Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Carolina 2, Ottawa 1 - Stick A Fork In 'Em


Like everyone else with Rogers Cable, I was shut out of watching this game tonight.

What can I say? Tough loss.

Combined with Montreal's win over Atlanta and Buffalo's win over Florida tonight, the Senators are virtually done. As expected, it was too much to ask for a team to be perfect down the final stretch and doing that on the road became even harder.

Ryan Shannon scored another goal to keep his successful audition for next year going strong.

***

On the Team 1200 pre-game show they were talking about how ex-Ottawa players, such as Joe Corvo, and more recently, Antoine Vermette, seemed to blossom when they were traded to a less traditional hockey market that provided far less pressure to perform under.

That got me thinking about how noteworthy it really is that players like Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley have been able to put up fairly consistent offensive numbers while playing in the pressure cooker that is Ottawa.

And it's not like they've been given an easy ride. Alfie got used to playing under fan demands to trade his butt out of town for many years and now Spezza and Heatley are going through the same thing. The media and the fans in this town can be downright cruel and no doubt it would be easier for a player like Spezza to go play in Miami or Nashville where fans aren't screaming bloody murder over a turnover when he's trying to make a play to help his team win.

While their numbers are naturally off this year due to playing more than half the season under the ultra-conservative Craig Hartsburg, the Big 3 have been excellent under pressure for a long time now.

Alfie has had point totals of 103, 87 and 89 since the lockout and will probably finish around 80 this season.

Heatley has goal totals of 50, 50 and 41 since the lockout and he will be close to 40 goals when it's all said and done.

Spezza has dropped off quite a bit this year after posting point totals of 90, 87 and 92 in that same time frame. He'll be lucky to finish with 75 points this year, but as the youngest of the Big 3, he still has the most potential to cash in a few 100 point seasons down the road.

All three players have also proven themselves beyond a doubt in the post-season as they led the Senators to the Stanley Cup final in 2007 with all three tying for the playoff scoring lead.

While it might be fun sport to constantly pick on these guys when the wins aren't piling up, you can't make the claim that they crumble under the pressure of playing in a hockey market.

I'd bet you wouldn't be able to say the same thing of a few superstars around the league who only have to face one or two microphones at the end of every game.

Alfie and Spezza in particular never seem to hide from the media when things are going wrong. Heatley is a bit more reticent and seems to have a shorter fuse with stupid questions but it never seems to affect him on the ice.

Spezza often gets derided for just being himself, which is kind of a goofy, happy-go-lucky guy. People hear him chuckling on the television and assume that he doesn't care. People want him to be as stone cold serious as a Steve Yzerman or a Mark Messier, even though he's just 25.

But it's also refreshing to hear a player not just spout the typical mantras over and over again. Spezza seems to like talking to the media and often has something interesting to say. It doesn't mean he isn't a competitor on the ice.

***

A lot of people still don't understand the whole salary escrow account that the players are forced to pay into as part of the last CBA negotiations. This article points out that the players are having a whopping 22.5 percent withheld this year.

"The players are have 22.5 per cent of their cheques deducted and put into an account with J.P. Morgan until the league determines what the actual revenues from this season have been. Once decided, the players will then be getting some of that money back, but the whack to their bottom line is expected to be substantial.

"Our best estimate at the moment is about 13 per cent will be what the players will eventually lose," says (NHLPA boss Paul) Kelly ...


2 comments:

Canucnik said...

"An account with J.P.Morgan?"

Paul Kelly = Wall Street = ???

Accrued interest = ???

The Players will be lucky to get 7% back. "Take care of the pennies, boys, it's a long time after hockey"

Anonymous said...

Good perspectives on the Big Three. Alfie and Spezza do a great job in the media accessibilty department.

Spezza's comments are often insightful. That's probably why he is on the NHL's Competition Committee.

Spezza's got the type of personality that the NHL marketing department should jump all over. Unfortunately, the old crusties in the NHL establishment would love to beat the happiness and enthusiasm out of the kid and turn him into a robot who talks with his head down; but promises to keep his head up and give 110%.

Good thing for Spezza that those same malcontents are focusing on Ovechkin for awhile. If Spezza can ignore the negativity for a few more years, I'm sure that the tide will turn as the older culture of the league will be replaced by a younger and more in tune group. It's inevitable.

I love Alfie also. My only critisism of him is that I wish he was more vocal, in a diplomatic way, about the real reasons behind the chaos on the team. In other words, I hope that he finds a way to "call out" Murray in the offseason. Alfie's stature is such that he could get away with it.

I completly disagree with the assessment that Vermette, Corvo, and Commodore are blossoming because they are in low pressure hockey markets. That is a pure cop out explanation. It absolves the coaches and management for the responsibity of getting the most out of their players. Vermette was not used properly, plain and simple.

As for the escrow, I wouldn't feel too bad for the players who choose to live in Canada. Salaries are paid in US dollars. Last year, the dollar was at par. This year the exchange rate is around 1.25.

If you take a player like Fisher, his salary is $6M US. Last year, that would have netted him $6M Canadian (I know that he was not making that much last year). This year, due the exchange rate, he will earn $7.5M Canadian. Even after the 13% loss, he nets over $6.5M Canadian. That's more than he would have got with last year's circumstances.

That being said, if you choose to live in the US and not convert your dollars to Canadian, you're getting hit pretty good.