Wednesday, September 16, 2009

5 Minute Major - Q&A with TSN heartthrob James Duthie

Ahh, what a relief that hockey season is back upon us, we're talking about forward lines, and the summer of hell in Ottawa is over. Instead of dissecting last night's scrub loss to the Panthers, we're going to feature our third installment of of 'Five Minute Major' series of interviews. Today's exclusive is with TSN's James Duthie, Ottawa native and host of NHL on TSN.

If you're looking for our previous installments, they're here:
John Buccigross interview is here
James Cybulski interview is here

But this is all about Duthie! James Duthie is an Ottawa native and a graduate of Carleton University. He has received three nominations for Gemini Awards as 'Best Host or Interviewer in a Sports Program or Sportscast', as well as a nomination for hosting the six-hour 'Canada's Game - Hockey Lives Here' feature. In addition to being the current host and instigator on NHL on TSN, he continues to write a piece for the Ottawa Citizen called 'the Good, the Bad, and the Duthie'.

Another Sens Blog was able to capture lightning in a bottle, also known as a one-on-one with JD before the hockey season gets fully underway and he spends his nights with the panelists on TSN. Here's the interview in full. Enjoy. And a big shout out to Duthie, who insists that this is now his homepage!

Another Sens Blog: James, thanks for chatting with us. Let's jump right in with the current affairs: Michalek and Cheechoo for Heatley. We know who the best player in the deal was, but can you argue that Ottawa still made out well in this trade, either with the 'addition through subtraction' cliche or by getting some scoring depth?

James Duthie: You can never "win" a trade like this, when you deal your top scorer, and one of the best in the league--but they did better than I thought they would--considering Murray didn't just have a gun to his head--he had an Uzi. Getting Michalek in the deal was big--and Cheechoo may not get 50 ever again, but he shouldn't get 12 again either.

ASB: So the return was decent given the circumstances and gives us more depth. Is this forward corps now balanced enough to pose a different threat than the past years of being a one line team?

JD: Yes, definitely more balance so it is a different threat. And as a unit, I think they are better. Don't forget Kelly and Fisher can't possibly have that poor offensive years again. But that top line has still taken a hit, and when a game is on the line...and on PP, he'll still be missed.

ASB: I appreciate you not using "his" name. Let's talk blueline. Bryan Murray hasn't gotten his elite defenceman, either as a top flight puck mover or a #1 physical presence. Is this blueline close to what it was three years ago in the Finals?

JD: No--I don't think its close. I think Karlsson will be really good someday...but not yet. This group is decent...but not near the group in 07 that was among the league's best--at least for that year.

ASB: And now the most important position for us. We all realize that we're only as good as our goalie. Is Pascal Leclaire the real-deal with a great attitude or is he a younger, injury-prone Gerber that isn't worth his salary? How critical is his success to this team?

JD: He's had a rough couple of years, but I don't think "injury-prone" is fair...yet. I'd take Leclaire over Gerber any day. If he's healthy, it's the best goalie they've had since...umm...uhh...errr....ever? Okay Tugnutt on that first playoff run was pretty good...and Lalime was good in the regular season. Besides them...I got nuthin'. Leclaire has to steal about 7 games for them to make the playoffs.

ASB: Scary since we've rarely had goalies 'steal' games for us. Hasek was capable of it, but...adductor...ahhhh! What about the coach? Cory Clouston - coach of the year candidate or gone by the deadline? Is this guy the coach of the future for us or did he just get lucky last spring?

JD: I liked what I saw, but who knows. The three previous coaches they've had over the past year and a half are all good hockey men, and they all failed miserably with (essentially) this group. At some point you say coaching isn't the problem here. If he gets fired by the deadline...I can't see how its Murray doing the firing. No GM gets to change coaches that many times without getting fired himself. (Except maybe my buddy Milbury during his Long Island days!). I think Clouston will do well and be around a while (which in Ottawa means beyond one year).

ASB: Great pot shot at Milbury! Tell us about AK27. Will the real Alex Kovalev please stand up? Will we love him or hate him by Christmas?

JD: You will love him by Halloween. Hate him by Remembrance Day. Love him by American Thanksgiving. Hate him by Christmas. Love him by New Year' get my drift. He won't change...he never has in his career. He'll be great some nights and invisible others. Guaranteed.

ASB: Same question was asked of C-Balls - why does Toronto hate Alfie? Jealousy or pure hatred?

JD: I refuse to answer questions C-Balls has been asked. It belittles me. Just kidding C-balls. I guess it all goes back to that "guarantee" of winning the Cup...which he did in an interview with me...and if you had been was hardly a brash bold cocky prediction...he was just trying to show a little confidence. Then there was that mock throw of stick into crowd thing a few years back...which was actually funny... so basically all the reasons are lame. Alfie remains one of my favourite players in the league--works his butt off every night--I think they probably hate him because they wished they had more players like him. So jealousy mostly--although I think that has died down a lot.

ASB: I knew it! Refreshing to hear that Alfie is also well-liked in media circles. Future mayor of Ottawam. Okay, let's hit the third period: Playoffs - make your prediction. Where are we in late April...late May...?

JD: I think they might make it...but dogfight for 7th or 8th...and probably an early exit...unless Leclaire walks on water.

ASB: Who wears more on-air makeup: Mike Milbury or Pierre McGuire?

JD: Neither wears much--i probably wear more than both---a whole lotta ugly to cover up--but Pierre has a lot of head to powder.

ASB: You were just awarded an NHL expansion franchise (Balsillie is furious that you won out over him). Who is your GM, who is your head coach, and what is the one player in this league that you'd love to build your team around?

JD: If I couldn't lure Ken Holland away from Detroit, then I'd try to steal David Poile from Nashville. How the Preds compete year after year with budget and ownership issues is unreal. If all employed GM's are off the list, Stevie Y is my guy. I think he'd bring good people in under him. My coach is Laviolette (I know, sounds like bias since I've worked with him...but I just like the guy and his philosophy, and there aren't unemployed guys out there who have won rings in the last five years).
My players are obvious: Sid or Ovie, I'll take either...but since those are boring answers, I'll say Mike Richards....because I think he's going to be the best leader in hockey for the next decade. Can I have Toews too? Didn't think so.

ASB: Awesome. I'm curious myself if Stevie Y will ever work his way into the Sens organization just because waiting on Holland in Detroit would be like waiting on Gehrig to give up first base. And one personal one for you - you've been at this for a long time and probably been at some amazing sporting events. That being said, you've still gotta be a fan of sports just like the rest of us. What are some of your best memories in broadcasting?

JD: Number one would have to meeting Cybulski for the first time.
After that...
The first Stanley Cup final game in Ottawa in 07 was cool, just because it was where I grew up, and started my career, so there was a Disney Circle of Life thing going on. And last year's World Junior gold medal game there was equally goose-bumping. Outside of hockey,
I covered all four golf majors the year of the lockout--that was amazing. Seeing Augusta had always been a dream, and watching Jack Nicklaus walk up the 18th fairway at St. Andrews for the last time, with old Scottish guys weeping all around me was unforgettable. And I was in Oakland for that Vince Carter slam dunk contest where he just went OFFFF!. Most electric atmosphere I've ever been a part of. (And doing this blog for you has to be in the top five).

ASB: Sweet, top five! And it is also cool to hear that you still have that passion and pride for Ottawa sports. One last time, thanks again for joining us. Classic stuff, especially the kind words for Alfie, the shout out to Cybulski, and the reminder that Milbury had some wild times on Long Island.

My sincere thanks to James for spending some time with us. I don't think he really needs our plug, but don't forget to check out his work in the Citizen and on NHL on TSN.

Let us know what you think. Is the defence that bad? Is our offence that good? Leclaire potentially our best goalie?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Five Minute Major coming tomorrow

We've got a great Q&A coming tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. Come back to check it out. Tell your friends.

In the meantime, not much to learn from the loss to the Cats tonight, other than watching Karlsson and Picard basically battle for the 6th spot on the blue line, and to see how Pascal performs. Ottawa fans are excited to see the stars hit the ice tomorrow at SBP and see how this group really works.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Alternate Captain Position Available. Apply Within.

Heatley is gone! Ok, so I'm even sick of talking about it. But along with the man behind the uniform, so went the "A" on his uniform...or at least it became available.

We know Alfie will don the "C" and Big Rig sports an "A", but who will get the other Alternate Captain role?

Having a letter on your jersey is a big responsibility. There is a lot involved. You have to be respected. You have to be a leader. You have to be able to rally the troops, to get tough when the tough get going, to carry the team when necessary. You gotta face the media after a loss and protect the younger guys when necessary. You have to chat with refs. You have to be in the community outside the rink. As always, I can go on.

So who fits that role on the 2009-10 Sens? Here is a shortlist:

Anton Volchenkov
A-Train has been in a Sens jersey since 2002 (even in Bingo in the lockout). A big D-man who throws bone crushing hits. His style is admirable. Works hard, never gives up, hits whatever`s in his way, blocks any shot he can get a piece of. He puts the team first and knows his role.

But, #24 is a UFA after this year and may be hard for the Sens to hang on to. While we would all love him to receive a contract extension this year, you never know what's going to happen. Can we risk putting an "A" on a guy who might leave? We just went through that...

Jason Spezza
Watching Spez in interviews still makes me chuckle. His goofy demeanor always makes me shake my head and think he's so lucky to have the hands he does. But #19 is growing up. This summer he got married in his personal life, but divorced in his professional life. He was invited to the Team Canada Olympic Camp, but only after being initially overlooked. This summer of ups and downs may have thickened his skin as he enters his 6th season in Sens Red. Can he be ready for the promotion?

But, he's so goofy! Can he really be a leader in the room? Or does he crack terrible jokes during the intermission?

Mike Fisher
An obvious candidate for the role. He's worn the "A" from time to time so has experience there. Another lifelong Senator and clearly a fan favourite. Like A-Train, he works hard. Many would say, this blogger included, he's the hardest working guy on the team. He goes in corners, he battles, he's got speed and he's got a damn good look in his eye that says "I want to win". Plus, he clearly has the hottest girlfriend on the team, so there's that.

But, Fish has underperformed from an offensive point of view. Every season that passes, our offensive expectations become less and less while our frustration of his contract grows. Despite this frustration, could you picture him in any other uniform???

Chris Neil
A long shot here, but consider Neil is another guy on this list who's only ever called Ottawa his NHL home. A guy who will take one for anyone else on his team. He'll get his opponents riled up and follow through by taking them on to rally the troops (well, most of the time). Not the biggest scrapper in the NHL, but one of the most fearless, and with the best smile. And who doesn't love and respect a guy who'll stay in town for less money than the Leafs offered him?

But, do you really want your leader to spend more time in the box than the rest of your team? Remember, one of a captain's roles is to talk to the refs - not so easy to have a rationale conversation with a ref after you've just been put away for a few minutes...and your name rhymes with Shmeil.

Because I'm writing this, I get the honour of being the first to express an option. And who do I think should be the new Alternate Captain of this year's Senators? Drumroll please.....

Jason Spezza!

Yep. That's right. Aside from Alfie, Spez is our franchise player. He's our golden boy up front and is expected to lead a new offense that season. It would be classy for the Sens to add an "A" to his jersey to go along with those expectations. Not only would this would instill confidence in Jason, but it makes him more responsible. Maybe he'll think twice about making blind passes at the blue line. He's not a kid anymore and this would go a long way in reminding him that. And, what a nice honour to recognize a guy who actually honours and appreciates his 7 year contract (a nice subtle middle finger to our former #15).

Now the obvoius question, what are your thoughts? Do you agree with me? Do you agree with the shortlist? Should we consider anyone else? Does Kovy earn it because of his veteran status and talent? Maybe Kuba can handle the role as the quarterback on the PP. Should we shake it up and be the first team to give an "A" to a goalie (screw you Vancouver!)?

Let's hear your thoughts! Who will be the Sens new Alternate Captain?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Now what? Sens hit the ice today

Ottawa media woke up today feeling like they just had prom last night. All the build-up for months and then POW, just like that, it's over. After spending all summer over-analyzing trades and trade requests and no-trade clauses and trade rumours, we're all left with nothing more than...ACTUAL HOCKEY! Sure, it feels weird that prom has come and gone, but now the future can finally start!

Personally, I'm mildly satisfied with the trade return. I'm not pumped about it, but I'm not disappointed by it, either. People that were spitting rumours of getting top prospects and Jack Johnsons were wrong from the beginning. So many questions have implicitly been answered now that we can look back and put our own timeline together.

First, Garrioch tells us that San Jose's offer was Cheechoo, Ehrhoff, and a 1st rounder. Murray clearly hated that deal as it just gave us a third line forward to replace a top line forward. So he took the Edmonton deal. But, since the Sens had given Heatley's camp the opportunity to negotiate their own trades with other teams, they were fully aware that the Sharks had made an offer and so rejected the Edmonton trade, hoping to bully Murray into accepting the lesser deal.

When Ehrhoff was sent to Vancouver as a salary dump, it changed slightly the trade return. They added in a better player to replace Ehrhoff, but dropped the draft pick down a round. Again, Heatley and his handlers just sat back with their middle finger in Murray's face. It is clear that Murray understands the seriousness of this season or else he would have just kept the bad attitude in the locker room and hoped the returns were better. People will argue, and some commenters on this site are included, that we were fleeced in this deal on a talent basis and we should have waited until the deadline. But Bryan Murray has been at this a long time and is privy to information that must have told him that either a) the returns on this player were not going to get that much better in the season, b) the risk of an injury wasn't worth it, or c) having Heatley's attitude in the room, based on what they discussed in their Friday morning meeting, was such that he absolutely had to be moved right away. I truly believe it is a combination of all three - the returns wouldn't be much better at the deadline or next summer, there is risk in carrying a guy that you are hoping to trade later, and Heatley clearly walked into SBP this weekend adamant that he should be traded to the Sharks ASAP.

But enough about him. What about the players headed our way?

Milan Michalek

Exciting player, signed for a long time, and going to be a fan favourite in Ottawa. I've watched a fair share of Sharks games (bless you, Centre Ice package) and while he isn't a dominant force, you always know when he's on the ice. He can often be found near the crease, but he also has gifted hands and speed. He'll have better skating than Heatley and will be tougher, but obviously isn't a 50-goal player. He's without question a top six player and will be a great threat on the powerplay, which is starting to look impressive. The Citizen caught up with Michalek. Hey, we have a new Mach 9!

Jonathan Cheechoo

Dude has gone through a few sports injuries and hasn't played a full season since his 56 goal outburst in 2005-06. It has been said that his skating leaves something to be desired, but that might be more of an injury recovery thing that he's hopefully remedied with a strong off-season. What I like about the Moose Factory native is that he is smart enough to recognize this as a fresh start and will no doubt look to impress his new fans. It remains to be seen if he can hang on the top two lines after he was demoted to the third line in SJ last year, away from Thornton. If he can get some scoring touch back, along with his skating, he might get ice time with Spezza to see if he can rediscover that old pace. What I also like about him is that he's averaged 112 hits a year in the past four seasons, so he won't shy away from the corners. He knows this is an opportunity for him to resurrect his career, as told to the Sun yesterday.

Listen, did we get full value for a 50-goal scorer? Of course not. Anybody that thought we'd get a loaded package of stars, prospects, and picks needs to put down the Playstation controller. We lost our top scorer but we've balanced out our offence and we balanced out our payroll, two critical flaws of last year's team. I think Spezza will thrive in this situation because he'll get to play with multi-dimensional players that will help him grow his own game. We acquired two hard skaters that will buy into Clouston's style of hard forechecking and teamwork. And most importantly to Murray and the players, we rid ourselves of that Charlie Brown rain cloud that has been hovering over SBP since June. We'll be tougher and harder to defend and Leclaire will put us back in the postseason.

If TSN and the Hockey News were to revise their Eastern Conference predictions and power rankings, would they move us up or down from #24? Their main reason for the low score was the Heatley uncertainty, which is now gone.

And finally, players hit the ice today for the first time since April. First pre-season game is Tuesday night. Take a big breath, Sens fans. Just because prom is over, it doesn't mean there isn't a whole new great future out there waiting for us.