Friday, July 22, 2011

Black Aces Joins Civilization

Yes, I get the irony here.

After taking a few shots at the Twitterverse in a post here, I decided I should actually spend more than 5 minutes checking it out and, lo and behold, I realized that there was more to it than maybe I originally thought.

So I sold out and joined up. I've already gotten the gears from friends. Feel free to say I told you so if you want.

Anyways, I figure I could add another dimension to Black Aces by doing this and once the season starts I'll probably be completely addicted and my life will fall apart. If you're a reader of Black Aces, take the time to follow me over there and hopefully I can do something interesting with it and make it worthwhile, especially when the season starts and there's more to talk about. It won't just be about hockey either. Expect a few Dio, Dylan or Stones links if I've had a few cold ones on a Saturday night. Or anything else I might regret in the morning.

Here's the link to the Black Aces Twitter home page:!/BlackAcesOttawa

Also, if you think you're brave enough, follow me over at Yo! Henry Moses (!/YoHenryMoses), a project that will eventually be in book form. Warning: following Henry Moses can lead to severe brain damage.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sens In July

Time to wonder what new coach Paul MacLean has in mind as he plays with possible forward lines in his head leading up to training camp. I'm certainly no mind-reader, but as a substitute, this is a general idea of what I think could happen, although these lines look uncomfortably similar to what Cory Clouston would have had if everyone was healthy. A new coach brings in a different mindset and some of the duos we've come to take for granted may not even get a look together in training camp with different people in charge.
Anyways, for what it's worth, here's my best shot at what this team will look like in October:
Michalek – Spezza – Butler
Filatov – Regin –Alfredsson
Foligno – Greening - Smith
Condra- Konopka – Neil
Spare: Winchester

Gonchar –Karlsson
Phillips - Rundblad
Cowen – Carkner
Spare: Kuba
To me, you have to keep Butler and Spezza together. They looked dangerous at times down the stretch and Spezza is always best when he has a sniper riding shotgun. Butler may not be Dany Heatley, but he's still got a cannon and a knack for getting open for a chance. Michalek is the sort of hybrid grinder on that line but he can get you 30 goals in a good year when he's not busy breaking every bone in his body.
I see Regin as this team's second line centre and having a big rebound year. It seems natural to put Filatov on a line with Alfie to make sure that the kid is playing the game the right way and gets off to a good start. It's hard not to play well with number 11 on your line as we've all seen in the past. Playing on the second unit may allow Filatov a little more room to breathe at the start instead of facing everyone else's best defenseman shift after shift.
Then it gets tricky. I think Greening could be the big centreman this team needs (while they wait for Mika Zibanejad in Sweden), even if that means both Foligno and Smith continue to play on the wings despite being natural centres. This looks like a grind line but if Foligno can get his game together, they could score a few goals (although I'm not very confident Foligno has that upside anymore).
Konopka has got to take faceoffs so that essentially pushes Winchester out of his spot for now, even though he's one of the best at controlling the puck along the boards. Condra isn't a natural left-winger but he's got to fit in some place, and Neil seems entrenched on the right side.
The big temptation was to imagine a fourth line of Neil, Konopka and Smith, which would create chaos every single game, but they probably want to spread that toughness around a little. It would also mean that one of Neil or Smith play on their wrong side. Neil could shift over to left-wing because he's a right handed shot but his game isn't one-timers, it's digging for pucks along the boards.
Where does Stephane Da Costa fit in? Good question. For now, the AHL seems to be a likely destination, especially with that trio of one way contracts given to Condra, Greening and Butler.
As for the defensive pairings, I can see MacLean loading up on offense with Gonchar and Karlsson as big minute guys, but can they work together? The Senators now have three right-handers in Karlsson, Rundblad and Carkner (four if Brian Lee sticks around) and I can't see them being paired up together. So that's how I came up with these duo's, although Kuba remains a real wild card. If he's healthy and confident, it's hard to keep him out of the top six. It's entirely conceivable that at least one of either Cowen or Rundblad prove they aren't ready for the NHL, and that would bring Kuba back into the mix and leave room for Lee as a spare.
If that's not enough, you have Eric Gryba, Patrick Wiercioch and Mark Borowiecki close to being ready.
It still feels like the Senators may have one more move up their sleeve, and are just waiting to see how Rundblad and Cowen do in training camp before making a trade of some sorts.

Yashin Resurfaces Like Godzilla - Various Cities In Panic

Just for the sheer hell of it, and for the sake of some much needed mid-summer conversation, can you imagine if the "one NHL contract offer" that agent Mark Gandler said his client Alexei Yashin has been tendered was from the Ottawa Senators? Strangely, is there a team more in need of a second-line centre than the locals in red and black?

Obviously, this is about as outlandish as the search for Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and Rupert Murdoch's moral integrity, but stranger things have happened in the NHL.

Signing Yashin would completely fly in the face of the organization's focus on youth and rebuilding, and that is probably the biggest clue that the Senators wouldn't go near their former franchise player, but his skills must remain tempting for some general managers.

Jaromir Jagr is coming back. Nicklas Lidstrom is still playing. We await word on Teemu Selanne. Yashin is now 37 and is years removed from the NHL, but I have no doubt he could play well in this league with a modest contract and lower expectations.

My main curiosity is how Senators fans would welcome him onto the team. Would there be more of those "Nobody Paid Me To Be Here" signs from the fans? Would they cheer for him? Would the NAC send out a donation card and promise to hire his family for real this time?

These are the kinds of stories you can actually mull over for a while in the summer.

What's Alexandre Daigle doing lately?

If this "one NHL offer" is legitimate (and I'm not about to accuse Gandler of lying due to his sterling reputation in the business*), then it may just be a GM trying to:

a) desperately hit the cap floor
b) catch the all-time Hail Mary pass of risky signings
c) or trying to prolong Mike Milbury's psychological torture

If you had to guess the team, who would you take in a money bet?

I'll take the New York Rangers. Yashin could be an upgrade on the departed Vaclav Prospal. Glen Sather is weird enough to try it. My pal said it would be the Capitals.

Dark horse? How about Dallas.

The sure bet? It won't happen at all.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's All Good, Neil'er...'re in great company.

Okay, maybe Jimmy Swaggart doesn't belong here, but when you're talking about crying, you can't exclude the all-time world champion.

But you gotta love it when tough, emotional leaders like Chris Neil or Mark Messier let it all hang out. Neil is going to pick up right where Mike Fisher left off at Rogers House, and he's now one of the last leaders left on the Ottawa Senators. Expect a big year.

Geez, now I'm getting emotional. Maybe I should watch a non-emotional movie ... I don't know, something like Rudy.

Twitter Mania And Illiterates Like Me

So Bobby Butler signs a two-year deal in Ottawa. Mark Parrish signs. Sweatt. Conboy. Everyone goes crazy trying to be the first to break it on Twitter or on their blogs and in the end, no one really cares one way or the other about the actual information, but only the way it's delivered and who delivered it.
Twitter sounds like an interesting phenomenon, only I can never understand anybody's tweets. Filled with acronyms, abbreviated words, misspellings and outright jibberish, these tweets have somehow become the standard for breaking hockey news. I tried reading both Bob McKenzie's and Darren Dreger's feeds every day and it nearly shattered my sanity.
But I'm not bitching about it. I can still find out what happens on TSN or ESPN or THN (Christ, more acronyms), but that usually makes me the last guy to know.
I could turn to the guy next to me in the office and say "Hey, Bobby Butler signed for two years – one way" and he'd look at me like I was a complete asshole. "Uh, yah dude. That was like ten minutes ago. Do you even follow hockey? Your blog must suck."
And he'd be correct of course, if the measure of a good blog is breathlessly parroting the details of a minor RFA signing (acronym hell) two seconds before everyone else. In that regard, then yes, this blog should be eradicated back to the hole it came out of in 2007.
Meanwhile, the summer rolls along quite peacefully for us non-Twitter users (all seven of us). I'm the only guy on the bus reading a paper book while everyone around me reads from a hand-held flat screen. Sometimes when I get off the bus, I can hear them all laughing at me, "Did you see that guy? What an asshole!" and I shake my fist at them in the rain. I'm the only guy on my block who noticed the mailman was on strike.
Anyhoo, wake me when training camps starts or when one of Ottawa's defenseman steps on the ice for the first time in September and immediately breaks his leg like Filip Kuba did last year. Now that's news worth getting worked up about. Then again, he'd already be healed by the time I find out utilizing my ancient methods of research….

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tough Guy Jitters

Ever since the moment Zenon Konopka signed with Ottawa yesterday, the chatter started on the blogs and the boards that this is somehow a sign from the Gods that either Chris Neil or Matt Carkner could soon find themselves on their way out of town.
Reading this stuff first thing in the morning is like accidentally spooning rat poison into your coffee instead of sugar, but hey, people are entitled to their conspiracies and never ending rumour obsession.
It's like people believe there is some secret rule where you can only have three roster spots for tough guys and one more in the boat means one has to go overboard. Not sure where this belief springs from, but it's rather condescending to guys like Neil, Carkner, Konopka and Zack Smith and presumes that all they can do is fight and take stupid penalties. Which, of course, is complete B.S.
Konopka's signing, to me anyways, is a sign that GM Bryan Murray and new coach Paul MacLean actually want guys like Neil, Smith and Carkner on the ice more this year, not less. Neil has evolved from a middle weight enforcer into a hell-on-wheels menace who crashes the net and leads by example. Smith is a Neil clone but with a little more upside and better wheels. Carkner is a prototypical 15 minute a night defensive defenseman who plays a simple game that coaches love and has the added bonus of being perhaps the scariest fighter in the NHL today. Why would the Senators feel any of these guys are expendable? It doesn't make sense. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong and I'm sure you guys will let me know about it, but I just don't see it.
The Boston Bruins won a Stanley Cup with a team that was twice as tough as Ottawa will be this year. In that town, tough players with character are celebrated. In Ottawa, they are merely tolerated and treated like relics of an old-school style which has gone out of fashion by new-school fans who are extremely uncomfortable with on-ice violence. So why do NHL general managers keep signing tough players anyways? Why did the Islanders re-sign Trevor Gillies? It's not because they're stupid. It's because NHL general managers know that intimidation is still a big part of winning hockey games, even if some skittish fans wish it would go away.
That's not me pontificating. That's just the way it is. If it wasn't, the enforcer would be extinct. So would the pests like Sean Avery and Maxim Lapierre (who just signed a big deal in Vancouver, one of the least physical teams on the planet who let their star players get punched in the face repeatedly and did nothing about it).
Which brings me back around to the point of this article in the first place. Konopka's signing only gives room for guys like Neil and Carkner to play more. It doesn't threaten their role on the team.
Mind you, if a soft team like Vancouver offered Ottawa a top-six forward for someone like Neil or Carkner (highly unlikely, nee impossible), then Murray might take the bait. But these guys aren't leaving the team just because they signed someone else who actually knows how to body check.
Some may see Carkner's job more threatened by incoming rookies like Jared Cowen and David Rundblad, but it's important to remember that just because us armchair coaches already have them penciled into the lineup doesn't mean they will actually make it. And if they do, it's more likely that Filip Kuba would be the casualty and not Carkner. If Kuba comes back and totally reverses his recent decline, then maybe Carkner ends  up sitting more often. I'm just not sure that's really in the cards. Even if Carkner is your seventh guy, it's a hell of a lot better than having Brian Lee as your black ace.
There are certainly guys in danger of losing their jobs this year, but to me their names are Kuba and Lee. I don't see Jesse Winchester or Peter Regin losing their spots just yet at the forward ranks. In fact, I'm picking Regin as the comeback player of the year. I stand by my view that Regin could be the next David Krejci. He had a sophomore slump. So have 500 other NHL players over the years.
But here we go again. It's early July and already people are panicking and ingesting rat poison.  There's a long time to go without hockey. Let's try and act like normal human beings for at least a few months.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Konopka Brings His Act To Town... And Other Strange Rookie Dinner Tales

I like the Zenon Konopka signing, most of all because I like watching tough hockey teams who stand up for each other, but where are all these forwards going to fit?

For arguments sake, let's say the top 12 forwards are:

1. Alfie
2. Spezza
3. Michalek
4. Filatov
5. Foligno
6. Neil
7. Regin
8. Butler
9. Winchester
10. Greening
11. Smith
12. Konopka

You might argue a player here or there, but that's a good approximate of what we will probably see (Ryan Shannon must now be officially out).

Where does that leave Mika Zibanejad, Stephane Da Costa, Erik Condra and Roman Wick? And that's not to mention that GM Bryan Murray says he wants Jakob Silfverberg to stay in North America. Da Costa and Condra in particular are going to be in tough to make a lineup that they may have expected to be on opening night. Zibanejad can go back to Sweden with Silfverberg and it would probably be the best for them anyways. But at least Murray has created some heavy competition here among the forwards, but if Nik Filatov somehow doesn't work out (even though my guess is he will), the Senators will be a little bottom heavy with third and fourth liners and lacking a distinct threat past their first line.

But why get nervous in July?

As for Konopka, I once worked at a fairly decent restaurant downtown Ottawa and was working the night the Anaheim Ducks had their "Rookie Dinner" here in town during the 2005-2006 season. There are a lot of insane stories I could tell about that night, but I don't think it's wise to subject my readers to such abject debauchery. Yet I remember Konopka very well. He had just been called up to the NHL a few nights before and was one of the official rookies along with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin (who had played some previous NHL games in seasons past but was still considered a freshmen and fit enough to pitch in on the enormous bill).

Let's just say Konopka is not a shy person. This guy was the life of the party, running around the room and causing all sorts of madness, making a greying Scott Niedermayer shake his head a few times (that I saw) and leading the rookies at the front of the room in a sing-along which was part of their initiation. Guys like Perry and Getzlaf looked at their feet uncomfortably and warbled out of tune with goofy smiles but Konopka held his head high and sang his heart out in front of veterans like Keith Carney and Sami Pahlsson.

It was quite the sight, and later on Konopka was the victim of a vicious sour cream shoe-check administered by Mr. Pahlsson.

My gut feeling is that Konopka is going to be an important part of that dressing room, now that he's a proven veteran, and it will also let Matt Carkner and Chris Neil stay on the ice more often, rather than having to platoon nights throwing the gloves.

Right away he'll be a fan favourite due to his Ottawa 67's and Brian Kilrea connection, and he's an underrated player who can usually break pucks loose in the corners, or at least leave a few bruises if he loses the battle.

In short, you'd rather have a warrior like Konopka wearing your uniform than seeing him line up against you with that shit-eating grin plastered all over his face, warning you to keep your head up in the corners.

I'm sold.