Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rumour: Lighting Sold - Melrose In - Torts To Ottawa?

Considering the source, this is not exactly rock solid as of now, but there is talk that the sale of the Tampa Bay Lightning is going through post-haste and that Barry Melrose is indeed being brought in to coach the Lightning (allegedly).

That of course means John Tortorella will be looking for a coaching job and Ottawa GM Bryan Murray might be the first in line to give him an interview.

If Torts is hired (or Craig Hartsburg, or Pat Burns), it will have a lot to do with the sentiment out there that Murray wants a ball-breaker to come into that Ottawa locker room and flip a few tables and instill discipline on and off the ice.

But here's the strange thing: If Ray Emery was the main cause of a "rift" in the locker room and the unravelling of the team (allegedly), and Murray has already stated that he is going to either trade him or buy him out, then why does he feel the need to bring in a sheriff?

Wouldn't that route be more effective if the "troublemaker" was still on the team? If Murray gets rid of the "rotten apples", do Alfie and company need (or deserve) a screamer to take them over the top?

Is there any validity to the argument that Murray might change his mind and keep Emery in an effort to rehabilitate him with a stern coach like Tortorella?

Doubtful, but stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Burke May Be In Leaf Land This Summer After All

Ken Campbell of the Hockey News tells us that Brian Burke may be trying to force his way out of Anaheim despite public denials on all sides.

"Every executive I’ve spoken to over the past month says they’re convinced the Anaheim Ducks will at some point this summer free Burke from his obligations and allow him to join the Leafs.

“He’ll be there,” is a common refrain, “and he’ll be there this summer.” ....

Burke still hasn’t signed his contract extension and apparently has no intention of doing so. "

- The Hockey News

It's also interesting to note from an Ottawa perspective that the fiasco over Peter Chiarelli leaving the Senators to take over the Bruins GM position a few years ago has some bearing on this situation with Burke.

"It was Bettman who, three years ago, quashed the notion of compensation for hiring people under contract when Peter Chiarelli went from the front office of the Ottawa Senators to become GM of the Bruins. Suffice it to say it was something of an ugly affair and Bettman ruled then that compensation would no longer be forthcoming to teams that allowed their executives to speak to, or be hired by, other teams."

- The Hockey News

Meanwhile the Dave Nonis rumours continue unabated in Toronto. Nobody seems to know what the hell is going on anymore.

Mario Pisses Off ESPN

Mario Lemieux is being heavily criticised by ESPN's Scott Burnside for his "self-imposed media blackout" during the Stanley Cup finals. He notes how all the Detroit greats like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio have made themselves available to the media and the NHL event staff while reporters can't even get within 20 feet of the "Magnificient One".

"When requests are made to talk to Lemieux, either in a one-on-one setting or in a group format with reporters covering the finals, word politely comes back through the team that the man who is the Penguins' part-owner doesn't want to take the spotlight away from his young team.

What a load of hooey.

This has nothing to do with taking any spotlight away from his players. They have been playing in the spotlight for weeks now. And since
Sidney Crosby became a Penguin three seasons ago, the spotlight has never been far from this Penguins team.

No, this is more about Lemieux's detachment from the game or, at least, detachment from having to share his thoughts and feelings about the game."

- ESPN.Com

Some things never really change.

Wayne Gretzky was able to handle the media with ease throughout his career, even if he mastered the technique of speaking for a few minutes without really saying anything.

Lemieux was always more of a recluse and never seemed comfortable being a spokesperson for the game or the NHL. It always seemed like he had been forced into the spotlight someway or the other, whether it was his heroic battles with cancer or having to take over ownership of the Penguins.

That's not to say that Lemieux is without class. He's always been a gentleman and carries himself with poise and dignity. But he does have a responsibility to help sell the game and granting a few interviews is the least he could do. He is an owner for chrissakes. Instead of getting our cliche interview, we get to watch Mario sip Cabernet Sauvignon in between plays.

It's never a good thing when the biggest sports network in America (ESPN) is complaining about access.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ten Year Shutout Streak And The Roberts Cheap Shot

After last night's shutout of Crosby and company, Chris Osgood is now 6-0 in Stanley Cup Final games in his career. That includes the four game sweep of the Washington Capitals in 1998.


It was a little embarrassing seeing Gary Roberts punching Johan Franzen in the head when the game was already out of hand. Franzen of course is recovering from a concussion. Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette called it a " shot" and it's hard to disagree.
More and more, this is looking like one of those classic "learning years" for the Penguins, similar to what Edmonton had to endure when they got blown out by the Islanders in the 1983 Cup final. People are pointing fingers at Evgeni Malkin but it's hard to blame a kid who has never played this long in the season before and may not realize the intensity needed to finish things off. He'll be better the next time around.
And has anyone noticed the eerie resemblance of this Penguin team to last year's Ottawa Senators who had a long layoff before facing the cruising Ducks in the final? It's like deja-vu all over again.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Replica Mem Cup Snaps In Half

This was a very awkward few moment as captain Chris Bruton of the Memorial Cup winning Spokane Chiefs snaps the trophy in half while trying to hand it off to his teammate Trevor Glass.

Then comes word that it's actually not the real Memorial Cup but a replica. Seems a little odd not to hand out the real trophy but maybe they foresaw something like this.

You can be sure the NHL would dread something like this happening to the Stanley Cup on American television. They too have a replica but they insist that the one they hand to the players is the real thing.

Why bother to have a replica at all anyways? I've never been more disappointed in my life than when I was told that the Cup I was looking at in the Hall of Fame in Toronto was a carefully reproduced dupe.

Just have the one Cup so no one has to ask the question "Is it the real one?"

Fans visiting the Hall Of Fame will understand if it's out on some promotional tour. Where's the magic in seeing the fake one anyways?
I once saw a Kiss cover band in a dumpy little bar on Bank Street. It wasn't pretty folks. The songs were the same but I kept thinking, "Why does Gene Simmons have a moustache?"

Senators Junior Prospects

Over at Hockey's Future (a great site that comes highly recommended for prospect watching), they recently posted a feature on some of the Senators draft picks currently playing in the juniors including last year's top pick Jim O'Brien and the wonderfully named defenseman Ben Blood.

There does seem to be some cause for alarm. If the Senators do buy out Ray Emery and Jeff Glass leaves Binghamton as expected, the Senators have virtually no goalie depth anywhere in the organization.
Thank God Martin Gerber is so good. Oh, wait......

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Most Boring Team In Hockey Stands Pat

This is a good one for the "What The F**K?" department.

Alain Vigneault has been extended in his role as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, despite new GM Mike Gillis saying he wants the Canucks to play an "up-tempo" style of hockey going forward.

Good luck with that.

Instead of getting rid of Vigneault, Gillis chose to fire assistant coaches Mike Kelly and Barry Smith.

It looks like Vancouver can say goodbye to captain Markus Naslund because word is those two don't agree on "hockey issues".

Issues being that Naslund believes a team has to score goals to win a hockey game while Vigneault insists on his "dump and DO NOT Chase" philosophy.

Either way, the Canucks look to be a great cure for insomnia going forward next season.

Avalanche Taking A Big Risk With Granato

It was announced today by Colorado GM Francois Giguere that Tony Granato will be the new head coach of the Avalanche.

Granato has been the assistant in Colorado for the last three years but was their head coach for awhile in the early part of the decade. That ended in failure but Giguere is tempting the fates once again.

The conventional wisdom is that assistant coaches have to go somewhere else to be the main guy because they're bound to have spent too much time playing "good cop" with their players and won't be able to coerce and mould the team once they're promoted.

The Av's didn't have far to look in the case of John Paddock.
His short-lived reign as Ottawa head coach after being promoted from an assistant will go down in franchise history as a disaster, and not just for failing to instill discipline. He was cocky and foisted some questionable philosophies on a team that was primed to win it all. He didn't even make it through the season before the chute was pulled.

There are other examples.

Dave Lewis was a mild mannered assistant in Detroit for 13 years, many of them under Scotty Bowman, before he was given the reins of the team in 2002. The Wings had two identical 48 win seasons before going out in rounds 1 and 2 respectively. Lewis was fired in favour of Mike Babcock.

Jim Playfair was an assistant in Calgary for three seasons but was seen as a major reason for a disappointing first round loss in 2007 that led the way to Mike Keenan being brought in to crack the whip.

One positive story is Larry Robinson, who was an assistant in New Jersey for 74 games when he was suddenly thrust into the head role when Lou Lamoriello fired Robbie Ftorek. Robinson led the Devils to the Stanley Cup that season and back to the finals the next.

Obviously Giguere believes in Granato and that's all that matters right now. Any time a GM hires a coach, he's rolling the dice with his own career as well.

Bryan Murray in Ottawa certainly knows what that feels like as he interviews candidates this month.

But let's just say it's a safe bet that assistant coach Greg Carvel won't be moving into a bigger office anytime soon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Howe, Gretzky and Orr Should Be Honored With Re-Named Trophies

You could say that the NHL got the ball rolling with the creation of the Maurice Richard Trophy in 1999 but they also created the problem where other great players such as Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr are not similarly honored. No offense to the great Rocket, but the three aforementioned players were just as important to the history of the game as the former Hab’s star.

So do you bend over backwards and try to create three new trophies or does the league take a serious look at renaming some of their existing hardware?

There is no law that says you have to honour these players with their own trophies but it would create a positive buzz for the league and allow fans to actually identify the awards with names they actually know something about. Yes, that might seem like a disservice to three names I’m nominating to get changed, but much like the rings get taken off the Stanley Cup once the names underneath them get filled, the people honored for these three trophies have been celebrated for most of the century so far and should not be seen as being replaced.

It might just be time to honour some other deserving names for the next 50 to 100 years.

Here are the three trophies I propose to be re-named. Any other suggestions would be great to hear.


Hart Trophy (for most valuable player in the NHL) should be changed to:

The Gordie Howe Trophy.

Who else to name this trophy after than Mr.Hockey himself? Gordie won the Hart 6 times during his incredible 26 NHL seasons and is widely considered to be the most complete hockey player to ever play the game. Only Wayne Gretzky with 9 has won more Hart’s than Howe but Gretzky’s major claim to fame will always be his scoring exploits and he seems more suited to have the Art Ross Trophy named after him. It would be a fitting tribute to a legend that still may be the most popular and well-known hockey player of all-time.

Originally named after: Dr. David Hart, donor of the trophy and father of one-time Montreal coach and general manager Cecil Hart.


Art Ross Trophy (for the highest scoring player in a season) should be changed to:

The Wayne Gretzky Trophy.

Complete no-brainer. Gretzky won the Art Ross an astounding 10 times including 7 in a row from 1981 to 1987. Only Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux even come close with 6 wins apiece.

Originally named after: Arthur Howie Ross, donor of the trophy, Hall of Fame Player and one-time coach and general manager of the Boston Bruins.


James Norris Trophy (for best defenseman in a season) should be changed to:

The Bobby Orr Trophy.

Another easy one. Orr revolutionized the position in his relatively short 12 year career and won the Norris Trophy an incredible 8 years in a row from 1968 to 1975. Only four players have scored more points per game on average – Gretzky, Lemieux, Howe and Mike Bossy.

Originally named after: James E. Norris, former owner of the Detroit Red Wings.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Around The League ... Pearn/Martin Reunion In Florida? ... Tough Year For Gerber ... Meet Larry Pleau - The Invisible Man

Could Perry Pearn be leaving the New York Rangers as their assistant to head up coaching duties in Florida with his old Senators friend Jacques "Mr. Personality" Martin?

Brian Biggane of the Palm Beach Post has the story:

"Jacques knows my philosophy and he knows what I bring from a coaching and teaching perspective," Pearn said. "I doubt anyone in the NHL has had a closer relationship with him over the years." ...

Pearn, 57, said he thought he might join Martin when he came to Florida in 2004, but that the Rangers made a significantly higher offer.

"I certainly enjoyed the time Jacques and I spent together," he said. "We complement each other very well."

Pearn is credited with having a significant role in developing young Ottawa players such as Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Wade Redden and Chris Phillips.

- Palm Beach Post


In case anyone missed this, prepare yourself for the best "own goal" of all time. Martin Gerber is the victim of his own defenseman at the World Championships here in Canada.


Since when did ex-Canuck GM Dave Nonis become a hot commodity? His team was pretty average in Vancouver and he was seen as too tentative in his attempts to land more scoring. Yet everyone is dying to talk to this guy. You can add the St. Louis Blues to the list. President John Davidson said that long-time GM Larry Pleau is staying but has anyone noticed that Pleau has become the invisible man in Missouri since Davidson took over? Who's really making the player personnel decisions over there anyways?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Draft Schmafft - Senators 2008 Draft Options

Just looking over the top rated prospects for this years draft in Ottawa and only came across one North American player in the top 30 who lists the Ottawa Senators as his favourite team.

But that guy just happens to be Zach Bogosian, now ranked 2nd overall for North American skaters.

The current Peterborough Pete unfortunately lists "Harry Potter" as his favourite book and "Europe - Final Countdown Techno" as his favourite song. Those are some strikes against I think. I don't know what Final Countdown sounds like as a techno song but the original makes doves cry.

He won't be around for the Senators to pick (he'll likely go to L.A. or Atlanta) but there are some decent hockey players at or around number 18 where Bryan Murray is slotted to pick, save a dramatic move upwards or downwards in a trade.

Tyler Cuma has been playing in the Senators backyard with the 67's and he is ranked 19th in North America. Here's a quick scouting report from former Senators assistant and current NHL draft guru E.J. McGuire:

"Tyler is an offensive defenseman, really adept at knowing when to pass the puck out of the zone or to put the wheels on and carry the puck out of the zone. He helps the Ottawa 67’s power-play from the point and is really reliable. I find him to be equally adept at the defensive game as well as the offensive game, yet I find him to be more closely aligned with an offensive defenseman-type player."

Regina Pats defenseman Colten Teubert is ranked 18th in North America and is "big, strong, mean" at 6'4" and 185 pounds.

Actually there are a plethora of D-men ranked right around where the Senators are expected to pick and that's good news for a team that is woefully thin in defense prospects outside of Brian Lee.

Big defenseman John Carlson is ranked 17th and is headed to college hockey after a year in the USHL. He might actually have a brain because he lists The Great Gatsby as his favourite book but goes the conventional route and lists the Shawshank Redemption as his favourite movie. If you look at NHL team's websites and go through their rosters, I swear that over 50% of NHL'ers list Shawshank Redemption as their favourite movie. It's unbelievable. That sappy little flick must have replaced Slapshot on the planes and buses as movie of choice.

Zac Dalpe is a forward ranked 16th and is the spitting image of a young Brian Burke (and his favourite team is even the Canucks).

Of course, these picks don't include the Europeans and there's a complete list of their rankings right here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Return Of The Glowing Puck ... Awww F**k!

Well, they're not calling it a "glowing puck" yet, but executives at Versus (who can't even get their channel on the air in some major markets) have decided that fans can't see the puck and want to make it easier for them.

Marty Ehrlich, executive producer at Versus, has been pushing for a new puck-tracking system with NHL executives. If Versus gets the OK, it would test puck tracking on its studio show before trying it during a game, he says. There would not be any computer chips embedded in pucks, at least at first.

"We're looking to track the evolution of a play," says Ehrlich. While puck tracking is on his "wish list," he admits it's still a "sore subject" with hockey purists. "There's people who looked at it as a great success at Fox. A lot looked at it as a dismal failure." ...

John Shannon, the NHL's senior vice president of programming, says the league's open to another attempt at puck tracking — as long as it doesn't compromise the integrity of the game. "The one thing you have to admire is Fox's ingenuity at the time. It was great promotion for the game," he says.

-USA Today

There are also rumours that Barry Melrose might be taking over as coach in Tampa Bay.
My question is this: When did we enter this time warp and where is the exit?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Senators Going Forward Part Three: Err... Forwards..

I should have thought that title through back at part 1.

Anyways ...

As I see it, these are the forwards who are absolute locks to be back next year:

Daniel Alfredsson

Dany Heatley

Jason Spezza

Mike Fisher

Chris Neil

Nick Foligno

Cody Bass

That's a pretty short list. In fact, that's only about two lines worth of players. The other forwards who finished the season are in a different category but many of them can be expected back as well.

Antoine Vermette: He finished a solid 5th in team scoring and responded better to Bryan Murray's coaching than John Paddock's. Vermette seemed to follow the template of players breaking out in their fourth year but he is still wildly inconsistent on offense. It's hard to think of another player who missed so many opportunities to put the puck in the net. He is a restricted free-agent but expect Murray to get his name on a contract because the Senators would just be too slow without him. Vermette is a great penalty killer and would be even more valuable if Chris Kelly goes somewhere else.

Chris Kelly: He's unrestricted and is looking at a decent raise after making only 1.2 million last year. Kelly is one of those glue guys, much like Jay Pandolfo in New Jersey and he would be missed by the Senators if he leaves. Expect Murray to make a strong pitch and perhaps try to move a similar but lesser player in Dean McAmmond to make room for him. Toronto will be in the market for Kelly big time.

Dean McAmmond: Deano has one year left on his contract and is coming off a sub-par year where he was never the same player after getting his head taken off by Steve Downie in the pre-season. It didn't help that John Paddock basically let him sit on the bench for most of the season along with the other third and fourth line players. He could be traded for a draft pick because Cody Bass and Nick Foligno are going to need more ice time this year. I don't expect him to be back.

Shean Donovan: He might have been one of their best players in the playoffs and even though he's unrestricted, he would probably re-sign in Ottawa at the same salary ($900,000). He's a good depth player with speed who thrived when Paddock was let go. He's probably 50-50 to return.

Randy Robitaille: He's gone. A minor mistake by Murray.

Martin Lapointe: There was some unnecessary pressure on Lapointe because he was the lone trade deadline player the Sens picked up. He was pretty good in his role but he doesn't seem to have the legs anymore. I'd peg his return at 25% but Murray might really value his leadership. He could be next year's Luke Richardson.

Cory Stillman: Was very good when healthy and seems to be a perfect fit on this team. The Senators haven't really had a skilled veteran like him since Shawn McEachern left. Still only 33 years old, Stillman has a lot left to offer but he may be swayed by better money somewhere else. If Murray can't sign Stillman, there will be a huge hole to fill on the second line so he might as well get it done sooner rather than later.

Brian McGrattan: He hardly played at all last season even though the Senators were beginning to re-earn their reputation for being soft. McGrattan is a top-tier fighter and underrated as a crash and bang forward who can forecheck with surprisingly decent speed. That being said, he's a restricted free-agent and Murray didn't use him anymore than Paddock did which is not good news for Brian. He's popular with his teammates but that might not be enough anymore. If I was calling the shots, he'd be back but I wouldn't bet on Murray feeling the same way. He still has something to offer an NHL team.

Christoph Schubert: Technically a defenseman but used mostly at wing, Schubert still has two years left on his deal and won't be going anywhere. It would be interesting to see what he could do on one of the top two lines. With his speed and hitting ability, he could really carve out some room on the ice for more skilled linemates.

It's clear that the Senators desperately need another skilled forward and if they choose to go the unrestricted free-agent route, there's a few options for them that might make sense:

Marian Hossa: The former Sen would look great in the red and black but nearly every team will be offering huge sums of money, especially now that he seems to have brushed off his reputation as a playoff failure. Many are saying that Pittsburgh won't be able to afford him so Ottawa certainly has a chance (but maybe not the cap room).

Daymond Langkow: He could step right in as the Senators number two centre, letting Mike Fisher fall back a line. That seems to be where Fisher plays his best.

Kristian Huselius: He can score but is streaky.

Ryan Malone: The Penguins will make every effort to sign this "heart and soul" player but he would be perfect on a line with Dany Heatley.

Brian Rolston: He would be a major coup for the Senators if they could afford him but Rolston will be one of the most sought after players this summer. He would transform the Senators power-play.

Andrew Brunette: Is coming off some good years with the Avalanche. Could Joel Quenneville bring him along from Colorado?

Brendan Morrison: Second line centre option.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Kolzig A Fit For The Senators?

The veteran goalie didn't react favourably when he was replaced by Cristobal Huet at the trade deadline and even went so far as to remove his nameplate from his locker stall and skip the final team meeting of the year. The Washington Post finally caught up to Kolzig to get his take on the strange events:

"When you're down three games to one in the playoffs, I felt like it was an opportunity for me to get in there with the experience I have," said Kolzig, who is tied for 22nd on the NHL's career victories list with 301. "Our backs were against the wall, but it didn't happen. I said to myself: 'My time here in Washington has passed. They've chosen to go in a different direction, and this was the exclamation point on it.' "

After the Game 7 loss in Washington, Kolzig removed his nameplate from his locker stall and skipped a team meeting the following morning. He said he plans to frame the nameplate with a jersey.

"In my mind, there wasn't anything hateful," Kolzig said of removing his nameplate. "I wasn't there for the meeting because I didn't want to have to face the media. I wanted to avoid [reporters] as long as I could. It got blown out of proportion. "

- Washington Post

Kolzig says he wants to go to a contender or he'll retire. Could he be a fit with the Senators? Time has eroded his skills and confidence but he's probably no worse an option than Martin Gerber. Here are their respective playoff stats:

Gerber: 12 GP, 1 Win, 5 Losses, 3.50 GAA, .890 Save Percentage

Kolzig: 45 GP, 20 Wins, 24 Losses, 2.14 GAA, .927 Save Percentage

Stats aren't everything but Kolzig should warrant at least a look from Murray.
Other sources have Jose Theodore going to Ottawa.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fish Story

The NHL has finally backed off its much maligned policy of banning Red Wing zamboni driver, Al Sobotka, from doing his octopus twirling schtick.

"The catch is, it has to be done away from the ice - like at the Zamboni entrance.

The NHL forbade the Wings, under threat of $10,000 fine, to do so during round one, because debris allegedly came off the slimy creatures and became embedded in the ice. Al Sobotka then took to doing his renowned overhead twirl in the Zamboni entrance, but the NHL put the kybosh on that as well. "
The league should concentrate on banning bad actors donning Sparta warrior costumes and harassing smart hockey people during Ottawa playoff games instead.

Tumbling Dice

Of all the hotels in the Detroit metropolitan area, the Dallas Stars have decided to lodge their players at a casino/hotel complex for their first two games in Motor City.

"The casino is a long way away, and our players are very disciplined," Tippett said. "It won't be a factor at all."

So will the blackjack tables be off limits? "Our players can do whatever they want as long as when they drop the puck, they're 100 percent," Tippett said. "

-Dallas Morning News

It's nice to see the Stars treating their players like responsible adults but this has the potential to backfire. Anyone remember Bob Probert and Petr Klima getting suspended by the Red Wings after having a little too much fun during the playoffs in the late 80's?

Yes that was a different era but why even court the slightest hint of controversy?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Maurice Firing Too Late?

Here's a really interesting take on the Paul Maurice firing by the Hockey News' Adam Proteau:

"What the Leafs should’ve done was cleared out both Ferguson and Maurice at the same time and installed an interim coach whose strings management could easily pull with an eye toward improving the franchise long-term.

Instead, by leaving Maurice in charge for the remainder of the season, they created a situation where he was coaching to hang onto his job – hence his insane insistence of playing goalie Vesa Toskala for 30 straight games before Toronto was eliminated from playoff contention – rather than doing the smart thing and positioning the team for a better draft slot.

Now, rather than drafting in the top five of a deep draft, the Leafs will choose seventh overall, and Maurice is gone anyway. It’s small moves like this that add up to the reason why Toronto has been pining for a Stanley Cup championship for the last 41 years."

-The Hockey News

Proteau has a good point. They knew in January that even if they squeaked into the playoffs, they weren't in any position to do some damage. Now they get the 7th overall pick instead of having a chance to snag Steve Stamkos at the draft in Ottawa this summer.
That's a missed opportunity to rub a little shinola in their enemies faces.

Senators Going Forward Part Two: Defense

Despite being a focal point for criticism all season long, the Senators defense core is still very respectable and can even be considered top 5 in the league if they manage to replace Wade Redden with another highly skilled puck moving rearguard.

But that won’t be easy.

The players who fit this category and happen to be unrestricted free agents are as follows:

Brian Campbell – San Jose

Ron Hainsey – Columbus

John-Michael Liles – Colorado

Michael Rozsival – NY Rangers

Mark Streit – Montreal

That’s about it. The obvious target for the Senators and other teams around the league will be Brian Campbell with Hainsey an unheralded second choice.

The dilemma for the Senators is that they already have a player who is almost as good as those two in Wade Redden and he actually wants to stay in town. Granted, he doesn’t seem to be the same player he was before the lockout and this might be attributed to the new rules that forbids obstruction, leaving Redden vulnerable to hard fore-checking forwards taking away the time and space he once used so well in years past. Even with that said, Redden might be a better choice going forward if he is willing to take a significant pay cut to stay though that scenario can’t be taken for granted.

Some team is bound to offer Redden 6 million per season and that will probably top the Senators offer by about 3 million. Hard to say no to money like that.

If the Senators decide to look in-house for a solution, there is some optimism when it comes to Brian Lee. The young rearguard looked surprisingly good when he stepped in to take over for a worn out Luke Richardson and he is expected to play a similar role to Redden when he matures.

But is he ready for that step right away? Chances are he’s not but stranger things have happened.

Andre Meszaros is another player who can move the puck and score goals on the powerplay. Only 22, he has taken a lot of heat from the fans for his mistakes but there is no way that management is ready to move him. Meszaros is a very valuable commodity and he will only improve with age. He’s a restricted free-agent and he might put the Senators in a precarious position if he demands the type of money that similar players are getting. Meszaros made just under a million dollars last year but Keith Ballard is making 2.5 million in Phoenix, Dan Hamhuis is making 2.25 million in Nashville and Matt Carle is making almost 3 million in San Jose. Any extra money given to Meszaros obviously makes it harder to pay the Brian Campbells, the Ron Hainsey’s and the Wade Redden’s.

Fortunately, the Senators have two dependable horses in Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov who are already signed for at least the next two seasons.

If the Senators can convince Mike Commodore to stay in town, they will be flush with toughness on the blueline. Commodore is big, mean and nasty and was one of Ottawa’s best players in the playoffs after struggling down the stretch with his new team. If Commodore won’t stay, look for the Senators to go after one of the following unrestricted free agents:

Brad Stuart - Detroit

Brooks Orpik – Pittsburgh

Jason Smith – Philadelphia

Aaron Ward – Boston

Of these four defensive defenseman, Aaron Ward might be the most obvious fit, not only money-wise but because he once played for the Nepean Raiders of the CJHL and Bryan Murray will tell anyone who listens that he likes to bring in local players. Ward had a pretty good year in Boston and he is big and dependable. It also doesn’t hurt that he has been on three Stanley Cup winning teams, the last being Carolina in 2006 with Commodore.

The Senators also have Lawrence Nycholat who has been toiling in the minors despite being good enough to play on at least half of the NHL’s rosters. If Christoph Schubert remains at forward instead of his natural position on the blueline, then Nycholat has a chance to step in and play some minutes. He could also be used in a trade if the Senators decide to go that route. Either way, Nycholat is an asset that should be used before his value diminishes.

Other prospects include Eric Gryba, a mammoth defenseman playing college hockey, a couple of Russians in Kirill Lyamin and Vitali Anikeyenko and last years pick, Ben Blood, who was still playing high school hockey in his draft year.

These are still long term players and look for the Senators to grab a top defenseman in this years draft because it doesn’t look like the Russian kids are going to come over the ocean anytime soon.

The core group that the Senators have on the blueline is far from perfect, but in reality, it is the least of the Senators problems going forward into next season . With one big piece or two small additions, the Senators can feel confident in this group. They just have to concentrate on building depth in their prospect pool or the team will be paying big bucks for older free agents in two or three years time.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Senators Going Forward Part One: Goaltending

What a disaster.

This small but vital part of the team dominated the headlines all season in Ottawa and never for a good reason.

Ray Emery, coming off a trip to the Cup final and surgery on his wrist, was surprised to find that coach John Paddock had every intention of keeping Martin Gerber in net even when Emery returned to health.

The fallout from this decision ended up costing Paddock his job.

Emery was understandably upset but instead of working hard to regain the trust of his coach, he sulked and was late for practices which started a media firestorm and turned the fan-base against him.

On the other side, Martin Gerber was portrayed as the good soldier, the “common man” who fans could easily relate to and he quickly became a crowd favourite despite demanding a trade in the off-season, wearing an all black helmet in anticipation of that trade and openly castigating his teammates on the ice when pucks went past him.

And the pucks did go past him at an accelerated pace through the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs where he still has zero wins for his career.

Still, Gerber remains a favourite to return to the crease because Bryan Murray has already stated that Emery will be shipped out of town (way to help your bargaining position Bryan). This is an unfortunate turn of events for a team that was primed to win a Stanley Cup with a young hotshot goalie, a solid defense core and an elite group of forwards. Now the team is in disrepair with little depth in Binghamton to refuel the drive.

Brian Elliot remains an intriguing prospect and could very well be the backup to Gerber next season. He had an okay season in Binghamton with average stats but he has impressed a lot of people in the organization. His status as a future number one goalie remains cloudy despite unbridled optimism from the fans.

Short of sticking with the potential of Emery (and that potential is vast once he grows up a little), there are very few options on the free agent market.

It basically comes down to Jose Theodore, Dan Ellis, Cristobal Huet and Olaf Kolzig.

Theodore’s comeback season ended on a sour note when he got lit up by Detroit in the second round and Kolzig showed poor character when he didn’t even bother to show up for Washington’s final meeting because he was so incensed at losing his job to Huet. He is also past his prime as an effective goalie and may be staring at retirement.

As for Huet, it is hard to imagine Washington not doing everything it can to get him under contract to continue the positive vibe that ended against the Flyers in the first round. If Huet rejects playing in D.C., then he would certainly be an upgrade on Gerber if only for the fact that Huet actually has a playoff win on his resume.

It is also expected that Nashville will make every attempt to resign Ellis before he hits the market which makes it unlikely he will end up in Ottawa. If that is the case, Chris Mason will be available but he's a risky proposition after having a tough season.

In short, there are no miracle cures for the Senators goaltending problems.

They can stick with Gerber and try to build an impenetrable defense around him that will mask his inconsistency.

They can do the unlikely and continue their investment in Emery in hopes that he matures and plays like he did in 2007. That doesn’t seem possible because the atmosphere is so poisoned at the moment even though this makes the most sense in strictly hockey terms.

Or they can pray that Elliot turns into last year’s Carey Price.

It’s a long summer and many things can happen.

Don’t rule out the unthinkable.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Morrow Puts In Early Claim For Conn Smythe

Here is the Brenden Morrow hit on Milan Michalek. That's about as good a body check that can be delivered legally.

To top it off, Morrow puts in the game winner in the fourth OT period.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Tucker In Red And Black?

Darcy Tucker in a Senators uniform? This was an actual possibility last season according to the Toronto Star (thanks to Battle Of Ontario for pointing this out).

While discussing the possibility of Tucker being bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mark Zwolinski suggested that Bryan Murray was asking about him before deciding to acquire Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore from the Hurricanes. That would have been a big contract to take on for Murray as Tucker has three full years left at $3 million per.

But does Murray revisit the idea if Tucker is bought out?

It makes you wonder what the hell is going on in Bytown. First it's the rumours about Pat Quinn coming to coach and now we have this.

How low will the organization stoop?

Low enough to accept past-their-prime castoffs from a Leaf organization that has stuck a knife in the Senators hearts year after year?

There is no doubt that these rumoured moves will play well with the meat-and-potatoes fans who are the same ones clamoring for all those "wussy" skill players to be shipped out of town (ie. Spezza, Meszaros, Redden, Emery and even Heatley).

But isn't there just something completely wrong with seeing either Quinn or Tucker part of a Senators team?

Is nothing sacred?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Brunnstrom Out Of Reach ... McAmmond On Way Out?

It looks like the Ottawa Senators are out of the Fabian Brunnstrom sweepstakes.

The agent for the 23 year old Swede, J.P. Barry told Sportsnet that Brunnstrom is only considering three teams at the moment: Dallas, Colorado and Montreal.

While it seems like every team in the league has been pursuing this undrafted late-bloomer, Vancouver was thought to be the closest to signing him until they canned GM David Nonis.

Ottawa GM Bryan Murray said publicly that he had interest but that scenario seems like a longshot at best now.

So far, there has been no word on any negotiations between Murray and his own unrestricted free agents like Jesse Winchester, Chris Kelly, Cory Stillman, Mike Commodore and Shean Donovan.

In all likelihood, Murray will be letting fellow unrestricted's Wade Redden, Martin Lapointe, Luke Richardson and Randy Robitaille walk.

And although there has been no word in the press as of yet, expect Murray to shop Dean McAmmond around at the NHL Entry Draft if he can get Kelly signed to a deal. Murray didn't seem too pleased when McAmmond signed a two year deal with John Muckler just before Muckler was let go. Having Kelly under contract will make McAmmond a secondary player and Murray will be focusing on getting extra offense into those couple of open slots at forward.