The Ottawa Senators entered the All-Star break feeling pretty confident with their recent performance. With a record of 4-0-2 in their last six games, and holding onto second place in the Atlantic Division, they have a reason for such high spirits. But the Sens made the news for many off-ice reasons this week, which left me with some thoughts.
1) Cyril Leeder
In a surprise news conference on Wednesday, Eugene Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators announced a changing of the guards at the top of the organization. Former MLSE executive Tom Anselmi stepped in, meaning Cyril Leeder was let go from his position of president. I’ll get into more details about Anselmi later, but I wanted to focus on Leeder first.
Regardless of the organization’s reasoning for the decision, none of us can ignore the contribution that Leeder made to the Sens during his tenure. He was part of the group who originally brought the Sens to Ottawa in the first place, and led the team to some of its most successful seasons to date.
Where the organization is heading now remains to be seen, but they obviously were looking for a change. No matter how good you are at your job, sometimes the direction of an organization and your specific abilities don’t line up. Full disclosure, I have no idea what the actual reasoning was behind this decision. My point is that Leeder did some great things for this organization, and this week’s change should not affect how anyone feels about him as a professional. Judging by the out pouring of support for him after the announcement, there is no risk of that happening.
Brad wrote a great piece thanking Leeder for everything that he’s done for the Senators and the city of Ottawa. He has a great reputation among fans and Ottawa residents in general, and for good reason. Leeder has always been open and approachable, often walking the concourse before games. He made himself available for interviews with some of us here at Silver Seven, which is something that not all executives would do. He was actually the first person within the Sens organization who I ever interviewed. I’ll always be very thankful for how open and respectful he was to me, a blogger with little experience interviewing NHL executives.
While his time with the organization is over, we will never forget what he did for this team. We may not know where things are heading from here, but one thing is for sure: The Ottawa Senators probably wouldn’t be where they are today without Cyril Leeder.
2) New #Leadership
With Cyril Leeder gone, Tom Anselmi steps in as the new president and CEO of the Ottawa Senators. Many Senators fans are naturally skeptical of someone from Toronto, let alone a former MLSE executive. But there is reason to believe that Anselmi’s addition to the organization is a good thing going forward.
Among many things during his 17-year career with Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, Anselmi was a big part of the Toronto Maple Leafs moving into the Air Canada Centre. He also played a role in the construction of BMO field and Maple Leafs Square. So it’s becoming more and more clear as to why Melnyk wants him involved with the Senators right now. As the group moves forward with the LeBreton Flats plan, it helps to have someone with experience in this area at the helm.
What some find a little odd about this whole situation is the timing. Sure, attendance has been an issue for the Sens this season. Clearly something isn’t working with the Senators brand and the city of Ottawa. But the team is winning. In fact, they are arguably playing their best hockey of the season in the last two weeks (let’s just leave the Calgary game aside). A management change right now seems a little ill-timed. However, it looks like talks with Anselmi began in December, after a “hiccup” in the LeBreton department. So clearly there are forces at play here, of which we are not fully aware.
My only concern is how a man who has experience running a sports organization in one of North America’s largest cities will transition into a smaller market like Ottawa. Everyone deserves a chance to prove what they can do. So we’ll just have to wait and see what Anselmi has in store for the Ottawa Senators.
3) Welcome Wingels
Not only did Pierre Dorion lock up Zack Smith for another four years this week, but he also made a minor change to the Sens roster with a trade. In exchange for Buddy Robinson, Zack Stortini, and a 2017 7th-round pick to San Jose, the Sens received forward Tommy Wingels in return. With 8 points (5G, 3A) in 37 games so far this season, he’s not exactly going to add much offence to the line-up, but he does give the team some options for their depth forwards.
The Senators haven’t had much trouble generating offence this season, but their bottom-six has left much to be desired at times. Players like Curtis Lazar, Chris Kelly and Tom Pyatt (up until very recently) have often failed to give the team the secondary scoring that’s expected of them.
Right now, Pyatt has been playing pretty well (see shootout goal against the Leafs), so it’s unlikely we’ll see any change to his spot in the lineup. We’re all aware of Lazar’s struggles, and it will be interesting to see if he gets a boost with a new linemate in Wingels. If things go south with Pyatt at any point, the Sens now have another piece that they can use to shake things up on the bottom-six.
So while this wasn’t a huge addition to the roster, Wingels gives the team more options down the stretch. As we get close to the playoffs, and the games begin to carry more weight, added depth will likely prove to be helpful for the Sens.
4) Fredrik Claesson
As the flu made its way through the Sens roster, we saw a few other minor changes last week. One that has seemed to stick was the addition of defenceman Fredrik Claesson, as Mark Borowiecki remains unable to play. This small change to the lineup seems to have made a bigger impact than initially thought.
Currently serving as the third-pairing defenceman alongside Chris Wideman, Claesson likely wasn’t expected to put up too many points. But it’s worth noting that in just 12 games with the Sens, Claesson has two points, the same as Borowiecki. The only difference? Borowiecki has played 40 games. Claesson has also been impressive in the possession department, at least against the Washington Capitals.
Defensemen Possession (Caps @ Sens). EK/MM have been slumping lately. Can't say the same about Freddy Claesson. Guy was on fire last night. pic.twitter.com/WuE7wJr6ZL— Sens Charts (@SensCharts) January 25, 2017
Another notable difference to the Sens defence since Claesson’s addition is that Chris Wideman is finally getting the recognition he deserves. From a possession stand point, Wideman’s contribution to this team has been well documented. However, he’s not often the object of praise from members of the media. Having Claesson as a partner seems to give Wideman the added boost to help him get noticed. I’ve been a huge fan of Wideman’s play so far this season, so seeing him finally get some recognition has been gratifying.
Between Claesson’s subtle, but effective, contribution and Borowiecki’s pointless penalties, it seems obvious that this is one lineup change should stick, at least for the time being. The Sens are also 3-0-2 since making the alteration. It’s a small sample size, but it’s worth sticking with what works, isn’t it?
5) All-Star Weekend
On the minds of many NHL players this week are the beeches and Pina Coladas that await them during the All-Star break. But of course, for the select few chosen to represent their team in the NHL All-Star weekend, entertainment (forced or not) is what they’re more focused on.
NHL fans have a tumultuous relationship with the All-Star Game. Of course, nothing will ever compare to the intrigue of last year’s event, with the John Scott saga at the top of everyone’s mind. What initially looked like a disaster for the league turned into the only reason for fans to watch, and a truly Hollywood moment for a very unlikely player. But alas, the NHL has taken a good thing and ruined it, ensuring that the John Scott event will never happen again. So why tune in this year?
While I tend to agree that the All-Star Game can be a defence-less, pond-hockey-like scoring show, the 3-on-3 format that was introduced last year had me a little more interested. Let’s face it, trying to convince NHL players to put effort into the All-Star Game is never easy. But the 3-on-3 games made things just a little more entertaining for fans.
The skills competition, however, has usually been a much more exciting affair. But wait, the NHL removed the breakaway challenge this year. In what was one of the only opportunities to see some player personality, the breakaway challenge apparently had to go. Regardless, I will be tuning into the skills competition and All-Star Game this weekend, in the hopes that something even remotely noteworthy takes place.
Will you be watching the All-Star weekend? Do you have a favourite aspect of the event (game, skills competition, etc.)?