Monday, July 31, 2006

Yeah.... good luck with that

So the Detroit Red Wings have done the unthinkable and signed Dominik Hasek to a one-year deal.

This tells me a few things:

1) They're desperate. I have to think this was about the last option they would've wanted to explore, or maybe second-to-last, ahead only of the Ed Belfour scenario, which they seemed to be zeroing in on a few weeks ago. I'm sure Ken Holland went through every other option available, whether it be trading for someone or signing another available goalie, and this is what they've come to. Financially, they had little room to maneuver, and Hasek comes cheap. Still, rewind back to 2004 when Hasek quit on the Wings and had the whole room wanting to choke him. A lot of those same faces are still present, and I doubt they've forgotten.

2) Hasek's "I only want to play for Ottawa" spiel was bullshit. Back when Dominik was on TSN's Off The Record in June doing his best Condi Rize impression, spinning as if his life was on the line, he said that he would only play for the Senators this season, and if not, would retire. I guess when he said it, he was confident they were going to come running back to him, which shows just how dillusional he is. I don't blame him for wanting to play still, but it'll take the jaws of life to remove the future Hall of Famer's foot from his mouth.

At the day, I don't think this is a terrible move. Hasek, if healthy, can be a gamebreaker. However, we all know he won't be healthy. The odds of it happening just aren't very good, and you have to plan for the most likely scenario as a GM, and in this case, it's Dominik in the press box for games that matter most.

However, as a cheap band-aid for the season, it's not a bad move. He'll secure a lot of wins for the Wings in the 30 or so games he plays and buys them some time. By the time the trade deadline comes around, the market for goalies, from teams with two starters and wanting to unload one, might diminish, and they'll be able to get a Vesa Toskala or Martin Biron for cheaper (both player-wise and financially) than they could now.

I wonder if Vegas is taking bets on how many games the Dominator logs before the groin/abductor/whatever else they wanna call it to spin the truth acts up again. I know how I'll be betting.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Good news: Sens ink Schaefer to a new deal

Every now and then, a habitual disappointer shows you up. Proves your perception about them may be wrong. Today, John Muckler has done that.

In an offseason where he’s been (mostly rightfully) criticized for questionable personnel moves and suspect contracts, Mucks and company have locked up very important player for many years at a more than reasonable price.

Peter Schaefer was scheduled to have his arbitration hearing today, but ala a year ago with Marian Hossa, the Senators have avoided it, signing the scrappy winger to a four-year contract reportedly worth $8.4 million.

A great deal if I can say so myself.

$2.1 was around what I projected Schaefer at a month ago, before all the GMs went a little nuts and the arbitrators started dipping into the stash. Having seen what Kyle Calder ($2.95 million) and Mike York ($2.85 mil) were awarded, I fully expected Schaefer, who put up comparable numbers, to get in that area as well. And while that $700,000 difference may seem small on the surface, in a cap world, with the team right against it, that kind of money could’ve been the difference between keeping Schaefer around and not.

Had the hearing occurred, I do still think Schaefer would’ve gotten that kind of money, or incredibly close to it. It also would’ve meant he could be a UFA in a year and cash in bigtime in 12 months.

He chose not to, and it’s pretty damn refreshing. It’s nice to see a long-time Sen commit himself to the franchise for the long haul, and seemingly take less money to do it.

For months, we heard talk about how Schaefer wants to go back to Vancouver. Message board scuttlebutt said he had put his house up for sale and his wife, from B.C., was pressuring him to return to the area. There was reason for concern.

Schaefer’s contributions to this team cannot be measured by goals and assists, though he’s become very useful in that area as well. #27 never takes a shift off and wins more battles along the boards than any player I have ever seen, despite not being all that impressive physically.

Offensively, he came into his own this past season, scoring 20 goals and 30 assists, and I see no reason why that development will cease. Schaefer may never be a point-a-game player, but with an increased role and some time on the powerplay, it’s more than feasible he could net an additional 10 points next season. At $2.1 million per year, he's a bargain, or as close to one as you can get.

So bravo, John. You did good.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Catching up on the happenings

After laying dormant for a good week or so, Sens GM John Muckler has had a busy couple of days, wrapping up a few of the unsigned players as well as adding a new one.

Re-signed Chris Kelly to a one-year, $725,000 contract.

Kelly’s an important, if underappreciated piece of the puzzle, so getting him signed was a priority. I’m slightly disappointed that it was only a one-year contract, because I think he has some good upside and so getting him locked in for a few years at that price might’ve ended up saving some dollars down the line. I have Kelly penciled in as the fourth-line center, in the same role he occupied last season, but he’s certainly capable of moving up a line if the situation calls for it. That said, the experiment Bryan Murray tried towards the end of the regular season, and into the playoffs, putting him on the top line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, was ridiculous. I could sort of, kind of, understand the logic, in that he wanted a defensively sound, dependable forward with the often defensively erratic youngsters. The coaching staff clearly views Kelly as a trusty footsoldier based on how often he’s on the ice late in key situations, especially late in the game, but it was unfair of them to put Kelly on that line, as his skillset just isn’t strong enough to warrant such a role. I actually felt bad for “Battleship Kelly”, because try as he might, he was just not suited for that role and as a result, struggled to perform with all that ice time.

Having said all this, the occasional promotion up to the third line isn’t a bad idea, because with Kelly, you always know what you’re going to get, and that’s a consistent effort every time he’s touches the ice. An incident that I remember very well to exemplify his character was in a game between the Sens and Hurricanes at ScotiaBank Place around Christmas time. Very early in the contest, Patrick Eaves, at the time still very wet behind the ears having only played a handful of games in the NHL, was hit from behind by a ‘Canes player whose identity I cannot remember at this moment. Without batting an eye, Kelly, not a big man nor known to be a scrapper, jumped in to defend the kid, taking on the mystery Hurricane (who, if my memory serves me right, was much bigger). Kelly got the boot from the game, but the message was clear: don’t fuck with our players.

Re-signed Chris Neil to a three-year, $3.3 million contract.

I have to admit, I was a little worried about this one, because Neil’s a big softy and I could see the arbitration process hurting his feelings. The truth is, Neil is coming off a big season, having set career highs in all the key offensive categories, however, 16 goals is a sort of misleading stat as I don’t think he’s as valuable, offensively, as say Antoine Vermette, who scored only four more goals. The good news is he’s inked for three years, which is a longer commitment than either Wade Redden or Jason Spezza were willing to give the franchise. The sorta bad news is, at $3.3, the pressure is on for Neil to perform. Will Neil continue to improve or is the 16 goal range his ceiling as an offensive contributor? If so, I’m okay with that, as Neil brings a lot of other things to the table that make him a valuable member of the squad. No one cares about his teammates more nor will you find a player in a Sens uniform more willing to defend said teammates. I believe he would literally take a bullet for the rest of the squad. So having a guy like that in the fold cannot hurt. I also like the role he played in the Lightning series of superpest extraordinaire. His antics got under the skin of the opposition, drawing numerous penalties and generally taking their focus off where it should have been (score goals) to something much more unimportant (let’s get Neil!). Neil, on a line with his good pal Mike Fisher I hope, will have another productive season, I expect.

Signed Jamie Allison to a one-year contract.

So this one’s interesting. Allison’s 31 years old and has played nine seasons in the NHL (though up and down from the AHL early on, having only played 372 games total). He’s a mostly stay-at-home blueliner, and adds depth to the franchise, so that’s all good, but the question out there seems to be whether or not this is a move leading to others. It’s doubtful the contract is a two-way deal, as I’m pretty sure Allison, who’s been a full-timer NHLer for eight years now, wouldn’t accept such a contract, so are they keeping him around as the 7th d-man? I assumed, with the acquisition of Tom Preissing, that Christoph Schubert would fill that role, existing as the spare part because of his ability to play either forward or D. Are they planning to keep two of those around? Or are they, as the speculation has said, perhaps dangling one of their defenceman for help up front?

The name that’s been thrown around has been Anton Volchenkov. He’s paid $1.25 mil, not an unreasonable contract by any stretch of the imagination but certainly not great for a 5th or 6th rearguard (which is where I have him penciled in), and he’s young enough that, despite some moments of inconsistency, is still regarded as a hot commodity around the league, possibly able to get something of significance in return. The working assumption has been that the second line center job would be Russian prospect Alexei Kaigorodov’s to lose, however, the transfer agreement with the Russians and the IIHF isn’t going so well, even with Sens’ European scout Anders Hedberg over there trying his best to help the process and specifically to pry Kaigorodov from Magnitogorsk’s cold evil claws.

If it can’t happen, there is a wide gaping hole that needs to be filled, and if they have a glut of top four defenceman, it makes sense to use one of them address a weakness that exists. Dealing Volchenkov might just be a case of the odd man out, as they’re not going to move Wade Redden or Preissing. Andrej Meszaros better be considered an untouchable at this point, and I’m pretty sure they’re not going to move Joe Corvo, who’s apparently trying to buy Bryan Smolinski’s house in the area. So it’s either Chris Phillips or the A-Train. I’m not entirely opposed to moving Phillips for the right price, because he’ll be a UFA in 11 months and with the prices comparable d-man got this offseason, it’ll be hard for them to be able to afford him. On the other hand, Phillips is a fixture in that locker room, one of the leaders, and the turnover is already big enough having lost Zdeno Chara. Of course, if the Sens were to be without both Chara AND Volchenkov, their backend is suddenly a whole lot less menacing to their opposition.

I’m sure Allison signed for the league minimum, or close to it, however, an extra $500K against the cap, if not especially necessary, seems unwise to me. He might be able to clear waivers, and so could be down in Bingo doing what Lance Ward was supposed to last year, which is provide veteran guidance to a youngish defensive unit, but who knows.

So all that’s left is to convince Kaigodorov to leave Russia and come here. I wouldn’t think it would be hard. I’ve never been to Russia, but I have to think Ottawa, in spite of it’s shitty winters, is a cooler place to live. And he’d get to play with Daniel Alfredsson! C’mon.

Oh, and Peter Schaefer, whose arbitration is scheduled for Friday. More on that tomorrow, or late tonight if I feel inspired. I'm a little nervous about it's outcome as the arbitrators appear to be hitting the blow especially hard this month. Who knows what wacky things they'll decide in this instance. Let's hope Muckler manages to avoid this one as well, getting Schaefer's name on a lengthy agreement. He's sort of a good player, I heard.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Dog days of summer

Writing a hockey blog can be sort of difficult in July and August. Once the free agent frenzy, and all the moves that came as a result of it, died down, we've seen things get VERY slow.

So I'm turning it to you, the readers. However many of you are left.

What are you expectations for the Senators this season? Where do you see them finishing? What are the areas of concern for you? Specifically, are you confident Martin Gerber is the answer to their allegeded goaltending woes?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Allow me to be yet another who says WHAT in the Hell

Neil Smith is no longer general manager of the New York Islanders.

The team announced that they have fired Smith and have hired former Islanders goaltender Garth Snow as the new general manager.


This is a franchise who've done more to kick their fanbase in the balls than any other in the NHL, and yet Charles Wang seems to have learned nothing.

Say what you will about the player moves Neil Smith made (personally, I thought they were solid). Even if they were awful, does the man not at least deserve a full season before you axe him?

It's painfully obvious what is going on in Long Island. As many of us suspected, Mike Milbury is pulling the strings, and Smith probably had no interest in serving as his puppet. While GM jobs aren't easy to come by, I'd think Smith and his cup ring, one more than Milbury has as an exec, had too much pride for that.

Snow? Apparently not. But hell, if a guy gave me a three-year contract as a 36-year-old, I'd be more than willing to let him make me dance too.

Anyone who continues to be an Islander fan after all this nonsense has my infinite respect, because I can safely say I would've bailed long ago. If you're not throwing out those blue jerseys and taking the posters off your wall yet, you're a better fan than I.

Vermette inked for two more years

The Senators continue to fill out the roster, as they signed Antoine Vermette to a new two-year deal today. The contract, worth $2 mil over the term of the deal, will pay Vermette $925,000 this coming season and $1.075 million for the 2007-08 frame.

So for the cap hit, which is the number you should be most aware of, it'll be $1 million.

Personally, I think that's a great deal. I would have liked another year or two on the deal, but it appears that the organization is working on a two-year plan, and trying to get him to a three-year contract would have cost a lot more, I'd think.

I had pegged Vermette at $1.2 or $1.3 in my estimation, so they managed to come in under that. I think a big part of it was the contract Derek Roy agreed to (for $841,890). Roy and Vermette are similar players and put up similar numbers last season, so it's likely the organization would've used that comparable in the arbitration session scheduled for Thursday.

With the absence of both Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski, Vermette will probably have an increased role this coming year, no longer regulated to fourth line and penalty killing duty. On the one hand, I look at this as a positive. He's a supremely talented player, so he deserves more ice time. However, last year, while all the Vermette supporters cried out for him to get a larger role, whenever that occured, Vermette choked, and badly. Every time Antoine was put onto a top line, and it happened quite a bit (including a game in the playoffs alongside Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza), he disappred.

We'll see if he's grown and matured as a player, able to take on a more significant role on the team.

By the way, it's worth noting, that the following contracts run out at the end of the 2007-08 season:
Jason Spezza
Dany Heatley
Mike Fisher
Wade Redden
Antoine Vermette
Patrick Eaves
Andrej Meszaros

Only the non-bolded players will not be eligible for UFA status. That offseason will be a headache endusing one for whoever the team's GM is.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Senators sign three prospects

Story here. Likely a move to fill out the depleted Binghamton roster for the coming season.

The players signed are forwards Andrew Ebbett and Ryan Vesce as well as defenceman Charlie Cook.

Cook and Vesce spent last season in the AHL, and of the three, the one to watch might be the 23-year-old Ebbett. He was the senior captain of the University of Michigan Wolverines last year in a season of transition, as there was a ton of player turnover. Ebbett still managed to average more than a point-a-game with 42 points (14 goals & 28 assists) in 41 games, good enough to be second on the team in scoring. Size looks to be an issue as he's only 5'10" and 170 pounds, but the game has changed in the last couple years and that's no longer a deal breaker if the player is supremely skilled and works hard.

They seem to like him down in Ann Arbor:
Ebbett’s contributions, on the other hand, have gone relatively unnoticed by the public despite his propensity for winning faceoffs and his place as one of Michigan’s top-four point scorers...

"He’s got the pulse of the whole team. He’s more of the guy that hasn’t gotten the accolades. Like Rogers, he’s sort of flown under the radar as a player and as a student athlete here at Michigan. You have to be on the inside to see what Andrew Ebbett does."

According to Powers, Ebbett emerged as one of the team’s hardest workers after the coaching staff benched him for one weekend during the past season, at a point they believed that he had been consistently underachieving. Ebbett’s work ethic has not gone unnoticed among his teammates either, who acknowledge him as someone who doesn’t take anything for granted.

"Ebbett is the one that performs at the same level every game and practice," said junior T.J. Hensick. "His work ethic is contagious, whether it’s a practice, a game or schoolwork."

Can't hurt having a guy like that in the system if you ask me.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Confusion in the swamp

Tom Lycan, who writes the Devils Due blog, appears to be very mixed up:

In James Mirtle's blog, he covers the whining in Ottawa about the new salary cap. After all, it sure is unfair that owners can't buy their teams into the playoffs by stockpiling talent without doing any scouting or salary balancing. What is the new NHL coming to?

Um, what?

The post he's talking about from everyone's favorite copy editor, err sports journalist, is here. Mirtle quotes me as one of the "whiners". I was just happy with all the hits I got as a result of the linkage. I disagree with what James said, but could at least see where he was coming from.

Lycan? I think he's out of his friggin' mind.

No one is "whining" in Ottawa about not being able to buy our way into the playoffs or stockpiling teams. Show me when this franchise has ever done that and how this new cap has restricted it.

Just to be clear, we're "whining" about the fact we can't hold on the players the team has scouted and developed. A sort of important difference, I believe.

And really, "whining" is a bit of an exaggeration. The whole motivation for Mirtle's post was a paragraph in a 3,200 word post I wrote. If you want an example of whining in blog form, this is usually a good place to start. Don't say I didn't warn you though.

The reality is that the current CBA is designed to create parity. It's intention is to distribute talent throughout the league, which in turn punishes clubs that draft and develop well because the system in place punishes those who teams, rendering them unable to hold onto all the talents they've established. As a fan of such a team, I'm not necessarily jumping for joy at this undeniable fact.

Now, Mirtle is right when he points out that even in the old system it would have been difficult for the Senators to keep all the talent together. Even in the years of free spending, Ottawa operated with a tight budget. In order to maintain this roster, they would have to raise ticket prices to level that this market cannot pay. However, a part of the new CBA is the lowered age of UFA status. Previously, Ottawa was able to hold on to their players until 31. Now, it's become much more difficult, as even if a player isn't a UFA yet, it's looming much sooner. It's changed the way things are done.

And James is also correct that, at the end of the day, Sens fans can't treat all this as a grand travesty because it's not as if this team, as talented on paper as they may be, have accomplished a whole lot as a unit, a fact I also made mention of when talking about why I wasn't suicidal over the Martin Havlat trade. The Senators have zero Cup banners hanging from the rafters, so maybe changes, even if they don't seem wonderful initially, are a good thing.

However, what it all comes down to, and what really burns me, is that I feel misled. For a year, we heard from the talking heads throughout the league, including one currently employed by the Senators organization, that the new CBA and the salary cap that makes up so much of it was necessary for teams to thrive and that in particular Ottawa would see the benefits of it.

I don't doubt that there are in fact upsides to the new CBA for the Senators organization, but when I realize we lost a year of hockey for all this, I sometimes sorta think it sucks.

UPDATE: Adam Proteau of The Hockey News has an article about this very subject. Very little new ground besides his generalization of every Canadian hockey market that I'm sure will go over very well. Also confirms my belief that THN gets much of their editorial ideas from blogs.

Awww eff it, I have to point this part out, because it shows just how out of touch Proteau is with this piece
"If you’re not successful I guess it becomes a lot easier because you become a buyer," Muckler said. "If you’re successful you become a seller."

Easier? Beg pardon, John? Nobody’s got it easier these days, not when the margin for error is precisely the same as it is in 29 other markets.

I really don't want to be the John Muckler defender of the Internet, because I believe I've made it pretty clear how I feel about the job he's done, however, dropping this quote in there, out of context, does Proteau's readers a real disservice and paints a misleading picture, though I imagine that's the point, as it furthers his argument.

Having read the source article of the quote, Muckler's "easier" referred to a team's ability to hold onto their good players, not winning, though one might argue the two are closely linked.

It's pretty basic logic, I assumed. If a team does well, their assets are considered hot commodities. If a team struggles, it's usually because their players have underperformed, and thus, the other 29 clubs won't be as eager to scoop up their youngsters.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sens sign Christoph Schubert?

It certainly seems that way.

While the club has made no formal announcement, both his player profile as well as TSN's Ottawa Senators Payroll Commitments has his salary for the coming season listed as $525,000, so it looks like a deal of some sort has been reached. No details on the length of the deal, but it seems like the team is big on two-year deals right now so it's probably of that variety.

Assuming the deal is infact done, Ottawa's salary cap situation looks like this:

Even if Schubert doesn't crack the regular roster, expect him to be kept around (and thus, count against the cap) because he can play either forward or D and therefore is the perfect utility player. Plus, he would have to clear waivers if they sent him down to Bingo, and I have to think some team would scoop him up, as I believe Schubert is more than capable of being in a bunch of other team's top six.

UPDATE: It's been confirmed. One-year deal, as Schubert accepted his qualifying offer.

What a professional part 2

Something tells me it'll be a little tense in the Ducks locker room during training camp thanks to this comment from Ilya Bryzgalov:

"I got a call from the club and they told me that they see me as their number one goaltender," the Russian told Sovietsky Sport newspaper. "They (Anaheim) also want to trade Giguere but no one wants him."

Later in the same story...

"I don't want to say anything about him because we play on the same team and I can't say anything bad about him."

I think it might be too late, Ilya.

Friday, July 14, 2006

What a professional

Colour me stupid, but is this not a total breach of protocol?

Quinn revealed he actually turned down a chance to get back in with the Boston Bruins.

"As a matter of fact, I assume they were serious, they made me an offer," Quinn said. "But it wasn't anything that at that time was acceptable. So they moved on (the Bruins hired Dave Lewis)."
How do you think this makes Dave Lewis feel? To know he wasn't the club's first choice? What does Quinn accomplish by revealing this, other than to prove he's still considered a valuable commodity to all those in the media who say he's done as a coach (a media, I might add, he says means nothing to him)?

I'm puzzled why Quinn would do such a thing to a fellow member of the coaching fraternity.

Seems like a pretty dicky thing for him to do.

Some minor Sens signings to make note of

The club announced yesterday they'd signed three prospects as well as re-upping a veteran AHLer. Inking new one-year deals were forwards Bobby Robins and Jeff Heerema as well as defencemen Neil Komadoski and Neil Petruic.

All four spent last season with the Baby Sens in Binghamton last season, and I'd expect that's where they'll be this coming fall.

I first saw Komadoski in last year's rookie tourney, and was very underwhelmed. He has a decent pedigrree, having spent years with the U.S. national junior team as well as being a major player for Notre Dame as a college player (quarterbacked their powerplay). He was given the C in last year's freshman tournament, which said a lot, to me anyway, about how the organization viewed him, however, he failed to impress. He was solid enough in his own zone but didn't really show me that he had much upside beyond that. Perhaps this was because of nerves, in that he was fearful to make a mistake and decided to play it safe instead. He reportedly struggled with consistency down in Binghamton last season and was even a healthy scratch with regularity, only suiting up for 41 games. Komadoski is now 24 and it's beginning to look like, barring a late blossom, he won't develop into the NHLer the team hoped when they selected him in the third round in 2001. He seems to exist only for organizational depth and a warm body down on the farm.

Petruic is said to be a powerplay specialist, a skill he honed for the full four years he spent at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. In last year's rookie tourney, I remember him showing good puck moving abilities and decent skating skills, but his game clearly showed that he was right out of college. He spent last year split between Bingo and Charlotte of the ECHL. Petruic was picked the same year as Komadoski, but far later (8th round) and was actually a product of the trade that sent Andreas Dackell to Montreal. The question marks with Petruic continue to be his inability to play the body and his lack of consistency in his own end. But he's said to possess a great shot and with Filip Novak and Lance Ward no longer in the system, it's possible he's further up the depth chart than he was a year ago, meaning if Ottawa runs into some injury troubles on the blueline, we might see him up here.

Robins came to the AHL Sens late last season, signing his first pro contract after doing the full four years at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. It's tough to say how much upside he has, given that we haven't seen much of him, but at 6'1 and 220 pounds, he's a big body and according to those who followed the Bingo Sens last season, isn't afraid to use it.

Heerema is an interesting one. He was one of the few offensive bright spots on a very poor Binghamton team last year, racking up 74 points in 77 games, third on the team behind sometimes-NHLers Denis Hamel and Steve Martins. While it will be difficult for Heerema to win a job with the big club, based on those numbers, he should at least get a shot. He's a former first round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes (11th overall in 1998) and has bounced around amongst a few organizations, but has truly never been given a good look at the NHL level, having only played a total of 32 games over two sessions. There is, really, only one roster spot that's not locked up, and Christoph Schubert and Hamel have the jump on Heerema (as do a few prospects like Igor Mirnov and Arttu Luttinen I would think), but a good camp might make the organization think twice about how they view him.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Blogroll additions

I've added two new blogs to the links. Roy Mahlberg's Wild Puck Banter and Keith Fowler's Predspage. Both concentrate on teams that, unless you have CentreIce, we don't see a lot of here in Ottawa, so their insight is especially important.

EDIT: Also added Tom DeChastelain's excellent Sens Watch, which I've been reading regularly and commenting in every so often for months now. Worth checking out.

Playing coach

Dany Heatley - Jason Spezza - Patrick Eaves
Peter Schaefer - Alexei Kaigodorov - Daniel Alfredsson
Antoine Vermette - Mike Fisher - Chris Neil
Christoph Schubert/Denny Hamel - Chris Kelly - Brian McGratton

Wade Redden - Andrej Meszaros
Chris Phillips - Joe Corvo
Tom Preissing - Anton Volchenkov
Not as menacing as last year's squad, that's for sure, but still looks decent enough to me.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I guess playing the waiting game pays off

In a summer where players, both of the UFA variety as well those who are restricted, are getting absurd contracts, Habs GM Bob Gainey looks to have pulled a fast one on the rest of the league. While many of his peers blew their financial brains out, getting caught up in the free agent frenzy two weeks ago, Gainey bided his time and waited for the right deal.

It looks to have paid off.

The Canadiens signed Sergei Samsonov Wednesday to a very reasonable two-year, $7.05 million deal.

That's right, a contract that doesn't make you do a spit take and wonder what the people involved were on when they drew it up.

Given what guys like Pavel Kubina ($5 million per year), Martin Havlat ($6 million), and Brian Pothier ($2.5 million) were able to convince obviously intoxicated NHL executives to give them, I was expecting Samsonov to command upwards of $5 million.

He's a dynamic, exciting, explosive player who can take over a game, and is tailor-made for the new NHL and the rules that encompass it. Where previously, his lack of size was a detriment, Samsonov's small frame now suits the game perfectly.

This isn't to suggest there aren't risks involved. Samsonov has been known to have consistency issues and has battled injury troubles throughout his career. But at $3.5 mil, it's a roll of the dice I would've thought every GM would take any day of the week. The upside of what he could bring far outweighs the negatives attached.

Earlier in the day, Gainey improved the Habs by unloading slacker Richard Zednik and bringing in Mike Johnson, improving his draft status in the process. Zednik is a talented player, but has spurts of invisibility that cannot be explained, and often he seems to possess nothing remotely resembling desire. He did some good things in La Belle Province, but it was time to move on.

In Johnson, they get a tremendously gifted playmaker who, I would think, will be able to be the set up man for Michael Ryder that Mike Ribeiro couldn't be. He's not a hard-nosed player, but his offensive talents are needed on a team that struggled to score goals last season Johnson will provide offence, that much is for sure. Leave the hitting to the others.

I heard lots of calls from frustrated Habs fans, angry their guardian was on the sidelines watching every other team at least make an attempt to get better. Gainey waited them all out and, in the course of about 12 hours, drastically improved his team, and didn't cripple the club financially in the process.

Show 'em how it's done.

Only 12 weeks away

The NHL released the 2006-07 season schedule today. The Ottawa Senators sked can be found here.

This year, the Sens will be matched up against the Central division of the Western Conference for their away games and the Northwest for their homes, which means we'll see recently departed Marty Havlat face his new team as well as getting two more Canadian teams visiting ScotiaBank Place.

Some Ottawa-related highlights of the schedule:
  • As was the case last season, the Battle Of Ontario will kick off the new season, as the Sens travel to the ACC to face the sorta reformed Maple Leafs on October 4th. They'll butt heads 24 hours later here in Bytown. Let's hope no shootouts this time around.
  • The rest of the BOO, if you're wondering: October 24th @ Toronto, October 26th @ Ottawa, December 30th @ Toronto, February 3rd @ Ottawa, March 8th @ Ottawa, and March 10th@ Toronto. No games in the last dozen of the season, which sorta sucks because, hopefully, each team will be playing for something.
  • The Buffalo games, which proved to be among the most entertaining last season: October 7th, 2006 @ Ottawa, November 15th @ Buffalo, November 18th @ Ottawa, December 16th @ Buffalo, January 3rd @ Ottawa, February 7th @ Buffalo, February 22nd @ Buffalo, and February 24th @ Ottawa.
  • Our first look at Zdeno Chara in a Bruins uniform will be when the Sens travel to Boston on October 28th. His first trip back here doesn't occur until December 19th.
  • Marian Hossa and the Thrashers come to town on January 1st and then again February 17th.
  • The Northwest division games are October 12th vs. Calgary, October 19th vs. Colorado, November 20th vs. Minnesota, January 18th vs. Vancouver, and February 20th vs. Edmonton. With the way the Wild have restocked this offseason, all games should be worthwhile.
  • The aforementioned game vs. Havlat in his new digs will be March 4th in the Windy City.
  • Sidney Crosby and the Pens come to town March 5th and April 8th while Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals visit January 16th and then against two weeks later on the 30th.
  • Our dear friend Alexei Yashin comes back December 27th and March 15th.
  • The reigning Stanley Cup champs the Carolina Hurricanes visit Ottawa November 4th and February 28th. They travel to Raleigh on November 28th and February 27th.
  • The Sens play the Canadiens at home on January 13th as part of the Hockey Day In Canada deal.
  • The Sens' busiest months will be in November and March, when they play 15 games.
  • All weekday home games will start at 7:30 but weekend games 7. So basically, same as last year
UPDATE: Pre-season schedule, if you're curious:
September 19th - Ottawa vs Pittsburgh in Halifax
September 20th - Toronto @ Ottawa
September 22nd - Buffalo @ Ottawa at Scotiabank Place
September 23rd - Ottawa @ Philadelphia
September 24th - Toronto vs Ottawa in Halifax
September 27th - Ottawa @ Toronto
September 28th - Montreal @ Ottawa
September 30th - Ottawa @ Montreal

Nothing on any rookie camp info or dates, but when I get them I'll post the info. While, obviously, not on par with real NHL action, rookie camp games are always very entertaining. You have 20 kids battling for jobs and/or recognition, so rarely do you see anyone take a shift off, let alone a game. It's also where you discover the kids of the future. I remember last season being wowed by Alexander Steen and, on the Sens side, thinking this kid Andrej Meszaros had a lot of potential .

Last season the Leafs, Habs, Panthers, and 'Canes participated, and it was a worthwhile time. For $12 you got a tourney pass to see all games between any team involved. Some of the games took place in the daytime, which made it difficult to attend, but at that price, it was money incredibly well spent.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A quick clarification

I was getting a lot of traffic yesterday because someone posted a link to this blog on the Supportive Hawks fans In Turmoil message board (acronym speaks for itself) saying the following;

Chris McMurtry, who runs Hockey Country and follows the Senators, is especially critical of Havlat and happy to see him go.

Of course, the next three pages are spent saying how I'm bitter and have sour grapes. So be it.

If I gave the impression I'm happy to see Martin Havlat go, then I didn't get across what I wanted. I'm not happy about the trade. Anytime you lose a 30 goal scorer who's 25 years old and still not in the prime of his career, who also happens to be among the most exciting players in the league, it's difficult to be happy.

However, I'm also not all that sad about it either.

This is a trade anyone who's been paying even the slightest bit of attention saw coming. It's an unfortunate side effect of that lovely CBA we lost a year of hockey to get. The same one advertised as benefitting small market teams like us, glossing over the whole "if you draft well and develop consistently, you won't be able to keep them" thing. Whoops.

Martin Havlat would have left in a year. This much is certain. The contract it would've taken to keep him here for longer is one I don't think any sane Sens fan could rationalize paying.

So knowing that, trading Havlat was the only option, I believe, because to lose him for nothing would have far worse. I've seen some say "well, keep him for a year and then make a run at the Cup!"

That's great if they win, which they haven't been able to do with all the stacked teams in the past, but if they come up short, then what? Running a team on a "Cup or bust" attitude in this new era is akin to playing Russian roulette.

You have to look to the future, and in this scenario, holding onto Havlat for one more year knowing you'll lose him didn't make sense.

Question the return they got if you wish (and I'm not disagreeing with those of you who think we didn't get as much as we should've), but, all things considered, if you think trading him was the wrong move, then I can't agree.

As far my criticisms of Havlat as a player, perhaps, in retrospect, I laid it on a little thick. Make no mistake, he can be a great player, and if one were to make a list of the most talented players in the league, he's surely chart towards the top. However, being talented and being effective, especially when it matters most, are often two entirely different things.

I've also seen some, when defending Havlat against his detractors, point out how exciting he is. There's no disputing that. He's often the most electrifying player on the ice and a collection of his greatest goals rivals anyone's in terms of excitement. But we've had six years of it. Exciting is great, but winning is better.

Chicago, as a franchise, is in a little bit of a different position. They need to give their fanbase, who've been kicked in the balls so often, a reason to care again. Havlat is that reason. He'll put asses in the seats.

I can't speak for every single Ottawa Senators fan, but I believe I'm on point when I say most of us want to win. We want a Cup. I'll sacrifice a little excitement if we can get that, and it's not like without Havlat, we're suddenly the Minnesota Wild. The Senators still have an explosive team full of entertaining and creative players.

I said it yesterday, and I'll say it again: changes needed to be made. Going with the same crop was not going to do it for me. Deciding who to move out was made easier by Havlat's posturing. Are they, on paper, a better team? Probably not. But being the best team on paper hasn't gotten us anything before.

Changes, even if they were solely for the sake of them, were necessary.

The Sens will move forward without Havlat, and I'm sure he will as well. He's finally got the contract he wanted and he'll now he able to be THE guy on a team, which, due to Ottawa's depth, was never an option here.

I'll be anxious to see how he handles it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Muckler speaks out

Sens GM John Muckler was on The Team 1200 a few minutes ago. The highlights:
  • This was a deal he worked on for a month. The team simply could not afford Martin Havlat at the price it would've cost and didn't want to risk losing him a year and getting no compensation
  • Tom Preissing will help the powerplay and gives them three defencemen, along with Joe Corvo and Wade Redden, who can anchor a PP.
  • All the moves they've made this offseason have added to their backend speed and puck moving ability, which was key in Carolina's success
  • They haven't freed up that much $. By his calculations, with Havlat and Bryan Smolinski, they would've been up around $47 or $48 million
  • He talked with six or seven teams about Havlat but they were all concerned about his contract status, and things weren't helped by his agent's public decree. Chicago was the natural fit because they had a low payroll and could afford to pay Havlat the contract he wanted.
  • He expects both Josh Hennessy and Michael Barinka to start the season down in Binghamton, but if they have good camps, he's sure they could win jobs, as there is always a surprise every training camp.
  • On the prospects in the system, he was very impressed with goalie Brian Elliott's performance in the developmental camp. He'll have another year in college and then probably go pro. Elliott will be a strong candidate for an NHL job in two or three years. He thinks defenceman Brian Lee will be able to go to the NHL right out of college.
  • They've agreed in principle to a contract with Russian prospect Alexei Kaigodorov but they're still waiting for the IIHF-Russian transfer agreement to be finalized.
  • Denis Hamel is a "strong candidate to get one of the positions on the fourth line."
  • On Mark Bell: he's not as consistent as you'd like but he's a big body and has talent. The Sens inquired about getting him last year but at that point the Blackhawks were not interested in letting him go.
  • He thinks they'll be able to avoid arbitration with all their RFAs and it's more of a formality than anything else.
  • He's not gonna "tweak" the team anymore, but are looking at a few players to bring in, however, he's comfortable with the team as it is. He wants to wait and see with the cap space they have and might not utilize it until the season is already underway.

Taking it all in

About 15 hours later, I’m still in a state of confusion about the trade that saw Martin Havlat leave town for the shiny lights that are the Chicago Blackhawks, however, ultimately, I think it was the right move for an organization that is in a state of transition.

Havlat is another one of “our guys” and anytime they leave town it’s sad, but ultimately, it’s a deal that had to be done for a variety of reasons.

The first is the obvious financial one. Havlat was in the same boat as our dearly departed friend Marian Hossa last summer, where he wanted more than the Sens could pay. Whether or not he’s worth what he got can be debated. Personally, I believe it’s a gross overpayment.

People who don’t see Sens games tend to have a higher opinion of Havlat than those of us who see every contest, if for no other reason than the fact Havlat often appears on highlight reels scoring fantastic goals. You see that and think he’s a world class player.

He has to potential to be, and maybe when given the role of the go-to-guy in Chicago he’ll become that, but as it stands, Havlat is a very talented unreliable second line forward. That’s what he would’ve been here and so there was no way to justify paying him $4 million, let alone the $6 mil he got.

In Ottawa, Havlat was never on the top line, and as much as that hurt him statistically, it also meant he was rarely on the ice against the other’s team’s best players. We’ll see how he handles being matched up against Nick Lidstrom.

The only long-term deal he would've signed is one we would have had to dismantle the team to pay. If we went to arbitration with Havlat, it all but assured that we would lose him in a year and get zero in return.

The other reason is one that hasn’t been discussed as much, and that’s that this team needed some turnover. I’ve seen a lot written about keeping the core in tact. Really? Do I need to remind most of you how you felt after this team was knocked out by the Sabres?

At the time, the calls were for a complete and total overhaul, and yet a few months later, most did a complete 180 and were adamant that the organization signs everyone.

Some changes had to be made, and Havlat is as good as any place to start. He’s a chronic underachiever and has proven himself to not be able, or willing, to respond when the going gets tough (i.e., the playoffs). When such a player puts himself out there the way he did, putting the team in a weakened position by publicly declaring he wants to test the free agent market, it’s hard to cry too many tears at his departure.

We’ll miss the exciting goals and blazing speed, but I know I won’t yearn for the pisspoor performances in clutch games nor the embarrassing antics he was often in the midst of.

Losing Bryan Smolinski probably hurts more than we are all admitting. I realize he’s become the goat in a town that always has to have one, but all things considered, he was a serviceable player and at $1.7 million as far as his cap hit was probably paid accordingly. And if we’re being honest, “Smoke” was one of the more consistent Sens skaters in the second round against Buffalo. An honest effort every night, which is more than you can say for a lot of the other forwards, including Mr. Havlat, who performed his annual disappearing act on queue every spring.

What we got in return has drawn criticism from some, but Muckler and those around him were not working from a position of power. When Havlat’s agent came out and told everyone, his bargain power was diminished every more.

Yeah, it would have been nice to get back a top six forward in the deal, but all things considered, I feel as though the Senators did alright for themselves. Not only do we instantly get a lot more breathing room with the cap, but some talented guys are now in the organization.

Tom Preissing is a dynamic offensive defenceman who’s skillset is perfect for the new NHL. He can rush the puck, log big minutes, and put up points on the powerplay. The addition of him seems to symbolize the change in direction the organization is spearheading, that Muckler himself has talked about:

We want guys who are more offensive minded. What we're going to be looking for next season is more offence from our defence to take some of the pressure off the guys up front to score goals.

Preissing logged over 20 minutes a game in San Jose last season, third on the team as far as blueliners and behind only renowned horses Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren, and then over 23 in the playoffs, second among defencemen on the team. Clearly, Ron Wilson and the Sharks organization liked what they saw out of the guy. His TSN scouting report makes mention of the question of whether or not he can log a lot of minutes in the NHL, but I have to think he’s proven he can. However, their concern about his lack of physical toughness is one that I too am thinking about.

Adding Joe Corvo and Preissing gives us two more puck movers and, immediately, makes our defence much more mobile, but at what cost? Is Preissing as easy to move off the rubber as Corvo is said to be, and if so, what effect will that have?

There is an issue with the newly acquired Preissing that is worth making note of, and that’s his contract status. While he’s only making $600,000 this year, a bargain, he will be eligible for UFA status after this season. Do we try and get him to sign an extension, knowing it takes away our room to maneuver, or let him play the season for such a basement bargain price and hope we can get him to stay? If he has another season like the one he’s coming off of, he’ll get upwards of $2 million if the last week or so’s market stays true.

Josh Hennessy is someone who, besides his awesome last name, has a lot of upside, most seem to agree. At 21 he’s still quite young but the potential to develop into a real player appears to be there. He was a presence in junior, scoring over 80 points in three straight seasons when a member of Quebec of the QMJHL, a team that he also captained. He’s said to be a real speedster, which should come in handy, and the holes in his game are apparently a lack of strength and minimal defensive prowess, issues that can be corrected.

Whether or not he’s NHL ready remains to be seen but I suspect he’ll be given every opportunity to make the big club come September. If not, another season in the A couldn’t hurt. Down there, he’d be one of the key players and be put into important situations.

His aptitude sounds like he’s tailor made for a #2 center role, but it might be years before he’s ready to take on that kind of responsibility.

Michal Barinka was one of many talented young defencemen the Hawks had in their system, thus making him expendable. However, for a franchise like Ottawa, who could use a couple more of those, he’s a nice addition. At 6’4” he’s got impressive size and most reports indicate he’s good at using it, whether it be in front of the net or in corners.

Though Barinka’s seen some time with the Hawks, Ottawa is much deeper on the blueline as far as NHL ready players, so I doubt we’ll see him in an Ottawa uniform anytime soon.

So let’s see where we’re at

While we no longer have that 30-minutes-a-night workhouse like a Chara, from 1 to 6, our defence has to be considered among the best in the NHL. Our third pairing, by my calculations, are a guy who was the #3 man on a pretty good Sharks team and Anton Volchenkov, who was in our top four for most of last season.

Does this mean a deal is in the works to unload one of them to feed one of our needs?

Surely Preissing would be wasted on the bottom pair, and if you put him in the big four, who do you take out? After the season he had, it’d be hard to rationalize setting Andrej Meszaros back, even with the disasterous playoff he had. If we’re paying Corvo over $2.6 million, surely we want him in our top four.

Up front we clearly have holes that need to be addressed. In this deal, we lost two forwards who would’ve occupied spots on the first three lines, and didn’t get anyone back to fill them. One has to think one of the spots will go to Russian prospect Alexei Kaigordov, who Muckler says the team is trying to sign. Personally, I’d much rather the kid spend a year down in the AHL for a season before trying his hand in the NHL. Having big success in the Russian league, even when filled with NHLers, is one thing, but the NHL game can be very different, and the adjustment might be a tough one.

If we’re to believe Zdeno Chara when he said Sens owner Eugene Melnyk told him the team planned to spend to the limit, then the Sens have some cap room to play with. While they’re at $35.1 million now, they still have to get some key RFAs signed. Let’s guesstimate Peter Schaefer at $2 million, Antoine Vermette at $1.3, Chris Neil at $1 million, and Chris Kelly at $650K. Now we’re at $40 million. If Kaigorodov is indeed making the squad, he’ll likely command in the neighborhood of $700. So, roughly, $41 million, with one roster spot, a forward one, to fill. You have to think they’ll want a bit of breathing room, so let’s put the cap, really, at $43 million, leaving the team with

But wait, what about Christoph Schubert? The German emerged as a very durable and useful player last season, versatile enough to play either forward or D effectively. He needs a new contract. With the addition of Preissing, the Sens are log jammed at D, so no room there unless he’ll be kept as the 7th man for depth.

I’ve put Schubert as the fourth line left winger, a spot he occupied on occasion last season, and one he can play successfully.

But we still need that second line forward. Putting Mike Fisher and Patrick Eaves, as I have, is placing a lot of responsibility on guys who aren’t used to such a role. Based on their character, I’m sure each would welcome such a responsibility, but it’s a roll of the dice and one I’d much rather not attempt from jump.

There are some forwards still available to sign if we want to fill Havlat’s second line spot, but the price might be high. Anson Carter is said to be commanding upwards of $3 million coming off a career season in Vancouver. I do not think Carter is worth this, and see his year with the Sedins as an aberration. Mike Peca is somebody I have an interest in, but again, I believe the price he’ll come for is too high.

At the end of the day, in order to properly evaluate this trade, we’ll need to be years down the road. Ideally, by then, we will have seen how Hennessy and Barinka develop, and in the short term, what the Senators are able to do with the cap space that’s come their way.

A case could be made that, on paper, we are weaker now than we were when the season ended, however, as we’ve come to learn very tragically, hockey games aren’t won on paper.

Changes of some sort had to be made after another spring of discontent. Question the changes if you want, but staying the course was not going to suffice. The organizations hands were forced by the economic realities that are part of the new CBA, and I don’t think they would’ve made these moves otherwise, but in the end, sometimes the best decisions are the ones you’re unwilling to make until your back’s against the wall.

I’m cautiously optimistic about the team we’ll ice this fall, but at least we know it won’t be the same old faces letting us down all over again.

Still would’ve preferred Mark Bell though.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Too good to be true indeed

Alas, my dream of seeing Mark Bell come back to Ottawa is not to be. We came close though.

A three-team deal has been completed between the San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks, and our beloved Senators. It breaks down like this:

To San Jose: Mark Bell
To Chicago: Martin Havlat & Bryan Smolinski
To Ottawa Tom Preissing, Josh Hennesy, Michael Barinka, & a 2nd round pick in 2008.

Havlat, who was so clear about not signing a contract and wanting to test the UFA market next summer, turned around and inked a new deal with the Hawks that will pay him $18 million over three years. Showing that money talks and bullshit walks.

I'm going to reserve comment on the deal until tomorrow, when I have some time to digest it and, frankly, become more educated on the guys we've got coming our way, because as of right now, outside of Preissing, I don't know very much about them.

I will say, bravo to Allan Walsh, Havlat's agent, for getting his client this contract. To say it's an overpayment would be unfair to the phrase. It's laughable how crazy that contract is.

Make no mistake about it, Havlat is supremely talented, but contracts should be based on results, and in that sense, Havlat is not a $6 million player now nor do I ever expect him to be. He's not worth as much as Patrick Elias, Marian Hossa, etc., and certainly not more than Peter Forsberg, but that's where he's situated.

I would say Hawks fans will see that contract's absurdity when Havlat disappears in the playoffs, but the truth is, I doubt Chicago will be appearing in those kinda games anytime soon.

See Marty. Can't say I'm sad to see you leave.

I'm bummed Bell isn't coming to Ottawa, but I should have known better.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Getting my fantasy GM on

With word from Garrioach that the Sens are shopping Martin Havlat, with the reported teams involved being Chicago, San Jose, the NY Rangers, and Dallas, I've gotten way ahead of myself and decided which is the scenario I want to see come to fruition, and who I want wearing a Sens jersey in exchange.

Forgive me if this post reads like a bad "trade proposal" HF post.

Martin Havlat to Chicago for Mark Bell & a prospect.

Simple, huh?

Word out of the Windy City is that the Hawks are shopping Bell. Fine with me. There have been rumors of a trade of this sort, off and on, for a while, and I'm throwing my sizeable influence (as long as we're pretending, might as well lie too) behind it.

Chicago is where I want Havlat to end up, mostly because they're destined to suck for many years to come just based on who's in charge and I'd like to see Mach 9 have to deal with that for a while. Hey, I'm a bitter fan, what can I say. Unfortunately, our history of dealing with this team isn't so good. John Muckler is the one GM who Dale Tallon probably laughs at in private. But they have a plethora of good young players (because they've been awful for so long, see) and have a fanbase itching for a move of some signifiance having seen their beloved Hawks sit on the sidelines this offseason.

As for Mark Bell, as a player, I love the guy. Having watched Bell since he was a 16-year-old with the 67's, I know what he's capable of. He's got good size and uses it often, has good offensive upside, and can play well in his own zone. I understand the Hawks and some fans of the team are down on him because of his inconsistent play/effort. I rarely see Hawks games so I'll take their word for it. However, unlike Tyler Arnason, I don't believe that's his character, unless he's undergone major changes since leaving Ottawa at 19.

Speaking of Arnason, truth be told, it was Bell who I wanted if we were dealing with the Hawks at last year's deadline, not the pudgy baby we inherited instead. Alas, it wasn't meant to be, but we can correct that now.

Muckler will have a hard time selling Sens fans on any Havlat trade because, as often as he's let us down in the playoffs, we know just how talented Marty is. We've seen that talent develop from it's initial rawness as a rookie to the player he is today, which is a guy ready to break through as a significant player in the NHL.

Unfortunately, he wants a long-term deal, and we're not in a position to give him one. Before all this nastiness with Havlat and his agent Allan Walsh became public, I thought we could get around it by signing him to a small one year deal and then working something out in the season, but that doesn't appear to be an option.

Besides, do we really want a guy who has, through his paid representative, publicly said he wants to be a free agent in that locker room? Seems to me like a recipe for disaster.

Fans in this market covet Havlat very dearly, because like Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Mike Fisher, etc., he's one of ours. So the day the trade is announced, I imagine there will be great discontent.

If we're getting Mark Bell in the deal, suddenly, Muckler's PR spin becomes a whole lot easier. Most hockey fans in this city know what Bell can do, because we saw it with our own eyes.

Bell's only a year older than Havlat and should come at a, comparatively speaking, cheap price. He's an RFA as well but only earned $1.064 million last season. Surely we could get him to a multi-year deal at, around, $2 million, maybe even less.

Bringing him in means we can move/dump Bryan Smolinski with little fear of how we'll be situated, as with Bell in the mix, down the middle we'd be pretty solid. Jason Spezza occupying the first line, Bell on the second, Mike Fisher as maybe the best third line center in the NHL (gotta keep him fresh for those dynamic PKs), and Chris Kelly on the fourth unit, where he belongs and shines brightest.

Along the wing, I'd go with the Big Line, with Peter Schaefer and Patrick Eaves on the second with Bell. Schaefer, assuming we can get him signed, is coming off his best season and Eaves is ready to break out. If he was able to score 20 goals in 58 games last season, it's not unreasonable to suggest 30 might be in the picture for a full season of work. Eaves has that knack for being in the right place at the right time (usually in front of the net) and after a while, you stop chalking it up to luck and start realizing it's a character of a natural scorer.

Fisher and Neil love playing together, and did so very well last season. By throwing Vermette on the line, you give them a talent-first player to work with. Vermette's skillset would mix well with their work ethic and toughness, I believe, and he'd have to start elevating that part of his game.

The fourth line remains up in the air besides Kelly and Brian McGratton, who I hope is ready to add more to his game than just fighting. He'll never be a top six forward but there were times last season when Gratts displayed other dimensions of his game. All we really need out of him is getting to the point where he's not a liability on the ice. The extra spot can be occupied by a prospect in the system (not Alexei Kaigodorov, who needs a full year in North America and the NHL isn't the place for it) or a cheaply signed free agent. There are plenty of those still available. Who really isn't revelant to this discussion right now, so long as they don't cost more than, say, $650K.

A simple Bell for Havlat swap wouldn't be fair, even with our position of being bent over and cheeks spread due to Havlat's very public stance of wanting to test the market, so we'd want a prospect as well. I trust the folks at Hockey's Future to know what they're talking about, which is more than I, but it would have to be one of their top 20 kids. A defenceman would be ideal but so longer as they're well regarded, I'm alright with it (getting fellow 67's alumnist Bryan Bickell would be awesome, but beggers can't be chosers). The real prize is Bell.

It might be possible I have my blinders on. It's been six years since Bell played as a 67 and become a fan favorite on one of the better junior teams in Canada. He could've plummeted as a player since then and I'm unaware of it. Blackhawk fans, all six of you left, feel free to tell me I'm being horribly irrational.

But I doubt it. And even if he's been circling the drain in Chicago, he can be repaired. The tools are there for him to be what this team has longered for for far too long, as genuine #2 center. I know, this sounds very familar. We heard it in the spring with Arnason. But as I said, unless Bell's character has gone to shit, I don't believe we'd have those same problems.

Besides, truth be told, coming from Chicago and that environment to Ottawa in mid-season like that was going to be difficult for anyone. It didn't help that Arnason had no work ethic or conditioning, but maybe if that trade had been made in the summer, when he hadn't spent the previous six months in a situation as bad as the Hawks,

Get Bell out of Chicago and that circus and onto a team with, comparatively speaking, a sparkling record of recent achievements. A team, who fail as they might in the playoffs, at least has an attitude of trying to win. The culture shock on Bell might last a couple days, but he'd won before (Mem Cup in this city seven years ago), so I have to think he wants to again.

Seems too good, too comfortable for us, to happen, right?

Having said all this, watch the trade not happen. Muckler'll find a way to fuck it up.

But hey, can't blame a guy for wishing.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Just a thought

Rewind last summer when, during the last ditch attempt to keep Marian Hossa in Ottawa, Muckler offered Hoss, Zdeno Chara, and Wade Redden identical contracts to keep all three in a Sens uniform for years to come.

No details of the contracts offered were ever leaked, but it's safe to assume they were for no more than $4.5 mil per season considering at the time the organization was championing this "Alfie Cap" (which has since fallen by the wayside).

Hossa refused the deal because he felt he was worth Jarome Iginla/Vincent Lecavalier money (and he got close to it from the Thrashers), so he was dealt, but the word was at least one other person offered the deal was with it. Hossa said only one but media reports from people plugged into the team said both Chara and Redden were receptive.

When looking at Wade Redden's contract and the one that Chara signed with Boston, you can't help but wonder, what if.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Muckler might have his hands full

From the NHLPA, the following Sens filed for salary arbitration today:

Martin Havlat

Chris Kelly

Chris Neil

Peter Schaefer

Antoine Vermette

I can see Schaefer, Neil, and Vermette getting very good deals. All three had career seasons and in the case of Schaefer is a year away from UFA status, so perhaps he's hoping to go, get a one-year deal, and then test the open market next July. They need to lock him up long-term.

How much it'll cost, I don't know, but unless it's something ridiculously extravagent, Muckler better do it. A few months ago I would've thought a deal close to Mike Fisher's ($4.5 million over three years) would suffice but it might take $2 million now.

With Vermette, an interesting stat that will play a big part in what he gets, since stats are all this nonsense is based on, is that he had the highest goal-per-minute average of all NHLers, racking up 21 goals. Perhaps his new contract will force the Sens to make him more than a fourth-liner.

And why is Chris Kelly able to file for arbitration? He's had one season in the league. Is it because of his age (25)? This new CBA continues to amaze me.

As for Havlat, who probably has his bags packed and house up for sale, I can't see how he could get a lot in this process. I mean, yeah, he's talented, but that doesn't mean anything in arbitration. He missed almost the whole season. How can he make a case for a big payday? I suppose they might point to his 30 goals in 2003-04 but that was so long ago, and in such a different climate, I fail to see how it's revelant. I thought Havlat blew his chance for a big contract when he got hurt but apparently he and his agent feel otherwise.

It's worth noting that rarely do all the players who file for arbitration actually . Most of the time it's a formality and a deal is worked out before hand, often right to the deadline (remember Marian Hossa signing his ticket out of town a mere hours before his hearing last season?)

And boy do I not envy Darcy Reiger. Looking at the list of RFAs the Sabres have makes me feel bad for them.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Grading the boss thus far

Evaluating those in power is fun. It makes us little people feel very empowered. Perhaps a part of that is because, deep down, maybe even subconsciously, we both aspire to be where they are and think we could do better. Armchair GMing makes up the majority of most hockey message boards I check in on and it's good, harmless fun.

This also applies to players, by the by. I took great pleasure in handing out an F to Zdeno Chara when I did my post-season report card. Just typing that F made me feel good. Does that make me a dick? Maybe it does. What I do know is that it makes me feel a whole lot better about him leaving town, that's for sure.

John Muckler is someone who's come under great fire by the majority of the fanbase, myself included. I was pretty adament that he should've been handed a pink slip back when the Sens were knocked out of the playoffs. Alas, much to the chagrin of myself and others, that wasn't the case. The theories as to why ranged from Muckler possessing knowledge that could get Eugene Melnyk into hot water with the U.S. S.E.C.* to the two being kindred spirits.

Never the less, we're stuck with the old codger whether we like it or not. We can, however, rip his every move that we find idiotic. That's what I plan to do and encourage you to do the same. It's fun!

I was going to hold off doing this until the supposed other shoe dropped (probably the Martin Havlat trade), but what the hell.

The draft
It's difficult to judge how the Sens fared in this area for a few reasons. The first is that it usually takes years and years before one can accurately assess how a team did in a particular draft. The rewards may not be felt until years later. The drafting of Daniel Alfredsson 133rd overall probably didn't look great in 1993, yet three or four years later, it had to be touted as genius (or a wonderful fluke). Also, it doesn't help that, truth be told, I know very little about the players any team picked. I'm not one of these experts on prospects, so pretending to be such for this exercise would be laughable. The only player the Sens picked that I'm familiar with is Pierre Luc Lessard, and that's solely because he played across the river in Gatineau for two seasons and I saw him play a dozen or so times (good puck rusher, but undersized; good potential though). If the book on Nick Foligno is on point and he's everything the scouts say he is, I like picking him. We need more gritty, tough, balls out players in our system (Cody Bass seemed like the lone one before this), and his offensive upside sounds strong. Their 3rd round pick, Eric Gryba sounds like he's years away from being an NHLer. Ryan Daniels seems like he's no better than the other three or four above average goalies we have in the system. Bottom line, this draft was advertised as being poor and based on what I've read from people who know far more about this than I do, the Sens' crop reflects that.

Re-signing Wade Redden/letting Zdeno Chara go
The Senators had to retain either Redden or Chara. The fanbase would not have accepted losing both, so even from a purely optics perspective, this had to be done or there would have been a legitimate riot around ScotiaBank Place. Of the two, I believe they made the right choice. Redden is, all around, the more consistent defenceman and plays a more vital role to the success of the team. He's been with the club longer, and he showed with his willingness to take less money if it meant keeping Chara around, that he has a level of committment to the team. Chara, I'm not so sure about. He talked a good game but at the end of the day, he seemed driven by money. Nothing wrong with that, but we want the guy who isn't. The $13 million over two years looked sorta big on the day it was signed, but within 72 hours, after the UFA market opened and 3/4 of the NHL GMs blew their brains out, that contract looked pretty good. Compared to Chara's $7.5 mil per season, $6.5 for Redden is more than reasonable, and when contrasted against deals like Ruslan Salei at nearly $4 million and Pavel Kubina at $5, it's very reasonable. The one part of the contract that perplexed me then, and to an extent still does now, is the two year committment. I can't decide if this is good or not. On the one hand, it means we'll likely be in this position in two years again. But it also means we don't have a big contract on our hands for many years. The consensus from those in the know is that it was Redden who requested two years because he wants to see the direction the team is headed in and thus possessed some reluctance about signing long-term. I can dig that, as he must be getting sick of not winning a Cup, but it still feels strange to see Martin Gerber and Joe Corvo more committed to this team that a guy who's been here for nearly 10 years. Ultimately, all things considered, a good signing.

Signing Joe Corvo
First, let me admit I greatly underestimated the value of defencemen on the open market (as did Tomas Kaberle's agent, I bet). When I heard about Brian Pothier asking for $2 million per season on a long-term deal, I about fell out of my chair from laughing so hard. I thought "no way any team will give him that". Hell, when doing my projections for where the Sens payroll would be a week ago, I thought he could be kept in the fold for $1 mil a year. Whoops. Turns out I was off by quite a bit, as the Caps gave him a $10 million, four-year contract. Seeing what other middle of the road guys like Keith Carney and Hal Gill were able to command from teams also showed me how out of touch I was. I clearly didn't get it. I thought things had changed, but I was wrong. So the Corvo deal has to be graded in that context, because in mine, over $10 million for four years is ASS, but looking at the big picture, it's only slightly extravagent. I'm still horribly uninformed on Corvo as a player, but the general verdict from Kings fans is that he's our new Pothier. Good offensive skills but soft and a liability in his own end. Corvo seems to be a slight upgrade over B-Poth but has the skillset that makes him well suited for the new NHL. The idea he's paid so much more than Chris Phillips all but assures the Big Rig will get a rich deal in 12 months, probably from some other team. That sucks. It also means our 5th defenceman, Anton Volchenkov, is paid $1.25 million, a pretty sizeable deal. I'll need some great games early from Corvo to be convinced this was a good one.

Signing Martin Gerber
Another contract that I would've found hard to believe two weeks ago. When Dwayne Roloson signed for $11 million over three years to stay in Edmonton, I shook my head at what I believed was an error on the Oilers part, yet we gave Gerber just a tad more and I'm not sure he's any more viable any option. He's younger, true, but he also didn't have Roloson's amazing post season. The thing is, Muckler had to overspend on a goalie. He can no longer afford to treat that position as anything but priority #1 and if they truly think Gerber is the answer than the contract is a good one. I'm just not 100% sold that he is. Put me in the 75% category. One problem I do have with the deal is that it's three years, which means we're gonna have that salary on the books for that long in all likelihood. I think Ray Emery will be ready to be THE GUY within that time. Hopefully, that means we have a valuable asset in Gerber to trade should that be the case, but who can say? I do think it's disappointing that the organization is showing such little confidence in Emery, who I thought did very well for himself in the playoffs all things considered. Bring in a veteran as insurance, sure (I recommended Chris Osgood) but give the ball to Emery. The organization is saying that Emery can still Cam Ward Gerber and take the job, but if that happens, then we have a very expensive back-up taking up valuable cap room. I will say, I like that Gerber had the choice of Ottawa and Detroit, and with the money equal, chose to come here.

Re-signing Jason Spezza
This one confused me. Spezza had to be brought back, but the price tag of $4.5 mil amazes me. That's his market value? I pointed to Eric Staal's signing as being important because it would set the bar for Spezza, but little did I know they would get the same money. Spezza admitted Staal was used as a comparable and thought it was a fair one. Really, Jason? You see that thing on Eric's finger? That makes it unfair to me. I seemed to be wrong when I thought Spezza didn't have arbitration rights and thus had little leverage, as he apparently does, but even if that's the case, could he really have gotten that much in the process? If he used Staal as his comparable then surely any sane arbitrator would see the two have a very distinct difference that should have a direct effect on their salaries. And not to go off on a rant, but why the fuck is it that in arbitration, when someone takes slighly less to stay somewhere, that is an invalid example, because that's not the market, but when a pisspoor team drastically overspends to lure a hot property to their mess it is? I'm no economist (obviously) but is it wrong to think the market is somewhere in between? And like with the Redden deal, we only locked up Spezz for two seasons. If we're gonna throw the big bucks at the kid, then logic would say we get him for more years, right? Apparently not. The aforementioned Staal deal was for three years.

Dean's comments:

John has an impressive track record, but fails to learn from the mistakes of his past as well as those committed by his peers. He often does not listen to reason and seems as if he's existing in an entirely different universe. He refuses to admit his mistakes.

His GPA is low enough that he could be withdrawn from the program, especially considering his already existant standing of being on academic probation, but those in the highest of powers have decided to give him an opportunity to redeem himself. It is wise of John to take this matter seriously.

The "Martin Havlat trade" course, which has become compulsory in this program for John because of his poor performance in "Jason Spezza contract" course as well as the decision to enlist for the "Sign John Corvo" course that was not recommended for his major, will be an important one and will likely play a significant role in determining if John goes forward to even attempt his thesis in April or, hopefully, walk the stage in June.

On thin ice.

* not a real theory, but pretty juicy, huh?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Spezza kept in the fold, but it's a costly move

John Muckler isn't sitting around on this day off, as he spent the day signing Jason Spezza to a new two-year, $9 million deal.

Yes, that's right. Spezza will be paid as much as Eric Staal this coming season, except the 'Canes got Staal for one more season.

When the Staal deal was signed, I figured it would have an impact on Spezza's contract, but not in the sense that they would be for the same money. Staal was more important to his team and was a major part of his team winning the Stanley Cup. Spezz had a decent, albeit inconsistent, postseason, but the Sens failed to get out of the second round.

If Staal is worth $4.5 million, I figured, at most, Spezza was in the $4 mil area. You might say squabbling over $500K is a waste of time, but in this cap world, half a million bucks is a whole lot, especially for a team like the Sens who will be close against it.

So how in the world can Muckler justify this deal?

I'm all for locking up Spezza long-term but two years isn't a major committment (though that seems to be what the guys are taking to stay; do they know something I don't?).

Spezza had no arbitration rights so his only option was to play hardplay and not report to camp.

Oh, and in case you're wondering...

I'm beginning to wonder if the people at ScotiaBank Place have a plan. I assume they do, but assuming anything with this regime has proven to be dumb in the past.

Even if they unload Martin Havlat, they'll still be way over the self-imposed cap of (supposedly) $40 million.

That's it?

Chris Pronger has been traded to the Anaheim Ducks, Sportsnet has confirmed.

Sportsnet sources say the Edmonton Oilers will receive forward Joffrey Lupul, prospect Ladislav Smid and a conditional draft pick in exchange for the defenceman.

I gotta say, I'm underwhelmed, and if I'm an Oilers fan, I'm disappointed with the return. Sure, future help is great and all, but Oilers fans must've gotten their fill of trading away franchise players for young return back in the 90's. After going to the Cup, I have to think they want to compete again this year for the prize and it'll be a lot more difficult without Pronger, even with Lupul on the wing to score 30 goals.

And as a Sens fan, I wonder, was John Muckler involved? Did he make a pitch? Eklund says the Sens were in the hunt, but he's sort of a lying douche so that doesn't mean anything.

What we could offer can be debated, but surely, a deal featuring Martin Havlat (already on the way out anyway), Chris Phillips (UFA next season and, in this market, will probably cost $4-$5 mil, so he's gonzo as well), and some highly touted prospect (Brian Lee? Nick Foligno? half of Patrick Eaves?) would intrigue Oilers fans more than this. Hell, I'd even throw in a draft pick or two.

Aw well.

Stevie Y ready to retire

According to reports, Detroit captain Steve Yzerman will call it a career today at a press conference in two hours.

Obviously, this was a decision he battled with, but I have to say, it was the right one.

Yzerman has been a shadow of his former self for a while now, and only able to be anything close to an impact player because of his massive heart and desire. On the one hand, he deserves infinite respect for caring about his team and the game enough to keep playing even though he was experiencing tremendous pain, but at some point, it got to be almost depressing to see how far he'd fallen.

Selfishly, I wanted to remember Yzerman as the dynamic gamebreaker who could take over a contest and on most nights was the best player on the ice. He was making that more difficult each year.

The timing is right and now the Wings can go in a different direction without any guilt. Makes sense all around.

The weekend's biggest winners

If you thought the first few days of the free agent shopping would be slow and decided to take the long weekend off and head up to the cottage, I imagine you've come home with your head spinning. Zdeno Chara a Bruin? I know, it’s hard to believe.

It was certainly an interesting 48 hours and with guys like Michael Peca, Sergei Samsonov, Brian Leetch, Jaroslav Spacek, Eric Lindros, Bill Guerin, Brendan Witt, Mark Recchi, Brendan Shanahan, and Anson Carter still without a home, it's far from over.

So here it is: the five teams I think did the best job this weekend. If you missed my maddening, ongoing thoughts on each signing as they occured, don't fret.

1. Vancouver Canucks

Though the Canucks only signed one UFA in Willie Mitchell, Vancouver earned this spot for inking three of their key RFAs to new deals before that as much as any new faces brought in. The Mitchell contract, at $3.5 mil per year over four seasons, will end up being one of the better steals of the shopping season, I believe. He’s a gritty, tough defenceman who will work his ass off every shift and can play against every team’s better forwards with success. Canucks fans know all about this, having seen it first hand in the 2003 playoffs when Mitchell shut down Todd Bertuzzi. Him paired up with Mattias Ohlund should give Western Conference skaters the shakes. Getting Mitchell for $3 million less than it would've cost to keep Ed Jovaovski in the fold will end up being a wise move. Locking up the Sedins with three-year deals for a little more than $3 mil per season should also win Dave Nonis some favor. The twins really came into their own last season, and I’m not of the opinion that Anson Carter was responsible. If anything, he benefited from being paired with them. And the Roberto Luongo contract, though excessive, solidifies for the foreseeable future what’s long been their Achilles’ heel. Luongo still has to prove he’s a playoff goalie, but I can’t see that being an issue, because in the big games he's been thrust into at the international level, the netminded has shined. Their defence has some holes, with the departure of Jovanovski and the loss of Bryan Allen in the Luongo trade (I think they'll miss him more than Bertuzzi), but it sure seems like Nonis is up to the task of filling them.

2. Minnesota Wild

Did someone inhabit Doug Risebrough’s body? In the last week they traded for Pavol Demitra and signed impact players Kim Johnsson and Mark Parrish as well as adding depth to their defence with Keith Carney. Their blueline did take a hit with three of their rearguards (Mitchell, Filip Kuba, and Andrei Zyuzin) leaving for what they think are greener pastures (Kuba for $3 mil per season was one of the more absurd contracts dished out), but I like the enthusiasm and comittment to improving the Wild demonstrated. In all cases, they probably overpaid, but to get most players to come to Minnesota, I guess that is what it takes. Johnsson, at nearly $5 mil per season, is a risk because of his considerable concussion history, but one I would’ve taken if I had their cap room. Johnsson can rush the puck, anchor a powerplay, and has gotten much better in his own zone over the years thanks to playing under Ken Hitchcock. If he’s able to stay healthy, and that may be a big if I know, this deal will look good in retrospect. Parrish going to Minnesota was seen by a lot of people as a lock given he’s a native of the area. He brings something the team desperately needs: pure scoring. He’s a decent sized skater and can use his body but the guy is basically a natural goal scorer and can light the lamp on a consistent basis. Dropping him into that line-up means, right off the bat, Minnesota’s offence improves dramatically. The one that may not have been wise was Keith Carney, who at 36 years old could be on his last legs and therefore a two-year deal worth over $2 mil per could end up being too rich. He struggled in Vancouver last year but perhaps that was just because of the chance of scenery, as when players leave a team they’ve played for for a long time the transition can often be difficult. Carney has a whole summer to get accustomed to his new team and maybe that will make a difference.

3. Boston Bruins

Did they ever send a message to both their fanbase and the rest of the NHL. That message: we’re not fucking around. They devoted over $11 million per season to two players, which could have been too much, but I believe it necessary, and just like that, they’re a measurably better team. $7.5 million is more than I would’ve spent to keep Zdeno Chara in Ottawa (by about $3 million), however, thanks to boneheaded moves by the previous administration, the Bruins were in an unfortunate position where they had to overpay to do what was needed, which in this case was bring in a player of significance. The Nick Boyton for Paul Mara deal they made days earlier with Phoenix will end benefit both clubs I believe but with Chara they suddenly have one of the better bluelines in the league (Chara, Mara, David Tanabe, Brad Stuart, and keen youngsters Andrew Alberts and Milan Jurcina). They’ll need it because I’m not completely sold on Tim Thomas and Hannu Toivonen as a legitimate goaltending threat for a team contending. Adding Orleans native Marc Savard gives them a playmaking center for Glen Murray to line up with, assuming they don’t decide to deal him. And Shean Donovan, the former 67 workhouse, will provide a strong effort and desire every time he touches the ice. It might just be a new era in Beantown after all.

4. New Jersey Devils

For a couple reasons. The first, Lou appears to have learned his lesson from last summer and isn’t overspending based on name value. It’s a shame others didn’t, but I guess you have to make the mistakes yourself before you realize the error of your ways. Witnessing others do so isn’t enough. Locking up Patrick Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner to lengthy but still reasonable deals makes the Devils big winners in my book. With all the talk of Elias possibly getting close to max money from some teams desperate for his scoring, a seven-year deal at $6 million a year is a tremendous steal and goes to show all the loyalty and familial environment the Devils try to nurture is useful (see Martin Brodeur’s contract for further evidence). Other teams could learn from that as well. Langenbrunner for less than $3 mil is also an excellent deal considering what I would’ve paid for him if I was a GM. The Devils still have their work cut out for them with two very key RFAs to sign in Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta but based on the strength of the weekend’s moves, I doubt it’ll be a problem. By keeping their key pieces in place, the Devils move in the right direction.

5. Nashville Predators

The Preds only really made one move, and that was the previously mentioned signing of Jason Arnott, however, it's one that I'm a big fan of. At this point in his career, Arnott, often labelled a chronic underachiever, finally looks capable of being the number one center he was supposed to be when the Oilers drafted him in the first round 13 years ago. He was the best player on a very good Dallas team last season, and it wasn't because of the pieces around him. In the dozen or so Stars games I saw, it was Arnott elevating the games of those around him. I fully expect him to be able to do the same in Nashville and provide even more leadership to a team that has been knocking on Western Conference supremecy for a few years. They tried to make a run at it this year with Yanic Perreault, Scott Hartnell, and later the recently departed Mike Sillinger in that role, and try as they might have, they simply weren't up to the task. Arnott will be. Tremendous move by David Poile and his crew. Some might think the $4.5 mil per season over five years is a hefty price to pay, but given what he’ll bring to the team, and where he’ll play, it’s more than reasonable to me.

Listed on BlogShares