Saturday, July 25, 2009

Back to Business - Spezza's Big Day

Time to get away from the smut and back to hockey. Sort of. In tribute to Jason Spezza on his wedding day, enjoy one of his best goals in Ottawa, and his interview he gave about loving being in the city.

I've said in the past that we take this guy for granted. He's had some brilliant moments as an Ottawa Senator, whether it be getting the NJ series to seven games even when our curmudgeonly coach wanted him in the minors. How about when he scored two highlight-reel goals on Hasek and Detroit to help us to a 3-2 win? His playmaking ability and vision to find a raised Heatley stick is second-to-none. And in today's game where players ask to be moved from one city to another with contract in hand, Spezza is a breath of fresh air for our team.

Congrats, Spetz!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bill Watters: Heatley wants to escape the rampant drug use in Sens organization

Here's your news for the day, and let me preface with a sincere apology for going 'National Enquirer'. I don't have inside information, don't claim to, and so don't get involved in rumours. But this is what went down over the noon hour: Bill Watters just announced on Leafs Lunch that Heatley's trade request was built completely around his desire to get away from the rampant drug use in the Ottawa Senators organization. This is on the radio podcast of today's show in the final segment, if you can get it to the final 5:30 minutes of the podcast. From Watters:

"I was at a function with a group of hockey miscreants, and I include myself in there, and was told that Heatley is telling people that he doesn't want to go back to Ottawa because of the alleged, rampant drug use. And I had not heard that and I thought it was strange because as you remember a couple of years ago, there were three Senators who were allegedly on tape, involved in an alleged purchase of some of that Peruvian marching powder and of course they couldn't arrest them, or wouldn't arrest them because they didn't catch them with it on their person..."

Watters goes on to add that he doesn't agree with Heatley at all and wouldn't take him on a bet on his team...just making his previous rant about the drugs all the more irrelevant to his actual and 'alleged' point.

Here's what really grinds my gears - some blowhard on the radio spouting off about another organization and committing blatant defamation of character. We expect this lack of accountability in our own blogging world where a guy can create a rumour empire without using his own name, but mainstream media? Does someone reprimand Watters for saying this on air without offering any proof outside of his own shoddy reputation? Sadly, there are thousands of followers to the Leafs Lunch program that just eat this up because it came from the almighty Watters. At least our version of a beat writer has the wherewithal to not whisper smut into the Sun without any proof. And this is worse than any kind of 'did you hear what Eric Lindros did at that guy's cottage in Muskoka' rumour because you are using your credibility and are actually attacking the reputation and character and accusing them of committing crimes.

I'm not trying to turn this into a whole 'this guy does drugs but that guy doesn't' debate. The rumours have been circling around for years and a lot of the names that came up are now with other teams in the Atlantic Division. But this was the first time we'd heard it spewed by a local media member on air who was talking about something completely different.

So to sum up, a professional sports personality in the Toronto media and former hockey executive just said on the radio that the Senators are an organization with a drug problem and that is the sole reason that our 50-goal scorer has requested a trade out of town. Am I the only one that is furious about this? Is this on par with when that dude on the Team 1200 made a joke about Domi using his ladyfriend as a punching bag? It was a terrible joke and his apologies rung across the province for weeks. Does Watters need to be accountable for this defamatory 'tidbit' of news? Watch as this one goes unnoticed by most...

* * *

In lighter news, I have this weird feeling that Patrick Eaves will find his way back to Ottawa this summer. He was just traded to Boston with a 4th in exchange for Aaron Ward, and was then immediately placed on waivers to be bought out. Eaves has two years left with a cap hit of $1.4M.

Murray on Eaves when he traded him and Corvo two years ago: "I didn't want to give up Patty Eaves, I really like this guy, he's got a good future," (link). Listen, I agree there is no need for another third liner on this team, but he's gonna be had for under a million and if Murray moves Kelly in a trade, then it wouldn't shock me if he made his way back.

Duff v Pynch - Part II - Cory Clouston

Here's round two. In the first installment, Pynch showered Kovalev with hugs and kisses while Duff questioned the alleged negative impact he might have on an already volatile dressing room. Here, we tackle the question of whether or not Clouston is cut out for the big time in his first full season.

Duff: Here's one thing I'm not certain about - who is Cory Clouston? Pardon me if I didn't jump aboard his bandwagon last year after 34 games. There is no doubt that the team started to perform better and the aggressive style was far more suitable to our personnel. That being said, he took over a team in a lost season. Every win was a surprise for this group. Pressure was at a minimum. For the first time in a decade, the players were out there with nothing to play for but pride. This is not much different than the recent Maple Leafs seasons when they were a non-playoff team but not 'mathematically' eliminated until early April. I'm just not prepared to blanket Clouston with love and admiration because he won a few more than he lost in games that nobody cared about. He is still a rookie coach with a mediocre roster. The difference this season is that the fans are about to throw boatloads of expectations his way. I don't see this working out well.

Pynch: First off, I believe pressure last year was not as minimal as you think. The players may have had it easy with knowing when they would start their summer, but there was certainly a lot of pressure on upper management, including Clouston. Despite the interim tag, if Clouston had failed miserably he would have met the same fate as Murray in the unemployment line. So, there was pressure to turn things around and deliver, at minimum, a .500 season – which we barely did. Cory handled his intro into the show with composure and got the short-sighted job done. Is there more pressure this year? Yep, but he’s more capable to deal with half a season under his belt.

So, who is he? Geez, who’s Dan Bylsma? Ok, this is a dangerous comparison so I won’t go down this road… What I like about Clouston’s history is his fairly consistent success and the way he’s managed to climb the ranks. He’s been coaching for 15 years or so, starting the lowly junior ranks before climbing his way into the WHL as an Assistant Coach. From there he moved to Head Coach and won the WHL’s Coach of the Year award – twice! Of course, his success warranted an opportunity in the pros, albeit in the AHL before breaking through last year – when we all started asking who this Clouston guy is? Thank goodness for Wikipedia…

What’s common over Clouston’s career is his ability to adjust and elevate to the next level as a coach. He never played in the NHL, I think his top level of playing experience was the U of A Golden Bears. My point is that he didn’t get a coaching job because of his playing experience – which is more and more common these days. It wasn’t gift wrapped or even gift bagged – it was earned and deserved. He’s new to the NHL and a market like Ottawa, but he’s not new to coaching. His experience, ahem, winning experience, should allow us to get excited about the baby-faced drill sargaent.

Duff: I do find it interesting and a bit comforting that he’s climbed the ranks so fast and had success at each level. But another concern for me is his style and approach to the players. Is he a no-nonsense guy that gets the best out of his players? Or is he a Tortorella or Keenan that belittles his players to the point that they stop playing for him? From what we’ve seen so far of Clouston, he isn’t buddies with his players and I think that is great. Be hard on them, get more out of them, and make them understand who calls the shots. But this is his first taste of the big leagues and will he know where that line is or will he cross it and alienate himself from his players?

In the junior leagues and even in the AHL, the players need that type of coach. An authoritative figure that teaches them how to play the game and identifies their mistakes and shortcomings so they can improve. Besides, these players need all the help they can get in order to make the jump to the NHL, right? But players at the NHL level are far different – they’ve MADE it. I’m not saying that they need to be coddled and massaged or anything like that, but there are far different motivators at this level. Can Clouston’s approach of being an asshole work with these millionaires? On one hand, Keenan and Torts have won a Cup with their style and so it can work with an experienced coach like that; on the other hand, they find it tougher and tougher to get jobs because their style doesn’t suit most teams and most organizations. Can Clouston fit into ours? Can he change our culture? I think he’s still a minor league guy playing in the bigs with the old boys and his bark might fall on deaf ears.

Pynch: Good points. It's hard to know how a coach's style will mesh with the team. A big problem with the Sens over the last year or so has been scoring goals. From a team who led the league, to one who's struggled to fill the net. That said, I'm writing off this recent failure to our struggling stars. Are Spez, Alfie, Heatley (gotta leave him in here, for now), and now Kovalev, gonna continue to stuggle to fill the net? It's possible, but I'd be surprised. Clouston's offensive style has the ability to make these guys shine. However, I don't believe this is our biggest problem.

While our stars have sputtered, it's our 2nd, 3rd and 4th liners who we keep waiting to produce. When will Fisher become a true second liner? Will Foligno develop into a 20 goal scorer? Can Kelly produce? It's not only that, but we need our energy guys - Neil, Ruutu, Donovan, the list goes on - to bring up their game. Not only on the scoreboard, but their games need to be elevated all around. We need to be hard to play against. We want the league to have their hands full with these lines, and shake their heads after every shift. If that happens, I think some offence will come. But offence aside, all-around results for these guys are needed and I think Clouston's lunch pail style will help. Sure these guys have 'made it', but do you think they're stars? Do they think they're stars? Unlikely. They're crucial, but they need to work to keep their jobs and their respect. Clouston's expectations of work ethic and hard hockey will be heard by these guys. I fully expect them to respond.

Ottawa's depth has something to prove. Being tested by Clouston should inspire them further. And for their top guys, I don't believe they are prima donnas (with the exception of Kovalev, where that applies to 40% of games). They need strong expectations and zero tolerance for calling it in. Call Clouston an asshole, but these players are not in need of a soft coach who just hopes they play hard and have fun. Clouston is exactly what we need.

Duff: Yeah, he did get more out of Fisher and Foligno, which was great to see. And so I get the last word since I know you're out of the office today. Clouston filled out his staff with Brad Lauer and said he uses him for experience since Lauer played in the NHL. I know you don't have to play in the NHL to know what you're doing up there as a coach (see Ken Hitchcock), but everything has seemed upside down since Clouston took over. Our most aggressive line included Ryan Shannon, our top scorer asked for a trade, and our off-ice staff is filled with no-namers. We all know that this is Bryan Murray's last stand after the coaching carousel and the whole 'we missed the playoffs' bit. Is he worried that he's hanging his hat on Clouston to carry the season? I know he said he's too old and been around too long to worry about that, but think of where this organization has gone in Murray's tenure as GM and how his contract will depend on what an unexperienced Cory Clouston can do this year. I'm pulling for him, obviously, because I have blind loyalty to this team. I just haven't felt good about our coaching staff since Murray was back there in the Finals and this season doesn't change that.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One Vote for Heatley - courtesy of Paul Kelly

Finally, some support for Dany Heatley in this mess, coming from the contractually obligated NHLPA Director, Paul Kelly. He gave an interview with Dan Tencer in Edmonton on 630 CHED.

Highlights include:

"I think that this been kind of twisted in a negative way, which is unfortunate for Dany. I think he's just a victim of a bad set of circumstances," said Kelly about Heatley, who requested a trade earlier in the off-season."

"While it is true that he requested a trade, it was not Dany Heatley or his agent that made that fact public. I think Dany's been unfairly treated by the media and by the (Senators) organization."

"It's clear that they didn't have enough of a conversation to clarify where they were at. Unfortunately this thing has taken a bit of a bad twist. We think that Dany has been getting a bit of a raw deal. I think the day will come that he'll have his opportunity to clarify some of these things. Where it will be, nobody really knows."

I'm not going to jump all over this because Kelly has a responsibility to his players to stick up for them. It isn't as if he'd call up Dan Tencer and say that he thinks Heatley is an idiot and wants him out of the player's association. This is textbook talk for a guy that is making sure he doesn't raise any red flags.

I guess we'll see if this interview just floats down the river without much attention, or if the hatred for the Heatley camp is still so deep that fans and media add Paul Kelly to the Axis of Evil.

Full story here

Brad Lauer named Assistant Coach

Here's the story:

Looks like we've got the cupboard full from a coaching perspective. Feels like hockey season.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kovalev in town and Heatley-gate?

First off, Alex Kovalev threw on a Sens jersey in his first public appearance since signing in Ottawa earlier this month. Story from the Sun here.

Second, and trust me that I hate doing this, but I feel the need to respond on the "Heatleygate" from an anonymous blogger's website that shall remain unnamed. The story goes that Murray had a done deal with the Rags so long as they could clear salary, which they did in peddling Gomez to the Habs. Murray really wanted Dubinsky, though, who was not part of the offer, so he started going to the Oilers for leverage and indirectly leaked the names of the Oilers players that were being offered back. Slats, not wanting to hurt his former team in Edmonton, backed out entirely and signed Gabby instead, leaving Murray stuck with the Edmonton offer and a disinterested Heatley. Yadda, yadda, yadda, we're here three weeks later waiting to see if SJ can clear cap space or if Heatley will just take the next five years in Edmonchuk.

Let me bring you in on a secret - if Bryan Murray wanted Slats to know that an Edmonton deal was close, he would call him up and tell him the players coming back the other way. I'm not down with anonymous rumour sites acting as if Bryan Murray is as unprofessional as they are by suggesting he would stoop to lowbrow tactics. I'm well aware that the media is 'used' to push agendas and gain public favour, but to think that Murray and Slats aren't close enough and respectful enough to pick up the phone just shows a lack of understanding.

As I said in Monday's Musings - if the Rags offered a better deal than what Edmonton is offering, Murray would have taken it. If the Rags did in fact make an offer first for Heatley, then Murray has a duty to this organization to first see if there is a better deal out there for the Senators organization. In this case, he did and that's what we're left with. I don't even know if anyone is at fault here. Slats pulled out when he chose Gabby, Tambellini made his best offer, Murray took his best offer, Heatley just wants to play somewhere else, and his agents are trying their hardest to broker a deal. Everyone is within their right to take each action. At the end of the day, though, the sympathy will still be in favour of Ottawa and Edmonton, whether Heatley finds that fair or not.

FYI - photo above is courtesy of Tony Caldwell/Sun Media.

Here's the press conference with AK27

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Musings - July 20th

Shortened entry on a quiet July evening:

1. The schedule was released last week and it looks like once again, the Sens don't come to Atlanta until January (and again in March). They used to always play once in the fall and once in the spring, but now for the second straight season, both games are in the new year. Being in South Carolina, those games are the easiest to attend and tickets are almost being handed out for free. Hoping to get to a game in November in Ottawa in the fall, but most excited about trying to plan a weekend road trip. Potential targets - Phoenix in December, Boston in January, Detroit in February, Dallas in March, or Long Island in April. Looking for a cheap flight for Dallas or Detroit. Anybody have recommendations on any of the rinks?

2. Depending on who you talk to, there is either zero Senators news or he's about to be traded tonight. I still don't disagree that teams might be calling Murray, but I still question whether or not any other offers are on the table. We know Murray is insanely tight-lipped about his organization and he isn't the Muckler type that has brutal honesty with the media, so there's obviously more going on under the covers and out of our sights. But we still have to take him at his word that he doesn't have an offer better than the deal with Edmonton. Yes, this is debatable because there is probably some spite involved, but let's not pretend that Murray is going to take a lesser deal just to screw Heatley. Murray's absolute top responsibility to this team is to make the best trade that helps this team. This isn't the California Penal League and he isn't going to tag a play for personal reasons. If someone beats Edmonton's offer, Murray will take it. To think otherwise is just dumb and short-sighted.

3. Any chance that Fisher and Foligno hit 50 points this season? We know Alfie, Spezza, and Kovalev will top that number given a healthy season, but what about those next two. If Leclaire plays great hockey and those two hit 50 points, then we're a playoff team. Take a look through each team's stats from last year (sorry I didn't do it for you) and tell me how many teams have five or more forwards over 50 points. It translates to a lot of goals, which were tough to come by in Ottawa last season. If those two F-bombs can get their act together, we're in good shape. Can we get a third forward whose name starts with an F just so we can really call them the F-bombs? Fedotenko is signed, right? Federov, Fritsche, is that it? Ahh, forget it.