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?


At 12:05 PM, Blogger Absurdity Miner said...

I'll be satisfied if they make it past the first round of the playoffs (I've lowered my expectations significantly).

I hope they have a difficult regular season. What I'm hoping for is something similar to what happened to Anaheim or San Jose: they had to fight their way into the playoffs, so by the time they go in they'd developed a more disciplined, focused attitude.

At 12:58 PM, Blogger hamb0ne said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger hamb0ne said...

Looking for us readers to pipe up, eh? Here goes.

I expect the Sens to offer exciting hockey, as they have for years. I still think they're the top team in the North East division, despite it becoming even more competitive this year, with Montreal, Boston, and Toronto all marginally improved. I'd argue that Ottawa's defense has improved, as follows: Priessing is an upgrade on Brian Pothier, cheaper and with more size. Corvo will tally all the points that Chara did, maybe more. He also gets Alfie off the point on the powerplay, thus minimising the serious weakness of a short handed counter-attack. Mezaros and Schubert are a year older, bigger and wiser. More minutes are available for Phillips, now arguably the team's best defensive defenseman. While the departure of Chara leaves a void too large for one defenseman to fill, it's not impossible for the top six to fill collectively, both offensively and defensively.

Other teams' improvements in the North East: Montreal via shrewd free agency signings and maturation of solid prospects, Boston via spashing out in a big way(Chara, Savard, Mara, Donovan), and Toronto principally via subtraction (exeunt Quinn, Khavanov, Berg, Domi, Belfour, Klee, Richardson, etc.), improved playing time for budding prospects (Wellwood, Stajan, Bell, Steen), and Peca. Buffalo is in a real jam with all their RFAs, and are unpredictable at this stage.

Gerber: I honestly haven't seen enough of Martin Gerber to form an opinion of his play. He's mature, his numbers (from look good and may yet improve playing with the Sens' top drawer defense. I'm certainly willing to give him my support and consideration until he proves he's not up to the job of being the number one goalie on a team that's contending.

What really concerns me about the Sens (if anyone's still reading) is that they don't have a second line center, and they still have Volchenkov. Beyond Mike Fisher, there really isn't anyone in the organization (beyond Kaigorodov, who might as well be on Mars) that I think would excel in that position, and removing Fisher from the third line creates a hole at third center. As for Volchenkov, he's isn't particularly quick in transition, is prone to giveaways (overtime game one, Buffalo series), and not very strong in defensive zone coverage. While I relish his thunderous hits, and frankly would like to see more of the Sens defense throw the body, sound coverage in the defensive zone is the role in which Volchenkov is cast on the Sens, and I just don't think he's good enough. The Sens are deep in defensive prospects (Barinka being one) so I'm not going to shed a tear if Volchenkov is traded, but since Muckler seems to be such a big fan, I'm not holding my breath.

Alright, I'm done. Who wants the conch?

At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Rob said...

I hope the "Big V" has a good season so that Schubert can play as a forward.I would like to see him become somewhat of a power forward like Cole.If not then maybe this year McGratton will fill that role.

At 2:28 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

Ottawa is still a good team but they have done nothing to address their most urgent need.

Ottawa certainly has the top end talent to compete with any team in the NHL. Their problem has been and still is they don't have the right guys on their 3rd and 4th lines. They don't have the in your face 'energy' players that every successful team has. They don't have that veteren (or two) that will do anything and everything to win and that the rest of the team will rally around. Instead they have rookies and second year players who need that leadership.

Prior to last season I wrote that Ottawa's defense was over rated because they were depending too much on inexperience (Meszaros, Pothier, Volchenkov) and this year is really no different. Corvo has 203 NHL games experience. Volchenkov 151. Preissing 143. Meszaros 82. And Chara was the leader of the defense last year and he is gone. Chara played a big role in grooming Meszaros to be an NHL player both on and off the ice. Will Meszaros miss Chara being around? And filling in Chara's 28 minutes of ice time isn't going to be easy. The defense is still good and proably better offensively but losing Chara will hurt the team defensively and in the 'toughness' category.

In goal there is no way the Senators will be as good as last year. Dominik Hasek was probably the best goalie in the NHL in the 43 games he played. Everyone talks about how Gerber had a breakout year in Carolina last year but he was 18th in the NHL in goals against average and 17th in save percentage. Ray Emery was 20th and 22nd in those categories. While it is possible that one of those two goalies could improve significantly (more likely the young Emery) it is more likely that Ottawa will have average level NHL goaltending. When you compound that with the lesser defensive defense I would expect Ottawa to give up a fair number of more goals this year than last.

Ottawa will still score goals in bunches which should lead to good regular season success but in the playoffs defense and goaltending (along with hard work and never say die attitude) generally win so I would still question whether they can experience any playoff success.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I would have signed Hasek in a heartbeat, and was quite surprised when Muckler didn't. Martin Gerber is not a proven #1 goalie, or at least, he's not any more proven than anyone else on the market, and definitely not as proven as Hasek. Honestly, at $3.7 million I would have rather gone with Emery and used the cap space to sign a forward. I thought the "Hasek quit on his team" perception was sheer Sun-media nonsense with absolutely no evidence. Furthermore, Hasek was willing to play for cheap. He was by far the best goaltending option. It was frustrating to see Muckler influenced by all the mass opinion out there. Hasek's play last year spoke for itself, and injuries happen. Similarly, I'm not sure why the Leafs didn't bring back Lindros, but... I digress.

I think Ottawa will have a tough time this year. Many of the forwards seem to have maxed out their abilities, with the exception of Vermette, Kelly, and Eaves. Neil won't get more than 15 goals a year, Fisher a few more, Schaefer, who knows. Spezza can still grow as a player, but I don't see it being significant growth. He still plays the same game he played as a rookie, except now he gets more minutes and has Heatley and/or Alfie as a linemate.

I am optimistic about last year's rookies though. Eaves is the kind of player Ottawa has needed for a long time. Kelly seems poised and mature out there. Meszaros is the real deal. Not sure about Schubert but I'm willing to wait.

The Preissing/Corvo defensive attack is a risky move, given that neither of these guys seems to have any "stay at home" qualities, and neither plays a physical game. Also, they've had exactly one good season each. Chara's absense will be felt, and I could see Murray moving to a more system-oriented approach to compensate. However, he is no Jacques Martin. It's hard to say exactly what Murray is. In my opinion he was a poor choice as coach.

Vermette should get the #2 center spot for a trial period, say 20 games. I'm sure he will. They probably avoided arbitration by offering it to him.

I'd like to see Ottawa sign a veteran forward, perhaps Greg Johnson, to take some of the "leadership" pressure off Alfredsson. Even if Johnson is a player of marginal utility, getting the media off Alfie's back will do wonders for this team. He doesn't need to be the kind of guy who makes guarantees or bears the team's weight on his shoulders. He needs to play his game and not try to be the hero like everyone wants him to be. Not every captain is Mark Messier.

Could this be the year Spezza drops the Junior-B dangle once and for all? I doubt it.

I also doubt Varada returns, though I remain a fan.

Is this the last year in Ottawa for Phillips? Hope not.

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Hondo said...

I'm not expecting too much from the sens this year. I think they're kind of entering a semi-rebuilding phase. I predict they'll probably end up fighting for a playoff spot in the tough Northeast division - which as we all know is not a terribly bad thing as long as they make the playoffs. Hopefully Gerber can play as well as he did against us for us.

At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Dennis Prouse said...

The NE Division is going to be ridiculously competitive, so we need to adjust our expectations accordingly. Having said that, I like a lot of what the Sens have done. I think our defence is a little quicker and more able to contribute offensively, and the team proved all year that there is more than enough depth to make up for the loss of Havlat. In goal, Gerber was the free agent steal of the summer - look how well he played for the Canes in the playoffs when called upon.

I have to respectfully disagree with Nick regarding Hasek. If this was a one shot deal, I might agree, but the simple fact is that this is the THIRD time Hasek has pulled the chute on a team with a minor boo-boo. He did it in Buffalo, he did it in Detroit, and now again in Ottawa. Sorry, kids, but that's a pattern. A pulled "aductor muscle"? WTF? This is hockey, and it's the playoffs -- rub some Tiger Balm on it, take the needle if you have to, and get your butt out there to help your team. Sorry, but when a 41 year old goalie pulls up lame with a fishy injury, just as all the naysayers said he would, you simply can't insult your players and fans by bringing the guy back.

Bottom line -- there are plenty of GMs around the league who would love to have Ottawa's roster and alleged "problems". One of the number one rules of warfare is to remember that the other side (in this case, other teams) have problems of their own. Let's not compare the Sens roster to perfection, but rather to what exists in other NHL markets. We are still in great shape.

At 7:21 PM, Blogger Nick said...

This is hockey, and it's the playoffs -- rub some Tiger Balm on it, take the needle if you have to, and get your butt out there to help your team.

See, this is what I mean by all the talk about "conventional wisdom". This "play through the pain" canard has built itself up over the last few years, when it is in fact pure bunk. A few big-name players have, in the past, successfully played through injuries. However, this otherwise uncommon practice has been turned into some kind of incontestiable hockey wisdom via a million message boards and Sun Media newspaper columns. The fact is, most injuries are real. By your standard, no player should ever be injured in the playoffs, since they can just summon the inner strength to "play through the pain". And if their fiery passion for winning isn't enough, the rest of the pain can be snuffed out with painkillers. It is totally false.

As I said, not one shred of evidence has been raised to suggest Hasek "quit on his team", whatever that means. In fact, nobody has even presented a reasonable incentive as to why he might do so! Why would a guy come out of retirement, sign a stingy contract that only pays him the big bucks if he wins the Cup, and then bail half way through the season? Furthermore... let's assume Hasek did indeed bail on the team. Why would he want to re-sign with the same team the following year (in fact offering to sign for the league minimum plus incentives) and then be rather livid when Muckler decided to go with Gerber instead?

At 8:01 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

See, this is what I mean by all the talk about "conventional wisdom". This "play through the pain" canard has built itself up over the last few years, when it is in fact pure bunk.

Not really. Everyone has different pain thresholds. Everyone has different levels of motivation and drive to win. Some guys, and evidence is that Hasek is one of them, will only play if they feel 100%. Other guys are willing to play through pain and even be willing to play at risk of an even greater injury. Hasek doesn't appear to be this type of player.

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous pete said...

I would like to see him become somewhat of a power forward like Cole.If not then maybe this year McGratton will fill that role.

Yeah. Because Brian McGratton is the second coming of Erik Cole.

At 7:48 PM, Anonymous Rob said...

McGratton has more skill than your sarcasm suggests Pete.
I think with more icetime and maturity, the Sens toughest player may be known for more than the one who ends the careers of washed up Leaf enforcers!

At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Dennis Prouse said...

Didn't anyone see that goal he scored against Atlanta late in the season? Dude showed some serious wheels, and a nicer than expected touch around the net. I don't expect him to turn into Cam Neely or anything, but he could certainly become a Darren McCarty type, i.e. heavyweight who can also take a regular shift for you, and chip in offensively now and then.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger hamb0ne said...

One goal does not a player make. I saw that goal, it was a terribly soft one for Lehtinen to let in.

At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Rachael said...

McGratton didn't score on Lehtinen, he scored on Brodeur, that's what made it so awesome! (at least for him)

At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Rob said...

McCarty is a better comparison than Cole.I guess I still wish that trade for Havlat would have transpired.


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