Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. ~ Hockey Gods to Mike Fisher
Some of you are probably wondering who the hell the guy is in the above photo. Frankly, I have no clue and assume it's some guy named Mike Fisher because it's the sixth image that came up in a Google image search under that name. Anyways, Don Brennan posted the line combinations on Off the Posts that the Senators used at practice this morning and will likely use in tomorrow night's game versus New Jersey.
According to the lines, Cory Clouston has taken it upon himself to shake it up and nullify any production that the team can get from good ol' number twelve. By placing Jason Spezza back on a line with Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek, Fisher has been relegated to playing with Nick Foligno and (gulp) Jonathan Cheechoo.
If it's of any consolation to Fisher, he was named to Mike Brophy's second Canadian men's Olympic team. Congratulations for this disctinct honour Mike. It's almost as impressive as the fact that Mike Brophy justified his selection by stating that the Peterborough native is the perfect candidate to be the checking centre assigned to shutting down the opposition's top scoring line as well as kill penalties.
Yes. I'd love to see Mike Fisher out there killing penalties and shutting down the Latvian B-team's first line too.
If you haven't heard Brian Elliott was named the NHL's first star of the week. In Pascal Leclaire's absence, Elliott had 4 wins and allowed 5 goals out of 115 shots this week. Almost as impressive as being named the League's best statistical player for the week? Not being shit on by Bruce Garrioch once during this stretch of games. An Ottawa netminder first!
Pierre Lebrun on the Sens
Over at ESPN, there's a good article by Lebrun detailing the Senators recent run of success. The article can best be summarized in Lebrun's second last paragraph in which he states,
What strikes me about this edition of the Sens is the team concept is very strong. For a long time over the past decade, this team had oodles of talent, but I always believed it was top-heavy in terms of relying on certain players. Under Clouston, he's given more people roles, and I think that's a big reason the Sens have survived an injury-riddled season; the team's success isn't reliant on a handful of players like in the past. It's truly a team.
Apparently Melnyk's optimism is rubbing off lately...
In the wake of another playoff loss that saw a 102-point Senators team lose to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the fourth straight time, fans and the organization were reeling. After being outcoached by Pat Quinn and stubbornly refusing to adjust his in-game strategies, there was no doubt that Jacques Martin would be shown the door. Shortly thereafter, Patrick Lalime relocated his talent and defecated mattress to the fine streets of Missourri. When Gary Bettman announced in the 2004 summer that there was going to be a labour stoppage, we knew that there would be silver lining of free agency. Instead, fans were forced to sit through the NHL's labour stoppage and wallow in self pity.
That's why the 2005 NHL Entry Draft was a new lease on life for the Ottawa Senators. In an effort to build hype and some positive press in every NHL market, the League abolished the lottery picks awarded to the bottom five teams in the standings and instead gave every franchise an opportunity to land Sidney Crosby. (Ed. note: Even though the lottery picks were removed, the odds for selecting Crosby were still weighted for teams that finished towards the bottom of the standings in 2004.)
Well, every Sens fan knew how the draft turned out...
"Michigan is the worst. For hockey people, if you've got a choice between a kid-all things being equal-one's going to Michigan and one's going to Boston University, you all want your player (going to Boston University). Michigan's players-(head coach) Red (Berenson) doesn't coach. It's ‘do what you want.' He gets the best players in the country."
"At times, he was playing forward at Michigan. You had no idea what position he was playing. But he had always been the star and he always got his numbers. Then he turns pro and for the first time, we're telling him ‘whoa, just make the first pass and learn to play in your own end.' How about making a read in your own end about the right guy to pick up? He was awful." ~ Dean Lombardi, Hockeytalk.biz
After reading the Los Angeles Kings' GM, Dean Lombardi describe Jack Johnson's early development it got me thinking about Brian Lee since the parallels between the two are so evident. Both came to the NHL with highy touted reputations for being offensive minded defencemen who could skate very well and to this point, both have failed to live up to lofty expectations. The more I reflect on Lombardi's comments, the more I find myself saying things like when's last time the NCAA really has developed a proven stud defenceman?
Is it fair to question whether playing less games in the NCAA against lesser talent was at least partially responsible for this hindered development or should the onus of blame be out on the professional organization?
And then I started thinking more about the extremes in this situation like why the hell is Brian Lee still with this organization? Or my favorite, at this point, what could we get for Lee?
Free Lee for chrissakes!
Speaking of making moves, Bruce Garrioch, the man responsible for 94-percent of trade rumo(u)rs emanating from north of the border says thatthe Senators will be buyers before the March 3 NHL trade deadline, just don’t expect them to be involved in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes.
According to Bruce, they're looking at adding a forward to supplement the roster. If this is true, the Senators are going to have to move a salary off of the books to accomodate any addition since the team only has $500-600k in cap space. Of course, the easiest way to create some roster flexibility would be to bury Jonathan Cheechoo's salary in the minors but whether ownership would want to bite the bullet on his contract is another issue.
The Senators haven’t opened contract talks with D Anton Volchenkov. He will be a UFA on July 1, but there have been no contract discussions between GM Bryan Murray and Volchenkov’s agent, Jay Grossman. The Senators have to decide what they’re willing to pay Volchenkov, who took a hometown discount when he signed a three-year extension with Ottawa worth $7.5 million US in 2007.
Now maybe I'm reading too much into Garrioch's last sentence in the aforementioned paragraph but it did sound like he was questioning whether Anton would sign another contract for below market value.
As the Senators move forward towards the deadline, the situation reminds me somewhat of the situation that the Buffalo Sabres encountered with Jay McKee in 2006. With the team on a roll and finishing with 110 points, Darcy Regier felt that he couldn't afford to move the unrestricted, and in the prime of his career, McKee. Instead, the team bowed out in the playoffs and subsequently lost out on McKee's services when the St. Louis Blues tendered him an offer of $16M for four years.
The lesson here is that after three injury riddled years, the Blues bought out McKee. Think of an injury to Volchenkov like a Rob Ray versus Dennis Vial tilt. Sure, it wasn't guaranteed that both men would get half naked during a fight but the odds were certainly in their favour.
Hopefully non-Lee like NCAA Prospects
Lee Delaporte from Hockey's Future has authored a piece that tracks the performances of the NCAA prospects that Ottawa has in the system. My apologies if you're a fan, family member or friend of either of Eric Gryba or Michael Sdao as you won't find either player mentioned in the report.
Video of the Day
It's not hockey related but whatever. It's too good not to pass along. Enjoy this fan's reaction to the Brett Favre interception in last night's Saints vs Vikings game.
This past summer when all that Dany Heatley hooplah was going on, we (Tim and I) caught notice of James Gordon, the Ottawa Citizen's web editor and Hockey Capital writer, in a SensTV clip that showed him as part of a media scrum during the Senators annual charity golf tournament. At the time, we joked that Gordon beared a slight resemblance to the evil Tobey Maguire in Spiderman 3.
Anyways, James was kind enough to come aboard the latest version of The 6th Sens Podcast and give us his opinion of the Senators current winning streak, The Euge's bravado and James even utilizes the words original idea with Don Brennan's name in a sentence. What did he say? You'll have to tune in to find out!
As always, you can subscribe to our podcasts, stream them or download them via Itunes. Or you can simply stream it below. Here is the tracklist for the podcast: The Strokes You Only Live Once; Tears For Fears Everybody Wants To Rule the World; Stiff Little Fingers Go For It; and Seaweed Start With.
After that stretch of Tim Thomas dominance, it's refreshingly awesome to see the Senators string two wins together against a Boston Bruins team and see Spezza roof a shot into the top corner past the second most famous (and fat!) Flint, Michigan product. Perhaps more impressive than the win tonight was the fact that Chris Phillips was paired with Erik Karlsson and absolutely killed it out there tonight. People may discuss how their partnership could give us a glimpse into the future since Anton Volchenkov is headed towards unrestricted free agency but good god, the prospect of balancing out the blueline talent should be raising boners around the nation's capital.
The 6th Sens Mailbag
This week, the website has received a few emails that are worthy of being published. Here they are and as always, my thoughts will be in bold...
Liked the latest podcast. Some interesting points re trades. The team has been playing better and with solid goaltending could be good. Still lots of doubt even with the 5 wins.
On Volchenkov - do you think if Sutter would take a package of A train, Regin (or Foligno) and some other pieces - long shot prospect or pick for Phaneuf, Murray should/would do it?
With JBo, Phaneuf's minutes have taken a hit - JBo is 25+ per game Phaneuf - 21+. Maybe the Phaneuf rumours are related to JBo.
Also Brunette wouldn't be a bad rental or rental +1 year if he works - for a light loss (3rd rnd pick and Campoli or Lee) of course. He's a good PP guy. Although Carvel could find a way to fuck that up.
Lee - poor fucker. WTF is he doing now? Has he even played AHL in the last 6 weeks?
What do you think will happen - any moves or status quo? ~ Scott S.
Personally, I'm not a huge proponent of Dion Phaneuf. Without knowing anything about the guy and it being completely unsubstantiated, there's something about him that I find makes him come off as a bit of a prima donna.
That being said, his stock has dropped considerably over the past few years so if the cost of Phaneuf was say, Kuba + Foligno + a pick, I'd consider it. But I don't think trading a two-way center with offensive upside in Regin is the way to go right now. (Especially because Ottawa is devoid of "ready" NHL prospects on offense.)
In terms of Brunette, he's strictly a power play savante at this point in his career. Would he help? Yeah, probably. He has a tendency to play a Dave Andreychuk kind of style in front of the oppositions net. However, for Bryan Murray to add Brunette's $2.333M cap hit, they'd have to move a contract off of the roster and personally, I'm of the belief that if Murray will move a contract off of the books, it will be to add a defenceman.
Based off of the way that the Senators are currently playing, I see Bryan Murray going status quo. He doesn't have the flexibility nor can he afford to give up future assets to bring in a legitimate trade chip who could put this team over the top. (Ed. note: Obviously, if he moved a Chris Kelly or Volchenkov, he could do some interesting things. However, I just think it's unlikely to happen and Sens fans will likely have to wait until the summer to see some intriguing changes. If anything, fans might have to see what kind of high risk / high reward kind of trades a la Latendresse/Pouliot trades are available for a guy like Campoli or Brian Lee.)
Here is a little bit of interesting news that made the local trash rag:
This would be a dream of mine as a huge Sens fan that lives in Cornwall.We had an AHL franchise before, the Cornwall Aces (Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche).The problem was that they were owned by the city of Cornwall, and the seating at our main arena was the shits (4,000 fans with the closest seat about 25 feet away).Now they have added seats all the way up to the glass for about 5,000 and Ottawa has an owner just crazy enough to put a team here. ~ Trevor S., Cornwall
I saw this Cornwall issue posted over at Michael Sharp's Sharp on the Sens blog but didn't want to hit on it because I didn't buy into the thoery. Anyways, here's the issue in a nutshell: Kevin Lee, the former Hockeybuzz Sens blogger, posted on his website that Eugene Melnyk had contacted the city of Cornwall about the prospect of moving the Senators AHL affiliate there. The only problem is that there are two years left on the affiliate agreement between Binghamton's owner and Eugene Melnyk. To emphasize the organization's point, the Senators Vice-President of Communications, Phil Legault, quashed Lee's article by dropping trou and taking a steaming dump on Lee's story and credibility. Apparently the story is nothing but "rumour" and "speculation," and the author, Kevin Lee, is not an accredited journalist with the team.
Whether there' s legitimate beef between the Senators and the Baby Sens, I'm not too sure. However, I do feel sorry for hockey fans in the cities of Cornwall and Binghamton who have been caught up in the middle of this unfounded speculation.
The RSA will be doing another outing on January 26th, for the Sens vs. Devils Game. There will be a minimum of 70 RSA members in attendance and we will be chanting at the top of our lungs from section 305. Our last outing saw 40 members in section 303 - and I can honestly say we were the loudest group in recent memory to attend a Sens game. So loud that the Senators organisation invited us to meet with them and discuss how to make this kind of atmosphere more common. On that note, we were hoping that your blogs could spread the word and help us spread this enthusiasm throughout the entire arena! With your help, we can reach alot more fans - and make this a really good atmosphere for all in attendance (including the players ofcourse!). We just want to make the crowd electric!
It's a good thing the RSA will be in attendance that night, otherwise the game against the Devils could be painfully dull. To improve the atmosphere at the game, the RSA should do a number of things...
Ridicule Marty Brodeur for hooking up with his sister-in-law.
If a Senators player gets a hat trick, throw Delissio pizza boxes on the ice.
Alexei Kovalev, Alexander Frolov, Sergei Zubov and Nikolai Kulemin are going to the Olympic Games in Vancouver as substitutes for the Russian team.
It is not officially announced yet but according to Russian site infox.ru Kovalev, Frolov, Zubov and Kulemin have received the Olympics equipment as well as other players from the official Team Russia roster. It means they are going to the Olympics in the status of substitute players.
Overall Russia will have 9 substitute players, three from the NHL and six from the KHL.
The list of Russian Olympics substitute players
NHL 1. Alexei Kovalev, Ottawa Senators 2. Alexander Frolov, Los Angeles Kings 3. Nikolai Kulemin, Toronto Maple Leafs
KHL 4. Vasiliy Koschechkin, Metallurg Magnitogorsk 5. Alexander Eremenko, Salavat Yulaev 6. Sergei Zubov, SKA St. Petersburg 7. Vitaliy Proshkin, Salavat Yulaev 8. Oleg Tverdovskiy, Salavat Yulaev 9. Alexei Tereschenko, Ak Bars
Thanks to the Senators official Twitter account, it looks like Jason Spezza's return is imminent because the team optioned Zach Smith to Binghamton and Spezza skated on a line with Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek at this morning's practice. With Jason's return against the Bruins, things can only get better from here on in. Right?
According to one crazy cat, they can...
“On paper, at the beginning of the year, this was the elite team, one of the Top 5 teams in the league. Now, they’re starting to show their stuff and I think it can only get better because of all the injured players coming back.” ~ The Euge
As the Senators current winning streak extends and the wins get more and more impressive, it's easy to assume that Spezza's return will have some profound impact on this team. He can add some depth and creativity to a Senators power play that until last night, had struggled mightily this season.
However, the Senators have been able to put together a 5-game winning streak in his absence and their play without Spezza is classic Ewing Theory 101.
Developed by David Cirilli and ESPN's Bill Simmons, the Ewing Theory was formed after Cirilli was convinced that Patrick Ewing's teams (both at Georgetown and with New York) inexplicably played better when Ewing was either injured or missing extended stretches because of foul trouble. The theory consists of the following two points:
A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest, and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series).
That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement) -- and both the media and fans immediately write off the team.
The knock on Spezza since junior has always been, he's a great offensive numbers guy who, when he's not producing, has had difficulty affecting the outcome of games. And in his absence, the chemistry that the lines have developed is unmistakable. Freshman Peter Regin has thrived in his role pivoting Ryan Shannon and Alexei Kovalev and Mike Fisher has rediscovered his scoring touch while being flanked by Nick Foligno and Alfredsson. Even the checking line of Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Kelly and Chris Neil has exceeded expectations to this point. In the absence of guys like Michalek and Spezza, the rest of the lineup has flourished when given the opportunity to step up and assume a larger role.
It's why the return of Spezza is a little disconcerting for me. Milan Michalek made his return to the lineup last night against the Blues and was an obvious candidate to play with Spezza since they were paired together before their respective injuries. However, the two haven't combined to produce a goal since Michalek scored in the third period against the Boston Bruins on November 28th. Even though Milan got off to a torrid start, I was never under the impression that he was dependent on Spezza to produce some points.
By throwing Michalek and Spezza together with Alfie, Cory Clouston's effectively reverted Mike Fisher back into a third line checking center capacity by playing him with Neil and Foligno. By keeping up the continuity and bringing Spezza along slowly, there would be no immediate pressure on the team's highest paid player to cut his teeth and shoulder the scoring load.
That being said, I understand why Clouston juggled the lines. They're not static. If Spezza's production fails to live up to his contract, Clouston has alternatives that he easily revert back to.
So here is a topic for discussion for you readers to hit on:
1) How much pressure is on Jason Spezza to prove that he's a top center and that there's life without Heatley?
2) Are you disappointed with the line combinations in his return?
According to Ian Mendes, Milan Michalek's condition has been upgraded and he is now likely to return tomorrow night against the St. Louis Blues. As tempting as it would be to throw him on a line with some skilled guys, the truth is, the team's lines are all rolling right now. Whether it's the Ruutu-Kelly-Neil line, the Shannon-Regin-Kovalev line or the Foligno-Fisher-Alfie line, there's no question that these trios have developed chemistry and confidence thereby allowing the Senators to remain competitive in spite of the team's numerous injuries.
With Michalek drawing in, I would assume that Shean Donovan will draw out of the lineup. Here's hoping that Clouston rewards Zach Smith's strong play with a more skilled linemate in Michalek. (Ed. note: even when Spezza comes back next week, I would love to see him get slotted in with Michalek and either of Cheechoo or Smith.)
A Euge Update?
Thanks to James Gordon, the Sens Army have been blessed by some unintentionally funny Eugene Melnyk quotes like,
"If you really look at it, take any roster in the NHL and wipe out their top line, wipe out one of their best faceoff people, one of their best defencemen and, just for fun, take out their two goalies. Please, what do you expect?"
Hilarious stuff. There's more good news though, apparently The Euge is finally contemplating the purchase of a HD scoreboard. Kudos to The Euge for being receptive to the idea. The last time someone suggested a change was needed, he told fans to blow themselves up.
Milestone For Garrioch
According to Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy, Bruce Garrioch accounts for 94% of all trade rumours emanating from the Great White North. Congratulations Boo Boo on this significant achievement. I can only imagine that Al Strachan is shedding a tear somewhere right now.