Monday, September 8, 2008

Variations on a Theme: Work Ethic

Today we have a quaint ticket reminder, a ray of hope for Bass with a spector of darkness for Neil, the power of home ice, and the least fun part of coaching the Sens.

First, I just thought it would be a good time to wake everyone up, and remind them that in a very short twelve days, we will finally be able to buy single game tickets. Yes, there are those of us who are so passionate about our Sens, but still unable to buy season's tickets or even a Hockey Country game pak, due either to our humble pay, our busy schedule, or that we are rarely in the right area code to partake of Alfie's hockey nectar. Tickets for October and November games go on sale next Saturday, September 20th at 10am. sees Bass breaking out this season, earning himself a full-time roster spot. In looking at players who didn't quite fit into the NHL or the AHL, playing between 15-60 NHL games (Bass appeared in 25), with the departures of forwards McGrattan (who appeared in 38 games last season), Robitaille (68 games), and Stillman (79 games, split between Carolina and Ottawa), Bass should be able to unpack his bags permanently. I have a little more faith in him than that, and hope I can give him more credit than just making the team 'because we've lost people'. It seems to me that too many people are suggesting that some of our two-way deals will have a good shot at making the team, whereas I simply think many of them are good depth signings that can help the team in Binghamton climb out of mediocrity. I also think that Bass will bring a good deal of toughness, which will help offset the loss of McGrattan, Commodore, and the less tactful choices Neil has made of late. I see him being a good contributor on our 3rd and 4th lines, and I'm sure he has it in him to give us a line that the opposition won't be fond of playing against, much like the Laraques line in Pittsburg or the Moen line we faced a year ago in the Final.

From FOX Sports, Spector's Blog lists today a bunch of players in the East who might find themselves on the block this season. From Ottawa, he suspects that Neil might be the candidate of choice to move. While he has been a fan favourite, and usually works hard and has the right dose of pest, times might be a-changin. The end of last season saw Neil take more than his usual share of dumb, unnecessary, and unfortunately game affecting penalties, not to mention the fact that he was completely absent when Mark Bell took out Fisher, Alfie, and nearly Redden as well in that one 'memorable' night. Couple that with some more sensible muscle and pest in Smith and Bass, and Neil's expiring contract could indeed see him moved to help toughen up a team, or at least thrown in by Murray to sweeten a trade deal just enough. The question that remains is whether or not Murray can pull the trigger on such a popular player, and to where Neil might be launched.

In another preview feature, has the Ottawa Senators' top line of Alfie, Spezza, and Heater among the East's top 10 scorers on home ice. Alfredsson ranks 3rd in the East, while Heatley is 7th and Spezza comes in 9th. I'm not often proud to see such rankings, as being among the best scorer at home usually means you suffer on the road, unless you're vying for the Ross, as Malkin (leading home scorer in the East) and Ovechkin (2nd) were. Sure enough, crunch the numbers, and you'll find that while Alfie (1.40P/G) and Heatley(1.27P/G) scored prolifically at home, both experienced a 11-19% drop in P/G when they went on the road, down to 1.14 and 1.03P/G, respectively. Interestingly, it's Spezza that takes the consistency cake, as his production stays very close to 1.200P/G, and he actually has a better P/G on the road, by a narrow margin (1.19P/G home, 1.23P/G road, a 3% increase). Perhaps this speaks to the effect that the home crowd has on our boys, or maybe it was on the road where the locker room troubles really hit hard; either way, we can only hope that consistency remains the key focus this season.

Via KK, Ian Mendes of sportsnet writes today of a way in which we might find better scoring consistency: splitting up the NHL's most dominating line of last season. Speaking to both Alfie and Spezza, it would seem that the big three are expecting to find themselves competing to bring out the best in their teammates, rather than trying to take advantage of the amazing skills they all possess (and in speaking to Alfie, we hear that only four weeks after the end of the season, he felt all healed up from his run in with Bell, which would explain the lack of any limp when he called Karlsson down during June's draft). Indeed, many blame Paddock's reliance (and over-reliance) on the big three working best together, and I myself lost faith in his coaching skills when, during an interview, he flatly stated that he had no qualms about throwing them together at any time, and constantly playing them over anyone else, so long as nobody else was able to live up to his scoring hopes.

I think it's that kind of responsibility that doomed the team, let alone the negative impact comments and decisions like those have on hardworking but struggling players on the team. While Mendes seems to be suggesting that Alfie will move down to work with Fisher, while Spezza continues to feed Heatley on the first line, I have a different vision. I remember that when Spezza, Vermette, and Fisher were all out a couple seasons back, Heatley and Alfie still worked well sandwiched around Chris Kelly. I also remember just how well Heatley was at the Worlds, playing with Getzlaf as his centre while Spezza worked the 4th line. I would honestly love to see the three wind up on completely different lines. I could see Kelly or Vermette working well to feed Heatley, who works a lot harder but still finds his points when Spezza isn't hunting for him on the ice. Fisher worked well with Alfie when they hit the ice together last season, so that's some chemistry I probably wouldn't want to mess with.

As for Spezza, I believe it's time he proved he can make things happen, rather than merely work with the two best players on the team and benefit from it. It may not be a contract year, but if I'm not mistaken, this is the season that Spezza's No Trade Clause is still inactive. If he really wants to prove himself of value to the team, and I'm sure Hartsburg will give him that chance and push him towards it, it's on his own that he needs to prove it. The best centers, like Crosby and Malkin, have taken 4th liners and made them look like they belong in the starting lineup, and that's even without yet being relied upon to kill penalties and take on those less-glorious responsibilities. With his massive $7 million for 7 seasons contract kicking in, it's time for him to prove that he's really worth it.

1 comment:

Gareth said...

Great post. I'm with you. I'd like to at least see Spezza moved down a line, but I really think playing that line completely split up would have a lot of upside for the team. Maybe not short term but definately long term for this season.

Something else to consider is that while he is the Golden God, Alphie is starting to mature, so 2nd/3rd line plus PP/PK minutes is what the team should be focusing on for him.