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Five Thoughts for Friday

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On Boucher and Karlsson, Lebreton, Passing, and more

NHL: Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators
“I swear I can do one pushup!”
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for the most highly anticipated column in all of the hockey world: Five Thoughts here at Silver Seven Sens.

What’s that? You think I’m just ripping off Elliotte Friedman’s patented and universally adored feature? Well, you’d be right.

But you’re here already so why don’t we share those Five Thoughts shall we?

On Karlsson and Boucher’s Relationship

As the team has continued to plummet down the standings and approach mathematical elimination from playoff contention, it’s become harder and harder to block out all of the noise surrounding Erik Karlsson’s future with the Senators. A seemingly big piece of that puzzle is his relationship with the coach, Guy Boucher. Lately, there have been some disconcerting signs on that front:

Or take his curious, and seemingly pointed, comments after Tuesday night’s game against the Blues:

Hockey players are programmed to answer media questions in the most boring way possible, so when any of them veer even slightly off-script it’s a noteworthy event.

Now, the relationship between players and their coach is often mainly a reflection of how the team is performing: when the Sens were on their way to the Conference Finals last year, no one was making any waves about potential friction between Karlsson and his bench boss. But I also would be reticent to so easily dimiss this potential fissure for a couple of reasons: firstly, Boucher already has a well-established reputation for grinding on his players. His time in Ottawa wouldn’t be the first instance of wearing out his welcome. Secondly, Boucher’s principal tactical philosophy is to minize mistakes above all else. Karlsson, rightly or wrongly, is all about calculated risks and offensive daring. He’s one of the most high event players in entire league, and that he might bristle at being asked to play a completely different style while the team is losing wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. Again, this isn’t to assign blame to either party but the fit with these two was never going to be seamless and now that the team is struggling, it seems we’re starting to see the cracks.

This situation will be worth monitoring as we head towards the off-season. I tend to agree with Steve Warne on this one: the Sens’ long term plans likely can’t include both Karlsson and Boucher.

On Ryan Dzingel’s Role and the Future of the Bottom Six

It’s been written about in a couple of places already, but one of the legitimately pleasant surprises of this season has been the continued strong play of Dzingel. For anyone familiar with my writing, you’ll know that I’ve been a fan of his since he first caught on as a regular last season. But with all of the roster upheaval that now seems sure to come, it’s worth wondering where, exactly, Dzingel fits into the club’s long term plans. Last night against the Bruins, playing principally on a line with Pageau and Pyatt, we got a glimpse of how he could be most useful to a good team. In a perfect world, Ottawa would have more depth up front such that it wouldn’t be necessary for Dzingel to play in the top 6; in fact, a third line of Dzingel, Pageau and Colin White might have the potential to be a great checking line with enough skill to generate a bit of offense now and then. Pageau’s been a part of such a line before, after all: his successful partnership with Curtis Lazar (remember him?) and Erik Condra was a godsend for that 2014-15 Sens team that so badly needed depth.

The Sens absolutely have bigger fish to fry, but maybe the biggest failing of this past off-season was not upgrading a bottom six that so badly needed it. If the Sens are ever going to be a deep team again, a guy like Dzingel should be exactly who they target for their third line.

On The Next Big Step in the Lebreton Process

As I’m sure everyone is aware, Thursday brought with it good news regarding the Sens’ RendezVous Lebreton bid to redevelop the flats. The critical consensus at this point seems to be that the Sens will eventually play their home games downtown, in one form or another. The devil is in the details and the trickiest detail to work out is who, exactly, is going to pay for all of this. Jim Watson’s seemingly made the city’s position on the issue clear: no public money. Yet something tells me that’s far from the last you’ll hear on this particular issue. Melnyk may be be impulsive and brash, but when he’s lashing out and threatening to move the team there’s a concrete objective in mind. He desperately wants to create the necessary leverage to get his hands on the public coffers. The NHL wants this move to happen, but they sure as heck aren’t going to pay for it. The City of Ottawa would like this move to happen but they want (for now) no part in paying for it. Melnyk needs this move to happen most of all, but can he pay for it? We’re going to find out in the next 12 months or so. Buckle up.

On the Senators’ Lack of Passing:

This is more of an anecdotal than empirical observation at this point, but one of the things that has really struck me about the Sens during their abysmal run of late is their seeming inability to complete more than a couple of passes at a time. When everything is as broken as it is right now, it’s hard to tease out a single cause but I’d wager that a lot of the offensive struggles stem from not enough passing. In today’s NHL, possession of the puck is more important than ever and territorial play is less a concern. Simply put: getting the puck in deep just isn’t good enough anymore. The contrast between the Sens’ attack in the neutral zone and that of their opponents can at times be jarring. The good teams, like the Bruins last night, generate speed for their attack through a series of short, precise passes until they find a skater moving at full speed. Ottawa, on the other hand, seems a lot less interested in these precise exchanges. It’s not everything, but it’s something, and trust me that once you’ve seen it, it’s hard to unsee.

On The All-Star Break:

It feels a bit strange to be embarking on another prolonged break between games after the recent bye week, but with All-Star weekend here the Sens won’t be suiting up again until next Tuesday. Most of the players, Karlsson excepted of course, will probably take the time to catch up on their tanning or spend some time with the family. Personally, I’m going to take the time to brush up on my knowledge real estate development financing (mostly kidding on that one). So what says you Sens fans? How do you plan to spend the time? Got any All-Star weekend traditions? Let’s hear about them in the comments.