Monday, December 30, 2013

Anderson Still Hanging In There After Terminal Diagnosis From Fans

Fans who have been (impatiently) waiting for Robin Lehner to supplant Craig Anderson as this team’s number one goalie are likely to be waiting a little longer than they thought.

It’s not happening just yet.

Anderson still has the confidence of Coach Paul MacLean and the goalie’s recent efforts have rewarded the sometimes stubborn-to-the-brink-of-death coach.

Most of the damage to Anderson this season has been done by the Western Conference. Against the much superior West, Anderson is 1-6-2 with a 4.48 goals against average and a brutal .867 save percentage. Those games have been among the worst of Anderson’s career, giving up 6 goals to Chicago, 5 to San Jose and 4 to Los Angeles, Minnesota, Vancouver and Phoenix respectively. That means out of 11 games against a Western Conference opponent, Anderson has given up 4 or more goals in 6 of them. That would have been enough to make Hardy Astrom retch all over his beautiful Colorado Rockies jersey.

But when Anderson faces Eastern teams, his numbers are actually quite good. In 15 games he’s 10-3-2 with a 2.56 GAA and a .921 SV%. He’s won 7 out of his last 10 against Eastern teams and that includes Boston (twice), Pittsburgh and Washington among others. His biggest pain in the East has been the Philadelphia Flyers who racked up 9 goals on Anderson in only 2 games. Yet Anderson still came out on top in one of those via the shootout.

The good news is Anderson is getting better as the team improves defensively in front of him. The bad news is Ottawa faces Western teams in 4 out of their next 6 games. Yet none of those are the elites. They see Winnipeg on Thursday and go out on a 3 game swing into Denver, Nashville and Minnesota. Keep in mind all of those teams have more points than Ottawa with the exception of the Preds who sit with 38 points to Ottawa’s 39 (as of Monday morning).

So what does MacLean do? Don’t expect him to deviate from starting Anderson throughout most of this stretch unless things really go to hell (and that’s always a possibility with this team). Sure, Lehner has better numbers against the West but only one win to show for it (at home against St. Louis). He’s done a lot of cleanup work for Anderson in Western Conference games and may have to step in again, but I think that’s less likely to happen now.

As good as Lehner has been, the one result that matters – wins – have been elusive for Lehner. He has one win in his last 9 appearances, not long after becoming the go-to fan favourite for his 3-game winning streak in November. Many even point to MacLean going back to Anderson right after Lehner’s streak as the reason the season rolled into the ditch just as the snow started falling in the Capital.

Forgetting the math, what this probably comes down to is MacLean’s personality. It’s not carved out of marshmallows like Dustin Byfuglien’s physique. It’s weather-beaten rock, creased and chipped from many hard years in this league. People laugh at things like a “code” in today’s NHL, mostly because everyone is hyper-cynical and irrationally non-traditionalist, but coaches have a “code” as well as the players. A lot of that code has to do with loyalty and MacLean follows it religiously. And 9 out of 10 coaches would have done the same thing with Anderson and Lehner, especially when Anderson helped win you a Jack Adams one year and made you a finalist the other. There’s a belief there that a hockey player is more than just a month’s worth of stats. His whole career and what he’s capable of factor into the decision.

Losing games can change that in a hurry, but is there any coach with more security right now than Paul MacLean? Maybe only Mike Babcock in Detroit or Joel Quenneville in Chicago. Sometimes you have a little house money to play with and MacLean is spending some of it on Anderson in the belief that long-term it's the best decision for the team.

Good goalies have a tendency to work their way out of slumps and Anderson is undoubtedly a good goalie. Yet whatever steps Anderson would take, team defense would send him back a couple. Lehner has been victimized by the same giveaways and soft play that his defenseman and backchecking forwards have been providing all season and his numbers have been hurt too. Think of how good Lehner’s stats would be if he was playing behind even a reasonably better defense?

It’s all conjecture, and so is any prediction of what MacLean will or won’t do with his lineup. But if you wet your finger and put it to the wind, the breeze is still blowing Anderson’s way right now.

Stay tuned for the next disaster when all this could change in a moment.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Senators First NHL Goals - A Compendium

Watching Cody Ceci score his first NHL goal in overtime against the St. Louis Blues on Monday night was something a lot of people around here won't forget. But my memory is possibly marred by the cold ones I've had over the years, so I decided to go back and see how many clips of Senators first goals I could find. Here they are.

Mika Zibanejad - Jan. 30 2013 vs Montreal

Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Apr. 12 2013 @ New Jersey

Erik Karlsson - Dec. 19 2009 vs Minnesota

Nick Foligno - Oct. 18 2007 vs Montreal

Jakob Silfverberg - Jan. 21 2013 vs Florida

Kaspars Daugavins - Oct. 30 2011 vs Toronto

Patrick Wiercioch - Mar. 3 2013 @ Long Island

Jared Cowen - Nov. 1 2011 @ Boston

Eric Gryba - Mar. 23 2013 vs Tampa Bay

Andre Benoit - Feb. 19 2013 vs Long Island

Colin Greening - Mar. 3 2011 @ Atlanta

Here's the skinny on some more notable Senators first goals (if you can find good video of any of these, please send me a link).

Daniel Alfredsson - Oct. 13 1995 @ Florida
Alexei Yashin - Oct. 14 1993 @ Florida
Marian Hossa - Dec. 9 1998 @ Florida
Chris Phillips - Oct. 30 1997 @ Florida

Radek Bonk - Jan. 27 1995 @ Pittsburgh

Alexandre Daigle - Oct. 9 1993 @ St. Louis
Pavol Demitra - Oct. 9 1993 @ St. Louis

Mike Fisher - Oct. 31 1999 @ Atlanta
Chris Neil - Oct. 30 2001 @ Atlanta

Jason Spezza - Oct. 29 2002 @ Philadelphia
Erik Condra - Feb. 26 2011 vs Philadelphia

Wade Redden - Oct. 5 1996 @ Montreal
Zack Smith Jan. 16 2010 @ Montreal
Andreas Dackell - Oct. 5 1996 @ Montreal

Chris Kelly - Oct. 29 2005 @ Toronto

Monday, December 16, 2013

It’s Time Spezza And MacLean Start Helping Each Other Out If Season Is To Be Saved

It’s been a tough season for Paul MacLean, hasn’t it?

The Jack Adams award winner for 2012-13 is more often than not standing in front of reporters that want answers after yet another loss, many of them at home, and his words seem more clipped and brief by the day. We’re not talking John Tortorella brief yet, but for MacLean, a guy who likes to kid around with the “ink-stained wretches” occasionally if things are going well, there’s been little time for jokes in a season gone almost irreversibly sour.

And for the first time, fans are slowly turning on a guy who was actually this team’s biggest hero in last April’s first-round series against the rival Montreal Canadiens. Sure, fans are fickle, especially the brand that stalk Twitter looking to complain about everything even mildly associated with the NHL (“with fans like these…”) but MacLean was sort of a folk hero around these parts with that iconic moustache and old-school attitude, turning this Senators team around after some disastrous seasons under the Little Napolean, Cory Clouston.

The seeming domination of Habs coach Michel Therrien in last year’s playoffs – on the ice and off – cemented his status in this town. You’d see the phrase everywhere on Twitter – “Trust the ‘stache”. Team loses Alfie? “Trust the ‘stache”. Team decimated by injuries to Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza? “Trust the ‘stache”. Twitter accounts were created for his upper lip. A lookalike of Mac became a minor celebrity.

Just having him walk into a room seemed to fix things immediately. But behind it all, MacLean never claimed that status. In fact, he’s said multiple times over his two and a half seasons here that he and his coaching staff are “scared to death” of this team falling off and the possibilities ahead. Finally, those fears have come home in a very real way.

Right from the beginning of this campaign, nothing seemed right. Of course, two of the main reasons for the Senators struggles were out of his control. Losing Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar, two future Hall Of Famers, was a blow. Sure, they replaced Alfie with Bobby Ryan, at least stats-wise (intangibles from his presence were not replaced), but the Gonchar loss was never really addressed, forcing other defenseman to play minutes they obviously weren’t ready for.

It’s also not MacLean’s fault that Craig Anderson has come in this season and fallen off a cliff.

Understandably loyal to a goaltender that had a lot to do with him winning the Jack Adams, MacLean has probably now stuck too long with Anderson while Robin Lehner, having played better so far, has been sitting on the bench for important games. The fans complained immediately about Anderson getting starts over Lehner, but you can see why Mac kept going back to him. Simply, Anderson was that good last year. He’s a leader on this team and in the prime of his career. 9 out of 10 coaches would have done the same. It’s almost a “code” for coaches.

But sometimes it just doesn't work. Sometimes that goalie spends a whole year floundering. Tim Thomas once lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask but came back the next year and won a Stanley Cup. Roberto Luongo was once on his way out of Vancouver, now he’s playing incredible again. Goalies can disappear for a while. The trouble is figuring out when they’ll come back. If you get it wrong, a whole season can go down the toilet.

What’s clear now is Anderson needs to give way to Lehner in a hail-Mary attempt to save this season. MacLean spent yesterday “pondering” who was going to start against St. Louis on Monday night, but it’s hard to believe he won’t go with Lehner after Anderson’s two soft goals got him yanked against Los Angeles Saturday afternoon. Mac may be loyal to a fault, but the fault lines are turning into chasms.

The defense. Let’s not talk about the defense…

Now MacLean is raising eyebrows with the sudden decrease in leading scorer Bobby Ryan’s ice-time over the past two games. Ryan played a season-low 11:53 in a win against Buffalo last Thursday, and MacLean liked the effect so much he kept Ryan to 14:38 against Los Angeles, a team Ryan knows intimately from his days with the Ducks and has had a lot of success against. It also bewildered fans because the Senators were behind early in that game but MacLean played Colin Greening and Zack Smith almost two minutes more. Of course, Ryan doesn’t kill penalties and those two minutes of short-handed time make up almost all the extra minutes Smith and Greening played. Still, the notion is out there now that somehow there’s a possible rift between Ryan and MacLean.

Or, more to the point, fans are asking “Has MacLean lost his mind?” Don’t bet on it, but he might have lost a bit of a handle on this season.

More frustrating, from my view, is the fact that he continues to yo-yo wingers around this team’s best centre, Jason Spezza. He refuses to try Ryan there for more than a game or even a few shifts, which means we’ll likely never know if this summertime match made in heaven could even come close to the lethal power of the Spezza-Dany Heatley duo that almost won this team a Stanley Cup in 2007.

Putting Clarke MacArthur with Spezza last week was a strong move and it seemed to work, giving the team two lines that could score. Yet against L.A., MacArthur was moved back with Kyle Turris and Ryan as the mishmash continued. Erik Condra spent time with Spezza again and every time MacLean puts Mika Zibanejad in that spot, Spezza comes alive and the duo have the puck for long stretches.

Who Spezza actually starts with tonight against St. Louis (unknown at the time of writing) will likely not be there by the end of the game and Spezza must be quietly wondering what it all means. He can’t complain, because team captains are supposed to be in lock-step with their coach, even if they don’t agree with everything. Spezza cares more about winning than he does personal stats at this point – he’s said it and I fully believe him – but he must be worried that he can’t help this team win when MacLean doesn’t give him the best tools. I don’t buy that Turris is now this team’s number one centre anymore than I bought Patrick Wiercioch as an immediate replacement for Gonchar.

Spezza needs some stability around him, the same stability that Turris was afforded, but so far MacLean has shown more impatience than a Black Friday shopper looking for a cheap television. Some will say it’s more a story about how Zibanejad has been moved around despite playing some great hockey, but the torch hasn’t been passed yet on Spezza. This is still his team and it will sit on his shoulders just as much as it does MacLean’s.

Somehow, the coach has to get all these mini-controversies ironed out but that’s not going to be easy. I don’t know if he’s “lost his touch”, as many are claiming, but something has gone wrong in that room that we’re not privy to. Even the players probably don’t know what it is. Maybe this is just a mediocre team who overvalued their players, or maybe it was fan expectations that ballooned too quick in what is still a rebuilding effort.

But we’re used to seeing MacLean pull this thing out of the fire. When we don’t see him do it, suddenly he’s more human than we like.

For what it’s worth, I think MacLean will get this thing right again. But as I hear the chorus of panic all around me, it’s getting harder to defend some of his decisions right now.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sometimes The Chase Is Better Than The Catch

If most fans had their way, winning would be easy. Their teams would cruise through the regular season without drama, knocking off opponents one by one with precision and confidence.

Not me.

I like the rocky roads along the way. I like the struggle, as long as it’s a true struggle and not a white-flag waving surrender. I like the theatrics, the blood, the frustrations, the crisis moments and the last-minute heroics that force columnists to rewrite entire columns half an hour before deadline. Who likes watching movies where the good guys cruise around unscathed? Rocky even lost in the first one, right?

As a regular watcher of these Ottawa Senators, last night’s up and down affair with the Flyers was exactly what I was looking for in a hockey game. Most of that was personified in embattled goalie Craig Anderson.

Not many fans have his back anymore. In fact, most have knives to it. That’s natural of course. Goalies take the most heat when things go badly and take the most praises when it’s going well. Anderson is going through a stretch where everything seems to be broken and the fans suddenly think he’s not good enough to play for the Cornwall Aces.

Just watching the body language on Anderson the past few weeks has been intriguing. He’s not stupid. He knows that people are crying for Robin Lehner to take over in net, the hockey equivalent of unblemished, fresh fruit. Anderson has a Twitter account and he likely gets the odd tweet from an expert telling him to go for a skate on the canal - in October. You can tell he’s fighting everybody in his head, as every goalie has to do their whole career. It’s the curse of the profession.

Only the hockey gods were to blame for the two quick goals he let in during the second period that allowed the Flyers to both tie and then take the lead when it seemed Ottawa was finally getting it all together – offensively, defensively, physically. Both were deflected through a series of black and orange sweaters and Anderson looked like he wanted to throw down his stick, take the net, turn it around and push it flat against the boards, daring anyone to try and score on that.

Suddenly it seemed like the whole season was finally slipping away. That’s not hyperbole but a real statistical fact when you looked at the standings. Things looked bleak before the Flyers game but another loss at home would have been too much, especially one in which they were playing well and had the lead.

Philadelphia came on even stronger in the third with 11 shots and Anderson was again battling himself. Ottawa took back the lead but Kimmo Timonen’s floater from the point went by Anderson undeflected. It was almost too much for some people to handle. They were writing Anderson’s epitaph on Twitter. I’m sure some columnists were too. They’d seen enough.

It was then that the best moments of Anderson’s season happened. He started it by making a Statue Of Liberty save on Jakub Voracek to keep the game tied. Then with about 45 seconds left in the period, he almost impossibly turned back two Claude Giroux shots, the first with a darting pad save and the second with a dive across the crease like Dominik Hasek playing for Teddy Nolan in 1997.

The crowd was out of beer but they were standing and putting their hands on their face in disbelief. The narrative was starting to skew. But then the shootout loomed and the naysayers came out again with force. A sense of doom hung over the proceedings because everyone knew the Senators couldn’t score and Anderson couldn’t save a beachball bouncing from centre ice if it was the shootout.

Anderson stopped the first two and Coach MacLean changed up the shooters on his side but both Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur couldn’t get it done either. What it essentially boiled down to, just like all of this year’s failed attempts to win the shootout, was Anderson and Jason Spezza.

The pressure on Spezza was enormous as well, because as captain, he’s expected to do something with the game on the line. He looked terrible in past shootouts this year but this one felt different the moment he took the puck at centre. He went straight in but pulled out every deke in his black book and slid it calmly by Steve Mason. It was a big moment for the captain but Anderson absolutely had to stop Sean Couturier from scoring. Again, it felt like something big depended on it. Not just the game, but his reputation. Those brilliant saves in the third period would have been forgotten if Anderson folded in the ultimate moment.

What happened was Couturier hit the post. That was unexpected. In my head I was thinking either a massive save or heartbreaking goal. You could hear the clang so clearly because nobody in the building was breathing. Even Anderson seemed shocked. He looked back, as if the clang wasn’t enough to convince him he just survived another tightrope walk. Then he half-jumped, half-fist pumped like a guy who forgot how to celebrate.

For drama, it was right up there with any game this season so far, excepting the Daniel Alfredsson games of course. A clanging goal post isn’t exactly a season defining or Hollywood moment, and in twenty games it may mean nothing anyways, but for one night, one hockey game, we got exactly what we came for.

As Lemmy once said, “The chase is better than the catch.”

Friday, December 6, 2013

How I Scored The Greatest Goal You’ve Never Heard Of

Yes, that’s me. It was 1986 and I thought I was Mark Messier or Steve Yzerman out there.

My poor coach.

Those ridiculous glasses (which my father picked out for me because they were the cheapest ones on the shelf, not the prettiest) used to get fogged up under my cage during shifts and I would sometimes have trouble finding the bench to get off the ice.

I can still hear a coffee addled Coach Munro screaming “Milks, Milks, you’re going to the wrong bench!”

Stopping on the ice was also a problem. I could only stop on one side – my right - which meant that no matter where the play was headed or what direction I needed to go, I had to dig on my right side and then adjust afterwards. Often I would just crash into the boards to stop my momentum because that was easier. I was like a pinball out there, a really slow rolling pinball.

No one wiped out harder than I did. I can still remember the crowd of parents in the stands going “Oooohhhh” really loudly a few times when I went crashing into the boards (which were anchored in cement and felt like titanium). Hockey equipment would be everywhere. My mother said she thought I had killed myself a few times and used to cover her eyes whenever I started to go for a puck in the corner. Sometimes I would get that puck but it was usually under my body as I lay on the ice trying to breathe properly again.

Those moments brought back bad memories for my mother, who used to sit in the stands watching my old man playing Junior B in the early 70’s who would get into a lot of fights he could rarely win. My old man was what they called “a bleeder” and a “goer”, which meant that he never turned down a fight but usually looked a lot worse than the other guy when it was all over. Sort of like Brandon Prust, I guess. My mom would sit in the stands every night, sobbing until after the game when he would emerge stitched up, wearing his prized team jacket and smiling. “Kim, I’m fine. Let’s go get a hamburger.”

That 1986-1987 Almonte Centennials Atom team was a good one. We went 18-1-1 during the regular season according to the little newspaper clipping I saved from the Almonte Gazette. I played left-wing and didn’t score a single goal until the last game of the season in Stittsville against the Redmen. In that same clipping, which read like it was written by Slaphshot’s Dickie Dunn (in which he tried to “capture the spirit of the thing”), every player got a descriptive sentence or two so the parents could be proud and show it to the rest of the family at the summer barbeques. My sentence said “Jeremy Milks; what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in hustle.”

Which essentially meant “this kid was brutal (and blind) but his parents paid the 500 bucks so we had to play him”.

A kid named Mike Hand and I were the two smallest guys on the team and we usually played on the same line. Those shifts were when the other team would get their goals. Both Hand and I were goalless after the 15 game mark and time was running out. Coach Munro started playing us with the best guys on the team just praying a puck would bounce in the net off our ass so he wouldn’t be getting any dirty looks from our parents at the year-end banquet.

Then one night Hand scored a goal and I was the only guy left on the team with a zero beside my name. I still remember Coach Munro leaning over my shoulder as the team celebrated and saying “Now it’s your turn Milks”. I remember it because I had never smelled breath that bad before. It was a potent mix of cigarettes and coffee which fogged my glasses up with brown steam.

I had to score a goal or I’d go through life like a hockey leper.

Then it happened. It was at the Stittsville arena and we were coasting to a blowout win in the third period. Coach Munro put me on the ice with our captain and best player Marty Killeen (whose nickname was “Cool” – I’m serious). I remember it in slow motion. Killeen, who was actually a defenseman but spent most of his time on breakaways, chased a puck into the Redmen corner and I just dumbly went to the net like I always did, praying I could stop before running into the goalie. Killeen blindly threw the puck in my direction and I was all alone… somehow.

The puck hit my tape and just died there. I had all the time in the world. My old man, who had come on as an assistant coach partway through the year so he could get out of the house and away from my mom, screamed “Shooooooot!” but I heard it in slow motion so it sounded deep and evil. The Stittsville goalie stared at me. We could have shook hands in the time it took.

Finally I shot the puck and it was a holy roller. It dipped, it shook, it flipped – it even levitated for a moment. But it went in and I still remember standing there, just staring at it in the back of the ratty looking net. I looked over and Marty Killeen was roaring towards me with a huge smile on his face. Everybody swarmed me and my glasses fogged up again.

Coach Munro was waiting at the bench beside my old man and he was pumping his fists in the air like a madman. I got a speed wobble on the way back and fell into the open door at his feet. But I had scored and everything was going to be all right.

I played a few more years, scored a few more goals and even learned how to stop on my left-side. But then I discovered heavy metal, girls and contact lenses and my hockey playing days were over.

And every once in a while, I drive over to that Stittsville Arena in the middle of the night and stand on the darkened ice and raise my arms in the air, with heroic tears streaming down my face. Actually, I don’t do that. That would be crazy. But I should do that.

At least once.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Black Aces Vintage - Chris Phillips Goes 1st in 1996 Entry Draft

With Chris Phillips having just played in his 1100th game for the Ottawa Senators, and inching closer to surpassing Daniel Alfredsson's 1178 games for the franchise lead, here's a quick look back at his draft day via some TSN footage when he pulls on a Senators sweater for the first time. I have no doubt Phillips will sign another deal to avoid free agency this summer and end up being the games played leader. I'm sure the franchise is also anxious to have someone other than Alfredsson to celebrate as a "legacy player". Preferably someone still employed with the team.

But then again, Alfie didn't rule out playing next year...

The photo above shows Phillips with his late father, Garth Phillips on that day in St. Louis in 1996. Here's a nice piece on the Phillips family by Don Brennan last year via Fort McMurray Today.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Not Much Left After Alfie Circus Leaves Town

If you’re a fan of the Ottawa Senators, you probably woke up today with the nagging feeling that the most important moment of the season has already come and gone with the return of Daniel Alfredsson yesterday.

Sure, there are diehards out there who are convinced this team is about to turn it around any day now and storm their way into the playoffs, possibly winning a round or two against the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, or, enticingly, the Detroit Red Wings. Dreams die hard.

Yet for many fans, I’m guessing there’s a strange feeling in the air, an almost unnameable dread that today is the start of a long conclusion to what is shaping up to be a humbling season for this franchise.

Fans endured the losing stretches of October and November with hopes that this was just an underachieving bunch of young players learning to adjust to bigger roles. The buildup to Alfredsson’s return on Sunday was immense and suddenly this town felt important again, hosting the marquee matchup of the early season. Everyone had those great Senators moments running through their heads, the building was alive and it felt just like old times when Alfredsson wore the “C” and the Senators were occasionally talked about just as much as the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs.

Now it’s Monday morning and the circus has left town. I’m not saying there’s empty popcorn bags and streamers blowing down the desolate avenues of Kanata, but there does seem to be a hangover lingering in the winter air.

With the way things have been going for the Senators, there doesn’t seem to be any more big games on the horizon, just numbers and stats to be compiled for the books. Truthfully, that’s the way it is for a lot of teams season after season, but in Ottawa we’ve been spoiled by drama and occasionally exciting hockey for years now. If it wasn’t one, it was the other. There have been very few boring campaigns in the Capital, no matter the standings.

Yet never before has a season seemed to have peaked so early in this town.

What’s left is an Ottawa Senators team who’s most valued and loved player now skates for a division rival, and the prospect of a long winter with no playoffs now seems like a certainty, even if you’re a “half-full” kind of fan.

The good thing about December 1st being behind us is that maybe now this team and fanbase can start to get over the “trauma” of losing their most beloved personality. The columns have been written and the emotions have been expressed. It’s over and now it’s time to play hockey. But what kind of hockey are we going to get? What kind of drama can we anticipate that will make bad (or worse, boring) hockey tolerable?

When this Senators team bottomed out a few years ago under Cory Clouston, we at least witnessed a flurry of trades that kept everyone invested in the process. Last year we saw half the team, including most of their best players, go down with major injuries and a scrappy group of kids and lunch-bucket fourth-liners take over and carry this team to the playoffs. It was almost movie-good.

This year?

It wouldn’t make any sense for GM Bryan Murray to start blindly trading everybody just to make a belated run to the finish line. There are so many good building blocks in place that the only logical thing to do is wait it out and let them develop. Even the contract status of guys like Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan don’t add to the intrigue too much because they don’t have their UFA status coming up this summer. Everything can be delayed and probably will be.

We might see a few moves here and there, and Milan Michalek is one player to watch in that regard, but anyone hoping for compelling storylines outside of the expected goalie controversy may be in for a disappointment. How exciting is a goalie controversy on a bad team anyways?

What fans may have to accept is that not every year is going to be the stuff of legend, good or bad. Sometimes a team is just mediocre, on the ice and in the columns. It doesn’t mean something can’t happen here to turn this into riveting drama, but as Eugene Melnyk said the other day about retiring Alfredsson’s jersey one day, “it’s not a gimme.”

If that seems like an uncharacteristically doom and gloom article for Black Aces, you’re probably right. Tomorrow I may be writing about the blockbuster trade that just blew all our minds.

But even hack blog writers get a hangover once in a while. I’m just like you, waiting for the next curveball in what promised to be a fun season turned …. ordinary.