Friday, September 30, 2011

Konopka Still Fighting For A Roster Spot

Right now it's looking 50/50 for new Senator Zenon Konopka to make the top 12 right out of the gate, for a variety of different reasons.

One, he had a slow camp with a minor injury that bothered him in the early going. Two, the Senators already had too many NHL forwards before Mika Zibanejad and Stephane Da Costa showed up and opened some eyes, likely forcing management to keep them around for a longer look. Three, the team is also overbooked at the centre position. Four, they aren't lacking toughness up front with Chris Neil and Zack Smith being regulars (and the league's top heavyweight Matt Carkner on the blueline, although he's also being bothered by injury which has slowed his camp showing).

But I'm betting Konopka will outright work his way onto this team once he gets his chance and shows what he's all about. Training camp isn't where you judge a guy like Konopka's value. He'll be a major spark for this team in the dog days of the season just like he was in Tampa and Long Island where he was very popular. Nobody likes to play against this guy because he's always on, always chirping, always finishing checks, always challenging players bigger than him.

To note: Konopka played all 82 games with the Islanders last year and 74 games with the Lightning the year before. He's an NHL regular, not a guy clinging on to a career.

There's also that comment coach Paul MacLean made when he was first hired that he liked "tough teams" and that he's already talked glowingly about Konopka for his faceoff abilities and highly recommended him to GM Bryan Murray. To me, it sounds like Konopka is one of MacLean's "guys" but that's really just an educated guess. For all I know, Konopka might be eating a lot of popcorn in the pressbox in October.

Somehow, I don't think so.

Konopka has had some memorable run-ins with the Senators in the past and here's a few of them:

Konopka vs. Chris Neil Dec. 2008

Most bizarre moment is when the colour commentator for Tampa says "Konopka likes long fights. Neil doesn't. This is one of the first times I've seen Neil drop his gloves". That's like saying the Germans don't like David Hasselhoff - empirically untrue. Regardless of the broadcast shenanigans, I'm sure Neil and Konopka have already reminisced fondly about this epic battle from a few years ago.



Konopka vs. Chris Phillips Oct. 2009

Zenon gives out a late shot as the buzzer goes and Chris Phillips goes on the attack, but watch Neil just dying to get in there at Konopka. It's really rare to see Phillips this angry as he's usually the picture of calm and stability back there, even when it gets hairy. Not the best fist thrower though. A little noodly.



Konopka vs Neil Oct. 2009

Just a few games later, Neil finally gets at Konopka. This one ends contentiously (how can a fight not be contentious from the start, you might ask?) when Konopka gets upset about a late punch thrown from Neil.



Konopka is going to be a fun player to watch in Ottawa this year. This guy has a presence as an agitator, but one who will do anything for his teammates. In a way, he's the de facto replacement for Jarkko Ruutu (who wasn't in his agitating prime while in Ottawa) but with the added bonus of being a faceoff ace.

Konopka is the forgotten forward right now, but Sens fans will be familiar with his style soon enough.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rookies Had A Good Run In The Spotlight, But It's Time For The Vets To Take Over

There was a telling moment in tonight's final pre-season game for the Senators just after Daniel Alfredsson buried a perfect wrist shot past Tim Thomas to tie the game early in the third period. The captain finished his skate by the bench and pointed to goalie Craig Anderson at the lonely end of the ice with a knowing smile on his face.

And that's because right before the captain's clutch goal, Anderson, the most important player this year if the team has any hope of making the playoffs, made a critical pad save from point blank range and stopped the score from tilting 2-0 in favour of the Bruins, who were badly outplaying and outshooting the Sens all night long in their home rink.

The rookies like David Rundblad, Jared Cowen (who played 22 minutes, second only to Sergei Gonchar) and Mika Zibanejad finished out the pre-season strong, but the Sens won this game on the backs of the veterans and now the focus is going to shift accordingly starting next week against the Red Wings.

No more fretting about whether this player or that rookie is ready. They'll be ready or they won't be around long enough to commiserate about it. Exhibition game heroes are quickly forgotten if they're playing in the AHL or in Europe by November.

When the puck finally drops on the season, it's going to be all about Alfredsson, Anderson, Spezza, Gonchar and the other vets who have to drag this team back to respectability. The Senators are currently a joke among most pundits around the league who don't even feel the need to explain why they pick the Sens to finish dead last. To them, it's a gimme, an easy prediction pick from the hockey gods.

But I don't know. I have a feeling about Anderson. It just seems like the Senators are due for some good luck with their goalies. The Sens still seem a little soft on defense, especially if Matt Carkner is starting the year off with a nagging injury and Filip Kuba still looking "off" somehow, but Anderson seems like a goalie who can thrive off a lot of shots like he did tonight against the dominant Bruins.

It doesn't take many of those kinds of grinding, opportunistic wins for a team to start accumulating points that all the so called experts don't think they deserve.

***

Here's an interesting take from Tony Gallagher of Post Media about where the game could be headed in the future if the crusade for world peace continues (or rampages) on at its current, soul-annihilating pace:

"This may take a couple of years to come about, but once a significant number of stars have received stiff suspensions ... you will eventually see a reduction in not only illegal hits, but hits period. How far will it go? Well of course nobody knows. Will it get as bad as the all-star game for instance? That’s unlikely, but let’s be clear here, the players are going to be on board with this and for very good reason.

Anything that’s going to reduce the risks of playing the game for big money is going to be welcomed by the majority of players. Hell, why get the crap kicked out of you when you can cruise around the ice without getting hit? Talk about heaven. They’ll essentially be playing Rec league hockey for millions if the hitting is really curtailed and what player wouldn’t be thrilled about that. You get all the rewards without having to take any of the risks. It’s player paradise."

Never thought of that angle. I think it's a valid, if humourous point but I'm going on a hunch here that you, dear reader, will strongly, strongly disagree.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Let The Kids Play ... And More On Brian Lee's Resurrection

A few quick notes on the second to last pre-season game for the Senators:

You couldn't say just two games ago that Mika Zibanejad was a lock to make this team. You can't really say it now either, but we're getting closer. Two games, two sickening highlight reel goals (tonight he batted one out of mid-air), and some big bodychecks have put Zibanejad in a good spot with just one game to go until the hard decisions get made. It probably helped his cause that Peter Regin left against the Leafs with what looked like a hurt shoulder. While Regin (who looked great in camp) can't seem to get any luck, Zibanejad doesn't need any. He already chews his mouthpiece like an NHLer and he's getting pretty good at the fly-by high fives at the bench after goals. Now he needs to work on actually winning a faceoff, but that will come in good time. He may or may not be this year's Jeff Skinner, but it's undeniable that Zibanejad is fun to watch and he doesn't look overwhelmed so far. He sometimes looks like a rookie, but then again he sometimes looks like Peter Forsberg if you've had a couple of beers and a shot of Drambuie. The Senators might as well roll with him to see what else he can do.....

...... In fact, why not play all the kids for at least the first couple weeks of the season? So far in camp, it's the kids who have provided most of the fun moments, from Jared Cowen (who's a lock anyways) to Zibanejad to David Rundblad (as stunned as he looks at certain moments). The Sens are well under the cap so they can afford to carry the max amount of players for a stretch of time. It will mean some vets will sit and they won't be happy with that, but it will also keep the level of competition high within that locker room and bring out the beast in everybody. Don't ask me which vets will sit - Nick Foligno actually looked pretty good tonight - but injuries may very well dictate in the end anyways.....

....... I've been hard on poor Brian Lee in this space the last couple of seasons, and for good reason I might add. But good play is good play, and Lee has been much better ever since getting out of Cory Clouston's doghouse late last season and into training camp under Paul MacLean (as I'm reminded regularly by readers and co-workers). I still don't buy this "shutdown defenseman" talk, simply because Lee has not shown he can be physical enough to really play that role the way it should be done, but he's starting to show he can be a dependable player because he could always skate well and he's making pretty good decisions with the puck. He also has some untapped offensive ability that he showed when he first caught on in Ottawa. Maybe I'm dead wrong and he does earn a regular role this year. If Lee and Rundblad keep getting better, Matt Carkner and Filip Kuba could lose some games, but Carkner would only be made expendable if Jared Cowen turns into this team's crease clearer on the blueline. They need sandpaper and size back there, preferably in more than one player, and that's something that Lee and Kuba won't be able to provide. Injuries may end up deciding who starts the year in the top six, but, begrudgingly, I have to give respect to Lee who is turning into quite a feel-good story after almost being left at the curb last year. I hope he pulls it off, but label me still skeptical for now........

....... Of the three college kids who signed their first one-way contracts this summer - Bobby Butler, Colin Greening and Erik Condra - only Butler has failed to show up so far in these exhibition games. Condra had at least one really good game and has been consistent in the others. Greening is getting better after a slow start, but Butler has been pretty much invisible so far. He was better tonight while playing with Jason Spezza, the centre who helped him to so much success last year, but Butler needs to get going. In case he hasn't noticed, the Sens have way too many forwards who could play in the NHL. He's one of them, but he needs to show the coaching staff he's got his hands working.......

........ Again, let me point out another indicative Nikita Filatov play. The guy opens the third period with a great scoring chance which James Reimer saves off his shoulder and Filatov ends up deep in the offensive zone as the puck begins to go the other way. By the time the puck is back in the Sens zone, Filatov has beaten every other Sens forward back across the blueline backchecking. For all the that's happened in the past, Filatov has showed up to play in Ottawa and he's not taking any shortcuts. Stephen Harper should lock up Bryan Murray in one of his new "super prisons" for absolutely stealing this kid from poor befuddled Scott Howson......

....... Sens management has been effusive in their praise for defenseman Mark Borowiecki and his future as a shutdown blueliner for this team in the next few years. That enthusiasm reminds me of how they were once very high on Zack Smith before he broke through and became a regular forward. Seeing how steady Smith was last year and now in camp where he is tearing it up, that could bode well for "Borocop" in a couple of years. Maybe even some games this year if injuries take their toll. You can already feel the rumblings from management that they have another steal in prospect Mark Stone as well. And then there's Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The Murray's just love those mid to late round guys who end up making them look smart. Who wouldn't?.......

..... Really like the 20th Anniversary logo at centre ice this year at the Kanata barn - much slicker than the too large, dark blotch of the 3-D with the red line through it from past seasons - but I imagine that they will be installing the All-Star game logo at some point in mid-season. Here's a question: Do arena staff just cut out the centre portion of ice, repaint the logo and then re-make the ice in just that one spot? Do they just drop the patch of ice they cut out back in there and patch it up? For some reason, that kind of thing keeps me up at nights......

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Wayback Machine - OttawaSenators.com

Back when the Senators first got their own website in 1996, us internet newbies were somewhat astonished at our sudden access to so much team info. I mean, they had a schedule of games up, a roster listing and players favourite foods. Sens nerds freaked. It was heaven if you could actually connect to the internet with dial-up and withstand the screeching of the modem. Actually, the early Sens site offered up only a fraction of what you can get there now but I once wasn't able to walk or wipe my own ass, so everybody starts humble.

Anyways, courtesy of the Wayback Machine, here's a pictorial look at OttawaSenators.com main page over the years (click on images for bigger size). Note: If you go to OttawaSenators.com on this site, you'll notice that quite a few of the pages still have workable links to other parts of the site at that time. You can spend hours in there, like that movie The Cube.

November 1996: Note the "Senators Moving To The Corel Centre" still under the Breaking News section. They moved to the "Palladium" in January of 96. Slow news year.


December 1997: The Sens have yet to put a player on their main page but they do manage to get the Damian Rhodes mask up, ostensibly because it says "The Net" and this whole internet thing was still in its honeymoon phase. "It's Time To Browse!".


February 1999: Here's a glimpse at a player profile page, Ottawa's own Jason York who, when asked what stick he uses, said "branches".


October 1999: The first fairly cool looking main page the Sens had. I remember this one well. Not sure who that player really is, but I used to think it was Radek Bonk.



December 2000: Back then it was big news that Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa and Radek Bonk were opening up e-mail accounts, as noted on the front page here. Now it's Twitter. In 15 years? Time machine apps.



November 2001: Of the 9 names on the Best Coach In The NHL Poll, only 3 are head coaches today, soon to be 2 (guess who?).


November 2002: Sharp looking banner with Martin Havlat, Patrick Lalime, Wade Redden and the captain, but not the best slogan the Sens have gone with. "Be a Fan!".


March 2003:  March 24 - Senators recall Brian Pothier from Binghamton.


October 2005: The main bit of news that day was the Sens lost their first game of the pre-season. Their record stood at 6-1-0. Those were the days. Dominik Hasek looked pretty good in a Sens uni.


March 2006: The Senators started to use splash pages around this time and they went with a great design here with the Big Z. This was when they were still using their original 2-D logo on the white jerseys and on merch. One day they will realize how good of a logo they actually had and resurrect it in some way. I'd give it 10-15 years.


That's about as far back into the future as we will venture today.

Except for this: Black Aces circa 2005. (It takes a bit to load. Just hit "Impatient" and it will load right away) Looks messy because it was messy.

Rethink On Rundblad

It was only a few days ago that I wrote in this very space David Rundblad was beginning to backslide out of a roster spot and that he'd have to turn it around in a very short timespan to stay in Ottawa to start the year.

Cue the comeback

Today's game was basically a washout for the fatigued looking Senators, but Rundblad really opened my eyes for the first time since rookie camp where I commented quite early that I thought he looked like an NHL player. Of course, rookie camp is an easy time to get suckered into thinking prospects are ready by playing against other prospects who are clearly not.

That certainly rang true as the first stretch of exhibition games showed a clearly hesitant and possibly over-thinking Rundblad who, while pretty good in the offensive zone when he had clear possession of the puck, was also too passive and a step behind the play when defending and reacting to changes in possession.

Not the case today in St. Johns, especially in the third period when Rundblad quickly became the best player on the ice for both teams, excelling during the power play and starting the break outs with ease. Now, it's nothing to get too excited over just yet. Rundblad still has a long road ahead of him to displace a veteran on a one-way contract, but he may very well get the minimum amount of games to start the season before the Senators really have to make a decision on him. And by then he might have solidified his spot due to either injury to another d-man or just old fashioned good play. All they'll want to see is steady improvement in order to keep him around. Today was a good first step for Rundblad. Better late than never.

The game itself was pretty much a bore, maybe because it started at 4 pm Eastern as the majority of us were just getting off work or close to it. I guess that's what PVR's are made for, but now I wish I hadn't bothered to tape the first period and actually sit through it.

Every exhibition season there comes a game when players hit a wall, even the guys desperately trying to make the team. Today seemed like that game in some respects.

Jared Cowen continued his steady and sure progress towards a roster spot, Daniel Alfredsson had some jump and was the best all-around forward for Ottawa as he continues to overcome his back injury, while Mika Zibanejad provided another one of his stunning moments in an otherwise pedestrian game for him. He corralled a loose puck, calmly pulled it to his backhand around Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec right outside the crease and then tossed it in on his forehand, something only a real goal scorer is able to do down low like that.

Zibanejad, just like Rundblad, is not done here yet and remains a candidate to stick around, if only for the first 10 games of the season to see how he does when the tempo gets turned up. Zibanejad has the size, the hands and will to stick, but he just has to get it all together in one package. That could take time, or it could happen tomorrow.

Today's game offered no answers. Just more questions.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

2 Pool Spots Now Open

Two people have yet to follow through with joining the Black Aces hockey pool so those spots are now opening up for whoever is interested. It's a Yahoo rotisserie-style league and the online draft is this Tuesday at 8 pm.

The categories are Goals, Assists, PP Points, SH points, PIM's, and for goalies it's Wins, Save % and Shutouts.

It's always a good time so email me at jeremymilks@hotmail.com if you want an invite. I'll send out the invites by Monday night at the latest.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rundblad Losing Grip On Roster Spot

It's not decision time yet for coach Paul MacLean and GM Bryan Murray, but the Senators are set to enter the home stretch of training camp on Monday afternoon in St. John's against the Jets and a few prospects are running out of steam before the final push.

It's starting to become clear that David Rundblad just isn't going to be ready to start the season in the NHL. The word on the young Swede was promising and he showed great flashes in rookie camp, but so far in exhibition games he seems to be backsliding instead of improving. He's actually pretty good once he has the puck set up in the offensive zone, like on the power play, but the flow of the game is proving to be a little quicker than he is. You have to like his calmness and low-panic level, but the dial may be turned too much the wrong way. He's getting beat to pucks and doesn't seem to anticipate just how fast the counter attack will be once the Senators lose the puck.

Yet nobody should be throwing in the towel on the season for this kid just yet. If he decides to stay in North America, he'll get a chance to get some games in, much like Erik Karlsson did in his rookie year. Karlsson was better than Rundblad at this point in their careers but Rundblad's size and calmness may make up for that as the season goes on and he gets more comfortable.

If this all goes down like it looks it's going to, you can already see the Senators defense taking shape here. Jared Cowen is going to make it. No doubt anymore. He's ready to go. That would leave the Sens with Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar, Erik Karlsson, Matt Carkner, Cowen and Filip Kuba as their top six with Brian Lee ready to fill in from the press box (no chance Lee supplants Carkner in the lineup like I've heard some suggest).

It will be a slight disappointment that Rundblad isn't truly ready because that means the defense is almost the same as it was last season with Cowen swapping in for Chris Campoli. Fingers were likely crossed that Rundblad would provide that extra offensive weapon back there but a comeback season from Gonchar and a continued improvement from Karlsson (who is primed to break out big time) will compensate for Rundblad being in the AHL.

As a last point on Rundblad, even if he goes back to Sweden, it really shouldn't be thought of as a major step back. It would be much preferable for him to stay in the smaller North American rinks but that's still a really good league in Sweden and he'll be playing against men once again. He won't develop as strongly as he would here, but he would still be getting better nonetheless. He'll be a player sooner than later. Fans need to be patient.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Senators Lineup Slowly Starting To Take Shape

Exhibition Game 3 is in the books and it was a shootout loss to the Habs. But the real scoreboard is who's making progress in their fight for a roster spot and who's falling out of the pack. It's slowly starting to get clearer, but by no means are the battles over.

I try to make it a point not to talk about veteran players in exhibition games because... who really cares? Judging a vet's performance in a meaningless game is exactly that - meaningless. Camp is for vets to get up to speed. Who cares if Nick Foligno bobbles the puck on a 2 on 1. So what if Craig Anderson lets in a few untimely goals late in a game. They're proven commodities and they get enough of the microscope during the regular season to bother with them now.

That being said.... Daniel Alfredsson looked pretty damn good, didn't he?

And how about Zack Smith?

He had already scored two goals when he ended up fighting Habs prospect Jarred Tinordi in the third period. Smith could have easily waved off Tinordi and called it a night knowing he had already made a big impression on coach Paul MacLean and probably cemented his spot on the roster (which he has never really been in danger of losing anyways). He's already proven himself as a guy who can fight and nobody would have second guessed him if he begged off in a game that doesn't matter. Yet Smith is not that kind of player. He could have been hurt or possibly embarrased by a rookie but Smith gave Tinordi a chance to show his stuff to his own coach and that's always been a courtesy extended by tough guys to rookie tough guys looking to stick in the league. Smith made his bones in past pre-seasons by dropping the gloves, and with little to prove he did it again (although maybe he wanted to gently remind MacLean of what got him on the team in the first place - toughness, not goal scoring).

With rookies like Mika Zibanejad and David Rundblad getting the night off, Stephane Da Costa took centre stage literally as he squeezed in between Alfredsson and Milan Michalek and looked like he belonged for the most part, creating plays and skating well despite probably being tired after so much hockey in a two week span.

But the Senators have a problem to deal with that's coming on fast. They have too many forwards in the mix and if the rookies keep playing well, something is going to have to break.

Here is where I think the race for the top 12 forward roster spots on the Senators sits after three exhibition games. I've included two spare roster spots because the Sens could conceivably carry two extra forwards due to all their one-way contracts and the fact they are well below the cap, allowing them to sit a veteran if a rookie like Da Costa or Zibanejad deserve a closer look at the start of the season. This may or may not happen (it's certainly not ideal to have two players sitting at any time) but for the purposes of this list, let's leave it.

1. Alfredsson
2. Spezza
3. Michalek
4. Neil
5. Butler
6. Filatov
7. Greening
8. Regin
9. Smith
10. Condra
11. Foligno
12. Da Costa
13. Konopka (*spare)
14. Winchester (*spare)
15. Zibanejad
16. Locke
17. Parrish

You may (or probably) will disagree with this list but I think it's a pretty close approximation. With a good spell to go before jobs are locked up, everybody from 10 on down could slide or rise in the rankings. Keep in mind that NHL veterans already have a hefty advantage over rookies and essentially have to be beaten out of a spot they already occupy. Hence Jesse Winchester sitting above Zibanejad even though Winchester hasn't played a minute because of injury. Yes, that seems to conflict with Da Costa sitting above Zenon Konopka and Winchester but I think Da Costa is going to be given every chance to play this year after quickly showing he has enough skill to play in the top six. His fight is far from over but Da Costa is closing in on a spot in the early going. But is Konopka really outside the top 12? The Senators went and got him specifically for his faceoff skills, apparently at MacLean's urging. Maybe it's Erik Condra who should be sitting in one of the spare slots. Yet Condra has so impressed me that I can't keep him out of the top 12. You can see the difficulties here. Imagine what it's like for Bryan Murray who's juggling millions of dollars and the future careers of rookies who are knocking on the door a little earlier than predicted.

I don't necessarily subscribe to the theory that Regin, Da Costa and Zibanejad are in a fight for just one spot. The Senators have shown a willingness in the past to shift centres to the wing if needed and if all three are good enough to make the team, one or two of them could play on the wings vacated by a veteran who would have to be unloaded in a deal to make room. That is still an unlikely scenario but if someone like Zibanejad keeps improving during camp, I don't doubt that Murray will make a move if he feels he has to.

NOTES

.... Yes, that was Nikita Filatov backchecking with passion and determination, winning the puck back in his own zone late in the first period. The early-bird critics were out in full force after just one pre-season game with their pre-programmed views on a player they have barely ever seen. They said he couldn't play defense or give an honest effort. How are they going to deal with this conflicting information? Warning ... malfunction...does not compute ....capacity for thought overheating....cliche distributor melting.... system failure imminent.....

....A lot of people were upset with TSN reporter Dave Hodge yesterday after he tweeted this: "Certain members of the Spezza family expect Jason to be a Leaf. I don't believe it--they do." Right off the bat, you should spare Hodge your wrath. He's a reporter. If someone told him that on the record, then he's free to report it. That's his job. Secondly, even if it's true, what family wouldn't want their son to play as close to home as possible? That's about as innocent a wish as wanting a pony for your birthday. Doesn't mean it's going to happen, but there's nothing wrong in them wanting it. In fact it would be weird if they didn't want him to play at home. Jason Spezza is a big boy. He seems to like it here and he's signed with the Senators for a long time. If Spezza ends up in Toronto it will be because GM Bryan Murray or his successor trades him there. No reason to berate the legendary pencil flipper Dave Hodge:



…. So it wasn’t just our imaginations when Daniel Alfredsson seemed more unsure of himself during interviews last week than he was really letting on. He had said he wasn’t 100% but there was a look on his face that betrayed a real lack of confidence in his surgically repaired back going into the first on-ice workouts. He told Ken Warren of the Citizen yesterday that he wasn’t feeling all that great coming in but now it seems the confidence is coming around, and by all reports, he’s been one of the better players out there in scrimmages and practice. But haven’t we seen this before? How many times has Alfredsson been waylaid by something severe and then magically healed faster than science would previously have allowed. Straight up, the guy is a freak. Watch him score 30 goals this year….. Has anyone noticed that Paul MacLean gets a very intense and kinda scary look in his eyes when he’s giving interviews? Maybe it’s just a quirk but if I was a player I wouldn’t want those eyes bearing down on me if I screwed up out there…..

Speaking of players getting into trouble, does anyone remember the story of when the Bruins were in Ottawa for a game during the 99-00 season and winger Joe Murphy turned to coach Pat Burns on the bench and said "Put me on the ice, I'll score a goal". According to an old Ottawa Sun article by Bruce Garrioch, both Burns and defenseman Marty McSorley told Murphy to "f**k off," and Murphy didn't play a shift the rest of the period. Then in the Corel Centre dressing room, Burns tore a strip off Murphy in front of the team and then defenseman Ken Baumgartner almost got into a scrap with Murphy, who promptly packed his gear up and "left the building". In the same article, Garrioch talks about the time Murphy was playing for Mike Keenan in Chicago years before and the coach yelled for Murphy to take a shift. But instead of hopping over the boards, Murphy allegedly said “Joe, Joe’s tired” and sat there without moving…...In fact, I believe it was also in Ottawa in the late 90’s when Keenan, then with the Canucks, had a run-in with Pavel Bure on the bench during a game which saw the Russian winger stand up and start tearing into Iron Mike. I’ve had a few beers since those days so some of the finer details have slipped my mind. Anyone remember that incident with any clarity?.....

..... A lot of people forget just how popular Alex Kovalev was in Montreal before he came to Ottawa and was unceremoniously booed out of the building. Mike Boone of the Montreal Gazette reminds us with this take on L’Artiste (via Kuklas Korner):

“Playing like he’d come from Togliatti by way of Thurso, the Russian brought the Bell Centre crowd to heights of emotion that hadn’t been scaled since the Canadiens left the Forum. And then he was gone – along with Saku Koivu, who had been underappreciated for, among other sins, a lack of crowd-pleasing hot-diggity-doggery. Montreal fans admired Koivu’s courageous conquest of cancer, and the more sophisticated among them appreciated his leadership (…). But they didn’t love him ... not like they loved l’Artiste. Koivu was the guy who got straight As, collected for UNICEF and was president of the student council. Kovalev was the bad boy with long hair and a fast car.”

......Someone asked me recently who my favourite players of all-time were and I was able to rattle off my top three immediately without even having to think about it. But it got me thinking, who have I always liked beyond those top 3 or 4 mainstays? I’m sure you’re just riveted, I know, but what the hell. It’s my blog. Here’s 10 players who for some reason or other I’ve taken a liking to over my 35 years:

1. Mark Messier: If I made this list as a kid, Yzerman would be at the top but when The Moose went to New York and carried that team on his back to the Stanley Cup in 1994, I became a life-long convert. A perfect mix of intimidation, heroics and flash. The stories that surround this guy are the stuff of legend. I read his biography once a year and never tire of it.

2. Steve Yzerman: The local Ottawa great was pure class. The smoothest hands I’ve ever seen. Will never forget the look on his face in the last minute of play in the 1997 final before he won his first Stanley Cup. Nobody had been questioned more about their ability to win when it mattered most and you could see that in his eyes as the seconds ticked off slowly.

3. Wayne Gretzky: No brainer. Best hockey player to ever live. I watch clips from that Ultimate Gretzky DVD once in a while and I think the guy was honestly supernatural on the ice at times. Defenseman knew he was going to cross the blueline and then curl back and dish the puck, but they could do nothing about it because it was like watching a slow-motion movie but the puck was on fast forward. He’s actually disorienting to watch.

4. Daniel Alfredsson: I try not to be a homer when covering the Sens. Even though no one pays me to do this, I still adhere to the basic journalistic standard of objectivity ie; no cheerleading. But it’s sometimes hard to do this when writing about Alfie. Like Yzerman or Joe Sakic, he has become synonymous with his franchise. And if you ask me, he’s far from done. As complete a hockey player as you’ll ever find.

5. Dominik Hasek: A total maniac, this guy was entertaining just standing there drinking water at his net. Or just simply talking in that patented thick Hasekian dialect. Think of the damage he could have done in the NHL had he come over when he was younger. To me, he’s the best goalie of the modern age even though he didn’t have the long career that Roy and Brodeur did.

6. Sergei Fedorov: Sergei could be on this list just for his skating alone. Every kid should learn to skate by watching old videos of #91. He made a huge mistake by leaving the Red Wings, but Fedorov may go down as one of the most underrated “superstars” in NHL history. People fall all over themselves about Pavel Datsyuk but Fedorov was doing it better during his time in Motown.

7. Chris Neil: If you read Black Aces regularly (not sure why you would do that), you know that I have a soft spot for brawlers and the brawls themselves. Neil got known as a fighter who regularly took on bigger enforcers but has always been a good tenacious hockey player when given the ice time. He’s got a lot of Dale Hunter in him, a little Ken Linseman and maybe a dash of Tiger Williams. Should be a lifelong Senator. Old Time Hockey, eh.

8. Ray Emery: Emery was the king of this town for a few short years until his undoing. But what a couple of years it was. People didn’t like his cocky demeanor in Ottawa but that’s what made him so good. Who can forget the huge smile on his face during that brawl against Buffalo when he dusted his goalie counterpart Martin Biron and then took on enforcer Andrew Peters just seconds later. Coach John Paddock badly mishandled him when he didn’t put Emery back in the net over Gerber when he finally got healthy after the Cup run. The rest is Emery’s fault, but if you didn’t like Emery, you probably won’t like Robin Lehner either. Emery is a winner and here’s hoping he gets healthy in Chicago.

9. Ron Duguay: It’s the hair. And the fact he was a Red Wing during my Red Wing crazed youth. In Ottawa during the 80’s you didn’t get to see the Red Wings very often unless they were playing the Leafs on TV on a Saturday night. But for some reason I fell in love with the team from hockey cards with those dingy red sweaters and names like Duguay, John Ogrodnick, Gerard Gallant and of course, Stevie Y. I remember getting made fun of for being a Red Wing fan back when they were terrible but then nobody believed me when I said they were always my favourite team once they started winning. I’m not sure if that was a perm Duguay was rocking but he could score goals and get the ladies (or so I imagined). I liked him. What can I say?

10. Anton Volchenkov: When a guy takes that much abuse and pain every game, you tend to gain respect for him as a player. There’s not many as selfless as Volchenkov and he was never really appreciated like he should have been while in Ottawa. He’s earned every penny he got in that big contract from New Jersey, and it’s just a shame both sides couldn’t find a way to keep him in town to play with Chris Phillips for years to come.

Other players who didn't make this list but deserve a mention are Mario Lemieux, John Ogrodnick, Scott Stevens, Pavel Bure, Igor Larionov, Jason Spezza, Dale Hawerchuk, Esa Tikkanen, Eric Lindros and Paul Coffey.

I could probably name twenty five more. But let's end this sucker so I can go listen to the Stones and daydream about them touring one last time.

It's gotta happen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Zibanejad And Lee Bring It In The Clutch

It was one of those dreaded pre-season games where both teams barely showed a pulse for 60 minutes but rookie hopeful Mika Zibanejad buried a perfect cross-ice feed from Brian Lee behind a flailing Tuuka Rask for the overtime winner, sending a somewhat sparse and antsy crowd home on a high-note.

It wasn't the prettiest game to watch, and for a while it looked like none of the young players on the Senators were really advancing their cause over one another, but there were some performances that began to stand out as the night wore on.

Of the forwards, Erik Condra had the best overall effort after sitting against Toronto on Monday. It was fitting that he was wearing Chris Kelly's old #22 on the back of his sweater because Condra was doing a lot of the same things Kelly used to do in Ottawa, except faster and more aggressively. I don't know what it is about Condra that I like so much but to me he's just a born hockey player - good at just about everything and the most well rounded young player the Senators have except for possibly Colin Greening (and likely Zibanejad soon enough).

It was clear that coach Paul MacLean liked what Condra was doing as the winger played almost 20 minutes and was a buzzsaw every single shift.

Peter Regin was solid again (he and Condra were both crowding Rask when Lee scored Ottawa's first goal) and Nikita Filatov showed some flashes of speed and hands even though it's clear he needs to bear down with the puck more in the offensive zone (as opposed to what his early critics are pointing to and that's his play in his own end, which was just fine by the way - more on that later). Filatov didn't seem to handle having two Bruins in coming at him when he had the puck just past the blueline and he bobbled it during a few offensive chances which petered out. Still, he has lots of time to get a little more confidence as he gets comfortable. Not since Martin Havlat have the Senators had a player who will be able to bring fans out of their seats in one quick blaze of speed and hands. He's only going to get better if everyone is patient.

Stephane Da Costa was sneaky good again, showing that same skill and patience he had in spades during the rookie tournament. He's a bit like a waterbug out there, cutting into dangerous parts of the slot with the puck and never really getting his head taken off. I have to say his playmaking skills are a complete surprise to me but he can also wire the puck. He's a bit unpredictable and he looks like he could play in the NHL right now.

And of course, Zibanejad. Like the first pre-season game, he struggled with faceoffs and sometimes looked nervous out there. But then he does things like take the puck around a defenseman by putting it between his feet as he cuts around to the net for a backhand (which he didn't get off), or putting a laser beam by Rask which is not an easy thing to do, even for veteran NHL goal scorers. He ended up with a very quiet 5 shots on goal, second only to Da Costa's 6.

It's going to be so close whether he goes back to Sweden or not. If he could put together a couple of games where he's more of a consistent presence, he could be here to stay and someone like Nick Foligno could be in trouble because of it.

Not much to discuss as far as defenseman go. Brian Lee played a great game obviously although I've rarely seen a defenseman take so much physical abuse on the ice. I don't know what it is about Lee but people love to hurt this guy and I thought Lee got a little shaky late in the game before recovering and making that huge play to Zibanejad for the goal. Lee has certainly put his name back into the hat and may end up sticking around anyways if David Rundblad needs some time in the AHL, a likely scenario.

NOTES

…. Great to hear Shean Donovan on the pre-game shows this pre-season. No offense to Mike Eastwood, who’s a smart hockey analyst, but Donovan is a little less grumpy in that role, and he’s got that “aw-shucks” demeanour that actually works quite well amidst the more sarcastic takes of Bruce Garrioch and Gord Wilson. But clearly Donovan knows what he's talking about and once he gets going, a lot of hockey experience comes to the front. There’s a good balance and chemistry on that show right now. Hopefully the Team 1200 keeps using Donovan throughout the season…..Quite a lengthy breakdown after the first period on the TSN panel on what went wrong with the Cory Clouston led Senators. Aaron Ward went on the record saying that he was once rumoured to be going to Ottawa in a trade but desperately didn't want to go because he had heard too many bad things about Clouston. Bob McKenzie also said the Senators were basically split down the middle - those who didn't like Clouston personally and those who didn't like his system. Wow. At least Marc Crawford stuck up for poor Cory at the end but the toothpaste was already out of the tube you could say.....

…..Welcome to Ottawa kid. It only took a single exhibition game for one of the guys on the Team 1200 Sportscall show to paint Nikita Filatov as a player who doesn’t work hard on defense and won’t be able to follow coach Paul MacLean’s system. It was also said there was little hope of the youngster changing anytime soon, if ever. Which is strange, because I watched Filatov carefully in the game against the Leafs on Monday night and it looked to me like Filatov was skating hard into his own zone and backchecking every time he didn’t have the puck. His legs always seemed to be moving and he played an overall positive game with two assists. In fact, he was one of the best players on the ice. Then this morning they were giving it to Filatov again, this time on the morning show, suggesting that Francis Lessard cleaned out Filatov in a scrimmage yesterday because Filatov is “too cool for school”. Really? Are we doing this again Ottawa? After one exhibition game? How many times do we need to go down this path? Do we always need one player to rip apart mercilessly all season long for imagined slights against the hockey gods (ie. not being a humble fourth liner with a lunch pail in your hand)? If you want to rip the kid, fine, but at least give him a month into the season before you bury him. Now I’ve become more understanding over the years to the realities of sports talk radio, realizing these guys have to fill multiple hours with talk that engages fans and they’re paid to have opinions whether you agree with them or not. I get that and I try not to jump up and down in disbelief like I used to on this blog, knowing they have a tougher job than I do. I wouldn’t be able to do it half as well, so take my opinion as you will. But after just one exhibition game? Come on guys.....

.....I've been looking for an excuse to show some obscure Bobby Orr collectibles I've come across lately and with the Boston Bruins in town, that's a good enough reason. If you click on the image to see the details better, you'll notice those freakishly long twigs are "Fully Jointed Bendable Legs". It also claims the figurine is in the "Boston Bruins Official Uniform". Uh, not even close , but it's rad anyways.




A rare image of Orr doing endorsements in a Chicago Blackhawks uni. I'm guessing this pinball machine would be worth a tidy sum in 2011.


Bobby Orr lemonade. Could you imagine Sidney Crosby lemonade in 2011? No. You can't.


The NHL lunch box was a treasured item when I was a kid. I had a Gretzky one but this Orr model is about as perfect as you can get.


If you want to see more vintage Bobby Orr stuff like this, check out the very rad BobbyOrrCollector.com of which one or two of these images are from.....

……I’ve spent the first 35 years of my life not drinking coffee and shaking my head at all the addicts around me. Now, for some random reason, I’ve become a complete addict this summer (think Will Ferrell in Kicking and Screaming). Suddenly, I totally get it. I can sit and write 5000 words with the power of a couple cups of coffee. I feel like I’ve wasted so much time on the sidelines of life with a decaf tea in my hand…..Geez, everyone is having a good laugh over the Semyon Varlamov trade which landed the Caps a first rounder from the Avalanche. But Varlamov is a hell of a good goalie prospect. The price was high but he could end up being the franchise goalie for that team for the next ten years or more. I bet he surprises some of the naysayers this year…..

…. Been reading quite a bit about possible realignment for next season with the Winnipeg Jets expected to move to the West and it’s interesting to try and predict what the NHL will do here. To me, you have to let Detroit come to the East ahead of Columbus and especially Nashville who reside in the Central Time zone to start with. There’s also lots of talk about going with two divisions in each conference, one with 8 teams and one with 7 per conference. If they do that, here’s how I think it could and probably should end up:

EAST

Division 1

1. Ottawa

2. Montreal

3. Toronto

4. Boston

5. Detroit

6. Buffalo

7. Philadelphia

Division 2

1. NY Rangers

2. NY Islanders

3. New Jersey

4. Washington

5. Pittsburgh

6. Carolina

7. Tampa Bay

8. Florida


WEST

Division 3

1. Winnipeg

2. Minnesota

3. Chicago

4. St. Louis

5. Columbus

6. Dallas

7. Nashville

Division 4

1. Vancouver

2. Calgary

3. Edmonton

4. Phoenix

5. Colorado

6. Los Angeles

7. San Jose

8. Anaheim

Basically, everyone is working in their own time zones divisionally in this scenario with the exception of Columbus who are in the EST but will be playing CST teams. But it’s impossible to please everyone with so many teams clustered in the East and franchises spread all around the vast West, so one or two teams will have to take what they’re given. The Red Wings deserve the first opportunity to move East because of their history and status as compared to recent expansion franchises like Nashville and Columbus. It’s also strange to see the Flyers and the Penguins playing in different divisions but the Penguins have a strong rivalry with the Caps as well and that can be exploited better going forward. One solution might be to drop Buffalo from Division 1 and switch with the Penguins so all the New York based teams can play against each other and keep the Pennsylvania rivalry intact. Also, those uneven divisions are just crying out for an expansion team for each conference. The NHL might be having visions of big-time expansion fees in the coming decade to round out the league at 32 teams. Quebec City or a second Toronto team in the East? KC or Seattle in the West? I used to be strongly opposed to more expansion, but I’m not as firm as I was before. Expansion can lead to more scoring in the NHL because talent gets diluted and the dominant players will be having those extra shifts against guy who would otherwise be playing in the AHL. That’s not a perfect theory however as recent expansion did little or nothing to boost scoring. It worked in the 80’s when the WHA folded and merged with the NHL. Many feel a dilution of talent necessarily means a dilution in the product but it’s conceivable it could have the opposite effect.

Till next time...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Regin Has A Statement Game

The first pre-season tilt is in the books and the interest in this game seemed to be on par with a mid-season Battle Of Ontario. Fans in Ottawa without NHL Centre Ice scrambled to find the game streaming on the internet and even went so far as to register with Leafs TV online using Toronto postal codes they don't actually live in to pass the security screening process. As usual, watching Senators pre-season hockey requires basic computer hacking skills or $150 cable bills.

Despite the rabid interest, the results of these games are still basically meaningless. What everyone tunes in to see is individual performances from rookies and vets alike, gauging everyone's chances and prematurely trashing them at the same time.

So if we are to look at individual performances against the Leafs, a few names stand out on the Sens side, and the first, to me, is undoubtedly Peter Regin. Playing on a line with Nikita Filatov (who also impressed with his speed and drive to the net), Regin looked like a man truly fighting for his job in front of a new coach who will have no inclination to do any favours for Regin just because the winger turned heads a couple of years ago in the playoffs.

Since that Pittsburgh series in 2010, Regin has been lost due to various circumstances, mostly just poor play which at times seemed unexplainable.

But tonight, Regin hounded the puck all over the ice, created chances with Filatov, backchecked like a madman and skated his ass off at all other moments.

All the hype coming into camp was on Mika Zibanejad and Stephane Da Costa possibly costing Regin his job. Now he's back in the equation big time. If Regin plays with the same intensity the rest of camp, how in the hell is MacLean going to ignore him?

Jared Cowen also made a huge statement tonight with a couple of goals, a fight and a physical presence, especially in middle stages of the game when the Sens were at their best. During a pre-game interview with Gord Wilson on the Team 1200, coach Paul MacLean tried his best not to say Jared Cowen had been too "casual" during the rookie tourney, but he basically did anyways. Cowen seemed just a little pedestrian to start tonight but looked authoritative in his scrap and when he converted a nice behind the net pass from Nikita Filatov. If Cowen is truly ready, and I think he is, the mistakes will decrease as he gets over the initial nerves of early camp. But who's kidding who? Cowen already has a roster spot reserved for him. Tonight just reinforced that notion.

Erik Karlsson looked dominant at times with the puck and he is primed to have a huge offensive season. No surprise there.

Colin Greening obviously didn't lose anything over the summer and he used his big body to create havoc every time he went into the corner and along the boards for the puck. You get the feeling he's too good to stay on any fourth line for too long. He might end up being one of those "plug and play" types. When a line needs some energy or a fresh look, put Greening out with them and let him work the game to death for a while.

Mika Zibanejad looked great in the first half and faded a little, but he already has the look of a pro and it must be somewhat better than 50/50 that he gets to stay in Ottawa this year. He may be too good already to pass up.

David Rundblad sometimes looked great and sometimes like he was watching instead of skating. Yet when he had the puck, he was making things happen and he has that NHL style patience with the puck on the blueline that tells you he's pretty much ready to run a power-play, even if it's the second unit. He could learn the game better in the NHL than the AHL where power-plays tend to be more scrambly and less structured.

Milan Michalek was skating well and looked healthy. Coach says he's fine after blocking a shot and going down in pain during the 3rd.

As for the negatives, it's probably unfair to dump on guys after one pre-season game. Patrick Wiercioch didn't help his status much against the Leafs but it's unlikely he's really challenging for a spot anyways with Cowen and Rundblad clearly ahead of him.

Both goalies, Alex Auld and Robin Lehner, were just okay, if typically pre-season rusty. Nothing to read into.

Hey, hockey's back. Time for a beer.

NOTES

Leafs play-by-play legend Joe Bowen is in mid-season form already, calling David Rundblad "Runbald" or "Rumball", not sure which. Even Don Cherry would wince at that one....Like I said in a tweet earlier today, I have faith the Senators won't subject the fanbase to a Nickelback "goal song", no matter the results from a good intentioned Facebook poll. The problem with good intentions is that they often pave the path to Hell, and if Senators fans have to listen to Nickelback all year (undoubtedly the lamest band in a world stock full of lame bands), then we will all live in Hades and swim in the lake of fire for eternity. The funny thing is that Leaf fans have caught on to what's happening and are currently voting en masse in favour of Nickelback as some kind of cruel joke. Have to admit that's pretty goddamn clever.… ......Filatov is wearing #21 in camp (Zenon Konopka, the vet is wearing Filatov's Columbus #28) and unfortunately there hasn't been much star power behind the sweater #21 in Sens history. Bryan Smolinkski (2003-2006) wore it while he was here, as did the long forgotten but highly skilled Andreas Johansson (1999). Fan faves Steve Martins (02-03 - his second stint in Ottawa) and Dennis Vial (94-98) wore it as well....

.....Has there ever been a new NHL jersey or logo that hasn’t been leaked days, if not weeks, before the club wanted to unveil it? I know, I know, the Jets kept their jerseys under wraps (though the logo was leaked) but the Jets are so intrinsically secretive that they make the tight-lipped Harper government look like the Wiki Leaks organization. But thanks to websites like Icethetics and Uni Watch, the once underground obsession about sports uni’s has gone mainstream, and like anything else considered news, people crave scoops and early insider info. And we’ve been getting it for years now with grainy cell phone photos and 3rd generation photocopied templates of official designs. This is really a marketing department’s worst nightmare because they always strive to make a maximum impact with a highly publicized release date that creates suspense and hype along the way. These leaks really let the air out the tires because only a small portion of any fan base follows the blogs that release these images, but the blogs do a great job of blowing up the story to the point where a mainstream paper like the Ottawa Sun is forced to go with it or else look like they are oblivious to the story. Then the image that gets out to everybody is a poor photo with bad colour. The image of the Sens uni that got taken at that Sabres Store doesn’t truly show the “Heritage White” colour the way it should and now instead of fans getting a proper look at the sweater through the team website, they’re all seeing it for the first time in a technically poor manner. Now I’m not complaining. I want to see them as soon as possible like anyone else. Perhaps clubs should stop trying to be so secretive and push up their dates so they control the process and not some security guard who happened to spot a prototype sitting on the back of an office chair and decided to be Carl Bernstein or Bob Woodward for a day. Hockey fans are starved for hockey news in the summer. Conventional wisdom says no one pays attention in June, July and August because of vacations etc. But a well-timed jersey release at that time also wouldn’t be competing with training camp stories and would ensure a lot of attention. They could have even sold a couple thousand by now……. Classy move by the Senators to have bilingual shoulder patches on their vintage uni's. It's a misconception that most francophones in this bilingual town are still Habs fans......

….. Just the fact Drew Doughty is actually holding out during training camp reminds you how rare it is under the current CBA. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, there were always multiple cases of high profile players sitting out every training camp, often well into the season. How many times did Keith Tkachuk have a contract dispute that cause him to miss time? I’m guessing at least three. Then there was Alexei Yashin, Sergei Fedorov, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Allison, Rob Blake, Pavel Bure, John LeClair and many, many others. Doughty’s case is not considered normal operating procedure anymore, and that’s something we can all be thankful for….. And yes, Kyle Turris doesn't count.....John Michael Liles will prove to be a smart pickup by Brian Burke and the Leafs.......Hard to believe the NHL Awards show didn’t win an Emmy last night. A crushing blow, but they will stumble on, and try to be just a little more awkward next year.……It could very well end up being the most expensive rookie dinner in Senators history this year. With so many first year guys bound to make the team, the vets will spare no expense on the champagne and brandy…..If Mika Zibanejad is destined to be one of the rookies this year, he will be only the fourth “Mika” in history to play in the NHL alongside Mika Alatalo (Phoenix), Mika Noronen (Buffalo) and Mika Pyorala (Philadelphia). I always thought Mika was just a shortened nickname version of Mikael in Sweden but Zibanejad is listed only as Mika in any official team document I’ve seen. Perhaps someone versed in the particulars of Swedish names can fill us in. Also, what about Miikka Kiprusoff? As usual, I’m confused…..

Till next time...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sens Seem A Happier Bunch

After now having sat through close to an hour of interviews on Sens TV from the first day of training camp, I think it's safe to say that there's an entirely new and upbeat atmosphere around this Ottawa team, despite no one in the hockey world believing they can achieve much of anything this year except battle for a lottery pick for six long months.

You can see it in the faces of guys like Nick Foligno, who of anyone maybe has the most to be worried about with all the new guys gunning for his job. Yet, like everyone else, Foligno seems genuinely convinced there are better times ahead. Erik Karlsson held court for reporters and smirked his way through a few light-hearted answers, looking bigger and more muscular than he has in his previous two seasons here.

Speaking of that, has anyone caught sight of Chris Neil yet? I don't think he's ever looked as lean and mean as he does this fall. Expect Neil to fully embrace his leadership role on this young team and be able to concentrate more on playing hockey now that Zenon Konopka is in town to share the role of policeman with Neil and Matt Carkner.

The sense I get is that these players are loose but focused, perhaps breathing a little easier now that they are out from under the weight of Cory Clouston and his very particular way of handling hockey players. You get the feeling that it's now possible for these guys to have fun again and enjoy the game. Like Daniel Alfredsson said in an interview today, there were a lot of negative feelings in that locker room the past three years and a fresh start with a new staff is exactly what they need right now.

Basically, the atmosphere is perfect for these players to go out and surprise everybody by winning games they shouldn't. We've seen many teams do that year after year when they were counted out. In recent years we've seen Colorado and Phoenix defy expectations. Why not Ottawa? To me, they are just as talented, if not more than when those teams broke out of their ruts (although the Avs fell right back in to one last season).

There's too much skill and leadership on this team to completely tank in the East. Sure, you could point to the Oilers last year and say they had all the skill in the world but they still struggled under lowered expectations.

But the Oilers didn't have veterans like Daniel Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil, guys who know what's required to win NHL games on a consistent basis.

In short, Bryan Murray didn't raze this team to the ground and go completely young. There's a balance here that has the potential to lift this team provided both the young and old play up to their abilities and they get a little lady luck along the way with injuries.

Besides, Alfie beat Karlsson in a tennis game the other day. Young punks have nothing on this guy yet.

Nuthin.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Do You Remember... Part 2: Tom Barrasso

It was the first playoff edition of the Battle Of Ontario and it was the year 2000.

The first goalie to flip out was the Leafs' Curtis Joseph in Game 3 when referee Mick McGeough failed to call an interference penalty on Sens winger Daniel Alfredsson as Rob Zamuner slipped the winning goal past a distracted Joseph. As the Senators celebrated, Joseph went ballistic and charged out of his crease, screaming and pointing towards a disbeleiving McGeough. It ended with Joseph bowling McGeough over and landing on top of the helmetless ref while stunned Ottawa fans watched in awe.

Turns out Joseph simply tripped and collided with McGeough (or so he claims). There was no suspension and Ottawa fans claimed it was the league taking it easy on the Leafs.



But then newly acquired Senators goalie Tom Barrasso stole the show from Joseph after a Game 4 win that tied the series, by going on live national television and telling CBC reporter Scott Oake that he "really couldn't give a shit what you people have to say." Cue the uproar.

He was, of course, referring to the media with which he had always had a combative relationship dating back to his days in Buffalo and Pittsburgh. He once admonished a reporter by snapping at a question with "What? You want me to stop the ones going wide too?"

 Clippings from the Ottawa Sun (Click on pictures for bigger size.)





Just as an aside, Barrasso and Joseph weren't the only goalies getting into trouble that year. Remember Dallas Star Eddie Belfour trying to bribe cops with a "a billion dollars" to let him go?


But let's get back to Barrasso for a minute. The Senators traded beloved goalie Ron Tugnutt and solid defenseman Janne Laukkanen to the Penguins in March 2000 for the two-time Stanley Cup winner in an effort to shake up the team and give it an edge going into the post-season. Barrasso was considered one of the grumpiest and non-communicative players in the entire NHL but Ottawa felt it was worth a gamble after getting beaten in their last two playoff series by elite goalies in Olaf Kolzig (Washington 1998) and Dominik Hasek (1999).


Barrasso had crossed paths with remaining Ottawa goalie Patrick Lalime when they were both in Pittsburgh in 1997, and if the caption in this clipping is accurate, their relationship was a tad icy.


The move didn't work out for the Senators. They met the Leafs in the first round, quickly went down two games in Toronto, stormed back to tie the series in Ottawa, watched Barrasso steal the spotlight by bringing a flame-thrower to a live interview, and then lost their next two games to start the summer early (and start a bad trend of losing to the Pat Quinn-era Leafs when it mattered the most).

Meanwhile, over in Pittsburgh, Ron Tugnutt turned into a hero as the Penguins beat the Washington Capitals in the first round. They lost to Philly in the second but Tugnutt was embraced by the fans in Steeltown and Janne Laukkanen stayed with the Penguins for another two and a half seasons before finishing his career with a brief sting in Tampa Bay.

Barrasso didn't re-sign with Ottawa in the summer of 2000. Instead the much friendlier Lalime took over the number one job and didn't relinquish it until .... well, you guessed it.... when he imploded against those very same Pat Quinn led Toronto Maple Leafs in a first round Game 7 in 2004.

Prudent Austerity or A Case Of Alligator Arms?


If you want to try to decipher or read between the lines of the interview that the excitable (and sometimes rambling) Senators owner Eugene Melnyk gave to the Citizen’s Wayne Scanlan yesterday, you would probably head straight to this part with your magnifying glass:

“Melnyk wouldn’t say if the suggested $14-million loss figure was accurate, but he admitted that scaling down the payroll makes sense in a city like Ottawa, where “the revenue base is somewhat flatlined.””

That seems to be a significant statement. Melnyk has pretty much spent to the salary cap ceiling since 2005, which was a luxury Sens fans didn’t enjoy under Rod Bryden before the cap-era, and no one can accuse him of going cheap in his zeal to win a Stanley Cup. But it sounds like Melnyk is tired of losing money.

Does this mean that the reduction in payroll after the player purge last year is going to be a permanent state of affairs? Melnyk goes on to say that “We should not be in business if we have to make the playoffs just to break even…That’s not fair. That’s your bonus.”

My hunch is that Melnyk will once again break out the wallet if and when this team gets close to real contention (no reason to spend outrageous sums on a rebuilding team anyways) but there seems to be some signals that perhaps Melnyk is going to be much more careful about the bottom line despite his obviously competitive nature. There is always the possibility the Senators could become like the Sabres pre-Pegula or the current Nashville Predators. After all, Ottawa is a small-market team with a building that doesn’t regularly fill to capacity or have a high season-ticket base. Melnyk describes the revenues as having “flatlined”, which is not what you want to hear an owner say. Perhaps the big spending days are truly over, even if it may mean important players will have to depart due to a new self-imposed cap in the future.

Perhaps the only way to safeguard against such a possibility is to sell the building out regularly like other Canadian cities do. That’s a tough task in a town without a major corporate base and a public service facing major cuts under the Conservative government.

It will be interesting to see if the fans who actually have the money to afford tickets will do so in the next few seasons. The young rookies stirring up some excitement will certainly help in that regard.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Do You Remember .... Part One


When Senators fans go crazy, effigies of hockey players get burned in the streets of the Valley.

Of course, this is a newspaper clipping from the 1999-2000 season when Alexei Yashin bolted to Switzerland even though he had a legitimate NHL contract with the Senators, in an attempt to renegotiate for better money than the $3.6 million he was making at the time (this was his third holdout since 1994!!). GM Marshall Johnston set a deadline of November 8, 1999 for Yashin to report back to the team. When he failed to show, Johnston suspended him for the balance of the season and the playoffs and claimed the Russian star owed the franchise a full-year going forward (which ended up happening after an NHL ruling).


Yashin's girlfriend Carol Alt went on Live With Regis and Kathie Lee in New York and said, among other things, "He skates well and scores well, on and off the ice, I suppose" (to big laughs from the audience) and "His mentality is completely different from any man that I've ever met." Then Alt bolted to Zurich to be with Yashin while he practiced with the Kloten Flyers of the Swiss league.



Shortly thereafter, the effigy was burned in the streets of Arnprior after some kind of twisted, politically incorrect radio contest, which all makes the anger over Dany Heatley years later seem like "a case of the Mondays" in comparison.

I knew I had this clipping somewhere and I've been looking for it for years.

So there you go. Another proud or not so proud moment in Senators history.

Sens Roundtable Question 5

Below is the fifth and final segment of a round table discussion I was asked to take part in by Tony Mendes of Senshot blog, who wrote and put together this post.

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With the 2011-2012 NHL season quickly approaching, the minds behind a few of the best Ottawa Senators Blogs on the interwebhave gotten together to answer the five major questions going into this season.

With the Rookie Tournament now in the books, we have all gotten a glimpse of what the future holds for your Ottawa Senators. A number of rookies were impressive and may push for jobs in Ottawa this year. However, with Ottawa predicted by most to miss the playoffs, the question for this season must be asked.

What is the main purpose of this season? Development, lottery pick, playoffs or Stanley Cup?

Here are the thoughts from the best Sens blogs on the net:

Here’s Dave from SensChirp and you can follow him on Twitter here.

It has to be to win the Stanley Cup. I know as fans we've been told to expect some growing pains with a rebuilding hockey team and that is probably true but you can't resign yourself to bottom feeder status before the first puck is even dropped. The players can't and neither should the fans. For supporters of this team, there will be plenty of time to analyze the next top prospect and calculate draft lottery percentages, should the Sens struggle this season. But for now, the Ottawa Senators, along with 29 other teams in the NHL, should be focused on winning the Stanley Cup. As long as the organization places an emphasis on being a competitive team and trying to win every night, the player development stuff will take care of itself.

Here’s Peter from Silver Seven and you can follow him on Twitter here.

The next team I hear saying their purpose heading into the season is a lottery pick will be the first. Ottawa's looking at development. They'll look to use that development to move forward and compete for a Stanley Cup, but that's unlikely; if they end up with a lottery pick, they'll take that, select the best player available, and move on with the Senate Reform.

Here’s Stephen from SensTown and you can follow him on Twitter here.

The goal of every team going into the year is the Stanley Cup, but realistically we don't have a shot. So I'd reckon to say it's development AND a lottery pick. The way you improve is through the draft after several years of poor performances. Suffering through last season would be a complete waste if they patched together some FA's that would make us competitive this year and ruin our chances of a true rebuild.

Our main goal should be to let all the young guys play and heavy minutes too. We need to see who has it and who doesn't going forward. Let the young kids play at the NHL level and get some experience so they develop for later on and at the same time, keeps us in contention for another top 5 pick that can really help our franchise.

It should be a fun year watching the young guys improve over time and playing with the heart that won many of them the Calder Cup. It will be a big change for all the jaded vets go through the paces again. These guys are hungry to show they belong in the NHL, and while most nights we will come out on the losing end, it will be necessary for the development of the young guys to log that ice time so in a few years when they're keys to our team, they have that experience to fall back on.

If we focus on development, we should end up back in the lottery with a top 5 pick anyways, unless we're ping ponged out yet again.

Here’s Jeremy from Black Aces and you can follow him on Twitter here.

Can I say all of the above? The main goal has to be to make the playoffs. That's the business and that always has to be the goal. I'm not a big believer in the scorched earth policy of going completely young and it looks like Bryan Murray isn't either. Yes, it's a rebuild but this team is deceptively well balanced going into this season. Four of their top six defenseman are solid NHL veterans and that doesn't include Erik Karlsson who is on the verge of really breaking out as a superstar in this league. Craig Anderson is a legitimate number one goalie and they still have Spezza and Alfredsson up front with key veteran character players like Chris Neil and Zenon Konopka. If they don't make the playoffs, it should be considered a disappointment, but if some of the young guys make strides, a lottery pick will give them even more help. To me, this season is a no-lose kind of situation. The fans are going to be patient and the team may even surprise everybody by how good they can be.

Here’s Nichols from The 6th Sens and you can follow him on Twitter here.

Two words: Nail Yakupov
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCk3-RVMy4E

Here's Tony from SenShot and you can follow him on Twitter here.

The goal of this season MUST be player development. In today's NHL, you have to be realistic about your team or face year's of mediocrity (look to the Leafs and Panthers as perfect examples). Always going for it is a costly venture. Every year, only a few teams really load up and go for it as they believe they are only a piece or two away from hoisting the Cup.

Ottawa is still a long ways off from getting back into the picture of legitimately contending for the Cup. So instead of picking up pieces to make a run (especially with our track record in that department), Ottawa should fully commit to the rebuilding process. I truly believe that with another high pick and a good draft similar to this past summers', Ottawa could only have a two-year rebuild.

With this year's draft featuring a number of highly rated, impact players in the top five, if Ottawa could snag one of those special forwards, they may be ready to contend sooner then later. With a number of trading assets on the current roster (Kuba, Regin, Foligno,Michalek, Lee, Winchester, Carkner, Neil and Konopka), Ottawa can turn these assets into draft picks to give the Murray's an opportunity to do what they do best. Even if the team gets off to a good/great start to the season, they should not buy into the hype. Rather, they should sell high and get the most they can for their players. With the ultimate prospect being Russian Nail Yakupov, the dynamic right winger could be the player to replace our aging captain on Spezza's right.

Now you know our thoughts, what do you think should be the goal for the upcoming Sens' season?