When it was announced yesterday that Senators defenceman Jared Cowen had been assigned back to Spokane of the WHL, I admittedly was pretty disappointed.
Had he played well enough to distinguish himself amongst Ottawa's top six defencemen since Filip Kuba went down with an injury? I certainly thought so. I had hoped that the organization would extend him the same opportunity that Erik Karlsson received last year. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that by giving him a 9-game trial, they would have only been delaying the inevitable.
“(He was) very (disappointed). He probably was thinking he’d get a start here at any rate and we’d make a decision a little ways into the year.
Rather than kind of fool around with him and leave doubts in his mind, I wanted to make it cut and dried that he’d go back and just play.” ~ Bryan Murray via The Montreal Gazette
Barring further injuries, Kuba's return to the blueline would have created a log jam on the blueline. I find it odd that in an interview with James Duthie during the second period intermission of the Kraft Hockeyville game, Bryan Murray singled out Cowen and Gonchar out as two of the new faces who have impressed with their play.
Was it just lip service? Or am I supposed to believe that in the games that followed Murray's comment that Cowen played himself off of the roster?
I don't think it was either. Thanks to Brian Lee's one-way contract and uncertainty that David Hale would clear waivers if he was demoted to Binghamton, Cowen's demotion is as much a complicated numbers game as it was an assessment of his ability to contribute at this level.
"This is where I think I can improve the most. If I went back to junior, it would be a step back. If I stayed here, I'd obviously get a lot better and become a better player. Going back to junior, it would be a familiar spot -- Spokane's a nice place to play, I love the guys on the team, love the coaching staff and everything.
But this is a step forward. This is where I want to start."
The above comments were made by Cowen in a feature story that ran on TSN's website a few weeks ago. In the same article, Jon Klemm, an assistant coach for the Spokane Chiefs, indicated that he believed that Cowen already possessed the skills needed to play in the NHL.
"He's a big, physical presence out there. He can change the game at any time with a big hit or a great defensive play. That's kind of the player he is. ...
He handles himself very well not only on the ice but off the ice -- he's great in the locker-room, he works extremely hard. It was a pleasure to work with him last year."
Now that Cowen has to return to Spokane, Sens fans have to hope that it's best for his development to return to play junior for a fourth season. At this stage of his young career, will it be beneficial for Cowen to play against smaller, less talented competition? Will Cowen's demotion put him in eff you mode and motivate him to stick to Ottawa's management and dominate the WHL or will his development stagnate because he's playing at the same level of competition for four straight years? It's not like his participation in the AHL would prevent him from participating in the World Junior Hockey Championships either.
So what exactly is in the best interests for Jared Cowen's development?
It's an intriguing question to ask and one that can be hotly contested. Personally, I think it's a tad ridiculous that Robin Lehner eligible to play in the AHL and Jared Cowen is not. Both are 19 years of age and were drafted in 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The difference? Unlike Cowen, players like Lehner, John Carlsson and Jeremy Morin are eligible to play in the AHL because at the time that they were drafted by a NHL team, they had not dressed for a game with a CHL team yet. According to an agreement that the Canadian Hockey League has with the NHL, players drafted out of the CHL can only play in the AHL if they turn 20 years old by Dec. 31 or have played in the CHL for four seasons.
In the words of David Branch, "There are certain provisions in the NHL-CHL agreement which contemplate what happens in terms of where a player may be assigned to etc. based on where he’s drafted from."
I don't want to turn this into a debate as to whether there should be some universal standard as to whether teenage prospects should be returned to the CHL teams that own their rights. I think every individual player's situation and circumstances surrounding them is unique. One could argue that an exodus of elite 19-year old talent could hurt the CHL product, however, when the NHL invests more than $8-million in development money each season, should NHL organizations have the ability or opportunity to decide what is in the best interests of their prospects' development? (Ed. note: Exodus of elite talent? That's rich. It's not like the CHL has a problem taking some of Europe's elite junior aged players.)
"You look at his size and his maturity level, definitely I think he's got a shot at the NHL (this season)," said Klemm. "You know the Senators are going to give him every opportunity to make the team."
Every opportunity? That's questionable. Especially when you consider that he doesn't get the same ones that are afforded to others like Lehner.
What a busy week. I've put off posting some commentary of two articles that were published this week by Damien Cox of the Toronto Star and Renaud Lavoie of RDS. Let's take a look at Cox's article first shall we?
As always, my comments are in bold.
The window of championship opportunity, it’s fair to say, has closed on the Ottawa Senators.
It existed, really, between 1999 and 2007, a run of strong seasons that culminated in a visit to the ’07 Stanley Cup final and defeat at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks.
It took Cox three years, two coaches being fired and an epiphony to realize that Ottawa has taken a step back since their Stanley Cup finals appearance.
One by one, the major pieces that made up that team have either departed or failed to continue to grow. Scoring winger Dany Heatley and goalie Ray Emery are gone, and not much was gained in return. Antoine Vermette was sacrificed in the Sens’ endless search for a bona fide starting goalie. Wade Redden went for millions to the Rangers and hasn’t been the same since, while Anton Volchenkov left last summer via free agency.
Heatley, Emery, Vermette and unmentionables like Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher, Chris Neil and Chris Kelly -- all players who were resigned after that 2007 Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Saying that these guys didn't grow is a half-truth. They may not have developed further but their bank accounts did. By paying these aforementioned players at market cost, they no longer were getting cost-efficient production out of them.
In fairness to the Senators brass, Dany effing Heatley is an all-star who asked for a trade and gave Bryan Murray no leverage in his trade negotiations. No one is missing Ray Emery. And Antoine Vermette? How many good third line centers does one team need? Wade Redden was washed up in 2006 and Anton Volchenkov is the one player on the list whose spot on the roster was filled by a better, albeit different, player.
Can anyone else see where Cox's article is going?
Jason Spezza, meanwhile, remains in the nation’s capital, but was a player greeted by as many boos as cheers last season and an unsuccessful candidate for the Canadian Olympic team. At 27, nobody talks about him as one of the great young forwards in the game anymore.
Weird. His career path almost parallels that of Dion Phaneuf - who ironically was just named captain in Toronto. Let's not kid ourselves here, if Jason Spezza played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the amount of gratuitous media fellatio for him would be overwhelming.
Of course, the process of window-closing probably really started back in the summer of ’06 when the Senators decided to let Zdeno Chara walk. These were Ottawa teams built from the dismal years of the early 1990s, and it almost resulted in a Stanley Cup.
Of all the players named by Cox in this article, only Wade Redden was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the first round during 1990's. Every other player was either drafted after the first round or was shrewdly acquired via trade.
But not quite.
Here it comes. Wait for it... wait for it...
The Senators team that opened camp on the weekend (and will be in town for back-to-back exhibition games against the rebuilding Maple Leafs this week), meanwhile, seems to be a squad whose current direction and identity are somewhat overshadowed by the recent past.
The current direction and identity are overshadowed because because outsiders like Cox keep looking back at 2007 and wonder how the team we got here. (Ed. note: How did we get here? One name: John Muckler.) Looking at the team's moves over the past few years, you can see that an emphasis has been made to address the character issues that have plagued this team in the past.
This is a club, after all, that finished an impressive fifth in the Eastern Conference last season, and still has longtime stalwarts like Chris Phillips, Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher around. The optimistic might suggest a conference title wouldn’t be completely out of the realm of possibility, and it was that thinking by Ottawa management that led to the decision to sign big-name defence free agent Sergei Gonchar during the summer.
Then again, it also seems to some that Ottawa might do well to recognize its chance to win it all has evaporated, and that a step back with a major rebuild is in order.
A step back with a major rebuild is in order? With any due diligence, it's apparent that management's philosophy has followed that old adage about building a team from the net out. With prospects like Lehner, Rundblad, Karlsson, Cowen, Wiercioch and Gryba in the system, there's already a solid base to build upon. While the forward core may lack a can't miss blue chip prospect, there's an overwhelming abundance of depth guys who look like they can be players (TM Bryan Murray) at the NHL level. When names like Kovalev and Alfredsson move on, who's to say that the money dedicated to these players won't be re-allocated via free agency to replace their offensive production?
They’re better than the Leafs, this we know. But are the Leafs better off for having taken a wrecking ball to the remnants of the John Ferguson era and recognized the need to start again, while the Sens keep believing they have what it takes to win now?
Ah yes, there it is! A parallel has been drawn between the Senators and Leafs and begs the question - Who's doing it the right way? (Ed. note: It's Ottawa.) It's a tad ironic though that Cox's idea of Toronto starting again is to ink a number of expensive blueliners and acquire Phil Kessel at the cost of two first round picks. Nothing says rebuild better than Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek and the rushed development of players like Schenn and Kadri.
These are two clubs among many that will likely have their seasons defined by the way in which their goaltending shakes out. Ottawa is betting on Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott, no more and no less of a uncertain tandem than the Leafs duo of J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson.
If Leclaire can be the elite starting goalie that the Sens hoped they were getting from Columbus when Vermette was shipped there, perhaps they can skate with the beasts of the east this year.
Perhaps Ottawa can skate with the beasts of the east? Ladies and gentlemen, Damien Cox presents Exhibit A - evidence that a major rebuild is needed.
What’s interesting about the Sens is that much effort it would appear has gone into rebuilding the defence in the image of the mobile group that powered the run to the ’07 final but was then dismantled.
I'm confused. I thought Cox was arguing that a major rebuild was necessary? Now he's saying that Ottawa has rebuilt their defence?
The slow-footed Volchenkov is gone, and some talented, skilled blueliners like Erik Karlsson and David Rundblad are now considered the future. Losing Filip Kuba to a broken leg was setback, but the addition of Gonchar will add offensive creativity, as will youngster Brian Lee if he can get his game to where it was two years ago.
Spezza, of course, looms as the Senator that could make the most difference. Before the salary cap era, he probably would’ve had been gone over the off-season. These days, however, his $7 million cap hit is just too big for anyone to swallow.
Cox's article is a mix bag of reasoning. Ottawa's window has closed. They need a rebuild. Ottawa has rebuilt their defence after the model that lead them to a Stanley Cup appearance. Spezza is no longer considered among the best young centers in the game. Spezza looms as the Senator who could make the biggest difference.
It’s similar in some ways to the situation the Leafs are in with defenceman Tomas Kaberle, a player GM Brian Burke wanted to trade but could not during the off-season.
The 27-year-old Spezza had three straight 30-plus goal seasons before falling out of fan favour in an injury filled 2009-10 season, and he and Alfredsson are still Ottawa’s best two forwards. The lessons of last season were harsh, but if Spezza learned from them, he could provide the Sens with a major presence down the middle.
That won’t open the championship window that has closed. But it could help to better define the direction in which the Senators are going.
In three years from now, Damien Cox will write a timely follow up article telling hockey fans how the Senators got to where they are. In the meantime, I'll satisfied knowing that when Damien Cox drops a deuce of an article, I'll have an opportunity to open a window.
Now it's Lavoie's turn...
Les images du combat entre Alex Kovalev et François Beauchemin ont rapidement fait les manchettes. Alex Kovalev qui jette les gants, c’est très rare. Le joueur « vedette » des Sénateurs a toujours trouvé une façon de se défendre, mais il s’est battu très rarement dans sa carrière.
Whoa, whoa, whoa... some of you are probably thinking. Shit Nichols! He's writing exclusively in French. I can't understand everything that he's saying. Fair point. Some of you aren't fluently bilingual. Not a problem. I've resolved the matter by putting Lavoie's article into Babelfish. Problem solved. Now where were we.
Translation of the First Paragraph by Babelfish:
The images of the combat between Alex Kovalev and François Beauchemin quickly made the cuffs. Alex Kovalev who throws the gloves, it is very rare. The player “high-speed motorboat” of the Senators always found a way of defending himself, but it fought very seldom in its career.
More rare than Kovalev throwing gloves? Alex Kovalev throwing punches. I don't blame him though. If he was throwing punches and they landed, they wouldn't have hurt Beauchemin because his hands are too soft. Noted: Alex Kovalev's new nickname is High-Speed Motorboat.
Ce qui me dérange le plus en regardant ces images, c’est le fait qu’aucun coéquipier de Kovalev n’est venu le défendre. Donc pendant 30 secondes, les joueurs des Sénateurs ont décidé de regarder un joueur vedette de l’équipe se faire frapper par François Beauchemin, un joueur reconnu pour être un excellent bagarreur.
Translation of the Second Paragraph by Babelfish:
What disturbs me more by looking at these images, it is the fact that no fellow-member of Kovalev came to defend it. Thus during 30 seconds, the players of the Senators decided to look at a player high-speed motorboat of the team being made strike by François Beauchemin, a player recognized to be an excellent brawler.
More importantly, why does a member of the Montreal care whether or not a teammate came to the defence of High-speed Motorboat? Move on Habs fans. Your flattery and infatuation with one of Ottawa's complimentary players is laughable. Speaking of compliments: Francois Beauchemin is an excellent fighter? I guess it looks better on Kovalev when you say things like that...
On parle ici d’un match préparatoire entre les Sénateurs et les Maple Leafs et j’ai de la difficulté à croire que personne n’a cru bon intervenir. Tout ça est une question d’esprit d’équipe.
Translation of the Third Paragraph by Babelfish:
One speak here about a preparatory match between the Senators and Maple Leafs and I have difficulty in believe that nobody has good year to intervene. All that is a question of team spirit.
Or is it shameful for Kovalev if someone has to fight his battles for him? Personally I think it looks better on him to drop the gloves. Sun Media can't accuse the guy of not trying. And did you hear his post game comments? Sens fans have to love the new I give a shit version of Kovalev.
J’imagine la scène chez les Maple Leafs, si Phil Kessel ou Tomas Kaberle sont attaqués par un joueur adverse. Il y aurait eu un troisième homme rapidement qui aurait protégé son coéquipier.
Translation of the Fourth Paragraph by Babelfish:
I imagine the scene at Maple Leafs, if Phil Kessel or Divided into volumes Kaberle are attacked by an unfavourable player. There would have been a third man quickly who would have protected his fellow-member.
Does anyone else find it weird that this guy cannot praise Kovalev for trying?
Être expulsé dans un match préparatoire, ça ne veut rien dire.
Translation of the Last Sentence by Babelfish:
To be expelled in a preparatory match, that wants nothing to say.
Motorboat us Alex! Motorboat us!
Je vous laisse sur les images et à vous de juger.
Babelfish Translation of the Last Sentence:
Take us back Alex. We won't judge you for leaving Alex. We'll just question the dedication of your former teammates!
Whether you want to make fun of the Leafs, the Sabres or the city of Buffalo, get them in. Here's one to get the ball rolling.
Here's another entitled, "Kadri Wins the Calder Before the Season Even Starts"
For those of you who have listened to the most recent episode of The 6th Sens Podcast, we are collecting messages via email from Senators fans who wish to express sentiments or their favorite memories of Anton Volchenkov while he wore a Senators jersey. Once these messages have been collected, we will then send them through the proper channels to ensure that they are received by Anton himself.
To get these messages in, you can access our email via the menu system at the top of our page. Or you can simply email the6thsens at live dot com.no comments
1) Last night I arrived at ScotiaBank Place at 6:30pm. Since my friend Gus (who had our tickets) was running late, I stood outside Gate 1 with my girlfriend awaiting his arrival and got to do a little people watching. Like any other game in which Montreal was playing, a large contingency of obnoxious douchebags descended upon Kanata brandishing their soccer chants and wide assortment of jerseys. At one point, my girlfriend asked what the CAC on the front of their jerseys stood for. I answered the only way I could, "I think that it stands for the Canadian Athletic Club. It's one of their retro jerseys that pays homage to their past. They have to though. It's all they have to fall back on."
2) As I continued to wait for my friend to show up with our tickets. I couldn't help but notice one fan wearing a Bryan Smolinski Habs jersey. In case you're wondering, Smolinksi only played one season in Montreal: scoring 8 goals and 17 assists in 64 games. Production that's hardly worth honoring with a customized uniform. Imagine if the Parti Quebecois leaders caught wind of this tool of American propaganda?
3) As easy as it is to make fun of Habs fans, I do have to give them credit. They have absolutely no qualms about shitting on the opposition's fans. Of all the fans who passed by the man wearing a Leafs jersey outside Gate 1, the only ones who had the nerve to publicly mock him were the Habs fans. (Ed. note: Mind you, they were probably three Schmirnoff Ices deep.)
4) Through the first couple of exhibition games, Ottawa's best players have been the ones who are vying for jobs on the fourth line. Zach Smith's play has been nothing short of fantastic and last night, it was Bobby Butler's turn to impress. If these players continue to demonstrate that they can play and have success at this level, it's going to be intriguing to see how the organization handles Ryan Shannon. As an incumbent who was under a lot of pressure to keep his job, it'd be a tough pill for Shannon to swallow if he lost his job due to injury. Shannon hasn't been cleared to play since having his head driven into the glass by Jay Rosehill during the second exhibition game against Toronto.
5) Speaking of Butler, his play last night steadily improved as the game went on. For all of the criticisms that the exhibition games get (ie. visiting teams never dressing their better players, lack of available television coverage, Jim O'Brien, etc.) seeing the expression of happiness on Butler's face after he scored on a penalty shot and returned to the bench to celebrate with his teammates is the kind of moment that I enjoy.
6) Regardless of how many Hfboards threads are devoted to the belief that Michalek and Spezza have chemistry. Don't believe it for a second.
7) The first game at SBP wasn't without its technical difficulties. The red lights used to signify goals weren't functioning. (Ed. note: Probably at the request of Habs management.)
7) After watching a few shifts, Gus remarked that "Jim O'Brien's skating is uglier than Mike Ricci." It's definitely not something that's easy on the eyes. Credit to O'Brien, the young prospect played his best game to date in a Senators uniform.
8) If you're a Senators fan who watched last night's game and you had a boner that lasted more than four hours, rest assured, you don't have to consult your doctor. Blame Nick Foligno and his two highlight reel goals. As Foligno continues his torrid preseason pace (4 goals in 3 games), it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. Instead of worrying about where he slots in right now, we should be hoping that his and Peter Regin's development affords the organization the flexibility to let Alexei Kovalev and his $5-million salary go on July 1st. (Ed. note: Perhaps reallocating the money to fill another need: goaltending? Second line center?)
9) Mike Hoffman may be small and (he's only listed at 175 pounds) but there are worse things in the world. The rookie displayed some serious poise on the second power play unit and showed enough to elicit some hope that he can eventually be a viable offensive threat at the NHL level.
10) First home game + first Chris Neil fight = first raise the roof celebration of the 2010-11 season. Off all the audio/visual cues provided to encourage noise at SBP, this is easily my favorite. A close second was the Carey Price soft goal.
11) Jared Cowen looks like a professional hockey player. Outlet passes. Check. Physical assertion. Check. In no way does he resemble David Hale. Check. It's a good thing too. Assuming he makes the squad, hopefully it will spare us from that sensationalist sports radio caller bullshit that can be spurred if Magnus Paajarvi starts the season well in Edmonton.
10) In the aftermath of last night's game, it boggles my mind that the Alfredsson hit on Maxime Lapierre is one of the least discussed aspects of the game.
11) It was the night of pokechecks. First there was the Carey Price pokecheck on Bobby Butler early in the game that elicited some Carey chants from the naive Montreal faithful. (Ed. note: Shortly thereafter, Spezza fittingly scored from behind the goalline.) Then there was another Price pokecheck on a partial Milan Michalek breakaway. And then there was the Sergei Gonchar one-on-one pokecheck that ran me through a mix bag of emotions: Oh no, there's a loose puck headed into the defensive zone! Phew, it looks like Gonchar should beat the Montreal forward to the puck! Wait, why is Gonchar slowing down? For godsakes, lean on him! Oh, no! <Diving pokecheck!> Elation! The crowd goes wild!
Underwood Video Release
I feel bad for the timing of Ian Mendes' article on why Mike Fisher is a good second line center. Had he held off for a few days, he could have used Mike Fisher's So Good. Sooooo Good as his headline.
If you're looking to find some preseason NHL stastistics, CBS Sports' website has the updated numbers. Nick Foligno is tied for the League lead in preseason goals with 4.
If Don Brennan is ever looking for a second career, he should dabble as a guy who comes up with nicknames for strippers. Ottawa's only played four exhibition games and he's already come up with three new nicknames: Slick Nick (Foligno), The Forgotten One (Jim O'Brien) and the E-Train (Eric Gryba).
Melnyk Issues Warning
According to CFRA's Josh Pringle, The Euge has penned a letter to the CEO’s and boards of directors at Biovail and Valeant - warning them that a merger between the two companies would negatively affect American and Canadian taxpayers and shareholders. Melnyk concludes the letter with these words, "Anyone who is in favor of the merger, can blow themselves up."
Training Camp Cuts
After the Senators play Buffalo in the Kraft Hockeyville game that takes place in Dundas, the team will announce their next round of cuts.
Jonathan Cheechoo Released
According to the Stars Blog, the Dallas Stars have released Jonathan Cheechoo from his professional try-out. Even though their braintrust felt that he could have made their team, they believed that it would be better to release Cheechoo because he was unlikely to play in a top six forward role. On behalf of all of us at The 6th Sens, it's a sad day. We were truly hoping that Cheechoo would catch on so Aaron, aka The Cheechoo Song Guy, would be able to add one more song to his repertoire.
Quote of the Day:
"He showed me he turns the puck over a lot and he's got to get over that." ~ Ron Wilson on Nazem Kadri
It's been made official: the soon to be Connecticut Whale... err... the Hartford Wolf Pack will now feature the best first pass in the AHL. Today it was announced that former Ottawa Senator, Wade Redden, has been put on waivers. With four years left on a contract that features egregious $6.5 million per season cap hit, the likelihood that another team puts a claim in on Redden is nil. You know things don't look good for Wade when the Carey Price situation in Montreal has a better chance of ending well.
It's not like I want to revel in this career setback either. (Ed. note: Granted, it is a tad easier on the conscience when an athlete accrues $39-million by the time his current contract expires.) It's a sad reality of the salary cap era that Wade's contract might be the only thing that keeps him from playing hockey in the NHL this season.
I know that for a number of Senators fans, Redden's name will forever be synonymous with Zdeno Chara because of John Muckler's inability to ink the Big Z. As easy as it is to shit on John Muckler and Redden proponents for:
- Buying into the League's emphasis on opening up the game and believing that the speedy, smaller and successful Buffalo Sabres team was the model of the future.
- Ignoring the fact that Chara finished the season with a broken wrist.
- Poor taste.