Sunday, April 19, 2009

A strange sense of happiness

The novelty of the Senators not making the playoffs is kind of making me happy. This is the first time in 12 years that they've missed the rite of spring, and last night I came to a grand realization: it's not that bad.

The Sens had a terrible year. They were chasing their tails for most of the season and were a total trainwreck in all areas of the game. I can honestly say that I think they will make the playoffs next season (and I hope it's not the subconscious Senators fan in me sneaking to the surface).

For the first time in my adult life, I can actually adopt another team for the playoffs rather than viewing them as the enemy. It's kind of fun. I was watching the Bruins and Habs last night with glee. They're tearing one another apart! What a crazy series that has turned into.

My favourite series currently underway has to be Chicago vs. Calgary. Two excellent goaltenders competing every game to save their team from elimination. The Blackhawks have such great young talent to go along with their overpaid stars (Havlat, Khabibulin, Campbell), and that's the formula that works in the NHL these days (I guess the Sens just need some young talent, haha). Chicago's my sentimental pick to win the Cup this year (Red Wings are my reluctant actual pick).

I'm curious as to which team other die-hard Sens fans are picking for the Cup this year, and how they're enjoying just kicking back and watching the playoffs. Who's your pick?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Who Do You Want Back?

It feels strange for hockey to be over in Ottawa so soon, but nevertheless the off-season is here, and with it the inevitable questions on who should stay and who should go. My personal picks (YEA or NAY) are listed below - looking forward to hearing your comments.

C- Mike Comrie - Hard to say whether he will re-sign or not with the Sens this summer. He likes playing in Ottawa, but he vanished down the stretch. NAY

C- Mike Fisher - No question he underachieved. No question he is overpaid. But do you really want to see him in a Leafs jersey? YEA

C- Chris Kelly - Garrioch has started a rumour the Jackets want him. No doubt to pair up with Antoine Vermette again on the PK. Zack Smith and Peter Regin have been able to play when called up - could Kelly be dealt? NAY

C- Jason Spezza - I really like Jason Spezza as a human being, as a good guy, but as a hockey player he makes me want to rip my hair out. He's either world-class putting sick moves on guys and scoring on nifty trick shots, or he's coughing up the puck to give opponents uncontested breakaways on Ottawa's net. He's still young, and still has many contract years to go, but can Clouston get him to stop the brain farts? If he can, I want him to stay. YEA (tentative).

C- Cody Bass - When he's healthy, I love what Cody Bass brings to the rink. YEA

D- Brendan Bell - He's likely gone after an up-and-down year. His inconsistency is his worst enemy. NAY

D- Chris Campoli - scored more points than Comrie following the trade that brought him to Ottawa, but will he fall victim to a numbers game? Ottawa suddenly has a lot of D-men on the roster. YEA (conditional)

D- Filip Kuba - If this guy can ever learn to play with an edge and actually hit people, he'd be a consensus all-star defenceman. The only power play captain we've got, let's face it. YEA

D- Brian Lee - Still plenty of upside to this kid's game. Let's not forget he rose through the NCAA ranks, not Junior. He is consistently getting better, and it was nice to see him scrap it up towards the end of the season. YEA

D- Chris Phillips - He had a bad year, like everyone else on the team, but he's still one of the most physical presences we have on the D. YEA.

D- Anton Volchenkov - This guy does two things superbly well - block shots and hit people. He seems to have taken a long time recovering from his last major injury, but he's still a keeper. Best Russian player ever to suit up for the Sens. You know it's true. YEA

D- Alexandre Picard - Did not see him play enough to even be able to evaluate him as a player. For me, it's a coin flip between him and Campoli on who I'd want to stay. YEA (conditional).

D- Jason Smith - I realize he's not known for his offensive prowess, but did he ever stink it up this year. Perhaps at the end of the line career-wise? NAY

G- Alex Auld - Streaky performance, but he's under contract for another season. YEA

G- Brian Elliott - Will he be re-signed? Presumably. But even if he's back he's starting next season in Bingo. YEA

G- Pascal Leclaire - If there is one guy guaranteed to be back next season it's Leclaire. I am one of many Sens fans close to drooling over the prospect of this guy in net for Ottawa. This is a no-brainer. YEA

LW- Nick Foligno - At times this guy is the best player on the ice. YEA

LW- Dany Heatley - Did he miss a team memo this year and think the season started in January? I have no doubt he will return to form next year. He's usually money in the bank. If' he'd played all season like he did down the stretch he probably would have had 70 goals. YEA

LW- Jarkko Ruutu - Frankly I'm underwhelmed. For a pest he didn't draw a lot of penalties. NAY

D/LW- Christoph Schubert - I liked Schubert sicne he was a prospect in Binghamton, but he's not a top-5 defenceman, and if he could not get top-5 ice time for Ottawa this season, will he ever? Likely not. Let him try elsewhere. NAY

RW- Daniel Alfredsson - Even in a bad season, he's the best of the best. YEA

RW- Shean Donovan - When he's healthy he's a good physical player. YEA

RW- Chris Neil - Sad to say his time in Ottawa may be done. Lost in the dabacle of Spezza's latest brain cramp in the season finale against Toronto was the gritty play of Neil to get the Sens that power play. His effort night-in, night-out is always high. I just hope he doesn't sign with the Leafs. YEA (unrealistically)

RW- Ryan Shannon - He's been the revelation of the year, as far as I'm concerned. I'd like to see him permanently on a line with Spezza and Heatley as the "defensively responsible" member of the line, although he would no doubt contribute offensively as well. YEA

RW- Jesse Winchester - Let's face it, with 4 forwards making such a high percentage of the Sens payroll, guys like Winchester are bargains. He can play, but he has his limitations. YEA

By my count, that's 6 NAYs and 19 YEAs.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

UPDATE: Choosin' Clouston

(You can use that, Ottawa Sun, if you want)

Cory Clouston turned around a terrible season for the Senators and compiled a 19-10-3 record while head coach. He's now been signed to a two-year contract to stay in Ottawa and work his magic as head coach. He deserves this tribute:

There once was a man from Bingo
Who was set up with a team of bozos
He told them to stop bitchin
While Murray's trigger finger was itchin'
Now he's gotta buy a condo

Anyone else have a limerick in them?

Some great poetry came out of our comments, and I believe they deserve to be noted:

From Pletch:

Gather 'round and I'll tell you a story,
'Bout a hard-nosed coach named Cory,
He got the Sens turned around,
The old magic they've found,
And next year the team's bound for glory.

From Oman:

There once was an Anonymous troller,
And on every Blog he would holler,
Now all he can do is suck it.

...Did I mention he was from Cantuckit?

A haiku from Warren:

Hopeful in Autumn
Terrible 'til Coach Clouston
Then resurrected

Anonymous says...

even without the meszys and reddens
the team was headed to dead ends
they played like shit
looked like they wanted to quit
but somehow wheeled celeb g-friends

and (my favourite because it ends in a word that does not yet exist)

kelly is probly the leanest
neiler is probly the meanest
they werent there quite
clouston made them unite
now ladys be grindin his peanest

Anyone else want to contribute? Throw it in the comments!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

So, if the Sens can beat the Bruins...

How the hell does this work?

Somehow, the Senators have established that they're superior to the Montreal Canadiens and (on one occasion) the Boston Bruins, and yet they're not going to the playoffs. Just goes to demonstrate how little enthusiasm the Sens had at the beginning of the season.

As a commentor pointed out in the last post, this enthusiasm is most evident in Dany Heatley. It seems to me he just woke up mid-way through this season. He's got 4 points in his past three games. 38 goals on the year. Is it fair to expect 50 from him every season? 40 ain't bad... He could have hit 50 if he played like this all year.

You know who I'm really excited about? Ryan Shannon. This young guy is so fast, plays an energetic style, and can score. We haven't seen a guy like this since Martin Havlat... I hope I didn't just curse Shannon.

The 30 saves from Alex Auld makes a great case for Brian 'excellent but inconsistent' Elliot to be sent to the minors next season. Won't happen. Contract year.

This win set a franchise record for most consecutive wins at home, with nine. The last few times the Sens have played the Bruins, they've been close games, so we shouldn't be surprised that Ottawa pulled off the win here. Tim Thomas was usually the difference, and Fernandez did his best but didn't play like a mad-man, as Thomas usually does.

Can we start the 2009-10 season now?

Monday, April 6, 2009

If Not Murray, Then Who?

People clamoring for the head of Bryan Murray need to take a step back, a deep breath, and then ask yourself the question: if not Murray, then who is a legitimate candidate to GM the Ottawa Senators next season? Let's face it, there are not a lot of proven options out there. You're looking at Pat Quinn, and that's about it.

Murray has been head honcho for only two full seasons now. This is hardly enough time for an NHL GM to be evaluated, but let's do so for the sake of the argument. We'll start with the trades Murray has made since becoming GM.

February 11, 2008 - Traded Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves to the Carolina Hurricanes for Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman. This is a trade that continues to haunt the Senators' fan base. Has there been a game since this trade that Corvo has failed to make the scoresheet against Ottawa? If there has, I can't remember it. And Patrick Eaves was considered a bright prospect for Ottawa and has continued to play well in Carolina since the trade. In return we got Commodore, who seemed to be playing under the cloud of a never-ending brain fart during his brief tenure as a Senator, and Cory Stillman, who was counting the days until he could sign elsewhere as a free agent. Not a great trade by any measuring stick.

February 26, 2008 - Traded a sixth-round draft pick in 2008 (#169, Ben Smith) to the Chicago Blackhawks for Martin Lapointe. A prospect for a rental player until season's end. Let's face it, Lapointe's best days were behind him already. This was a trade to provide depth heading into the playoffs. As it turned out, Lapointe did not play that badly, 6 points in 18 regular season games, but he vanished in the playoffs (along with the rest of the team) in the sweep loss to Pittsburgh.

August 29, 2008 - Traded Andrej Meszaros to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard and San Jose's first-round draft pick (previously acquired) in 2009. This trade was a winner for the Sens. Kuba is a much better defenceman than Meszaros, even if he plays even less physically than "Mezz" did (which I didn't think was possible). Picard added depth, and the draft pick was gravy.

September 2, 2008 - Traded Lawrence Nycholat to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Ryan Shannon. Without doubt a good trade for the Sens. Shannon has looked awesome at times, and is young with a lot of upside. His game kicked up a notch with Clouston behind the bench. Nycholat was not going to crack the Sens' top-7 D anytime soon.

February 20, 2009 - Traded Dean McAmmond and San Jose's first-round draft pick to the New York Islanders in exchange for Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli. Remember that draft pick we got in the Meszaros trade? Bundling that with McAmmond for Comrie and Campoli is a great deal for Ottawa, particularly if Comrie re-signs, and there are strong indications he will. McAmmond was unhappy with his ice time in Ottawa, and Comrie is a great fit in Ottawa. Campoli has been a pleasant surprise in the mix, adding some much-needed offence from the blue line. All of a sudden, the Sens have a lot of assets at D.

March 4, 2009 - Traded Antoine Vermette to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Pascal Leclaire and a draft pick. Vermette for Leclaire straight-up would have been a good deal for Ottawa. Getting the draft pick thrown in was just a bonus.

After a couple of false starts, Murray's last five trades (including the one that allowed Ottawa to improve its 1st round draft position) have been solid winners for the Sens.

Moving onto the draft, in the last draft it is widely acknowledged that moving up two spots and drafting Erik Karlsson 15th overall was an absolute steal by the Senators. Karlsson was the dominant defenceman at this year's World Junior Hockey championship, and should be a staple on the Senators blue line as soon as he is ready for prime time. After the previous season where it appeared the Senators had no depth on the farm team, the Binghamton Senators are now heading to the AHL playoffs, with significant contributions from Zack Smith and Jim O'Brien, both draft picks of Bryan and Tim Murray.

As far as free agent signings go, it's a mixed bag. Jarko Ruutu has been popular with fans. Jesse Winchester has probably exceeded any reasonable expectations as an undrafted free agent. Alex Auld has had an up-and-down season, as has Brendan Bell. Jason Smith has not had a season to remember, but who has, other than Brian Elliott?

Murray has led both the Panthers and Ducks to the Stanley Cup finals as GM. He brought the Senators there as head coach. He is still one of the best hockey minds out there, and he has barely begun to put his plans for Ottawa into effect.

Now the inevitable argument is "Yeah, he has traded and drafter well, but he has also overpaid the core guys." No he hasn't. Those core guys earned those salaries by the numbers they had put up in previous seasons. He could not have predicted the complete disaster that the Hartsburg era would be in terms of the productivity of his top players, but this was symptomatic of a team playing with no clear direction or game plan. The same nay-sayers will say "Yeah, but he's had to fire two coaches in two years." A valid point, although John Paddock had a decent record until he forgot that he was coach and was supposed to put players (Emery) in their places. Hartsburg... well I never liked the hiring of Hartsburg from the start. Coaches who are successful in the junior ranks do not always find success in the pro leagues, although Peter Deboer has done a heckuva job in Florida. But at the end of the day, Bryan and Tim Murray also hired Cory Clouston, and all Clouston has done since being hired to coach in Binghamton and since his promotion to the big club is get his players playing. The success comes as a result of good preparation, and the preparation comes from the coaching.

If Eugene Melnyk hits the panic button and fires Murray, then what? The best potential GM available is Pat Quinn. Pat Quinn has not exactly had a love affairs with the Senators organization over the years. And then who would be his coach? Or would he pull double-duty like in his final seasons in Toronto? There simply is not a bevy of quality coaches and GMs out there this off-season. And let's face it, there are a lot of franchises out there that are in much worse shape than the Senators. Why create chaos when it's not necessary?

Yes, this is the first season in a dozen years where the Sens have failed to make it to the post-season dance, but they did not miss out by much, especially with a horrid start. Had they even been .500 at the time Harstburg was fired, they would be in, and they most likely will make it back in next year. It's probably a good thing in the long run that the core group of players feels what it's like to miss the playoffs. Maybe then they will not take it for granted. One would hope that, in any case. But firing Bryan Murray? Not the smartest move that could be made at this point in time.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Murray shifts the blame

The Ottawa Citizen has an article today that has Bryan Murray shifting the blame to his players, specifically Speatfredsson. You must be kidding me.

If not for the late-season miracle of Murray picking Clouston (for lack of a better option, no doubt) to coach the team for the remainder of the season, it would certainly be Murray's head on a stake this summer.

Trades and signings (both successful and unsuccessful) aside, it was Murray who picked the Senators' past three coaches and sent them into the tailspin that they experienced this season and last.

Murray desperately tried to mold a puck-moving defensive core out of the Senators this season. Unforgettably, he traded away Joe Corvo (37 points so far this year) for a couple of rentals from the Carolina Hurricanes last season. What was he thinking?

His ass might be spared this summer thanks to Clouston's arrival, but make no mistake, the past two seasons of disappointment have been Murray's doing (his best move was getting rid of Gerber two expensive years too late).

When pinkslips are given to other NHL GMs this summer, Bryan Murray should look up to the heavens and think, "There, but for the grace of God, go I".

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sens Season Summarized by Loverboy

The first 60% of the Sens 2008-09 Season can be summarized by the classic Loverboy song "Turn Me Loose." The team's stars were hampered by Craig Hartsburg's suffocating system, and the team was saying "you had to have it your way, but I'm saying no way. Turn me loose! I gotta do it my way! I wanna fly!"

Then Murray fired Craig Hartsburg and promoted Cory Clouston. All of a sudden, everybody was "Workin' for the Weekend." Sens fans came to believe that "everybody needs a second chance!" We were all proud of the renewed work ethic Clouston brought to the team. We began to think it possible, however improbable, the Sens might make the playoffs after all.

And now, after last night's elimination at the hands of the Panthers, the band started singing "I hope you're with me, I hope you're with me when it's over! It's over! It's over! It's over!"

A tragedy in three acts, set to music by Canada's kings of spandex-clad, headband-wearing, synth-guitar pop, Loverboy. Does this make either Hillary Duff or Carrie Underwood the "Queen of the Broken Hearts?"
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