Friday, September 25, 2009

I saw Sens hockey!

Holy crow, a live Sens game on TV and I saw it! Bless you, NHL Network.

My thoughts on the game tonight


- Erik Karlsson. Sure he made a few mistakes, but the great offensive instincts far outweigh the occasional booboo. If he's paired with a responsible player like Kuba, he'll be able to get away with it while he learns. He made a few passes that we just haven't seen in Ottawa. Ever. It was so great to see defencemen jumping into the play like he and Campoli were doing all night. As Pynch and I discussed during the game, this team is going to be very fun to watch this year and Karlsson is going to be a huge part of that. In my opinion, albeit with a very limited trial period, he looks like he can fit into the top four.

- Pascal Leclaire. Great saves all night and he does it with swagger. I've said before in defending Emery that the key characteristic for a goalie in Ottawa is cockiness. Leclaire teeters between confidence and cockiness and I love what I'm seeing. Clouston has said that he's great off the ice, quirky and laid back. Pundits around the league are saying he's a question mark because of his injuries, but a healthy Pascal Leclaire is going to be so much fun to watch.

- Alex Kovalev. I love his poise with the puck. It is a bit weird because everyone is playing an up-tempo style and he kinda cruises around in a slower gear, but it isn't a lack of speed. He's reading the ice and making smart plays with regard to puck movement. Alfie had always been our most poised puck carrier, so it is nice that our top two lines will have a guy that can move the puck through the neutral zone without panic. I know that the relationship with AK27 is going to have its ups and downs, but I thought he was a treat to watch with the puck tonight.


- Jonathan Cheechoo. I know he was on the third line and didn't see the powerplay, but Pierre said, he hasn't earned it. I am really pulling for this guy to succeed, partially because it validates the trade for us and partially because he's counted on for scoring depth. Sadly, though, he seemed to be a step behind Foligno and Shannon (who are pretty fast). While we aren't privy to how he's done in practice, I wonder what it will take to get Cheechoo some time on the second PP unit. As I said, I'd love to see the guy light the lamp 20+ times, but tonight wasn't a step in that direction.

- Milan Michalek. Okay, I'm absolutely giving him a pass because he was all over the ice and showed tremendous speed. I just thought there were a few occasions where he could have finished off a goal from nice Spezza passes. This is as much on Spezza because we're counting on him to make his linemates better, but I'd love to see Michalek fly AND finish. Tonight, he just flew. It will take a while to get the timing and the chemistry, so I will agree that it is pretty unfair to rag on him too much tonight.

- Schubert and Kelly. I don't want to pile on these two guys, but they looked like they regressed from last year. Chris Kelly, at one point in the third period, had the puck behind Leclaire and just kinda froze before turning it over. What is that all about? He also was skating into a scoring chance late in the third but instead of bringing the puck toward the net, he peeled off toward the boards and we didn't get in any shots. Not the kind of 'smart' player that is keeping him on the roster. And Schubert - why is he still here? The unfortunate part is that his spot in the lineup tonight forced Zach Smith into the press box. So now Smith will still get sent down, but not because Schubie stole the spot. Bring back in Ruutu and let Donovan be the 13th forward.

The other thing that pissed me off was our own Ottawa fans booing the team at the end of the game. Why? Because they lost a preseason game in which they completely outplayed the Bruins? It just makes us look stupid. I'm not saying that you can't express disappointment in a lacklustre effort when you've paid good money, but don't boo them after a hard-knock loss. We're supposed to be the smartest fans in Canada, people.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ahhh, Fishsticks!

A short rant here. I'll preface this with a statement, like I typically do: I think Mike Fisher is a terrific hockey player. There, I said it.

But let's make one thing clear - he isn't going to score 164 goals this season. He isn't even going to score 30 goals this season. It doesn't matter if he plays centre or plays the wing, or if he's flanked by Regin, Spezza, or Gretzky c. 1987. Mike Fisher is not a goal scorer. Sure, he has an incredible wrist shot that can pick a corner from 20 feet out and sure, he has a knack for the crease. But he doesn't have the full set of tools to use that wrist shot AND go to the crease AND have the hand-eye coordination and balance to take a pass and fire it home. At least, he doesn't have the set of tools to do that 30 times in one season.

I'm as excited as anyone that he had a pair of nice pre-season games, but let's be honest with ourselves. He scored a hat trick against the AHL Habs and he scored another goal against the ECHL Lightning. He signed a big contract not because he has 30 goals a year in him, but because he's the heart and soul, crash and bang player that we want to clone on the third and fourth line (albeit at a much cheaper cap hit). Quoting Bryan Murray, "Peter Regin has turned Mike into a scoring machine." Thanks, BM, for the segue into Regin.

I think Peter Regin is a solid hockey player, possibly even an NHL calibre player. Without question, he has earned the right to start the season in Ottawa. It doesn't take an insider to figure out that Regin has made this team since Murray himself has said this. But pardon me if I'm not ready to get a Regin jersey just yet. The dude has skated in 4 of our 5 preseason games. Let's break down that sentence - he has played in four games! Next, we've only played 5 games total! And finally, they are preseason! I would be absolutely thrilled if the kid bangs out a solid 82 games as a second line centre, or even a third line centre and continues to average 4-5 shots a game. Hell, he makes his wingers into scoring machines!

I'm not a Debbie Downer. In fact, I'm a terrible homer, overly passionate about this team and overly optimistic about our chances this season. If you've read this blog, you know that I take the aggressive projections for all of these players. But I just hope we're all keeping our feet on the ground when it comes to this new power couple of Fisher and Regin. Mike Fisher is a 45-point player that plays a two-way game and has eyes that the girls of Ottawa (and Don Cherry) adore. No more, no less. While I think Spezza should get the alternate captain, it is clear that Fisher is going to be sporting it come October 3rd and I'm fine with it. But let's not get our panties in a bundle over a pair of nice nights from him on the scoresheet. Ditto Peter Regin. The last thing we need to do is Bochenski this kid in the city and build a hype around him that will be impossible to fulfill on a nightly basis. Peter Regin should start out as a third line centre and his goals should be modest - play 70 games and get 30-35 points. If he can pull that off, I would call it our best rookie performance in years (before you google it, Foligno had 9 points in 45 games in his rookie year and we were satisfied).

One more time - I'm pumped that Regin will start the year here and I'd love to see him stay the entire season. But please understand that to expect him and Fisher to blow past modest stat projections is unfair to them and will be devastating to us as fans. At the same time, don't be shocked if Regin stumbles a bit and requires a bit more seasoning in Bingo. It isn't a knock on him. Spezza did it, too. You play with the big boys for a bit and identify your strengths and weaknesses. Then, you ride the limo 5 hours to the B-Sens where you can work on your weaknesses in a relatively consequence-free environment (sorry, Binghamton fans). Spezza did it, Foligno did it, Lee is doing it now, and Karlsson might do it. Regin is no different.

I hope I'm wrong and he and Fisher and Kovalev blow minds as a second line. Realistically, though, I see him in Binghamton in November to iron out the kinks. Second line centres don't just appear out of your recently brutal minor league program (the Murrays are improving it, but it has a few more years).

Am I wrong? Is Regin the real deal? Light it up, fans! You're on the air...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Question of the Day: What is the required return in a Chris Kelly trade?

In light of Garrioch's article that Murray is hitting the phones, combined with the apparent emergence of Regin as a third line centre, we now have a very expensive fourth line. Kelly centres at $2.2M, Ruutu makes $1.3M, and Neil makes $2M. Of the three, it would seem the depth at centre is where Kelly loses out.

So if he's on the trade block, what return would we need? Is he good enough that we have to get a high pick or good prospect? Or is he so replaceable that we'd just need a 5th rounder for the cap space?

Follow up question - would you trade Kelly, Ruutu, and Picard to Washington for $4.875M Michael Nylander so he could set up Alfie and Cheechoo on the second line? Salaries are close and they get actual bodies for their castoff, while we actually get a second line playmaking centre...and open up spots for Regin and Karlsson.


Duff v Pynch: 'The Kids Are Alright' or 'Leave The Q-Tips Alone'

Alright, first off, sorry for the delay. Both of us were out of town over the weekend on post-Heatley vacations. Seriously, though, we don't plan on having long breaks like that now that the season is back underway. To bring it back in style, we're going head to head in a current affairs debate: do you leave the old guys in there or do you cast them aside and make room for the kids? This is truly Murray and Clouston's biggest decision as the top two lines are taking shape, as is most of the blue line (except Karlsson vs Picard vs Lee). And finally, we know who the goaltenders will be. So how do we handle those role spots in the forward ranks?

In the midst of preseason, we find ourselves looking at our youth. I'm not referring to the superstars of the future, I mean the young guys who have spent some time on the bus in the AHL, the guys who work their behinds off in the summer to have an edge, the guys who are mostly unproven in the Show and are hoping to crack a 3rd or 4th line just to prove they can do it. We always have these guys, but this year appears to be different. Over the last few seasons, we've heard about these guys but it seems our final roster is no real surprise. Fast forward to 2009. Where Donovan, Kelly and Ruutu used to be a natural fit for opening day, they find themselves questionable this year. Believe it or not, and our readers believe it, Neil and Ruutu are even fighting for a forward spot. And I, for one, love it!

How can these NHL vets be overlooked for guys with minimal (or less) experience? Because it's time. I like our veteran stalwarts, but I'm excited to see the future. Guys like Peter Regin and Zach Smith deserve huge look this year and I'm glad to see they're getting it. Donovan's a good guy, Kelly kills penalties, Ruutu gets under every opponents skin - but how did that work out a year ago? Well, it didn't. It's time to infuse this team with new blood. Get a group of youngsters who'll do anything to make the team and when they do, do anything to stay there. That will result in wins.

Let me start my response bluntly, Pynch - the kids aren't ready for full time duty. I said it. There's a reason guys like Cody Bass get cut and Zach Smith and possibly Peter Regin will soon follow. They're simply not ready for an 82-game season with much on the line. I think Ottawa fans are very fond of overstating the development of our rookies. Some people expect a dozen rookies to be contending for spots in the next couple of years and it just won't happen. Guys like Hennessy, Bass, and Zubov are just younger versions of Denis Hamel. They just aren't consistent enough, fast enough, and strong enough to get full time duty with the big boys. I know this sounds like I'm being hard on them, but I really mean it as constructive criticism. Go watch what Neil, Ruutu, Kelly, and Donovan do out there. Do I think Kelly and Neil's salaries are a bit much and really hold us back from adding a key piece on the blue line? Sure, but every team has a couple of guys that make a bit more than their fans think they are worth. But they provide a skill set that the kids haven't developed, including the ability to show up and battle for 82 games at a very high level.

Okay, what if the Sens continue doing the same old routine. Now, I'm not saying guys like Neil or Donovan won't work hard but I'm scared about complacency. Sure, their experience provides consistency where a newbie will definitely have off nights and be non-existent - but how else do you develop in the Bigs? Expose them to what it really means to produce and they'll be there. I'm not talking about talent that just can't cut it, but Regin and Smith are legit prospects who've shown they mean business so far in 2009. Let the kids play!

I am as curious as you are about how these kids will do over the course of a full season, but history hasn't been kind. While I will say that the Murray Bros. have been doing a far better job with development in the minors than their predecessors, there is still a long way to go in Binghamton and in drafting until we turn into a Red Wings organization where we can plug and play any one of half a dozen rookies. I know this team is in a retooling phase (don't call it a rebuilt), but nobody wants this team to miss the playoffs again. It is hard to argue against the pressure on Murray to get this team back into the playoffs and he and Clouston need to trust that task to the guys that know how to get there. Is Peter Regin looking comfortable on a line with Fisher and Foligno? Did Brandon Bochenski position himself for a scoring title three years ago in the preseason? At last check, Bochenski is actually driving the taxi that shuttles players back and forth from Ottawa to Binghamton. Preseason is a feel-good party that gives the guys a taste of how much harder they need to work. It doesn't necessarily mean that you should make room by waiving a guy that's been at it for a dozen years.

Pynch: Duff, you're so damn stubborn and old school! Here's another angle: while new faces can make you as uncomfortable as watching Bob Probert attempt figure skating, don't forget who is a familiar face to our young lads - Cory Clouston. This guy was they're freaking coach for the bulk of last season! They know him and they know his systems. While they might take a few games to realize the pace and pressure is significantly different, they'll pick up the playbook quickly. This isn't teaching a new dog new tricks (wait, that's not right...), it's reuniting new dogs with their old master. So can you teach old dogs new tricks (there it is!)? Sure you can, but it's not the answer we need this year.

Duff: I forgot about our blessed saviour, Cory Clouston. We already got into this one earlier in the summer. I'm just glad you didn't do the whole 'make room in payroll' argument. As I said earlier, I know that Kelly and Neil make salaries that really hurt us on the blue line. That being said, Kelly's salary is par for the course and Neil should understand that he needs to get his game back on track this year. They are textbooks role guys and if you look at any team in the league (think John Madden, Sam Pahlsson, etc), each team has them. And you can't just trade them for a 7th rounder and hope that Peter Regin turns into a penalty killing star, or that Matt Carkner can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league. The expensive vets on our team (and Donovan with his 600K price tag) are just valuable enough that you can't give them away without a return. So while I will argue that these guys DO provide depth and experience that the kids aren't ready to supply, I'll also add that we're kinda stuck with them because they're too important to just give away.

It is clear that I won't get through to you. Clouston has said that they're keeping everyone in camp until after the Friday game so we'll just have to wait and see what they do with this group. My money is still on them finding a way to keep Regin (and Karlsson, though we didn't get into defencemen). I know you believe that the Donovans and the Neils will always have a spot on this team. I'm telling you that it is time to make room for something fresh and new. Either way, we'll have our answer by week's end.

Duff: Deep down, I fear that you might be right about some vets getting cast aside. I just hope we don't cut out some very valuable intangibles that cost us some games, cost us some power play goals against, some key backchecking shifts that kill time until our top three lines get their juices going, etc. And one thing that we do agree on: we'll have our answers by the weekend.