Not all eyes will be glued to tonight's Bruins v. Panthers game. In the nation's capital, most of the Sens Army will be watching tonight's Senators action like that guy from the Score a Honda commercial. Crying while watching the game peering through the cracks between their fingers. Right now, it seems as though every topic of discussion has polarized the fanbase and a quick glance around the Senators message boards and blogs will reveal that there actually is a sect of the populace who are dumb enough to clamour for the return of Jonathan Cheechoo and or Mike Brodeur. To be succint, fans are collectively losing their shit.
One thing that I've noticed hasn't been talked about, is the fact that for the bulk of the season, Cory Clouston has paired several forwards together: Ruutu and Kelly; Fisher and Kovalev; and Michalek and Spezza. For better or for worse, there have been times when the aforementioned first two pairs have been split apart but for whatever reason, despite the seeming lack of chemistry (or production in Michalek's case) Clouston has refused to remove Michalek from Spezza's wing.
Looking at Michalek's numbers, it's not difficult to discern that this will be his least productive season since his rookie campaign. Despite his team leading 22-goals, he has only scored 5 times since December 19th and he has an underwhelming 11 assists while registering significant minutes on the power play and alongside Alfredsson and Spezza. This situation reminds me a lot of Cito Gaston's mindnumbing unwillingness to remove Vernon Wells from the cleanup hitter spot in the Blue Jays lineup Although on paper, he's the best left-winger that this team has, his and the team's respective struggles have made me question whether or not there may be a better fit for Jason Spezza on the left-side.
Senators 4, Leafs 3
With 17 goals against, Ottawa's still in the top third of the NHL for least amount of goals allowed since the Olympic break. If they could remedy their scoring, they'll be in a comfortable position heading into the playoffs. That being said, I'm hoping that Luca Caputi isn't the only Italian whose addition to a roster can inspire a team. With the probable returns of Chris Campoli and Nick Foligno, I have to pick the Senators to win at home, a place where they've played well -- 23-9-4 -- this season.
Lately the Senators are doing have been doing their best Adrian Peterson impersonation by repeatedly fumbling the ball when it matters most. With a 1-4-1 record in their past six games, Ottawa's squandering their opportunity to secure a home ice advantage for the playoffs. While it's not a fait accompli, it is disconcerting when you look at the team's polarizing home-and-away splits:
- Home: 23-9-4
- Away: 14-18-1
Like I mentioned in my last article, it hasn't been the Senators ability to keep the puck out of the net that has let this team down. Since the Olympic break, the team has actually been in the top third of the League for the least number of goals allowed. Unfortunately, they have also done a pretty good job keeping the puck out of their opposition's net. So what's been the problem?
“He’s like everybody else on our team, just having trouble scoring. You can’t just single one guy out and say he’s playing poorly. To me, it’s no different than you ‘win as a team and lose as a team.’ There’s another 10 or 12 guys we count on to provide at least a little offence. He has to use his creativity.” ~ Cory Clouston
Now who is The Little General referring to?
Alexei Kovalev of course. The poster child for the Ottawa Senators’ offensive struggles.TM (Ed. note: TM by the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren.)
Like Warren mentioned in his most recent article, in the six games since the break, Kovalev has zero goals, zero assists, a plus/minus of minus-six and 10 shots on net. Impeccable numbers by Bill Muckalt standards but not exactly the kind of production that one expects from a dynamic offensive talent who is expected to carry the load on Ottawa's second line. For Kovalev, I understand why he gets a bum rap since he's not that defensively apt. Unlike some of Ottawa's other skilled forwards, when he's not producing offensively, he's rarely contributing in other facets of the game. I get that.
However, it has become laughable at how much press AK-27 gets when he's not producing. (Ed. note: This isn't a gripe against Warren, I enjoy his work.) Regardless of this 6-game stretch of uninspired play, based on proportionate ice-time, Kovalev has been the Senators' most productive forward. There are others who are worthy of having their productivity questioned:
- Daniel Alfredsson: 1 goal in his past 11 games.
- Milan Michalek: 2 goals and 1 assist in his past 8 games. He's also on course to post his worst point total totals since his rookie season. I'm a bit
- Mike Fisher: 2 goals and 3 assists in his past 13 games.
- Ryan Shannon: The diminutive forward hasn't scored since January 19th and only has 5 goals on the year. Ottawa shouldn't have had to rely on him to produce, but I think everyone expected more out of Shannon than he has shown thus far.
- Peter Regin: Hasn't scored in his past 6 games. In fact, his rookie season has reminded me a lot of Antoine Vermette's: He has shown some flashes of offensive brilliance but needs to finish more of scoring opportunities.
Like Cory Clouston said, it's a systemic problem that goes beyond just Kovalev. More media attention and focus needs to be shed on the collective because this whole enigma angle is played out and tiresome.
Cheechoo Train Riding The Buses
The San Jose Mercury News ran a feature detailing Jonathan Cheechoo's struggles in the minors. According to the paper, Cheechoo is among those caught off guard by the latest career twist.
"I didn't see this coming," he said. And now I think I know why Cheechoo has struggled to return to his Rocket Richard Trophy winning form. He obviously can no longer see. Carkner vs. Orr The progression of these fights mirrors my interest level in the progression of the Rocky movies. Wake me up when one of Carkner's fights is ready to stop the next Cold War.
"I didn't see this coming," he said.
And now I think I know why Cheechoo has struggled to return to his Rocket Richard Trophy winning form. He obviously can no longer see.
Carkner vs. Orr
The progression of these fights mirrors my interest level in the progression of the Rocky movies. Wake me up when one of Carkner's fights is ready to stop the next Cold War.
What ever happened to that old NHL adage that the first home game after a long road trip was supposed to be beneficial to the visiting team?
After watching the first period of last night's game on PVR, I wasn't able to stomach any more and had to turn it off. Like a boxer who's been knocked out for the first time, the Ottawa Senators have lost their competitive edge. In fact, it's eerily reminiscent of the 2007 Stanley Cup team that endured a ridiculously long layoff between the Eastern Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals and came out flatter than Kiera Knightley's chest. After winning 14 of 16 before the Olympic break, the Senators have responded by collectively shitting the bed -- Amassing an atrocious 1-4-1 record over the 6-game post-break span and compiling an 8 goals for total that only Bill Muckalt could appreciate.
For whatever reason, this team has maintained their historical inability to overcome any Olympic break scheduling.
Is it alarming?
Am I worried about it?
Granted, the one game on their roadtrip that they did manage to win came against the worst team in the NHL. However, I'm not that concerned ... yet. As it stands, there are far too many games left between now and the end of the season to get wrapped up in one offensive dry spell. If a few of the top six forwards start producing again (Ed. note: Don't look now but Daniel Alfredsson only has one goal in his past 11 games.), the team will be fine. That Vancouver game notwithstanding, it's not like they're giving up a ton of goals. With 17 goals allowed since the Olympic break and with a few games in hand, they are still in the upper third of the NHL for least number of goals allowed.
Not so long ago, I received an email from Mike C., that asked why NHL General Managers were the ones primarily responsible for the league's rule changes. In a profession of such turnover, why should this generation's version of MacLean, Milbury and Muckler be this empowered?
It's a fair question and it's one that I'm not entirely sure of the answer. If it were up to me, I probably would have leave these kinds of decisions to the NHLPA player representatives and the league office. But for whatever reason, it's left up to the GMs and it has left me somewhat intrigued and leaves me wondering whether guys like Doug MacLean and Mike Milbury are bitter that they're no longer the alpha dogs of the NHL's circle.
It's because of this incessant need to be in the spotlight that I really wish the NHL would capitalize on the reality television boon and produce a program that casts a number of failed GMs and has them live together in the same house. Obviously the house would have to be located in a city where there's nothing to do and where the GMs would be easily recognized and lauded. A place like Saskatoon would suffice. The next step would be casting:
- Mike Milbury: The meathead who thinks he's smarter than everyone else.
- Bob Gainey: A man who has lost his way.
- John Ferguson Jr.: The young guy who talks a big game but rarely delivers.
- John Muckler: The aggressive drunk.
- Doug MacLean: Like his arrangement with Balsillie, he's involved only because he'll do anything for cash.
- Cliff Fletcher: Only in the house because he'll react to situations by making this face.
Who wouldn't want to watch a television program in which the following could conceivably happen:
- Milbury would saunter up to a bar and order a rye and ginger for $5. Immediately upon paying for the drink, a local resident would offer him $2 for the same drink. Because he's Milbury, he takes the deal. Scorned and now without a drink, Mike goes back to the bar and puts down a lifetime offer on rye and cokes. (Thinking it's a stroke of genius on his part.) A few minutes later, he remembers that he doesn't even like rye and coke.
- After a few drinks, Muckler parades around a local establishment like it's one of Eugene Melnyk's luxury suites -- smacking bottles off of tables and making overly theatrical hand gestures. When he eventually becomes cognizant of the fact that no one at the bar is impressed, he calls Rob Ray to stroke his ego.
- John Ferguson Jr. reguarly brags about how he's going to bring some high-quality females home with him. Instead, he overspends and only brings home role-players.
- Recognizing him at a bar, a local resident strikes up a conversation with Doug MacLean and asks the question of whether or not MacLean thinks a NHL team would be viable in the prairies. When MacLean says no, the local would raise his ire by retorting, "But Columbus has a team." Mike Milbury would inevitably have to invervene in the situation by beating the local down with a shoe.
- Noticing a small group of Dukhobors at the bar, Milbury promptly tells the bouncer to "Get that Eurotrash out of here!"
- The housemates bicker over whose turn it is to clean the kitchen mess before Muckler chimes in and says, "Screw it. We'll let the next tenant clean up after our mess."
A Thought On Phil Kessel
Lately, it seems as though every time I turn on a sports highlight program, Phil Kessel has scored another goal by doing his patented circle the right faceoff circle before burying a wrist shot. I don't want to take anything away from Kessel, but why teams have not keyed in on Kessel's tendencies via advanced pro scouting is beyond me.
Congratulations to Boo Boo
I'm not entirely sure who Gene Florcyk was but I do know that the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch is a finalist for the Gene Florcyk Memorial Award for Sports Writing (over 25,000 circulation). Bruce was nominated for his coverage of this past summer's Dany Heatley coverage thereby proving that good things can happen when you throw selfish assholes, who have dilated pupils, under the bus.
Senators in on Wellman?
HNIC's Elliotte Friedman has revealed on Twitter that the Senators are in heavily on the California-born, UMass forward Casey Wellman. Wellman's a NCAA prospect at UMass who will be turning 23 later this fall. As an undrafted NCAA overager, once he decides to turn pro, he is free to sign with anyone. You can read about Wellman here, here and read his statistics here.
Here's a startling admission, last night the Ottawa Senators lost to the Calgary Flames 2-0 and I didn't really mind. With much being made of Anton Volchenkov's impending UFA status, Tim and I had an opportunity to spend the better part of the night talking with Volchenkov's agent and the President of Puck Agency, Jay Grossman.
For anyone with a passing interest in Anton Volchenkov's situation, this interview is worth listening to. Also, if you want to stay tuned with what's going on with Mr. Grossman, be sure to check out Puck Agency's blog and if you use Twitter and haven't done so already, I'd highly recommend following Jay Grossman's Tweets.
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Here's the tracklisting for the podcast: Us3 Cantaloop; Propellerheads History Repeating; The Minutemen This Ain't No Picnic; and Firehose Brave Captain.
While everyone is looking forward to tomorrow's Senators/Flames game, some interesting speculation in the Metro News, of all places, that has me looking ahead to this offseason instead. According to The Hockey News' Ken Campbell contributed to the Metro by stating that Anton Volchenkov's contract demands may be less than what has been speculated on the Interwebs...
So, can the Senators re-sign Volchenkov? They should be able to if Volchenkov wants to stay. Going into next season, the Senators have $46.7 million committed to nine forwards, five defencemen and two goalies, which would leave them a shade over $10 million to spend providing the cap stays in the neighbourhood of the $56.8 million it is this season. That’s also assuming they’re willing to continue to take the hit on Cheechoo’s salary and keep him in the minors next season.
With that cap space, the Senators would have to basically sign Volchenkov, plus restricted free agents Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, Jesse Winchester and Chris Campoli if they choose to keep them. Assuming Andy Sutton, Matt Cullen are rentals and Shean Donovan will be set free after this season, they’d also have to find replacements for those players.
Clearly Volchenkov and Foligno are the two most important of that group. Defensive defencemen are valuable, but the Senators know that teams are rarely willing to overpay for them.
The thinking is Volchenkov would get between $3.5 million and $3.75 million on a long-term deal if he stays in Ottawa and might get slightly more than $4 million on the open market.
On a day in which Bruce Garrioch is reporting that Volchenkov's agent, Jay Grossman, rejected a 5-year contract extension before the Olympic break, it is encouraging to hear Campbell use these reasonable terms. However, I can't help but think that it's a bit naive to assume that because teams are rarely willing to overpay defensive defenceman that someone won't. (Ed. note: I'll never forget the state of shock that I was in when Glen Sather inked Wade Redden to his current 6-year $39 million pact.)
The words frugality and unrestricted free agency are hardly ever strung together in the same sentence. Especially in a lame duck profession in which overpriced contracts and trades are inherited by future regimes. Like the Edmonton Oilers players who frequented Osteria de Medici, a swank Calgary restaurant, it's all about passing the buck. The key for Bryan Murray here should be to get Volchenkov under wraps before the July 1st deadline for fiscal sanity goes out the window.