Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Better know an Enemy: The Fightin' Indians!

Here it comes, the Sens' first ever game outside of North America. It's Thursday, October 2 at 1:00 p.m. EST against the Frölunda HC of Gothenburg, commonly known as the Frölunda Indians. The storied club is celebrating their 70th anniversary season this year, after being founded in February 1938. Their home arena, the Scandinavium, has a capacity of 12,o44 spectators. So what's in store for the Senators when they face-off on Thursday, Oct. 2?

For all of those super-fans out there taking the day off to watch the game, it's not going to be on regular cable. Sorry. It's going to be on TEAM 1200 on the radio, though, and courtesy some Facebook group, it's also available streaming online at MyP2P.eu! What a world we live in...

The Indians are coached by 14-year NHL veteran Ulf Dahlen. Current Sens' prospect Erik Karlsson is on the roster, so this will be a great opportunity to see what we can expect from the 2008 first-round pick. Other notables include Joe DiPenta, who won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007; Johan Holmqvist, former Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender (who was once traded for former Senator Lawrence Nycholat, coincidentally); Niklas Anderson, the team's captain, who is old enough to have experience with the now-defunct Quebec Nordiques (okay, he's ony 37); and at least six players whose last names have a double-S somewhere, so Daniel Alfredsson will fit right in.

Speaking of Alfredsson, he holds two playoff records for the franchise, both recorded during the 2004-05 lockout season, including most goals in a playoff season (12) and most points in a playoff season (18). During that 2004-05 season, the Indians won the league with a 33-8-9 record, and went on to win the Swedish championship. They also made the Swedish finals in 2005-06, but lost, and then fell to 9th in the regular season in 2006-07 (missing the playoffs). Last year, for the 2007-08 season, the Indians finished sixth and lost in the quarter-finals.

It seems the Indians have been battling mediocrity of late, but I would venture to guess that in the Swedish Elite League, one or two good signings can turn a team right around. For the Indians, that signing might have been Holmqvist. They had a solid 7-2 record in pre-season, which led the Nordic Trophy standings. In the regular season, though, they're 1-4-2, which includes an overtime win and an overtime loss.

What I want to know the most, though, is why a Swedish team is called the Indians, after the Amerindian. They do have a pretty cool intro, though...

Alfie negotiations, sorry Schubie, no Khabi

Lazy post of the biggest Sens' headlines for today begins now:

Negotiations on a contract extension for Daniel Alfredsson should get serious in Sweden during the Sens' raod trip there. Although there are some conditional team-options on the current contract, the team can't be very interested in running the risk of losing Alfie to unrestricted free agency. Bryan Murray said he'd probably just give Alfie what he asks for, and I'm pretty sure Alfie's not the kind of guy who'll ask for a crippling salary. There is no excuse for allowing this guy to finish with any team other than the Sens.

As reported on Sportsnet, the Senators have no interest in signing the recently-waived Nikolai Khabibulin. Apparently Murray told reporters that he's just too expensive to fit into the Senators' budget. No word on whether he'd pick him up at half-price if he comes through re-entry waivers, but he and Craig Hartsburg seem satisfied with the current duo of Alex Auld and Martin Gerber.

Bad news for Christoph Schubert, as it appears he hasn't made the cut on defence for the Sens. The top-six appear to be Chris Phillips-Anton Volchenkov, Jason Smith-Filip Kuba, and Brian Lee-Alex Picard. The signing of Luke Richardson sets him up as the seventh D, so Schubert will likely be playing forward this season. A likely scenario might see a trade coming soon, though, because the Sens have extra forwards now, too.

Finally, Sens brass were excited to see first-round pick Erik Karlsson play for the Froluna Indians last night, and he didn't disappoint. Karlsson scored the opening goal in the team's 4-1 victory--their first win of the year. It's going to be exciting to see him again on Thursday when the Indians face-off in an exhibition game against the Sens.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Rumour Mill: Do the Sens want Khabibulin?

The Chicago Blackhawks have put goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin on waivers today. He's been cited for a couple of years as the possible answer for the Senators in net, but would he be an upgrade over our current goalies?

I'm not sure how much better Khabibulin is than either Martin Gerber or Alex Auld. I don't think he's that much better, and I do think he's overrated today. He's going to be paid $6.75M this season, and his career numbers are actually worse than Gerber:
  • Khabibulin: 2.69 GAA, .908 SP
  • Gerber: 2.60 GAA, .911 SP
Khabibulin has been around a lot longer, that is true, and he has been playing on a pretty weak Chicago squad for the last few years. And one big difference are the playoff stats between the two players:
  • Khabibulin: 55% winning percentage, 2.27 GAA, .922 SP
  • Gerber: 17% winning percentage, 3.50 GAA, .890 SP
If Khabibulin's not picked up by then, the Sens could do well to grab him at half-price on re-entry waivers. But that raises the question of what to do with Gerber, because his trade value is certainly not very high right now. And the Sens brass aren't likely interested in carrying three NHL goaltenders.

We'll see what happens. Chances are that the Sens will continue to give Gerber the opportunity to prove himself, and I'll remind everyone of my prediction that he will do well. I don't think Khabibulin--who appears to have lost his job this year to Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi--will really be an upgrade, but crazier things have happened.

The chain o' command

Just thought I would publish my thoughts and speculation on the chain of command in terms of the captaincy of the Ottawa Senators. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it goes something like this...

1. Alfredsson
2. Phillips
3. Fisher
4. Heatley
5. Smith

I believe all of these players have worn the 'C' or the 'A' this season. And now we can start the speculation. How many teammates does Jason Spezza have to have assassinated before he takes over the captaincy? A lot, in my view.

6. Neil
7. Kelly
8. Spezza

After that, it gets kind of silly. Your thoughts?

Also, does anyone else think it's ever sillier than usual for the Swedish team that the Sens face on Thursday to be called the "Indians"?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sens re-sign Richardson

The Sens' also signed D Luke Richardson to a one-year, two-way contract on Saturday, according to CBC. I thought Richardson looked alright during his tryout in training camp, although not tremendous. He is not the kind of defenceman Ottawa needs, though, and I don't think he'll actually be heading to Binghamton at any point this year.

Although I don't want to predict anything untoward, I think this signing might mean there's a move coming soon. The Sens, with Richardson, have eight NHL defencemen: Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Jason Smith, Filip Kuba, Alex Picard, Brian Lee, Christoph Schubert, and Richardson. It's unlikely either Lee or Richardson will be sent to Binghamton. Keep in mind that, as versatile as Schubert is, GM Bryan Murray told him he'd be getting a good chance at playing defence this season. I'd like to see him stay, but I didn't see enough from Schubert to believe he could crack the top-six on defence.

EDIT: The Sens' also sent surprise forward Zack Smith bown to Binghamton. Apparently it wasn't because Smith didn't make the cut, but because his development would require more ice time than he would be getting on the Senators' roster. He'll most certainly help the B-Sens out this season.

CASH in the bank: Sens 3 Habs 1

Mark it down, fellow Sens fans. It took just over one game before new Sens coach Craig Hartsburg gave up on the 'spreading the offence' idea and re-united the CASH Line of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, and Jason Spezza. And, once again, it worked in sparking the Sens to come back from a 1-0 deficit and beat the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 3-1.

I have a feeling that after watching Alfredsson play like he was 10 years younger gave Hartsburg all the proof he needed that the reunion would work. Alfie had a whale of a game, turning pucks over, forechecking hard, and just playing the 'accountable, responsible, blue-collar' game that Hartsburg is trying to build into the team culture. When the captain buys in and leads buy example, others are usually to follow. Heatley seems to be buying in, and he's been playing a more responsible game so far this season--it brings to mind the game he played in this summer's world championships.

Last night, however, demonstrated the incredible frustration that comes with watching Jason Spezza. He played his typical game: pretty soft on the puck, quick to concede battles in the corners or along the boards, throwing blind passes into the slot (and, inevitably, down the ice back into the Senators' end), and trying to deke through players instead of around them. He was only tagged with one giveaway, but he lost the puck a bunch of times. But then he makes an incredible play like the 120' pass he made to spring Alfredsson on a breakaway, and that's all anyone will be talking about the next day. Hence the frustration.

Why did the CASH Line reunion work? Well, it was mostly the inspiration that comes with watchign your three best players dominate on the ice, I think. But it was also the play of the second and third lines, who scored the other two goals on the night. Nick Foligno continues to impress, and scored a beautiful goal--while falling down--on Habs goalie Marc Denis. Foligno is proving why he's been slotted to play second-line minutes, and definitely looks like he'll be a valuable asset to the Sens. Chris Neil did take a stupid penalty early on in the game, but he settled into his normal hard-checking role later on, and was rewarded for his efforts with a pretty nice garbage goal while taking punishment in front of the net. The Sens' fourth line was also effective, and although Dean McAmmond, Shean Donovan, and Zack Smith didn't get on the scoresheet, they played good, hard hockey and got some good pressure on the Habs.

The Sens' defence, thankfully, was stronger than it was in Friday's 5-0 loss. Although the Habs were missing some (okay, most) firepower, the Sens still held them to 19 shots, and Martin Gerber kept his head on pretty well. He probably should have stopped the one Habs' goal, which was just a straight shot that beat him, but Chris Phillips shouldn't have pinched to create the 2-on-1 that led to the goal.

The powerplay has to be a huge concern for Hartsburg. The Sens' tried Alfredsson with Filip Kuba on the point with Heatley, Spezza, and Jesse Winchester on forward, but nothing doing. The Sens' are now a pathetic 1-26 (I believe) on the powerplay in the preseason. It underlines the urgency in GM Bryan Murray's quest to find a puck-moving offensive defenceman, because even if the Sens make it through the regular-season without one, you need a good powerplay in the playoffs.

The penalty kill was at least solid for the Sens. The Sens used four pairs of solid killers last night, Alfredsson and Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu and Cody Bass, Donovan and McAmmond, and Heatley and Spezza. Each pairing did a great job, and at least that can take a load off Hartsburg's mind while he tries to figure out the powerplay.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Five more sent to Binghamton

The Senators announced today that five more players are heading to Binghamton's training camp: forwards Brad Isbister, Greg Mauldin, and Peter Regin, and defencemen Brendan Bell and Matt Carkner. Mostly vets on two-way deals, but the Bell demotion clears up a bit of the log-jam on defence. The battle for the final two spots is now between Alex Picard, Brian Lee, and Christoph Schubert.

After losing their pre-season opener 2-1 to Wilkes Barre/Scranton, these guys will surely help the B-Sens out. The Sens, meanwhile, will get to play an actual game with a probably almost-normal roster tonight, and will bring all 25 players they have--three goalies, eight defence, and 14 forwards--to Sweden. Afterwards, there will likely be more roster movement.

U-G-L-Y, Sens ain't got no alibi

Wow. I'm kind of glad I didn't have to see that. A 5-0 loss to the Canadiens, with a bunch of their best players out of the lineup? While the Sens had 13 skaters expected to make the lineup, including Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. Sounds pretty bad, although I didn't witness it first-hand.

Some statistical info about the game, that might help paint the picture: The Sens were outshot 30-21 in the game. Three of Montreal's goals were on the powerplay, and the Sens had 34 minutes in penalties. The Kostitsyns (Sergei and Andrei) combined for five points, while Andrei Markov had three. The only thing I'm a little disappointed to have missed are the four fights, including Cody Bass v. Tom Kostopolous, Chris Neil v. Alex Henry, Zach Smith v. P.K. Subban, and Brad Isbister v. Henry again.

Hopefully some of that emotion carries over into the game tonight, as the Sens host the Canadiens. The game is on TSN tonight, and on TEAM1200. Cuts may be coming tonight, so I'll try and update if they've happened.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pre-season game 4: Sens @ Habs

No local TV coverage for tonight's meaningless pre-season game? Terrible. Not even RDS is broadcasting tonight's game against the Canadiens, as far as I know.

Mike Fisher, Alexandre Picard, Shean Donovan, and Daniel Alfredsson are all out of the lineup for the Sens tonight. One or both of Fisher and Picard may be ready to go on Saturday night. No cuts have been made since the Philly game on Wednesday, so the roster is still pretty oversized. Expect cuts within the next couple of days, because the Sens will have the roster trimmed to 24 before their flight to Sweden on Sunday.

Alex Auld is scheduled to play the whole game, and according to the Ottawa Sun the lines are scheduled to be as follows:

Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Jesse Winchester
Antoine Vermette-Chris Kelly-_____
Jarkko Ruutu-Cody Bass-Chris Neil
Zack Smith-Dean McAmmond-Peter Regin

Not really sure what the D pairings will be, once again. I'll update once I find out.

EDIT: A commenter suggested the defence pairings could be:

___-Brendan Bell
Filip Kuba-___
Christoph Schubert-Brian Lee

So Christoph Schubert gets another shot at defence. I'm still very curious what will happen to him this season.

EDIT AGAIN: According to the Sens' official site, "Chris Phillips, Shean Donovan, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Smith and Nick Foligno are all being given tonight off." So I'm not sure who rounds out the lines. This pre-season roster juggling makes it pretty hard to keep track. I assume Luke Richardson and Anton Volchenkov will play D, and Matt Carkner might be filling the last forward spot.

Sens' prospect recap, after (most of) training camp

Below is the rankings of the Sens' prospects based on readers' votes. The percentage is how many readers felt that individual would (or at least should) make the team. In brackets are the actual number of votes, based on 146 total votes.
  1. Nick Foligno: 79% (116 votes)
  2. Brian Lee: 78% (114 votes)
  3. Jesse Winchester: 71 % (105 votes)
  4. Cody Bass: 56% (83 votes)
  5. Ilya Zubov: 13% (19 votes)
  6. Brian Elliott: 2% (3 votes)
  7. Alex Nikulin: 1% (2 votes)
  8. Peter Regin: 0% (1 vote)
These rankings reflect pretty much what I expect will happen. Foligno was not just one of the best prospects in training camp, but was one of the Sens' best players. He's basically cemented himself a spot on the roster, and has certainly earned it. I'm excited to see how this guy develops, because he sure seems to have his mind in the right state.

Lee is largely benefitting from the lack of offensive abilities within the D-corps. There are a lot of expectations heaped on this kid--he is still a kid--and he's got something to prove. Although his pre-season play was a little here-and-there, his play last year was solid, and the same will be expected this year. If anything goes wrong, and he fails to score a passing grade, then the Sens will have to decide whether to send him to the AHL or to end Project Brian Lee a little early, and send him packing for a more established blueliner.

Third in the rankings was Winchester, and he was given the best chance to excel among the Sens prospects. Playing alongside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley will make a lot of players look good, but Winchester silenced a lot of critics--at least for the time being--with his play. He demonstrated good strength, with and without the puck, and an ability to keep up to his all-star linemates in both speed and finesse. His contract was one sign, but his play certainly proved that he's worth an extended look on the top line--or at least in the roster.

Last of those who are still on the roster is Bass, whose effort against Philadelphia demonstrated his best assets--a willingness, and even eagerness, to stand up for teammates. Bass is a sparkplug. He's a solid grit player, and seems to relish that role. Although it's uncertain whether or not he'll stay on the roster all year, it is certain that he can and would contribute if he does. And he seems like the kind of player GM Bryan Murray and coach Craig Hartsburg are looking for, so I'd give him the benefit of the doubt.

Elliott is simply out of luck due to the presence of Alex Auld and Martin Gerber. It is commonly assumed that this season will go a long way to determining what the Sens do with goaltending next season, and whether Elliott can be an NHL starter. Or whether Gerber should be re-signed. Or whether Auld isn't really a backup. Or whether we need a new goalie because all of our plans and back-up plans were proven wrong.

As for the bottom three skaters, Zubov, Nikulin, and Regin have already been sent to Binghamton (EDIT: Whoops, my bad, Regin hasn't been sent to Binghamton yet), and Zubov--who received more votes than the other two--was the best throughout training camp. Although he certainly must have impressed Murray with his devotion and conditioning this off-season (he stayed in North America instead of going home, and trained with Chris Neil), I guess Murray believes another year in the AHL is necessary. As for SputNik, his blog (translated here on HFBoards) indicates that he'd thought a spot on the NHL team was all but guaranteed. He didn't impress as much as Zubov, and probably won't be very happy with the demotion. Still, if he accepts it as a challenge, rather than an insult, perhaps he and Zubov will train together in the off-season, and will return as seasoned players with two full years of North American pro experience. And Regin was in his first training camp, so it's no big surprise he's being given a season in the AHL (EDIT: Regin hasn't been sent down yet, as I said above).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

NHL in China and India? Really?

The Globe and Mail had a story today about an NHL television distribution deal being reached for parts of Asia, including India and China, with South Korea in 2009-10, but not including Japan, Australia, or New Zealand. Interesting.

It's kind of cool news, actually. I wouldn't be surprised if, as the press release indicated, hockey was kind of popular in the northern parts of China, so close to the Russian border. Here's part of the release, a quote from the executive director of the Asian network Yes TV, from the G&M story:
"The National Hockey League has great potential for development in Asia. We are thrilled to be able to bring another big American sport to Asian sports fans. . . Ice hockey is quite popular in the northern parts of China and its popularity is growing. The NHL represents the pinnacle of professional ice hockey and we are proud to be bringing the best of this exciting sport to the fans in China."
Remember Jim Paek, born in South Korea, the only player of east-Asian heritage (that I know of) to play for the Ottawa Senators? Maybe this TV deal will see more South Korean players in the league. Probably not for a little while, though.

Sens TV cut; fans rejoice

Gotta give props to James Gordon for this find. Too many Sens games were picked up by other networks, so the often-ridiculed and much-hated Sens TV will be suspended for the upcoming season!

If you ever listen to the Sens Underground podcast, you'll know the network had a ton of problem with signals, audio, and picture. Basically, the whole darn thing had a few problems and would occasionally cut out or have to switch to a local feed. So instead of the exclusive Senators content, you got the Nashville Predators (or whomever) broadcast team perspective. Weeeeeee.

The Sens take this time to fix their god-forsaken network and get it right in 2009-10. Here's hoping. When you're paying extra to watch your team, it should not only work, you should get your money's worth.

Why hate on McAmmond?

It seems a lot of people are talking about the "dispensability" of Dean McAmmond on the Senators' log-jammed forward roster. I don't really see it, but I'm an unapologetic McAmmond fan. He's played well in the pre-season, scoring one of the six goals the Sens have (in his only game), and he's showing his ability to bounce back. And I still harken back to the 2007 playoffs, where McAmmond made the fourth line a large contributor to the Sens' success.

Those who suggest McAmmond is on his way out do have some reasons. One is that he's set to earn $900k this season (although his cap hit is only $875k). That's not a huge sum for a hockey player, but it's more than Shean Donovan, another fourth-liner, is making after signing for only $600k.

Another criticism is that D-Mac has never really recovered after the two concussions, and his play last season reflected that. To that, I ask: Who on the Sens' roster did play well last season? Players like Donovan and Chris Neil have been able to use John Paddock's coaching style as an excuse for their poor seasons in 2007-08, but the assumption is that McAmmond had a bad year due to concussion problems. I think that's a flawed assumption.

There was a great story on McAmmond this morning in the Ottawa Citizen that really demonstrates some of the value of McAmmond, and that's his positive outlook and his team-first attitude:

"Nothing has been said, not to me, if you're asking me about where I might fit in," said McAmmond, who scored the Senators' goal in a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Monday.

"I think the luxury they have, they can put me wherever they want. I won't complain. I will play the same way."
Imagine, a veteran of 16 NHL seasons who'll accept a demotion, if that's what happens. I'm sure he wouldn't be happy about it, but he wouldn't let that negatively affect his play. I'm sure $900k goes a long way to keeping someone satisfied, but it's still a testament to his character.

McAmmond is a great asset, and could be a great contributor if utilized properly. He's one of the team's fastest players, he's solid on the penalty kill, and he's got pretty good moves to boot. Plus, despite his size, he's not afraid to throw his weight around. I, for one, think it would be a mistake to let him go.
(EDIT: Props to Sens Chirp for writing his own defence of Deaner.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sens down Flyers 3-1

That is the kind of player the Ottawa Senators need Chris Neil to be every night. Sure, it's nice that he scored two goals, but that's not the only reason. Neil hit players, wrought havoc in front of the net, forechecked hard, fought well, and--most importantly--didn't take penalties. No stupid penalties, anyway, because he did get a five-minute fighting major. If there is going to be room for Neil on the team, this season or in the future, he'll have to keep going that way. Any goals he scores are a bonus.

Speaking of goals Neil scores, the first was off a scrum in front of the net, and the second was a very skillful tip on a Filip Kuba shot. The final score was 3-1 in favour of the Senators, which made the Flyers look good after they were outshot 34-11 by Ottawa. Although Martin Gerber's mask looked really good, he didn't get tested very much at all, only surrendering one goal off a pretty good shot from Philly's Darroll Powe.

Getting back to Kuba, both he and Jason Smith played well tonight, assisting on the Sens' second and third goals. Both were also +2, each took a two-minute minor penalty, but Kuba had about 5 minutes more in ice time (largely due to powerplay time). I didn't like Kuba in his first game, but he looked pretty good tonight, so I'll sleep easy.

The big guns came to play tonight, too, although they didn't make a dent on the score sheet. Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, and Daniel Alfredsson all played well defensively; with the emphasis on playing a rounded game, we might see more games without one of those three on the scoresheet. Jesse Winchester, who once again played on the top line with Spezza and Heatley, did manage to pot a goal--albeit a flukey one of a Philadelphia defender's skate. He once again fit in well with the other two, and threw three hits while notching two takeaways.

If Winchester played well, Nick Foligno played outstanding. He once again (somewhat) subtly ran the opposing goaltender, generating some drama in front of the net. His forecheck was tremendous, and he kept plays alive on several occasions--including Winchester's goal. Cody Bass looked solid, as well, and made sure the Flyers weren't taking any liberties with anyone.

On defence, Brendan Bell looked a little nervous tonight. His game was passable, but not great. If he's going to make the Sens, he's going to have to work on his defensive game. Brian Lee had a pretty good game, though, and made up for a lacklustre effort in his first matchup. Anton Volchenkov was as you'd expect, and Luke Richardson played his typical, barely-noticeable (in a good way) game.

Neil and Matt Carkner both dropped the gloves in this game. I didn't see the Carkner bout (which was against Powe), but Neil was pretty even in his bout with Aaron Asham (I'd give the decision to Asham, though, who got a few more good shots in). If Carkner is to make the Sens it will be as an enforcer, so he had to prove he could toss them tonight, and he did.

So the Sens have Thursday off, and then begin a home-and-home series in Montreal on Friday. They come back to Ottawa on Saturday, and these should be some good games between two teams who should be battling for the Northeast Division all season.

Sens v. Flyers game notes

The Sens play the Flyers tonight in Ottawa, game time is 7:00, the game is on Rogers 22 in Ottawa. According to James Gordon's Hockey Capital blog, the forward lines will be as follows:



No word yet on the defence pairings, but I'll post those when I come across them (EDIT: Posted). As I said yesterday, Martin Gerber will be playing the full 60 minutes, and the Ottawa Sun reports that he will be wearing his 'The Gerber Strikes Back' mask.

Both Mike Fisher and Alexandre Picard will be out of the lineup for injuries. Both are reported to be precautionary.

This morning the Sens also made some moves, sending seven players down to the Binghamton training camp. Included in the demotion are goalie Jeff Glass, d-men Mattias Karlsson, and forwards Danny Bois, Josh Hennessy, Alexander Nikulin, Ryan Shannon, and Ilya Zubov. No real surprises there, although I won't be at all surprised if Zubov is very high on the list if the Sens run into injury problems.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The end of The Black Mask?!?!

The Ottawa Sun had a few photos of a new mask for Martin Gerber, although he said he might not be keeping it. If he does discard the black mask, can we still call him Darth Gerber? Will we even want to?
(EDIT: Thanks to a new angle on the mask, courtesy of the Battle of Ontario, it turns out we've got even more reason to call him Darth Gerber, thanks to an image of the true Vader mask on the front of the mask. Awesome.)

Gerber might be wearing the mask when he plays against Philadelphia on Wednesday. He's expected to play the full sixty minutes.

In other Sens news, CBC announced today that they've picked up an extra eight Sens games for Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts, bringing the Sens total games on HNIC to 21. It means a heck of a lot more Sens games on TV, which is good news for Sens fans. (Via SensHobo.)

Alfredsson's fine

According to Sportsnet, Daniel Alfredsson is feeling better after a sore hip/groin kept him out of the first two pre-season games. He'll be playing against Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Well, they said it was precautionary. It will be good to see him in the lineup.

On the other hand, Mike Fisher left practice early on Tuesday with a sore groin, and won't be playing on Wednesday. Hopefully that move, as well, was only precautionary.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rangers 2, (B-)Sens 1

The Sens dressed a scoring-challenged lineup, leaving Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, and Mike Fisher all out for the final half of the home-and-home against the New York Rangers. It showed. The Sens only managed 22 shots, including 10 in the third, and lost the game by a 2-1 score that looked better than it was (thanks to the Sens' goalies). Another sloppy game brings the Sens' pre-season record to 1-1.

The biggest storyline might be Wade Redden playing his first game against his old team. It's about what you'd expect: He was on for all three goals, and--although not being tagged for any giveaways--he (apparently, I didn't see it) didn't look good on the Sens' only goal.

For Ottawa, everyone was talking about Alex Auld getting a chance to impress coach Craig Hartsburg, and impress he did tonight. As good as Martin Gerber looked on Saturday night, Auld was challenged more often, and usually met those challenges (although he had some help from the posts). Of the two goals, the first was weak, but the second was a tip after the Sens weren't able to clear the puck. In fact, I'd blame the second goal on Antoine Vermette, who had a golden shooting opportunity but tried to deke, got smoked, lost the puck, and had it come up the ice until the Rangers were able to put it past Auld. I didn't get to see Jeff Glass, but he stopped all eight shots he faced, so couldn't have been too bad.

The Sens' best forward was probably Nick Foligno, who caused a few turnovers and played a strong game. Close after was Dean McAmmond, who scored the Sens' only goal, and also caused quite a few turnovers. With the log-jam at forward, McAmmond needed to show something in the pre-season, and he did a pretty good job tonight. On a line with D-Mac was Brad Isbister, and there appeared to be some reasonable chemistry between the two--but don't hold you breath for Isbister to make the team. Finally, Ilya Zubov had a great scoring chance, and--according to the official scoresheet--threw three hits. The Sens' best hit was Jarkko Ruutu on Brandon Dubinsky, an open-ice collision that knocked Doobie off the puck.

On defence, Brendan Bell looked better than I'd expected, and certainly made a case for himself. I would be surprised if he's in the round of cuts tomorrow. Luke Richardson looked pretty good, too, playing 17 minutes, including some penalty-kill time. Still, Richardson still has a way to go, but he might travel to Sweden as part of the roster.

On the other side of the ledger, Brian Lee has something to prove. He got beat on a breakaway tonight, and had to tak a penalty and rely on a great Auld pokecheck to prevent a goal. But then he got an assist, and, although I didn't see the goal, that's got to mean something. Also, Ryan Shannon was certainly exposed as the undersized player he is. Although he had some opportunities, he rarely if ever was able to win a battle, and was often muscled off the puck.

So a bunch of cuts will come tomorrow morning, probably at least a dozen, maybe 16 players will head to the Binghamton training camp. Next game will be on Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers in Ottawa; the Flyers won on Monday night 4-1. The Sens should dress a lineup that will look a lot like the one they'll start the regular season with, so stay tuned tomorrow morning.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Preview: Sens @ Rangers

Finally, the Senators will get the opportunity to play against Wade Redden. It will be interesting to see how some of his former teammates respond, and how some of the newcomers--signings, trades, and up-and-coming rookies--treat the player who, until Monday night, will never have played an NHL game in any other jersey. And, of course, how Redden responds.

The game will also be Alex Auld's first test in a Sens jersey, so keep an eye out for what he's got to show. Jeff Glass is scheduled to take over for the third period.

Only one cut has been made since Saturday night, with Jim O'Brien being sent back to the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. I was hoping that after his showing in the rookie camp O'Brien would be playing in Binghamton, but he'll certainly get plenty of ice time in the WHL.

In other news, Alexandre Picard was complaining about soreness in his groin (what's going on here? First Daniel Alfredsson, now Picard?), so Chris Phillips will take his place in the lineup. According to the Ottawa Sun, Alfredsson might be playing against Philadelphia on Tuesday (EDIT: the game against Philly is on Wednesday, not Tuesday).

No word on what the line combinations are, but the Sens official site has said that the lineup will include Chris Kelly, Dean McAmmond, Shean Donovan, Anton Volchenkov, Cody Bass, Nick Foligno, Ryan Shannon, Brendan Bell, and Luke Richardson.

EDIT: Nothing on local TV, but it's on MSG so you should be able to see the game on NHL Centre Ice. The game is, of course, on TEAM 1200.

Alfredsson injury already? Great

Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson was pencilled in as the team's second-line right winger for Saturday's contest against the Rangers. When I saw he wasn't playing, I initially thought the Ottawa Sun had screwed up. Then I heard it was a last-minute decision after Alfredsson mentioned tightness in his hip and groin, and coach Craig Hartsburg decided it wasn't worth the risk.

I've got to agree with Hartsburg there.

It came out today, in a Sens official release, that Alfredsson won't be playing in New York on Monday, either. Or even travelling there. Hopefully it's once again a precautionary decision. Maybe Alfredsson is simply saving his best efforts for the hometown crowd in Gotheburg and then Stockholm.

In the above-linked Sun story, Hartsburg said that Alfredsson was "day-to-day" and would have likely played the game on Saturday if it weren't a lowly exhibition game. Good decision. If that's all there is to the story, great. With injuries, though, coaches rarely give all there is to the story.

Alfie has a history of hip injury problems. According to TSN.ca, the problem first popped up in October 2000 (at least that's as far as their records go), and popped up again in December 2001, March 2003, December 2005, December 2006, and January through February 2008. He also missed time in November 2007 with a groin injury.

I don't want to overstate things. It may simply be that he was sore, and didn't want to risk missing the big Swedish debut. But the fact of the matter is that el capitano is getting older, and his body is getting worse for wear. The spirit is willing--and off-season interviews with Alfredsson attest to that--but the body can only handle so much.

Welcome NOT your Ottawa Senators

Watching last night's pre-season game against the New York Rangers from waaaayyy up in section 323 at Scotiabank Place, I constantly had to check my program to find out who was on the ice. 73? Rutuu. 18? Winchester. 30? Brian Elliot.

In all my days of being a Sens fan, I've never had such a tough time figuring out who was on the ice, their position, and their place on the team.

Let's start with Handsome Dany Heatley plus two. In this case, the two are Jason Spezza (no surprise there), and Jesse Winchester, who Peter adamently denies is Brandon Bochenski in disguise. Whatever Winchester's true identity, the winger did an okay job on the top line finishing the game even in +/- and had 16 minutes of ice time including six and a half minutes on the powerplay.

I didn't see anything remarkable from Winchester other than one excellent scoring opportunity wherein he lost control of the puck while crossing through the Rangers crease and got off a weak backhander.

Brian Elliot (The Big E? Smelly Ellie?) looked very good in the third period. On his first two shots, he didn't give up a rebound and the 23 year-old seemed to move through the crease comfortably. The breakaway goal that he allowed did make him look like a stiff chump though.

The player that had me checking my scorecard most often was Filip Kuba. Kuba and Alexandre Picard, both acquired in the Andre Meszaros deal from earlier this month, led the Senators defence in ice time. Undoubtedly, this was for the coaches and management to see as much of the new recruits as possible. Kuba, Picard, and Brian Lee ran the powerplay competently (though Lee seemed somewhat uncomforable on the right point on the PP), giving hope that the Sens can run the man advantage by committee this season.

Though I kept an eye out for Jarkko Ruutu throughout the game, he didn't seem to be in pest mode for most of the game. More often, it was Heatley and Phillips who were aggrevating the Rangers. I guess I will reserve judgement for another game.

The Sens sat many regulars in this game. Volchenkov, Kelly, McAmmond, and Donovan did not dress, giving the young guns the chance to show their stuff. Even with those players in the lineup, it's easy to see that the Senators are far from the same team as last year, and any expectations (and accompanying stupid articles) you may have for this season should be left at the door come Oct. 4.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


This is exciting. Sure, it's only the pre-season, and you won't see all of the players you wanted to, but it's NHL hockey, it's on the radio (TEAM 1200), it's on TV (Rogers 22), and it's on.

The Sens are playing the New York Rangers tonight, but don't expect Wade Redden to be in the lineup. I guess it's just too soon for him. Whatever.

According to the Ottawa Sun, these will be the Sens' line combinations for the game:

Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Jesse Winchester
Antoine Vermette-Nick Foligno-Daniel Alfredsson
Jarkko Ruutu-Mike Fisher-Chris Neil
Josh Hennessy-Jim O'Brien-Danny Bois

Chris Phillips-Christoph Schubert
Jason Smith-Filip Kuba
Alexandre Picard-Brian Lee

Martin Gerber (first two periods)
Brian Elliott (third period)

Those three forward lines look awesome. I'm excited to see what Jesse Winchester can do in a real game alongside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. I'm also looking forward to seeing Nick Foligno at centre, and whether or not he stays there or switches with Antoine Vermette part way through. And to see how many Rangers want to play against that extremely punishing and aggravating third line of Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Neil, and Mike Fisher. The fourth line is probably just to see what those three can do. I doubt they'll be making the full-time roster, but Josh Hennessy, Danny Bois, and Jim O'Brien might be high on the Sens' call-up list if injury troubles arise.

On defence, I'm sure Chris Phillips will be playing with Anton Volchenkov, but head coach Craig Hartsburg may just want to see how Christoph Schubert responds. That or he wants to yell less, so he can just say, "Chris, get on!" and that pairing will. Jason Smith is expected to play with Filip Kuba, so we'll see what kind of chemistry they'll have. And Brian Lee and Alexandre Picard might be battling for that sixth defence spot, so it makes sense to see them in the same situations.

Martin Gerber has been given the 'starting goaltender' mantle, so it's now his to lose. We'll see how he responds tonight and in coming games.

I can't believe I'm this excited for an exhibition game.

EDIT: The Sens also trimmed the roster down sixteen players, fifteen of whom were assigned to the Binghamton tryout. Moving down are goalies Kevin Desfossés and Mitch O’Keefe, defencemen Mitch Ganzak, Tomas Kudelka, Guillaume Lépine, Brandon Roach, Derek Smith, Chris St. Croix, Geoff Waugh, and Ben Wright, and forwards Kaspars Daugavins, Denis Hamel, Chaz Johnson, Mick Lawrence, Shawn Weller, and Jeremy Yablonski. Only Wright wasn't assigned to Bingo, instead electing to return to his junior team.

Look for Lawrence to make a pretty good impression, as Bingo GM Tim Murray has already been impressed. And hopefully Chris St. Croix will be a big-time goal scorer so they can play 'Jump, jump' by Kris Kross every time he puts one in (unless they've reserved that for Foligno).

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tryout updates on peripheral players

Michael Sharp of the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin has been blogging throughout the Sens' training camp, focussing largely on players trying to make an impression, or ones expected to play for the Binghamton Senators. They're good reading, so check them out, but here are a few excerpts:

Luke Richardson: "If he can stay healthy, Richardson believes his experience should give him an edge in training camp. Yes, he acknowledged, the idea of a back-up plan has come up -- (and, down the road, he is interested in coaching) -- but he said Hartsburg's message was: "We'd love to have you at camp, but ... if you're coming to camp, I want you to be 100 percent as a player. And we'll go from there. And if you make the team, you make the team. And if not, we'll discuss that after.""

Matt Carkner (on playing right wing): ""I think it's all new for him," Hartsburg said. "He's played a little bit maybe in the past, but he's trying to do the right things. And again, for him in a game, he'll bring an element (fighting-wise) that we don't really want to see in practice. But that's his opportunity, again when we play exhibition games, if that becomes part of the game.""

Alexander Nikulin (through translator Kaspars Daugavins): ""He's thinking about the first thing right now ... make Ottawa," said Daugavins, translating for Nikulin. "He's thinking about making Ottawa. His point is to stay here and work hard, because he thinks he ... learned North American hockey. But if something happens and they send him down, he will be going there and (working hard). And he will work on his bad things, like whatever they will say, to get here.""

Interesting stuff. Sharp will likely be posting more, so check this one or his own for updates.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Winchester >>>>>>> Bochenski

I'll be the first to admit that sometimes it's better to proceed with caution. No sense in setting oulandish expectations for a player who was undrafted through his NHL eligibility and has played one NHL game, and didn't record a point in that game. But using Brandon Bochenski as a cautionary tale to Jesse Winchester isn't really fair to 'Winnie' (as Jason Spezza affectionately calls him).

The comparisons have come up since head coach Craig Hartsburg announced he'd give Winchester a chance to play with Spezza and Dany Heatley on the Sens' top line (at least in training camp). I first saw them in the comments section of this very blog, and they've popped up in articles from the Canadian Press and the National Post (with the same article in the Ottawa Citizen). Headlines and leads include 'Welcome to the big line, kid!' (the Citizen), despite the fact that Winchester (born Oct. 4, 1983) is less than four months younger than Spezza (Jun 13, 1983) and about two-and-a-half years younger than Heatley (Jan. 21, 1981). Looking at the journey that Winchester took to the NHL, and comparing it to that of Bochenski, there are plenty of differences.

Both had college hockey careers, that is true. But Bochenski was drafted at 18, in his first year of eligibility, while Winchester was passed over in every year of his eligibility. After a few years at the University of North Dakota, Bochenski had one solid season with the Binghamton Senators, scoring 70 points in 75 games. He walked onto the Sens roster the next season, lighting it up in the pre-season (11 points in 7 games), but faded in the regular season. Looking back, he did do pretty well with the Sens, and even better with the B-Sens (46P in 33GP), but was dumped midway through the season in a regrettable trade for Tyler Arnason. Working against Bochenski is his one-dimensional style: the Sportsnet scouting report on him is that despite his ability to score points, his defensive shortcomings are glaring. Some players are good enough to make up for defensive shortcomings with offensive output, but Bochenski is no Wayne Gretzky.

Winchester took a much different path to the NHL. He spent four years working on his game with Colgate, and his final season he was captain. His numbers and role on the team improved steadily, and his awareness--or 'hockey smarts'--at both ends of the ice are quoted by Spezza, Hartsburg, and GM Bryan Murray as one of his best attributes. He's also got almost 25 pounds on Bochenski, and is less averse to physical play. He's shown maturity and responsibility, not just in committing to finish his program in college, but in demonstrating leadership with the Raiders. People also seem to be forgetting that Winchester practiced with Spezza and Heatley at least once last season, and if he were to dress more games while Daniel Alfredsson was injured would almost certainly have played on the top line. (In his one game, he played on a line with Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette on the Sens' second line.

Maybe this is just a hunch I have. But, in my opinion, signs are pointing to Winchester having a successful career with the Senators, and certainly more success than Brandon Bochenski had in his short time here.

(CLARIFICATION: I'm just realizing my title might be misconstrued to mean that Winchester is the next Bochenski. Anyone who read the article understands that is not at all what I meant; I am using those angled brackets in their truest sense, suggesting that Winchester will be GREATER THAN Bochenski was. Just for the record.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sens still looking for at least one more D

I was reading my favourite (and possibly the only) Binghamton Senators blog today, Michael Sharp's Sharp on the Sens, and Sharp noted that not only is Bryan Murray looking for that ever-elusive powerplay quarterback, but assistant GM (and B-Sens' GM) Tim Murray is looking for another good defenceman to play in Bingo, too.

The Sens had three defencemen who could lead the powerplay at this time last season: Wade Redden, Joe Corvo, and Andrej Meszaros. Now we have none? I understand how nice acquiring someone like Brian Campbell would have been, but I think the older Murray (that's Bryan) could give Brian Lee and Filip Kuba a little more credit. They may not be proven commodities, so it appears Murray is going to give them some time in the pre-season before deciding just how desperate the Senators are to acquire an elite offensive defenceman.

One of the names that continually pops up is Mathieu Schneider, despite his $5.5M price tag. Anaheim is looking to dump his salary in order to sign Teemu Selanne, and have done everything--including putting him on waivers--to get rid of Schneider (it remains to be seen if they'll let him play in the AHL or buy him out to get his salary off the books). On Tuesday, however, the Citizen printed a story stating the Sens' chances of being able to pick up Schneider are slim to nil. And today, the Ottawa Sun said that he's just to expensive for Murray to take on. The Sens would have to dump salary in order to pick Schneider up, and Anaheim is not looking to pick any salary up in return. If the Ducks are prepared to pay half of Schneider's salary by allowing someone to pick him up on re-entry waivers, there are a few teams that would get a chance to pick him up first--and there is a good chance they'd take him at half-price.

So that leaves the Sens with their current d-corps. With regards to the younger Murray's plans, he's mentioned the possibility to sign a free agent to fill out the Binghamton d-corps, but didn't rule out the possibility of a trade.

The Senators' current depth chart at defence probably looks a little something like this, with the players' ranking more discretionary as you go down the list:
  1. Chris Phillips
  2. Anton Volchenkov
  3. Filip Kuba
  4. Jason Smith
  5. Brian Lee
  6. Christoph Schubert*
  7. Alex Picard
  8. Brendan Bell
  9. Luke Richardson**
  10. Mattias Karlsson
  11. Matt Carkner***
  12. Tomas Kudelka
  13. Derek Smith
  14. Geoff Waugh
  15. Ben Wright**
* - Schubert could probably play forward this season.
** - Richardson is on a tryout, and is not expected by many to make the team. I think Wright is on a tryout contract, because I can't see any releases about him being signed by the Sens (please correct me if I'm wrong).
*** - Carkner is trying out as a right winger for the Sens, but would go back to defence if sent to the AHL.

In all honesty, that looks like a pretty good top-twelve defencemen in the system. If Ottawa acquired that puck-mover without losing a defenceman, however, one of Lee of Alex Picard would probably be sent to Binghamton, and would solve the B-Sens problems. As it stands, Brendan Bell is apparently in great shape and has good AHL numbers, and Mattias Karlsson--although a rookie--impressed in the rookie tournament and has good size; they would likely form the top pairing, at least on the powerplay. All of Matt Carkner, Tomas Kudelka, and Derek Smith played for the B-Sens last season (the latter two are returning rookies), and are expected to have even better seasons in 2008-09. That leaves Geoff Waugh (who is also a sophomore pro) as the B-Sens sixth d-man, and I suppose that given he only scored 6 points in 71 games last season, there may be room for improvement. But Waugh was only -2 on a team that was heavily on the minus side of the ledger, and--although I can't say from experience--I don't think he's typically looked at as an offensive defenceman (he accumulated 139 PIM with eleven fighting majors).

Obviously, time will tell for the Senators' defence corps. It looks pretty good on paper, but looks can certainly be deceiving. Time will tell.

Ottawa Senators: Soccer Edition

In his efforts to build a world-renowned sports empire to rival Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment, Sens owner Eugene Melnyk announced today his plans today to bid for a Major League of Soccer franchise for Ottawa. (It would complement his ownership of the Sens and the OHL's St. Michael's Majors). It may not be at the forefront of the minds of Sens Army, but it's pretty cool news.

The plans of the stadium are something else. The idea is to piggyback the 30,000-seat stadium onto the infrastructure that already serves the Senators, including the Queensway exit at Palladium (that is actually pretty far from where the stadium would be) as well as the parking lots (which barely serve the 20,000 Senators fans). As a resident of Kanata I like the location of the stadium, but that doesn't mean everyone will. Least of all city planners, who will have a wrench thrown in their transportation master plans for the future.

The stadium looks really impressive, though. It would, by MLS requirement, be a soccer-specific stadium, so the prospects are slim that any future CFL franchise would play there, too (although Melnyk didn't rule out the possibility). It would be across Palladium Drive to the east of the Scotiabank Place, and you can see a site map and other images here. The outdoor field appears to have seating along three sides, and a concert stage area at the other end--probably a great venue for post-game or independent summertime concerts (he just wants to bring the Eagles back). There would be a few outdoor soccer pitches beside it (to the east), and then beside them is the Bell SensPlex, a public-private partnership also owned by Melnyk's Senators Sports and Entertainment (are you seeing a trend here?).

Anyway, I think the idea is pretty cool. I'll let him figure out whether it's a shrewd business move, but he's done pretty well with the Senators so far, so I'd be willing to give Melnyk the benefit of the doubt.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Personal note: Peter joins a fantasy resource

Because I like to congratulate myself on accomplishments, I want to let readers know that I've expanded my blogging responsibilities into the fantasy hockey prognostication field. I accepted an invitation to join NHLFullAccess.com, a website which launched on Monday and is already claiming to be "the BEST fantasy hockey website available", and I guess I've got to agree.

I'll be writing a weekly column on everything that happens in the Northeast Division, and my main challenge will be trying to keep down my normally unabashed Senators fanaticism. I've done my best, but that didn't stop me from predicting the Sens will (or at least should. Or at least can.) win the Northeast and finishing second in the Eastern Conference (that was before the Habs acquired Robert Lang, though, so keep that in mind).

Anyway, if you're looking for a bit of info about the rest of the Northeast Division, or you're a fantasy hockey enthusiast looking to get a leg up, visit NHL Full Access regularly, or you can subscribe to it in many of your favourite readers.

Monday, September 15, 2008

ESPN poses questions, Sens Army Blog answers them

ESPN released a list of training-camp questions for all 15 Eastern Conference teams today, and--although I'll bet you can guess them--they offered some for the Ottawa Senators. I'm going to do my best to answer them, and maybe Scott Burnside will change his tune about the Sens being "a bubble playoff team".
  1. "How do [Jason] Spezza and [Dany] Heatley rebound from their embarrassing turn in the playoffs?"

    In many ways, they already have. Looking at the summer's World Hockey Championships, Heatley has certainly rebounded. And although Spezza didn't get very many points, he's reflected on the experience as a learning one where he developed a more rounded game. They have to prove that they can do so in NHL action, but players of that calibre don't simply forget how to compete.

  2. "Can [Craig] Hartsburg restore order to a dressing room that seemed adrift through most of the season?"

    Although Hartsburg does have to control the dressing room, GM Bryan Murray has given him some help by getting rid of some of the players who were seen as distractions or pollution in the dressing room. Included in this category is certainly Ray Emery, but Wade Redden and Brian McGrattan have both also been mentioned as having the wrong attitude. And Andrej Meszaros, didn't seem like he really wanted to play for the Senators, so he was exchanged for three assets, including two NHL-calibre defencemen.

  3. "Where will the secondary scoring come from?"

    Antoine Vermette had a career-high in points last season. Mike Fisher didn't, but he'll be expected to rebound big time. Jesse Winchester and Nick Foligno both have some high expectations, but both seem mature enough to handle them well. And splitting up the big line will (or should) help spread the offensive production.

  4. "Is Martin Gerber a No. 1 NHL netminder? If not, is Alex Auld a viable option as a backup?"

    This is really two questions, I guess. I've already given my take on whether or not Gerber is good enough (I think he is), so I won't bore you with more. I do believe that Auld, however, will do well in the 20-30 games he's expected to play, especially considering how well he did for the Boston Bruins last season. If not, Brian Elliott will have a chance to prove his mettle.

  5. "Can Hartsburg bring order to a completely remade blue line, once the strength of the Senators' organization?"

    Ah yes, the blue line. Goodbye Redden, Meszaros, Luke Richardson (probably) and Mike Commodore, hello Filip Kuba, Brian Lee, Alexandre Picard, and Jason Smith. Personally, I think this year's d-corps could be better than it was last year. If the salaries are any indication--there is no far-and-away high-priced 'top defenceman'--this should be some defence by committee. Which is what the case was when the Sens' strength was defence. Hartsburg is also preaching defensive responsibility from his forwards, so that should help out the defence significantly.

In the headlines: Kuba, Corvo, Elliott, Zubov, and the CASH Line

Just some quick hits on Sens (and former Sens) headlines from the last little while:

As reported in the National Post, apparently Filip Kuba had a no-trade clause in his contract (and I guess he still does, I hope Bryan Murray doesn't want to trade him), but didn't feel it would "make any sense" to use it. The owners of Tampa Bay have really made a stir, and I don't think it's a good thing. It was well-documented that Dan Boyle wasn't happy with his exit from Tampa Bay, and now it comes about that Kuba didn't really want to leave, either, but felt he didn't have a choice--despite the fact that the club signed him to a contract offering that choice. Pretty shitty thing to do, if you ask me, and a great way to build a toxic environment between players and owners. The biggest reason he wanted to play for Tampa seemed to be the opportunity to play in front of friends and family in his native Czech Republic, but I think that novelty will fade as the Bolts fall in the standings and the Sens rise to the top (knock on wood).

It was also briefly mentioned in a Bruce Garrioch story in the Ottawa Sun that Joe Corvo is once again being shopped around, apparently due to his "baggage". It's a little weird since Corvo is a solid offensive defenceman (he's 18th in the league in points from D over the last three years), and his contract is a bargain. You've got to wonder why Carolina would be looking to move him already, after only half a season (and a pretty good half, too, with 7G and 14A [21P] in 23 games, highlighted by a three-goal night against the Senators in March).

Goaltending prospect Brian Elliott found out in the rookie squad's 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers rookie team that his knee has healed nicely, according to the Ottawa Citizen. Got to be good news for Binghamton Senators fans, and maybe he'll build some competition for our two NHL goaltenders.

I've read a few times that Ilya Zubov is really looking impressive this year. I'm not sure the sources, but he's apparently stayed in Ottawa over the summer rather than returning to Russia, training with local NHLers, including Chris Neil, and is in great shape. Although it will be tough for him to crack the NHL lineup (so many forwards... ), he's been quoted as being prepared for another year of conditioning in the AHL if necessary. Read about it in the National Post or the Slam! Sports, or the Ottawa Sun.

Craig Hartsburg confirmed how he's breaking up the CASH Line, at least for the start of training camp, to the Sun today. Apparently Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley will remain together, filled out with another winger (likely to be Jesse Winchester to start), and Daniel Alfredsson will play on the second line, likely with Mike Fisher, and Antoine Vermette's got to be up there somewhere.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sens beat Panthers, Leafs in rookie tournament

Anyone who hasn't seen can check out highlights of the Sens' rookie camp victories on TSN.ca, 4-2 over the Florida Panthers rookies and 7-5 against the Toronto Maple Leafs rookies. (Despite finishing so much worse than Ottawa so many years, the Leafs are apparently still unable to assemble any young talent.) The Panthers highlights are up now, and I'm sure the Leafs ones will be up soon.

Against Florida, undrafted rookie tryout candidate Mick Lawrence (who?) scored two goals and an assist, while Shawn Weller added a goal and two assists and Ilya Zubov scored the Sens' other goal. Since the Senators' official press release is seriously lacking, and I can't find a stats sheet anywhere, I turned to the Ottawa Sun, who filled out a bit more scoring details: Jesse Winchester also added two assists, and Bruce Garrioch said he looked "strong". About Lawrence, he seems to have found his game at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in his final year, scoring NCAA career-highs in goals (21), assists (19), and points (it's basic math, come on; 21+19=40 points). If the highlights on TSN were typical, then Winchester, Zubov, and Lawrence were on a line together. Brian Elliott was tending nets for the Sens.

Against Toronto, all I know now is what the Sens' press release says. Forwards Winchester (2G), Zubov (1G, 1A), Alexander Nikulin (2A), and Peter Regin (2A), as well as defenceman Mattias Karlsson (1G, 1A), each had two points. The Leafs were up 2-0 at one point, but the Sens rallied and eventually took the lead. Two goals on three shots in the first period; Leafs goaltending prospect Michael Ouzas must have had a rough game. Jim O'Brien, Benoit Doucet, and Zach Smith also scored for the Senators, while Mitch O'Keefe played in goal.

The Sens' final round-robin game of the tournament is tomorrow at 2 p.m. I wish it was on TV... and that I didn't have to work so I could watch it live.

(P.S. If you're wondering what my player-name tagging technique is, I've only tagged the names of players who are on contracts with the Sens. That's why someone like Mitch O'Keefe is tagged, while Mick Lawrence isn't. Not that anyone cares at all.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Some people think the Sens will be good this year

After reading The Score Sports Forecaster magazine's positive prediction about the Sens this year, I chronicled my own reasons for being optimistic about he upcoming season (read here: forwards, defence, and goaltending). Today Dallas News' columnist Mike Heika, on his Dallas Stars blog, predicted the Sens to win what he called a "weak" Northeast Division, too, although he did sounds a little hesitant. Here's a look at his prognistication:

"I'm not in love with the Ottawa Senators.

"They have plenty of question marks and holes in their lineup.

The problem is I'm not in love with anyone else in the Northeast, either. Montreal is a very good team, which had an exceptional finish to the end of the season, but I think also has some numbers that will be difficult to duplicate (like a 25-12-4 road record and a plus-35 on special teams). Boston is OK, Buffalo is finding out it probably spent its money on the wrong players (Hmm, a high-level center or a high-level winger?), and Toronto is a bit of a mess.

"So that leaves the Senators."


"I just think this team has something. I know Montreal is solid, and is hungry, and that you should never count out Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau, but I think Ottawa is the winner of a very weak Northest Division. Both the Senators and Canadiens are in on the Mats Sundin talks, so that could change a lot of things. But right now, I'm giving the Senators this division.

"I like new coach Craig Hartsburg, and I think he could have a positive impact on this team, so sue me."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Richardson gets a tryout

Don Brennan published a story in the Sun today stating that Luke Richardson has been invited to the Senators training camp. Got to give the 39-year-old credit, he might be in better shape than he was last year and certainly earned a look after how much he did for the team in 2007-08. The story went on to say that if he didn't make the Ottawa squad, it is unlikely that the Sens would ask him to go down to Binghamton--more likely he'd be hired to work in a coaching role. A quote from GM Bryan Murray from the Sun story:
"I don't think I want to do that with him," said Murray. "I think we want to have younger guys down there at this point. If he can't (play in Ottawa), we'll probably have something for him in the organization. He'd be around the coaches. I don't know that he'll have a title like that, but kind of an eye-in-the-sky deal."
You've got to give Richardson all sorts of credit for approaching this situation with such professionalism. Some veterans would be insulted to be invited to camp without a contract, but he's looking at it as the opportunity that it is.

As much as I like Richardson, I don't think there's a spot for him on the blue line this season. The top four positions are all but guaranteed to Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Filip Kuba, and Jason Smith, but Richardson wouldn't fit in the top-four anyway. Another year in the AHL might be good for Brian Lee's development, but I would think he would be better served playing in the NHL--especially since he did so well last year. And Murray has said he expects Alexandre Picard to be a virtual walk-on through camp, because of his potential and his one-way contract. And there's still Christoph Schubert, who's salivating at the prospect of playing a full year on defence. Oh yeah, and Brendan Bell could make a good impression. Then again, I didn't think Richardson was going to make the team last season, either, so I've been wrong about him before.

But Richardson's got a chance, at any rate. I'm glad that he'll continue in the franchise, in whatever capacity.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Winchester could be a top-six forward

An article in the Citizen today explored the possibility that Jesse Winchester, a rookie who's played one NHL game after a four-year career of ECAC hockey, will get a good, long look as a member of the Senators' top-six forward. And you know what? I think it might work.

Winchester played right wing in his one NHL game on the second line, alongside Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette. The following day he practiced on a line with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. Although he was likely only in that spot because Daniel Alfredsson was taking the day for rest and relaxation, Winchester didn't look out of place on either line. Although he was a centre through his university career, I'm sure he'd play the wing if it meant time on one of the top two lines.

From what I've seen of Winchester, his speed and size make him well-suited to play with Spezza and Heatley, if the two are kept together. Another solid fit for him, in my opinion, would be with Fisher and one of Heatley or Alfredsson on the other wing. To be honest, I saw Winchester as an asset-specific acquisition: GM Bryan Murray realized that there is a certain player you need to complement Fisher, and for him--now that he's signed long-term and a certain building block of the franchise--to excel, you've got to play to your strengths.

So, unless Craig Hartsburg has a different opinion than Murray, I expect Winchester to at least get a shot beside Fisher on the second line. Man, I want the season to start.

Could Carkner crack the lineup as a winger?

According to a story by Binghamton Senators beat writer Michael Sharp of the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin, Matt Carkner is going to be working his way in training camp as a right winger. After playing defence on teh B-Sens last year, Carkner wanted Sens brass to know that he was more than willing to switch to the wing if it meant an opportunity to play in the NHL. Here's a portion of the story:
Apparently, the Senators are receptive to the idea, and so beginning next week, the 6-foot-4, 229-pound Carkner will get a look at right wing during training camp. He's been told Ottawa officials would like him to be versatile -- be it up as a forward or back on the blue line -- and if he's returned to Binghamton, he'll remain a defenseman.

"We've come to an agreement that his best chance to make the NHL team is as a forward -- a right winger," Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray said. "Bring some toughness, and character, and a great influence in the dressing room. And he is still a defenseman at the (American Hockey League) level, so he's going to have to make that adjustment when he gets called up."
Considering the current overflow of third- and fourth-line forwards the Senators are currently sporting, this is an interesting decision. Carkner, however, may be the best heavyweight in the Senators' system now that Brian McGrattan has been traded, so he might be viewed as a possible recall if the Sens run into some fight-filled rivalries. Or maybe that trade that Bryan Murray is inevitably choreographing to move some of our one-way NHL contracts will clear some room for Carkner. Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Those pesky Leafs bloggers

The number of times the Sens have beaten the Leafs in their four playoff matchups.

Also... number of Stanley Cups in 40 years....? Leafers? Anyone?

Monday, September 8, 2008

What to do with Alfredsson, Spezza, and Heatley

Sportsnet's Ian Mendes published a story on Monday about the CASH Line, and how--although Craig Hartsburg hasn't said what he'll be doing--both Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza expect that their line, usually filled out with Dany Heatley, will be split up to start the season.

The reasoning is obvious: By spreading out the most potent offensive threats into two lines, the Senators become a more difficult team to play against because their stars can't be easily targeted. It's difficult for any team to shut down the CASH Line completely, and I'd say the only team to really do so effectively were the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. Still, the fact remains that much of the Sens' scoring prowess has been heavily concentrated in that top line, and if falls off pretty quickly.

The Sens do have other offensive weapons. Antoine Vermette is a solid offensive player with tremendous defensive awareness, and his point totals have consistently climped to a career-high 53 points (24G, 29A) in 81 games last year. He should get plenty of second-line time this year to set a new career-high. After seeing his numbers fall off a bit last season, more will be expected from Mike Fisher, and he likely expects more from himself. Finally, many people are saying Nick Foligno has the abilities to be a point-producer in the NHL, so he should get the chance this season with a full year in the NHL.

Assuming the CASH Line is to be split up, there are four possibilites (and be sure to vote for your choice in the poll that is in the left info bar):
  1. Keep Spezza and Heatley together
  2. Keep Spezza and Alfie together
  3. Keep Alfie and Heatley together
  4. Spread them onto three different lines
I don't think the fourth option is really going to be tried, so I'll cross that off the list right now. That leaves three more possibilities.

Spezza and Heatley have obvious chemistry, and their point totals prove that. They play off each other's abilities, with Spezza setting up Heatley once he's gotten himself into a shooting position, and Heatley letting one of his one-timers rip. One problem with this is that Heatley changes his game when he plays with Spezza (and he has admitted as much, if I recall correctly), concentrating more on getting open and less on a puck-possession game that could make him more effective defensively. It also leaves Alfredsson as the offensive fulcrum of the other line, subjecting his 35-year-old body to the physical punishments of that role. It's not a point that is dealt with often, but Alfredsson's health has to be an issue of concern as he gets into the twilight of his career.

Secondly would be keeping Spezza with Alfredsson. This maintains the two puck-possession experts from the current CASH Line, and they would be filled out by a winger who would have to be able to turn pucks over and finish plays. It would allow the two to excercise some of their chemistry, and may allow Alfredsson to score more goals by setting up for passes from Spezza. Finding a suitable left-winger for this line would be difficult, though; Vermette is not suited to what would be asked of him, and Jarkko Ruutu is probably not skilled enough offensively to make it work.

The final option would be my preference, and I would try it were I given the head coaching job with the Senators. Alfredsson and Heatley have some chemistry, even if they may not be the soulmates that Spezza and Heatley apparently are. When Heatley is playing his hard, possessional, forechecking game--the one that made him so effective with Rick Nash and Ryan Getzlaf in this summer's world championships--his performance is at its finest. Alfredsson wouldn't be the premiere skilled player on the line, so he'd be comfortable in not being overly targeted by defencemen. And the centreman could be Vermette, if you're looking for an offensive player with defensive abilities, or even Chris Kelly, if you're looking for a defensive player with offensive abilities.

However it happens, the individual players may not do as well offensively than they would as members of the CASH Line. I do believe that they are more than simply the sum of their parts. For the greater good of spreading the offensive production and adding more defensive responsibility, though, splitting up the CASH Line could very well help the Senators' bottom line.
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