True story, we were able to connect for a one-on-one with ESPN's hockey expert, John Buccigross. If you aren't familiar with his work, you are missing out. Bucci is the only reason that the NHL still gets air time on ESPN and his columns are stellar in bridging the gap between hockey as we love it and popular society. Do yourself a big favour and bookmark Bucci's columns - the guy is a star. And best of all, he agreed to share his thoughts with Another Sens Blog in an exclusive one-on-one op ed. Thanks, Bucci! Don't stop until you get Gary Thorne and Bill Hands of Cement Clement back on hosting weekly hockey on ESPN, buddy!
Interview in full:
Another Sens Blog #1: Dany Heatley - what can he do both on the ice and off the ice this fall to repair his reputation and credibility? We aren't sure if he'll be in Ottawa or somewhere else, but this trade request has turned into a catastrophe for all parties. What advice would you provide to him to clear his name going forward?
John Buccigross: I somewhat sympathize with Heatley. He signed a contract he really couldn’t turn down in a place he didn’t really want to be. I imagine he has had trade in the back of his mind from the day he signed the contract. I don’t think it was as contrived as say Alex Rodriguez in Texas, but I do think he’s wanted to leave. He’s a good player and this should pass.
(ASB note - I've followed up with Bucci on this as it relates to some other rumours that persist that Heatley has ALWAYS wanted to play in the Western Conference instead of Ottawa. More to come on this gossip, for sure).
ASB#2: Alex Kovalev - superstar misunderstood or chronic underachiever? Ottawa is so mixed about this signing as we know the magic he possesses but also know the disappearing acts that he's accustomed to pullling. Will Ottawa embrace this enigmatic player?
Bucci: Alex Kovalev has more good things about him than bad. He is durable and his productive. He was tied for 48 in scoring in the NHL last year. That is good in a league of 600 skaters. He is also now a second line player on team with high expectations and he fits . He turns 37 during the season. His days as a productive five on five player and a first line player playing against shutdown defenses and road matchup situations, are over. So, if Heatley stays, Kovalev can fit as a second liner. Style-wise, he is not one of my favorite players. I like gritty, 100% engaged players on my team , especially when they are older. The older the player the more the younger players will follow their lead. Five million for two years seems excessive to me. But playing with good players, he will produce on the power play.
ASB# 3: Pascal Leclaire - goalie of the future or Martin Gerber 2.0? We've been burned before in giving a contract to a goalie fresh off of one good season. Leclaire is younger and appears far better suited for the media circus he's about to face. Have we solved our goaltending woes in Ottawa?
Bucci: 3.8 for two years is definitely tilted toward the risky side of things. Leclaire has only played 125 games and he played most recently for a tight checking, grinding team. That is not the Sens. But, he is entering the prime goalie years as a 27 year old. I would be skeptical.
ASB#4: Cory Clouston - the decision by the organization to keep him has led to a trade request from our top scorer. Is there an insurmountable amount of pressure about to be thrown on this guy? Ottawa has had a tough time with coaches - does Clouston need to make the playoffs? On that topic, does Murray need to make the playoffs?
Bucci: Murray definitely has to make the playoffs. Ray Emery is on their cap although it is pennies. Mike Fisher is making 4.2. The defensive corps and goaltending does not look like a playoff team. I don’t think we know enough about Cory Clouston aside from his healthy salad. (hair)
ASB# 5: Is this a team on the rise or a team on the decline? We're far different than the team that coasted through the East a few years ago and have retooled with rookies like Foligno and Lee and with vets like Kovalev and Kuba. Are we on our way up again or is this another year on the way down?
Bucci: 83 points last year seems about right again for this year, possibly more if they stay healthy and a young player surprises me. They are far from an elite team. Their goaltending is, again, questionable and their defense looks subpar to me. If Heatley does stay, and that will be a cap challenge, they will have two very good scoring lines. But they are top heavy on the offensive side. But, there is enough balance in the East that the Senators can expect to battle for a playoff spot with being delusional.
ASB: Like it or not, Bucci speaks the truth from an unbiased point of view. He says what a lot of us have thought - so much of our season depends on Leclaire. We aren't like Detroit, who can have terrible regular season goaltending and still walk through their division. We need to be strong from the net out and with the bodies we have on the blue line, that isn't a sure thing. I have more confidence in our defencemen than he does, it seems, but he's right in that it isn't an elite group. We just need guys like Campoli and Lee to take a big step forward in development this year and we'll be fine.
My sincere thanks to John Buccigross for the time. I hope to make it a regular feature with different profressionals in the industry so if you know of other analysts like Bucci, let me know and we'll reach out to them. If you want to keep reading his work, I highly recommend bookmarking his page. He's hilarious, he knows his hockey, and loves communicating with hockey fans. Check out his stuff.