Thursday, July 23, 2009

Battle of the comments - Summer 2009!

This blog has some great regular commentors who prove that intelligent discussions can be held on a sports blog. The post from a few days ago provoked some great debate, so I thought I would give it the front-page treatment for those that don't normally read the comments:

This optimistic one from Andy:

I've noticed a lot of comments in general to the effect that if you compare the current team to last year, we simply haven't "improved" enough to expect better results, that our best hope is to still be in the fight for the last playoff spot come March, followed of course by a quick first round exit.

But there's something missing - how did such a terrible team make it to the finals? There haven't been that many personnel changes.

I've found for a long time that the perception outside of Ottawa was that this team was playing over it's head, that the Senators of December 2007 to February 2009 were the "real" Senators, the crappy team everyone always thought they were, and that any good showing before was some sort of fluke. The word "choke" stuck like glue, and playoff disappointments were always held up as a show of their "true colours". Certainly, they have not lived up to expectations every year, but they have won their share of series. This team has been reasonably close to a championship twice in this decade (missing the Cup finals by one goal against eventual champions NJ) - how many franchises would kill for that? Our nemesis down the 401 hasn't been anywhere near since, what, mid-90's? And while there have been disappointments, at least there were expectations to be disappointed about.

There have definitely been problems, but I'm optimistic that the Senators we saw in the last few weeks of the last season were closer to the "real" Senators. It seems obvious to me that they were playing an inappropriate system for most of the year, where a strong forechecking, puck-possesion team was suddenly not allowed to forecheck, expected to be passive and reactive. The second (now non-forechecking) forward always looked confused about where he was supposed to be and often wasn't able to defend effectively against opponents' transitions. I think Hartsburg was ultimately fired because he refused to acknowledge that his system wasn't working.

Goaltending has been the Achilles heel of this team pretty much forever, but last year's lack of scoring made it stand out even more. I'm optimistic that this will change. I like Elliott and think he'll make a strong backup who can challenge the starter. If Leclaire can play like he seems capable of (and of course, stay healthy) then goaltending is suddenly the least of this team's worries. Even slightly better goaltending last year would have been enough for a playoff spot, despite the poor team play.

And let's acknowledge something else - some important players had a bad season, even when accounting for overall team performance. We all know that Fisher, Kelly, Volchenkov can play much better. Combine that with strong output from Foligno, Shannon, and of course, Kovalev and I think we've got a respectable forward and defense corps. Kovalev is an automatic upgrade on the PP, and the PK was actually pretty good last year.

I don't think these expectations are unreasonable. And who knows, maybe there are nice surprises. Mabye Foligno scores 25 goals, maybe Shannon scores 20, maybe Kovalev has a career year, maybe Heatley comes back and scores 60. Maybe Karlsson exceeds expectations and Ottawa has the best PP in the league. Maybe Leclaire leads the league in shutouts, and Winchester adds some scoring to his already fine play. These hopes may be a little pie-in-the-sky but only a couple need to happen to really put the Sens over the top.

A spooky Anonymous commentor took Andy to task on the defensive end:


I differ with you in that I think that there have been significant changes since the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals team.

Notably, the defense has been completely overhauled. I can remember at the beginning of the 2007 season, Paddock commented that "we feel that our top 4 is as good as any in the league". And, for the first 20 games of the season, they lived up to those expectations.

For some reason, the wheels fell off and the defense was then overhauled. I don't think that our current top 4 ranks anywhere near the best in the league.

I also think that the vibe around the team is completely different. The Sens used to be a team that was full of guys who were drafted and developed by the club. The players appeared to be very close. Even Rob Ray was quoted on Off The Record as saying that they were a "real tight group".

They had a bunch of guys who played together in Bingo during the lockout. They really looked like a group that was having fun. I think that the team has lost that feel. Chicago seemed to have inherited that vibe last year.

I'm not gloomy about the Sens. I think that the potential is there. I'll be cheering for them. But, I still think that the back end needs some upgrading.

Grinder continues the great D-bate:

Clouston is a good coach. He needs a tan and a wardrobe consultant (Agreed! -Ben), but I think he is quite competent. The big question is whether or not he is able to communicate effectively with the players, for an extended amount of time, without alienating everyone with his hard-ass approach. His strategy seems sound and he seems able to adapt to changing conditions during the game and react quickly.

I am also thrilled that Gerber is gone. I like our goalies and believe that one of two things will come to pass and will define this upcoming season. Pascal Leclaire will either become a big star, or he will tear something in one of his knees or ankles and cost Murray his job.

The forwards (with Heatley) may be better than ever. That, my friends is such a big "IF" that it makes my head spin. IF he stays and actually plays to his ability, the team has four scorers and two lines that can score. IF he goes, there is no way to know what we get in return or what Murray does with the extra money.

Then there are the young guys who have looked so good lately. Foligno has shown signs of what may be and Shannon has been very effective with his speed and hockey sense.

I am torn between Andy and Canucnik on the subject of the Sens' D however. Nik loves to call them an "American League" group, while Andy looks at the same bunch as "top half". Who's right here? Good question...

First, let me admit that Corvo was a huge loss to the Sens. When he was here, I was the first guy to call him a liability and a screw-up. I really disliked him. The truth is however, that his speed and puck moving ability was important, despite his other shortcomings.

Then, Priessing was always very dependable. I can't explain what happened to him in the end, but he was good for a while.

Mez was hot and cold, but the guy had passion...

Today's squad is not all all the same kind of squad. I don't know that they are "American League", but I also don't think they are anywhere near "top half" either.

The big variables are Lee and Campoli.

I think Campoli has "something" and I have a feeling that he will become a much better player than anyone expects. Redden had that intangible at one time, early in his career before he lost his legs.

I thought Lee had that "something" too at first, but he doesn't seem to be very smart. Maybe it is only youth and the guy will become something of a producer, but that seems like a pretty big "maybe".

As for Karlsson, I have been on the record many times since watching him closely at the prospect camp. He is not ready for the show - not by a long shot. Not to mention that he is so friggin small. He is VERY skilled, don't get me wrong, but defencemen take longer to be ready for the big league.

Smith, God bless the guy, is done. He should do the right thing and retire. That was wasted money for sure.

Unlike many who love the guy, I don't like Phillips at all. He is way too soft on the puck and he doesn't hit at all. In that respect, I totally agree with Nik.

On the other hand, Volchenkov was clearly playing hurt for most of the year. He should be back to his old form this year and be a useful asset.

Kuba is good. He seems to be hated by many, but he is competent both ways. I suppose he may not be worth the big bucks, but I don't see anyone else stealing his job on this team yet.

So, having said all that - it is clear as mud, isn't it!?

Sure is, Grinder. Thanks to those who contribute to the blog in the comments. Keep up the great debates!
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