Friday, October 20, 2006

A Pinch of Pynch - Chara vs. Redden

In our first installment from our guest blogger, Jeff Lynch, a Pinch of Pynch analyzes what will soon be known as the biggest question of the year for Ottawa: Did we sign the right All-Star defenceman? Here it is and as always, comments are appreciated:

It’s a question that was posed as early as July 2006, and will likely be asked, dissected and criticized for weeks, months and years to come – did the Ottawa Senators sign the right All-Star defenceman.

In response to this highly voiced question, as posed this morning by Mr. Cheek, my personal short answer is no.

Before I begin, allow me to make a few things clear. I am no hockey expert, far from it in fact. The only regular season Sens games I get to watch are those carried by Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights, in Toronto mind you, and the ones I catch when I’m home sweet home in the Nation’s Capital. However, I am a Sens fan. A true, dedicated Sens fan. I listen to the team on the Team and spend most mornings at work reading articles on our beloved rouge et or…et noir. Alright, get it? Got it? Good. Now for my long answer. Here we go.

Wade Redden. Ottawa’s golden boy. I used to have a very jaded perception of Reds. You see, when I lived in Ottawa I actually did see just about every game possible. I also listened to post game shows and read daily Citizen articles and editorials. Different games led to different expert opinions and comments, but Wade’s performance was the one consistent. He was always a star, and when he wasn’t first, second or third star, he was fourth star. He couldn’t make a mistake, even when he blatantly did. Again, Ottawa’s golden boy. But I’ll stop right there, take a deep breath, and continue.

It was when I moved to Toronto, away from the bombardment of the Ottawa sports media that my thoughts and feelings changed. I realized I disliked Reds only because the media loved him so. Without having to hear his overwhelming praises enabled me to make my own assessments. Sure he still made mistakes, but I no longer had to hear that they weren’t his fault. I started appreciating his assets without them being blown out of proportion. Hey, this guy’s pretty damn good.

That leads me to my current state of affairs. I like Reds. Sure he gets caught pinching often and can be known to cough up the puck, but these plays do not nearly outweigh his positives. He is one of the top defensemen in the league and I’m glad he’s in Ottawa, but…

That brings me to the 6’9”, 290lb, rib eating, father wrestling, Tour de France route cycling Zdeno Chara. Hey Zdeno, you’re awfully tall, but aside from a long reach, what other assets do you have in the game of hockey? Let’s see…. He’s strong, he’s mobile, he has a cannon from the point, he’s physical, he’s tough, he’s mean, he can’t be moved from the front of the net, he’s well positioned and he’s a leader. Now, Wade Redden is also many of those things, but he’s not all of those things.

If I have to pick on Chara for anything, it’s that some games he can appear slow and gets beat much too often. That used to drive me nuts. Perhaps it’s the altitude – that thin air around his head could leave him dazed from time to time – but some games he would certainly look like the weaker of the two players in question…but not always and not often.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to resign two of the NHL’s best in the same year. I’d like to pass blame on John Ferguson Jr. for signing mysteriously well perceived Bryan McCabe for roughly $5.5 Million a year and thus setting the bar for defensemen salaries, but face it, Reds and Chara are both franchise players and whether they signed for $6, $6.5 or $7 there was no way we were keeping both.

So, as we’re all well aware, John sunk Eugene’s money into Wade. With such an offensive powerhouse, it seemed to make sense to stick with the guy who can make that tape to tape first pass transitioning our boys from the defensive zone and onto the attack, the guy who is capable of 80 points a year, the guy who looks better on the cover of a Score Magazine. But I don’t buy it. Let me tell you why.

After the first quarter of last season, the Globe and Mail alluded to the Sens as possibly being the best team ever. They were virtually unstoppable at the time because they were the entire package. Not only were their stars scoring and they’re wondergoalie flip, floppin’ and savin’, but they were mean. For once, finally, the Sens put fear into their opponents. Don’t step out of line or you’ll have to deal with Neil, McGratton and the toughest of them all, Chara. This let the offense do their thing without repercussion. For some unknown reason, that mind set went away. McGratton found a regular seat in the press box, but more importantly that fierce toughness was replaced by a country club type atmosphere. It was ‘dipsy doodle, hope this works’ as opposed to crash, bang and clear the path for the goals. I’m certainly digressing here, but I assure you it’s connected, so let me get back to my point.

At the beginning of this year, Murray insisted that the Sens were going to carry a blue-collar, lunch box attitude. Back to basics. Don’t mess with Texas, er, Ottawa. Yes!, I thought, what a concept! It worked last year for half a season, let’s bring it back and not forget it. Let’s be mean. Let’s be tough. And who can spark that attitude and style of play – our very own Zdeno Chara! Oh, wait. He’s gone. He’s the captain of a division rival. He’s installing fear at the TD Banknorth Garden. He’s parked in front of the net on Boston’s powerplay. He’s gone.
I’ve seen Redden drop the gloves before and hold his own, if not give a bit of a beating. He’s tough in his own right, but the key issue is that he does not install fear. Maybe this style of play won’t win the Cup. Did Carolina install fear? No. Does Buffalo install fear? No. And that’s fine. And I may be wrong. But, I like that style of play. And Ottawa was winning playing that style.

Bottom line – Ottawa would have been better off with Chara. In my mind, he’s more of a Norris candidate and I believe he’s more valuable to an all around game. They’re both great players and I’m happy to have at least one of them on the ice, but give me Chara any day.

And now I’m spent. I’m going to grab some ribs. Have a good weekend.

- Pynch


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