Friday, September 30, 2005

A class act moves on

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that longtime Ottawa Senator Shaun Van Allen will be a part of the Sens broadcast team this season.

Van Allen, who did the color commentary on last night’s radio broadcast, will be the co-host of the post-game show with Steve Lloyd and will occasionally fill in in the booth when Dean Brown moves over to do TV and Gord Wilson becomes the play-by-play man.

Van Allen spent six seasons in Ottawa, over two stints, and was one of the most popular Sens, both in the community and in the locker room. Though he mostly served in a checking role as the fourth line center, Van Allen was a major contributor to this teams success. He scored one of the biggest goals in team history with the overtime winner in game one of the 2003 Eastern Conference finals against New Jersey. I believe it ended up being his only career playoff goal, which might make one think he wasn’t a good post-season performer. That wasn’t the case. He didn’t make his impact felt on the score sheet, true, but he was always working hard killing penalties and checking, a task that doesn’t get a lot of fan fare but is absolutely necessary to win at any level.

His first run with Ottawa was interrupted when he was signed away as a free agent by Dallas in the 2000 offseason, but after a short time there and then Montreal, he came back to Ottawa for the 2002-03 season, largely because of his relationship with Jacques Martin, who loved Van Allen’s work ethic and leadership. That year, at 35 and considered washed up by a lot of the league, he put up 32 points, his second best season ever and best in nine seasons, only one point short of his 33 points as a rookie with Anaheim in 1993-94. Despite not being on the top lines, he also was able to score three game winners that year.

Perhaps father time caught up to him, because Van Allen struggled last season, with only 12 points. He ended up being a healthy scratch in the playoffs, but still busted his ass in practice and was a great motivator in the room. One of the images I have of Van Allen is him, playoff beard in tact, coming to the bench to celebrate with the team after Mike Fisher scored in overtime of game six against the Leafs to force that disastrous seventh game. He looked more excited about the win than most of the guys who actually played that game. A lot of veterans might’ve sulked and pouted about not being in the line-up, but you could see that Van Allen happy to play whatever role the team asked.

I wasn’t surprised to see that he wouldn’t be coming back to Ottawa this year. After all, he was a Jacques Martin guy, and it’s pretty clear this organization is trying to go in a completely new direction. I had hoped some other team might take a flier on Van Allen, but alas, his career came to a quiet end.

As much as he accomplished on the ice, perhaps Van Allen’s greatest contribution in Ottawa was the work he did with local charities, and specifically, the fight against autism. Van Allen, who’s own son is autistic, did a ton of work with the Children At Risk charity, the Ottawa area’s largest service provider for kids with autism and other pervasive developmental disorders.

While I’m sure there will be a learning curve for Van Allen on the mic, if he applies himself to that craft with the same tireless work ethic he did his on ice game and his charity work, I’m sure he’ll be a natural in no time. I know I’ll be listening.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

"Don't turn the other cheek."

This was a comment made by Bryan Murray in an interview on the pre-game show this evening. I found it particularly interesting.

He was asked what he expects from his team in pre-season games. He gave mostly stock answers. Work hard, compliment your linemates, play like it’s a regular season game, yada yada yada. And then that line. “Don’t turn the other cheek.”

If you ever wanted an example of how different the Bryan Murray coached Senators will be from the Jacques Martin regime, that quote about sums it up.

It really is a new era for this team.

Waivering on the decisions

With the pre-season nearing an end, the Senators continue to evaluate the group of players I affectionately have dubbed the Bubble Boys (by the way, all you scribes who’ve lived that term need to break me off with a check asap). Bryan Murray has said he wants to have the team he’ll ice on opening night October 5th in Toronto in place for the final two pre-season games against the Montreal Canadiens.

Which means that tonight’s contest against the Penguins, a team they pretty much dominated in the previous two pre-season games, will be the final test for those trying to stick with the big club.

One of those guys, who was believed to be on the outside looking in, Steve Martins, may have improved his standing with a couple strong games lately. I thought he was solid, though not spectacular, Sunday against Toronto and reports from last night’s game in Buffalo said he played well. Having said that, he probably doesn’t have much of a shot of making the team. With Brandon Bochenski having all but guaranteed himself a spot with his stellar preseason, it leaves two spots on the fourth line open. Brian McGrattan likely has the right side locked up because he brings something to the table Murray seems to think this team needs. I’m not convinced we do need another tough guy, but we’ll see soon enough I suppose.

The other spot open is as a result of Vaclav Varada’s knee injury, but according to the team, he’s ahead of schedule and may not miss the six weeks originally thought when the incident occurred. It was thought that Chris Kelly and Denis Hamel would be the ones battling for that spot.

Rookie Patrick Eaves, a personal favorite of mine, has had a tough pre-season, and though those who’ve seen all the games say he’s gotten better with every outing, they also still admit he doesn’t appear to be NHL ready. His conditioning is said to be worrisome. He was moved up to the third line for last night’s game in Buffalo, playing with Mike Fisher and Peter Schaefer, apparently because the coaching staff wanted to see how he’d fare with some of their better players.

On defence is where it’s gotten interesting. Going into camp, I would’ve thought Christoph Schubert had a major leg up on Andrej Meszaros, having already played three years of pro hockey in the AHL, but it now looks like it’s Meszaros who is the favorite to win that sixth defence spot. He got the most ice time of any Senator in Sunday’s win.

However, all these battles for jobs are a result of a decision made by the new coach that I’m still left questioning: Murray has decided the team will only carry 20 players. Upon hearing this news, I expressed my skepticism, and two weeks later, nothing has occurred to cause me to change my mind. I still feel like it’s a mistake.

The team has plenty of salary cap room, so the idea that this is because of that would be wrong. As best I can tell, they would still be several million under the 39 million with a 23 man roster, leaving them some room to add to the team at some point during the year (ideally, at the deadline I imagine).

Murray’s rationalization is that players need to be playing, not sitting in the press box in a suit and tie. In the case of some guys, I agree. Patrick Eaves needs to be playing. Andrej Meszaros needs to be playing – which is why I’m not sold on him being the sixth blueliner, as it doesn’t allow the kind of minutes he needs to continue his development. But does Denis Hamel need to be playing? Does Lance Ward? Does Steve Martins?

I would think all three would’ve improved in the AHL as much as they’re going to. Why not keep them up with the big club, even if they’re not playing? Having a few extra guys around during practice can serve as a great motivator for the guys in the line-up, as they can see the guy who will take their spot should their play drop off. As well, it gives the team the option of icing different types of teams. While you might want to put Ward in there against the Leafs, maybe a guy like Hamel would make more sense against a skating team like Tampa Bay. Versatility will be an asset any team would love to have, and the Sens seem to have the option of it at their disposal and are rejecting it.

An aspect of who will be Ottawa Senators, and not members of the Binghamton version, is the issue of waivers. It’s something that I must admit I hadn’t considered all that much in my analysis of these guys. As best I can tell, in order for Kelly, Hamel, Martins, Ward, and Schubert to be sent down, they would have to clear waivers. The same can’t be said for Eaves, Meszaros, and McGrattan, who can come and go without being exposed. How will this play into their decision?

It’s especially interesting in the cases of Schubert and Kelly. They’re both young guys who the team has spent many years developing, and losing either one would not be ideal I’m sure. Some have thought that the best idea is to hold onto both for a while, having a 22 man roster, and then sending them down when teams have filled their own rosters out with other waiver pickups and have little cap space.


Why not keep each with the big club in the first place. Forget this nonsensical plan of Bryan Murray to have the bare minimum. It’s not smart. I know, I know, who I am to question Bryan Murray, and I assume John Muckler as well.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Someone PLEASE smack Sean Avery

Is this what sleeping with Rachel Hunter does to your brain?

"When asked about the blueliner's hit on Kings teammate Jeremy Roenick in a preseason game Sunday night, Avery did not hold back digging into Gauthier and Quebec-born NHLers.

"I think it was a clean hit," he explained on Tuesday. "I think it was typical of most French guys in our league with a visor on, running around and playing tough and not back anything up."

"I'd think if a guy like Brett Hull was coming up the middle, somebody probably wouldn't have stepped up and hit him, but like I said, a typical move from a guy wearing a visor that certainly doesn't like to get scratched at all."

I commented on J.R.'s rant post-hit, and though I basically disagreed with everything he said about how players should take it easy on each other in the pre-season, I could at least understand where he was coming from.

Avery? This guy's an idiot.

Of course, it's hardly anything new. This is the same player who lashed out against the NHLPA, and not in a diplomatic way either. If you believe the rumor mill, Tie Domi threatened to beat the shit out of Avery in a union meeting. I'm no Tie Domi fan, and I take issue with his own comments lately regarding Ted Saskin's hiring, but I would've loved nothing more than Domi punching Avery right in the face.

I really hate stereotyping in hockey. I hate when the Don Cherry's of the world talk about chicken Euros and their passiveness, and all his minions that eat up every word he says and recite it verbatim on sports talk radio across the country. All one had to do was listen to Ottawa's sports talk station The Team 1200 the day the Sens traded Marian Hossa to Atlanta for Dany Heatley to hear it being recited. Marian Hossa, a Slovak, was a pussy. He couldn't play physical, he wasn't a playoff performer, he had no heart. Of course, this is absolutely incorrect.

Though there was a time, early in his career when he had the unflattering nickname of “Maid Marian”, that Hossa was a somewhat timid player. But in the last two or three seasons in Ottawa, he emerged as a strong, physical, power forward. These yahoos still called into every postgame show to say the Sens needed a power forward, not realizing they not only already had one, but had one of the better ones in the league. The “not a playoff performer” thing is just silly. On a team full of guys who don’t live up to expectations in April and May, Hossa has been old faithful (as has another target and evil European, captain Daniel Alfredsson). In 2002’s playoffs, he had 10 points in 12 games, in 2003 he had 16 in 18, and last season 4 in 7. Obviously, you’d hope for more than four points out of your top scorer, but the guy was getting chance after chance after chance. It just so happened that Ed Belfour was standing on his head and stonewalling the entire team. As for the “no heart” accusation, does anyone remember game seven against New Jersey in 2003? With the score tied 2-2 with a few minutes left, Hossa, going after a loose puck, when crashing to the net, and got crotched on the post. Just watching it made me hurt. Yet he stayed on the ice for the next shift. When the team ended up losing that game, was Hossa, the cowardly lion of the NHL, indifferent? Hardly. The guy had tears in his eyes. But you want to tell me he didn’t care about winning?

I hate to bring this back to Marian Hossa and that trade, because it’s been talked into the ground here, and everywhere else, but it’s a shining example of the prejudices that I completely hate in hockey. I’d like to think a country like Canada, which prides itself on being tolerant and multicultural, would be beyond this nonsense, but obviously, we’re not.

Also, when are we going to get over this retarded "visor=pussy" stance? I thought it had died down, but here's a young player with that opinion. Did we learn nothing from Steve Yzerman's injury? He almost lost his vision. Notice he's come back with a visor. Does that make him any less of a gusty player? He even said, after he got hurt, that he was stupid all those years for not wearing a visor.

I can sorta get the opinion that people who wear visors shouldn't fight, because it gives them an unfair advantage, but to say that they're cowards, they don't like to be hit, etc.? What year is it?

Oh, and what does new fan favorite Dany Heatley wear on his helmet? A visor, and a pretty big one at that. And with good reason. But does that make him any less tough, does that make the dozens of calls I heard on local radio about him being a good ol’ Canadian boy who will take the Sens to the promised land wrong? Of course not. It means he doesn’t want to lose his eye if he gets a puck there.

I’d like to think the Sean Avery’s of the world are just the vocal minority, and maybe they are, but unfortunately, I suspect a whole lot of people, probably even some reading this, subscribe to the “chicken Euros” school of thought. Think that French players are scared. And that’s what makes comments like his, even with the nicely written apology that came a few hours later, disappointing. Hockey is just a sport, but it often reflects aspects of society I don’t like.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Monday Night Musings

On a slow Monday night, I figured I'd offer my .02 on various things going on in the NHL right now.

- One new rule that I love, but has gone mostly uncovered by bloggers alike thus far, is the intentional icing rule, which says that if a player intentionally ices the puck (as determined by a linesman), all five players on the ice for his team must remain on the ice for the faceoff that follows it. The only chink in the rule is that it is up to the discretion of the linesman and is not black and white. That said, I do think it will cut down on tired players simply icing the puck to get off the ice, which will only increase the pace of the game, minimizing the stoppages. It seems like a few players are having a difficult time adjusting though, because last night, more than once I saw a player do it and then head to the bench, only to be stopped by an official and told they have to stay out there.

- As well, it looks like the NHL is caught between a rock and a hard place as to what to do after the shootout. In the first couple pre-season games, they put a zamboni out after the third period (or overtime if it was necessary) to make sure the ice was good for the shooters. However, fans complained, understandably, that it interrupted the flow of the game and took too long. So they obliged, and simply sent out the ice crew to squeegie it up a bit. The result was bad ice for the shooters, as in a lot of highlights I’ve seen.

- Speaking of the shootout, one fear I have is that we will see it so much, the novelty will wear off quickly and it too will become a mundane aspect of the game. Perhaps part of the reason fans wanted it so much was because they didn’t have it. I do know one thing, it significantly effects how exciting a penalty shot is. Previously referred to as the most exciting play in hockey, it was pretty ordinary last night when Darcy Tucker took one against Dominik Hasek (as Tucker seemed as excited by it as the fans). In Saturday night’s pre-season game against the Penguins, there were 13 shooters needed to settle that match-up. In a year from now, will we be ho huming what is supposed to be a major part of the “new” NHL?

- A lot has been made about how fans will stay away from hockey, angry at the league and it’s players for the lost season. Thus far, there seems to be no evidence this will be the case. Here in Ottawa, the Sens sold out their first pre-season game ever last night, with over 19,300 packed into the building. It’s expected the Thursday night game against the Penguins will sellout as well, and the second to last pre-season contest, against the Montreal Canadiens on October 1st, will be close to capacity too. But this isn’t just an Ottawa thing. According to a story in the Sports Business Journey (via Kukla’s Korner), season ticket renewal rates are already 3% of where they were on opening night on the 2003-04 season.

- Is John Davidson off his rocker?

Then you have other teams like Ottawa, San Jose, Calgary, and Vancouver who didn't make a lot of changes.

Ottawa didn’t make a lot of changes?!? All they did was fire the head coach and his entire staff (and a coach who’s tenure with his team was the longest in the NHL at that), trade their highest scorer, trade their #1 center, trade their #1 goalie, sign a new first ballot Hall Of Famer #1 goalie, and hire a coach who hasn’t been behind the bench in over five years. But yeah, they’ve been pretty quiet since the last time the puck was dropped.

- With yet another hurricane ravaging the southern U.S., it’s nice to see one NHLer who’s doing his part:
Robitailles open their home to Katrina victims

LOS ANGELES (CP) - Kings veteran Luc Robitaille and his wife Stacia have opened their home to two families who were left homeless by hurricane Katrina.

The families, one from New Orleans and the other from Mississippi, have moved into the Robitaille's second home near Park City, Utah. They will be relocated to an area of their choice with the help of Shelter for Serenity, a hurricane relief project started by the Robitailles.

"This is something I had to do after seeing all the devastation," Robitaille told the Los Angeles Times. "If I was out of hockey and nobody remembered my name, I'd be doing this. If my name can help people in some way now, then that's even better."

- A heads up to sports highlights hosts: Brian Pothier is pronounced Poth-e-er, not Poth-e-ay, and Andrej Meszaros is pronounced Mez-are-os. But I don’t have to look too far for a local offender, as the P.A. man at the Corel Centre last night was saying Brian Bochenski all night. You’d think he would’ve had it right by the time he announced Bochenski as the game’s first star, having said his name five times previously, but nope. Something tells me he’ll be saying it enough this year that he’ll have to have it right.

- While on the topic of sports highlight shows, is it too much to ask that we see all the goals scored? Maybe I’m too demanding, as I understand that September, with the MLB season winding down, NFL football heating up, and the NASCAR year climaxing, it’s pretty busy, but I want to see every puck that goes in the net. At least of the Canadian teams and other major match-ups. Yes, even in the pre-season dammit.

- Martha Burk: shut up. Go back to Augusta. No one cares what you think. You’re a joke, yet you’re the only one who doesn’t seem to be in on it. As for the ad itself, it’s more boring to me than offensive. But being that I’m in Canada, it’s not as if they have to do much to sell me on the game, so it’s probably not even fair for me to offer an opinion. I doubt this is what will get someone in Miami to turn into OLN or head out to a Panthers game, but what do I know.

- Lou Lamoriello finally pulled the trigger and dealt Jeff Friesen to the Capitals today. Friesen is highly underrated and will help a young team with his veteran presence. I’ll always remember him for scoring the goal that kept the Senators out of the 2003 Stanley Cup finals, where they would have certainly slayed the Mighty Ducks to win Lord Stanley. Yes, I’m still bitter over two years later.

- Jeremy Roenick’s rant against Denis Gauthier and the hit he throw on JR raises an interesting question: should players take it easy (or easier) on each other in the pre-season? I certainly don’t think so. Though tickets are at a reduced price, fans are still paying their hard earned dollars to see these games and deserve to observe everyone on the ice giving it 100%, which includes physical play. Some might counter that by saying since tickets are less than half price during the exhibition season, players should be able to get away with only giving 50%, but I think the reduced price is as a result of the game being ultimately meaningless. Roenick also implied that because of his tenure in the league, he should be shown some respect by guys like Gauthier and not hit that way. This poses another issue: should a veteran be given an easier pass at any time, pre-season or in February? And finally, Roenick said that because of his concussion history, Gauthier should’ve known better. To me, that carries no weight. If he’s on the ice, he’s fair game. If he’s got 11 previous concussion and is one hit away from being a vegetable, don’t step onto the ice. The reality is that the pre-season may be meaningless for a lot of players, a way to get in shape for the games that do count, but for a lot of the others, it’s a way to make an impression, especially in the case of young players vying for a job with the team. Or with a player like Gauthier, who’s with a new team and is hoping to make them feel like their move was worthwhile.

- Speaking of the pre-season, one aspect I’d like to see brought back is some kind of pre-season series. Back during their early expansion years, the Senators and Washington Capitals would play in a series called the Capital Cup, which was a three game series between the two teams. It even had a trophy, though I can’t recall any championship parades in early October. Not that Ottawa was good enough to win the series back then. But I think it might be beneficial to see this brought back. The obvious scenario would be to do with rivalries already in place: Ottawa-Toronto, Montreal-Boston, Colorado-Vancouver (or Colorado-Detroit), Calgary-Edmonton, New York-New York, Philadelphia-New Jersey, etc. Or they could go the opposite direction and try and start rivalries with this method, along the lines of Ottawa-Buffalo, Toronto-Chicago, Los Angeles-San Jose and so forth. The Senators play the Penguins three times this pre-season anyway. Why not make it worth a little something?

And The Ship Sails On

Ottawa 7 Toronto 4

The Ottawa Senators stay undefeated with their win over the Leafs tonight in front of a sold out Corel Centre. They’ve now outscored their opponents 21-8 in the four pre-season games. To put it simply, they look like they’re on their A game. This is not to say they look completely polished, but as a team, it appears as if they've already got their act together.

Even with it being a pre-season match-up, the game was still very intense, which only served to verify my opinion that the Battle Of Ontario is the best rivalry in the NHL. There were a ton of hits, a whole lotta scrappy play in the corners, and three fights. It looked more like a game in March than September.

The line of Brandon Bochenski-Jason Spezza-Dany Heatley remains red hot, which likely goes without saying considering they accounted for five of the team’s seven goals. Bochenski had a hat trick less than three minutes into the third, and even on shifts where they didn’t score a goal, the line was noticeable for the chances they generated. This was my first chance to see the line myself, and I was not underwhelmed. I was interested to see Bochenski, and he looked very good, besides his three goals. The knock on him has always been his skating and defensive play, but, based only on tonight’s contest, it didn’t look like either was an issue. The part of his game I was especially pleased with was the fact he’s always going to the net. That’s been something missing on this team for a while, and he looks to have no fear. He’s not a big guy, at all, but never got pushed around either.

Captain Daniel Alfredsson reportedly had a monster game the night before in Pittsburgh, especially on the PK, but he was not all that strong against the Leafs. He scored a goal, yes, but it was basically an early Christmas present to the captain, as the puck took a crazy bounce off the boards on a dump in. I could've scored that one. The line he's been playing with, consisting of himself at RW, Bryan Smolinski at center, and Martin Havlat playing out of position on the left side, has not been as dazzling as the younger line of Bochenski-Spezza-Heatley. Not bad by any means, but also not as impressive as they could and should be. Let's hope they get that cleared up in time for the season opener on October 5th.

Andrej Meszaros continues to impress. This was the first pre-season game I saw him play and he did not disappoint either. Because of Chris Phillips sitting out due to playing back-to-back games against the Penguins, there was a spot open beside Zdeno Chara on the top defensive pairing, and Meszaros was plunked into the role for most of the game. The 19-year-old rose the occasion. He was strong in both ends of the ice, displaying his booming shot often (including on the powerplay, where he also played alongside Chara), and in his own end, delivered several booming hits. Christoph Schubert, the blueliner he’s battling for that sixth defenceman job, was in the line-up as well but unlike #38, did not make much of an impression. To his defense, he did not get nearly the amount of ice time Meszaros, but that might be an indication of how the coaching staff views him.

Sticking with the defencemen, I was also high on Anton Volchenkov’s play. The word from those who saw the other pre-season games the Sens played was that the “A-Train” was having a hard time. It wasn’t sure it was due to rust or if he was having a hard time adjusting to the rules changing, but whatever it was, he was said to have struggled, spending a lot of time in the box. Tonight, we saw the Volchenkov of old. He must have thrown half a dozen huge bodychecks, at least.

Between the pipes for Ottawa, Dominik Hasek did not play the entire game as I thought he might. He didn’t face a lot of shots, and despite giving up two goals, few good scoring chances, so tonight’s game might not have been the best way to measure if he’s ready. Ray Emery was in the nets for the other half, and by then the Leafs had been playing a little better, so he was forced to play a better game. He looked sharp, crisp.

For the Leafs, though it was only an exhibition game, and ultimately means nothing, there were many things that should make Leafs Nation a little concerned.

Starting in net, despite starting poorly, Mikael Tellqvist got better as the game went on, and was especially strong in the third period, stopping a few breakaways. Talking to a Leafs fan, apparently the other goalies still with the team, Jean-Sebastien Aubin and Jean-Francois Racine, have outclassed the Swede in previous games, so he likely had to have a good game in order to fend of those two. He succeeded in that sense.

Their defence looked very slow for most of the game. Whether or not that can be chalked up to playing two games in as many nights, who knows, but they did not look good. Bryan McCabe stood out, though not in the way Leafs fans would like. There had been a lot of speculation about how McCabe, who’s been known for using his stick to impede opposing forwards in the past, would adjust to the new rules. If tonight was a glimpse into how he’ll fare this season, Leafs fans should be nervous. It’s not as if their defence is particularly strong as it is, and if their number one guy is outdated in this new world, then the team is in for a long season.

Up front, the team sat some of their forward core, among them Eric Lindros, Jeff O’Neill, and Jason Allison (giving Leafs fans an excuse, of course), but most who did suit up did not astound me. Their top line of Alexander Ponikarovsky-Mats Sundin-Nik Antropov looked down right atrocious, invisible most of the night and negative when they were noticeable. Tie Domi played on the second line, and even though he had a goal, was also pretty much ghost the whole night.

Oh, and memo to Darcy Tucker: if you get hit, clean, and are hurt, left laying on the ice, perhaps it’s not a good idea to run and find the guy who hit you for a fight, because you’ll likely get beat up. I would think this would be obvious, but apparently, Sideshow Bob isn’t that quick. Mike Fisher made the Leaf You Love To Hate look foolish not once but twice, but of course, that didn’t stop Tucker from chirping once in the box. But at least Tucker looked like he was making an effort, which can’t be said for a few of the other players the Leafs will depend on significantly this season.

Another player who I thought worked hard, and was making his presence felt, was rookie Kyle Wellwood. He only registered one point, an assist, but he was always out there doing something. With a bunch of other players ahead of him on the depth chart (he’s a natural center, and apparently number six on the team’s hierarchy according to the Hockey News breakdown), it’s doubtful he’ll start the year in T.O., but he looks like someone who’s capable of stepping in if there is an injury or if someone ahead of him is playing poorly.

A player I tried to keep an especially keen eye on was another rookie, Alexander Steen. He was the best player on either team in the rookie tournament game I saw between the Sens and the Leafs, so like with Patrick Eaves for Ottawa, I was interested to see how he did with the NHLers. While he didn’t have a bad game, he also didn’t do much to make me notice him either, and I suspect if I had not been looking for him on the ice, I would’ve missed him for most of the night. He was playing on a line with Matt Stajan and Steve Thomas. Thomas was busting his ass out there, but frankly, looked his age. He just didn’t look like he was able to keep up. I’d be shocked if he gets a contract.

Far and away, the most common topic thus far this pre-season has been the rise in penalties due to the new crackdown on obstruction. I was curious to see it for myself. For the most part, it was not as bad as I’d been led to believe. The Sens took nine penalties to the Leafs five. It did interrupt the flow of the game somewhat, but by the third period, the best period of hockey, it seemed like the players had adjusted accordingly.

One theory out there, and I’m not sure how much water it holds but it’s worth mentioning, is that the referees are overdoing it with the penalties this pre-season in order to drive the point home that it’s a new era.

People have also complained that the abundance of penalties would make games longer. The league has taken great measures to speed up the game over the last couple years, so that school of thought said the new edict was in contrast to their previous efforts. However, tonight’s game was less than 2 and a half hours, which was, roughly, the length for most games I attended last season. Meaning, it had no real impact one way or another.

After playing back-to-back-to-back games, in three different cities no less, the Senators will have a bit of a break, not playing again until Wednesday night when they travel to Buffalo to face the Sabres. It will be interesting to see if Hasek plays against his old team, and if so, how he fares.

I was surprised to learn tonight’s game was on local TV on Rogers 22. Because I was there, I can’t say how it was, but if it was the same crew that works the 67’s games for the station, you’d have been better off turning the sound down and putting the radio broadcast on as your audio. One other pre-season contest, the home game against the Pens on Thursday, will also apparently be televised, this time on Sportsnet. Just a heads up because I haven’t really seen much about it.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

No March of the Penguins here

It might be overstating it a bit to say that the Senators dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins in their two games Friday and Saturday night, however it is fair to comment that they were, by far, the superior team. Now undefeated at 3-0 in the pre-season, having outscored their opponents 14-4 in their three games, it looks like Ottawa is firing on all cylinders.

The big question regarding Friday’s game was how Dominik Hasek would play. By all accounts, he was outstanding. Zdeno Chara called his play “awesome”, while Hasek was more humble, saying he was satisfied with his play, but noting that it was not against the Pens’ best players as the team decided to sit out Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Mark Recchi, Zigmund Palffy and John LeClair. Still, it’s nice to see Hasek respond well in his first test, even if it was for the most part an insignificant one.

It sounds like all Senators’ goalies played well against Pittsburgh, with expected Bingo Sens starter Billy Thompson getting praised for his play in the second half of last night’s contest.

Brian Pothier impressed the radio crew in last night’s game, scoring two goals and getting their second star award. The battle for the job to be his defence partner continues to heat up. Andrej Meszaros, who’s played a ton of hockey having participated in the rookie tourney and all three pre-season games, continued to impress with his play, while Christoph Schubert was said to have been solid. Even though Lance Ward is still with the team, the race appears to be between them. Some who follow the team have even commented that it looks as if it’s Meszaros’ job to lose, but Schubert is capable of playing his way onto the team. Tomas Malec has yet to suit up due to an injury he came to camp with, and probably won’t be able to by the time the pre-season ends, which is a shame because I was interested in seeing how he fared.

Up front, for the players on the bubble, it was a mixed story. Chris Kelly played in both games and was said to have been fantastic. Even though he was playing on the wing, Kelly got some key faceoff looks when Bryan Murray took Mike Fisher off his line with Chris Neil and Peter Schaefer and put Kelly, a natural center, in his place. That speaks volumes about how well Kelly was playing. In addition, because of all the penalties the team took, Kelly, who’s of course fighting for one of the remaining forward jobs, got a ton of ice time, and everyone said he responded excellently. That has historically been a strong part of his game, but considering the spot opened up by Vaclav Varada’s knee injury is on the fourth line, it might suit a player like Kelly more than Denis Hamel, who though not inept defensively, is perceived to be more of an offensive minded forward.

Rookie Patrick Eaves was said to have struggled badly in the Friday night game but bounced back well the next night. The work ethic is clearly there, but word is he sometimes looks out of place with the NHLers. That’s disappointing to hear, but when I praised his rookie tournament play, I commented that I was hesitant to sing his praises too much because the caliber of opponents wasn’t strong. Now that he’s played with and against a higher level of talent, Eaves might not be NHL ready yet. It sounds as if he’s on the outside looking in as far as the main roster, and will start the year in Bingo. It’s worth noting that last year Brandon Bochenski, the most popular player in the city right now, played in the AHL coming out of college and it looks like it’s been good for his development. Perhaps that it what Eaves needs.

Speaking of Bochenski, the Bochenski-Jason Spezza-Dany Heatley line remains red hot. It now looks as if Bochenski has all but guaranteed himself a spot in the opening night roster on October 5th.

In contrast, Antoine Vermette, who basically has a spot on the team guaranteed, was said to have struggled. In the media lately, Vermette has commented that he’s disappointed with the diminished role he’ll play on the team, having been penciled in as the fourth line center. He says he wants to be an offensive contributor on the team, which is difficult to do when you’re number four on the depth chart. Well, he didn’t do himself any favors with his play Saturday, as his name was often said in a negative context by the radio announcers. I’m very big on Vermette, and think his future with this team is bright, but the best way to prove you belong on the top lines is to play well, not to talk about it in the local papers.

The amount of penalties continues to be an issue, but that’s been expected. I do find it somewhat strange that the radio crew makes negative comments about the abundance of calls, saying stuff along the lines of “oh sight another penalty,” but then a moment later say they hope fans don’t complain too much about them because they are necessary to reform the game.

The ridiculous scheduling has the Sens playing their third game in as many nights tonight against the Maple Leafs. A rematch of their contest seven days ago at the ACC that saw the Senators outplay the Leafs in every aspect. The Leafs did not have an all-NHL line-up, though, so if they decide to do so for tonight, maybe the result will differ. Hasek will suit up again, and there are rumblings he will play the whole game. I imagine much of that will be based on two factors: a) how well he's playing and b) how many pucks he's facing. Hasek is notorious for loving a lot of action, so if the Leafs only register 10 shots by the midway point of the game, Murray could leave him in there.

As of the time of this post, there were said to be less than 500 tickets left. It’s pretty well guaranteed that it will sell even, even with the extra 653 seats added to the Corel Center since there was last hockey there. Excluding tonight’s game, the Senators have four pre-season contests remaining, including two at home, against Pittsburgh on Thursday and Montreal a week from tonight.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Putting The Dominator the test

Tonight’s second pre-season game against the Pittsburgh Penguins will be interesting for a few reasons, but the primary one is that it’s the first time we get to see Dominik Hasek in a Sens uniform.

Having played less than 20 games in over two years, there has been considerable doubt surrounding Hasek by Sens fans and NHL followers alike. And understandably so. Goaltending has often been cited as the Achilles heel of the franchise, sometimes with the netminder getting blamed unfairly, but there is no question if the Sens are to do well this season, they’ll need strong, reliable play between the pipes.

Is the 40-year-old Hasek, a two-time Hart Trophy winner as well as a four-time Vezina recipient, the right guy to lead this team into the promised land? There’s no denying his track record. He may very well be the most dominant goalie of our this generation, and if not, Hasek’s name has to be in those discussions with Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. In the past, he’s proven himself absolutely capable of taking an average team onto his shoulders and carrying them to unbelievable heights.

But that was then. What Dominik Hasek will be the Ottawa Senators be getting this year is the prevailing question throughout the league.

The people who run the Sens seem to think they’re getting an elite goalie. GM John Muckler is telling anyone who will listen that he’s more than confident Hasek will perform. While a pessimist might argue that Muckler has to say this, having hedged his bets on a goalie who could be over the hill. But John Muckler, though a lot of things, isn’t a bullshitter. He’s a straight shooter. When asked for his thoughts on Hasek’s prospects, he wouldn’t bury “The Dominator” if he was less than sure of him, but I certainly doubt he would put himself out there the way he has. I genuinely think he believes Hasek will be stellar this season when called upon. New head coach Bryan Murray has basically echoed these sentiments in his comments on the issue.

”I have a pretty good idea of how he’s going to be in a game,” said Murray.

“Being in a game might be a little different, but he’s very, very competitive, and I’m real confident he’s going to be a very good goalie for us this year.”

Well, I’m glad he’s confident, because I’m not. There’s no arguing Hasek is a gamer, and having gone out on a sour note in Detroit, he likely has a fire lit under him to prove he still has it. But you can’t fight father time, regardless of how motivated you are.

As Sens fans, we’ve been through the rollercoaster that is inconsistent goaltending. Patrick Lalime may have shouldered too much of the blame for the meltdown in April of 2004, but he also didn’t do himself any favors with his unreliable play throughout that regular season. The warning signs of goaltending being an issue were there all year long, and fans of the team, myself very much included turned a blind eye. We said, well, the regular season doesn’t matter, it’s the post season that counts, and Lalime has always been solid then. To an extent, that’s true. The playoffs are what matters most. But when there looks to be a problem in February, it was naïve to think it would suddenly not be one in a few months.

If nothing else, all I want from Dominik Hasek is consistency. I do not expect him to steal games, though he might still be able to do so. Hold the fort steady and then, turn it up a notch in the more significant second season. Can he fulfill these expectations? Tonight against the Pens will be the first inkling into what we have gotten ourselves into.

Fortunately, for Hasek anyway, supposed phenom Sidney Crosby will likely not be playing. Did he pull something when fanning on a breakaway the other night?

The teams are playing back-to-back, with tonight’s game in Binghamton, NY, the home of the Sens AHL affiliate, and tomorrow’s in Wilkes Barre, PA, the city the Baby Pens call home. While it’s expected the Bingo game will sell out tonight, I’ve heard strange reports about a surprisingly large amount of tickets available in Wilkes Barre. Anyone have an explanation for this? Maybe some guessed that he would be sitting out one of the two games, but why would they assume it would be there’s? If anything, I would’ve thought they knew the Pens organization would’ve wanted to treat their AHL fans with a glimpse of their future rather than Binghamton.

Getting back to the Sens goaltending, Kelly Guard will play the second half of tonight’s game. He has been assigned to Bingo, but will play in one game before leaving. It will be his opportunity to make an impression.

The line-up up front will have a different look than the one that took the ice at the ACC in their Sunday win against the Leafs. Two of the four lines will remain in tact, the first of which being the much heralded Brandon Bochenski-Jason Spezza-Dany Heatley combo. Once is a fluke, twice is evidence, so let’s see if BB has another memorable outing.

Besides that line, the team will be giving some players who are either on the bubble or guaranteed AHLers a look. The second line will Peter Schaefer-Mike Fisher-Chris Neil, which served as the third line on Sunday. Murray has talked about expecting a lot from this group, both on the score sheet and as far as energy. While I’m not sure I’m sold on Neil being a third liner, I’m alright with them giving him the opportunity in the pre-season to show he belongs there. Neil has been one of the hardest working Sens since joining the organization, often the very heart and soul of the club, so he deserves a chance to improve his standing.

The third and fourth lines will be Denis Hamel-Chris Kelly-Patrick Eaves and Grant Potulny-Steve Martins-Danny Bois. All of those third liners are on the bubble and trying to win one of those last spots with the big club, so expect all three of them to leave it all on the ice tonight. It seems like Hamel and Kelly have a leg up on Eaves, which disappoints me because I’ve been excited at the idea of Eaves being with the Sens this year. Both Potulny and Bois have already been assigned to Bingo, so they’re not playing for jobs, but I’m sure each will want to leave a good impression on the Sens brass watching. Martins is another player trying to stick with the main team, but his chances don’t look good.

The defence core will also have a slightly different appearance tonight. Chris Phillips and Zdeno Chara will play together, but by now that’s kind of assumed as they’ve been married on the ice for years. The second pairing is a repeat of Sunday as Lance Ward and youngster Andrej Meszaros are teamed up. Meszaros impressed many who saw the Sunday night game with his play at the both ends of the ice, and in knocking a Leaf out, Ward did what he largely brought here for. The third coupling on the blueline will be Christoph Schubert and Brennan Evams. With Meszaros having a strong game, Schubert could be behind the eight ball as far as winning that coveted sixth defenceman job, so he needs to have a good game if he wants to be in Ottawa in October. Evans has already been assigned to Bingo.

As with the Sunday game, tonight’s contest is not available on TV locally, but can be heard on the radio on The Team 1200, who also stream their broadcast on their site .

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

And then there were 27

The Sens trimmed their roster today by 20 today, leaving them with 27 still up with the team. No unexpected names are on the list of those cut.

The players were:
G Jeff Glass
G Kelly Guard
G Mike Mole
D Brennan Evans
D Neil Komadoski
D Tomas Kudelka
D Neil Petruic
D Jan Platil
F Cody Bass
F Danny Bois
F Brett Clouthier
F Joe Cullen
F Chris Greene
F Jeff Heerema
F Gregg Johnson
F Matt Marquardt
F Grant Potulny
F Charlie Stephens
F Greg Watson
F Roman Wick

It’s interesting to note that both Guard and Glass will be sent to the baby Sens in Binghamton. It’s pretty well written in stone that Billy Thompson, who had a strong season last year, will be the starter, so one of the two promising youngsters will serve as his back-up and get limited playing time. I would’ve thought that they’d send one of them, mostly likely Glass, to an alternate minor league team to ensure they get the amount of game time a still developing netminder needs to continue their progress. This was the practice last year when they sent Guard to Charlotte of the ECHL. Perhaps that will come eventually, and they want the two to battle it out for the back-up job in Bingo, with the loser going elsewhere for the time being. Either way, both seem to have bright futures in Ottawa.

Mike Mole was one of the winners of the CBC reality series “Making The Cut” and won a training camp tryout as part of the show. I didn’t such much of the program when it first aired, and have been putting off doing so now that it’s available on DVD, so I have no real clue how good this guy is. I will be interested to see if any of the other winners who got chances with the Canadian NHL clubs can at least land a job with their minor league affiliate.

On defence, there are a few notables. Neil Komadoski is clearly a guy who the team is high on, based on the fact he was given the C for the rookie tournament, and though he didn’t look poor, Komadoski also didn’t stand out. For me anyway, he was one of those guys who plays consistently strong throughout the game, but doesn’t do anything particularly well. Solid, but unspectacular. He was very good in his own end. A year in Bingo will be good for his career. Last year he wasn’t able to crack the line-up all the time because of all the depth the team had due to NHLers Brian Pothier and Anton Volchenkov being down there, and when he did play, it was not consistent enough to keep a spot in the line-up. Now that both will be gone, as well possibly as Christoph Schubert, he’ll be able to assume a larger role, as basically, the top 3 d-men from last season might be in Ottawa, leaving room for someone to make a big lateral move. He was a bluechipper in college, so the talent’s clearly there.

A player to keep an eye on down in Binghamton will be Jan Platil. Coming out of junior, where he put up 98 points in 129 games over his last two seasons in Barrie, he was highly touted, however, he’s been unable to take that ability to contribute on the score sheet into the pros, with only one goal and three assists each of his two years in Bingo. Those who saw a lot of the team say he looked like was ready to improve, starting the season strong, but not performing well at all in the second half of the year. His physical game remained in tact, as he can be very menacing, both with his fists and his hits, but the offensive dimension of his game was no where to be found. In some ways, it will be put up or shut up for the Czech defenceman. With the departure of the NHLers, there is the opportunity to make an impact, but the onus is on him. Bingo head coach Dave Cameron will hand him the ball, let’s see if he can run with it.

Neil Petruic will be going into his first as a pro, having done the full four years in college with the University Of Minnesota-Duluth. Most tout him as being highly skilled offensively, especially on the powerplay due to his good passing skills and great shot.

Up front, top prospect Roman Wick will be going to Binghamton, his first year in pro hockey. In the rookie game I saw, I was not wowed by Wick to say the least, as I basically had to go out of my way to find him on the ice. He did not do anything for me to take notice. But when I did watch his play, he looked very timid and afraid of the contact. That’s nothing surprising, because the scouting reports on him were that that part of game needed work, but I didn’t think it would be that bad. Playing under a Sutter in junior for Red Deer would’ve hardened him a little, I assumed. Wrong it seems. Having said all this, he is regarded as very talented, especially with the puck, as he can be dangerous in one-on-one situations. We’ll see how he fares in the AHL.

Danny Bois was kind of like Komadoski in that he was not spectacular but his play impressed me. Despite having a rep of being an enforcer type (and justifiably so, having racked up at least 200 PIMs in all four of his junior years), he game seemed to have more dimension than that. Having spent a year in the AHL, last year, where he got 6 points in 72 games, he might’ve had a leg up on some of the others. People I spoke with who saw the rest of the tournament basically echoed this sentiment. I’m sure he’ll continue to serve in the toughguy role with Bingo, but there’s more to him than just that.

Much like at defence, there will be a bunch of NHLers not with the team this season, including Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette, Brandon Bochenski, and (likely) Brian McGrattan. As a result, guys who were there last year, but in a limited role, can step up. Two possibilities of this are Greg Watson and Grant Potulny. Neither were regulars in every game, getting at most fourth line roles, but there are some holes to fill, and they might be able to perform.

As well, Charlie Stephens could be on the verge of a big season. At 6’3” and 225 pounds, he’s got great size, and was a good performer in junior, collecting 268 points over 300 games in his five junior years. After coming to the Sens organization in 2003, he looked very promising early on, putting up 32 points in 37 games in his first season with the AHL Sens. Last season though, due to the influx of NHLers, he was relegated to a third line checking role, collecting only 28 points. He was said to look good in spurts, but overall, had a hard time adjusting to the assignment. Now that he can assume a spot on one of the top two lines, where he’s better suited to play anyway, Stephens could be ready for a big splash.

The rest of the non-junior players cut are new to the organization. Joe Cullen was signed as a free agent a few weeks ago. Brett Clouthier was formerly with the New Jersey organization, drafted in the second round of 1999, but never panned out in that system. He seems to be somewhat limited as to what he can contribute, but he’s another big body at 6’5” and 225 pounds, and can drop the gloves if necessary.

I’ve talked about how much I liked Cody Bass before, but it warrants another mention. He was absolutely fantastic in the rookie tourney, and another year in junior for seasoning, where he can get more ice time and play a big part on the team, will only help him. He’s not going to be a sniper for the Sens anytime soon, but his play in both ends of the ice, as well as his blazing speed, make him someone they have to have as a priority.

Tomas Kudelka had a brutal rookie tournament, not doing himself an favors as far as impressing the decision makers, but maybe a year in the WHL will do him some good. It will be his first year of hockey in North America so it could just be that the difference in the game overwhelmed him. The team has to be hoping so, because I know he’s considered one of the better blueline prospects in the organization, or at least, was a month ago. He often looked lost on the ice and was prone to a lot of bad plays, including at least one awful giveaway in the game I saw. Apparently little changed throughout the rest of the tourney. The team he’s joining, Lethbridge, is expected to be a pretty good one, so that might help.

I didn’t see Matt Marquardt play, because he was a scratch against the Leafs, so I don’t any first hand words about him. He is massive though, at 6’4” and 220 pounds at only 18 years old. He came to the Sens camp on an invitation, and without a contract. He’s been sent back to Moncton of the QMJHL, who will not only be coached by Ted Nolan but also be the host of the Memorial Cup. Nolan had previously said Marquardt was the best player in the team’s training camp, so clearly there is a lot of upside there. I don’t think him coming to their camp gives the Sens any rights to him (someone can feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about this), so there’s no assurance he even has a future with this organization. Chris Greene also came to the camp without a contract and is on his way back to his junior team, the Eerie Otters of the OHL. I can’t recall anything about him, so that probably isn’t a good sign, but he was the team’s rookie of the year last season.

Still with the Sens, but on the bubble, are Patrick Eaves, Chris Kelly, Denis Hamel, Steve Martins, Brian McGrattan, Andrej Meszaros, Lance Ward, Tomas Malec and Schubert. With the injury to Vaclav Varada keeping him out of the line-up until late October at the earliest, and likely into November, there is another spot open. Many have pinned it down to a battle between Hamel and Kelly, with the assumption that if Kelly does win it, Antoine Vermette will move to left wing, as he’s spent some time there in addition to center, while Kelly is a strictly a center.

The next pre-season game is Friday in Wilkes Barre, PA against Sidney Crosby, Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Expect a lot of the above mentioned, who sat out the game Sunday against the Maple Leafs, to play.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Bubble Boys

Though watching the team beat up on the Leafs is fun, the most important and intriguing part of the pre-season for the Ottawa Senators is the fight for the jobs. Because they've been so deep, usually there are few roster spots open come training camp, and the line-up can usually be guesstimated. This year, not so much. Some guys seem to be ahead of others, but there is certainly an opportunity for a player to win a job.

With that said, let's look at who the contenders are, and what their chances of cracking the big team are.

Brandon Bochenski

Based on the fact he played on the Spezza-Heatley line in both the training camp scrimmages as well as the first pre-season game against the Leafs last night, it’s clear the organization has high hopes for BB. I must say I’m somewhat surprised at that, as I had a few players ahead of him in what I thought their depth chart was. One factor in his favor is he’s a natural left winger. The team has been soft at that position for as long as I can remember, but were able to neutralize it because they were so deep at right wing, with three 30 goal scorers on that side last season. This year, they’re moving Martin Havlat over to the left to play on Alfredsson’s line. I assumed, wrongly of course, that Peter Schaefer would be given the spot on the line, particularly because he’s so good defensively, an area neither Spezza nor Heatley excel at. Defensive play is not said to be a strength of Bochenski either, so the idea of that line scares me a little bit, especially because as fans we’re so used to our forward core being superb in their own end. The new system, especially with the new rules, will be more free flowing and open, which suits this forward group a lot more as far as their skill set. Playing a defensive system makes sense if you had the Florida Panthers circa-expansion year line-up, but with Spezza, Heatley, Alfredsson, Havlat, etc., run and gun seems more appropriate.

The fact that Bochenski played with Spezza a lot down in Binghamton last season also helped put him over the top when deciding who would be the third piece of that line’s puzzle. He’s a player who’s scored at every level he’s played at. At age 18, he scored 30 goals in the USHL, making the first all-star team. In three years at the University of North Dakota, he scored 79 goals. And last year, his first as a pro, he scored 34 in Bingo, making the AHL’s all-rookie team. Offensive output has never been the question surrounding Bochenski, but all the other intangibles that are a major part of being an NHLer remain questionable. His skating, though said to be improved last year, was still not considered up to par, and at 6 feet and 180 pounds, he’s small by modern standards.

Based on where he’s been positioned, it appears like it’s Bochenski’s job to lose. Whether or not he’s able to deliver is the question.

Chris Kelly

While I said Bochenski making the team would’ve surprised me a month ago, Chris Kelly was the player who I thought had the best chance. Much of that is because of all the bubble players from Bingo, he’s the one with some experience with the big Sens, having played in four games last year, and though he didn’t produce much as far as score sheet contributions, his strong play was impossible to ignore. Former coach Jacques Martin even went out of his way to praise Kelly’s play after a few of those games, which made sense because he’s Martin’s kind of player. In many ways, he’s the anti-Bochenski. Even though he put up 60 points in 77 games last year in Bingo, his best AHL season yet, Kelly’s rep does not include extensive offensive upside. He likely won’t be a top six forward on any team, and certainly not the Senators, but his skill set fits in perfectly for a third and fourth line role: he’s fast, works his ass off, is a sound two-way player, and despite not being all that large, can play a physical game. He’s a natural center, and at this point, I doubt the team wants to put someone who doesn’t have much NHL experience in a role where they’re playing out of position. The Senators four centers look to be penciled in already, with Bryan Smolinski, Spezza, Mike Fisher, and Antoine Vermette ahead of Kelly. I had thought that perhaps Vermette, who has some LW experience, might move over, whether to play with Heatley and Spezza or on the third or fourth line, creating an opportunity for Kelly. That doesn’t look all that likely anymore. In all likelihood, Kelly will not crack the main line-up when the season starts.

Patrick Eaves

I’ve written extensively about Eaves here on this blog, so I think those of you who read regularly know how I feel about him. His reputation preceded Eaves before he came to the city for the rookie tournament, however he only solidified it with his play. In the game I saw, I was more than impressed with how he carried himself, as he was their best forward for the majority of the game, and was always making himself a presence on the ice. I said that he looked NHL ready to me, and those who saw the remainder of the Senators games in that tourney mostly echoed that sentiment, however I also said I wanted to see how he did in the training camp with the main players. I was not able to get out to any of the practices or scrimmages, so I can’t say first hand how he fared, but the fact he wasn’t in the line-up against the Leafs could be indicative of something. Many who did, however, mused that he might need a year of pro at the AHL level before coming into the NHL, as the jump from college hockey to the big league is a difficult one. There’s likely some merit to this school of thought, but he sure looked good enough to me, and I like what he brings to the table. He can skate, is an agitator, works hard, and has decent hands. While it wouldn’t be smart to put him on either of the two top lines, in a third or fourth line role, I think he would fit in nicely, as his style of play fits what a coach expects from those lines (lots of energy), and he can put some pucks in the net when called upon. I had him on the right side of the third line, but it seems as though Chris Neil, who’s been a perennial fourth liner since coming to the team, has been given a shot to improve his standing by playing on that line, leaving Eaves the odd man out, but that could depend on what they plan to do with the fourth line, which brings me to…

Brian McGrattan

Obviously, what he brings to the table differs greatly from Patrick Eaves, but that might be the reason he makes the team over the youngster. As I said yesterday, new coach Bryan Murray has spoken a lot about this team needing to be tougher, and if that’s what he sees as a hole, McGrattan fills it beautifully. At 6’4” and 230 pounds, he’s a mountain of a man, and based on the fact he set a new AHL record for penalty minutes last season with over 500 PIMs, it’s safe to assume he likes to drop the gloves. Though the team has a reputation of being soft and unwilling to fight, we saw last season in their brawl with the Flyers that they have a few guys who can go. Chris Neil has had that role for the past three years, and done well for himself (Andre Roy held it down before that), however, under the previous regime, fighting was frowned upon and rarely were the tough guys allowed to be off their leashes, which is one of the reasons Roy was sent out of town. Zdeno Chara has also been known to fight every now and then, but I don’t think the team wants tough guy responsibilities on someone who they count on so significantly in other areas. The question regarding McGrattan is whether or not there is more to him than his fists. I’m all for toughness, but not at the expense of talent. I’d much rather a roster spot be given to someone like a Chris Kelly, who’s gritty but also has some talent, than a one dimensional fighter who’s a liability in every other aspect of the game.

Steve Martins

Signed in the off season, Martins was someone who, I thought, would be a depth player, and a guy who would be up with the big club but not in the line-up, occupying the press box most of the season. He seems tailor made for that role, as he has a reputation (based on his previous two stints with the Sens) of being good in the locker room, a team player who’s unselfish, but able can step in when needed and play. However, Murray eliminated that scenario by announcing that he plans to carry the bare minimum of 20 players on the main roster, which means no alternates. Under these guidelines, it’s doubtful Martins will have a job with the Senators, and will likely either be cut or sent to Bingo to bring some veteran leadership, which isn’t a bad idea considering the team will be very bare without much of the players from last year who will be back in the NHL this season. During his other two tenures here in Ottawa, Martins was extremely popular with fans, which was somewhat strange because he was mostly a fourth liner with some brief penalty killing exposure. Yet his neverending work ethic made him a fan favorite. I hope the Sens keep him in the organization because I’d feel comfortable with him filling whatever holes are left from the inevitable injuries that come up.

Denis Hamel

For someone who was a first team AHL all-star two seasons ago and having put up almost a point a game in Binghamton last year, Hamel’s name has not been in the conversations about who will win jobs as much as you might think. A lot of that could be because of the perception that he’s a career minor leaguer. At 28, perhaps the thinking is that he’s done developing. Hamel does have some NHL experience, having played 130 games with Buffalo over four seasons. He’s another player who’s skill set and playing style is appropriate for the roster spots open. Though he’s displayed a good scoring touch in the minors, his game has always been very sound defensively, and he can take the body due to his good size. In that sense, he seems ideal for a fourth line job, but there doesn’t seem to be the buzz around Hamel that there is around the others.

Andrej Meszaros

Moving onto the defence, with Brian Pothier being pretty well guaranteed the no. 5 defencemen spot, the battle is over that remaining job, and it’s an intense one. Many perceive Meszaros to be the favorite to win that job. The Sens first round pick in 2004, he had a solid rookie tournament, looking good in the game I saw. There were mixed reports from people who saw the rest of the games, with some noting that he was inconsistent, but others, who watched the exact same contest, commenting that Meszaros was their best defencemen. So it’s all perspective, I suppose. In the game vs. the Leafs I was able to attend, I was especially impressed with his puck moving abilities and his excellent shot. There were certainly a couple brainfarts, but that’s to be expected with a 19-year-old. Whether or not he makes the team depends, I think, on what the Senators want from their 6th defencemen. If it’s offense, then Meszaros could very well have the job locked up, as that’s his speciality. If they want reliability and experience, then clearly that’s not where Meszaros shines right now. In addition, some have lamented that Meszaros would be better served to spend a year in the AHL, for many reasons. One, he’s still developing as a player, and it would make more sense for his growth to play somewhere where he will log a lot of minutes, get powerplay time, etc. than serve on the third defence pairing that doesn’t see much ice. Two, for contract purpose. Under the new CBA, a player can be an unrestricted free agent either at 25 or after seven years of NHL experience. It would be more logical, some say, to have Meszaros from 20 to 26 than 19 to 25. I previously under the impression time with an AHL affiliate counted towards that, but have since been corrected. Though you’d like to think what dictates who makes the team will be strictly hockey related, in this new NHL, decisions based on off ice factors are a reality we have to live with.

Christoph Schubert

The big German was the one who I figured would get the remaining job when the Senators packaged Greg de Vries in the trade with Atlanta. Coming off a so-so season in Binghamton, Schubert, who’s 25, is almost at a sink or swim point in his career. They have to see if he’s an NHL caliber defenceman or not. Previously, there were no real opportunity for that test, as the defence position was a log jam for the Sens. Having spent three years in the Ottawa system in the AHL, you’d think Schubert would’ve developed as much as a player at that level as he’s going to, so another year down in the A wouldn’t help him, would it? Those who observed the training camp have said they were impressed with Schubert’s play, as he’s a big guy who can skate and move the puck. He might be more equipped to handle NHL play than Meszaros because of his extensive AHL experience, as the jump from the A to the NHL isn’t as drastic as from junior to the big time.

Lance Ward

Much of what I said about Martins can be applied to Ward. When he was signed, I figured it was a depth move. He’s a veteran who’s bounced around from team to team, but he gives them NHL experience that Meszaros and/or Schubert do not. Ward also brings a game that neither do. Though neither of the Europeans are considered soft, Ward is definitely harder around the edges. He has no problem scrapping, which as I discussed on McGrattan, appears to be a virtue Bryan Murray looks highly upon. As well, one of the factors that made me think he’d be a depth player was that he’s extremely versatile, capable of playing both forward and defence, which makes him an appealing taxi squad member. But again, because that role doesn’t exists under Murray, you have to wonder where Ward fits into their plans. He might, like Martins, be someone who they plan to be one of their leaders in the AHL, however, I wonder if that’s a role he wants. Did he come to Ottawa under the impression he would be with the main team in some capacity? If I were a defencemen, I doubt I’d come to Ottawa without some kind of understanding because it’s pretty clear, on paper, they’re strong at the position. At this point, he might have an edge over the others because he’s been an NHLer before, but as I said, it also depends on what the coaching staff wants.

Tomas Malec

The wildcard of the bunch, Malec, like Ward, was signed as a free agent. He’s someone who was highly rated coming out of junior, where he excelled, however for whatever reason, he’s never been able to stick and succeed with an NHL club, as the Sens are the third NHL team he’s been with at age 24. His name hasn’t been tossed around very much when people talk about who will get the 6th defenceman job, which might reflect how the Sens organization sees him, or could just be that he’s been overlooked thus far. As well, I didn’t hear much about how he fared in camp, so it’s difficult to assess where he will land, but I would guess he will not get the look the other three will.

The remaining seven pre-season games will likely decide which of the above are in Sens uniforms on October 5th in Toronto. As I’ve said, some players do appear to have a leg up on others, but at this point, nothing is etched in stone as far as jobs, and over the course of the next two weeks, anything can happen. If nothing else, it should be fun to see it all unfold.

Senators 5 Maple Leafs 2

Though I can't offer any personal insight, because I couldn't see the game, by all accounts, the Senators mostly dominated the Toronto Maple Leafs last night at the ACC, though Leafs fans can take solice in the fact that both of their goalies, who are battling for the back-up job, were said to look very good.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

It's game time

Tonight will be the first sorta test of the new (and hopefully) improved Ottawa Senators. And what better place to have this game than in the venue that prompted the overhaul: Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.

Though it’s only a pre-season game, don’t think the Senators won’t be under the microscope. After all the sweeping changes made to the team, from the removal of their head coach to their top forward to the goalie, that would be the case regardless of who the opponent was. But against those damn Maple Leafs?

The line-up they’re going likely isn’t the same as the one that will suit up against the Leafs October 5th for opening night, but it’s not far off either. The big difference is that expected no. 2 goalie Ray Emery will start the game, with projected Baby Sens starter Billy Thompson serving as the back-up. No Dominik Hasek.

Up front, however, the line-up could very well be an early look at what new coach Bryan Murray has penciled in. The forward lines will be:
Martin Havlat – Bryan Smolinski – Daniel Alfredsson
Brandon Bochenski – Jason Spezza – Dany Heatley
Peter Schaefer – Mike Fisher – Chris Neil
Vaclav Varada – Antoine Vermette – Bryan McGrattan

It’s interesting to note that Bochenski is being given a big chance here. I plan to talk about the players who are trying to crack the line-up for the first time tomorrow, and their chances of being given that spot, but it looks like Bochenski has a leg up. He’s been on that line all training camp during scrimmages, and was said to look pretty good.

As well, tough guy Chris Neil, who’s been a fourth liner since coming to the team, has the opportunity to prove he’s more than that. He and Fisher are very good friends, so that might contribute to decent chemistry. Murray has spoken about wanting that third line to be a major factor on the team, able to contribute both energy wise and on the score sheet, so we’ll see if Neil’s up to the challenge.

And finally, Bryan McGrattan, who racked up more than 500 PIMs with Binghamton last season, has his shot. Murray has spoken highly of him in the past, and many thought that he would fit right in with the new bench boss’ philosophy of making this team tougher. Whether or not it’s worth sacrificing a more skilled player remains to be seen, but at the very least, we know with him on the ice, the Leafs won’t push the Sens around.

On defence, the six blueliners suiting up tonight will be Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Zdeno Chara, Lance Ward and Andrej Meszaros. I doubt that is the six the Senators have planned, as Brian Pothier is pretty well guaranteed the 5th defencemen spot, but maybe it’s between Ward and Meszaros for the final position, with Christoph Schubert and Tomas Malec on the outside looking in.

It’s important to remember that this is only a pre-season game, so regardless of the result, it’s really not THAT important, but as a fan, I’d sure like the team to start off on a positive note, especially against this team.

A reminder: the game isn’t on local TV, but can be heard on the radio on The Team 1200. If you’re a Sens fans not in the Ottawa area – and based on the e-mail I get, that’s a lot of you, it’s webcasted on their website
. If you have the Leafs TV premium channel, it's apparently available there. But I doubt many Sens fans are subscribers of that network.

The puck drops at 7:30PM.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Murray: my way or the highway

Though he’s yet to coach a single coach, new Senators bench boss Bryan Murray has already put his stamp on this team.

1. No complaining!

Murray has asked captain Daniel Alfredsson to form a five player committee to deal with whatever issues the team has so that he doesn’t have to hear about it.
"We're going to have days during the season where we're going to have off-ice workouts for conditioning," said Murray. "They're all scheduled for the whole year right now and I don't want to hear any complaining about them. I want all complaints handled by the (committee).

"If those complaints get to my level, then there's going to be problems."

While I can sorta kinda get what Murray is trying to do, I’m inclined to agree with Tom Benjamin that this is the wrong approach. I think we’ve all worked for bosses who have not had an open door policy and it’s not exactly much fun and all that comfortable. This is not to say players should come to Murray with every little issue they have, but I’ve always felt that coaches should interact with his players on a level that doesn’t reek of a hierarchy. We all know the coach is the boss. Does he need to really need to throw his authority in the face like this?

2. The bare minimum

The Senators will have a 20 man squad, meaning no alternates at any position. Their AHL affiliate, Binghamton, is not far, and most AHL games are on the East Coast, so it’s not as if they’d have to wait a while for a call-up to arrive, but why not have a few players who’s role is to motivate the others? Someone who works their ass off in practice to make the team feel like their spot is not written in stone and they can be in the press box the next game if they don’t step up their play. Murray’s rationalization is that it’s always better to have a player play than watch, and in the case of a young player who’s still developing, like an Andrej Meszaros or a Patrick Eaves that makes sense, but a veteran like Denis Hamel, Steve Martin, or Lance Ward aren’t likely to improve much by playing in games and, I think, would be good to have around.

3. The haves and the have nots

Murray has divided the training camp into two teams: one team of 26 players, including 17 NHLers, who have a shot at cracking the big line-up and 23 players who will be with either the AHL Senators or someplace else.
"History plays a big part in these sorts of decisions and so do contracts," said Murray. "I wanted to divide it up so that the players who were going to have a legitimate chance to play on the big team were in one group. We have a lot of decisions to make and we've got work to do with the eight pre-season games. There could be guys in the second group -- like Steve Martins -- who are going to get a shot to play pre-season games, but if anybody in the second group is going to move up, they're going to have to earn it."

I’m not sure I agree with this move either. I suppose the thinking is that the guys in the second group will feel motivated and know they have to do something special to crack the main team’s line-up. But wouldn’t it also serve as a bit of a downer? Though of course it would not be the case, I would rather have everyone thinking it’s a level playing field and anyone can make the team.

Murray's clearly trying to make this HIS team, which most thought would be a difficult task given the fact that he planned to approach things from the complete opposite direction as the previous coach, for whom most of the team played for for some time. Whether or not his tactics with result in success remains to be seen, but if nothing else, he's stiring things up.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The six teams to watch closest this season

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
And not simply for Sidney Crosby, though certainly he himself will be a player to keep your eyes on this season. But this coming season will be especially important for this franchise, who not too long ago looked to the embarassment of the league, both on the ice and off it. They took perhaps the most aggressive approach this past offseason, signing, among others, Zigmund Palffy, Lyle Odelin, John LeClair, and tough guy Andre Roy as well as trading for goalie Jocelyn Thibault and inking veteran Mark Recchi last summer. A very Glen Sather approach to team building. It will be interesting to see how it works out. On paper, they seem to be at least contenders for a playoff birth, something a year ago Pittsburgh hockey fans would've taken with a smile, and some even suggest that the Pens will be contenders for Lord Stanley. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that.

2. Phoenix Coyotes
The primary reason is obvious, and may be the story of this season: Wayne Gretzky, probably the greatest hockey player of all-time, getting behind the bench. With no prior experience. Though we all have an opinion, no one really has a clue how it's going to turn out. I have an unfortunate feeling that it won't go well, and that seeing Gretzky's legacy get tarnished will be like a car crash - we can't look away, no matter how much we want to. Of course, having conquered the on ice aspect, he could do the same as a bench boss. That in itself is reason enough to keep your eyes on the Coyotes. In addition, much like the Penguins, the Coyotes were players on the free agent market both this offseason and last. Like Pittsburgh, they pretty much had to, as fan interest was dwindling and they have a new, expensive building to pay for by filling. And like the Pens, much of their moves can be looked at with a raised eyebrow. They had the advantage of players wanting to play in Arizona due to the year round golf that can be played, and were able to use it overcome the fact they've been a pretty depressing franchise for some time, but many of the people they brought in have all sorts of question marks surrounding them. In a way, it's almost put up or shut up for this team and their fans.

3. Ottawa Senators
Clearly, I have a bias. But all the ingredients are there for an interesting team. A new head coach who, based on his words anyway, will have a philosophy about as opposite as the previous guy as you can get, yet will try to do so with much of the same team who lived under the previous regime and their strict approach. A new goalie, who's also over 40 and has played less than 20 games in 40 months. And a new sorta franchise player, replacing the previous one, and bringing tons of baggage with him. You're telling me you won't want to follow how the Sens do?

4. Toronto Maple Leafs
Because it could go either way and I wouldn't be the least bit shocked. How the Leafs will fare this coming season depends on who you speak with. Some think they will be contenders, and some predict a spot in the Eastern Conference basement. Either one won't make me bat an eye. I think they'll be somewhere in the middle, fighting for one of the last playoff spot. With two players always one hit away from retirement and a 40 year old goalie of their own with a back less stable than a house of cards, it should be a fun year to be a Leafs fan, though not for the reasons they would probably like.

5. Detroit Red Wings
A few weeks ago, I talked about how it looked like the Wings would be tumbling down from their high horse and position as infinite dominators. They've since inked one young sniper, but are still without another. Because they play in a weak division, in a time when divisional play is getting a huge emphasis, they'll do alright, but no longer will the Red Wings be penciled into a top position in the league standings. How will "Hockeytown" respond, having been spoiled by years of greatness, to a team that will not be head and shoulders above the rest?

6. Edmonton Oilers
For years, Kevin Lowe said that if given the opportunity to operate on a level playing field with the rest of the teams in the league, the Oilers would contend. Well, we shall now see, won't we? To his credit, his did break character and go out and acquire two impact players to solidify his chances, bringing many cat calls about how the broke Oilers now could afford to spend $10 million on two guys. It'll be intriguing to see if either of the new Oilers can bring the team to the promised land.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Rookie camp round-up

The Ottawa Senators rookie camp/tournament came to an end over the weekend. The Senators went 1-2-1 overall, and as a team, did not look good on most nights, outplayed three of the four games.

As far as individual players, some thoughts:

- The consensus on Andrej Meszaros seems to be that he's NHL ready. He certainly looked like it in the game I saw, and having spoken with people who watched all four Sens games, that is the belief all around. But looking like a top defencemen against other rookies is one thing, doing so against NHLers is another. He'll likely have the opportunity to win an NHL job at the main camp in a few days. There are still some holes in his game that would need to be worked on, but I saw nothing alarming.

- Everyone who spoke on Neil Komadoski said the same thing: solid but very unspectacular. He wore the "C" for the Sens, which says something about how the organization views him, but he never stepped up the way I would think. Skating was said to be the major issue with him.

- Tomas Kudelka, by all accounts, had a rough tournament, as he did not look good according to basically everyone and was said to look completely out of place a lot of the time. Seems to need A LOT of work.

- Patrick Eaves has gotten similar responses. I was very impressed with his overall game, and it seems as though that didn't drop off in any of the other games the team played. His style of play is condusive to a third or fourth line job, which is where there are some jobs to be won, so unlike a junior sniper like a Roman Wick, it wouldn't be counter-productive to his development to place him in such a role. His size didn't seem to affect his play in the rookie tournament as far as taking the body, but again, we'll see how he does against the big boys and if the same can be said then.

- Cody Bass seems to have been the most consistent forward through the tournament, as in every game, I spoke with somebody who said they were most taken by his play. He didn't put up much offense throughout the games, but was always a factor as far as his play down low and defensively, as well as his crazy speed. Based on this one camp, I'd say his future with the team is bright, but not for a few years.

- Roman Wick seemed to have been the opposite of Bass in that he was inconsistent. In the game I saw, he was not a factor at all, as I barely noticed him, but according to others who saw him in the rest of the tourney, there were many instances where he would turn it on and make excellent plays in the opponents end of the ice. Unfortunately, they were only instances, as he would come and go in that area. Based on his junior career, it's pretty clear he's very gifted offensively, but needs to work on the rest of his game. Especially the physical aspect because he was said to be very timid.

- Jeff Wikner lived up to his reputation of being a gritty, scrappy player, but on the flipside, also reaffirmed his rep as being dirty and prone to taking bad penalties. There were a few questionable hits in the game I saw, and apparently that was the theme throughout the tournament. Even though Muckler has said he wants toughness, I'm not sure he wants this kind of it. Part of it could be attributed to overextending himself in order to make an impact and get noticed, but that's not the way to do it.

- Of the rest of the forwards, Danny Bois impressed the most.

- As far as the goalies, it depends on who you speak with as far as which is closer to being an NHL goalie. Though he didn't stink, I was overly impressed with Kelly Guard in the game against the Leafs. As I said then, his fundementals seemed to be off to be, positionally. But apparently stepped it up in the other game and more than a few people were speaking highly of him. Jeff Glass didn't wow anyone in his first game against the 'Canes, but was said to have been the reason the team did not get blown out Saturday at the Corel Centre vs. the Canadiens. Everyone was glowing about his play. We'll see how each do in the main camp.

The main camp starts on Wednesday, and most of the players involved last week will be there. The majority for just the experience, but it will be interesting to see who stands up well in a tougher environment.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Words from the boss

GM John Muckler is all over this morning's Ottawa Sun.

On all the changes that have been made to the roster since April of 2004, when the Sens were eliminated by the Maple Leafs:

"I could have done nothing and maybe we would have had another 100-point season, but we wouldn't have been successful in the playoffs," said Muckler. "The fans here aren't going to settle for that and we're not going to settle for that either. We're all about winning a Stanley Cup here. That's our only goal.

"If you don't win a Stanley Cup, there is no sense in going back with the same old group of guys. You have to make changes and you can't be afraid to make changes in this job. If you make changes, though, you have to do it for the right reasons and I believe that's what we did here."

One of the aspects I loved about Muckler becoming GM years ago, ending the revolving door circus that was the top hockey position with this team, was that he wasn't afraid to say the goal was to win. Previous bosses, Marshall Johnston especially, seemed to tip toe around that fact, and would always go back to the fact that, because this is a small market, the goal is to compete.

In a sense, that was smart, because it kept expectations low. Muckler, for all the criticism he takes, isn't afraid to put himself out there. I am a believer that to win you must first have a winning attitude and Muckler has been the first to try and implement it.

Regarding the numerous moves, there is a school of thought out there that disagrees with his philosophy, and looks to building rather than retooling. Adding pieces rather than switching them up. And prevayers of this ideology have been critical of Muckler for all he's done.

However, the team has done that already. It was time for moves.

Firing Jacques Martin was long overdue, and that's coming from someone who defended the coach many times when others were calling for his head. There's no disputing that he was a major part of this team's rise from basement dwellers to NHL elite, but he could never take them over the hump when it mattered. Jacques was an important piece of the franchise's development, but it was time for someone else to take over. I'm certain he'll have a ton of success in Florida, doing for them what he did here, but this team needed a fresh voice.

Radek Bonk was sometimes unfairly blamed for the team's misfortunes, but he didn't carry the load that was expected of him, both based on his salary and the line he played on. In Montreal, he'll likely make a great third line checking forward behind Saku Koivu and Mike Ribiero, and if they want to pay a guy $2.5 million for that role then good on them, but in Ottawa, he was expected to contribute offensively, and he never reliably could. His numbers may suggest that he did, but that was largely because he was playing with great players, mainly Marian Hossa.

Patrick Lalime also had to go. Not because he was a bad goalie, because for the majority of his time in Ottawa he was quite good. But if this team had gone back to him in goal, the city would've stayed away. That's how anti-Lalime fans were after last season. Is it fair? Probably not. He was not the lone reason they lost the series to the Leafs. The biggest factor was the team's inability to put pucks in the net. They outplayed the Leafs all series, yet couldn't score. Is it because they were bad or Ed Belfour was good? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. But still, that series should have never gone to a game 7. Lalime did lose them that single game though, and as a result, became the scapegoat for the entire playoff meltdown.

Trading Marian Hossa ruffled a lot of feathers, and once the initial euphoria of getting a player like Dany Heatley wore off, many Sens fans began to realize they were without their most consistent goal scorer. It stings. Some were turned off by Muckler's "spin" post-trade that the Hossa trade had to do with switching team chemistry, assuming that he meant Hossa was the cause of their failures. I didn't see it that way. I understood Muckler as saying, the team as a whole was to blame, but in order to send the message that things have changed (as well as the message that the team won't be held up for more money than they can pay), something had to be done.

The salary cap implications of trading Hossa have been discussed to death, but the simpliest way to look at it is to say that by moving Hossa we now can keep the others. Meaning, would you rather have Hossa, Greg de Vries, and Wade Redden or Zdeno Chara or would you rather have Heatley, Chara, AND Redden? The answer, to me anyway, seems obvious.

On Dominik Hasek:

""I know the biggest question is in goal and I have no concerns about it at all," said Muckler. "What I like about Dominik Hasek is this guy is a winner. When I spoke with him, I could see he still had the passion to play the game and he wants to come in here and prove everybody wrong. He wants to come in here and win a Stanley Cup. This guy has been an elite player and I don't think you ever lose your skills. Mentally, I know he's prepared for this challenge." Backup Ray Emery, who will be making his NHL debut, is going to play a role, but he's not coming off a standout season in Binghamton. "We're going to use both goalkeepers ... You have to have both if you're going to win a Stanley Cup," said Muckler.

I wish I was as confident as he seems to be. I'd love to give him the benefit of the doubt, based on his extensive history with Hasek, but regardless, the idea of a 40-year-old who has played less than 20 pro games in 40 months being the team's starting goalie does scare me just a little. I realize, this isn't just any goalie, it's maybe the most dominant netminder of the last 20 years. I'm just a tad nervous, ok?

As for Emery, it seems like they've taken the approach of sink or swim for him. He's had the label of the team's franchise goalie for years now, and having had significant experience, both positive and negative, in the AHL, I guess they think it's time to put him to the test. If he can't hack it, cut bait and put one of the other promising young goalies, whether it's Kelly Guard or Jeff Glass, into that spot to groom him as the next in line.

I can understand their mindset, but again, given that our starter has some understandable (to everyone else but the GM, it seems) question marks, it's not unfair to suggest that maybe a back-up with some solid NHL experience would've been a wise move.

Letting Martin Prusek go for nothing puzzled many, especially when we now hear Doug McLean say that he will challenge Mark Denis for the starters job in Columbus. However, he wasn't much of a step up from Emery, and due to both inconsistent play and a endless stream of injuries, never proved himself to be worthy of a starter job. Besides, did we really want both of our goaltenders to use that same scary unorthodox style?

On the question marks regarding the centre position:

"Spezza has got to have a breakout year," said Muckler. "This is his fourth year (as a) pro ... it's time to get it done. He's been up and down, but he's had a chance to be the main guy in Binghamton and he had a good year. He has to be able to show that he can get it done at this level." People around the league wonder if the Senators have the necessary depth in the middle. But Muckler is convinced Bryan Smolinski can fill the No. 2 centre spot. "Smolinski has the talent to be a No. 2 centre, he just has to do it on a consistent basis. I don't think there's any question about talent," said Muckler. There is no question Mike Fisher brings grit to the No. 3 position while Chris Kelly is going to get a chance to be the No. 4. That could mean Antoine Vermette gets moved to the left wing in camp, but those decisions will be left to Murray.

Again, I would be more comfortable if they would've went out and got someone else to play the second line center role instead of Bryan Smolinski, who's been anything but the consistent player Muckler feels he needs to be since coming over. It's certainly time for Smolinski to put up or shut up. After acquiring him at the 2003 trade deadline, they gave him a four-year deal in an offseason where, going into the last year of the CBA, the rest of the league was signing one year contracts. They gave him a vote of confidence, and in the season that followed, he failed to live up. If you believe reports, the team tried to move him recently, to no avail, so he should take that as a sign and step up or ship out.

As for Spezza, I'm 100% fine with him as the #1 center. He's proven, to me anyway, that he's worth giving that opportunity too.

On new coach Bryan Murray:

"I've known Bryan Murray for a long time and the one thing I know is that he can make this team mentally stronger," said Muckler. "He is a guy who is only going to accept winning. I like his attitude and his style of coaching and he loves to coach. He's dedicated and determined. A coach can't make a bad team into a good team, but he can make a good team into a better team."

While I felt like it was time to bring in a new coach, I'm not as confident as Muckler that Bryan Murray is the answer. Murray has said all the right things since being hired, talking about how this team needs to toughen up, etc., but I wonder how much of that is him, knowing the rap on the team locally being that he's from the area, playing the masses. He's positioned himself wonderfully as the anti-Jacques, however, saying something in the media and actually doing it are two entirely different things.

On the team being able to keep the pieces together:

"We're going to try to keep our better players, but the reality is under a cap system we're not going to be able to keep all our better players," admitted Muckler. "That's not realistic unless you get a lot of co-operation from the players. People are going to have to accept that there are going to be changes."

The key part of that quote to look at is "unless you get a lot of co-operation from the players". Marian Hossa was not willing to do so, and as a result, he's on an inferior team. He put money over playing on the Sens. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and he was certainly entitled to do so, but you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Based on the fact the team approached Hossa, Redden, and Chara about taking identical contracts, Ottawa looks to be trying to implement a structure similar to the New England Patriots, except the Senators don't have the Super Bowl championships. We'll see how it works out.

On the question marks surrounding Dany Heatley's health:

"I certainly believe he's going to help this team win and I liked the excitement that surrounded this move," said Muckler. "He's a skilled player. I know people are talking about his knee surgery, but if you have surgery on your (anterior cruciate ligament), you need a full year to recover. I was once told that you're never going to get a top player when he's at the top of his game, but you should remember what he was at the top of his game. I'm sure this deal is going to turn out to be good."

So he's aware Heatley may not be the player he was in Atlanta? Well that's reassuring. Everyone seems to have an opinion on Heatley's health, but I truly have no clue. Every pundit who has painted the doom and gloom pictures about his eye and his knee are doctors who haven't examined Heatley. Maybe I'm being naive in assuming that the Senators made sure these issues were addressed before trading for him.

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