Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mike O'Connell is now both retarded and unemployed

Back in December, when Joe Thornton was traded to the San Jose Sharks, I expressed my opinion that Mike O’Connell is of low intelligence. That opinion hasn’t changed much in 3 ½ months. So I was hardly shocked when it was announced he was canned.

This is a firing that should’ve come long ago, based on the way he’s mismanaged this organization, but the timing doesn’t make much sense to me.

While I understand why the L.A. Kings would fire Andy Murray (the logic because the rejuvenation involved in a new coach coming in might breathe some life into the team and get them back in a playoff spot), I don’t get the rationale behind firing O’Connell now.

When they traded Thornton, they pretty much gave O’Connell a vote of confidence for the season, I assumed. A GM cannot trade a franchise player without the blessing of the owner, and so you know Jeremy Jacobs was on board. If they’re going to trade Thornton, then it seems to me like they’ve chosen a side.

Now, by the time O’Connell was fired, it was obvious the season was a failure. He had to go. But now? Seems strange.

And if they were going to fire him, why did they allow O'Connell to sign Tim Thomas to a new contract eight days ago. The signing made zero sense to me then (a three year deal for a 31-year-old who's played well for less than 30 games?), but now that M.O.C. has been canned, it looks even dumber. Unless the decision to fire O'Connell was made in the last week, and if so, the organization is even more fucked than I thought.

The talk amongst Bruins’ fans has now gone from “fire that asshole!” to “who replaces him?”, and I must say, I wonder if some of you B’s fans have any sense at all. You want to replace him with Ray Bourque or Cam Neely? Really?

The Bruins need a qualified, experienced guy to guide them out of the mess that’s become of the franchise, not a name who, though warm and fuzzy on paper, would be in over his head on day one.

It’s one thing when Wayne Gretzky decided to coach the Phoenix Coyotes without a single game of bench experience. The ‘Yotes needed something to fill the seats, and it certainly wasn’t going to be their mediocre hockey team. Gretzky, a minority owner, knew it was a good PR move. Are things so bad in Boston now that they need a GM to fill the building?

And by the way, if you are determined to give the gig to a guy based on his name recognition, wouldn’t Bobby Orr make a whole lot more sense than Neely or Bourque? At least, as an agent, he has some experience with contracts, the CBA, etc. The transition from agent to GM has had both good results (Pierre Lacroix) and some not so great (Mike Barnett), but I have to think it's smoother than the transition from retired player with zero experience to general manager.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter who replaces O’Connell. As long as Harry Sinden and more importantly Mr. Jacobs are still involved, they’ll continue their rapid descent into the permanent cellar of the NHL.

For a franchise with such a rich history, and who, once upon a time, had one of the most respected reputations in the league, it’s genuinely sad to see what they’ve become.

Well, it could be a whole lot worse

Kind of puts last night's loss in perspective, doesn't it?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

What a disaster

I've decided I have better things to do on a Saturday night than watch the Senators get bitch slapped in the worst way possible. So if you're going to want thoughts on tonight's game, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Based on the first 20 minutes, I will say this: everything went wrong, and nothing went right. All the things that made Friday night's win over the Sabres impressive have fallen to the wayside here. While last night, the defensive coverage was great, it's beyond terrible here. The goaltending has not been good. The defencemen look lost. The forwards are making bad decisions with the puck. Flyers skaters have been left open with regularity. Oh, and Patrick Eaves is apparently hurt now too. Great.

The only good thing about tonight's game is that it's almost over. And Mike Morrison's spiffy black helmet. Was it left behind by Daniel Berthiaume 13 years ago?

I'm sure the Habs-Leafs game is a lot better, but I don't feel much like watching hockey right now.

Great friggin' news

From Bruce Garrioch in today's Ottawa Sun

While coach Bryan Murray denied a report on RDS’ website yesterday — which was later removed — that Chara will be gone for six weeks, the indications are his right hand may be worse than club officials believed and he will be re-evaluated late next week, which means there is no timetable for his return. The start of the playoffs is only 28 days away.

Sources say the swelling in Chara’s hand didn’t go down and there may be damage to one of the bones, which will keep the 6-foot-9 blueliner out of action for an extended period.

Wonderful. Just what the team needed. Another key player out for who knows how fuckin' long.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Ottawa 3 Buffalo 1

THE GOOD:

The quality of the game. Last week’s contest between these two teams was built up a lot by media and fans alike (and justifiably so), but it failed to live up to the expectations, as one team (Ottawa) brought their A-game while the other (Buffalo) didn’t come to play. So it was refreshing that this game was a whole lot more entertaining. From almost to start to finish, it was fast paced, up tempo hockey with a lot of hitting, minimal whistles, and a whole lot of back and fourth action. No one team was dominant over the other, and the momentum switched with regularity throughout the night. In short, it felt as close to a playoff game as anything in March can.

The defensive effort from the forwards. With both Zdeno Chara and Anton Volchenkov out, Ottawa was severely shorthanded on the blueline, and the guys they inserted in their place, though competent, cannot be asked to carry the load those guys do every game of the season. And so the burden fell onto the forward group to up their defensive ante, and they more than delivered. With the exception of the called back goal, their coverage in the Sens own zone was quite good, with few players being left in the clear or many one-on-one battles won. Ottawa is no longer the same ridiculously defensively responsible team they were under Jacques Martin (nor should they be, because we saw how well that worked when it mattered), but it’s nice to see those habits they learned under Jacques haven’t been forgotten completely, and can he requeued when necessary.

The new number one line of Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Patrick Eaves. I doubt this will remain Ottawa’s top forward trio, and I certainly hope it doesn’t, but I’ve come to like it while it lasts. They move the puck amongst each other very well, can find each other in traffic, all go hard to the net, and every single one of them knows their role on the line. Eaves brings a different dimension than Alfredsson when he plays with them, and though at the end of the day, I hope Alfie is reunited soon, I think it’s good Eaves is getting the chance to shine.

Once again, Tyler Arnason. He’s still without his first goal as a Senator, but it isn’t because the chances aren’t there. On this night, he had three shots on goal, and all of them were very good opportunities to light the lamp. His finish isn’t where it needs to be, but if you look at where Arnason’s game was two weeks ago, he’s clearly improving. Perhaps it took this long to get adjusted. And he’s developed some pretty good chemistry with Alfie, as the two had many good give and go instances here. Arnason was responsible for Alfredsson’s goal to make it 1-0, and he drew in two Sabres’ skaters, leaving Alfredsson of all people alone in the clear. As I said above, I want the Big Line to be reunited, but it’s nice to know that should the elite trio get stifled in the playoffs, they have someone who can play with Alfredsson.

Brian Pothier. He’s no longer the liability he was during the first half of the season. Pothier’s game has always been rushing the puck, making good breakout passes, and being a presence on the powerplay. Basically, Wade Redden Lite. However, the rest of his game has improved. He isn’t moved off the puck with as much ease as he used to be and every now and then you even see Pothier initiate contact, an unheard of concept months ago. On this night, he was asked to play a lot more than he has for most of the year, logging over 20 minutes, and performing admirably.

The penalty killing. The Sens had their share of ill timed and poorly thought out penalties, but ultimately, they did not bury them because the penalty killers did their job wonderfully, neutralizing the Sabres and giving them little room to get shots through.

THE BAD:

The powerplay. I’ve decided that as much responsibility for this belongs with the Sabres, who are a pretty damn good penalty killing team (ranked 3rd in the NHL going into the game), because Ottawa’s PP has now gone limp in two straight games against Buffalo after looking so good versus other opponents. Some Sens did make the same mistakes they have been all year long on the powerplay (forced passes, too many passes, shots not getting on net).

Ray Emery’s rebound control. I’ve seen some compare Emery to Lalime in that he makes many a big saves, but seems awkward and uncomfortable of the time and especially prone to bad goals. I don’t think that’s the case most of the time, but on this night, very much so. With a depleted D, Emery should’ve been better about his rebounds, because he no longer had big bodies like Chara and Volchenkov to clear the night.

THE OPPOSITION:

I was pretty hard on the Sabres after their disappointing game last Saturday night at ScotiaBank Place, saying that they did not look, to me anyway, like the Cup contender their place in the standings imply, however, they did a better job here.

There were still some holes in their game, and they were playing a team without a whole lot of key players (four of their 10 best and most important pieces of the puzzle), but at least they were not overmatched. It did not look like they didn’t belong on the same ice as the Sens.

I’m sure some fans will be upset the goal that was called back (and some already are), and I bet if I was in their place I would have some vigor about it as well, but it didn’t look conclusive enough to me to be declared a goal. I thought the referee had the perfect vantage point, behind the net, and so his assertion that it was a goal was right, but as the replay showed, his view was obstructed by a view Senators.

I will say this: the NHL needs to invest in better cameras above the net for situations like this, because the ones they currently use are way too ancient and not nearly good enough. This was a big game, and that goal would’ve changed the way it went, but at the end of the day, it’s not that big a deal. However, if this was May or June and it was an overtime goal, I’d hate for them to have to depend on that shit. It would be horribly if the NHL had controvery surrounding a big goal in the playoffs. Oh, wait…

UP NEXT:

Part 2 of the weekend from hell sees Ottawa travel South to Philadelphia to play the Flyers. Philadelphia is a team in a playoff positioning dogfight of their own, as they and the Rangers are battling it out for that Atlant

The Flyers have been a tough two points for Ottawa this year. During their hot streak at the start of the year, when they legitimately looked unbeatable, Philly came into Ottawa and shut them down. The second meeting saw the Flyers jump all over the Sens in the first period with three goals, and though Ottawa rebounded to make it close, it was for naught. It wasn’t until the third game between the two teams on February 11th (the last game before the Olympic break) that Ottawa finally got a win over the Flyers.

There’s no disputing that Toronto is Ottawa’s top rival, even now with the Battle Of Ontario being more of a takeover than a war, but Philly is probably a close second. Ken Hitchcock has talked in the past about how the Sens are sort of to his team was the Leafs are to us: the team they cannot slay. Ottawa ousted Philly in the playoffs two of the last three years, and even with some new faces on both sides, those things are remembered.

I’m expecting a great game, and will be interested to see if the Senators can maintain the high level of play for two straight games. They were able to do so last weekend when they beat Buffalo and New Jersey on consecutive nights, but this time, they have a much less impressive line-up, and I regard Philly as tougher competition than the Devils at this point.

Well I'll be damned

Whoops.

Thanks to a comment left by SensGuy, I discovered tonight's game between the Sens and Sabres is in fact being broadcasted locally on Rogers Sportsnet. I guess this was a last minute decision because I talked to someone in the organization earlier in the week who said it wasn't going to happen.

While I'm at it, I should mention a few other changes to the TV availability of the team. HNIC added two Saturday night home games in April (1st vs. Washington and 8th vs. Buffalo) to their schedule earlier in the month amidst complaints that they were not giving Ottawa enough shine.

Good news all around.

Enter Filip Novak

Tonight's game between the Sens and Sabres, already interesting because of the playoff implications, will be intriguing for another reason: it will mark the first time we'll see Filip Novak in an Ottawa Senators sweater.

With the injuries to Zdeno Chara and Anton Volchenkov, Novak will play his first game of the season.

After being acquired early in the season for next to nothing from the Florida Panthers (apparently they have a plethora of young defencemen?), Novak has gone on to become the consensus best defenceman for the lowly Baby Sens this year, registering 52 points (8 goals and 44 assists) in 63 games.

It looks as if Novak has leapfrogged Tomas Malec on the depth chart, as the last time there was an emergency call-up, he got it instead.

I'll be watching to see what kind of impact the kid has. He's only 22 and has a lot of promise. Perhaps we have yet another young blueliner who can be a factor.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I cannot wait

The build-up to tonight's Habs-Leafs game was tremendous. It truly felt like a playoff contest, and the atmosphere, for the first five or so minutes, was electric. It made me anticipate the postseason quite a bit. I say screw the remaining 13 or so games, just start it tomorrow.

It's a shame the game was such a disaster.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Who gets the Hart?

Since everyone else is doing doing it, I figured I’d throw my hat in the “who’s your MVP” mess.

And if you were looking for a divergent, out-of-the-box opinion, you’re going to be disappointed, because my vote, at this point, goes to Jaromir Jagr.

I realize picking the NHL’s leading scorer for the Hart Trophy is hardly a brash selection, but I can’t think of a more important player to his team than Jagr has been to the Rangers this season. Take him off that team, and they’re not even a playoff club. He’s the straw that stirs the drink on that team, the one who everyone feeds off of. Even if he isn’t a leader in the classical “rah rah” sense of the word, he leads with his play.

If I had to cast a vote today, it would be:
1. Jaromir Jagr
2. Alexander Ovechkin
3. Eric Staal
4. Daniel Alfredsson
5. Joe Thornton

Ovechkin is the best player in the NHL this season, and so he deserves consideration, but I’d have a hard time giving the Hart to a guy who’s team is a bottom feeder. Staal might be number two, behind AO, and he’s truly taken that team on his back. Alfredsson was my pick a few months ago, but he’s fallen out of the lead due to his injury and then some inconsistent play. And “Jumbo Joe”’s turnaround, and the subsequent one the Sharks made with his acquisition, is nothing short of miraculous.

As far as the Norris Trophy goes, I’m inclined to agree with James Mirtle that Nicklas Lidstrom is the right choice, but I’m not sure I think it’s the slam dunk James does. There are a whole bunch of other blueliners who are worthy of the hardware, among them Sergei Zubov, Wade Redden, Bryan McCabe, Zdeno Chara, and Scott Niedermayer. How I’d rank them, I don’t know, because after Lidstrom, they’re all incredibly close.

For the Vezina, I’d say it’s a toss up between Miikka Kiprusoff and Tomas Vokoun, with Marty Turco, Dominik Hasek and Henrik Lundqvist trailing them. Which one wins depends on who finishes the season strongest, I think, because at this point, it’s too tough to call.

If I have him finishing second for the Hart, obviously, Ovechkin is my pick for the Calder, with Dion Phaneuf and Sidney Crosby the runners up. It’s worth noting, for the 100th time, that the guys who aren’t even in the picture, the Andrej Meszaros and Tomas Vaneks of the league, would be winners in previous years.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Probably long overdue

Unlike James Mirtle, I don't think the Kings firing Andy Murray is a bad move.

I've heard enough horror stories from Garry Galley on Ottawa radio about what a horror this guy is to play for that I believe it was only a matter of time before he lost the dressing room. To hear Galley talk, he lost it a long time ago. They just recycled guys out who didn't fit his mould.

Is Murray a good coach? Maybe. But he seems like a Mike Keenan type who can only last in one place for so long before wearing out his welcome. Unlike Keenan, however, he doesn't have a Cup ring to justify his wacky antics.

It's not too soon for the Kings, with a fresh voice and vision, to turn things around and become a threat in the Western Conference again.

Ottawa 5 Pittsburgh 2

THE GOOD:

The continued success of a once ailing powerplay. As we inch closer towards the games that truly matter, it’s very refreshing to see the Sens powerplay become so effective. Throughout the season, it’s been far too inconsistent for my tastes, scoring a lot one night and then very little another. While it’s still not at the level I’d like, it’s important to remember they’re without some key cogs in Martin Havlat and now Jason Spezza (though that doesn’t appear to be a longterm thing), and so when you factor in their return, it’s pretty potent as is. If they can keep it at this level for the remainder of the regular season, going into the playoffs, I’ll be very confident.

Tyler Arnason’s best game as a Senator. With Spezza out of the line-up, Arnason saw the most amount of ice-time since being traded (almost 20 minutes), and he made the most of the opportunity given to him by the coaching staff. This was, easily, the best he’s looked in an Ottawa sweater. He was skating a lot better, was tremendous with the puck (both as far as his stickhandling and how strong he was on it), and did a good job of drawing penalties. Arnason was responsible for two of the infractions the Pens got called for, just from hard work and persistence. The flashes of brilliance we saw from him when he had the puck showed why John Muckler acquired him. If he can play this way when Martin Havlat comes back, Ottawa instantly has an extremely potent second-line scoring unit. Oh, and he was great on faceoffs, winning 70% of the draws he took.

Chris Neil. Playing without his good friend and center Mike Fisher, Neil has one of his better games of the season. He was, for the second game in a row, the most physical Senator on the issue, squashing many a Penguins along the glass while also scoring another powerplay goal. In addition, he was very efficient in his role of shit disturber in front of the net, as he was a big part of the team’s first two goals. On Daniel Alfredsson’s blast from the point, he screened Sebastien Caron so much the young netminder had zero chance, and then did the same thing on Andrej Meszaros’ first of the night. Neil was in a bit of a funk around the midpoint of the season, but it sure seems as if he’s out of it and back to doing what made him so successful in the first quarter of the season.

Antoine Vermette’s 18th goal of the season. Quietly, Vermette is on pace for a 20 goal season. His play since the break has been off the charts, and once the team gets its full line-up back, having a red hot scorer like Vermette on their fourth line gives the Sens a dimensional few other teams can match. It’s worth noting that his goal tonight was of the shorthanded variety, as have nine of his previous. When you got a guy like that on a PK, it makes the other team’s powerplay think twice about their approach, knowing that they have a guy on the other side who can and will bury whatever chances you give him.

Chris Phillips. Blocked many big shots and logged a lot of minutes. A strong outing.

THE BAD:

Vaclav Varada with the puck. Yikes. This is the kind of thing that will give a coach nightmare. On two instances, Varada had the puck with what seemed like a golden opportunity to make something of substance happen, and on both occasions he did nothing with them. The only way he could’ve done worse was if he managed to score on his own net. The first time, he came down the left side on a two-on-one, and instead of passing or shooting (you know, the usual options in a situation like this), he decided to go around the net in hopes something would materialize in the meantime. Didn’t happen, and he ended up coughing the puck up. Later in the game, he was given a sweet pass in the slot and instead of shooting, he made an errant passed that was intercepted. After such a good game Saturday night, it sure looked as if Varada slipped back into his bad habits.

Losing Anton Volchenkov. Though, like Spezza, it doesn’t appear to be a worrisome injury, concussions can be tricky things, and when you look as how the Philadelphia Flyers have been stricken with concussion problems this season, it does scare you a little bit. I’ve talked about how much I’ve liked the game of the “A-Train” since he was moved back over to his natural left side, and so it’s a shame he’ll be out for a while. The last thing this team needed was another name to add to the bruised and battered list.

Andrej Meszaros’ hit on Sidney Crosby. I’d like to think it wasn’t an intentional clip, but that wasn’t pretty, and not the kind of thing a rookie should be doing if he’s trying to make a good impression on the league.

THE OPPOSITION:

Pittsburgh was killed by the same thing they have been all season long: bad penalties. When you take the most penalties in the NHL and you have the worst penalty killing in the entire league, you’re pretty much asking for trouble. When you then pit that team against one of the better powerplays in the league, it’s a wrap.

On this night, they gave Ottawa 11 powerplay opportunities, and so they never had a chance.

This isn’t to suggest there weren’t some positives to take out of the game. For the sake of Pens fans everywhere, I’ll list some:
- Sebastien Caron was solid in nets and looks to be someone who they can put in when the workload becomes too much for Marc-Andre Fleury
- Konstantin Kolstov impressed me for the second game in a row. He’s very creative with the puck. Give him some guys of skill to play with and you might have a real special player.
- Ryan Malone played like the kid with all that talent everyone says he is. He had the kind of game that made me with the Sens did get him at the deadline like all the rumors indicated they would
- Colby Armstrong already is a player.
- Their young defence weren’t significantly overmatched by the Ottawa forwards

On the downside, their veterans continued to struggle, and appear to be deadweight holding this team down. They need to find a way to rid themselves of Sergei Gonchar ASAP.

UP NEXT:

A small break, which based on this team’s injuries is a good thing. Hopefully, by the time this big weekend comes up, both Jason Spezza and Anton Volchenkov will be game ready. I’m crossing my fingers about Mike Fisher, but that doesn’t seem likely. And at this point, I’ve thrown my hands up regarding Dominik Hasek. Part of me is pretending like he’s out for the year so that when he comes back, whenever he decides to (no rush Dominik, it’s not as if any important games are coming up), I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Ottawa 4 New Jersey 0

Five positives to take out of last night's win in the swamp:

1) They were able to maintain their high level of play for a second straight night.
While it's true Ottawa is one of the better back-to-back teams in the league, I was still interested to see how they'd fare here. After beating up the Sabres in a massive game, they showed a lot by going into New Jersey, which isn't easy, and being nearly as dominant. It was a good test because this week will see an even more difficult back-to-back situation. Friday night they'll have to go into Buffalo, and though I think they will do well, you know the Sabres will be itching for revenge after their piss poor performance from the other night. 24 hours later, the Senators will travel to Philly and face a team that has given them some trouble this season. It won't be easy, and I imagine we'll find out just how much of an edge the Sens have over the other Eastern Conference heavyweights.

2) The powerplay showed up. Saturday's win over the Sabres would have been by a much wider margin had the PP performed well (they went 1 for 10). I was glad to see the boys rebound and get it together for this game, scoring three goals. New Jersey handed the Sens the game with their undisciplined play and Ottawa buried them.

3) Ray Emery's durability. Even as well as he's played since the break, there were some who questioned whether or not Emery could handle the workload of being a number one goalie. I even thought it wise to sit him for this game because 10 straight games for a back-up is a lot of action, however Murray continued to ride him, and it looks like the right move.

4) Vaclav Varada had a good game. At this point, getting that much from the veteran is all we can ask for. Perhaps the healthy scratch from Thursday night hit home.

5) Patrick Eaves is made of steel. Or is stupid. These are the only explanations I can think of. Even though he's only 5'10" and 190 pounds (and that listing seems exaggerated), Eaves plays like he's Chara-sized, going hard to the net with regularity and being nearly impossible to move once parked there. On this night, he not only took a ridiculous amount of abuse from the Devils d-men but also had to withstand Martin Brodeur's hacking. I guess, being that he's so young, Eaves doesn't know a guy of his build isn't supposed to do these things. He scored his 14th goal and has developed into a pretty good scorer. The future looks very bright for this kid.

Ottawa 4 Buffalo 2

THE GOOD:

The first period onslaught. I don’t think I’d be accused of exaggerating if I suggested those 20 minutes were the best this team has had in many months, and I dare say, all season. It was an utter dominance by Ottawa, against a more than formidable foe. They dictated the pace of the entire period, had both puck possession and puck positioning for the vast majority of the frame, and never allowed the Sabres to utilize their speed. The 2-0 score after the first wasn’t enough of an indication of just how one-sided it truly was, and a better way to judge it was the shot count, as Ottawa outshot Buffalo 22-5, and none of those five from the Sabres were particularly good ones. The second period was still Ottawa’s, but not nearly as decisively as the first. The third was pretty even. However, by the time the Sabres found their game, they were in too much of a hole to get out of.

The Peter Schaefer-Bryan Smolinski-Chris Neil line. Without question Ottawa’s best forward trio. I loved the look of this line and was more than pleasantly surprised with the way Smolinski filled in for Fisher. He brought a different, but valuable dimension to the line. While Fisher is a harder forechecker, a faster skater, and a more physical presence, Smolinski brings just a bit more of an offensive touch and savvy that only a veteran with his experience has. The line a combined +5 on the night and were in on two goals, one of which was the highlight of the night for sure. Neil appeared to take the absence of his good friend Fisher as motivation for him to step it up, as I felt like he had one of his stronger games in a while, especially in regards to taking the body. He’s credited with four hits according to NHL.com’s recap, but at the game, it sure seemed like a lot more than that.

Anton Volchenkov. Another unremarkable but extremely effective game from the “A-Train”. He’s taken his “demotion” to the third defensive pairing in stride, and after a few games where it looked as if he was effected, he’s now back to playing the way he was before the break: solid. Now on the right side, his natural position, Volchenkov might elevate his game even more and help Brian Pothier, who is unquestionably a physical liability, out in that respect. Like with Redden, Volchenkov is playing with a more offensive-minded defenceman, so he’ll have to be the defensive conscience, but that role seems to suit him very well. On this night he was hitting a lot, was first on the puck on almost every instance, and, among all Sens’ d-men, was the best in their own end.

Zdeno Chara. Vintage Chara performance on this night. Was a pain in the ass to play against I’m sure, as he was all over the Buffalo forwards and almost single handedly shut them down. Every line he and Phillips were matched up against were stifled.

Chris Kelly & Antoine Vermette. Once again, this duo came to play, and despite their (on paper anyway) minimal role, they managed to be big factors. They both got a ton of ice time (Vermette’s 15 minutes has to be close to the most he’s played all year, and he did it in a lower line), and earned every minute. It says a lot that Murray had both of them on the ice for the last minute when Buffalo, down a goal, had a faceoff in Ottawa’s end. I was particularly happy to see Kelly net a goal, only his seventh of the season. He deserved it, and even though it was an open netter, it was hardly a gimme, and only resulted from his hard work after losing the draw.

Carolina losing. Finally the Sens are able to gain some ground.

THE BAD:

The officiating. As bad as it was Thursday night, it was 10x worse here. Just dreadful, and some of the worst refereeing I’ve ever seen, NHL, junior hockey, international, whatever. It’s no coincedence that Shane Heyer called this game as well as the one against the Bruins two days ago. Whoever’s responsible for these guys needs to give him a call because it was downright embarrassing out there. If these guys get playoff assignments, the NHL is out of their mind. Holding, hooking, tripping, diving, and outright takedowns occurred all night long without being called, and then, they’d whistle one that made the others look like homicide. And if you think I’m just a bitter fan (bitter at my team winning?), even the scattered Sabres fans in the building seemed to feel the same way. One I spoke with on the way out agreed it was among the worst refereeing he’s ever seen. So not only did they not call a bunch of things that, even in the old NHL, would’ve been whistled infractions, but they couldn’t even be consistent about it. Horrible.

Ray Emery hitting the wall. By no means did he have a bad game, but in the second and third period, it appeared as if Emery was struggling out there. He was fighting the puck and did not look comfortable. Last night was his 10th straight game, and that’s a lot of hockey for a guy who, for nearly four months, was playing less than once a week. Maybe it’s time to give Mike Morrison a look and let Emery get some rest.

Tyler Arnason, M.I.A. Where oh where can you be? Not on the ice, because I didn’t notice you out there. Only Vaclav Varada and Christoph Schubert played less than him. That says it all.

The powerplay going 1 for 10. Some credit has to go to the Sabres and their strong PK, but Ottawa weren’t aggressive enough with the man advantage. Even with Miller playing as well as he did, they still could’ve double their output had they been effective on the PP.

THE OPPOSITION:

There’s only one reason this game wasn’t a blowout reminiscent of the ones Ottawa handed the Sabres earlier in the season, and that’s Ryan Miller. Saying he was spectacular wouldn’t be doing him justice, as he gave one of the best goaltending performances I’ve ever witnessed in person in my life.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, that’s about where the positives end, because the 18 skaters in front of him didn’t come to play with any consistency. Some of them (Daniel Briere and J.P. Dumont) looked to at least be making an effort of some sort, but too many of their impact players (Chris Drury, Taylor Pyatt, Toni Lydman) were invisible out there.

If we were using this game as a measuring stick for the legitimacy of the Sabres as a Cup contender, and that’s certainly how both Buffalo fans and media were positioning it, then they failed the exam horribly. And while I don’t think you can write them off completely based on one bad game (they happen), if I’m a Sabres fan, I’m concerned about this team’s inability to take their collective game to the next level. This was as close to a playoff game as the Sabres organization has had in some time, and they did not play like it. If this is how they perform when the real postseason starts, they’ll be out in the first round, 100+ regular season points or not.

UP NEXT:

The Sens can’t afford to bask in the victory too long because they have another challenge ahead tonight in the swamp. The Devils are never an easy two points, and they’ve become a pretty good team in the second half of the season. As big of a test as last night’s game was, tonight’s will be equally important to see if they can maintain that level of play for consecutive games with very little rest.

Game's not on TV, again.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The biggest game of the year, and it's in the dark

I don't think I'm laying on the hyperbole if I say that tonight's game between the Senators and the Buffalo Sabres at ScotiaBank Place is the biggest of the year for both clubs. With one point seperating the two teams in the Northeast standings, there is little margin for error on either side for the remaining games of the season, and the four games the two will play against each other will likely decide who wins the division, and thus, gets that #2 seed in the Eastern Conference, a much more desirable position than the #4 spot that awaits the loser.

The Sabres are red hot while the Sens are warm but bruised and battered. Tonight's game will mark the first Mike Fisher will miss with his sprained ankle, and though it doesn't appear to be a long-term injury (the early prognosis has him out two weeks), the fact Fish won't be in the line-up handicaps a team already dealing with significant injuries.

Tonight's game also marks the first contender-caliber opponent Ottawa is playing post-Olympics. While they've got a pretty good record coming out of the break (7-2), only two of those wins came against a team that currently has a playoff spot, and that team is one of the most disjointed in the league right now, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

We'll see just how good the Sens are tonight. This doesn't mean one should use the game as an ultimate barometer for measuring how they'll fare in the playoffs, because they are playing without two of their top six forwards and their number one goalie, but nevertheless, Buffalo provides formidable opposition who will force the Senators to play their A-game. No coasting or cruise controlling will be permitted, unless they expect to be handed their asses.

And Ottawa better get used to playing tough teams, because the easy games will be scare for the rest of the year. In addition to four games against the Sabres, Ottawa plays New Jersey twice, the Rangers twice, and Philadelphia once. Plus, Montreal, who will be battling for their lives and thus have more incentive to win than the Sens, two more times. Time to strap in boys.

With Fisher out, expect Vaclav Varada to slide back into the line-up. He was scratched Thursday night against Boston, and I was very much in favor of this decision. Varada has not played consistently well for a while now, and probably only stayed in as long as he did because he's a veteran who the coaching staff hoped would snap out of the funk. No such luck. But he's getting a second chance tonight, and should take advantage of it. For him, that means being the uber-pest he was for so many years in a Sabres uniform. That Varada has not been seen a lot this season, and while I get that he’s probably been hampered by the new rules, other agitators have seemed to adjusted accordingly.

The line combos for tonight remain unknown, but I suspect Chris Kelly will move up to center the Peter Schaefer and Chris Neil line, with Antoine Vermette shifting over from left wing to center that fourth line, and Varada taking Antoine's old spot. It is possible that Vermette will get moved up though, or even that Bryan Smolinski will be taken off the second line to give the Schaefer-Neil combo a veteran presence.

On defence, I imagine it'll be the same combos we've seen since the Olympics. Expect to see Zdeno Chara and Chris Phillips, as always, matched up against Buffalos' top line, which, according to Kevin of the BFLO Blog, will be Taylor Pyatt-Daniel Briere-J.P. Dumont. See the problem already?

Buffalo has an incredibly well spread out offensive attack. Beyond that first line, they have Ales Kotalik (24G, 29A), Chris Drury (22G, 29A), Maxim Afinogenov (17G, 34A), Tomas Vanek (23G, 20A), and Derek Roy (15G, 24A). Ottawa cannot focus their efforts primarily on one forward line, because they have three that can hurt you if you give them the slightest bit of an opportunity.

In net for Ottawa will of course be Ray Emery. How will he fare against a team like the Sabres, who sport a lot of weapons and are 4th in league scoring? Again, it will be a good test. It's about time we find out what he's made of. I'm optimistic, but not overly confident.

Tonight's game has all the making of one of the more exciting, interesting of the season. So why isn't it on TV you ask? I have no idea.

Once again, the CBC is not televising the game, nationally or locally. Instead, we're being treated to the Maple Leafs-Rangers. Hoooray.

The CBC is a business, and I understand that. They want to get as many viewers as possible, and from a national point of view, that probably means broadcasting Leaf games. Fair enough. But is it too much to ask that they send a crew to Ottawa to broadcast it to the Ottawa region? Apparently so. And of course, no other Canadian network can carry the game because CBC has an exclusive deal on Saturday night games.

A big fuck you to the CBC for this. We pay for you with our tax dollars, last time I checked. Because of this, you should serve the interests of more than just the majority, who in this case are Leaf Nation. By no means am I suggesting that you neglect that game, as obviously that would be a PR disaster, but is it too much to ask you to, perhaps, also remember those of us not inside that bubble?

Thankfully for me, I'm going to the game tonight. But there are only 20,000 seats in the building, and something tells me even just in Ottawa, there are more people than that interested in tonight's game. For those of you on the outside looking in, I hope you have CentreIce or a local establish that you frequent does, because I don't think spending your Saturday night around the radio would be a fun night.

Thanks Nancy Lee.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Thanks Blogspot

If you hadn't noticed, Blogspot, the wonderful host it is, has been having a whole lot of technical issues lately, and as a result, this particular blog has been affected. They say it's a filter problem, with only certain blogs feeling it's wrath, and lucky me, I'm one of them.

Boston 3 Ottawa 2 (SO)

THE GOOD:

Ray Emery. Emery was terrific between the pipes and kept the Sens in a game they probably otherwise didn’t deserve to still be in based on the lethargic effort displayed in the first two periods. It’s clear to see Emery’s playing with a whole lot more confidence as of late, and it’s resulting in tremendous play. You can put me back on the “Ray Emery Is The Future” bandwagon. I’m nothing if not fickle.

Another third period comeback. Alas, it didn’t result in two points, but the fact that Ottawa sacked up, turned their play around, and rallied to score two goals in the third frame says a lot about this team’s tenacity, I think, and it’s something that wasn’t consistently there a few months ago.

Jason Spezza’s goal. The Big Line proved that not only can they produce game winners the way they did Tuesday night, but they can also score the desperate, game on the line ones as well. Spezza’s goal served as the rejuvenation the team needed, as you could literally see how it sparked the entire team from top to bottom. From that point on, every forward line had more jump in their step, and it felt like only a matter of time before they once again lit the lamp to even the score. And had that penalty not come up in OT, I feel very safe in saying they would’ve scored again to get the win. Unfortunately, would’ves and should’ves don’t count.

Sitting Vaclav Varada in favor of Christoph Schubert. Varada just hasn’t been cutting it as of late, and frankly, Schubert provides more of what they expect from V than he’s been providing. Schubert is consistently physical on both the forecheck and in the defensive zone, and isn’t the skating liability that Varada has become. The only edge Varada has over Schubert is probably he isn’t as prone to mistakes, but that’s to be expected when you factor in that Varada has years of NHL experience at forward, while Schubert never played the position at a major level before this season. I’m sure being a healthy scratch didn’t sit well with Varada, who earlier in the season was very vocal in his displeasure about playing a fourth line role, but truthfully, I don’t care, nor should anyone in the organization. Varada’s played himself off the team, as he had to know he had to play better with hungry guys like Schubert nipping at his heels, yet he didn’t. He’s been the architect of his own demise in Ottawa. I really don’t think this was a wake up call from Bryan Murray, but rather just them icing their best line-up. That no longer includes Varada. Once Martin Havlat comes back, Vaclav will be pushed further down the depth chart. It’s possible, should an injury arise, he’ll get back in, and during a Cup run it’s bound to happen, but it’s clear to see he’s fallen out of favor.

THE BAD:

The Senators’ shootout woes. Why the highest scoring team in the league cannot score in the shootout remains a mystery to me. I wish I had an explanation, but I don’t. It mystifies me. I can’t remember the last time a Senator scored in that manner, but I know it’s been a while. For a team who started the season with shootout W’s, it’s certainly a strange twist of fate. I would recommend that Bryan Murray has the team work on it more in practice, but at this point, it’s almost pointless. The season is nearly over, and it’s not as if we’ll have to worry about shootouts in the playoffs (Thank God). The worst thing in the world would be for Ray Emery to pull a groin in practice because the Sens wanted to get better at shootouts.

Ray Emery’s wandering ways It was a shame that Emery, having played so well up to that point, making a number of spectacular, game-saving stops, gave up such a fluky goal that came from him being careless outside of the net.

Mike Fisher going down with an injury. At this point, it’s too early to panic severely, but that did not look good, at all. I don’t mind telling you, I’m very worried folks.

Tyler Arnason. I cut him some slack for his first couple of games in a Senators uniform, but the period of adjustment is up. He needs to start being a factor. Arnason certainly wasn’t last night. He had a couple of good shifts but if he’s going to be their second-line center, middling Ottawa’s secondary scoring unit, a few decent shifts won’t cut it. Start producing any time now Ty, because the team sorta needs it.

The powerplay. It wasn’t simply that the PP failed to score, but rather, that they were even unable to build any momentum for the team, and instead, probably hurt their chances, as Boston’s ability to kill off so many penalties gave them confidence while also deflating Ottawa’s.

The officiating. Was not really a factor in the decision one way or another, but boy was it shitty. I guess Peter Schaefer would’ve had to been murdered for the referees to call it.

Rooting for the Maple Leafs. It hurts my heart.

THE OPPOSITION:

The Bruins employed the right tactics to get the win last night: they played a slow, plodding game with excellent neutral zone coverage and little in the way of chances to ensure Ottawa couldn’t pounce all over them the way they’re capable of. This isn’t to say that they didn’t get scoring opportunities, because they had plenty, but most of them didn’t come from any pressure, but rather Ottawa’s piss poor effort.

Unfortunately, it almost unraveled in the third period. Both of the goals Ottawa scored were a result of someone losing their coverage and a man being open. Sure enough, they paid the price.

Boston has played Ottawa very tough this season, especially when Ottawa travels to Beantown, and in the games they’ve won, it’s usually because their gameplan resembles what we saw last night. It doesn’t make for entertaining hockey, as evident by all the empty seats in the building, but it’s more effective than if they played a more open style. I suspect a reason they played this way was because Ottawa is so dangerous offensively, as when I’ve seen the B’s against other teams, they don’t use the same tactics. They might want to start, although at this point it’s almost too late.

Individually, I liked the games of Brad Boyes, Andrew Alberts, Yan Stastny, Glen Murray and Marty Reasoner, which is good news for fans of the team because most of them are guys will be around (ideally) for years to come.

UP NEXT:

One of the biggest games of the season, against the Buffalo Sabres. I’ll have more later, because I have a lot to say about it, though most of it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual game.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Apparently bloggers are dabbling in crack smoking now too Pt. 2

From Eklund

I am working on a story that compares the current Pens to the last years of the Nordiques...except this team could be better than the team that won it all in Colorado....

Keep working on that story. I'm sure when it comes out I'll clown it to death because the very idea of it is so absurd I'm surprised anyone could write with a straight face. Are the Penguins amassing an excellent collection of great young talent? Absolutely. But as far as I can tell, that's where the comparisons begin and end.

Having a good young team and shaping that young core into a contender are two entirely different things.

A big part of why the Nordiques/Avalanche were able to become the powerhouse they did was because of the Eric Lindros deal, and that situation was truly one of a kind. I don't see a comparable one coming to Pittsburgh anytime soon.

I have always said they will be a play-off team and I predict that that should they draw Ottawa in the first round the Sens will be one and done.

Perhaps I have rose colored glasses on, being that I'm a Senator fan, but I would most definitely love love LOVE for their first round opponent to be the Habs. In a seven-game series, I think Ottawa would hand the Canadiens their ass with ease. The only team in the mix I'd rather they match up against for the opening round is Tampa, and that's just based on how well Ottawa has played the Lightning this season.

Montreal is a team with a lot of moxy, and they're certainly doing well to keep themselves in the playoff picture, but with that defence, that lack of depth at forward as far as scoring, and that goalie with zero playoff games under his belt, I can't see how any rational person would think Montreal would beat them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Insert your own Steve Moore joke here

From TSN

A letter arrived at GM Place on Monday containing a suspicious white powder and investigators say the target was Todd Bertuzzi.

The evidence was turned over to the Vancouver Police Department.

Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing but a hoax.

Ottawa 4 Tampa Bay 3

THE GOOD:

The work of the penalty killers. Ottawa nearly handed the Lightning the game with their abundance of penalties taken, but fortunately for them, the Bolts were unable to capitalize on all the opportunities they were given. And a major part of that was because Ottawa’s PK units were beyond superb. They neutralized the Tampa attack and made it incredibly difficult for the Lightning to gain momentum when up a man. Tampa had a difficult time even getting set up with the man advantage, as more often than not, they’d dump it in, lose a battle along the boards, and have to skate the distance of the ice after an Ottawa skater cleared the puck. Tampa Bay went 1 for 8 on the powerplay, and that one goal came with less than five seconds remaining in the penalty. Great, great work by the penalty killers, who basically saved the game for them. In particular…

Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette. Kelly and Vermette have developed wonderful chemistry and it comes in quite handy when the two are teamed up on the PK. Last night was a perfect example of that. The pair made a number of excellent passes and made it difficult to even tell the Sens had a man in the sin bin. Kelly was the game’s number one star on the TV broadcast, and he deserved it. “Battleship Kelly” had a great game, leading all Senators in shots on goal with five, one of which was a shorthanded breakaway that would’ve sent the game into a whole nother direction had he scored. Kelly also drew another penalty in the third period when he forced Vaclav Prospal to hook him with a 2-on-1 brewong. As for Vermette, I’ve seen some people comment on how #20 deserves to be promoted to one of the top lines with the way he’s played as of late, and while I can understand where they are coming from, I disagree. Vermette and Kelly’s chemistry on the fourth line gives them some real weapons to play with. To mess with that with be foolish. Down the stretch drive, it’s not unlikely that, with either injuries or poor performances, Vermette will get bumped up, but I like the look of them two on the fourth line.

The decision to reunite the Big Line. I get why Bryan Murray broke them up, as he wanted to give Tyler Arnason a player of Alfredsson’s caliber to play alongside when he’s trying to adjust to his new team, but it was painfully clear that this trio needs to be together. Because from almost the minute they were put back, the momentum of the game shifted in the Sens favor. None of the three were having particularly good games up to that point, and yet, once reunited, a fire was lit.

Putting Chris Neil back on the powerplay. Earlier in the season, Neil was on a goal scoring tear. At one point, he had more goals than Sidney Crosby. The majority of these were scored on the powerplay, as Neil was extremely effective standing in front of the net and getting the garbage. However, he stopped producing and was taken off the PP squad. He returned there against the Capitals Sunday afternoon, and collected one goal was being responsible for another with his screening of Olaf Kolzig. On this night, he against was a factor, redirecting a Dany Heatley shot for the goal that tied the game at one. Neil is by no means the most gifted offensive player on the team but he’s more than willing to take the abuse necessary.

Dany Heatley’s massive hit in the third period. One of my criticism’s of Heatley this season, and let’s be honest, when a guy has 37 goals it’s hard to find falts, is that he hasn’t been as physical as I would’ve liked a lot of the time. The comparisons between Heatley and Marian Hossa, however unfair they may be, are inevitable, and when you look at their games, one of the things that separates the two is that Hossa is more of a power forward. That’s a part of his skillset that had developed a lot in the late few seasons, and the reason was Hoss made a concerted effort to add that element to his game. Heatley, despite his good size, lacks that edge. With the playoffs looming, and the intensity expected to reach a heightened level, the Senators will need Heatley to become more physical and take the body more often.

Coming back from a deficit in the third period. While Ottawa is unbeatable if they go into the third with a lead, they've had trouble this season coming back to get the win if they go into that third trailing. They've only put up four wins that way this year. So it was a nice trend to break.

Daniel Alfredsson’s redemption. Nothing erases a bad penalty like a game winning goal.

THE BAD:

Jason Spezza’s play pre-Big Line reuniting. He looked lost out there, coughing up the puck with regularity and then not working hard to get it back (a big pet peeve of mine). Spezza will need to smarten up if he expects to be effective in the playoffs, because this kind of effort, playing on the perimeter and being able to be moved off the puck with ease, will not be acceptable.

Daniel Alfredsson’s penalty. The call itself was marginal to say the least, but nevertheless, a veteran and team captain like Alfie has to keep his composure. The unsportsmanlike conduct infraction he took afterwards, as a result of Alfredsson leaving his stick and one of his gloves on the ice. It was a dumb move.

Carolina and Buffalo continuing to win. It seems as if no matter how many W’s the Sens rack up, they cannot leapfrog the red hot Hurricanes nor can they get some room from the equally sizzling Sabres. I think having Buffalo nipping at their heels will serve as good motivation for Ottawa as the season wraps up, as it doesn’t give them any room to be complacent, but at the same time, I’m worried about them passing us. I know some people maintain that playoff positioning is largely irrelevant, but I’m not one of those people. At least not in this instance. Either the first or second seed in the East will get you an opponent like Montreal, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, or Toronto. A fourth seed, which due to the idiotic rule about division champs getting automatic top three status, would see a matchup with a team like the NY Rangers or Philly. Which would you rather have in the first round? The Sens will have the opportunity to win the division with their three remaining games against the Sabres, but it’d be nice if they can pass Carolina as well.

An Ottawa win helping the Leafs in their playoff quest. I don’t like it one bit, ladies and gentleman.

THE OPPOSITION:

Martin St. Louis said that Monday night’s win over the Habs was the first time in a while he saw the Lightning play like a desperate team. That says a lot about their season, and why they’re in the position they’re in.

They are in danger of missing the playoffs, and as I said Saturday night, I don’t think they will make it. They have the horses, of course, but I don’t believe they can simply turn it on like a lightswitch and expect the results to come with ease.

A big part of that is their goaltending. Though Sean Burke had a great game against Montreal, I’m not convinced what they have between the pipes is good enough to get them a postseason spot. John Grahame had a decent game against the Senators last night, but once again, gave up a soft goal (Andrej Meszaros’s), and that’s the kind of thing that can both deflate the team and make them loss confidence in their netminder.

Tampa needs to play a sort of run-and-gun style for them to be most effective, and for the team to get the most out of their skilled forwards, however, for that to be used, they have to have a goalie for whom they feel confident in. They need to believe he’ll bail them out should they get in a position where they need him, whether it be coming off an unsuccessful odd man rush coming back the other way or a cough up of the puck as a result of one of their forwards trying to make a creative play. Nikolai Khabibulin gave it to them. Can the same be said for either Burke or Grahame?

All of that said, it’s unfair to place the burden solely on the goalies, as up to this point, the guys in front of them haven’t been performing the way they need to be. The defence has not been nearly as solid as it was last season and the forwards have not only not been scoring at the same pace, but they haven’t helped in their own end as much either.

It looked like they turned the corner against the Habs, because the Lightning were doing well for the game’s first two periods. Unfortunately for fans of the team, a different Tampa Bay Lightning squad came out for the third frame. They were overwhelmed by the Ottawa attack and, once the game got tied, looked to be playing for overtime rather than the win, and that’s no way for a team fighting for their playoff lives to be.

UP NEXT:

A familiar foe in the Boston Bruins. Another team on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs. The Bruins have played the Sens tough this year, especially when Ottawa travels to Beantown to play them, and coming off their shootout loss against the Leafs last night, you know they’ll be desperate.

They cannot afford to lose many more games if they have postseason aspirations.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Apparently bloggers are dabbling in crack smoking now too

From the "guru" Tom Benjamin

Really, why do I want to invest time and money in Mezaros? For now, I get better play out of a Baumgartner and I get someone who is cheaper. Two or three years down the road, I hire another Baumgartner. Two or three years down the road Mezaros steps into Ottawa's top four.

Read on if you want more CBA bitching and other nonsense, but do so at your own risk. Braincells may in fact disappear by the end. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Some quick Saturday night hits

- The tribute to "Boom Boom" Geoffrion before tonight's Montreal-New York game was extremely well done and very moving. It managed to be both incredibly sad and wonderfully happy, as they celebrated both his hockey career and life in general. Say what you want about the Montreal Canadiens organization and what it's like to play hockey in that city. The fans are incredibly tough, the media even tougher, and they haven't had much success in the last 10 years. There is still something special about that uniform and all the history it represents. When they bring together all the legends that have played there the way they did here, you really get a grasp of just how magical that franchise has been.

- I always laugh when people try and tell me Aki Berg really isn't THAT bad. The guy is one of the worst regular NHL defencemen in the league, and he proved it tonight. He took a horrible penalty and gave the puck away to Vincent Lecavalier right in front of his own net moments earlier. And I only saw about 15 game minutes. I'm sure he made an ass of himself even more, and I sadly missed it.

- The Tampa Bay Lightning will not make the playoffs. That is all.

- Brendan Witt sure didn't waste any time making an impact as a Predator. I'm sure it wasn't the way some thought, with a big goal, a momentum changing hit, or a monster blocked shot, but regardless, he showed that the Preds have someone who won't be pushed around. He gives them a certain edge, which they will need to defeat more talented teams like the Stars and Wings in the post season. Meanwhile, Scott Parker continues to do what he always does, and that's be a sideshow. But I guess that's the only way he keeps a job in the league.

- Having seen the highlights, I'm disappointed no Senator player went after Brad Larsen for his butt end on Jason Spezza from Friday night's game between Ottawa and the Thrashers. Spezza's hit on Ilya Kovalchuk sure looked clean to me, yet Larsen felt the need to send a message I guess. That's fine, but someone on Ottawa should've sent one right back. Nothing dirty, but something to tell the Thrashers bench that those kind of things will not be tolerated.

- Want proof that sports writers smoke crack? Peter Worthington of the Toronto Sun wrote that the Leafs should try and get Alexander Ovechkin.Gee, ya think? He seems to think Washington would be crazy not to take Mats Sundin, at 35 years old, and "three others" for AO. Only in Toronto.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

R.I.P. Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion 1931-2006


"We lost a very special person today."

Ottawa 3 Atlanta 1

a/k/a That's More Like It

The Ottawa Senators did something last night they haven't done all year long: they beat the Atlanta Thrashers. Now, beating a middle of the pack team shouldn't be that big of a deal for one of the NHL's best teams, but considering the ass whooping the Thrashers laid on the Sens the last time these two teams played in the ATL, the two points is a big achievement.

Ray Emery was said to be the star of the game. He made a number of massive, timely saves. Considering he was the one in nets when the Thrashers shelled the Sens back in December, a game he didn't know he was going to be playing in until 10 minutes before the puck was dropped, Emery has to feel good to get that monkey off his back.

As well, he bounced back from a not-so-great game Wednesday night in the 6-2 loss to the Panthers. While those who saw that game say Emery was not at all the reason why the Sens allowed so many goals, giving up that many tends to hurt a goaltender's confidence. In addition, Emery has proven himself to be horribly streaky. He started the season playing wonderfully yet had an equally significant slump. When playing well, it looked as if Emery was unbeatable, and I even commented that he was looking to be a very suitable replacement for Dominik Hasek next season. However, when he was playing bad, I had zero confidence, and every time the other team took a shot, I held my breathe. So I'm quite glad he rebounded quickly.

As well, Zdeno Chara was said to have a monster game. He took a lot of criticism for his play in Wednesday's loss, but it sounds as if he stepped it up big time. On the radio broadcast, his name was being called with regularity, in a good way.

This was also the first time we got to see Tyler Arnason and Mike Morrison in Ottawa uniforms. Arnason centered a line between Bryan Smolinski and Daniel Alfredsson, with the rationale from the coaching staff being that they wanted "Arnie" to start his career as a Senator on the right foot, and so matching him up with their most consistent player made sense. Smolinski will likely stay put beside him, and once Martin Havlat returns, he'll play the right side. By all accounts, Arnason had a strong game. Nothing spectacular, but those who saw the game said he was skating well, made a number of excellent passes, and was +2 with an assist on Smolinski's goal. Arnason didn't play a lot (only 10:16, the second least of all Sens skaters), and a big reason was because he got less than a minute of time on the PP. I think it's wise to aclimitize him slowly, as he's going from pretty opposite ends of the spectrum as far as the quality of his team and their attitude towards winning.

Meanwhile, Morrison was said to look very good on the bench. His hair stayed in place all game long, his small talk to teammates on the bench was apparently quite on point and informative, and his high fives after goals were flawless.

On the downside, the jerks in Atlanta continued to boo Dany Heatley. I still think they're classless, and I'm sure they still think they're in the right. No amount of a rational argument from my end will change their perspective, and truth be told, nothing they could say to me about why they do it would make me think they're any less retarded.

Some might say, well, at least a city that is notoriously unknowledgeable about hockey and has historically not supportted the team is showing some emotion about the game. Unfortunately, that argument holds little weight with me, as they couldn't even sell out the building. Even with Heatley coming back again, the Thrashers having beaten the Sens earlier in the year, and Atlanta fighting for their playoff lives, they were still nearly 4,000 short of a full house, and that's the announced attendance. Below the Mason-Dixon, it's not uncommon for them to add a few thousand here and there.

It's a shame the Thrashers fans are such bafoons, because otherwise, I'm a fan of the team. I still root for Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk may be the single most exciting player in the league (a case could be made for Alexander Ovechkin), Kari Lehtonen is an excellent young goalie, and Marc Savard's a guy I've liked since he was killing the 67's as an Oshawa General.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Why bother?

In the days leading up to today’s trade deadline, John Muckler repeatedly said he would not make a move for the sake of doing one. Yet here I sit, Thursday night, feeling as if that was absolutely what happened.

The needs of the Ottawa Senators were pretty clear. They needed a top six forward who could take some of the offensive burden off the Big Line. Ideally, a seasoned veteran who has a positive playoff track record.

Instead of that, the team acquired a talented but apparently erratic center who, despite his six years in the league, has even less post season NHL experience than Jason Spezza. In the process, they gave up a promising young player who, though clearly flawed in some areas, still deserved more of a look than he got.

Is Arnason enough of an upgrade over what they had to warrant a trade? Especially to bring in a guy who has a history of being both trouble off the ice and a large headache to his coach. I’m not convinced.

He’s got average size, isn’t strong in his own end, and is not a good faceoff man, a pressing need on this club. On the plus size, he’s a good playmaker and can skate, and if matched up with Martin Havlat, would provide some spark.

The potential for this to work out extremely well is there. If he comes to Ottawa motivated, with something to prove, he could finally live up to the expectations the Blackhawks had of him for many years. However, it’s not the sure thing some of the other options were, and they had to give up a significant piece to get him.

I suppose it's a good thing, but forgive me if I'm not thrilled.

Tyler Arnason on the way

The Senators have traded for 27-year-old Tyler Arnason from Chicago for Brandon Bochenski. I'll have more thoughts later, but as of right now, I'm underwhelmed.

Trade thoughts Part 2

Minnesota traded Willie Mitchell and a 2nd round draft pick to Dallas for Martin Skoula and Shawn Belle

Dallas was one of the teams who was very quiet all day, as their name was hardly ever even brought up in rumors, but they managed to make a pretty good sized splash with this deal. Mitchell was one of the most sought after defencemen on the market, with a lot of teams apparently seeking his services. He's a big upgrade over Skoula, who was their fifth defenceman. Skoula's a useful player, but doesn't bring to the table what Mitchell does as far as toughness and playoff performance. It's worth noting that while Skoula and Mitchell will be a UFA at the end of the year, Skoula is signed. If Dallas doesn't make a long run, they'll regret giving up Bell for what is probably a rental player. He's considered one of their best defenceman prospects, but to get a guy of Mitchell's calibre, I suppose that's what they had to give up.

The edge: Slight to Dallas

Boston traded Sergei Samsonov to Edmonton for Marty Reasoner

A monster deal by Kevin Lowe that just might put the Oilers over the top as far as the Western Conference contenders. It's almost certainly a rental deal with Samsonov being a UFA in four months, and though I'm sure Lowe would love to bring him back, the price tag will be significant. Samsonov gives the Oilers a tremendous offensive presence, and if matched up on a line with, say, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky, could be ridiculously dangerous. Giving up Reasoner hurts though. He's been a great role player for them, anchoring their checking lines and playing a key role on their PK, but one could make the case that considering he has the worst +/- on the club, it's not a major subtraction. When acquired by Edmonton in the Doug Weight trade of 2001, there were high hopes, as he was drafted by the Blues 14th overall in 1996, but offensively, he's never lived up to the expectations. Maybe a move to Boston, where he played his college hockey, will be good for him.

The edge: Edmonton

Washington traded Brendan Witt to Nashville for a 1st round draft pick and Kris Beech.

This is a deal that has been rumored for over a month now, and off all the trades, is the one that is the least surprising. Witt's wanted out of D.C. for since the beginning of the season, and the fact it took this long doesn't look good on George McPhee. The Preds did have to give up a lot, however. A 1st rounder, even a late round one, is a valuable commodity, and when you throw in Beech, who despite the fact he's bounced from organization to organization is a highly thought of young player, it's not a big loss for the Caps, and perhaps, makes the delay by McPhee worthwhile. Witt brings grit and determenation to Nashville, who now have a good mix of offensive defencemen (Kimmo Timmonen and Marek Zidlicky), bruising blueliners with an edge (Witt and Danny Markov) and promising young rearguards (Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, and Dan Hamhuis). It seems win-win to me.

The edge: Even

Pittsburgh traded Mark Recchi to Carolina for Niklas Nordgren, Krystofer Kolanos and a 2nd round draft pick.


As a Senators fan, I was green with envy when this was announced. Recchi brings a lot of experience to a squad that has been criticized for lacking it. Between Recchi and Doug Weight, they get 179 playoff games of experience, and that’s huge, I contend. I suspect, however, that had Erik Cole not gone down, Jim Rutherford would not have made this move, but his hand was sort of forced with that injury. Recchi will give them tremendous second line depth. As of the time of this post, the details as far as what he’ll do with his contract are not known. It was suspected over the last couple of days that Recchi would only waive his no trade clause if it was stipulated that the option on his contract would not be picked up for next year, allowing him to return to Pittsburgh next season, where he, for some reason that I can’t understand, is happy playing. Pittsburgh did not get much in return. Kolanos could’ve been had off waivers, Nordgren is not considered a top prospect, and that 2nd round pick will likely be in the high 50s as far as overall. It makes you wonder if Recchi stipulated that he would only go to Carolina, because you have to think they could’ve gotten more from someone else. An excellent move by the ‘Canes.

The edge: Carolina

Anaheim traded Keith Carney to Vancouver for 3rd round draft pick.

A tremendous move for Dave Nonis and his team. Keith Carney is a proven playoff performer, having been the Ducks best blueliner during their run to the 2003 finals. He’s not flashy, he won’t show up on many highlight packages, but he gets the job done. Can log major minutes and is very effective in one-on-one situations, shutting down top players on the opposing team. Adding Carney also moves Bryan Allen and Nolan Baumgartner down the depth chart, and that’s a good thing. Both have had strong seasons, and there is no reason to think they will be ineffective in the playoffs, but they are unproven commodities in the postseason. Combined, they’ve only played in 10 playoff games, while Carney has 80 to his name. The price, a 1st round pick, might seem steep, but as was the case with Kevin Lowe giving up identical compensation for Dwayne Roloson yesterday, the ‘Nucks were not negotiating from a position of power. Their dire need for help on the blueline was one of the worst kept secrets in the NHL. For the Ducks, they get something for a guy who might not have come back anyway.

The edge: Canucks

Buffalo traded Mika Noronen to Vancouver for a 2nd round draft pick

I doubt Noronen was the guy who they wanted most, as I’m sure the Canucks brass had their eyes on Curtis Joseph and Roloson ahead of the Finn, but you take what you can get. They needed goaltending help, if for no other reason than the fact that Alex Auld cannot be expected to keep playing as many games as he has been down the stretch if they don’t want him to be completely out of gas by the first round. The Canucks aren’t out of the woods as far as guaranteeing a playoff spot, but odds are, they’ll be in the dance. Noronen gives them a guy who can step in and play some games. If he plays very well, perhaps he even gives them a bit of a goaltender controversy and makes Marc Crawford’s job difficult as far as choosing who to go with. It might be a bit worrisome that Noronen has played so little this season, but at the same time, if I was a fan of the team, I’d be excited by the fact that he sounds like he wants to prove himself. He was interviewed about an hour or so after the trade by TSN and he was not shy about his unhappiness in Buffalo. That little bit of a chip on his shoulder might just be what the Canucks need from a ‘tender. On Buffalo’s end, I question the wisdom of trading Noronen over Biron, but that’s something I’ll probably touch on to a larger extent at a later time. A 2nd rounder for someone who wasn’t even in their line-up isn’t a bad shake.

The edge: Canucks, because they had a need

Anaheim traded Sandis Ozolinsh to NY Rangers for a 3rd round draft pick.

Burke has obviously reshaped his blueline, and unloads a big contract here. Ozolinsh is signed through next season, at a pretty hefty $2.7 million. For a guy who’s play has been inconsistent, as well as the reality that he’s coming out of the league’s substance abuse program, it’s a risk on Glen Sather’s behalf, but a risk I like. Ozolinsh has a wealth of playoff experience, having gone to the finals twice, and won the Cup once. The Rangers blueline is underrated, but they do have some key guys back there in Fedor Tyutin and Michal Rozsival who don’t have a single NHL playoff game under their belt. That can sometimes be an overstated fact, as rookies enthusiasm in the playoffs is often a good thing, but it doesn’t hurt to surround them with guys who have been there before. Ozolinsh is also only 33, so he’s not as old as we might think considering how long he’s been an impact player in the league.

The edge: Rangers

Washington traded Jeff Friesen to Anaheim for a 2nd round pick.

Friesen was brought into D.C. with the hopes that he’d take some of the offensive burden off of rookie Alexander Ovechkin. As it turns out, the freshman Russian didn’t need it, and that’s a good thing, because Friesen, who everyone in this city hates with a passion, has been a catastrophic disappointment, collecting only 7 points in 33 games. The hope on Brian Burke’s end, I suppose, is that a chance of environment, and specifically, a move to a team that is competitive and is actually fighting for something, will re-energize Friesen. There might be something to that, as Washington was out of it almost from the first game, and Friesen was coming from an organization in New Jersey who were among the most competitive teams consistently in the NHL. Having said all that, a 2nd round pick seems like a lot to give up for an underachiever who doesn’t have a contract for next season. The Caps filled Friesen’s roster spot by picking up Rico Fata off waivers, and not only will he be considerably cheaper, but he’ll probably be an even better producer.

The edge: Washington

NY Islanders traded Brad Lukovich to New Jersey for a 3rd round pick.

Lukovich is a grizzled veteran who will bring a lot of depth to a New Jersey team that’s had some question marks on their blueline this season with some of their signings having been busts. Lukowich was, quietly, one of the Lightning’s better defencemen during their Cup run. He didn’t log as many minutes as some of their other rearguards, but he was most definitely an impact player. In that fifth or sixth defencemen spot, which is, I assume, where he’ll be slotted in the swamp, he can excel. And once again, the Isles get something for a guy who was not going to be back.

The edge: New Jersey

Phoenix traded Denis Gauthier to Philadelphia for two 2nd round picks.

A couple of 2nd rounders might seem like another example of a team overpaying, but it’s important to remember that the Flyers have four 2nd round picks in the draft, and so could afford to move a few of them without hurting their future. The whole reason you stockpile picks is to use them in trades. The Flyers were in need of a defenceman, and Gauthier fills a void. With Derian Hatcher having gone down last night and Kim Johnsson’s concussion problems still being considered, a veteran blueliner like Gauthier helps a lot. It’s been said by others, but it bares repeating: he’s the type of player the fans in Philly will eat up. He works his ass off and hits like a mack truck. Sometimes, that enthusiasm for hitting hurts him (both literally and figuratively), but they have some solid defensive defencemen who can cover his ass in those instances. He probably wasn’t going back to Phoenix, having turned down a three year, $4.5 million contract offer, so Mike Barnett getting two picks is a great move.

The edge: Slight to Philadelphia, but pretty even.

Phoenix traded Sean O’Donnell to Anaheim for future considerations.

Unlike all of the other depth defenceman moved today, O’Donnell actually has a contract for next season, so it’s not a rental situation. However, I’m sure economics did play a factor. O’Donnell will make $1.7 million next season, and with the season he’s had in Phoenix (where he’s been a healthy scratch on a few occasions and has seemed to occupy the doghouse of Gretz all year), that’s too much to pay. Phoenix, having just signed Derek Morris to a new three-year deal yesterday, seem to be putting their money on their duo of young defencemen, Keith Balalrd and Zbynek Michalek, as well as Paul Mara, so O’Donnell was expendable. From Anaheim’s end, O’Donnell fills the hole that Carney left. Whether or not he will be able to fill those shoes remains to be seen, but they’re similar players in a lot of ways. If you say that Carney for O’Donnell is a wash, then getting a draft pick for Carney tips the scales in Burke’s favor.

The edge: Even.

Chicago traded Todd Simpson to Montreal for a 6th round draft pick.

Simpson is someone who we in Ottawa know sort of well, because he was brought here for much of the same reasons I assume the Habs acquired him. The Canadiens’ defence is not shabby, but they lacked a physical veteran (Mike Komisarek can hit, but he’s still very green), so what they got was a solution. Perhaps not as significant a solution as they would’ve liked, as I doubt Simpson will be anything more than a fifth or sixth rearguard, but alas, that dimension now exists on their team, and it’s not as if they had to give up a lot.

The edge: Montreal.

New Jersey traded Sean Brown to Vancouver for a 4th round pick.

Having acquired Ken Klee last night, and with the trade for Lukowich on the way, I guess the Devils saw Brown as expendable. He’s been a healthy scratch often this year, and in Vancouver, I have to think he’ll be strictly a depth guy. A seventh blueliner who will step in and play when called upon. Whether he’s any better than what they had is the question to me.

The edge: New Jersey

Trade thoughts Part 1

I’m man enough to admit I was wrong.

I didn’t think this year’s edition of the NHL trade deadline day would have many fireworks. Though we’re only 90 minutes into March 9th, Wednesday saw a handful of significant deals go down.

Montreal traded Jose Theodore to Colorado for David Aebischer.

You have to hand to Pierre Lacroix. He continues to show he’s one of the ballsiest GMs in the NHL. Whether or not it works out for him remains to be seen, and largely depends on what Theodore arrives in Colorado: the goaltender who took a team on his back and won a Hart Trophy or the netminder who’s struggled with consistency all season. However, the rewards far outweigh the risks as far as I can tell. If it works out, Lacroix looks like a genius, acquiring a top goaltender for very little. If it doesn’t, he can say, “well, it wasn’t as if Aebischer was all that special”. On Montreal’s end, they unload a big contract and get a goalie who is able to shoulder some of the workload. Christobol Huet looked incredibly tired Tuesday night versus the Leafs. If they didn’t get him some help, the Habs would’ve fallen out of a playoff position.

The edge: At this point, I’m inclined to say Colorado.

Minnesota traded Dwayne Roloson to Edmonton for a 1st round draft pick

Edmonton needed a goalie. This much has been known for a while, and Kevin Lowe has said as much. As a result, their bargaining power had to be severely diminished because they weren’t working from a position of power. This deals show that. I like Roloson as a goaltender, and he’s absolutely an upgrade over what they had, but a first round pick, even in a mediocre draft year, is a steep price to pay for someone who likely won’t be with the team past this season. Not only will Roloson have to perform tremendously for this trade to go in the Oilers favor, but they’ll also need to make a playoff run, and I don’t see that happening.

The edge: Slight to Minnesota.

NY Islanders traded Brent Sopel and Mark Parrish to Los Angeles for Denis Grebeshkov and Jeff Tambellini.

A deal that makes sense for both teams. The Kings, who are still fighting for positioning, get two players who can step in and make a big impact. Parrish is an excellent secondary scoring weapon, having collected at least 20 goals in all but one of his seven NHL seasons. He’s going to be a UFA at the end of the year, and he made it clear he wasn’t happy on the Island and was going to explore the open market. So getting something for him was a good thing. Sopel is a guy who I’m a big fan of, yet for whatever reason, he did not work out in New York this year. After excelling in Vancouver and being traded in a salary dump (a move that was criticized greatly by ‘Nucks fans), he’s never been able to find his role with the Isles. A change of scenary will do him well, I think. He goes back to a conference he knows well, and will help turn their pathetic powerplay around. To get guys like this, the Kings had to give up two pretty good prospects. Tambellini and Grebeshkov were the team’s 1st round picks in 2002 and 2003, and each were expected to be a big part of their future. Tambellini in particular. He’s having a hell of a first year as a pro, averaging a point a game in the AHL this season. The Kings are thought to have one of the better crop of young prospects in the league so while the losses will hurt, they won’t be crippling. For once, Mike Milbury didn’t get hosed.

The edge: Even. Short term, the Kings. Long term, the Islanders.

Columbus traded Luke Richardson to Toronto for a 5th round draft pick.

A perplexing deal to say the least. Richardson, who at 37 is pretty long in the tooth, has struggled all season long in Columbus, having been a healthy scratch on a number of occasions. He was on Ottawa radio Wednesday afternoon, before the deal was announced, and expressed that if he was going to be moved, he’d like it to be to a team that’s contending and where he will play and not sit in the box (thus squashing the rumor that he’d be coming to Ottawa). One of those things is true with the Leafs. He will get playing time. But the Leafs are hardly any kind of contender, and even if they do squeak into the playoffs, it’s highly unlikely they’ll make any kind of run. A 5th round pick isn’t much, but still seems to be too much. For the Jackets, it was a no-brainer, unloading a salary. This might’ve been the best move Doug MacLean has made since getting the job.

The edge: Columbus.

Toronto traded Ken Klee to New Jersey for Aleksander Suglobov

Good move by the Leafs, and frankly, it looks like a steal. Klee, despite what David Johnson will tell you, isn’t all that, and has been a weak link on their blueline all season long, I think. His game has fallen off horribly this year, and he no longer looks like a top four d-man. Getting a highly thought of prospect for a guy who’s struggled and will be a UFA at the end of the season is a miracle. Suglobov is only 24, has good size, and is leading the Devil’s AHL affiliate in Albany in both goals and assists with 48 points (25 goals and 23 assists) in 51 games.

The edge: Toronto.

The way the NHL seems to work, deals like this tend to create a domino effect, as other GMs, having seen their contemporaries make moves, feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses. So Thursday might not be such a bore after all. Through the day I’ll probably update the blog with my thoughts, though if you’re looking for breaking news, the latest rumors, and what now, this isn’t the place to come to.

Florida 6 Ottawa 2

I didn’t see last night’s game against the Florida Panthers, and based on the accounts from those who did, that was probably a good thing.

After riding high with four straight wins coming out of the Olympic Break, the Sens gave an apparently abysmal effort against the Cats, and as a result, got thumped.

However, I don’t think you had to see the game to know why they lost. All one has to do is look at the game stats. Zdeno Chara was –4. Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Chris Phillips were –3. Dany Heatley was –2. When that many of a team’s best players don’t have good games, it’s a good bet they’ll be on the losing end.

Ray Emery gave up six goals, but the consensus seems to be that he didn’t have all that bad a game and that most of the goals were not his fault. It was just that the team in front of him played like shit. Let’s just hope the drubbing he got doesn’t shatter his confidence. Emery appears to me to be an incredibly shaky goaltender. When he’s playing well, he’s riding high and is difficult to beat, but when he’s not, he’s incredibly fragile.

The game wasn’t on local TV, which is something we should get used to. Five of the team’s next 10 games aren’t available in Ottawa without the CentreIce package.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A whole lot of nothing

As of the time of this post, we're about 37 hours away from the NHL trade deadline.

Are you excited? I'm not.

I don't mean to come off as a Debbie Downer, because I'd love to be on board with those who stay awake at nights with visions of deals dancing in their head, but I feel as though we're

Here in Ottawa, I suspect things will go especially slow, but that hasn't stopped people from talking.

The Olli Jokinen rumor is still out there, and probably will be until 3PM Thursday afternoon. I have to wonder, though, how much of it is based in reality and how much of those rumors are just a combination of wishful thinking from Sens fans and assumption from the supposed "insiders" who, after Ottawa failed to land Doug Weight, put two and two together and concluded Jokinen was the next best thing for the Senators.

I'm all for Jokinen coming to Ottawa. It improves the team and fills one of the only holes the team has. It makes the highest scoring team in the NHL even more dangerous offensively. If he can be had for a cheap price,go for it. I just don't think that's the case.

If you are inclined to believe reports, the lack of trades both up to now and what's expected on Thurday, comes down to a divide between what the sellers want and what the buyers are prepared to give. If St. Louis wanted what they did for Weight from Ottawa (Anton Volchenkov and Antoine Vermette), what will Mike Keenan want? After all, Jokinen is a better player than Weight, the Panthers aren't as out of the race as the Blues were, and the Sens would not have to be taking on as much salary as they would've if they got Weight.

There are other names being floated around, and few of them make any sense to me.

Dallas Drake, Matthew Barnaby, or any other third line player? What's the point. The holes on this team are not going to be filled by role players. If they're going to bring someone in, it should be a top six forward who can contribute on the scoresheet, because that's the need. Ottawa's first line is set, and their third line of Peter Schaefer-Mike Fisher-Chris Neil has emerged as one of the best in the league, with all three having career seasons.

Their fourth combo, which would probably be Chris Kelly-Antoine Vermette and either Vaclav Varada or Brian McGratton, depending on what they need. Kelly has become an important role player, and Vermette, often used as trade bait by fans when playing GM online, has turned the corner with his consistency since the Christmas break.

Once Martin Havlat comes back (and by the way, are we making a big mistake in assuming a guy who's been out for four months will be able to make an impact from jump?), the second line would be something like Patrick Eaves-Bryan Smolinski-Havlat. This is where the hole is. Would Barnaby or Drake (who has 2 goals this season) be enough of an upgrade that it's worth doing?

Mark Recchi is the only name thrown out that I can see the logic of, but when he talks about how he won't agree to any deal that doesn't benefit the Penguins, you have to wonder where his heart is. Is he content playing for the worst team in the league? You'd think a guy his age would be desperate to be competitive, yet the opposite seems to be true.

Mike Comrie? When has his ever shown he can be counted on for anything other than inconsistency? The talent is there, no question, but the other intangibles won't do it for me.

Shane Doan? Wayne Gretzky loves the kid, he's the face of the franchise, and has turned his play around as of late. To get him out of the desert, Ottawa would have to send a lot back the other way, and I don't see them changing the makeup of the team that significantly.

Todd Bertuzzi? Really? This would be so nonsensical I have a hard time even believing Muckler has considered it, but if you take Bruce Garrioch for his word (and yeah, I know, that's a dangerous thing to do, but let's go nuts), Muckler has had extensive talks with Dave Nonis. Why?

For one, in Bertuzzi, you're taking on a player who just isn't what he used to be. He's living off his reputation. He shit the bed in the Olympics and has not, consistently, been a top player at all this season. Before you chalk it up to simply the Steve Moore aftermath, remember Bertuzzi only had 17 goals that season, before he assaulted Moore.

You also have to wonder what bringing in Bertuzzi would do the locker room. Muckler has talked about how the team has a pecking order, and how it's important to keep that in mind when making any trade. So why bring this mess to Ottawa?

Bertuzzi will make $5 million next season. Ottawa is a team that will have their hands full this offseason, trying to re-sign UFAs Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara as well as getting restricted free agents Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza under their own self imposed cap (spend some fucking money, please Eugene?) It doesn't make a lick of sense to bring in a contract of that size when you have those things to work out.

The aforementioned pecking order has to see Daniel Alfredsson at the top of the food chain. He'll make just under $5 million next season. Muckler has repeatedly said no player will be paid more than the captain, thus spawning the "Alfie Cap". In all likelihood, to bring Chara back, they'll probably give him a little more than that. I don't think that would upset the dynamics of the locker room too much, because he's been in the fold for four years now and most players on the team respect the hell out of the guy.

Can the same be said for Bertuzzi? He'd be an outsider.

I doubt the rumor has much truth to it, and is more than likely another case of a hack scribe with too much free time on his hands making things up to sell papers during the time when, in the past, bums like him have made their living.

The goaltending issue remains with some. For me, Ray Emery has redeemed himself tremendously with his play since the Olympic break. He was asked to step his game up and show and prove, and he's done just that. The first game back against Pittsburgh was not a strong outing, but the three games afterwards have seen Emery excel. He came to play Saturday night against the Leafs, and looked more like the guy who had me thinking he's the teams next franchise goalie at the start of the season.

Does this mean I still wouldn't be fine if Muckler brought in a Dwayne Roloson for insurance? No. If he can be had for a cheap price, then I'd pull the trigger, but it's no longer the necessity it was a week ago.

I suspect come Thursday night, the roster of the Ottawa Senators will look a lot like it did 24 hours prior, which will disappoint some, I know. But let's keep things in perspective. Even without Olli Jokinen, Todd Bertuzzi, Shane Doan, or Mark Recchi, this is one of the best teams in the league, and unless one of the top teams makes a blockbuster deal, I'd still put my money on this squad to take home a the Cup over any other club.

I suspect Thursday will be a long, slow day. I pity the sports network talking heads who have to get on the air at 8 in the morning. Maybe they can do a two-hour debate on whether Brokeback Mountain was robbed or talk about the merits of Crash to kill time.

Before I close, I need to apologize for the lack of updates over the last four or five days. I've had an illness in the family that has taken up a significant amount of my time.

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