Though the on-ice performance of the Sens this past week hasn't exactly been inspiring, there remains much to talk about off the ice. Amelia covered the Chris Phillips situation so well yesterday that I won't touch on it anymore in this piece, but I will say it's nice to see the good guys get rewarded from time to time. Whatever else can be said about Chris Phillips, he's never been called anything but a good, loyal guy. Sometimes it's good to see those people get their due.
The other big news in the NHL yesterday was not directly related to Ottawa, but does bring to mind some possiblities for the franchise:
On the one hand, I have very little to add to what's already been said about Evander Kane; I'm not an insider, and lots of other really smart people have already said lots of really smart things about him. On the other hand, it's the biggest story out there at the moment and I'd be remiss not to at least touch on it. So I will say this much: as it pertains to the Ottawa Senators, they should absolutely be in the hunt to trade for Kane. The Senators, in particular, are a team that needs to hit home runs on risky propositions. Remember that in conditions that weren't all that dissimilar from these, Ottawa acquired Kyle Turris for relatively little. Normally it would take a lot to pry a young, scoring forward that's locked up long term away from his current team but this is no normal situation. Ottawa's ultimate focus needs to be on upgrading the defense, but 23 year olds with Kane's track record aren't often made available. Would he be a good fit in Ottawa? Who knows. I do know that the supposedly un-salvageable Tyler Seguin now has articles written about him that laud his leadership qualities. It's funny what a new situation can do for a player.
How the media and fans interact with players
Part of the Evander Kane story is the stunted way the details of the events have leaked out to the public. The manner in which Gary Lawless, in particular, has reported this story has been the subject of almost as much discussion as Kane's actions themselves. By many people's account, Kane's had a rough go of it with his teammates for quite some time. This is new information, but what's not new information is that Kane has had his issues with the local media, Lawless included. As I said above, I'm not an insider so I don't really have anything useful to add to the Kane situation. There are parallels with a certain Ottawa Sun reporter and a certain young, talented Senator however:
So much of how we, as fans, perceive players is shaped by our media consumption. And though there has no doubt been a proliferation of alternative sports news and analysis sources, the mainstream media still hold the most sway over the majority of fans. Maybe I'm too cynical, but you don't often become an insider without shilling for your sources at one point or another. Some are better at hiding it than others; Darren Dreger's relationship with Dave Nonis is a particularly glaring example of a journalist that would appear to be hopelessly compromised. The point here is that the power dynamic between teams and players translates over to fans and the media: the teams almost always hold all the cards. Do I think hockey players are particularly hard done by in the way they're covered? Not especially. But when you read a particularly nasty hit piece, it's usually been written with at least tacit consent of the organization.
Anatomy of a goal
Normally I would try to dedicate a separate column to these breakdowns but I just wanted to point out one specific thing I noticed from the Turris goal last night:
The goal comes at the tail end of an almost minute long cycle by the newly formed Kyle Turris - Mike Hoffman -Mark Stone line, and the key moment is right in this screenshot:
Stone's got the puck at the side of the net after a bit of a scramble, I have no doubt he's tired at this point but he looks up and sees Kyle Turris kind of open in front of the net. It would have been very easy to try to centre the puck for a tip or a rebound here. I'd wager that would have been the reflex of 95% of hockey players. Instead, Stone has the patience to hold on to it until Turris gets to a better position and saucers him a beautiful set up. When you watch the video, you can also see the moment of realization from Turris as he bangs his stick on the ice while sliding back into the open slot like so:
It's a small thing, but it's that type of skill that wins hockey games.
Speaking of winning hockey games:
Tanks are easier in theory than in practice
One of the downsides of these last two regulation time losses is that it's now very difficult for even the most optimistic of fans to look at the standings and say to themselves "The Sens could really make a run to get back into this!". So if they're going to miss the play-offs, they might as well tank the season completely, right? Well, it's not really that simple. First off, there's no way this roster could be as bad as some of the worst teams out there. Secondly, it's remarkably taxing on the fanbase to run a team out there that's destined to lose every game. The Senators haven't been contenders in some time now, but they also haven't been basement dwellers in over fifteen years. It is, quite simply, excruciating to watch teams without hope. This season's been hard on some in the Sens community, and it's not even that bad! For me, I can acknowledge that the best thing for the team to do is to lose every game from here on out; but damned if I can't cheer for them to do that.
The Ottawa Senators aren't soft
The last topic for the day came to mind when I was reading some post game thoughts from Simmer:
Sens top 6 forwards have 90 pims combined. Turris/MacArthur with 54 of those. I know the NHL has changed. But you need a harder group.— Shawn Simpson (@TSNSimmer) February 6, 2015
This is typical of the type of reaction we'll be reading a lot of in the coming weeks if Ottawa continues to lose. When things are going poorly, the first reaction is to ask if the players are trying hard enough. A "harder group" is just another variant of the same compete argument. As if on queue, Don Brennan at the Sun published his thoughts on the matter: Ottawa needs to be tougher and Mark Borowiecki is the man to make them tougher.
Setting aside completely all the arguments about how important character, grit etc are to winning hockey games, I just don't believe that the Ottawa Senators are soft. They may not bruise you in the corners, but so many of their players stand up for each other and are willing to take a hit to make the right play. All of their skilled guys go to the "dirty areas" that commentators love talking about. Bobby Ryan went after Alex Ovechkin even though Ovie might be a genetically engineered Russian weapon.
The Senators are not really a great hockey team, but they try hard and they are definitely not soft. Let's put that silly narrative to bed.
Thanks for reading!