Here is my prediction that was featured in James Gordon's Ottawa Citizen prediction panel...
Senators 3, Leafs 2
What is it about the Toronto Maple Leafs that compels their brass to acquire goaltenders who have been a thorn in the side of the Senators? First Martin Gerber, now Jean Sebastien Giguere and his lacrosse-sized equipment. Fortunately, Giguere's game has regressed to a level that his equipment shouldn't help, and I think that's why the Senators will avenge their '07 Cup Finals loss to him. Also, what better subplot for tonight's game than finding out which story gets more airtime on the CBC -- Toronto's trades or Ottawa's 11-game winning streak?
Here are the lines for tonight's game: Michalek-Spezza-Alfredsson; Kovalev-Fisher-Shannon; Ruutu-Kelly-Neil; Cheechoo-Regin-Winchester. Brian Elliott gets the nod in nets while Alexandre Picard draws back into the lineup because of Erik Karlsson's shoulder injury.
When the Senators are on a winning streak like they currently are, it's tough to really get down when news breaks that young and productive players like Nick Foligno and Erik Karlsson would be lost to injury for a number of weeks. We all eventually say things like, ah well, at least the team is still winning. Frankly, it's tough to complain....until I find out that that Bob Cole is the likely play-by-play guy for tonight's game.
After several months of negotiations toward a long-term contract with forward Ilya Kovalchuk and his agent, we were unable to reach an agreement and elected to trade Kovalchuk and defenseman Anssi Salmela to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier and a first round draft pick in 2010.
We want you, our fans, to know that throughout the negotiation process, the Thrashers organization remained committed to offering Ilya a contract that exceeded those of the league’s best and highest paid players, and was commensurate to his skill level and performance history. To that end, we offered Kovy several lucrative packages in an effort to meet his financial objectives. One offer that we extended to Ilya would have made him the highest paid NHL player on a per year average with $10 million per year for seven years. Another offer totaled $101 million over 12 years, and it, combined with the previous contractual commitments that were made to Kovy, would have earned him more money than any other NHL player in the history of the league.
If we had met Kovy’s ultimate demand, we would have jeopardized our ability to build a competitive team around him and retain our other young players as they became eligible for new contracts in the seasons ahead. At the end of the day, we couldn’t close that gap and simply reached a point at which we couldn’t reasonably go any higher.
We’re excited about the addition of all three players and feel that Johnny and Niclas will quickly complement our team of budding young stars, highly-skilled veterans and elite players. We also look forward to having Patrice join us in the near future. Our goals for this season have not changed—to make and advance as deep as possible in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs—and we move ahead with a new sense of purpose that is energized by our continued climb in the standings as we position ourselves to compete with the best in the NHL.
We will maintain the option of bringing in more players, in addition to the ones that we have acquired in the trade, to make sure that we are fully competitive for the remainder of the season and the postseason.
We thank Ilya and Anssi for all they have done for our organization and wish them well. And we thank you, for your continued support, and look forward to your enthusiastic presence in Blueland to help drive us into the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Don Waddell Executive Vice President and General Manager Atlanta Thrashers
Editor's note: Should these bolded paragraphs scare Senators fans at all? Jay Grossman is the player representation for both Kovalchuk and Anton Volchenkov. Is it reasonable to assume that Volchenkov may want to test the open market?
When the Atlanta Thrashers dealt Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils last night, it threw the hockey community into a state of disbelief. Pundits, analysts and lauded experts will continue to dissect this trade for the next few weeks because that's what the talking heads at the sports networks are paid to do. Prepare to have your brain oversaturated with the opinions of failed GMs on the likelihood that Kovalchuk will resign in New Jersey.
And when there are opinions, there will be concerns. Was it was prudent for Atlanta to assume Lance "The Bionic Elbow" Cormier's baggage? How could the Thrashers consummate the deal without acquiring either of Jacob Josefson or Mattias Tedenby? Will Ilya Kovalchuk could have the offensive life sucked out of him by Jacques Lemaire? Did the Devils give up too much for what could wind up being an expensive rental? Having lost Oduya (trade) and Martin (injury), who will play defence for the Devils? Blah, blah, blah...
And then details of the trade negotiations will leak to the public. Like finding out that the Ottawa Senators were one of the mystery teams that kicked the tires on Kovalchuk.
According to the USA Today's Kevin Allen, that's the news that was revealed last night via Twitter. While there may be some tepid, conservatist reservations that Bryan Murray would tinker with a lineup that has now won 11 consecutive games, it's important to stress that Murray could have very well have been just doing his due diligence. Maybe all he did was ask what it would take for him to acquire Kovalchuk.
At the very least, this should refreshing news for the guys over at the Ottawa Sun that Bryan Murray is exploring every avenue in an effort to improve the roster. Brennan and Garrioch have been hammering away on the fact that Jonathan Cheechoo has team worst plus/minus while playing the least amount of minutes. (Ed. note: That statistic obviously doesn't include Donovan's average ice-time. They must be referring to regulars.)
They do raise a valid case against Cheechoo though and it really does make me wonder when management will have seen enough. Yes, is likeable and his work ethic is exemplary and yes, it might not be the classiest thing to do when the team is winning. However, hockey is ultimately a business. If management is serious about making a trade an icing the best team for the playoffs, Bryan Murray is eventually going to have to bite the bullet on Cheechoo's salary and bury it in the minors to accomodate any incoming salary.
When it was announced yesterday that the Ottawa Senators had formally written to the city’s corporate services and economic development committee to bring the annual showcase of the league’s top talent to Ottawa, I have to admit - my heart never really skipped a beat.
Part of the reason was that it wasn't really news and it was mere formality. Any buzz regarding this event was the Senators let the media know of the team's intentions in January of 2009 when then president, Roy Mlakar came out and said, "Eugene was promised an all-star game when he bought the team and there has just been a series of circumstances that have pre-empted us from getting the game." If that wasn't enough to drive the point home, Bruce Garrioch let fans know that an official application (to the NHL) would be made by the club later this year (2009) because no decision has been made.
It probably also has something to do with the fact that from an early age, my All-Star Game experience was tarnished. When I was young and in elementary school and it came time to select my first public speaking topic, I chose to talk about the 1992-93 Senators and wound up devoting a good portion of my speech explaining why Sylvain Turgeon would be a fantastic representative for the organization. In retrospect, this wasn't one of my finest moments of hockey analysis. Not only was it a poor topic for an audience that consisted of frontrunning Leafs fans, Turgeon's statistics weren't even that impressive. He finished the year with 25 goals (team high), 18 assists, 104 PIM, and a respectable minus 29. I guess I was just an easy mark for Sly's 180 degree patented shot in which he'd skate in the offensive zone with his back facing the opposition's net and pirouette while taking a slap shot. (Ed. note: If memory serves me correctly, I can recall two occasions in which this actually resulted in a goal or a shot on net.)
Even though Sly may not have been a deserving candidate, neither of the other Senators representatives were either. Instead of selecting a deserving candidate like Norm MacIver, the selection committee opted for Peter Sidorkiewicz and Brad Marsh to represent the Senators. I never really had a problem with Marsh's selection. It was his final season in the NHL and the League used the All-Star Game as an opportunity to pay homage and respect to veteran players. (Ed. note: I can't remember the NHL maintaining this policy since Dale Hunter was invited to participate. Surprise. Surprise.)
That being said, the inclusion of Peter Sidorkiewicz baffled me. I may have been young, but even I had to question whether or not the All-Star Game was supposed to mean something. Is there anything on Sidorkiewicz's stat line that warrants All-Star status -- 8 wins, 46 losses, 3 ties, a 4.46 GAA and a respectable .856 save percentage?
Absolutely not. However, his participation was not what ruined the experience for me. No. Any belief that the NHL All-Star Game actually meant something was lost the moment that Brad Marsh scored what turned out to be his only goal of the 1992-93 season. Brad Marsh did not score goals. He never scored goals. If the 2012 NHL All-Star Game is awarded to Ottawa, it should immediately be marketed as the Event Where Anything Can Happen. Even a Brad Marsh Goal.
Seriously though, like it mentioned in the Sun article, if the Senators get the All-Star Game, great. It'll be fantastic for the local economy and since Alfredsson is already on record saying that he will not participate in the 2014 Olympic Games, it could be the perfect platform for the city of Ottawa to show their appreciation for his legacy.
Ottawa Senators (31-21-4) Vs That Place Where No One Wants To Live (32-15-7) @ HSBC Arena, 7pm ET; Television: Sportsnet
A wise man once said, if God were to give the United States an enema, he'd insert it in Buffalo.
Here is my prediction that ran in James Gordon's prediction panel...
Ottawa 3 Buffalo 1
I was tempted to back up my prediction by simply writing, come on! It's Buffalo! But, I decided it was probably more prudent to write more than four words.
<Ahem> Here it goes...
After a small layoff following Saturday’s victory, I would be a little concerned that the Senators’ franchise winning streak might be due to come to a close but come on! It’s Buffalo! As if the Senators needed more motivation to keep their streak alive: Not only is the team playing their bitter rival, Cory Clouston can also use the Northeast Division title as a factor to keep his players hungry.
Here are the lines: Michalek - Spezza - Alfie; Regin - Fisher - Kovalev; Ruutu - Kelly - Neil; Shannon - Winchester - Cheechoo. Elliott gets the nod in the paint and there are no changes to the blueline.
Originally when Cowen signed his entry-level deal this afternoon, I didn't think much of it. However, Tim raised a valid point on the car ride over to the studio for tonight's podcast recording. If Spokane is eliminated from the playoffs before the AHL or NHL playoffs start, he'd be eligible for promotion and be able to play. Take that for what it's worth.
Thank you to a reader from Spokane who alerted us via Twitter that the Senators 2009 first round draft pick, Jared Cowen, had officially signed his entry-level contract with the Senators. Like many, I'm looking at this contract like it's a mere formality but some other websites are viewing this as an indication of Brian Lee's future with the organization. To which I ask, when wasn't Brian Lee's future with the organziation in doubt? He was a John Muckler draft pick for chrissakes!
Sorry for the short post, but I'm headed off to record tonight's podcast and I've been working on an All-Star Game piece that's taking longer than I will hopefully have up some time tonight.
Early in the season, I openly questioned whether it was diligent for the Senators to squander the first year of Karlsson's entry-level contract as the undersized rookie gets acclimatized to the North American style of hockey. At the time, I augmented my argument by alluding to the combination of: his inexperience; his size; and the organization's ability to let him adjust to pro hockey in the AHL without losing a year off of his contract. I reasoned that because of these factors, allowing Karlsson to develop at the NHL was the wrong move to make because I didn't believe that he could be a serviceable improvement over incumbents like Chris Campoli, Brian Lee and Alexandre Picard.
I was wrong.
Erik, while I'm not willing topublicly decree that you will be the next Alfredsson within five years, I will say this. Not only have you surpassed all expectations with your recent play, I've learned a valuable lesson. I will never bet on the likes of Campoli, Picard and Lee again. (Ed. note: Annointing another Alfredsson is ridiculous and borders on heresy at the Church of Alfie. Searching for the next one is as innane as an NBA fans search for the next Michael Jordan. There will never be another Alfredsson for this organization. Never.)
Rekindle the Rivalry With More Of This
More On Phaneuf
I'm a bit empathetic for Flames fans. Sens fans are cut from the same cloth. We thought we'd get more for Heatley as well. (As an aside, has anyone checked in on Pierre McGuire to see if he's come out of his coma now that he has an opportunity to see Dion on a daily basis in Toronto?)
The 6th Sens Podcast
If you haven't listened to it yet because it was buried in this weekend's news, I'd encourage readers to check out the podcast that we recorded last week featuring Neate Sager of Sun Media and an inaugural Senators fan favorite, Darcy Loewen.
According to Erin Nicks, the Senators have a goaltending controversy because Brian Elliott is Brian Elliott and it's only a matter of time before the other shoe drops.
Brian Elliott may know how to keep the ball rolling, but he certainly didn't start it. That distinction belongs to Mike Brodeur, with his two victories over Montreal and the Rangers in mid-January.
Elliott was then handed the keys, and told not to crash. So far, he's been doing better than expected.
And what does this have to do with Martin Gerber? Well, it would appear like his predecessor, Elliott does not handle pressure with the greatest of ease. However, bring him into an already positive situation, and he'll perform as desired.
Maybe it's just me or maybe it's because it's just a case of the Monday morning blues that I'm having trouble grasping Nicks' assertion that there is a goaltending controversy in Ottawa. Now that Elliott can add the NHL's Second Star of the Week to last week's First Star on his mantle of accomplishments, there's no controversy. The Senators are going to ride the hot hand and stick with Elliott until he falters. When/if that happens, Clouston will give Leclaire an opportunity to reclaim his number one job.
Like the goaltender controversy argument, I don't really understand the hatchet job that Nicks performs by stating that Elliott does not handle pressure with the greatest of ease. In the past year and a half, when the hell has Elliott ever played in a pressure cooker of a game?
The closest he has come to a pressure situation was when Mike Brodeur started this winning streak after the Senators had lost four in a row and fell ill. In coming off of the flu and being thrust into a situation in which his work was going to be measured with Brodeur's short-term success, Elliott had to step up and perform so that his job security wouldn't be questioned.
When will pundits finally give Elliott credit for what he's done throughout his hockey career? Whether it's been Wisconsin, Binghamton or Ottawa, Elliott's development has improved at every level that he has played at. Instead of giving credit to Eli Wilson or feeling compelled to shit down Elliott's throat for overachieving, give credit where it's due. I can't actually believe I'm citing Don Brennan to articulate a point but, he's making saves. The kind of saves he's supposed to make. Sure, he might not be the entertaining, athletic netminder that Pascal Leclaire was supposed to be but Elliott has been able to limit something that he can control -- the number of soft, deflating goals that have become the norm in Ottawa.
Instead of focusing on if/when the wheels are going to fall off the Brian Elliott bandwagon, maybe a bigger concern should be whether or not the Senators are peaking too early.
Another Enigma in the Senators Stable
Playing without their best offensive players for a long stretch (and maybe that was critical to the advancement of the cause), Ottawa has come together. There is visible effort. There is passion. There seems to be a joy about their successes. And with the return of their captain and their talented but enigmatic centre, they are on an eight-game winning streak. Doesn't seem to matter who plays goal. Doesn't seem to matter who plays with whom. What does seem to matter to the players is that they break a sweat on every shift and that they pick themselves up after a loss. ~ Mike Milbury, failed GM and analyst for CBC
Alfredsson For Selke Consideration
Thanks to James Mirtle's work at the Globe & Mail, he has provided some statistics to objectify what Senators fans see on a regular basis. Instead of relying upon the use of plus/minus to determine who is a good defensive player, Mirtle makes use of three measures -- quality of competition, goals against at even strength and goals against on the penalty kill -- to characterize Daniel Alfredsson as one of the elite two-way players in the NHL. As a baseball fan who appreciates how sabermetrics have altered the landscape for evaluating players, it's fantastic to see that hockey has started to move beyond some flawed statistical interpretations of the game.
First, there was the Mike Komisarek free agent signing, then there was the Phaneuf trade. Now the Maple Leafs are a Sean Avery trade away from owning a monopoly on hockey players who have had relationships with Elisha Cuthbert. In retrospect, it shouldn't have been surprising for the Leafs GM to shake up his roster and the rest of the NHL by consummating two separate trades today. If you have not heard, Brian Burke dealt Ian White, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers and Niklas Hagman to the Calgary Flames for Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie and Fredrik Sjostrom respectively. And an hour or so after that deal had been consummated, Burke had shipped Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala to the Anaheim Ducks for Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
For those of you keeping track at home, that's a combined 57 goals that Brian Burke moved to strengthen his team's blueline and goaltending situations. By parlaying a slew of inexpensive depth for Phaneuf, Burke conceded that he's willing to sacrifice immediate cap space (Stajan and Mayers are impending UFAs, White is a RFA) to invest in Dion.
Personally, I love this deal for Calgary. Darrly Sutter had to shake things up and could no longer afford to pay Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf top dollar to underachieve. (Ed. note: He also could have fired the goaltending coach. Apparently it works wonders.) Between Dion's reported arguments with the Sutters and the fact that Bouwmeester signed this past summer, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Dion's the odd one out.
Despite the fact that White, Stajan and Mayers are all on the final years of their respective contracts, their acquisitions will give the Flames some short-term offensive production while offering some salary flexibility that otherwise wouldn't have been available had Sutter held onto Phaneuf. And it can't be said enough that although Ian White is not a sexy name player who can replace Phaneuf's physicality, his offensive numbers this season -- 9 goals, 17 assists -- are understated.
To Burke's credit, he somehow managed to find a way to rid his organization of Jason Blake's albatross of a contract. And all it cost his team was an additional $2M in offset between Blake's and Giguere's respective cap hits next season to do it. It was a deft move that has immediate dividends for both teams.
Could Brian Burke have dealt the aforementioned assets for more than he received in return? Maybe. Could he have moved those same players for any prospect who would have a higher ceiling than Dion Phaneuf. Probably not.
The risk that the Leafs may have overpaid to bring in a defenceman who draws comparisons to Ed Jovanovski or a more physical version of Bryan McCabe, is very real. If he can't develop into that elite defenceman, Burke may have potentially hamstrung the budget for the next four years by adding Phaneuf's $6.5M salary. And there are also concerns like the one that Mike Brophy brought up by asserting that there's an inherent risk in building a team around notoriously flaky players like Phil Kessel and Phaneuf.
The list of questions surrounding Phaneuf will continue to grow for the next few days: Will he be able to play under the intense scrutiny that comes with playing in Toronto? Will he get paired with Komisarek on the Sloppy Seconds pairing? Can he overcome his defensive liabilities and develop into that Scott Stevens'esque kind of presence on the blueline? Or will he wilt under the pressure become a footnote in the list of players who used to induce Pierre McGuire stiffies?
As a Senators fan, today's moves are bittersweet. On one hand, it's funny because the Leafs no longer have any scoring depth. The question of who is Kessel going to play with before they made these moves? has now been replaced by who is left for Kessel to play with? Without their first round pick, Sens fans can joke that the Leafs don't even know how to tank properly. Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the Boston Bruins management staff likely haven't stopped doing cartwheels since the announcement of the deals was made. Their path to landing Taylor Hall likely just got a little bit easier. As a divisional rival, it's tough to stomach seeing Boston receive a top three pick in reward for mishandling their cap situation.
In the end, Calgary's decision to move Phaneuf and his large contract is a lot like Australian sprinter, Jana Rawlinson's decision to remove her breast implants. Sometimes it's not about having some sexy top heavy pieces like Phaneuf. Sometimes it's more important to have a well balanced whole to reach peak athletic performance. As a Sens fan who has endured life after Heatley, I can attest to this.