Saturday, March 26, 2011

Passing The Torch

When it's all said and done, it looks like Chris Phillips could be the Senators all-time leader in games played just a few seasons from now. Daniel Alfredsson currently sits at 1056 and Phillips is about a season and a half behind him at 938.

But that gap could close quickly. Alfredsson is 38 years old and has two years remaining on his contract after this season, but the last of those years, 2012-2013, coincides with a possible CBA confrontation between the players union and the league. I'd say it's 50/50 on whether or not a good chunk of games are cancelled, especially with the NHLPA having a new boss in Donald Fehr who was brought in to be a tough guy for the next round of negotiations.

It's entirely possible that next season could be Alfie's last in the NHL. A lot will depend on his health, which hasn't been great this season, and the looming CBA battle which could, in a worst-case scenario, wipe out an entire season.

Phillips on the other hand is still in the late stages of his prime years at 33 years old and has 3 more on his new deal and one that extends a season past the possible Armageddon. He'll still only be about 36 when the contract expires and could conceivably re-sign for another couple in the city he obviously loves to play in.

A lot of defenseman in their late 30's are still playing important minutes in the NHL today such as Sean O'Donnell (39), Chris Pronger (36), Adam Foote (39), Nicklas Lidstrom (40), Brian Rafalski (37), Adrian Aucoin (37), Sergei Gonchar (36), Sami Salo (36), Roman Hamrlik (36), Jaroslav Spacek (37) and Karlis Skrastins (36). There's both offensive and defensive specialists in that group.

Phillips has a chance to play another five or six years in this league if he can stay healthy and there's no reason to think he won't play a lot of those years in an Ottawa uniform. In a way, Phillips has a chance to be the next Glen Wesley who played 21 seasons in the NHL, mostly with the Carolina/Hartford organization. There are a lot of similarities between the two.

So if Phillips succeeds Alfredsson as the all-time games played leader, who's in the pipeline to surpass him?

The next guy on the list is Chris Neil at 652 games but at 31 years old and only 2 years left on his deal, he has a long road to the top. I'd say the odds are not good.

Jason Spezza is intriguing. He's a relative pup at 27 and is signed all the way through the 2014-2015 season with a no-trade clause in his pocket. He's already played in 519 games but would have been in more if it weren't for injuries. That's Spezza's only barrier to eventually becoming both the all-time games played and all-time points leader one day down the road. His new devotion to two-way play will cut down his offensive numbers a little over the coming years but he will be in the 75-100 point range nearly every season if he can keep healthy.

While Alfredsson and Phillips will share the elder statesman status for the time being, the torch has already been passed to Spezza. He's quickly become the team's most important player and his worth to the club is incalculable on the ice.

This is his team now and will be for a long time. He's the next captain, guaranteed.

But then again, there's Erik Karlsson, who is going to be one of the best defenseman in this league for the next 15 years. He's already the best defenseman on this team.

And then there's whoever they draft in the early first round this season. The Senators could have another franchise player on their hands in just three months time.

Things could be worse.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Murray Finally Stepping Out Of Past GM's Shadows

Strange and interesting times here in Senators Land.
Just take GM Bryan Murray. Only a few short months ago it was assumed he was toast.
His team was in a death spiral to the bottom of the standings, there were rumours he tried to fire his coach but was rebuffed by Eugene Melnyk (a story that has never been confirmed), and pundits were already picking out likely candidates to be his successor, such as Pierre McGuire and others.
Like I said, he was a goner.
Things have changed.
All signs point to Bryan Murray staying on another season.
Just look at the long-term contracts to Chris Phillips and Craig Anderson. The crucial decision to dump core players in their prime such as Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly for draft picks.  The fact that Eugene Melnyk has stated he is ecstatic about how the team is playing out the stretch after all the changes.
Then there's this thing they call "The Plan".
Both Murray and Melnyk have talked of this "plan" in mysterious, hushed tones like it was the Caramilk secret.
We don't know the details of the plan but we've seen the initial part play out like a dream so far. The goaltending has been stabilized with Anderson. The young kids are helping this team win games. Even the fans have decided to put out their torches for the time being and calls for Murray's head have recently been far and few between on the call-in shows and the blogs.
So what's Phase 2 of the great plan? Does Murray get shuffled aside?
That is starting to look unlikely because Murray is clearly shaping this team for next season already. Important decisions have already been made which a new GM would be expected to make.
And who says that's such a bad thing?
Murray has been around the game a long time and is a well-respected hockey executive. To be fair to him, when he took over the Senators from John Muckler, there were numerous ticking time bombs on this team ready to detonate.  There were big contracts to be worked out with core players, swelling egos in the dressing room due to prolonged periods of success, looming salary cap issues and a bone dry farm system due to poor drafting.
Because of the team's success under Muckler, Murray wasn't about to rip it apart to remake the roster in his own image. In fact, you could say that Murray's role for the first few seasons was as a caretaker.
Who tears apart a team after going to the Stanley Cup final the year before? Who tears apart a team who made it to the final two seasons ago? And on and on… into this season when it became clear that the core needed to be split up.
Basically, now is the first chance for Murray to really mould this team from the core out.
Perhaps Melnyk is willing to give Murray that chance, even though he failed to keep Muckler's team glued and stapled together.
If this was one of those newspaper editorials right before election day when the paper traditionally espouses a certain candidate, then I would be standing behind Bryan Murray for GM next year, if only to see what he can do when he's not trying to sustain a team built by somebody else.
The early signs are good. But who knows what's to come after these last 9 games are played.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Anderson Locked In By Murray For Four Years

Solid move by GM Bryan Murray today to get goalie Craig Anderson under contract for the next four years at an average of just over 3 million a season.
What this team needs now, perhaps more than ever in their franchise history, is stability in the net and this deal gives them that going forward.
As Murray said today at the press conference, the tumultous year for Robin Lehner has hurt his progress after bouncing around from league to league and not being able to win the starting job in either scenario. And that's not totally suprising given his age and the circumstances.
So far, the Senators "rebuild" with youth has shown results right away (though it's always a bad idea to equate late season surges with success the following season) but the one position you don't want to have inexperience at during these upheavals is in the net. That's why expansion teams always go with veteran goaltenders, because they know there are going to be tough nights and even longer stretches where losing is going to be inevitable.
Anderson has already proved that he's a good, if not great, goalie in this league. Some critics have pointed to his tough start in Colorado this year but it's obvious that their problems were far deeper than goaltending.
Already I'm hearing a negative reaction from fans on the call-in shows due to the length of the deal, but it's not like Murray was going into this negotiation from a position of strength. Anderson doesn't owe Ottawa a thing and he could have simply said that if he didn't get that fourth year, he'd just go to July 1st and see what the market offered. Smartly, Murray didn't balk and got Anderson under contract for very little money when you look at what other starting goalies are getting in this league.
With the setbacks that the 19 year old Lehner went through this year, there are no guarantees he's going to be ready at anytime during the length of Anderson's contract. Most goalies don't crack the NHL until their mid-20's anyways.  Lehner has plenty of time to arrive in the normal, routine way that other starters do.
If he does somehow battle his way to the top spot in the next two or three years, it's not as if Anderson's contract is so huge that moving him would be impossible.
Overall, a necessary and positive move for this organization going forward.
And call me crazy, but doesn't it look like Murray is going to be around in his role for at least another season?
I'm not calling him Lazarus, but it's pretty close.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Long Strange Season Continues....

The Rogers House Telethon that took place during the Senators - Penguins game tonight gives us an opportunity to dig out one of my favourite quotes from the late Roger Neilson. He once said, "There are two things I don't want to know - how they make hot dogs and what goes on in the NHL office." That little nugget seems more relevant today than when he actually said it. Truly one of the great characters the game has ever known. Ottawa was lucky to have him around for the last few years of his storied life…… Speaking of characters, and as a tribute of sorts upon his return tonight to Ottawa (where he was so dearly loved) here's some precious Alex Kovalev footage in the locker room after winning the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in his second season. He had an obsession with those weird little troll dolls that were popular back in the early nineties and still receives them as gifts from some of his fans. I wonder what Mark Messier thought of those trolls? Probably just stared them down until their hair wilted.…

...There was a strong chorus of boos for Kovalev when he touched the puck early in the game, but Kovie shouldn't get too upset about it. After all, Sens fans lustily booed franchise player Jason Spezza during last years playoffs, so it was inevitable Kovalev would get his share as well. Strangely, Kovalev was given a round of applause during a break in the first when they showed a tribute video. Then he was booed next time he carried the puck. Play-by-play man Dean Brown said at one point that he didn't understand the booing because it's not Kovalev's fault he was traded. Some fans would say it was Kovalev's fault Murray had to trade him, but let's not get into that.....Which makes me wonder - if Chara had railroaded Kovalev into a stanchion instead of Max Pacioretty, would Senators fans be as outraged as everyone else? Or what if it was Dany Heatley? It's a fair question....

.....Say it ain’t so, Winnipeg. According to NESN, if the NHL were to return to Winnipeg, they wouldn’t be called the Winnipeg Jets. They would be called the Manitoba Moose. Groan. That would have been like the Ottawa franchise calling themselves the Ottawa Beavers upon their return in 1992. Well, not quite. The Moose brand has been a smashing success in the AHL, but it just doesn’t seem right not to call a returning franchise the Jets. But I’m guessing the Winnipeg fans will get over it if they actually get NHL hockey back. It would also be weird if they decided to retire some jerseys from their first era. Do they retire Teemu Selanne in a Moose jersey? For the love of everything good and decent, just call yourselves the Jets if you get the chance…And if the Jets do come back, wouldn't it be nice to see them wearing something vintage like this? Or this? And especially this.  Hopefully not something like this. Or this. Now for something completely weird. A group of Jets drinking Moosehead beer. Coincidence or mind-blowing precognition? Actually, I think it's a case of Photoshop. And finally, Tie Domi....

.....I like what the NHL has done the past two days in response to the outcry about concussions in hockey. The “Five Steps” outlined by Gary Bettman make a lot of sense and they should help immediately and down the road without taking the needless step of penalizing all or “incidental contact” with the head, something that will never be eliminated from the NHL as long as you’re allowed to actually touch another player. The most promising aspects are the ones that look at equipment and the playing surface itself. Get those stanchions more heavily padded or out of the way completely. Make the dasher’s soft, get rid of the seamless glass and soften the “body armour” these guys wear. The NHL also came out today and said they will more strictly enforce charging and boarding infractions, which makes sense since they don’t have to create any new rules. Again, a sensible and responsible approach.

The perfect balance the NHL is trying to achieve is a fast, physical game with very few career jeopardizing injuries. It’s too bad you can never eliminate concussions from a contact sport, but you can’t change the integrity of the game in an effort to make it completely safe. The governors understand that fact and are faced with a difficult and thankless job, despite everyone sitting on their couch thinking it should be easy. At some point, those people who are so horrified by the game of hockey are going to have to start watching another sport. It’s not for everyone and it never has been. I don’t watch Mixed Martial Arts because it’s too violent and I can move on with my life just fine. The NHL shouldn’t have to continually apologize and try to appease a vocal group who want to make the league as clean and politically correct as lawn bowling. We can all agree that reducing concussions is important. How the league goes about that is another thing. So far, they’ve made a reasonable effort and they shouldn’t let an angry mob change the prudent course they’ve started…

...What the hell is Eugene Melnyk talking about? We all know the lovable owner of the Senators has a tendency for hyperbole (“Fasten your seatbelts! We’re going all the way!”), but his comments that players delivering headshots should be “banned for life” is a bit of a clanger due to the timing of his extreme views. The NHL has made some progress on the issue in the past two days but Melnyk felt he had to toss a grenade into the process for some reason. It just doesn't make any sense to toss out an extreme view when the NHL has actually created some goodwill by their recent actions. A week ago would have made more sense, but today? Is he trying to upstage Bettman here? Melnyk admits he’s as “far to the right wing on this issue as you can ever get”, but he’s certainly got a lot of little right-wingers supporting his cause if any of the comments under the article indicate. Melnyk's heart is in the right place, as is his commitment to the community in Ottawa. It's also refreshing to hear an owner speak his mind, but he does tend to get carried away in front of a microphone like he's Gilbert Godfrey or something. What’s clear from his eye rolling comments is that “head-shot mania” has gotten completely out of control in the fanbase and the media to the point that “oversaturation” doesn’t do it justice. Now we hear that fans in Montreal are protesting outside of the arena? Over a hockey game? I wonder if any of them could muster the courage to get out and protest for a cause that actually matters. You have to wonder if these are the same people who loot stores and try to burn down the city after Montreal wins or loses a playoff series. Good on Bruce Boudreau for also speaking his mind and adding a little more spice to the game against the Canadiens. Boudreau may be the only guy making sense nowadays. I wonder if any Montreal fans called 911 on him?...

...The game itself was a barn-burner between the Caps and the Habs. While it's been fun to watch the Senators start competing again, nothing can compare to two playoff level teams throwing everything they have at each other in a loud and hostile atmosphere. The speed is faster, the hits are harder and the fans are louder.The Caps look incredible right now and the Habs have played with heart and guts all year. It looks like the Habs will draw the Bruins in the first round, and that will be a must watch series. But a Montreal-Washington series would be almost as good, except for store owners on Saint Catherine Street.....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Other Side...

We've heard a lot from the Montreal media, from the Montreal owner, from the Montreal fans and Montreal-based corporations. For some much needed balance, here's some good points by Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe:

Of all the remarkable circumstances concerning Zdeno Chara’s hit on Montreal forward Max Pacioretty, the least remarkable was the hit itself.

Vicious? Not in the least. Beyond the pale? See paragraph No. 1. Malicious? Only if you are applying the rules of ringette.

Too many Habs fans, including even team owner Geoff Molson, forgot some of their own recent history. Why, it was only Dec. 26 that Pacioretty himself was tossed from a game on Long Island when he smacked Islanders defenseman Mark Eaton into the rear boards with a running hit across the back.

It was precisely the kind of hit that Chara’s was not, and the type of hit that the league was far too slow in trying to legislate out of the game.

The Habs and their fans also must have erased from the memory bank the hit Guillaume Latendresse delivered to Rob DiMaio in a 2006-07 preseason game, leaving DiMaio addle-brained and never to play again. Where was all the outrage then about playing the game the right way?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weekend Notes

Hockey violence is apparently “hurting the game” and the NHL’s image, according to everyone with access to a microphone and a word processor, yet the NHL has never been so popular in both Canada and America. Ever. 
The ratings are breaking new records on both sides of the border. The salary cap has gone up every year since it was instituted because revenues keep going up. Everyone involved is getting rich, with the exception of a few southern-based organizations having ownership problems. Both the owners and the players have a CBA that dictates exactly how much money each side makes and the playoff races are the most exciting among all 4 major leagues, not to mention the playoffs themselves. Yet, there is no league in the world which goes through so much needless and boring self-analysis than the NHL. The game is better than it's been for the last 25 years but people can't help focusing on what's wrong with it, rather than what makes it such a great sport.
The fact that the NHL is fast, physical and somewhat dangerous is what makes it great in the first place. The masses clamoring for a "culture change" seem to forget that they already won the biggest battle, and that was to get the league to install Rule 48 banning blindside hits to the head. It's only been in place for less than a full season and already people pretend like it's always been there, and that the NHL has done nothing to curb concussions. Nothing could be further from the truth. That was a landmark rule change and it's impact can not yet be properly assessed.
Any further legislation made in a panic is not the right way to conduct business. But if the pressure becomes unrelenting, change will become inevitable and everyone will have to live with the consequences, even if it means the game itself becomes worse. It's too bad. Suddenly, hockey has turned into an intellectual and moral debate and nothing could be more boring. Have you listened to the Team 1200 lately in Ottawa? The Senators don't even exist anymore. It's 24/7 headshots and how the NHL is a "bush league". We hear interviews with lawyers and doctors. Journalists who have never written a hockey article in their life are suddenly experts on the NHL and have no qualms telling Gary Bettman how to run the league. NHL hockey used to be an escape from politics and other serious issues, a way to unwind and enjoy a Saturday night. Nothing wrong with that. Now it's just a huge drag like everything else. What a shame …..
.....Bettman easily delivered the most cutthroat line of the year when he subtly threatened Air Canada that NHL clubs could, at any time, stop using their charter services in response to the Montreal-based company sending out a ridiculous letter to the commissioner threatening to pull their sponsorship dollars. I’m guessing the executives will now crawl back to their desks with their tail between their legs as most opponents end up doing when going against Bettman. Love him or hate him, he never loses. He crushed the NHLPA so badly that its very existence was in doubt only a few years ago. You think he’s going to blink when a sponsor, who is apparently getting a sweetheart deal on the naming rights for the Maple Leafs rink, sends a reactionary letter trying to tell the league how to conduct their business? I’m sure they had a good laugh about that one in New York. That’s why it’s no surprise Bettman received a five year extension back in November. He's not going anywhere folks.....
..... Oh no. Poor Brian Elliott. The Avalanche got destroyed by the Ducks last night and Elliott let in six goals. His save percentage on the night was .818. Since joining the Avs, Elliott is sporting a bloated 4.40 GAA, an .875 save percentage and an 0-4 record in 5 games (he was yanked in one game which gave him a no-decision). What happened to this kid anyways? Both Cory Clouston and Bryan Murray mentioned that Elliott was under a lot of "pressure" when he was forced to carry the load in Ottawa, but it looks like that pressure has only increased in Denver. If you think about it, how tough would it be to get traded to a team where the only thing anybody knows about you is that you couldn't get the job done for your last team and now you have to go in and save the day for your new team. To make things worse, the goalie you got traded for has turned into the China wall and people are saying the Senators stole Craig Anderson from the Avs. There is a very real possibility the Avs don't offer Elliott a qualifying offer this summer to retain his rights. Where Elliott could go from there would be anybody's guess.....
..... Incredible debut for new Senators goalie Curtis McElhinney (say that 5 times fast) against the Lightning last night to give the Sens four straight road wins. I've wasted a bit of virtual ink saying the Senators need to go after an experienced back-up to Anderson next season, like Johan Hedberg or Mathieu Garon, but maybe McElhinney could make a good case for himself down the stretch. If the Senators could get goaltending like this next season, the playoffs are definitely possible..... Don't look now but Marek Svatos had 5 shots on net last night. He's starting to look better but needs to start getting on the scoresheet. If he could ever get comfortable, this guy could be a steal for Murray..... I know, I know, Brian Lee is playing well. Now let's see him do it from the start of training camp to the end of a season. I'm still skeptical..... Chris Campoli is +5 since joining the Blackhawks and has 2 assists in 5 games..... Jarkko Ruutu has 27 hits in 9 games for the Ducks since the trade but only 8 PIMs. I'm thinking he's enjoying life under Randy Carlyle a lot more than Cory Clouston....
....Speaking of Clouston, interesting piece from the Sun's Don Brennan today where he criticises Clouston for not giving Erik Condra and Erik Karlsson a chance to complete hat-tricks against the Devils and the Panthers this week by keeping them nailed to the bench with the opposition net empty. He even got a league executive saying, “(Clouston) just has blinders on,” said a league executive...“He just doesn’t notice.” It's a good point, but Clouston insulates himself from criticism by winning lately, and he deserves credit for that. You can get away with being "unliked" by your players if you win, but the act gets very old when the losses pile up. The odds caught up to coaches like Mike Keenan and Ken Hitchcock eventually. At the same time, nice coaches don't last long if they don't win either. Craig Ramsay in Atlanta is having a tough go at the moment and may not be back if the Thrashers miss the playoffs. Maybe you need to be somewhere in the middle to have lasting power, like Barry Trotz in Nashville and Lindy Ruff in Buffalo. Then again, neither of those guys have Cup rings. I guess it helps to have good players, no?....Not that he would have been available anyways, but Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma's new contract extension snuffed out the 0.01 percent chance he could have ended up behind the bench in Ottawa next season. Everybody I know who watched HBO's 24/7 series immediately recognized how good of a coach he really is. The Pens have hardly missed a beat after losing both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Probably doesn't hurt that they absolutely stole James Neal and Matt Niskanen from Dallas for Alex Goligoski.....

....I have a guest article up at Local Tourist Ottawa, a great site you should check out if interested in all things Ottawa. The piece is a general history of the Senators and geared towards maybe a more casual fan than may normally check out Black Aces (meaning I don't expect any emails telling me what an a-hole I am from their readers, like I get from time to time with mine!). Thanks for the invite, Jessey.....

....And lastly, how fun is it to watch this group of young Senators night in and night out? And don't tell me these guys are only playing good because there's no pressure. Guys like Bobby Butler and Erik Condra are trying to make this team for next season. There's no bigger pressure than trying to establish yourself in the NHL. The way they are performing is exceptional and should be giving guys like Nick Foligno and Peter Regin a few incentives to come into camp next year ready to fight for their jobs.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

NHL Made Right Call On Chara

The NHL absolutely made the right call by not suspending or fining Zdeno Chara for his hit on Max Pacioretty. It's unfortunate that Pacioretty was seriously injured, but there was nothing wrong with the hit itself. As long as you have hitting in hockey, actual physical contact, there are going to be injuries, some of them serious. Especially when someone the size of Chara is involved.
But, as expected, the media reaction (which dictates public reaction more than people would like to admit) has gotten so out of control that politicians are weighing in with their manufactured, convenient displeasure and a major NHL sponsor, Air Canada, is threatening to take its dollars away. Don't for a second think the suits at Air Canada are concerned about the health of millionaire athletes. They are concerned about public perception. Right now, people from all walks of life are positively outraged over a sport that has always been violent and are like a bunch of braying sheep being led over a cliff of hysterical public opinion. Ah, but there's nothing like a self-righteous moral crusade once in a while.
As people continually tune out real life issues and politics, a trend that has been increasing decade after decade, they occupy all their free time with entertainment, of which the NHL undboubtedly is, nothing more. That's where people make the mistake of pretending like the injustice or violence that takes place on the ice is the same as if it took place on their streets or in their neighbourhood. When you take the game that seriously, you could realistically forget that an athlete has already consented to a reasonable level of violence when he agrees to take part in the sport and accept compensation for it. People who get punched in the head on the street are not expected to accept a "reasonable level of violence", but NHL players are. That's why there are virtually no legal prosecutions taken against players except in extreme cases where the act is so violent that it surpasses reasonable limits, such as the Todd Bertuzzi case.
The Chara hit is nowhere near this level, despite the severity of the injury. People have the convenience of watching the video in slow motion and making judgments about intent (which is ridiculous when you stop to think about it for a moment), but hockey is a fast game and Chara made a split second decision to make a hit. Yes, it was obstruction, but the Pacioretty injury could have happened just the same as if he had the puck or not. Should Chara be punished just because he's bigger and stronger than Pacioretty? If you want to spread blame, why not do something about the stanchions that pose a hazard to players. Either remove it and replace the glass there with netting, inset it a foot so it's out of the way or pad it more so the impact is less.
The fact that the police are investigating this is undoubtedly due to the public outcry. I'm quite confident that they will quickly find there is no basis to prosecute. In fact, it's a waste of their time and public resources.
The only way to eliminate head injuries is to eliminate hitting. Or you ban players the size of Chara. Or you simply throw in the towel  and realize that hockey is too dangerous and ban the whole sport.  In its stead, we could have a playoffs that consist entirely of the video game NHL11, played by fat slobs who's only worry of injury would come from sore thumbs and tired eyes. Of course, they would have to be well compensated (natch) but think of the trauma and horror we will have saved the public from.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sens Stun Devils 2-1 .... Game Notes

Isn't it strange how things work out. The Devils Brian Rolston (much like his team) was left for dead earlier in the season. He was put on waivers back in December but has clawed his way back and Jacques Lemaire, who coached Rolston for the 90's version of the Devils and also in Minnesota, has put him back among the top six and Rolston has become one of their most important players again. Rolston was once universally considered the NHL's most underrated player but once he started getting paid for it, he actually became overrated. Now he's back to being underrated. One thing he never lost was that cannon of a shot. He can absolutely rifle it. He also tied Jason Spezza for the most shifts among forwards tonight with 27.....

.....Did anyone see Bobby Butler accept that pass from Spezza about two minutes into the second? He collected it behind his back going full speed over the blueline and managed to get a shot on net. Incredible....Then about 3 minutes later Erik Condra outdoes Butler and scores the first goal of the game by doing a spinerama in front of the net and scoring off the rebound by smacking it in out of the air while falling to his knees. Are you kidding me?.....Fittingly, Condra got the game winner late in the third on a beauty feed from Spezza..... Am I wrong or has Chris Phillips gotten his game back ever since the contract was signed? He was the best defenseman on the ice tonight for either team....

…. Just guessing here, but I think Peter Regin will be back in form next season. He had a classic bout of the sophomore jinx, which is more of a mental roadblock than it is a physical one, but try telling that to his surgically repaired shoulder. Regin might also want to consider changing his number from 13 to anything else. Number 12 is free right now…. Had a dream I was hanging out with Keith Richards and Mick Jagger last night. Keith fell asleep and I asked Mick if he wanted to watch a Senators game. He frowned and walked out of the house. What does it all mean?......I always find it funny that fans constantly second guess general managers for picking a certain player in the Entry Draft every June. Like they think the GM should listen to them before they listen to their army of professional scouts who travel thousands of miles and rack up years of experience watching thousands of hockey games and go through endless meetings where every prospects strengths and weaknesses are analyzed to death. But no, listen to the dude who works at KFC and has never watched a junior game in his life. Essentially, isn’t the entire blogosphere a little like that too? Myself included. What did Chris Farley once say? “I can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking my head up a bull’s ass but I’d rather take the butcher’s word for it.”….

…..Over the years, you can’t really say the Senators have been hurt by injuries more than other teams, but for close to a calendar year, this team has been decimated by important players getting seriously hurt. Go back to the end of last season and you have Alex Kovalev, Filip Kuba, Milan Michalek, Pascal Leclaire, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Peter Regin and now Matt Carkner going down with long-term injuries. And you also had Mike Fisher playing at about half-speed through most of this season with an “upper body injury” before he got traded to Nashville. No team could survive that and, obviously, the Senators were no exception. Having a healthy Brian Elliott didn’t help either…..

....The Senators should consider bringing in current Devil Johan Hedberg as a backup to Craig Anderson next season (presuming Anderson signs here). He had a couple of tough years with a bad Thrashers team but he's always been a reliable goalie for 30 games a year and seems to be well liked wherever he plays. He may end up staying in Jersey because he's been strong when Martin Brodeur's been hurt, but he would look good in a Senators uniform. As I've mentioned before, Mathieu Garon of Columbus would also make a good backup. Both are free agents this summer....I'm not saying Craig Anderson's new mask is ugly, but it looks like something Ricky from The Trailer Park Boys would design if he had the chance. But it didn't seem to hurt Anderson's game. He stopped 31 of 32 shots against a Devils team desperate to make the playoffs. Get this guy signed yesterday....Luckily for the Devils, the Sabres lost to the Penguins tonight.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Weekend Notes

How could anyone have guessed the Three Amigos – college grads Bobby Butler, Erik Condra and Colin Greening – could be this good? Of course, a lot of credit for the team's recent turnaround has to go to Craig Anderson, but those three college kids have provided the energy that's been lacking all season long.  All three have been unbelievable in their short time up here since Bryan Murray decided to remold the team, especially Butler. All this guy does is shoot the puck. Doesn't matter where he is, he just rifles it on net.I think the difference between college players and junior players is that, for the most part, you can predict how a guy from junior is going to compete (although who could have guessed Jeff Skinner would be this good so quickly). The college guys play so many fewer games that it's harder to get a good read on them. Sometimes a GM can hit a home run with a college grad and credit must be given to Murray and his coaching staff for constantly seeking out guys like Jesse Winchester and Butler on free agent deals…..How depressing were the swaths of empty seats in Atlanta on Thursday? Something seems to be really wrong for the Thrashers on the ice as well. All of that excitement a good first half brings seems to be gone and they didn’t show much urgency against the Senators even though they are life and death to make the playoffs. If they could somehow squeak in and upset their first round opponent, it could change everything for them off the ice as well. You’d be surprised how far the goodwill of just one playoff series win could do in a market used to losing……. But I have to say I love the blue seams in the rink glass at Phillips Arena. Maybe the Thrashers could take that idea with them when they move to Quebec City in a couple of years and call themselves the Nordiques…..

…..Would it be bad luck for Anderson to switch masks? He’s still wearing the Avalanche colours with a couple of grisly looking “Abominable Snowmen” but apparently has a new one in the mail from the designer. If he plays for Ottawa next season, he should keep the monsters and just change their colours so they look like the Sensquatch that can be seen stalking around from time to time around town. The parallel indigenous monster in the Ottawa valley would be the politician, but images of Jason Kenney and John Baird would be much too scary for children….They were showing the 1996 playoff series between Detroit and St.Louis on the NHL Network the other day and the sight of Steve Yzerman blasting a perfect top corner slapshot past Jon Casey for the Game 7 overtime winner is still one of the best moments I’ve ever seen in hockey. Somehow, Detroit did not go on to win that season, despite having one of the best teams in NHL history (in the regular season anyway). In the next round they ran into Patrick Roy. End of story. It’s interesting to point out that Scotty Bowman went and got Mike Vernon after that, the only goalie to beat Roy in a Stanley Cup Final series when he did it in 89 for Calgary against Roy’s Canadiens. And as usual, Bowman was right. The Wings beat Roy in the West in 97 and went on to beat Eric Lindros and the Flyers for Steve Yzerman’s first Stanley Cup….. It was also strange to see Craig MacTavish of the Blues skating around without a helmet in that 96 Blues-Wings series. He would play one more season and was the last NHL player to go open dome. When you think about it, 1997 was not that long ago. In less than 15 years we went from that to a league where there is serious debate about making the head completely off limits to any contact. If they eventually take hitting and fighting out of the game, maybe players can go back to the helmetless era after all…

...Did Cyril Leeder really say it could be a couple more years until they replace the scoreboard at the Kanata rink? I find it hard to believe the Senators would host the All-Star Game, an important showcase for your franchise, with a scoreboard that everyone knows needs to be replaced. Maybe it’s harder to buy one than we think…..Chris Phillips has been a lot better lately and he might have played his best game of the season against Atlanta on Thursday night. He was a bull in his own end and fought with everything he had when the Sens were trapped in their own zone in the last minute with Chris Mason pulled for the extra attacker. He was still (in the words of Pierre McGuire) “sucking dirty pond water” when he was giving his customary glove taps to his teammates as they skated off the ice after the big win……. Brian Lee still holds the title of “Youngest Looking Senator” but Erik Condra is providing stiff competition. Let’s hope he looks that astonished and happy after every goal he scores….. Which makes me think of the least happiest looking people after a goal. Alexei Kovalev rarely broke a grin after a goal, making it look like it was the most natural thing in the world, like breathing. Joe Sakic never smiled much either, on or off the ice. But for every one of those guys, there are the likes of Chris Neil (his missing teeth make him look all the happier), Alex Ovechkin, and in the past, Mark Messier, whose whole face would disappear when he smiled. Was there anyone ever more joyful than Messier when Gary Bettman handed him the 1994 Stanley Cup in Madison Square Garden? If there was, I haven’t seen it……

….. Marek Svatos hasn’t gotten off to a great start in Ottawa but you can see flashes of why he once scored 30 goals in this league. He has little bursts of speed which can fool defensemen and some soft hands but it looks like something is missing right now. Maybe it’s just confidence, but he better find it before the season is out if he wants a contract offer from Ottawa. He’s certainly an intriguing player with lots of potential to help this team once he gets more settled. Svatos is in a good position with Ottawa because not many are expecting a lot out of him right now. With the emergence of the college kids, Svatos is almost the forgotten man here, but I’m sure management is watching him just as closely as the rookies to see if they could have a bargain on their hands. The jury is still out…..