Anyways, on to Karlsson...
Last night during the Canada versus United States World Junior match, I made the point that Jared Cowen's strong play at this year's championships is that he's developing properly with the added benefit that the Senators didn't burn a year off his entry level contract in this lost Senators season.
Inevitably it left me pondering about another one of Ottawa's young defencemen - Erik Karlsson. As the team's leading scoring and most entertaining player, it's almost hard to believe that he is already half-way through his entry level contract. And with the way that he has played of late, it looks like the only mentoring that Karlsson needed from Sergei Gonchar was a salary figure to shoot for in his next contract.
Alright, without further ado, let's move on to the article. As always, my comments will be in bold and you can find the original copy of the article entitled Battle of Ontario now a battle for respectability here.
The battle of Ontario is alive and well, but not in the traditional sense.
Too bad it wasn't alive in the common sense. Shit's been dead for years. For the games to mean something, the teams actually have to be relevant in the standings.
In years gone by, the so-called battle of Ontario referred to the National Hockey League games played between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators.
Note: I'm keeping a running tally on the use of the words battle and Ontario. They'll appear in parantheses.
The battle started as more of a turf war between Ontario's only two NHL clubs.
It was like west side story. (3)
The Leafs and Sens engaged in four playoff series in five seasons between 1999-2000 and 2003-04, with the Leafs winning all four series.
Twice in that stretch the Leafs advanced to the conference final, but both times came up short of the elusive Stanley Cup final berth.
The Sens had the last laugh, advancing to the final in 2006- 07, eventually losing to Anaheim.
Ladies and gentlemen, the new barometer of success in the NHL: a Stanley Cup Finals appearance!
Ottawa has clearly been the better team in the post-lockout era, qualifying for the playoffs in all but one season, while the Leafs have yet to make the playoffs.
As the Sens competed for the Stanley Cup, the Leafs battled many things, including too many veteran players, no-trade clauses and a penchant for dealing prospects and draft picks in "quick fix" efforts. Those efforts failed, miserably.
At least during that same stretch of time, The Love Guru was a critically acclaimed box office success that didn't just bastardize the Leafs franchise and line the organization's pocket with money! Wait, it wasn't?
Meanwhile, the Sens be the toast of the province until the off-season following the 2008-09 season, when star goal scorer Dany Heatley demanded a trade.
Heatley was eventually dealt to San Jose for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a second- round draft pick, hardly the kind of return a perennial 40- and 50-goal scorer should fetch.
I have to give credit where it's due. Leafs fans should know what kind of return a 40 or 50 goal scorer should fetch. Their organization gave up two firsts and a second rounder for a Peter MacNichol look-a-like who has never scored more than 36 goals in a season.
In my humble opinion, the Heatley deal, combined with the decision to sign defenceman Wade Redden and let fellow D-man Zdeno Chara leave a free agent, doomed the franchise.
How simplistic. It's the equivalent of describing time travel as a Delorean with gull wing doors.
Redden is no longer in the NHL, while Chara went on to win the Norris Trophy with the Boston Bruins and has become one of the best defencemen in the game.
The Leafs, meanwhile, have muddle in mediocracy, missing the playoffs season in and season out.
Did the author just rank the Leafs below Wade Redden's AHL existence on the scale of mediocrity?
But the changes have been fast and furious in the last couple of seasons, since the club hired Stanley Cup-winning general manager Brian Burke.
Burke made a trade last season that brought star defenceman and current captain Dion Phaneuf to the Leafs. He also brought in Stanley Cup-winning goalie J.S. Giguere. Those moves came on the heels of Burke's controversial acquisition of sniper Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins for three draft picks -- two first rounders and a second rounder.
With Giguere, Kessel and Phaneuf to build around, the Leafs have reason for optimism. Toronto also has a star-in-waiting in Nazem Kadri, a rising star in defenceman Luke Schenn and solid contributors in Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski. Off-season acquisitions of Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur give the Leafs some punch, but depth is clearly still an issue.
For the record, JS Giguere is 33 years old. He makes $6 million and he currently had a save percentage of .894. In the past five years, Dion Phaneuf's game has regressed faster than his hairline. And Phil Kessel? Yeah... kudos to the Leafs for bringing in the best 60-point guy that they've ever had.
With the likes of Tomas Kaberle, Tyler Bozak, Francois Beauchemin and Luca Caputi all potential trade bait, the Leafs could make a move or two to shore up the scoring punch.
In goal, Giguere should be a great mentor to Jonas Gustavsson, who has shown a hot streak not seen in the NHL since the likes of Patrick Roy and Ed Belfour, to name a couple. Gustavsson looks like he'll be a very good No. 1 goalie in time.
Since December 2nd, "The Monster" has a record of 2 wins and 6 losses. On the season, Gustavsson is 5-12-2 with a GAA of 3.04 and a save percentage of .897. Saint Patrick and Eddie the Eagle must be wondering what they did to be lumped in with such a bag of shit.
A coaching change wouldn't hurt either, as Ron Wilson and his staff clearly aren't the right fit for this crop of Leafs.
Down the 401, things are not so bright, at least in my estimation.
Toronto hasn't made the playoffs in almost seven seasons. The coaching staff is an ill fit. The laurels of a goaltender whose statistics are Raycroft'esque are being trumpeted and for the second year in a row, the organization will forfeit their second lottery pick to the divisional rival Bruins. Yeah, it's double rainbow time down in Toronto these days.
Daniel Alfredsson, by far the club's greatest player ever, is very evidently in decline. Jason Spezza, the most overrated player in Ottawa history, is still overrated, and pretty much untradeable as few teams are looking for a one-dimensional player
with a penchant for turning pucks over in dramatic and untimely fashion.
And Alex Kovalev, well, he is just plain useless 90% of the time. His best seasons were in Montreal, where, apparently, he still wishes he was playing.
There are no Phil Kessels or Dion Phaneufs in place to take over, rather decent but not spectacular players such as Nick Foligno, Peter Regin and Ryan Shannon.
First the green slime line article that ran in the Sun and now this. This may have been the best week of publicity that Ryan Shannon has ever received.
Erik Karlsson, the club's first-round pick in 2008, appears to be a star in waiting, but beyond him, there doesn't appear to be much.
Goaltending is, and always has been, the Achilles heel in Ottawa. The Senators' inability to either acquire a top goaltender, or to draft one, is becoming legendary. Arguably its best goalie was Ray Emery, who was chased out of town a couple of years ago.
Pascal Leclaire, Brian Elliott and Mike Brodeur don't look like No. 1 goalies. Any would be a great No. 2, but the absence of a No. 1 continues to defy the odds.
Having said that, Robin Lehner is a very solid youngster who may one day become that missing link.
...But beyond Karlsson and Lehner, there doesn't appear to be much. A few sentences from now, we'll learn that beyond Karlsson, Lehner, Cowen, Wiercioch and whomever the Senators will draft as a top 10 pick this season, there doesn't appear to be much.
In the meantime, GM Brian Murray has a lot of work to do.
As does GM Bryan Burke.
If the Leafs are still three or four pieces away from contending again, the Sens, if not now, very soon will be a half dozen or more pieces away.
The battle of Ontario going forward may not be for bragging rights, but to see which club can get back to respectability first.
I'm trembling with excitement. This is like the Cold War all over again. Now be a good Leafs fan, clasp your hands behind your head and crawl underneath your nearest desk. (5)