Monday, April 14, 2014
Winter has struck me one last cruel blow with a head cold that’s burrowed into every last crevice of my large skull, so while I’m at home catching reports on exit interviews by the Senators, I thought I’d try to offer at least a few coherent sentences.
I’ll be updating this post as the day goes on, heavy-head allowing...
Craig Anderson – So far, he’s sounded like the most disappointed Senator, although Jason Spezza was close. He mentioned that players were too often looking for others to step up and make a difference instead of doing it themselves. Sounds about right, especially when you look at how this team performed last year when Spezza, Karlsson and many others were out. Anderson also told reporters he “100%” wanted to stay in Ottawa and later on had lots of praise for rookie defenseman Cody Ceci.
In that same interview he also made a smart distinction between number of shots against compared to bonafide scoring chances against. With the rise in the mainstream of stats like Corsi and Fenwick as barometers of team play, Anderson made it clear that it’s not necessarily the amount that bothers him as a goalie... it’s the quality. Teams keep internal stats on “scoring chances” and that may be why they’ve been notoriously resistant to more general possession stats like Corsi. When it comes to these things, I’m not loyal to either side but I’m more apt to take a goalie’s word on it than anyone else’s.
Jason Spezza – Unsurprisingly, he sounded incredibly depressed about the situation, but he’s sounded like that for at least a few weeks. When teammates were spouting positives about the team coming together to finish strong, Spezza was saying stuff like “too little, too late”. Clearly, he’s taking his first season as captain hard... and he should. A lot of the organization’s hopes rest on his sometimes unstable back but he wasn’t able to deliver this team to the playoffs like his predecessor had for many seasons. Team’s have bad years, and I don’t think you can pin much of the blame on Spezza, but as captain he’s doing the right thing by being accountable, at least to the media. Yet when asked if he wanted to return, his tone of voice took on an even darker tone and he simply retorted “I do”. It was a short answer, and didn’t do much to convince me or anyone else that he’s a happy guy right now.
To me, trading Spezza won’t do this team much good in the short or the long term. Extracting that much skill out of your lineup is never a good thing. Even if they get a first-rounder back in the trade, that player won’t be on this team and contributing regularly for 3 or 4 years. They’re not going to get back a first-line centre either. Spezza is a 220 pound point-scoring machine who’s just 30 years old. The only reason you would part with a guy like that is if he wanted out himself. I’m not sure he’s at that point yet, but it could be close. Nobody gets treated worse by the fans than #19. Alfredsson went through some tough times here with the fans and perservered. I think Spezza can do the same but this is a delicate summer for both sides. Spezza may want some assurances that GM Bryan Murray is going to either re-sign Alex Hemsky or get someone similar to play with. If I had to put money on it, I think Spezza survives here and gets another contract.
Paul MacLean – When asked, both Kyle Turris and Erik Karlsson had lots of praise for the suddenly beleaguered head coach. As Ian Mendes tweeted out, Karlsson said “Guys have a lot of respect for him and we like him.” Turris maintained MacLean’s message is still getting through to the guys in the room and you can only think that a lot of the players said this to Murray in their exit meeting when asked.
When Barry Trotz was let go this morning by Nashville, it decreased the job security of at least 10 coaches around the league, including, arguably, Paul MacLean’s. The one thing everybody has been harping on has been this team’s lack of defensive prowess, which is what Trotz instilled annually in Nashville as coach. Even Jacques Martin was quoted in the Ottawa Citizen yesterday saying that he’s looking for a head coaching job.
But come on... MacLean can’t really be in trouble here can he? One tough season after signing a contract extension shouldn’t be enough to make this guy homeless. Saying that, some major adjustments need to be made by this coaching staff going into next September. It might mean Murray makes a change with the assistant staff and brings in a defensive specialist (like Pittsburgh did by bringing in Martin, a move that worked incredibly well with key defensemen missing there), or it could just be a different approach from the existing group. I’m not sure the defense roster is going to change that much, particularly in the top four, so any changes will have to be through coaching.
This is just speculation but I’m guessing Murray and Melnyk were a little unhappy that MacLean didn’t have more patience with the Bobby Ryan and Spezza pairing. They spent a lot of money and prospects to bring Ryan in to play with #19 but instead spent most of the season looking at a hole on Spezza’s right side that not only hindered the offensive potential of their number one-centre, but also the team. Eventually they had to go out and get Ales Hemsky and now they have two expensive right-wingers to re-sign, Hemsky this summer.
Sure, the Spezza/Ryan pairing didn’t seem to click in the early going but Spezza himself admitted he wasn’t fully himself in October after back-surgery. There’s always going to be that “what if” feeling around those two, especially if an unhappy Spezza wants out this summer. MacLean exhibited a bit of stubbornness this season, and that might have hurt the team. His unending patience with Jared Cowen is another example, but if you look at it closely, keeping Cowen in the lineup to try and play through his struggles is in the best interests of the team long-term. They committed to Cowen in his new contract and MacLean didn’t take him off the ice, even when he was clearly hurting their chances. That’s the dilemma for coaches of young teams. You have to balance winning at all costs with development. MacLean was caught in that trap with Cowen and a few other players.
I could be dead wrong but I think MacLean is safe for now. If the team falters next season in the same way, it could turn into the “night of long knives”.
Erik Karlsson – With a hoarse, exhausted voice, Karlsson beamed positivity throughout his media availability today. I don’t know what it is, but even in the midst of disaster, this guy just comes across as incredibly likeable and easy-going. He always has the hint of a smile on his face, even when he’s tearing into a ref (which he did a bit too much of this season). There’s no need to go into his play on the ice – he’s the franchise. But what fascinates me lately is his ways off the ice. He’s a magnetic personality and never seems to carry around the gloom on his shoulders like some can when things are going south. Sure, there was that self-imposed exile from the media earlier in the season which was bizarre, but his explanations for it were disarming. He’s noticeably honest, like a lot of Swedish hockey players (ie. “probably not”) but you always walk away thinking “things aren’t that bad” after hearing him talk. Makes you think he has the personality to be the next captain of this hockey team when Spezza moves on, even if it means this summer.
Now, it’s easy to be like that when you’re never taking the brunt of fan criticism like Spezza has over his career, and thus has no reason to be guarded. Yet I think Karlsson just has that innate personality to block those things out more than Spezza does. We’ve heard a lot about how Spezza is a keen student of the game and keeps up with what the media is saying about him. That’s got to do some serious mental damage over time, and undoubtedly it has. Spezza sounds utterly defeated at the end of most seasons but manages to get his spirits back up by September. Karlsson seems like the kind of guy who wouldn't pay much attention to what the media is saying. Maybe I’m wrong, but his personality is just too fast and loose to get caught up in that.
If he can get a full summer of training and heal that Achilles injury, it’s frightening to think what this guy can do next year. And if that captain’s “C” happens to become available, I don’t think he’d hesitate for a second accepting it.
More to come throughout the day.... Feel free to respond on Twitter.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Sure, going over the forwards in the last post was easy. Scoring hasn’t been the problem with the Ottawa Senators this season as they figure to settle in the Top 10 in league offense. In goals-against, the Sens are in a category with the Oilers, Panthers, Islanders, Sabres and horror of all horrors, the Leafs at the very threshold of hell.
At the beginning of the season, this team couldn't even get the puck out of their own end. Coach Paul MacLean held a practice where all they did was breakouts over and over again. Still, the pain continued.
It didn’t help that this team couldn't get any goaltending, but the defense core aggressively underachieved this season to the point of satire. Opposing teams would break over the blueline and the Senators most highly paid, veteran defensemen would start doing something that resembled the doggy-paddle. Almost every defenseman at one point ended up on blooper reels during the long season and nothing the coaching staff came up with ended up staunching the flow of errors.
Now we get to sit and watch other teams play in the post-season. Surely there’s going to be changes on defense... but maybe not as many as you’d think (or like). Here’s my rundown on each individual defenseman who played the majority of the year here and what awaits them next season. Pray with me. (Contract values are approximate cap hits per Cap Geek)
Erik Karlsson- 5 years left on deal at $6.5m: The most telling thing about Karlsson’s season is that he’s still not a hundred percent healed from his Achilles injury. Yet he’s comfortably in the team lead in scoring with 72 points and 3 games to go, he broke Steve Duchesne’s team record for goals by a defenseman in a season when he notched his 20th, and is only 6 points off his Norris Trophy season total. He’s also logged the most minutes of his career in 2013-14. What can this kid do with a full-summer of training and healing? It will lash your mind with fear if you think about it too deeply. I’m not one to nitpick some of his defensive lapses because that mostly comes from always having the puck and trying to create offense. I get the sense that if Alfie was still around he would have let Karlsson know it’s not always wise to chirp at refs and visibly show your frustration by banging your stick and shaking your head. Once Karlsson cleans that up – and he will with maturity – he could win a Hart Trophy. This guy is the franchise. And his contract is a major bargain compared to what he means to the team. And let’s always remember that the Leafs chose Luke Schenn 5th overall the same year the Sens grabbed Karlsson at 15th in the first round.
Jared Cowen – 3 years left on deal at $3.1m: Here we go. No defenseman took more blasting from fans this year than Cowen. Some of the things said on Twitter about the young defenseman would have made Don Rickles wince. It was a disaster from the start, with Cowen holding out through most of training camp waiting on a deal and then looking very much like a guy who missed the season before with a wonky hip. Cowen was burned savagely game after game this year by speedy forwards and most of his physical game seemed to disappear for long stretches. The coup-de-grâce was Cowen imploding against both the Bruins (-4) and Red Wings (-3) in games right before and after the Olympic break. You could see that coach MacLean was trying to get Cowen through the rough patches by playing him regularly despite the mistakes but even MacLean had to finally admit defeat and reduce Cowen’s ice-time significantly as the season wound down. Yet, I still like the guy. One bad year doesn’t mean you give up on a high-pedigree defenseman. He has the size and mobility to be a top-4 defenseman for years and the Senators paid him with that in mind. It’s tempting to imagine at least one of Karlsson, a confident Cowen and Cody Ceci on the ice at all times for the next 5 or 6 years. That’s the plan for GM Bryan Murray and he shouldn’t waver from it just because Cowen struggled. If he gets off to a terrible start next season, then it’s really time to worry, but until then I’ll keep the faith.
Marc Methot – 1 year left on deal at $3m: Like almost everybody on the team, Methot had a tough year and even seemed to clash with MacLean earlier in the season when he was made a healthy scratch. He had his partners changed and vaulted up and down the rotation, sometimes stuck on the 3rd pairing depending on MacLean’s mood. Yet this guy comes across as accountable and likely has something to prove next season (and a new contract to play for). To me, he’s the least controversial guy on the blueline for Ottawa, and possibly on the entire team. Right now he’s even on the season in plus/minus, he’s middle of the pack if you go for possession numbers like Corsi, he’s second on the team in ice-time and plays an honest, unflashy defensive game. Coaches love having reliable defenseman like this and Methot is very similar to what Chris Phillips was in his prime. I see it as a no-brainer for the Senators to re-sign this guy, especially when they’re trying to develop up a lot of young defensemen at the same time. Methot seems like the prototypical “team guy” and could even wear the “C” down the line, depending how things turn out. Hopefully the feeling is mutual among player and management.
Cody Ceci – 2 years left on deal at $900,000: If you’re wondering why Patrick Wiercioch was a healthy scratch for so long, it’s because Ceci came out of nowhere and flat out stole his job mid-season. It helped that Ceci was a right-handed shot which made Wiercioch look even more expendable playing his wrong side, but Ceci came into the lineup, immediately scored a huge overtime goal against St. Louis, and slowly the team began to win more regularly, at least for a while. You have to remember that when Ceci got called up from Bingo, the biggest panic on the team was about not getting the puck out of the defensive zone cleanly. Ceci seemed to provide another option other than Karlsson and the team’s play improved quickly. Ottawa won 9 of Ceci’s first 15 games and Wiercioch wasn’t able to get back into the lineup regularly until the end of March. The offense never really took off for the rookie (ironically Joe Corvo, also out of a job due to Ceci, had better numbers in limited play) but he moved the puck well and was rewarded with mostly steady ice-time from MacLean, occasionally hitting the 20 minute mark. Ceci looks like a guy who could get you 15-20 power-play points a year and be that offensive right-hander to slot in behind Karlsson. He may even have take a slight step-back next season as sophomores sometimes do, but he has a long future here in Ottawa.
Patrick Wiercioch – 2 years left on deal at $2m: I’ve been pretty positive so far but here we take a turn for the worse. I’m not a fan. I love that long-bomb pass Wiercioch is capable of at times and I like his reach with that lanky body, but watching this guy just leaves me cold. I was as impressed as everyone else with the training camp and exhibition schedule Wiercioch had and fully expected him to carry that over, but as soon as I saw Ceci play I suddenly realized everything I wasn’t seeing in Wiercioch. Ceci always seemed compact and in control. Wiercioch was all arms and legs dangling, zig-zagging through the neutral zone or throwing bombs across two-lines that sometimes connected, sometimes not. Wiercioch was still getting points but he just seemed more dangerous and prone to giveaways at the offensive blueline. Yet he’s still the 3rd highest scoring defenseman on the Senators and ranks about the same in unofficial possession numbers, which led me to wonder if it was just my individual bias about the way he “looks” out there not letting me see a good hockey player. I’m still wrestling with that dilemma because my gut tells me he’s not top-six but the raw numbers says he deserves to be. Yet with Ceci entrenched on the right side and Cowen still prized by management on the left, I can see a situation where Murray tries to move Wiercioch out simply because he doesn’t fit into the current d-man puzzle on this team. They also need to make room for Mark Borowiecki, another left-handed shot, who’s on a one-way contract next season. Many of you will scream that Wiercioch deserves to play over someone like Chris Phillips – I disagree and we’ll get to that next – but that argument was basically put to bed when Murray signed Phillips to a contract extension right before the trade-deadline. To me, that sealed Wiercioch’s fate right away. But there’s also the trouble with moving Wiercioch’s contract. I think some team would take a run at him but $2m is a lot for a guy who hasn’t been able to cement a role in the top-six.
Chris Phillips – 2 years left on deal at $2.5m: Phillips has taken a ton of heat for a tough season that neatly mirrored those of his teammates, but if you look at his career, Phillips has a history of bouncing back after sub-par years. In fact, you can look at Phillips as a barometer of how the team is doing in any given season. In 2010-11, the Senators imploded under Cory Clouston and had their worst campaign since 1995-96. Coincidentally, Phillips also had his worst full-season in 10-11, scoring only 9 points and going -35 in 82 games. When MacLean replaced Clouston, the team turned around and so did Phillips’ game, getting back to familiar territory with 19 points and a +12 rating. When the Senators were on their long streak of playoff appearances, Phillips was steady both on the ice and in the stats sheet and that continued under MacLean with a slight lessening of his ice-time the older he got. Now this season, the Senators are struggling again and Phillips is having a tough year defensively and offensively. As the team goes, so does Phillips. If they can get their defensive play sorted out next year, I think you’ll see Phillips rebound like he has throughout his career. As a 36 year old, Phillips hasn’t had two bad years in a row. To me that says something about his professionalism. He’s not a game changer and has never been a guy to dictate the play, but when he’s playing inside an organized system, he’s very solid, but when the overall structure isn’t there, he struggles. That’s what I mean by him being a barometer of overall fortunes of the team. One day he’ll fade but I don’t see that happening in the next two seasons. In fact, I see him turning it around along with the team.
Eric Gryba – RFA: Quietly, Gryba has had a solid year on a bad defensive team. He fits nicely on the bottom pair as the right-handed shot and it’s a testament to his play that MacLean was rarely tempted to play Wiercioch there on his off-side just to get more offense. He takes a lot of minor penalties but most of those come from battling in front of his own net and getting too aggressive. He’s a welcome presence back there physically and is kind of a menacing bastard with that lumberjack beard and a highlight in his back pocket from when he absolutely crushed the Habs Lars Eller in the 2013 playoffs. I’d actually like to see Gryba get meaner back there and really punish guys but it’s a tricky thing with the refs in the modern NHL. Even dropping the gloves a little more might give him a bit more of an intimidating presence but he doesn’t seem to look for that kind of trouble. I’m not entirely sure of his long-term future here with Mark Borowiecki ready to come in and provide a similar type of game. They may want to play Boro with more of an offensive-minded d-man to balance out the pairings and that could make Gryba expendable, especially now that he has to negotiate a new deal. My hunch is that MacLean likes what he brings most nights and would like to have him back (providing the coach is back himself) but Gryba could be moved to create some change back there and change the dynamic. Let’s just say I’m not 100% sure where Gryba fits when the dust settles on what should be a summer of change.
Friday, April 4, 2014
Usually I wait until the Senators are eliminated from the playoffs to do a “sign or trade” compendium, but much like this cruel, sadistic winter, this season has dragged on miserably for way too long and I don’t feel that any big surprises are waiting for us in the last 6 games of the regular season that would change my opinions on anybody.
Like anyone else watching this team or freezing our asses off out there, we’re all looking for closure.
For what it’s worth, here’s my take on each individual Senators forward (we’ll do the defense and goalies next week). We’ll look at their performance this season and whether or not I think they should or will be back. As usual, there will be a lot of dissenting opinion, so if you disagree, let me know in the comments or on the Twitter machine.
When there’s a lack of success, there’s always a tidal wave of opinion. I’m no different. So here’s my rundown... (Contract values are approximate cap hits per Cap Geek)
Jason Spezza – 1 year left on deal at $7m: I love the way Spezza plays the game and would like nothing more than to see him sign an extension to stay in Ottawa, simply because I enjoy the entertainment. He’s a throwback to an 80’s style centre but that’s what gets him into trouble with a lot of the fanbase. Seeing Spezza come alive with the addition of Ales Hemsky has convinced me yet again that there’s a lot of great hockey left in that wonky back, but there has to be some concern from management. To resign Spezza will take a lot of capital and commitment and there’s a risk involved with his health. He’s still only 30 and should have about 3 or 4 strong offensive years left. Yet the Senators can’t risk losing him for nothing in 2015. They have to re-sign or trade him this summer. I’m not completely convinced that Kyle Turris or Mika Zibanejad are true number-one elite centres, either now or in the near future. Moving Spezza would hurt this team in more than just entertainment value. Here’s a more in-depth look at how I view Spezza from a few weeks ago.
Kyle Turris – 4 years left on deal at $3.5m: Right now he’s the perfect second-line centre on this team and has been, along with linemate Clarke MacArthur, the Senators most consistent player all season. There’s not much to criticize about his game except that he’s still a little scrawny. That may be the only thing holding him back from being able to go up against the other team’s top centres every night the way Spezza does (Spezza is 30 pounds heavier). Turris has a great contract as well. GM Bryan Murray absolutely stole him from Phoenix for David Rundblad, a trade I initially didn’t like. I was wrong. Big time.
Mika Zibanejad – 1 year left on deal at $900,000: Coach Paul MacLean has brought Zibanejad along very slowly which has infuriated some fans but in the end it’s probably the right thing to do. That’s the Detroit Red Wings style that MacLean brought over with him and at times it seemed Zibanejad was being held back, but I think we’re seeing that approach pay off. You can see glimpses of so much power in his game and if he eventually fills out to 220 pounds he’ll be even harder to take off the puck. If the Senators decide to deal Spezza, Zbad will get a lot more responsibility but right now he’s in a pretty good spot. If that old cliché about players breaking out in their fourth year holds true with Zibanejad, we should start to see some real offensive numbers in about two seasons.
Zack Smith – 3 years left on deal at $1.8m: Ottawa’s second best faceoff man behind Spezza, Smith has the most even-strength defensive zone starts of anyone on the team who’s played over 50 games. He kills penalties and is a welcome physical presence down the middle. He sometimes loses his temper and takes bad penalties, but according to Extra Skater, he also draws a lot of penalties on the other teams, leading the Senators in that category with 34. In the grand scheme of things, he comes out even and I’m sure MacLean can stomach a few penalties here and there if it means Smith is engaged physically and emotionally in the games. In his first few years, Smith had a tendency to disappear for stretches and look uninterested. That hasn’t been the case this year. There’s no doubt he’ll be back in the same role next season.
J.G. Pageau-1 year left on deal at $600,000: I don’t pretend to know what’s going to happen with this guy. The Sens are deep at centre at the NHL level right now so it’s hard to see Pageau there full-time next year. I guess he could play the wing with that speed of his but there are a lot of skilled guys ahead of him there too. There’s something in his game that has big-time written all over it, but I don’t know if he’s going to get the opportunity he needs here. Do the Senators really want the smallest fourth-line in the NHL? I doubt it, and that hurts Pageau’s chances right now.
Stephane Da Costa-RFA: See Pageau above. Same deal, although as an RFA, Da Costa might have hit the end of the line in Ottawa if he expects to be a full-time NHL’er. Both teams might benefit from a trade here.
Bobby Ryan – 1 year left on deal at $5.1m: Ryan spoke to the media for the first time after his hernia surgery this week and said he “loves” playing in Ottawa and can see himself here for a long time. Hockey fans all over the city gently hugged one another and wouldn’t let go for a few awkward minutes. From day one there’s been a lingering suspicion that Ottawa was just a brief stop on his way to the Philadelphia Flyers when he becomes a free agent in 2015. It’s a bit of that small-town defeatist attitude that’s so abundant here at times, and I wasn’t immune to it myself. I just assumed that the disastrous season the Senators had would have soured Ryan’s outlook (not to mention enduring the worst winter since Big Joe
Clarke MacArthur – 1 year left on deal at $3.2m: Another no-brainer for Sens management. MacArthur was the biggest surprise of the year and the most underrated UFA signing of last summer. He’s provided goals, leadership (with his blunt honesty to the media) and lots of speed. I’m not sure how much his next deal will be, but I can’t see Murray balking at a reasonable demand. MacArthur and Turris could play together for the next 4 years if the Sens play this right.
Milan Michalek-UFA: All season I’ve been convinced he was gone this summer but lately Michalek has at least given me a little reason to doubt that early verdict. Not even Spezza benefited as much from the addition of Ales Hemsky like Michalek has. Suddenly he’s scoring goals again and finding that speed we all thought he’d lost after multiple knee injuries. But a late-season surge shouldn’t cloud our judgement here. The Senators have a lot of prospects like Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Matt Puempel, Shane Prince and Curtis Lazar who will need a full-time roster spot in the next few seasons. If the Senators plan to bring back both Ryan and Hemsky, it will be too expensive to save Michalek. It’s one thing to gamble on Spezza’s back when he provides you with a number one centre option, it’s another to gamble on Michalek’s knees for limited production in the future. I’d let Michalek go for all those reasons.
Ales Hemsky – UFA: I’m a big fan. Maybe it’s my imagination but I sometimes see glimpses of what Ottawa used to have with Marian Hossa on the wing when Hemsky dangles in the offensive zone. Hemsky doesn’t have the power that Hossa had but that dose of high-end skill has been refreshing to see here. Not signing Hemsky just means that the search for Spezza’s winger will start all over again and nobody wants to read any more stories about that. Yet the Sens have to be careful how much money they throw around to all their other pending UFA’s like Spezza, Ryan, MacArthur, Marc Methot and Craig Anderson. Not all of them are going to be back and signing Hemsky to a big ticket will ensure that even more. Still, I find it hard to believe Murray won’t go after Hemsky hard this summer.
Chris Neil – 2 years left on deal at $1.9m: If you read Twitter, Chris Neil is the worst player who ever lived. If you sit in the stands at the rink, he’s a fan favourite. Neither viewpoint really matters much. What matters is that Neil is trusted by the organization to go out and play the same way every single night and provide the physical element that this team needs. Too many nights he’s alone in that regard but when he’s going to the net and hitting the other team’s best players, he’s effective as a third-liner. A lot of his detractors point to poor possession numbers but they often miss the point of a player like Neil. Even the best teams in the league possess the puck at just around 55% (using proxies like shot attempts), which means you’re still playing without it for almost half the game no matter how skilled you are. You need physical players who can hit and cause havoc when you don’t have the puck. Neil is not here to score goals. He’s here to terrorize the opposition. That’s his role and he does it well. Like Spezza, he’ll seemingly never win over his detractors in this town, but I see him reaching 1000 games in a Senators uniform and probably finishing his career here.
Colin Greening-3 years left on deal at $2.6m: At this point, I’d be ready to cut bait with this guy. He got the big contract in the off-season but he hasn’t gone to the next level. Just six goals so far is a huge disappointment but to me the biggest complaint with Greening is that he isn’t mean relative to his size. When he gets mad, he can be a force but too often he’s a gentle giant. The Senators have a lot of guys up front who aren’t known for being strong, so you expect that a player like Greening would make a difference. He doesn’t. Greening will be tough to move with that contract now, but you never know. If the opportunity is there to deal him, the Sens should take it and move on.
Erik Condra-1 year left on deal at $1.2m: To me, he’s a great fourth-liner who can kill penalties and has a cheap ticket. Good enough. When he’s playing with Pageau or Da Costa, you sometimes think a fourth line should be a LOT bigger, but Condra always stays in the lineup, isn’t on for many goals-against at even-strength and has good puck possession numbers for a fourth liner. That tells you a lot about how he plays the game. When I look back, I can see a lineage of similar players in the Sens system, from Shaun Van Allen to Chris Kelly to Condra. I think he’ll get an extension before his deal runs out.
Matt Kassian-UFA: I don’t think he’s needed beyond this point with the way the NHL works nowadays, but you never know with Murray and MacLean. Both subscribe to the theory that you sometimes need a nuclear weapon, even if he’s just sitting on the bench smiling at opposing players when they act tough. His only role is to fight and has trouble getting into the lineup. The Sens will likely give his spot to someone who can skate and play that much talked about “200-foot game”. But it is kind of fun to watch when he gets to his top speed and takes a run at someone on the boards. He’s also the funniest guy on the Senators, so that’s something at least. It was entertaining when Andre Roy was around in the late-90’s and Kassian brings a similar act. But I wouldn’t put money on him being back next year.
Mark Stone-1 year left on deal at $600,000: It’s been a short audition but this guy looks like he’s ready. Love his size and his hands and he’s not nearly as bad a skater as some had made him out to be. Reminds me of Scott Hartnell with that hair too. He’s a natural to replace Michalek on the top line.
Mike Hoffman-RFA: Similar to Stone, it’s been a brief watch but I like what I see out of Hoffman, particularly his speed. His hands seem a bit clunky but who cares if he’s always beating guys to pucks. I was convinced he was going to be on this team going into training camp but things went sideways. Now he looks like he belongs. If Greening goes, Hoffman is also a natural to step into that vacancy. Not sure he’s a top-sixer but they can use that speed without the puck on the third and fourth lines right now.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Originally I was going to title this pic post as a play on Lon Chaney, "Man Of A Thousand Faces", but realized that Neil doesn't really have a thousand faces. He's got three, with endless permutations - Ecstatic, Grumpy and Enraged.
And for this reason, there's a motherlode of great Neil pics out there. He's never just going through the motions on the ice. He's either in the midst of a shitstorm around the net, in a mob celebration or throwing punches. How can you not take a great photograph of Chris Neil? It's impossible.
Neil isn't a very PC player to like anymore in this enlightened age of temperance, and I can guarantee you I'm the only Sens blogger who will say "he's one of my favourite players to watch on the Senators right now". Win or lose, there's always something happening with this guy. And I like seeing stuff happen. But mostly, I love the faces.