It’s Friday, so it’s time for some thoughts. Five of them to be precise. Let’s get to it!
Recognizing Chris Neil
After the Ottawa Senators returned home from a less-than-inspiring road trip through California, we were treated to a classy event honouring Chris Neil’s 1000th game with the club. Given the way the game is changing, Neil may be the last player of his ilk. He was emotional throughout, and it was clear the ceremony meant a lot to the Sens’ tough guy. Neil’s become a somewhat polarizing player in the end stage of his career, but I suspect even his most ardent detractors were standing and cheering Wednesday night.
Mike Hoffman’s Impending Suspension
Although Wednesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks was dedicated to honouring Chris Neil, the most talked about moment came when Mike Hoffman delivered a vicious cross-check to the back of Logan Couture’s head.
Hoffman cross checking major+misconduct pic.twitter.com/bvDdNZOjhy— Stephanie (@myregularface) December 15, 2016
Hoffman has a hearing today at 12 p.m. and the expectation around the league seems to be that the winger will face some sort of disciplinary action. Hoffman would be a first time offender if the league does indeed decide to suspend him, and that may mean a lighter sentence, but it doesn’t excuse the act. Some have pointed out that Hoffman appeared to be targeting Couture’s back before Brenden Dillon bumps him but I can’t imagine that will even stand as a mitigating factor. Watching the replay over and over again, I kept finding myself hoping to find an angle that would somehow make it look less bad but I just can’t. Even if Dillon hadn’t bumped Hoffman, he would have delivered a pre-meditated (as much as these things can be in the heat of the moment) cross-check with the intent to injure. The whole thing is so bewildering and out of character for Hoffman that all we can do is sit back and wait for judgement.
The other incident garnering much of the focus from Wednesday’s encounter is Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s pitchfork of Erik Karlsson in the second period. Unlike Hoffman, Vlasic won’t face any supplementary discipline for his stickwork. It’s tempting as a Sens fan to cry conspiracy, or at the very least unfair treatment, but this just reads to me as a typical failing of the NHL’s disciplinary process. The simple fact is that Karlsson was not injured on the play, and as such Vlasic was never going to be punished. Until the NHL gets serious about punishing dangerous acts, not just those that result in immediate, visible injury, plays like Vlasic’s will continue to go unchallenged.
Race for the Play-offs
It’s probably a bit too early yet to worry about jockeying for play-off position, but after 30 games (where has the time gone?) the mid-point of the season isn’t too far behind. Friend of the site Micah McCurdy, @IneffectiveMath on Twitter, has a model that calculates each team’s chances at the post-season. As of this writing, the Senators sit firmly on the bubble:
The glass half-full view is that if you had polled the team’s fans at the start of the season, they pretty well unanimously would have said they’d be happy with a 16-11-3 start. The glass half-empty view is embodied by that ominous dip in their odds over the last week (and their poor shot metrics). Thanks to a resurgent Metropolitan division, the Sens will almost certainly need to hang onto one of the three guaranteed spots from their division to return to the post-season. As of this writing, they’re a coin flip to pull it off. Strap yourselves in folks, it’s gonna be a tense run.
Sens’ Handling of Their Players
We can argue until we’re blue in the face about their player evaluations, but the fact of the matter is that the Sens management have a history of treating their players very well. During his speech on Wednesday, Chris Neil went out of his way on a couple of occasions to thank the organization (including Eugene Melnyk) for their top notch treatment of him and his family over the years. Even perhaps the most acrimonious departure in franchise history, Daniel Alfredsson’s free agency debacle, has since been forgiven. We were reminded that when the time had come to trade Mike Fisher that Bryan Murray did well by Mike and his family. These are little things, but in a sports world that can seem awfully cold it’s nice to be reminded of some goodness.
Thanks for reading!