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.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Jeremy.

I swear, sometimes the reactions of my fellow Sens' fans is downright embarrassing. Regardless of what people like to think, the GMs and coaches are paid good money to run the team simply because THEY KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING!

I played pretty competitive hockey, making it as far as AAA as a kid and young teen, and later in Junior 'A', but I don't presume to know more about hockey than a guy who's been involved in the league for as long as BM has, or a guy like Tim M. who has been groomed since conception to become a GM one day.

Let's just let these guys do their jobs, and cheer for whatever the on-ice product looks like in October.


Anonymous said...

well said .. I just don't think people should be down much on Kuba and Lee. Seeing what happened on the free agent front, these guys can be tradable..

Peter Raaymakers said...

Two things:

1. I think people in the Ottawa market, in general, have developed a preference for skilled hockey rather than tough hockey because it was so exciting when Ottawa had a skilled team in the mid-2000s. Alfredsson, Spezza, Hossa, Havlat, Redden at the time... these were dynamic players that lifted us out of our seats because of their play with the gloves on. That's not to say there's anything wrong with more physical hockey, nor that there's anything wrong with people who prefer more physical hockey, just that there's a difference of opinion. Just because the Bruins beat the Canucks this season doesn't mean physical hockey is the way to win; two of the six Stanley Cup winners post-lockout have been what I'd classify 'tough' teams, while the other four were mostly built on skill. In different years and different situations, different teams win.

2. On to Carkner: I agree whole-heartedly that he's a good bottom-pairing defender, and that he'd be a much preferable option as a black ace than either of Lee or Kuba. But that's exactly why he's most vulnerable: He might actually be attractive to other teams looking to bulk up their blue line. He's cheap, capable, physical, and intimidating. That's a good reason for Ottawa to keep him around, but he's still not as good as Rundblad or Cowen, so the team will at some point be moving on. Nothing will be done until after training camp, naturally, but if Rundblad and Cowen come out like gangbusters and little else changes among the six guys there right now, Carkner just seems like the logical odd-man out.

Anonymous said...

It's like you're reading my thoughts, man. I am well aware that you need skilled players to win. But you also need the RIGHT MIX of players. Just like Boston had, and Pittsburgh had and Chicago had. Skill, speed, team toughness. That's what wins in the NHL. I agree with you that some in our fanbase cringe at the notion of any tougher more physical players. Like that is somehow taking up a valuable roster spot instead of complimenting that spot. You think the Bruins regret having Horton and Lucic in their top six, or guys like Chara and McQuaid in their D corps? I want guys that play with an edge and stand up for each other. I don't want meat-heads who do nothing but fight, but that's not what we're talking about here. Skill and will, baby....

Anshu said...

I'm also hoping for a bounce back year for Regin, but I actually think he's the most vulnerable of the top-9 forwards. He could come out of camp as our 2nd line center, or I think he could fall all the way to being the healthy scratched 13th forward. Last year, he got a free ride both because of his performance late the previous season and because the team didn't have that much depth to challenge him, especially when all the injuries started happening.

I don't think that's the case this year. There are enough young guys with enough experience and talent that if Regin doesn't wow in camp and pre-season, he could be on the bubble.

Canucnik said...

Jeremy...ya got the defence spot on but I think that you will not recognize your forward lines for the "new" guys and the changes! Out with old in with the new!

Big Slice...we like and respect the work of the Murray regime but they did not have a fair camp last year based on the "Merit Principle!" And it cost us early last year. kept secret in the NHL, when ya have a "real" tough team...ya don't have to fight...

BTW just like all of our CANADIAN Fracked Shale Gas, Philippé is going Off Shore!

Anonymous said...

You use the example of Boston. The thing about Boston is that their tough players are also front line players.

Chara is tough but he's also one of the best defenseman in the league. Lucic and Horton are tough, but they were also top three forwards who can put the puck in the net. Marchand plays an aggressive game, but also plays a top six role and contributes offensively.

The thing with the Sens is that we were second lowest scoring team in the league last year. I have nothing against the guys you are defending. I just think that we have too many of the same kind of player. They don't address our real needs.

We need scoring. When Murray took over, we had the second best offense in the league. Now we have the second worst. He's taken almost 100 goals out of the lineup. That's pretty impressive.

Sure, we have more toughness, but when are we going to solve the goal scoring problem. Filling the roster with fourth liners puts us further in the hole.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your take on Regin. Look for a bounce back.

Maclean has talked about liking to play a 200 foot game. I think this will play to Regin"s strengths.

Gus Chiggins said...

I'd be more worried about them coyotes if I was you.

Anonymous said...

Good article by Jeremy and also agree with Anon @ 10:30.

Our problem is that Michalek, Filatov Spezza, Regin, etc. (not including Alfredsson and Foligno as they can grind down low) just won't get it done when they get pressured physically. We saw it against Anaheim and we'll see it again.

It's great that we have guys like Konopka and so on...but Neil at 2,000,000? Too much. DIdn't the Leafs sign their meathead Rosehill for league minimum? Isn't Konopka making more than leaghe minimum? How much should we be spending on players that can't produce offensively, take penalties deleterious to our team and so on.

It really looks like this team is going to suck so Murray is just signing meatheads and grinders to keep people entertained instead of focusing toward building a winner.

I mean Brennan brought up Boston and so did you, but Marchand can score and pass and drop them. Same with Chara, same with Lucic. They are the complete packages. Konopka, Neil, Carkner, SMith...they're half-packages at that.

I'll gladly take it all back if this team reaches a Conference Final or Stanley Cup final or at bare minimum gets home ice advantage and wins two rounds...but I don't see it. I see this team losing a lot and losing games because it isn't disciplined and can't stop itself from picking fights and instigating.

I hope I'm wrong.


Anonymous said...

"I played pretty competitive hockey, making it as far as AAA as a kid and young teen, and later in Junior 'A', but I don't presume to know more about hockey than a guy who's been involved in the league for as long as BM has, or a guy like Tim M. who has been groomed since conception to become a GM one day."

This appeal to authority would work a lot better if Murray or Tim had won a Stanley Cup as head coach or GM. He hasn't, and until he and Tim do we are within our rights to question everything and anything they do or decide.

Anonymous said...

I strongly agree with anon @ 4:26pm.

It's about results. Until the Murray's perform, they deserve the criticism. It's called accountability.

Like the previous comment implied, you usually get some leeway when you can point to past success.

Anonymous said...

Great post, J. Milks. Well said.