Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Ottawa Sun Day

All today's news comes from the Ottawa Sun, with still a little more Mez, and on the hopes for the new Ottawa Senators roster.

It turns out Meszaros did not want to go to Russia. Since both leagues were offering $4 million deals, only the taxes would be the difference, and that's not much money, not enough to make one want to leave the spotlight of the NHL to go amuse some oil barons in mother Russia.

Not only that, but Meszaros' goal was to stick with the Sens. They were the team that drafted and developed him, and sticking around was his main goal. However, considering he was offered a $3.5 million deal with the Sens and turned it down for $4 million a season with the Bolts, and yet roughly the same difference might've been given up by not playing in Russia, it seems a strange, penny-pinching move, and not one that endears us to Meszaros any further. Garrioch also mentions that Schubert and Meszaros have been good friends; we can only hope that this will not negatively affect his play this season.

Indeed, there were goals with all the roster moves this season. Hartsburg, as well as many of the new additions and the return of other players, it has all been to build a team with a sense of responsibility, and that isn't afraid to work hard for their goals. Melnyk believes the Sens will be right back in the thick of things, and people still forget that we have the best line in the league, three of the best defensemen in the league, and while our two goalies aren't superstars, they are both levelheaded, hardworking, and dedicated guys that have a chance to flourish. I can say with honesty that I am indeed looking forward to this season.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday, Meszaros' Last Day in Sens News - Updated

Today, both the Ottawa Sun and the Ottawa Citizen find themselves pondering just which team made off like bandits in the trade that sent Andrej Meszaros to the Tampa Bay Lightning, while giving Filip Kuba, Alex Picard, and San Jose's 1st rounder in 2009 to the Ottawa Senators.

Murray is confident in the abilities of both new defensemen. Kuba is reportedly a tad inconsistent, but can provide solid work at both ends of the ice. While a -8 last year would not impress anyone, the fact that it came on the League's worst team, the team tied with Atlanta for most goals against at 266, while arguably being in their top 3 defensemen behind Ranger (ironically picked with a pick traded to Tampa from the Sens) and Boyle, who was out for a long stretch this season due to a sliced wrist I believe, the -8 should improve drastically, especially if Hartsburg returns to the solid mixed pairings of defensive defensemen with a puck-mover.

Alexander Picard has also shown some flashes of great potential in his short tenure in the NHL. While not yet producing points at Meszaros' pace, he supposedly does not have Meszaros' problem with physical play, which should make many Sens fans breathe a sigh of relief. Murray also mentioned that whether he has two 1st rounders in a deep draft, or can package them up to get into a high 1st rounder overall, he is content with the trade. Word is that Picard was not originally a part of the deal, but that Murray's experience over Barrie and Koules led to him being able to add in the solid prospect.

I still have to say that I think Meszaros had the potential to be better than Redden ever was, maybe even showing the all-around skill of Chara. But, like so many previous Sens players, he let dollar signs and a lack of effort define his play. While his new 6-year, $24 million contract will see him set up to sign what he hopes to be a peak-age mega deal, I am convinced that he would have been much better off in his development with the Sens. Regardless of that, with guys like St. Louis, Lecavalier, Stamkos, and Malone to feed pucks to on the powerplay, his numbers aren't likely to fall, just his defensive stock.

Lastly, I want to make an empassioned plea to Craig Hartsburg: please mix our defensemen properly! Is it any wonder why we lacked secondary scoring when you pair Redden with Meszaros and Corvo is gone? One of three pairings can get the puck up the ice, while also being the pairing most likely to let it come right back the other way. That leaves two, if not three full lines who don't have anyone on the back end to move the puck up the ice well enough to mount any kind of decent attack.

As the Ducks proved so well to us when they won the Cup over us, you spread the wealth around. Niedermayer, Pronger, and Beauchemin all played on different pairings, to spread around the skill. Only on penalty kills and powerplays would you see them together, or against the Sens you might see them paired against our top line. It is time for the Sens to realize this, and force us to never see Volchenkov and Phillips together, except while killing penalties or while up against a dangerously offensively imbalanced team. Same goes for Kuba, who should never see time with Lee or Picard or Nycholat or Schubert, except on a powerplay.

Update - 14:00EST

TSN reports that Meszaros has signed a six-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning, as expected. If it is indeed the deal with a cap hit of $4 million, I wouldn't have had too much trouble giving Meszaros that money, if he could prove himself after another year with the Sens. But, like many Sens before him, money seems to be his number one priority, and I appreciate Murray's comments earlier, where he said he couldn't see paying Meszaros more money than all our other, solid dependable blueliners.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Andrej Meszaros Traded to Tampa Bay Lightning

The Ottawa Senators have traded Andrej Meszaros to the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Philip Kuba, Alex Picard, and a 1st round pick (San Jose's), via TSN.

Filip Kuba is a 32 year old puck-moving defenseman. At 6'5 and 225lbs, as well as going 6-25--31 for .413P/G, 15-22--37 for .457P/G, and 6-19--25 for .385 P/G, in this season and the two previous ones respectively, he should help replace the offense Meszaros contributed, only he is a decade older.

Alexander Picard is a 6'2, 220lbs defenseman from the Gatineau. At 23 years old, he is still developing, at a slower pace than Meszaros granted, but in 06-07 he went 62GP, 3-19--22 for .355P/G, and last season he was 24GP, 3-3--6 for .250 P/G. More hometown talent, and hopefully he can mature under the tutelage of our more experienced defensemen.

It remains to be seen how valuable the 1st round pick will be. Maybe San Jose will falter a bit, but I wouldn't expect their new coach to be able to bungle up their talent as much as Paddock did for us, but who knows.

Overall, we're adding some soon-to-be-expiring offense from Kuba, whose recent form nearly matches that of Meszaros, but they're on opposite sides of their peak performance. We also get some more potential from Picard, along with that San Jose pick, and that might average out to Meszaros' value, but that still remains to be seen. Overall, I think Mez will improve, but he stood a much better chance of that on our blueline than on Tampa's.

For us to win with this deal, the hope should be that Kuba can produce a good 30 points, and maybe gets a one or two year deal after this season, if he works out well. Also, Picard's only 22, and while Meszaros has put out a lot for his age, defensemen, like goalies, often take more time to develop. Don't believe me? Just look at all the prospects Toronto has obliterated by pushing them too hard, too fast. If he can develop into any kind of solid blueliner, and we can avoid wasting San Jose's first round pick, then we should be good. Who knows; maybe Murray can flip out two first rounders into a pick that might net us Tavares or Hedman, but that's just wild hopefulness on my part.

Friday and Still Meszaros - Updated at 16:30EST

Another day, and we're still waiting on news of the Meszaros offer sheet, as well as what Murray's personnel plans are for the Ottawa Senators.

The Ottawa Sun has Garrioch reporting that the reason there may not yet be official news of the Meszaros offer sheet is because it can't yet be signed. Garrioch has pegged the Tampa Bay Lightning as the culprit here, supposedly going after Meszaros by trade, or else by offer sheet.

The Ottawa Citizen has it from Brian Murray that indeed talks are at an impasse. Citing the importance of having a player at training camp, in this case to test Mez's potential chemistry with newcomer Jason Smith, and the many terms of contract that have been offered, it's clear that all reasonable efforts are being made. Murray also goes on to say that we should expect to see no more new faces in the lineup.

As I looked into yesterday, the Lightning are now paying for their signing of Ryan Malone, which upgraded a portion of their trade from a 4th rounder into that now critical 3rd round pick. Considering Murray told the Citizen that if there were options to improve his club, likely by trade, he'd do that, it would suggest that Tampa simply doesn't have a shot at making a trade for Meszaros. Not that they have much to offer up for all his potential, perhaps at best Jussi Jokinen and some picks or prospects. Now all eyes turn to the Penguins, to see GM Ray Shero quietly pondering just how much he might want to squeeze Koules and Barrie for that pick they appear to need.

Update - 13:00EST

From KK, it seems that Craig Custance of Sporting News has done a little more sniffing around. The two interesting things in his report: he's received word from Phoenix that they have not signed Meszaros to an offer sheet (not too surprising), but also from Columbus and Atlanta, both of whom have the space and even the need for a defenseman. The other note of interest is that he is pointing out that Adam's report on THN yesterday merely says that Meszaros and a team have agreed to terms on an offer sheet, while saying nothing of it being signed. Thus, Tampa Bay is still in the mix, and adding Meszaros would be a good move to replace Boyle, and keep with the club's offense first, offense second approach.

Update - 16:30EST

More from THN's Adam Proteau. It seems that Tampa Bay has been trying to get their 3rd rounder back from the Pens, but Ray Shero appears to want nothing to do with an offer sheet, even twice removed. It does appear that both the Lightning and Murray would work out a trade outside of the offer sheet, but it remains to be seen if Tampa has enough to offer.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Meszaros Signs Offer Sheet

I don't normally like to bring rumours and sources onto my site, but considering it's The Hockey News (via KK) telling me that Meszaros has signed a multi-year deal with a $5 million cap hit, I trust them enough to bring it up.

Would it surprise me? No. Meszaros has always seemed to think he has been the bees knees, and while his offense has been appreciated, he has been a liability in every other sense the past two years. Maybe some other team remembers that, when paired with a defensive and upstanding guy (Chara), he can perform exceptionally well, as opposed to when he's with someone as defensively suspect as he is, with his own issues (Redden).

When the team is named, I will update. If I am to trust, his hit has not surpassed $5,231,249, and thus we would get a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick. However, a funny rule exists: if the term is six years or longer, the value is still spread over five years. So if he signed a six-year, $30 million deal, the calculated hit in terms of compensation would be $6 million, adding a second 1st round pick to the compensation. As crazy as that seems, I'm not able to confidently rule it out completely, and depending on the total cap hit and term, we could possibly see two 1st, one 2nd, and one 3rd round pick coming our way. I'm not going to entertain the possibility that some team thinks Meszaros is worth four 1st rounders though.

If I'm to trust Wikipedia's 2009 NHL Draft info, since we are expecting to have a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick as compensation, it must be from a team that has all three of those picks in the 2009 draft. The following teams are no longer in possession of the required picks, meaning they could not have signed Meszaros to an offer sheet:

San Jose Sharks (1st & 3rd rounder to TBL)
Boston Bruins (2nd rounder to NYI)
Philadelphia Flyers (2nd rounder to TBL, 3rd rounder to EDM)
Anaheim Ducks (2nd rounder to MTL)
Calgary Flames (2nd rounder to LAK, 3rd rounder to PHI)
Montreal Canadians (2nd rounder to Calgary)
Toronto Maple Leafs (2nd rounder to NYI)
Minnesota Wild (2nd rounder to Nashville, 3rd rounder to NJD)
Buffalo Sabres (2nd rounder to Nashville, 3rd rounder to LAK)
Los Angeles Kinds (2nd rounder to BUF)
Tampa Bay Lightning (3rd rounder to PIT)

Originally I was optimistic we could get a good pick, but with the Leafs, Sabres, and Kings all out of the running, the list grows thin. With any luck, it will be Florida, Vancouver, St. Louis, Atlanta, or Columbus that signed him, and we might have a shot at a top pick.

Thursday Mez-day

Plenty of obscure news filling in the summer doldrums, but a nice Meszaros update today that's worth taking note of.

TSN brings us word of the slow progress between Meszaros and Murray in closing in on a contract. Pleasantly, it's more detailed than Garrioch's Ottawa Sun report on the same subject. Adding to Bruce's notes that Murray's many offers have been rejected, and that the gap is believed to be between $3.5 and $4.5 million as a cap hit, TSN adds that the Ottawa Senators have offered deals from as short as one year, up to a solid five year deal. Murray mentioned as well that Mez's agent has brought up the possibility of a departure to the KHL, but thankfully has stated that were he to do that, the Sens would look within the organization to replace him, easing any worry that we might think Schneider is coming to town.

Mez certainly has a lot to ponder. My guess is that the worst this might come out to would be a one or two year deal closer to Mez's $4.5 million number, with Mez hoping to prove himself worthy of more during that time. Murray might also like a short contract, not being completely sold on Mez yet. I would wager that this year, Mez has a great chance to step up, especially if he were to be paired, as has often been suggested, with newly acquired Jason Smith. No more worrying about how bad Redden is on the other side of the ice defensively, and I think that will only lead to greater success from a more mature Andrej.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Monday with defence and prospects

Some more thoughts today on our defence, with respect to Richardson and Bell, and the official announcement of the Rookie Tournament at the Aud in Kitchener that might help iron out the depth chart.

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports today that Luke Richardson isn't ready to hang up the skates just yet.
Richardson feels he has another season left in him, and still hopes to win the Cup. Whether or not he wins it as a player, he also has a shot after retirement, as he has a good shot to land a scouting, coaching, or management position after he steps off the ice for the last time.

Richardson puts Murray in a tough spot. We are committed without doubt to Phillips, Volchenkov, and Smith. Schubert and Lee too are all but sure bets to play, and we have many prospects who'd like a chance to step up as well, not to mention the unsigned Meszaros. There is very little chance Richardson will play with all that logjamming going on for the last couple slots. Unless a dramatic change comes about and we trade or lose a few blueliners, the best shot Richardson might have would be from either a long-term injury to someone else early season, or should the last slot not be earned enough by any rookie that Murray decides Richardson, being the reliable if not flashy player that he is, would be best to put on that third pairing until everyone the Bingo boys are ready to step up.

TSN reports that newly signed Ottawa Senators defenceman Brendan Bell is hoping to make a splash at training camp. "They said there is some lack of a an offensive defenceman a puck moving defenceman and by no means am I a Brian Campbell or someone like that.. but I think I may be able to fill that void if I play as well as I can."

With only 48 games of NHL experience, going 1-6--7 for .146P/G, -13, 27PIM, there is a long way to go for Bell to move up the depth chart. But at 25 years old, Bell certainly has a chance to start working for an NHL roster spot, and is by no means past his prime or a lost cause.

The Ottawa Senators announced today that they will be participating in the Rookie Tournament in Kitchener in September. They will compete against the rookie squads of the host Florida Panthers, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Pittsburg Penguins, playing the round robin games Saturday September 13th through Monday September 15th. Elliot, Nikulin, Winchester, O'Brien, and Zubov will all participate, with the rest of the roster to be named at a later date.

Hopefully the team can improve on their loss to the Penguins in last year's tournament final, where I saw Murray and Paddock in the stands looking on, a little downtrodden given the lackluster play of the team. I hope to attend the tournament, at least the weekend portion featuring the Sens against the Leafs and the Panthers.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Slow Day

Slow days as usual, today bringing us a few words on Meszaros' contract status.

The Ottawa Sun's Garrioch brings what little words can be said at the moment on the status of Andrej Meszaros as a member of the Ottawa Senators. Still no word on how close the two sides are to completing a deal, with Murray supposedly offering a long-term deal with a $3.5 million hit, while Meszaros' camp hoping for a number closer to $4.5 million, which Garrioch compares to Nashville's Shea Weber's deal for 3 years.

That being said, Weber's never played a full season, playing 28, 79, and 54 games in his first three seasons, respectively. His P/G have gone from .357 to .506 to .370 over those seasons. On that basis alone, and that Meszaros has played three full seasons with P/G going from .476 to .427 to .439, it becomes clear that Mez has reason to be wanting more money. Weber's contract could be a result of Nashville having the money to give, having all their players signed with $14 million left in cap space, but who knows. This one feels as though it will go down to the wire, but I can't see Mez sitting out the season, to say nothing of where he might end up playing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wednesday with Donovan

The North Bay Nugget brings news from Shean Donovan, his thoughts on the Ottawa Senators' new season, courtesy of KK. Seems that Donovan would agree with most fans that Paddock was running the top line ragged, and that the team was trying too hard as individuals to pick up the slack later in the season, rather than working together. He expects new coach Hartsburg to help keep the team on course, and to get more from all four lines, to keep the workload balanced. Not as though we haven't heard it before, but it does give you some more hope hearing the same message continuing to resonate throughout the roster.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesday Prospecting

A nice prospect rundown today on the Ottawa Senators website. Tim Murray comments on the prospects to watch out for, and depending on injuries or needs, Ottawa may be showing us many young faces. In September, I will attend the rookie tournament that Ottawa's prospects will be participating in, and hopefully be able to give a first-hand look into their development.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday: Small News, Big Notions

The only news I've found today is about the start of training camp for the Ottawa Senators. It's actually old news, and I am just slow.

The latest Alexander Nikulin blog post, translated on HFBoards, has our prospect saying that he's been asked to be in Ottawa for September 8th for the beginning of training camp. His post mainly goes on to describe how hard he has been working this summer, and how much effort he's putting into making the team.

He also remarks offhand that his visa for the upcoming season lasts one year, ending as his remaining contract year does. Should he get a new contract, he will think about getting a new visa as well. If you've read Nikulin's blog, you'll know that he's been working hard to make it to the NHL, dealing with his disappointments and burgeoning hope.

This, to me, is one reason why I can still live with the Corvo-Eaves for Commodore-Stillman trade. On paper, it would almost look like we made out better, but it was the contracts that extend past this season that made Eaves and Corvo the real value. There was even hope that Stillman might be able to stick around, or that having those Cup rings and experience would rub off on the team. The real reason for the trade might be much simpler.

Look down to Binghamton, and you'll find a lot of prospects. Many who also hope to join the NHL (and some who have a good chance to do so). Roster decisions start out easy. Of course you keep Alfie, Heater, Spezza, Fish, Phillips, and Volchie. They are the core, they know their roles, and they execute with precision every season. Then it gets a little more tricky, but still a breeze. Yes, Gerber's better than anything we could get in return in a trade, Vermette and Kelly have good defensive usefulness along with the chance to produce some secondary scoring, and so on.

But what about when you get down to those last 5 or 6 spots? I could catch myself wondering if Eaves would ever breakout and really contribute for the team, or if Corvo wouldn't make me go "uh-oh", and might start playing with more heart, contrary to his lack of love for the city. How long do you keep the non-superstars around?

By letting Corvo and Eaves get traded for what became two empty roster spots this season, it helps allow the team to continue to give its prospects a chance. I know few of us know what it's like personally, but I'm sure none of us would be thrilled to be in the minors, hoping to break through to the big leagues, only to hear that the team has signed or traded for mediocre players that are far from guaranteed to add to the club's success.

This is exactly why I think it's important that, along with the superstars, role players, and veteran leadership, we also allow for a continual flow of prospects up to the team. Maybe they don't earn a full season, but hopefully at least a long enough stay to get a feel for the team, without triggering NHL pay, or else they do contribute. If they don't, then that rotating slot could be used for a trade-deadline acquisition, or else it continues to allow the team to give players a taste, to keep them fired up and working hard. Fail to give them a shot, and they become unmotivated, lose faith in their dreams, the team, and themselves, and that's the last thing we could ever want for our boys.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thursday Things

A minor signing and some ticket news make up the Ottawa Senators news so far this Thursday...

Today the Sens signed Zack Smith, their 3rd pick (79th overall) from June's entry draft. The captain of the WHL's Swift Current Broncos led the team in scoring last season, going 22-47--69 in 72 games, with 136PIM. He also contributed 5-5--10 with 29PIM in 12 playoff games. "It is nice to see a player of Zack's character and commitment be rewarded with not only being drafted, but now being signed by the Senators organization. We wish him all the best in his pursuit to play in the NHL," said Head Coach and General Manager Dean Chynoweth.

"When I was drafted I was excited, now being signed, it's even more exciting. I am looking forward to taking the next step and playing pro." Zack says the last two seasons in a Bronco uniform were instrumental in his development. "The biggest key in my development was defining my role, I know what type of player they expect me to be." Judging by Smith's stats, it seems he has really matured and developed in his time with the Broncos. I could see him as a Fisher-type player, centering a scoring line, but also more than willing to play the physical game when necessary. The leadership skills that come from being captain will only help to add further character to the Binghamton Senators squad next season, and hopefully to the Ottawa dressing room down the line.

Also announced today were some final details on this season's Senators tickets. The most interesting news is the creation of 5, 6, or 7 "Hockey Country" Game Paks, allowing fans to get a mix of tickets, featuring 2 tickets to the upcoming
2009 IIHF World Junior Championship, which the Senators will host during Christmastime, explaining their long road trip over that period. The Paks will also contain 3-5 tickets for Sens home games, and they go on sale this Saturday, August 16th, along with tickets to the Sens home exhibition games.

Overall, prices are expected to average out to the same as last year for this season's tickets. A three-tiered premium pricing system of 8 Gold (+30%), 7 Silver (+20%), and 12 Bronze (+10%) games will be based on rivalries and the visits of star players, as well as the time of the week and year. No surprise here, but tickets for all three Leafs games will be cheaper this season than last, which is bound to happen when you don't have your coach stating that the team will "make the playoffs, and compete for the Stanley Cup," as Paul Maurice said of last season. This will be balanced out by a pair of half-price games in October against Phoenix and Florida (hopefully giving us a look at oft-mentioned and highly desirable UFA at season's end, Jay Bouwmeester), as well as 5 kids half-price games and 5 student half-price games, which will hopefully give us at least 10 games that are louder than the oft-quiet arena of seasons past. Single game tickets will go on sale Saturday, September 20th.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In the Absence of Real News...

Since nothing important has happened today in the world of the Ottawa Senators (or really for weeks or months, depending on your definition of 'important'), I thought it might be fun to take a look at a fun bunch of statistics.

To compare our players and rate their performances, I often use the NHL Stats machine. It was only recently that I noticed an unusual category I'd not seen before under the 'Stats View': HITS - Players. It lead to a few fun numbers that I'd like to share with you.

We all know Spezza loves to give away the puck, dangle freakin' dangle style. I thought he might've been the worst in the League. While his 96 giveaways last season (can you believe that's still pretty close to only one per game?) were second to Thornton's 103, when you factor in the six fewer games Spezza played, he tops Thornton's giveaways per game rate, 1.263 to 1.256, narrowly earning the giveaway king crown. Our next 'best' player last season came in 31st with 66GvA, but since he's gone to the Big Apple, Redden shouldn't be a worry. What might be worrisome is that both Heatley and Alfie sneak into the top 50, with 60 apiece, making our top line not only the most feared by goalies, but possibly the most enticing one to opportunists.

A pair of handy stats that we can use to give us hope for the season come next: Blocked Shots and Hits. In the top 100 hitters, we have seven players. Phillips brings up the rear, coming in 76th with 126BkS, going on up through Ruutu, Smith, Volchenkov, Schubert, and Neil, and being led by Fisher at 7th, with 234. On average, teams have just two and a half players among the top 76 in the League; with nearly thrice that at 7, it might make other teams start to think twice next season.

Our outlook for blocked shots is quite bright as well. We have the second and third most productive shot blockers from last season in Volchenkov and Smith, and Phillips ranks in at 13th. Again, most teams would have averaged a single player in the top 30; we'll give both Auld and Gerber some help by having three in the top 15. Stranger though are the next entries on the team in the category: Meszaros, at 74th, Commodore at 82nd, and Redden at 86th. Two (or possibly three) of those will be gone next year, taking away 289BkS, over 3.5/game (although given Commodore's short tenure with the Sens, that loss will actually be slightly less). Thankfully, in comparison, our top three combined for 564BkS, not quite twice as much, but it is still a spot to watch out for, that will show in the shots we allow each game. For interest, Fisher is the next highest Senator on the list, clocking in at 128th in the League (5th overall though, among forwards).

That's about all that was interesting for today, in my world anyways. Here's hoping that I can soon wakeup to the Sens in Europe.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Late Monday News

The pre-season schedule is released, and the Sens make a minor signing for the farm team.

Today the NHL released its full pre-season schedule. The 30 clubs will play, on average, just over 7 games apiece, ranging from typical matches in their home arenas, to tribute matchups like the once-Winnipeg-Jets, now-Phoenix Coyotes hosting the Calgary Flames in Winnipeg, to the European games, which include a Sens vs. Frolunda matchup in Alfredsson's hometown of Frolunda, Sweden.

Some might suggest that six games is a lot, considering their trip overseas. However, the Pens and the Bolts are the only Euro-bound teams with fewer pre-season matchups, with five apiece. The real challenge will be for the Rangers, who have eight pre-season games, including only two days off between their last North-American game and their first European one (fewer still, if you consider the hours they shave off on their flight forward in time).

Also making news is a minor Sens signing. Murray has re-signed Geoff Waugh to a one-year, two-way contract. The 6'4, 215lbs., soon to be 25-year old Binghamton defenseman has one full AHL season under his belt, with 71GP, 3-3--6, and 139PIM. He is a good shutdown defenseman who doesn't have much of a scoring touch. Let's hope he develops in the mould of Phillips, rather than, say, Commodore.

Defending our Defense

Without any news to bring to you today, I thought I'd take a look at the news we are all waiting for, that being the status of Meszaros for the upcoming season.

From the media to the blogosphere to forums, the strongest voice belongs to those who believe Meszaros is anything but indispensable to the team. His decline in production and performance since his sensational rookie year, his defensive lapses, there are countless criticisms for Andrej. I want to take a look at him, and see if a plausible, non-Meszaros-just-sucks explanation can be found.

In his rookie season, Meszaros was outstanding on the Ottawa Senators' blue line. If not for the likes of Ovechkin and Crosby, Meszaros would have stood a good chance of winning the Calder trophy as rookie of the year. In 82GP that season (he has never missed a game in any of his three NHL seasons), Mez went 10-29--39 for .476P/G, while going +34 with 61PIM.

Then the 'fallout' came. In his second season, his scoring dropped slightly to 7-28--35 for .427P/G, while he wound up a -15 with 102PIM, a much greater liability than the previous season. This past season, he stayed the same or improved, depending on how you see it, to 9-27--36 for .439P/G, finishing a +5 with 50PIM. While this seems to upset many fans, he was 24th, 25th, and 26th, in goals, assists, and points, respectively, among all NHL defensemen. Also, if we were so happy with .476P/G in 05-06, how could his following seasons of .427 and .439P/G be a drastically worse result?

That leaves the suspicion that his defensive play was the main disappointment. Sure enough, I've been frustrated countless times by terrible pinches, lackluster physical presence, and many other moments when he and Redden were on the ice. What changed to cause this?

In trying to defend Meszaros (and, somewhat as well, Redden), you have to look beyond the blatant numbers. In his rookie year, Meszaros was playing on one of the best Senators teams ever. The Defense consisted of Redden, Chara, Phillips, Volchenkov, Meszaros, Brian Pothier, and Schubert. In Chara, Meszaros had a fellow Slovak as his inspiration in Chara. He would have also been a good calming influence for a player of just 20 years of age with only 59 North-American games (in the WHL) under his belt. Having Chara, Phillips, and Volchenkov allowed Murray to spread his defense fairly evenly, pairing those shutdown, physical players with the better puckmovers in Redden, Meszaros, and Pothier (although Chara fits very well in both categories). In addition to this powerful blue line, the team had the surefire Hall-Of-Famer Hasek between the pipes for half the games, and a much more respectable Emery for the other games.

Flash forward a season, and the team changes drastically. The team loses Havlat (guaranteed, he only played in 18 games, notching 16 points), and also loses Smolinski and Arnason, who just one season earlier combined to contribute 30-63--93. The blueline loses Chara and Pothier, who contributed 21-57--78. Suddenly, with Preissing and Corvo, the blueline now has only two legitimate shutout defensemen, and in pairing them together, the other two offensive-minded pairings of Redden-Meszaros and Preissing-Corvo can't defend as effectively as the more balanced combinations of just one year prior. To top off the cake, Hasek is gone and it is Gerber and Emery between the posts.

This one year marked the biggest drop for Mez, and also for Redden, who in 05-06 had 65GP, 10-40--50 for .769P/G, and was +35 with 63PIM. In 06-07, he dropped to 64GP, 7-29--36 for .563P/G, and was +1 with 50PIM. This past season, in 80GP, he was 6-32--38 for .475P/G, ending a +11 with 60PIM. The year after the team lost so many quality players, Mez and Reds were shoved together. Forced to shoulder the physical load, Mez saw his PIM balloon from 61 to 102. Having both players together forced them to have to think about defense, while knowing offensive support was their primary goal, and their defensive lapses showed just how well that worked out for them.

Put it another way, and you can compare it to our forwards. When you spread the offense around, as it was done in 02-03 and in 05-06, everyone can focus better on their contributions. Last year, when Paddock leaned heavily on the top line of Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson, who filled the net very well, the other lines weren't able to produce as well. Similarly, when the best defensemen in Volchenkov and Phillips were paired together, and able to shutdown almost any line in the league, the mostly offensive-minded pairings of Redden-Mez and Preissing-Corvo weren't able to attack or defend as well as they should have been.

I do believe that the increased pressure of having the team lose stars at forward, defense, and in goal, as well as losing the inspiration of fellow Slovak Chara and having to deal with a slumping Redden as partner are all very real reasons for Meszaros' slump. I certainly think that this season will see Meszaros improve, and Redden could have too, especially if our defensive pairings matched one shutdown player (Phillips, Volchenkov, Smith) with an offensive one (Redden, Meszaros, Lee, Shubert). Recall that we were beaten in the Stanley Cup Finals by a Ducks squad that had three top defensemen in Pronger, Beauchemin, and Niedermayer, and those three were all in separate pairings except for penalty killing and other critical situations.

So what to do? So many out there have argued that Meszaros is worth no more than the $2.75 million Vermette signed for. Wideman, who scored the same 36 points as Meszaros in one less game, signed a four-year deal for $3.785 million, and his only other NHL seasons saw him score a paltry 24 and 25 points. Bouwmeester actually only scored one more point than Mez last season while going -5, and he, also an RFA, signed a one-year, $4.8 million deal, and he has also been on a three year slump, seeing his points decrease from 46 to 42 and now 37.

This would be the trouble. While his point totals would hardly guarantee him a $3 million plus salary as a forward, they are very respectable for a defenseman. If we could lock him up long term, I could see him getting as much as $4 million easily, since I don't doubt that Murray is also expecting a rebound. Should he go short-term, as Vermette did, he will likely still cost between $3 to $3.5 million for a one or two year deal, with Mez hoping to improve to a much higher salary bracket by the end of the contract, just as Vermette is also likely hoping for.

In the end, I just hope that people, as much as they aren't happy with our last season, will give him another chance. It was the whole team that collapsed, along with the team concept in mixing always the best with the best, rather than aiming to have our top talent support and inspire others on the team. Here's hoping that Murray, Hartsburg, and our boys can band together for the new season, and as a team rise like a phoenix from the ashes of our past season.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Pestilism

Being August, there's a dearth of news going on that we all expect. It does mean that most interesting stories will come not from fact, but speculation, which is what I saw today. Spector posted a story by the Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa, a respected writer who covers the Bruins.

Hidden amongst all the Bruin-speak was a little side note on how this is a contract year for Chris Neil, and his skill in "thumping, skating, shooting" is a hard to find mix that is key in many of today's teams. There have been three names worth comparing in the Sens' lineup when touching on the subject of thumpings: Neil, Bass, and newly-acquired Ruutu. All are measured primarily on their ability to cause trouble for everyone not in a Sens jersey.

The question is, is Neil worth not only a new contract, but a new one for Shinzawa's suggested $2.2 million, double his current cap hit? I'm not so sure. We've all seen good pesting and fighting from all three boys, with Bass giving us the least to look at so far at the NHL level. In 21GP this season, Bass scored 2-2--4 for .200P/G, while going -1 with 19PIM. Compare this with Ruutu, 71GP, 6-10--16, .225P/G, +3 with 138PIM, and Neil, 68GP, 6-14--20, .294P/G, -3 with 199PIM.

There are many even points with all three. All are either 6'0 or 6'1, weighing 200-214lbs, so physically they've got the same heft to throw around (without knowing who might be carrying the muscle and who the beer). They also all stay roughly close to neutral +/-. The two main statistical differences are points and PIM.

I'd be tempted to say Bass is the best, registering just under a PIM per game, but he only played a quarter of the season, with the reduced expectations of being a rookie and of having Neil on your side. Ruutu had Hall and Laraques to work with, but still managed to get into 2PIM/game worth of trouble. Neil, carrying the brunt of the Sens' load, tops out at 2.5PIM/game. How do you compare them though? I don't think it's fair to blast or put a halo over Bass yet for anything, being only 21 with same in games of NHL experience. To look at Ruutu and Neil, we could say Neil's worse since he takes more PIM/game, but then again Ruutu's only slightly better, and he had Laraques and Hall on his team, while Neil had seldom-seen Bass and rarely-seen Grats.

To compare them in point production, Neil is the clear winner. Bass is still unproven, and Ruutu's topped out at 17Pts and prior to last season .207P/G throughout his entire career. But think again about Neil. While he's the best this season at .294P/G, he was .341P/G in 06-07, and .418P/G after the lockout. Before the lockout, he topped out at 17Pts and .236P/G in three seasons. Quite a jump, eh? But two years ago, had it not been for Hasek's Olympic injury and Emery's inexperience, we had one of the better Sens' squads in a while, while last year we had a team good enough to rank second in the East in points and make it all the way to the Cup Final. I'd argue that it's been our team, more than Neil, that's been responsible for his better numbers, and hence as the team's slid from the post-lockout to Cup Final to this season, so has he.

He has slid in more than that though. I think we've all yelled at Neil more than once this season for taking some of the dumbest penalties, like falling on top of someone, then punching or cross-checking them in the face while getting up. When we wanted fight from Neil, we had freakin' Spezza having to drop the gloves. He's beginning to let us down.

Barring some kind of massive comeback, I think this might well be Neil's last season with the Sens. As far as energy lines go, we've got all three of these boys this year, and players like Donovan, McAmmond, and forward-playing Schubert. Nobody needs two lines of energy. Considering that Bass has the youth, and Ruutu's locked in for three years starting this season, while being an always respected member of each team he's played for, I think it might well be time to say our farewells.

Of course, this is just humble old me, taking respected speculation and adding my not-so-proven speculation on top of it, since it's such a slow day. Neil is loved by the fans, and he could still pull himself around enough to merit a new deal. Otherwise, he might be as good as gone, or as good as tradebait. We'll be able to see as soon as the season starts, which can't come soon enough!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Friday's News

Still not much in the hockey newsworld, but some interesting thoughts on both Wade Redden and NHL goalies.

James Gordon's Hockey Capital Blog showed me an interesting Avery quote on Sporting News, regarding Redden. On his thoughts about his former New York Rangers' off-season moves, "New York is a tough place to play. Markus Naslund is going to have a tough time, so is Wade Redden. New York fans aren't going to put up with those guys. I don't think that they're going to live up to the expectations."

Do you mean to suggest that Wade Redden doesn't live up to expectations? And that, when players like Redden don't live up to expectations, we fans don't have to put up with it? Why did you wait so long to tell us this, Sean?

Another KK post pointed me to a Vancouver Province story with some more detail on the new goalie equipment sizing rules. This season, it appears that the tops of goalie pads will be contoured around the knee, shortening their coverage in the butterfly position, and pants with these protectors built in won't be allowed. Additionally, the calf protector will be tied down more strictly, as will the clavicle protector. Finally, when measuring the thickness of 'landing gear' on the inside of the legs, the 2.5" measurement will remain, but it will be a resting measurement, meaning unlike last season you can't compress these flaps down to 2.5" for measuring purposes and still get to wear them.

Not the least bit ironic that it is the Vancouver Providence reporting on these details, since as they point out some of the now-illegal equipment was used by the Canucks' own Roberto Luongo. Once again though, just a little too late with some of these fairly obvious-seeming changes (what Sens fan wouldn't have appreciated tied-down clavicle protectors and these other rules just one June ago?). The mention of the expected change next year to proportionate sizing of equipment (which will keep 5'10 goalie Curtis Sanford from using the same size pads as 6'3 Luongo, as he currently does) could strike a big blow against many goalies. It would represent a departure of sorts from the anti clutching and grabbing rules the League instituted, which made the League a friendlier place for smaller forwards and defensemen. At the very least, it would mean that a battle between 5'11 Gerber and 6'5 Auld would get a little more interesting.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A New Home

Paddock is the new head coach of the Philadelphia Phantoms. With little fanfare, this almost slipped by me, but it merits mention, especially during the slow summer days.

I know most fans weren't very happy with his work, but Murray's shoes are very big ones to fill, let alone when you step in from working behind his shadow as his assistant. I wish him the best of luck with the Phantoms, and hope that he might find enough success there to one day return to the NHL, and find success there (which is the same path I'm hoping for Hartsburg with the Sens, only further progressed along it than Paddock).

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On the Road to Recovery

Finally, a story for Wednesday. KK pointed me to ESPN, where I see a very thorough story, with quotes, about Ray Emery and what really happened to him.

I didn't get the interview I'd been hoping for from OTR on TSN, but that might've been the cost of having any on-air interview. It was a big step forward from avoiding the media constantly during the season, but the subject matter stayed pretty shallow.

This time around, Emery does own up to the fact that he's no angel. He's had issues dealing with anger, off-ice hobbies, some less-than-stellar associates, and the ease and speed with which he's been given so many responsibilities (and so many rewards, financial and otherwise).

The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem, and slowly but surely, it seems as though Emery's starting to come to terms with his choices. If the good words of progress from this story are true, I don't think Emery will be waiting long at the end of his KHL season before getting a contract in the NHL, even if it's not for the biggest dollars or to be a guaranteed starter.

He is starting to talk the talk, and if he can follow up by walking the walk, I'd gladly welcome him back into the League. We've seen our fair share of troublemakers in this city, and it's high time one of them came back and proved their doubters wrong.

Coaching Confidence

A couple days ago, KK pointed me to an ESPN article that ranked the NHL coaches. It's no surprise that the success he's achieved in leading the Red Wings has Mike Babcock (who received his first NHL coaching job from Brian Murray) ranked first among the 'Elite'.

But where does our new head coach, Craig Hartsburg, rank among the 30 teams? It's obvious that his jumping around and inability to hold onto various head and assistant coaching positions around the league would not lead ESPN to rank him among 'The Proven'. Despite this upcoming season being his first back in the NHL for a while, I would say that his 184-184-69-6 record as a head coach with Chicago (95-98) and Anaheim (98-01), his 257-231-74-10 record as an assistant coach with the Minnesota North Stars (89-90) and the Philadelphia Flyers (90-94, 02-04), and his 226-125-23-23 record as an OHL head coach with the Guelph Storm (94-95) and the Soo Greyhounds (01-02, 04-08) would have at least made me consider him a 'Jury's Still Out' candidate.

Instead, Craig Hartsburg is labeled 'Suspect', in need of proving people wrong. I think he's done just that. It was while coaching him at the Soo that Hartsburg got Emery to really shine, just as Murray got him to shine the year before his fallout under Paddock. As an overall coach, he helped Canada achieve three straight golds at the World Juniors; as an assistant coach in 2006, and as head coach in both 2007 and 2008.

He has also convinced Curtis Hunt to leave the WHL, where his coaching record stands at 209-171-23-29 with the Moose Jaw Warriors (02-04) and the Regina Pats (04-08). Hunt was Hartsburg's assistant coach for both the 2007 and 2008 World Junior golds, in addition to being assistant coach for other Canadian tourneys involving our younger players. Considering that neither of these men has ever given up, that they have been able to get excellent results from their teams of youth both in their respective leagues and on the international stage, and considering it's a year that the Sens need their younger players and rookies to step up, I couldn't imagine a better team to take on the job.

A Look at Our Younger Guys

I noticed on a forum today that Michael Sharp, who covers the Binghamton Senators, will be available for questions today in a live chat. Accounts are quick and free to create, so if you want to hear some news about our other team, he is supposed to be answering posts between 12:45pm and 1:45pm. You can always check back later to see what said later, should be a good read.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Blogger's Mandate

A slow day in the Sens/NHL newsworld, I found an interesting thought to ponder nonetheless.

The Sens Army Blog pointed me to a good story by Robert Roman, which made me question what is the purpose and goal of blogging, in particular my own blog. The story speaks of the increasing volume of Sens-related personnel rumours that have appeared this offseason like none before.

For me, I blog because I fully and enthusiastically support the Ottawa Senators. I know I have spent much time trying to sift through Sens news and interesting stories, and my goal here is to compile the interesting stories that are out there, to be a repository of the common but still appreciated media stories, and also to try to point you to other stories of intrigue from smaller sources out there. In addition, I also like to think out loud, and my musings will find their way onto this blog as well.

When it comes to rumours and speculation, I will try to stick to reputable writers, bloggers, and sources. I too have my own sources from within the organization, but they have taught me one thing well, and that is that they too are rarely privileged with secrets, so do not expect to hear me referring to them. In fact, the only 'insider' info I have been able to glean from them of late was that on a certain TSN show of late, a certain question should have been phrased better as "have you ever, period," and that it should have been posed to three certain individuals instead of just one. But to anyone who goes out in the region often enough, this was never secret or surprise news.

My perspective on blogging remains that it should be done to share something with others, be it a voice, a perspective, an opinion, and that is what I will continue to do.

As soon as there is any real or interesting news to report or comment on, rare as that will likely be this month.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday's News

Slow day in a slow time of season, but still able to comment on some new rule changes.

KK>Boston Globe has news of the new goalie equipment changes for the new season, which includes trimming the length of the pads, and the clavicle protector. There is also mention of further testing for Thermablade heated skate blades, used to a minor degree in the past season.

I for one would agree that having 76" of butterflied pads to cover the bottom of a 72" wide net is ludicrous, so limiting the knee pad to 2.5" should help make it more of a battle on the ice. While there are no specifics yet on the clavicle protection, I would hope that the spring-loaded shoulder pads the Sens faced two years ago will soon be outlawed or made useless. So many goals, sometimes important ones, have been disallowed thanks to illegally curved sticks, and I hope that goalies will also be held to the standard of the rules. The one sad part of all this is that while the new rules helped to allow smaller players, notably defensemen, to play bigger roles, the new goalie equipment rules might make it an even tougher job for the not-so-sizably gifted netminders.

As for Thermablade, is there any need? Does it make the game safer, or closer to some pure vision of the game we can't get to with current skates? I think skaters are plenty fast enough already, and to me this just feels like a cheap way to add another cost to the game, and to make hockey climb ever further up the ladder of expensive sports. Will we start considering rocket skates next? Please Gary, for once, make the right choice for the league and the sport.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Getting Back In the Game...

It has been a long absence I have had from my blog. Can you really blame me for the depression of our season's end? But, as the new year is getting closer, I am going to start writing again.

One of my favourite blogs out there is, a great source for all things hockey. I do not have any of the resources or successes of such a fine blog, but I have always appreciated how it has kept me abreast of all goings on in the NHL. Another great blog for staying up to date on hockey rumours and action is, where you can hear not only the latest news, but also a knowledgeable opinion from Spector himself with respect to the real hockey buzz.

In appreciating these blogs, I have decided that my goal is to also keep Sens fans similarly updated on their team, as well as relevant news around the league. Each day, I will post any interesting news to Sens fans, from newspapers, blogs, and other media and sources, and also add my two cents to the stories I post. If you happen to know of a good blog to read, or a good source to seek out, let me know and I will keep you abreast of what I discover.

Since our roster's final pieces are being nailed down as we speak, I will prepare a primer on the team later this month. Early next month, I also hope to give you a firsthand report on the team's prospects from the rookie tourney in Kitchener, where our young hopefuls will battle it out against the future of the Penguins, Panthers, and good ol' Maple Leafs.

Hope you are all enjoying your summer, but knowing the sea of red out there I suspect many of you are just as anxious as I to get back in the game, and I hope to keep you up to date with the world of the Ottawa Senators and the NHL. Go Sens Go!!!