Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sens Open the Season Right

Before today's game began, the Ottawa Senators took some time to celebrate how far they had come in their past 14 seasons. Ten straight playoff appearances, capped by last year's run up to the Stanley Cup Final. At Scotiabank Place, proudly they raised the Sens' first Eastern Conference banner. If you talk to many of the New Jersey Devils, they'll tell you that it was unbelievable that it didn't come a few years back, when they narrowly knocked us off in game seven of the third round, easily going on to win the Cup.

Now the Sens look primed to take it all the way this season. While not looking like the team that mastered Crosby, Brodeur, and the stacked Sabres in the last playoffs, the Sens have now pulled out two straight wins against the Leafs. Wednesday night in Toronto there was plenty of drama, with Redden getting into two fights, and the Sens trailing in the third. After signing his new deal, Heatley proved Murray's wisdom by scoring the tying goal late in the third, and blitzing in another goal to seal a 4-3 come from behind victory.

In tonight's game, there were a few more scuffles, although Redden didn't wind up in another pair of fights like at the ACC. There was far more nail-biting moments in goal. Steen had a goal waved off when review showed that Blake tore in on Gerber, and in the goal-cam, you can clearly see that the body he layed on Gerber altered the key butterfly stop, lifting up his right leg completely, and providing a perfect view of Steen poking in the puck under it. Later on, review during a commercial break showed that what looked like an amazing pad save by Toskala on Heatley's powerplay shot in fact only kicked the puck out after clearly and fully crossing into the net, finally stopping the Sens' powerplay drought. It was a penalty filled night, with Toronto racking up 26 PIM and Ottawa 20.

While not a flawless game, Ottawa did a great job of stopping many Toronto entries into their zone, quickly clearing the puck out. They were also flawless on the PK, which would have otherwise been their downfall. While the Sens took their victories, fitting of their Eastern Conference banner from last season, they were not entirely cruel to the Leafs. Toronto was allowed to move on with a single point from Wednesday's OT loss, and as a gift to Sundin, he was able to score his 389th goal as a Leaf, tying him for first for career goals by a Leaf player. My favourite moments of the game often involved watching Toskala drift out of the net, only to make it back just in time for some great saves. I believe Toronto fans might borrow from Detroit fans in cheering "STAY IN THE F#%$ING NET!!!" at Tosky.

Tonight's victory was also fitting, in that Ottawa's top paid talent all racked up a pair of points: Alfie scored two goals, including the game-winner, Heatley scored a goal and an assist, and both Spezza and Redden tallied a pair of assists, with Eaves adding the final assist. Maybe there is hope for Redden after all, although his fights from Wednesday and his penalties from tonight, including one for unsportsmanlike conduct, leave a bit more to be desired. Hopefully the hard work from tonight leads to a great game Saturday against the Rangers, who crushed Florida tonight, 5-2, and hopefully there will be fewer giveaways as well.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sens Lock Up Heatley

The Sens announced the re-signing of Dany Heatley today, ensuring that the Heater will keep the scoreboard scorching for many seasons to come. With the unofficial deadline of signing before the new season starts, tonight against the Leafs, Heatley and the Sens closed the deal, signing a new 6-year extension. The cap average is be 7.5 million, putting Heatley in line with the Flames' Iginla and the Sharks' Thornton, who signed for 7 and 7.2 million extensions, over five and three years, respectively, and in the form of a 10-8-8-8-6-5 million front loaded contract, similar to that of Philadelphia's Daniel Briere.

The new deal now puts Heatley in place as the Senator signed for the longest, one year past recently re-signed Mike Fisher, keeping him in the capital until the end of the 2013-14 season. Heatley has produced a whopping 100 goals and 108 assists for 208 points, while playing in each of the past two season's 164 games. Heater's also tallied 10-24--34, playing in all 30 playoff games over the past two seasons.

The new contract leaves roughly 15 million dollars worth of space under next year's cap, with 11 out of 21 players under contract for that season. While it has been disputed whether Heatley or Spezza should be re-signed first, I agree with the decision made by Muckler and Melnyk to lock up Heater.

To compare, Heatley's totals have increased over his two years with the team, he's played in all 164 games, he's been given penalty kill responsibilities, and before being paired with Spezza he scored 80 goals and 180 points in 190 games over three seasons with the Thrashers. Spezza's totals have dipped over his two years with Heater, he's averaged only 67.5 games over those years, he's not able to be used in any situation with much success outside of offense, and before Heatley, he only scored 29 goals and 76 points in 111 games over two seasons with the Sens. Heatley has more than proved himself to be a champion and thrive in any situation, and rightfully he is the one that has been signed first.

With only 15 million (plus any cap increase) to spend, Spezza may very well leave the nation's capital. But at least if he does, unlike with Heatley, we will likely get fine RFA compensation in return. Hopefully though, we can drop some extra goaltending salary, gain some more cap room, and lock down the last piece of our top line.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Sens Finalize their Roster

Murray put away the knife today after making the final trims to this lovely cut Senators roster, and we're now set to begin. In sending down Brian Lee, Lawrence Nycholat, Ilja Zubov and Alexander Nikulin, and keeping Luke Richardson and Nick Foligno, Murray sends a strong message about what he wants out of this year's team. Despite the youthful exuberance of those sent to Bingo, and some very impressive work during the preseason, Murray has gone with experience and grit in his decisions. Richardson signed to help his hometown team win the cup, and won't be around much longer to wait for another season, and Foligno proved the brightest forward, meshing with different lines, providing a scoring touch, and most importantly a hard nosed game.

With McAmmond out nursing his concussion back to health, and Emery getting his wrist and game back into gear, expect that Brian Elliott will serve very well as Gerber's backup, and that Richardson, McGrattan and Foligno will be iced on different nights, with Schubert moving forward and back to fill in the missing spot on our tight roster.

With cap space sitting at a tight 3.8 million, the boys needed to be sent down to preserve every cent for the time when we might be able to trade away a bit more salary in order to sign a top-flight forward to give us two powerful scoring lines (if Gerber is moved, as expected, that's over 7 million with which to barter). With any luck and compassion from fate, Dean will heal quickly, and the Sens will shoot out of the gate this season as one of, if not the top contender for the cup. We're all hungry for it, and ready to go.