Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Best Bets and Homerun Chances For Sens On Deadline Day

The trade deadline approaches. You know Ottawa is going to do something, even if it’s just a 7th defenseman going back and forth. Here’s a few guesses (and one or two Hail Mary's) at who might land in town:

Ryan O’Byrne (D) – Colorado: Bryan Murray must have had a huge scare when both Marc Methot and Sergei Gonchar got temporarily banged up. This team is a near-lock for the post-season and Murray can’t rely on Erik Karlsson or Jared Cowen magically getting healthier for April. He has to make a move for a rental just to have some bodies for when the games get really painful. He won’t lock himself into a defenseman with multiple years unless he’s young. Big and somewhat mobile O’Byrne (6’5”, 234 pounds) is a UFA this summer and has 19 games of NHL playoff experience with Montreal, and was part of the Hamilton Bulldogs AHL championship team in 2007 where he played 22 games during their Calder run. He’s had a tough year in Colorado, even being made a healthy scratch recently, but he’s a perfect fit for Ottawa. He still plays about 20 minutes a game for the drowning Avs.

Jordan Leopold (D) – Buffalo: It’s pretty easy to just stroll down a list of UFA’s this summer and pick obvious candidates for Ottawa, but Leopold would provide a smooth skating d-man in one of their pairings, probably replacing the need to play both Mike Lundin or Andre Benoit. Leopold has 59 playoff games on his resume. He’d help Ottawa and would be a nice fit on the second power-play unit. Too bad he’s a left shot though. Buffalo won’t be eager to give Ottawa anything helpful.

Robyn Regehr (D) – Buffalo: More of a longshot because, like Leopold, Buffalo will want something decent in return and won’t take less from Ottawa, a divisional rival. He’s the kind of established player you’d want in a playoff run but I don’t see Ottawa swinging hard for him. He’s got a no-trade but you’d think he’d jump at an opportunity to play a few extra weeks somewhere. Complications aside, he’d look at home in a Sens uniform as a rental.

David Rundblad (D) – Phoenix: Don’t laugh. It could happen. My pal came out with this the other day and the idea stunned me for a moment. The Coyotes don’t have a goalie for next season with Mike Smith a pending UFA. Ottawa has 3 good/great ones in stock. I don’t have to tell you the talent Rundblad has. This would be a mind-blower but it almost makes a bit of sense because the Coyotes already have both Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle locked up long term. That being said, I have my doubts Ottawa will move a goalie before July.

Ales Hemsky (RW) – Edmonton: This would be Bryan Murray’s homerun shot provided he doesn’t steal someone like Martin St. Louis from good buddy Steve Yzerman. Hemsky has one year left at a modest $5 million and would be that guy who replaces Guillaume Latendresse in the top 6. It’s a big longshot but Edmonton would be chasing a goalie if they were sane. A healthy line of Spezza, Michalek and Hemsky is a tempting thought. You could say the emergence of Jakob Silfverberg shores up that right wing spot nicely but how many years does Alfie have left? Hemsky would be a needed injection of pure skill into your top line. And you just might be able to get him for less than you think.

Jaromir Jagr (RW) – Dallas: Could you imagine Jagr in the red and black? I can’t, but Murray brought in Alex Kovalev so there’s a precedent here. One of the best hockey players of all-time as a deadline rental? You could do worse.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Babe

Back when pro sports wasn't taken as seriously and you could do cornball things like this.

I'd like to see a Sens version of this, perhaps with Alfie running Chris Neil over with a zamboni.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

This Only Happens In The Movies

Smarter writers than myself have already run out of things to say about this Ottawa Senators team. After another comeback victory, another injury to a key player, and another two points towards a likely playoff spot that nobody believed they could grasp, this story has so much momentum that words of context can’t really capture it.

And that’s probably because there is no context for it. At least in recent NHL memory. You can relate more to the 2013 Sens by watching a Sam Peckinpah movie than anything else. Last night against the New York Islanders was like a replay of The Wild Bunch.

Down 3-1 going into the 3rd period with energy lacking and Marc Methot, one of the Senators strongest players this season, out with what looked like a fluke knee injury, the Senators looked done. Surely this was one insult too many. Fans were looking at the AHL roster for defenseman and finding nobody. You also have to remember that the news had just leaked out that morning about Milan Michalek getting knee surgery. People were making jokes about Luke Richardson suiting up again but nobody was really laughing.

Incredibly, it seemed to get worse for a fleeting moment, even though the Senators scored right away. Patrick Wiercioch shot the puck from the blueline and it sneaked into the net off a Jakob Silfverberg tip, but Wiercioch was run over and was gasping for air on his knees as a celebration. Thoughts of Andre Benoit being the Senators 3rd best healthy defenseman sent a cold wave of paranoid fear through the minds of Sens fans everywhere.

Luckily Wiercioch is young and bounced back the next shift. If I had been hit like that I’d still be on the ice doing the doggy paddle.

Then this Senators team quietly went back to work and added three more goals, led by the always steady but strangely underrated and underappreciated Sergei Gonchar. People seem amazed at his strong play of late but have somehow forgotten that he’s been one of the best defensemen of his generation and will be a Hall Of Fame candidate once he hangs it all up. He’s never gotten that respect in Ottawa despite playing basically the same solid, smooth game he always has. Of course, he’s not as dynamic as he was during his prime with the Capitals and Penguins, but like Daniel Alfredsson, he’s so smart with the puck that he creates in other ways now.

It’s been amazing to see so many rookies breaking through this season, but it really comes down to the leaders guiding them through and making huge plays with the game on the line. Alfredsson and Gonchar are self-explanatory. Chris Phillips and Chris Neil play the exact same way every night and the oldest vet of them all, coach Paul MacLean, must be a goddamn soothsayer in that locker room. It’s almost scary how his players respond to him. What if this team was completely healthy and played with the same spirit? You’d be talking about the Stanley Cup this year, not next.

But we’re getting carried away here, as we usually do.

There’s no word on Methot as of this writing, but he’s likely to miss some time. Jason Spezza is still out with wild rumours of setbacks in his recovery. Erik Karlsson is already on summer vacation.

The truth is nobody knows how this is going to turn out. We could be talking in a week about how badly this thing finally went off the rails. But somehow it hasn’t yet and the playoffs get closer by the day.

You get the sense that nobody will really care what happens when or if they get there. Just the idea of surviving until that point seems to be enough – more than enough – for everybody right now. That’s the story. That’s the whole plot of this strange movie. Endurance.

Trust me. Watch The Wild Bunch and you’ll see what I mean.


Would anyone be truly surprised if Gonchar signed a one-year extension? I’m sure he’s looking for a two-year deal but there’s a chance he wants just one more season so he can play in the Olympics. Barring more catastrophic injuries, the Senators will be a Stanley Cup contender next season. Lots of incentive for Gonchar to stay. But will Murray want him? Tough to say. You win Stanley Cups with veterans like Gonchar but Wiercioch has developed so quickly that there may not be room. Ottawa survived losing Filip Kuba. Murray may be thinking along those lines for next season..... Denis Potvin was at his best in Long Island last night calling the game alongside Dean Brown for Sportsnet. As the Senators penalties began to pile up, you could feel Potvin getting agitated with the refs (as he has all season) but it wasn’t until Eric Gryba got called for high-sticking late in the second that Potvin had truly had enough. “No...no...no....no!... no!.... NOOOO!!!” was his immediate response. I have no idea how Dean Brown kept it together after that but I wasn’t able to. .... The refs did have a tough game, especially when they called Matt Kassian for “roughing”. In reality it was a solid, clean hit on Radek Martinek that should only be a penalty in basketball. It stung even worse when Lubomir Visnovsky scored on the ensuing power-play to put the Isles up 3-1. At that point it looked like the Sens just didn’t have anything going for them but we all know what happened in the third period.

.... Speaking of Kassian, it’s absolutely terrifying how big he looks out there on the ice. For his first goal as a Senator he just went to the net and nobody was able to move him. Not a bad tip on the Gonchar shot either. Guys like that don’t even really need hands (except for fighting). Sometimes a body as big as a bus is all you need in certain situations. If Kassian wants to be in a certain spot on the ice, he can go there and nobody can really do anything about it outside of Zdeno Chara.... Phillips played over 27 minutes last night after Methot went down to injury. Clearly, that’s a bit much but I don’t see Phillips struggling when he plays big minutes. There’s a myth out there that Phillips should have limited time to be effective but I don’t really buy it. Over time he might wear out but he’s playing as good as he ever has in a Senators uniform right now.... Woah. Kyle Turris is flying out there right now. He almost scored a goal on a play that would have been on every end of year highlight reel.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Backhander – Wild Night In Kanata Has Everyone Arguing

Let’s not call it a gong-show, but Monday night’s Sens-Bruins game was a pretty wild affair and a lot of issues came up that had people arguing into the morning. Here’s a stab at 3 of the big ones:

On Daugavins shootout attempt: Loved it. I’ve been a fan of the shootout since it was introduced in 2005 (in fact, I’d love to see it extended to 5 shooters per side) and every so often you get a memorable moment like this. It was a ridiculous save by Tuukka Rask, one of the best of the year. That puck was stopped by a skate blade on the goal line. It doesn’t get closer than that. You kind of feel for Daugavins because he knew if this crazy move didn’t work he’d be hearing about it from everyone. I’m sure the Bruins had something nice to say on his way back down the ice and Daugavins even said he felt “like a fool” in the room afterwards. He shouldn’t. He came as close as anyone to winning that hockey game and if anything, it just adds to his strange charms as a hockey player. He’s got the bark after the goals, and now he’s got this on his permanent record. Coach Maclean was laughing about it afterwards, so don’t expect any repercussions. Maclean’s answer when asked what he was thinking during the attempt – “buckle up” – was probably the funniest thing he’s said all year. And he followed it up with “but he’s Latvian, so I never know what’s going on.” The fact that Daugavins felt comfortable enough to try a move like that probably says more about the coaching staff and the great atmosphere they’ve created around this hockey club than it does about Daugavins. Half the guys in the league would love to try something like that during a shootout but their coaches would be waiting at the bench to choke them if they did. Not Maclean. Something tells me he was very happy to get that single point against the best team in the Eastern Conference. Those single points in OT losses have been vital for Ottawa this year as they struggle to keep bodies in the lineup. Take away those 5 OT points and Ottawa is tied with Winnipeg for 9th in the East.

On Neil – Kelly collision: People calling this an intentional knee by Neil don’t know what they’re talking about. This wasn’t a case of Kelly trying to avoid a hit and Neil sticking out his knee to catch him – which is what a kneeing penalty is in the first place. The two collided and Kelly’s knee buckled. It could have just as easily have been Neil lying there in pain if he wasn’t more braced for the hit than Kelly was. To hear some Senators fans vilifying their own player was pretty sickening. No one felt worse about it than Neil and you could see that on his face. It’s a tough game and people get hurt all the time. Doesn’t mean there was anything dirty about it.

On the Visor Instigator Rule: There’s a big uproar about this seemingly obscure rule because Ottawa’s been dinged twice in a row, first with Chris Phillips and now last night with Patrick Wiercioch. In both cases, the players did the right thing stepping in and fighting for a teammate. That’s what tight teams do. The fact that they didn’t stop to think that they were wearing a visor just means they acted on instinct and didn’t hesitate – another positive sign. In both cases, the Senators killed the extra two-minutes so no harm done. As for the rule itself, it does seem unfair but you have to remember that it was put in place because visors are certainly dangerous in a fight, especially if one gets cracked or if it cuts someone’s hand open. The tradition was that fighters would remove their helmets anyways because nobody wanted a broken hand, and it was a respectful thing to do in the situation. That respect level has gone by the wayside and a lot of fighters are more concerned with getting the first shot in rather than making sure it’s a fair scrap. To be honest, I don’t really know the solution to the visor rule, but something’s got to give if the league wants everyone to wear protection out there. Fewer enforcers in the league means that more non-fighters find themselves in spontaneous scraps, and a lot of those guys are wearing visors (smartly). We’re going to see more and more of this if guys like Phillips and Wiercioch have to be the ones to fight the battles. People love that enforcers are going extinct, thinking that fighting is following them out. On the contrary, it just means that other guys are doing the fighting even though they really shouldn’t be.

And finally... could you have picked two guys who needed a goal more badly than Guillaume Latendresse and Kyle Turris? Latendresse’s goal celebration was something out of primal scream therapy. That was a lot of frustration, anger and tension being exploded into the glass after that beauty deke in the first period.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Backhander - Grim Scene In Sens Loss Sets Off Another Dead-End Fighting Debate

It’s somewhat rare to see someone actually get knocked out in an NHL hockey fight, but that danger is always there when 200 pound men start punching each other in the face. Just ask Nick Kypreos. And last night we all saw 6’5, 230 pound Leaf enforcer Frazer McLaren drop 6’3, 204 pound David Dziurzynski with a vicious blow to the chin, resulting in the Senator lying face down on the ice with trainers rushing to his side. It was ugly. No question about that.

Makes you wonder what Dziurzynski was thinking by taking on a bigger and clearly superior fighter like McLaren. Well, it’s actually not that hard to figure out. McLaren allegedly asked him “to go” and Dziurzynski obliged, partly because he wants to do whatever it takes to stay in the NHL and also because he found himself in a bad situation where backing down from a challenge would have made him “lose face”.

Such is life when a team like the Senators, without a real enforcer since Matt Carkner departed for Long Island, faces a team like the Leafs with a couple of guys looking to justify their role and give their team a lift. If Ottawa had signed or at least replaced Carkner with a similar player, chances are Dziurzynski doesn’t have to fight in that situation. He may have wanted to anyways and there’s nothing you can do about that, but generally an enforcer like McLaren won’t fight a regular, smaller roster player if there’s a guy like Carkner on the other team. That’s the way it works. Or supposed to anyways. McLaren doesn’t want to be known as a guy who takes on a smaller player and would have challenged Carkner in that same situation last year. But the problem is that there’s no natural partner for him on the Senators. So he asks Dziurzynski to go and that’s what you get sometimes – a mismatch that results in a sickening injury. You could tell McLaren felt bad about it and looked upset heading to the box as Dziurzynski lay there.

And then you look at it from the Senators perspective. All year they’ve watched their star players fall to injury and been outmatched physically at times because Zack Smith and Chris Neil aren’t fighting as much because their team needs them on the ice. Facing their biggest rival, a young AHL’er like Dziurzynski wasn’t about to back down even though he must have known he was in tough against the big Leaf. This also resulted in Neil having to fight the bigger Colton Orr (Carkner's former sparring partner), and even though Neil got the better of him in a close one, the Leafs ultimately win because Neil goes off for 5 minutes and that’s not a fair trade for a player like Orr.

Often, playing an enforcer just evens the odds up. If the two tough guys go at each other, they cancel each other out and the game goes on. In this situation, Ottawa lost both Dziurzynski and Neil, two guys who actually contribute points and quality minutes. The Leafs didn’t really lose anybody who would make much of a difference. So like it or not, employing an enforcer can really take some pressure off your team and serve as a deterrent. Sometimes it can actually lead to less fights, if you follow the argument to its logical end, or at least mismatched fights that lead to ugly scenes like we saw last night in Toronto.

In the end, Dziurzynski made his own decision and knew the risks. All players do. That’s why most of them don’t fight. It’s extremely hazardous. If you relate it to the visor debate, some would say that the league should just take it out of the player’s hands and ban fighting (and legislate mandatory visors, which I support wholeheartedly). Yet time after time, players share a much different view than the guy pushing a pencil for a living. They take all the risks, they want the choice. They keep saying they don’t want mandatory visors. They also keep saying that fighting is part of hockey and useful in certain situations. They’ve never wavered from this and show no signs now, even though player safety is pretty much the only issue we hear about on a daily basis.

It always comes down to fans and media thinking they know more about the game than the players do. That’s all it is. How else do you explain the chasm in opinion? The public can’t understand why anyone ever has to get hurt in a game, yet the players don’t even think about it. It’s just an accepted risk that they gladly take on for millions of dollars.

Take the emotion out of it and that’s what you come to realize. At some point there’s nothing left to argue if the guys who actually take the risks don’t have a problem with it.


.... Dziurzynski was credited with 3 seconds of ice-time last night. I don’t know if that’s a record but if it’s not, he’s only 2 seconds off of it..... Somehow Kyle Turris wasn’t credited with any giveaways on the stat sheet last night, which only proves how stat guys don’t always get it right. He had at least two blatant ones that I can recall but it felt like a lot more. Another tough night for #7. If it wasn’t for his faceoff ability, some of his recent games would have been a complete wash. If anything, it gives the fans a new appreciation for what Jason Spezza brings to the team when he’s healthy. Even when Spezza has a bad game by giving up the puck in the offensive zone, he’s creating 3 or 4 chances a period. Good news is that it sounds like he’s going to be back sooner than many thought. That’s going to give Turris a lot of room out there and a lot less pressure, which should naturally lead to goals. Hopefully it’s not too late for the Senators by that point..... Erik Condra only racked up 11 minutes and change of ice-time against Toronto and it’s been like that 3 out of his last 4 games. Yet he always seems to be on the puck or creating havoc out of nothing. I’m no coach, but you’d like to see Condra around the 15 minute mark most nights, even when there’s not a lot of penalties to kill. Somehow, Condra ended up a +2 last night, leading the team. The last game against Toronto on Feb. 23 he was +3. He hasn’t had a game yet this year where he was any worse than -1. ... Congrats to good guy Ray Emery for setting an NHL record with 10 straight wins to start a season. Nobody deserves it more... And finally, RIP to Stompin’ Tom Connors. One of my most treasured pieces of vinyl is the Stompin’ Tom Live At The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. I always thought of him as a modern Canadian Woody Guthrie. Have a drink for him next time you get the chance. I know I will.