behind Carey Price in Montreal, but the new mask he's been wearing lately is a beauty. ..... So is Brian Boucher's of the Flyers. Simple is always better on goalie masks. What's the point of all those intricate designs with details that no one can see?......Great article today by the Sun's Don Brennan about the need to keep Chris Neil in town. Nice to see the Sun not trying to run a player out of town for a change..... Here's hoping the Sens change their centre ice logo after next season (I assume they will go with the All-Star game logo next year). The big cartoon logo doesn't even fit in the circle and the red line runs across it. They should go with the "O" logo at centre ice and have one on each side of the red line like a lot of teams used to do back in the day instead of the "big blob" approach the Sens have taken.

..... Yes, that photo above is former Senator Andrej Meszaros with current Sen Marek Svatos, the context of which I couldn't find. But if they were related it would be a decent candidate for Congratulations to Erik Condra on his first NHL goal. That was genuine joy on his face after he potted a sneaky Ryan Shannon feed from the back of the net. When he scored his second of the game off of an Erik Karlsson point shot, he looked more astonished than anything else. With so many veterans on the Senators for the last five years, the sight of a rookie overjoyed at getting his first goal was not too common, although no one will ever beat Nick Foligno's jump in the air to honour his old man Mike Foligno after his first goal a few years back. Even if the Senators don't win many games the rest of this year (or next), it is a welcome sight to see all that youthful enthusiasm that had been missing from this team for a while......With that being said, I still don't like the Chris Kelly trade, but then again I've been griping about the Meszaros trade ever since it happened too. You probably don't want me to go into that spiel again....

....Completely agree with Don Cherry during his segment tonight about NHL linesmen constantly throwing guys out of the faceoff circle. This has been going on for years and it seems Cherry is the only one who says anything about it. When a faceoff takes over 30 seconds because a linesman is tossing multiple guys, you start to wonder if some of these guys are suffering from "referee envy". Just drop the puck......With the Rangers picking up soon to be UFA Bryan McCabe, and the Habs grabbing Brent Sopel last week, who's still in the running to grab Chris Phillips anyways? To me, the Sharks could use Phillips more than anybody, but with the relatively low price that McCabe fetched - Tim Kennedy and a third rounder - the Sens would be much better off keeping the Big Rig. If you don't get a first rounder or an early second, what's the point? I suppose we'll know soon enough how it will all turn out....

Wow. Alexei Kovalev wins the game for Pittsburgh in the shootout with a perfect shot to beat James Reimer. Coach Dan Bylsma is playing him close to twenty minutes in his first two games. He's going to help the Pens, no matter how much he was despised during his time in Ottawa. People tend to forget he was very good for the Senators for a big portion of 2009-2010 and was playing on one good leg for the most of the first half of this season. But he looks strange wearing number 72....

Thursday, February 24, 2011

No Love Lost Between Kovalev and Clouston

With the flurry of recent trades, a lot of the focus has fallen off of Cory Clouston and his coaching staff, but in the wake of the Alex Kovalev salary dump to the Penguins for a conditional 7th round pick, this quote by GM Bryan Murray in Ken Warren's Citizen piece really stood out to me and likely reveals some contempt on Murray's part:
“I don’t know if he was happy here all the time; maybe he felt his role on the team could have been different,” Murray said....

“Alex is a veteran player who needs to be important. He has been an important player. If you don’t give him that importance, it’s easier to not play at your level. As a coach, you have to define where he fits. (With) Alex, it didn’t work. So he moves.”

Even more to the point is the Sun's Bruce Garrioch:
Kovalev will be thrilled at the prospect of moving. He couldn’t stand playing for Clouston and is going back to a place where his career flourished.
Just a hunch - Murray is probably not very happy that the team he constructed went out and embarrassed themselves on the ice this season. If you look at the opening night roster, the Senators were loaded with a lot of great hockey players - a couple of them in the elite class - and yet Clouston ended up feuding with many of his veterans.

At least two spats were made public - those of Jarkko Ruutu and Kovalev - which leaves you wondering how many others were unhappy with the coach.

Regardless, Clouston has a team full of young minor league kids now and those are the kinds of players he's had success with in the past.

Perhaps his coaching style will mature along with them. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


With Craig Anderson allowing only one goal in the two games he's played in a Senators uniform, it makes you wonder what this team would look like right now if they had gotten that kind of goaltending early in the season when they actually needed it (and when they still had Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly down the middle).

It just goes to prove the old maxim - goaltending is everything in hockey.

You can see it in the defenseman who seem much more relaxed and confident with a very vocal Anderson directing traffic back there. You can see it in the forwards who are starting to run and gun a little more than usual under Cory Clouston's system.

If you have confidence in the guy back there, everything changes.

The big test will be Friday in Buffalo where the suddenly happy looking Sens will face the even more joyous Sabres who are basking in the aftermath of having a new owner who not only loves the team and the city, but openly cried talking about his "hero" Gilbert Perreault.

There could be so many positive vibes going on from both sides that a group hug might be more appropriate.

Unless Francis Lessard, the skating dump truck (and that's a compliment by the way), has anything to say about it.


The posts have been light here lately and will stay that way for the rest of the week as I am busy with some other important things this week. We should be back to normal by the end of the weekend (or if a big trade happens in the meantime), just in time to see if Chris Phillips remains a Senator.

I'm betting he stays, as will Chris Neil.

Because if Neil goes, I might just pack it in. And take up knitting or something.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Game Day Notes

A few quick thoughts for your Saturday:

- Great move by Ottawa GM Bryan Murray to move struggling goalie Brian Elliott out of town. When a goalie falls that deep into a hole, he loses the confidence of his teammates and the organization, even if his poor play is also a result of a poor team in front of him. In this type of situation, it's always best for the goalie to move on. A forward or a defenseman can have a terrible year and still have the trust of everyone to bounce back. A few select goalies can do that too, like Martin Brodeur or even Ryan Miller this season. But not a guy like Elliott who has no proven track record and a string of disappointing stretches of play where he would let in a bad goal almost once a game. Cory Clouston and Murray were right that Elliott was forced into a role he wasn't ready for because of Pascal Leclaire's injury problems, but he didn't do a thing with the opportunity either. Getting Craig Anderson in here will give them a head start on evaluating him for a possible signing next year. At worst, this is a lateral move, but if I was Murray I wouldn't have offered Elliott a new contract in the summer. If Anderson is a dud for the rest of the season, that will focus their efforts on getting the right guy come July. Once Leclaire walks this summer, a lot of heavy baggage in the goaltending department will be gone.

- Even though the Sens lost their tenth straight game at home last night, and the rink was filled with a surprising amounts of Bruins fans, the atmosphere was great and the Sens contingent was loud amongst the 18,500 in attendance. It may have been my imagination but I sensed that the trades have energized the fan base a bit. Chris Kelly got a real warm ovation with most of the rink standing for at least a minute but it wasn't a sad moment in any sense. It really felt like people were accepting and ready to move on. When the Bruins took control late in the game, the crowd sagged a little but were soon making a din with every botched Senator rush up the ice and there wasn't as much groaning when a mistake was made. I think the fans will be very patient during this rebuilding process, especially when they see little glimpses of greatness, such as Bobby Butler's beauty of a goal in the second period.

- Speaking of Butler, this is a different player than the tentative one who played his first few games this season. Jason Spezza was trying to feed this guy all night and Butler looked dangerous for the most part, even if there were a few moments where he looked more surprised than anyone when a perfect saucer pass from Spezza reached his stick through a maze of players. They don't make too many perfect passes like that in the AHL.

- Also, don't let that 4-2 score fool you. Robin Lehner was excellent for most of the game.

- Got to say Tomas Kaberle looked really mobile back on that blueline and he should be a big help to the Bruins. He's exactly the type of defenseman they needed, with apologies to Chris Phillips. Sure, Zdeno Chara can blast the puck but until they got Kaberle, they didn't have that silky smooth - soft hands type of rearguard who will always give penalty-killers nightmares. The Bruins gave up a lot for him, but they have to go for the Stanley Cup this year with Chara still in his prime and Tim Thomas not getting any younger. The Bruins are going to give Philadelphia some competition in the East.

Have a great weekend. Black Aces will be back after Family Day.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ruutu's Final Act

With the expected news that well liked agitator had finally been traded - to the Ducks, where he'll fit in perfectly - it gives us our last chance to play these classics, starting with the radio call by Dave "The Voice" Schreiber and Gord Wilson of Ruutu's scrap with the Thrashers Jim Slater back in 2008. The fight was a beauty, but the call was even better.

Here's the video of the scrap with a slightly less exciting call. Ruutu may have been primarily an agitator, but he also backed it up by fighting and rarely lost a tussle when he did.

He was also a very willing participant in the Battle of Ontario, even though the rivalry had cooled a little by the time he came on board. Ruutu is an underrated hitter and here's the proof.

The timing for Ruutu's deal is a little tough for fans, with the annual Sens Skill Competition on Monday. Ever since Ruutu's been here, he's been the star of the show. Who could forget this classic with the wig and the puck on a string. Genius.

Ruutu is also the only Senator player to do something as awesome as this:

And finally, Ruutu had his own hilarious tribute song before he even got to Ottawa. If this gets in your head, you are doomed.

It was inevitable that Ruutu would get traded due to the poor state of the team and his UFA status, but the Finnish agitator was an important player on this team for the short time he was here, and provided a lot of bizarre entertainment for Sens fans.

He'll be missed.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pressure Mounts On Phillips

Interesting words from Chris Phillips today, as he says he doesn't want to leave Ottawa (which he has talked about before) and would like to be part of the "rebuild" that is going on here.

The sentiment going around after that interview seems to be that Phillips has now given notice that he won't waive his no-trade clause, although he hasn't specifically said those words (and in fact, said it was "one day at a time here"). On top of that, there is no one on the record saying that GM Bryan Murray has even asked Phillips to waive it in the first place.

The rest, as is normal for this time of year, is pure speculation.

But let's say Murray were to approach Phillips and ask him to waive the clause so he can be traded. And let's say Phillips makes a decision not to waive it and stay in Ottawa for the rest of the season in hopes of getting a new contract here in the summer.

My guess is that a lot of fans will be all over this guy for no good reason, and in fact someone left a comment in my last post saying how furious they were about Phillips apparent refusal to waive, and suggested the best way to go about changing his mind would be to start a "character assassination" against him.

Real classy stuff there.

If this scenario were to happen, it should be remembered that Phillips bargained for his no-trade clause in his contract and got it fair and square. If he doesn't want to move his family from a city he obviously loves to play in, how can anyone begrudge him that? What the fans want is completely irrelevant. This is his job and he is allowed to exert a certain amount of control over his destination. Knowing Bryan Murray, he will certainly respect the decision of Phillips either way and try to do the best for him and his family.

The very fact that he wants to stay in Ottawa should prove that he's a player the Senators should keep in town, and not pawn off for a draft pick that likely won't pan out anyways.

The fans may be riding the temporary sugar rush of big name trades, but when that high dissipates, they may find a team almost completely barren of tried and true NHL players.

A youth movement is a great thing, and probably a necessary strategy for this team going forward, but you also can't send out six rookies on defense and expect to win any hockey games.

Who better to show Jared Cowen the ropes than Chris Phillips? You think the Senators want Cowen learning his game from Filip Kuba?

No chance.

Phillips, at only 32 years of age, has a lot of good years left in him and if Senators fans are lucky enough, he'll still be here next season when they will need his experience and leadership more than ever.


As a final word on Chris Kelly, I just noticed today that he will remain two games behind Shaun Van Allen on the all-time Senators games played list, and this is somewhat appropriate given that Kelly chose number 22 in homage to Van Allen, who was a big influence on him during the short time they were teammates.

If the torch was passed from Van Allen to Kelly, who is next in line to be that gritty, smart two-way forward? My pick would be Jesse Winchester who could end up having a similar career to both of those guys if he can stay healthy.

Maybe Winchester may keep the tradition alive and change his number to 22 next year as well.

Now that would be a good story, huh?

Kelly Traded After 9th Straight Loss At Home ... plus It's Still WINTER

My Grandmother Jean's favourite player is Chris Kelly.
With news that he's been traded to the division rival Boston Bruins for a second round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, I'm sure she's completely pissed off this morning.
Jean, who follows the Senators more closely than even I do, liked Kelly for all the reasons other fans should have liked him – he's a hard-working, versatile player who played the same way every night, was easily the team's best player in this disastrous season, and was also fairly cheap at just over 2 million a year.
Now he's gone for a second round pick that has no guarantee of making it to the NHL, and if he does in four or five years, would face even stiffer odds at becoming as good a player as Kelly was for this team right now.
Do I like the deal? No.
But at this point, after the shock of the Mike Fisher trade, it all seems so inevitable.
Bryan Murray is dead serious about rebuilding this team, and doing it the slow, old-fashioned way, again with no guarantees it will even work. A lot of these so called "rebuilds" fail miserably and tend to send teams into an interminable cycle of losing. Chicago won the Stanley Cup last year, but they were in a rebuilding mode ever since trading Chris Chelios to Detroit in 1999. That's ten years of hell. The Panthers, the Islanders and the Oilers have all basically been through multiple rebuilds with only the Oilers breaking through with any success, although that was short-lived because they didn't really have the strong foundation to do anything but catch lightning in a bottle.
The Kings are starting to get good, but they too have went through multiple rebuilds with almost no success since they traded Wayne Gretzky to St. Louis in 1996. And even now, with sky high expectations, they might miss the playoffs altogether. How long have the St. Louis Blues been preaching patience to their fans with little or no payoff? Columbus?
So there's that.
But this isn't a condemnation of the Senators trying to rebuild. They really have no choice right now.  The season has been a complete disaster and a lot of careers have been ruined because of it. You can speculate on the careers I'm speaking of.
The strange thing is the Sens are intent on keeping Jason Spezza but are trading away all of his support players. If Murray is serious about burning down the house and starting over, isn't it strange that both Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson are deemed untouchable?
Who are they going to play with next year? Will they be happy on a team destined to finish in the cellar for at least another season, probably two? By dealing two character centres in their prime years, Murray has completely gutted the depth of this team and leaves you wondering who will be left to lace up their skates next season.
Don't get me wrong. I have never supported trading Spezza or Alfredsson. But then I never expected to see Chris Kelly or Mike Fisher moved as well.  I wouldn't be surprised if Chris Neil is now sent packing for a draft pick.
Ugh. As in ugly. Seeing Neil in another sweater running over the remaining softies on the Senators would be enough to make a grown man cry (not saying that grown man would be me).
Will fans be persuaded to buy tickets to watch a team that is now all but guaranteed to be horrible next year?  Some say Ottawa fans are smart and will support a complete rebuild. Are these the same fans that didn't sell out the building when the team was a Stanley Cup contender? I'll be at the Friday game when Kelly comes back wearing the Bruins colours. I'd be surprised if the remaining Senators get half the applause that Kelly does when he steps on the ice.
One thing is for sure – this is a sad and bitter time to be a Senators fan.
And how do you like the weather this week Ottawa?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Game Day Notes

The Senators have to like where this is going. The Leafs get a first and a third rounder for Kris Versteeg?

Wow. Great deal for the Leafs and the Flyers get a 24 year old forward who will help them for a while down the road. Good for both sides.

Now, Ottawa doesn't have a 24 year old forward with the pedigree of Versteeg to trade (and if they did, why would they want to trade him?), but it further sets the precedent of having to give away good draft picks for help at the deadline. If Versteeg is worth a first and a third, then Alexei Kovalev could be worth a 3rd rounder. Possibly more with the way he's been playing lately. Chris Phillips could fetch as high as a late first or second rounder if a serious bidding war develops for his services.

These early deals before the deadline not only break the ice, but they put further pressure on teams who haven't jumped in the pool yet and it gives them a blueprint for what it's going to take to ply away rentals.

I'm guessing Ottawa GM Bryan Murray is hearing his phone ring a lot more often this week than last......

......Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on franchise defenseman Chris Phillips. If you thought it was a big loss for the team and the community when Mike Fisher was sent to Nashville, how painful will it be to see Phillips (who is just as involved in charitable events around town) leave the team when he's currently just 81 games shy of becoming the second Senator to play 1000 in the red and black sweater?

It just doesn't seem right that the Sens probable lone veteran defenseman next year will be one of Sergei Gonchar or Filip Kuba, and not Phillips. Ugh. It's entirely possible that this defense core will be worse next season, even though it's hard to believe. Just because fans are excited about all the possible rookie blueliners coming next year, doesn't mean they are going to step in right away and play well. In fact, probably one or two will prove they don't even belong at the NHL level yet. If they do make it, they're going to need veteran guidance, as well as a minute muncher to take the pressure off of their games. If Kuba or the struggling Gonchar are the ones to play over twenty minutes a game next season, it could get ugly. Phillips should be the guy, and he should also be a Senator for life just like Alfie.

As for games played milestones, the next closest guy to Phillips (919 games) still on the team is Chris Neil (635) followed by Jason Spezza (500). Fisher finished with 675 games, just 14 shy of Radek Bonk's 689 tilts.

Creeping up on Bonk's totals seem to be a bad omen. Marian Hossa was shipped to Atlanta with 390 career Sens points, just 9 behind Bonk......

....Zenon Konopka, for all the chaos that usually surrounds him on the ice, is a big time leader off of it for the hapless New York Islanders. In fact, he's probably the best leader on that team since the days of Mike Peca  (with apologies to the classy Doug Weight and the respected Bill Guerin). Not afraid to speak his mind (as Mario Lemieux can attest), and completely fearless on the ice, ex-Ottawa 67 Konopka is an unrestricted free agent this summer currently making 600 grand. He'd be a perfect replacement for Jarkko Ruutu next season and would quickly become a fan favourite.

You have to wonder how closely he'll be watched tonight by Sens management.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


"I think Nashville plays a system that is going to be perfect for my game," he said. "It's intense and hard working. It's all about team, and that's what I love and look forward to. I can fit that mould really well and I'm excited about that.

"It's a more aggressive style of play than we have played in Ottawa. That's why they've being successful so far, and I can add to that."
-Ottawa Citizen

Is this a bit of a backhand to Cory Clouston and his passive defensive system by Mike Fisher on his way out the door?

Couldn't be. Could it?


The Senators should cut ties with Brian Elliott this summer.

He's played so poorly this season that you have to wonder about his value as an asset to this organization anymore. The Senators don't have to give him a qualifying offer this summer when he becomes a restricted free-agent and could use that money towards bringing in at least two unrestricted goalies this summer.

Unless Robin Lehner becomes a miracle man, my guess is he'll be starting in Bingo next season as the number one guy to get experience. That means the Senators have a chance to completely revamp their NHL goaltending this summer by signing a true number one and an experienced back-up.

There is so much baggage with Elliott now that it's best for both sides to start fresh.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fisher Traded

The somewhat unexpected (but inevitable) trade of Mike Fisher to Nashville today officially signaled the end of the old guard in Ottawa and painfully ripped open the doors to a full rebuild in the capital.
A first round pick that will be in the middle of the round and a conditional pick doesn't seem to be a home-run type return for a guy like Fisher, but it should be considered fair and GM Bryan Murray got a strong asset in return for one of his biggest trade pieces (I find the sentiment that Nashville "overpaid" for Fisher completely false – anything less than a first rounder for Fisher would have been a complete steal).  And now it looks like there's going to be a lot more moves on the way, but none more bigger than this one.
You also have to consider the cap space this trade creates as part of the return for Fisher. They save 4.2 million for each of the next two seasons and that's quite significant when you add that to the space created by the likes of Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Phillips, Alex Kovalev, Pascal Leclaire and Ryan Shannon, all of whom will be UFA's.
They may need the savings when the disappointing renewals for season tickets start coming in this summer.
It wasn't exactly a strong farewell performance for Fisher this year but he's been battling a rib injury all season long and hasn't been able to hit or play his normal power forward game. But you don't have to go too far back to remember Fisher physically imposing his will on other teams and scoring big goals with that underrated laser beam of his.
For those of us who have watched this Senators team for a long time, it's going to be more than strange to see the Senators without number 12. Many thought he was the heir apparent to Daniel Alfredsson as team captain but it's also interesting to point out that Alfie publicly stated just days ago that Jason Spezza should be in line for the "C" when he finally hangs them up. That's probably just a strange coincidence but maybe this deal has been in the works for longer than we know.
Maybe time will tell that Murray traded Fisher at exactly the right time. Power forwards tend to regress in their 30's, and with Fisher now past his 20's, perhaps the Senators have already used up his best years. The two places where Fisher will be missed most are in the playoffs and in the community. The playoffs are a pipedream so that doesn't really matter anymore, but Fisher was a very visible presence in this town and probably the most popular Senator of all-time next to Alfredsson, as well as the most charitable.
But is this not a Hollywood ending for Fish? Trading for Carrie Underwood's husband in Nashville is probably the most genius marketing move in the NHL since they held a lottery for Sidney Crosby or when Mark Messier returned to New York in 2000. It's almost too perfect to believe. (uh oh).
So who's next? The obvious one is Chris Phillips but does Fisher's best friend on the team, Chris Neil, now feel less attached to the future here as a result of this trade? Maybe he wants a taste of the playoffs this season as well. But, as always, you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
There are a lot of good players on this team having bad years.  If Phillips leaves and doesn't come back next season, who is going to step in and play his 25 minutes a night? Do you give those minutes to a rookie? Don't think so. The Senators would have to go out and sign a veteran, and with the free agent market looking thin this summer, who better to sign than Phillips himself as veteran mentor to all the young defenseman who are going to be in the lineup next season?
Chris Neil bleeds black and red and is a team leader in that locker room. Losing him would be just as tough as losing Anton Volchenkov last summer.
But with the Fisher trade, it looks as though Bryan Murray has finally thrown in the towel on this core group and that means no one is really safe.
One wonders if Murray can turn around and use this Nashville first-rounder in a package with Phillips to get that Boston-owned Toronto first-rounder.
Hey, one can dream.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fisher and Phillips Could Be A Package Deal

99% of all NHL talk nowadays is either on headshots or on trade rumours. That is all the media and the fans can agree is interesting about the modern game.

Since I am borderline nauseated by the reactionary movement to wipe the game clean of all violence (fighting will be next, as I predicted here), I will turn my attention to the other permanent topic of trade rumours, something I rarely get into too much, simply because I don't know how you can credibly write about rumours to begin with.

But this is the one time of the season where trade rumours can seem that much more credible and it's undoubtedly fun for fans to wonder what their teams are going to do at the deadline.

And for the first time in a while, Senators fans can expect major changes by the end of the month, and likely a new direction for the franchise if some longtime core players get moved, as per speculation.

Undoubtedly, the big gem out there for Ottawa is the fact that Boston GM Peter Chiarelli has publicly stated that he'd be willing to trade that first round pick he got from Toronto in the Phil Kessel trade, and that he has already been proposed a deal that he is currently mulling over.

Did he get that offer from Ottawa? Would the Bruins be willing to part with that pick for the final pieces to their Stanley Cup puzzle?

Those final pieces could very well be Chris Phillips and Mike Fisher. Both are hardened playoff warriors with Stanley Cup final experience and both might be available for the first time in their careers. The B's have already been looking for another defenseman, but with Marc Savard out for the season (and the cap relief it affords), that opens up a spot for a big time centre.

The Bruins need to make a run now because they don't know how much longer Tim Thomas is going to be this good and they have a guy like Zdeno Chara nearing the end of his prime. This could push Chiarelli to make one of those statement trades that set up a team for a big run.

The Senators would have to take back a salary as well (Blake Wheeler?), but with all the cap room created, that wouldn't be a problem.

The big sell for Sens fans here is a possible 1-2 picking order in the first round this June, especially if they continue to surge towards rock bottom and the Leafs don't improve much down the stretch.

Imagine this scenario for a moment:

They get both Gabriel Landeskog and Adam Larsson. Two Swedish blue-chippers to join a future Swedish core of Erik Karlsson, David Rundblad and Robin Lehner. Not to mention a world-class mentor in Daniel Alfredsson who has at least one more good season in him.

Needless to say, this is a dream scenario, but is it likely?

Murray would need to get a lot in return for both Fisher and Phillips who have been cornerstones for so long. That number one pick would be a good start. But, as with all rumours, there is a .0001% chance this exact scenario happens. Add to the fact that this would be an intra-division trade between two rivals and the odds go down further.

But we're all allowed to wonder at this time of year, and for Sens fans, this trade deadline should be the most exciting in franchise history, if only as a respite against what has been a horribly embarrassing year by the team in red and black.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Feisty Lehner Not Enough To End Brutal Streak

While it may not have been popular with HNIC commentator Greg Millen who called it a "careless penalty", I absolutely loved that Robin Lehner took an unexpected shot at Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin at the end of the second period, knocking him down to the ice as the two goalies skated by each other on their way to the locker room.

Critics will point to the fact that the winning goal was scored on the ensuing two-man advantage power-play, but the Incredible Shrinking Goalie Brian Elliott was much more complicit in the losing of this game than Lehner was (not to mention a complete lack of coverage in front of the net by the defense tonight).

Yes, the Senators lost again (who's keeping count anymore?) but the unexpected swagger that Lehner showed in this game after he came on in relief of Elliott made you realize how meek this team has been all season by contrast. He made 23 saves, many of them big, including a few with a lightning quick leg pad, but most importantly, he wanted to win more than any other Senator on the ice.

This kid has got a nasty streak. Big time.

He didn't hesitate to get into a scrum in the second period and it even looked as though he and Poulin were going to scrap but the Islanders goalie understandably backed off at the last second. With Rick Dipietro already getting crushed in a fight this week, it was not the time for Poulin to get injured too. And if he would have tangled with Lehner, here's betting he would have been.

Known for his intensity, it looked like Lehner was disappointed that Poulin backed off and he let him know by giving him a surprise shove after the 2nd period horn and got a penalty for it. He almost survived the 2 man disadvantage with some big stops but one got by him and he'll take the statistical loss while Elliott gets an unfair no-decision.

But you have to love the swagger. Swagger is something this team desperately lacks. They used to have a goalie like that in Ray Emery but now the only players who have that edge are Chris Neil and Matt Carkner. The Isles were so unintimidated by this meek group of Sens that Robbie Schremp decided to "bag" Brian Lee with his glove in front of the net and skate away, knowing that nothing was going to happen to him.

What's clear is that the Senators have a goalie. Whether Cory Clouston decides to use him for the balance of the season is another question, but Lehner already looks ten times as big as Elliott, ten times as competitive as Elliott, and someone who can actually make big saves at crucial points in the game despite playing behind the softest defense core in the NHL, and probably in the Senators history.

Clouston already went on the record this week saying that Lehner playing is not the ideal situation, but with the utter collapse of his pet player Elliott this season, Clouston is quickly running out of reasons to keep Lehner out of the net.

Then again, the Senators have long run out of reasons to keep Clouston employed while the team completely falls apart in an embarrassing and potentially damaging fashion.

Stop to think about it rationally for a moment.

This team just lost their 9th game in a row, this time to the New York Islanders. They've won only 1 of their last 16 games.

One game.

And yet the team, maddeningly, remains status quo. It's getting to the point that it looks like they are tanking on purpose now just by their complete inaction.

It's only going to get worse out west on the upcoming road trip.

Even just on humanitarian grounds, how is it that Clouston is still behind the bench?  This season is not only ruining the Senators for the foreseeable future, it's ending the career of Clouston as a professional.

I find it completely unbelievable that either Greg Carvel or Rick Walmsley haven't been given a shot to finish out the season here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

That Was Nuts ... Wings 7 Sens 5

That's the way the game should be played.

It was a coach's nightmare, but long suffering Senators fans were finally treated to an all-out mindblowing tilt, the type of hockey that is so rare in Kanata these days, so rare in the entire NHL.

Nobody had time for defense as Johan Franzen ripped off 5 of the 12 goals scored and the fans in the rink were very into the spirit of things, booing Cory Clouston's decision to pull Robin Lehner after four goals, showering the ice with hats after Franzen's third snipe and going completely ballistic when a sure Senators goal was called off late in the third due to the mystifying "intent to blow whistle rule" that only seems to make sense in some kind of mystical land where 2 + 2 = 5.

While it's not completely fair to say the Senators came into this game looking to run and gun with the powerful Wings, they did come out on fire with Alexei Kovalev looking like he was desperately trying to convince Ken Holland to trade for him. He ended up with 3 points but gave the puck away to Henrik Zetterberg in the last minute which allowed Franzen to notch his 5th of the night.

Big hay will be made out of the fans going up one side of Clouston and down the other when he gave Lehner the yank, but it looked like the coach was sensing that the game was going out of control and he wanted to protect the kid. But obviously there's been a lot of negative energy building throughout the fanbase and it came out spontaneously at that moment. The fans are excited about Lehner and they were trying to let the kid know they have his back, a good sign from a sometimes complacent group of handsitters.

Since the season is already lost, it would be a welcome sight to see the Senators try to run and gun like that every game. It will give them a chance to score some goals and start feeling better about themselves, have some much needed fun and maybe even win a few games. It will be tough on the goalies, particularly Brian Elliott who looks like he will be playing the majority of games down the stretch here, but protecting Elliott should be the least of the Senators worries right now. Elliott's future with this team, even as a backup, is not looking good right now. He's shown he's not going to be the guy, so why not bring in a veteran or even two veterans if Lehner is the one you want to mould for the future.

There was only one missed opportunity tonight for more entertainment, and that was when Clouston managed to keep control of himself after the late goal was disallowed. His face went a little red but he didn't even say anything when the ref explained the call. The fans were going nuts and the replays on the board clearly showed the puck crossing the line (at home you could hear the whistle on the replay come after the puck went in as well).

Right there was the perfect time for Clouston to really blow a gasket, one of those classic Pat Burns style rants or even the more rare Robbie Ftorek Bench Toss. Either would have been appropriate at the moment.

Clouston is always so in control of himself in public, so stern, that it would have made great theatre and possibly even humanized the coach for the fans.

Alas, Clouston concentrated on getting his guys ready for the next shift, and was complimented by future Senators GM Pierre McGuire on TSN.

But I still say he should have at least thrown a stick or two onto the ice, or Ryan Shannon or something.


Some personal advice, free of charge.

Never, ever attempt to eat an entire Cinnabon. I tried one once in the summer, just a bite, and I was impressed. Just ate a whole one yesterday and I am only beginning to recover from the shock my system took. Huge bun. Huge mistake. That is alien food and I swear I was high for close to two hours after eating it. There is also a permanent cinnamon burn in my mouth that I fear will never leave me.

Also, never watch the movie High Tension, especially if you're alone in the house. I'm not a squeamish guy, but I had to hit the stop button about halfway through and watch some Will Ferrell to get me to come out from my cowering position behind the couch. That is one scary flick, but still not as scary as the Cinnabon.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sens Keep Momentum After Break

Another tough loss for the Senators despite an outstanding performance by rookie Robin Lehner. He was so good that Cory Clouston should be thinking about starting him against the Wings on Wednesday night. As for the Senators offense, it's the same story. This team is just waiting for Jason Spezza to return to have any chance to win a game.

Really, it's been the same game since Spezza was injured, give or take a few goals by the opposition. I'll be cutting and pasting these same sentences into the next game post. Can't wait.


Interesting parallel here. Both the Devils and the Senators are having disastrous seasons. The difference? The Devils took action early and removed John Maclean once that coach lost the room and replaced him with a veteran in Jacques Lemaire. It took a while but the Devils are starting to play well and there's a team mission to finish back at the .500 level before the season is done. In short, they have that winning attitude back which bodes well for them next season. The Senators? They decided to stick with the status quo and keep Cory Clouston behind the bench, despite it being obvious that he had "lost the room" (see public comments by Jarkko Ruutu and Alex Kovalev) and completely run out of answers. One team is on the way up, one team is still seeing how far they are going to drop. The Devils took a stand and decided that losing was unacceptable. When will Ottawa do the same? Looks like they will try to solve their problems at the trade deadline, a gambit that is likely to fail because they are just going to turn into a rental shop for other teams. Meanwhile, the losing culture begins to take hold....

…Another sign the Ottawa Senators have become completely irrelevant this season? They only garnered one mention in the now infamous HNIC Player Poll, good, bad or otherwise. The only Senators appearance was by Matt Carkner who was voted the third toughest player by his peers around the league. The good news? Ottawa wasn’t among the top five destinations that players wanted to avoid. Despite their troubles, Ottawa has still been able to lure big name free agents like Sergei Gonchar and Alexei Kovalev (I know, I know) for every Dany Heatley and Joe Corvo who wanted out of town. And in Heatley’s case at least, it seemed like it was a hockey decision (or rather, a Cory Clouston related decision) than it was a problem with the city itself. While you may have to take out a second mortgage to afford buying an OC Transpo bus pass these days (and the prices are going up …again), Ottawa is still a hell of a place to live for the most part……I have to agree with Brian Burke on this one. I didn't like the fact that a player who was picked for the All-Star Game had to be embarrased by the process and made the last pick on national television. Sure, Phil Kessel won a car and some money for a charity, but he's still the butt of jokes and it all seemed somewhat mean spirited. Say what you want about Kessel, but does he, or any other player, need to go through something like that for an All-Star game? Burke has it right. Pick the last 4 or 5 guys from a hat......

…..Count me in as a fan of the new Tampa Bay Lightning jerseys (see them here at Icethetics). This is the direction the Senators should be headed – traditional striping, simplistic lines and an iconic logo. It seems as though there will be a new Senators black third jersey next season as reported by a few people. Just add it to the mountain of jerseys this team has unveiled in its short 19 year history. Here’s another thought: how come the Senators are so hesitant to add the now popular lace collars to their regular jerseys? In fact, why hasn’t every team in the NHL gone this way? It should be required of every club, just like the fight strap. Why? I say, why not? It’s the coolest thing you can put on a jersey, other than a captain’s “C”…… Looks like Ottawa has a lot to live up to next year after Carolina did a great job hosting this seasons All-Star weekend. The new convention centre being built where the old Congress Centre was will be a big help, as would a potential new scoreboard at Scotiabank Place. But really, it’s all about the spirit of the thing, and Ottawa has done a good job in the past with the World Juniors, the Memorial Cup tournament and two recent NHL Entry Drafts. Senators fans should savour the experience, because the All-Star game won’t be back in town anytime soon, maybe not for another 30 years. I wonder if Cory Clouston will be fired by then?

…..As a last word on the All-Star game, I’ve never understood why people get so up in arms about it. People like Nick Kypreos should, in the words of Carey Price, “just relax, chill out”. The All-Star game is for kids and sponsors and is a convenient smorgasbord of marketing for the NHL brand. That’s all. There are thousands of NHL games from October to June. Why does everyone feel the need to make the one exhibition game in January so meaningful and worthy of controversy? If you’re that passionate about an All-Star game and so eager to rip it apart, maybe you’re taking this whole thing way too seriously.….. I also find it humourous that people get so upset by big hits in NHL games but claim the lack of hitting in the All-Star game as another reason it should be dropped......

.... It's been bandied about before by other people here and there (and mostly mocked), but the NHL should seriously look at instituting a rule that makes it a penalty to intentionally go down on the ice to block a shot. Make it an illegal defense. It would serve two purposes: one, it would allow many, many more pucks to the net and create more offense from rebounds, and two, it would cut down on horrific injuries like the one that ended Ian Laperriere's career and almost killed Trent McCleary ten years ago. Players could still block shots standing up but would be given a 2 minute penalty for going down on purpose, even on one knee. With the league starting to revert back to "dead puck era" scoring levels, something must be done to open up the game without going to 4 on 4 full-time or making the nets bigger. Combine this rule with new legislation to radically decrease goalie equipment, (especially the shoulder pads and the ridiculously huge trapper) and you might even see goals scored from above the faceoff dots for a change......

And finally, best of luck to Ray Emery (a Black Aces favourite) who has so far defied the odds and is about ready to make a comeback after a debilitating hip injury that should have ended his career. In fact, 99% of athletes would probably have called it quits. The one other guy who beat it, as this must-read Citizen article points out, is Bo freaking Jackson. This guy was such a name, he could pull Gretzky, Jordan and even Bo Diddley into his cult of personality back in the early 90's. Check it.