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Five Thoughts for Friday

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NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Ottawa Senators
“Claesson defends”
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes the Thoughts arrive a bit later than scheduled, but on Friday they will always arrive nonetheless. Here are five of mine:

A Look Behind the Scenes in Belleville

Scott Wheeler had a great piece for the Athletic yesterday that took the reader behind the scenes in Belleville at the Yardmen facility, home of the Sens’ AHL affiliate. There were plenty of good reasons to move the team from Binghamton, and Wheeler highlights the convenience of such direct proximity between the minor league and pro operations. The facilities sure look top notch, and there are several quotes from AHL veterans that are highly complimentary of the newly renovated digs. The one item that stood out to me, however, was a quote from Randy Lee about how the Sens believe they can leverage some of their advantages to attract AHL free agents:

“Lee thinks Belleville could quickly become an easy-to-recruit-to spot due to the facilities, the location, and the travel (Belleville has one of the better schedules in the AHL with their division rivals in Toronto, Rochester, Utica, Syracuse and Binghamton).

“I’ve had a lot of players reach out and say, ‘Hey, if you’re ever looking, that’s attractive to me to be in Belleville.’ That contributes to your player development opportunities. There’s a lot of good things. We’re excited about the future. That’s why we left a very good situation in Binghamton for something that is even more special. It’s a Canadian market, it’s in our market, and the proximity just helps out so much,” he said.”

One of the biggest questions facing the Senators organization is how best to transform their AHL team. Right now they are not competitive, and they haven’t exactly churned out the highest quality prospects. Balancing the two needs is tricky — if the Sens organization wants to focus on the young prospects, it’s hard to justify giving lots of ice-time to veterans like Erik Burgdoefer. The first year in Belleville hasn’t been much better than the last year in Binghamton from an on-ice perspective, but if it’s going to turn around, it won’t hurt to have every advantage they can get.

Quick Rebuilds

Speaking of rebuilding, the NHL club is staring down the barrel of a rebuild (pending, of course, the resolution of a few key personnel moves this off-season). It’s taken as gospel in the hockey world that the only way to build a true contender is to tear everything down to the studs and pick at the very top of the draft for as many years as possible. Witness the current era Pittsburgh Penguins or the Chicago Blackhawks of the late 2000’s. That being said, the on-going success of the Las Vegas Golden Knights should put the lie to the notion that there is only one true way to reach the pinnacle of the NHL. The fact is that the league is filled with copy-cats and we are not exactly facing an overabundance of outside of the box thinking. Expansion teams should not be good at all, let alone one of the best teams in the league. Luck, of course, played a part but great teams can be built in unconventional ways. The Sens, given some of their restrictions as a franchise, should be looking long and hard at what Vegas has done this season, especially as it pertains to picking up unervalued assets. Maybe going scorched earth is the right approach, but I hope that before management engages in something that rash that they consider the unconventional success stories.

Claesson’s unconventional defending

Fredrik Claesson has become something of a divisive topic among Sens fans lately, especially with the organization seemingly signaling their preference for Ben Harpur when they signed him to a two year, one-way extension a few weeks ago. I’m not here to re-litigate where he fits on the team’s depth chart, but I will say that one thing I appreciate about Claesson is his unconventional defending of 1 on 1 situations off the rush. Claesson isn’t huge by NHL standards, he’s listed at 6’1 according to NHL.com, but he makes exceptional use of his reach to challenge attackers at the blue line, and then force them to the outside if they do gain the zone. He skates backwards in a more hunched position than is conventional and he sort of leans forwards and extends his arm out to keep his stick in the lane while threatening to swipe the puck off the attacker’s stick at any moment. It’s fascinating to contrast his technique with say, Cody Ceci, who skates backwards much more upright and keeps his stick closer to his body. I’m not picking on Ceci here, this is how defensemen are typically taught to defend 1 on 1. Keep an eye out for Claesson’s technique next game, it’s hard to miss once you notice it and it’s remarkably effective.

Good Players on Bad Teams

As seems to be the case every year when it comes time to pick the end of season awards, we have become embroiled in a debate about the “true meaning” of MVP. For some voters, it is a prerequisite that your team be of a certain quality in order to qualify for the Hart. This particular round of debate has been kicked up by the candidacy of Connor McDavid, who is unquestionably very good while his Edmonton Oilers are bad. I don’t think it’s totally unreasonable to use team standing as a tie-breaker between worthy candidates but we’ve gotta get our heads around the idea that good players can be on bad teams, or conversely that bad players can be on good teams. Hockey is a team game is a truism for a reason: the presence of one player alone, even a generational talent, is not enough to guarantee success. As Sens fans, this is something we should understand inherently; there’s only so many minutes Erik Karlsson can play. We can, and should, look at the performance of a player’s team when they’re on the ice. The part that happens when they’re not, i.e most of the game, isn’t something they can control and we’ve gotta stop pretending like they can.

Dreams Coming True

Last, but not least, we have a cool story from Chicago. You’ve probably all read about it already, but it really was cool to see a beer league player get their shot at living a dream. We’ve probably all dreamed about suiting up for the Sens in some sort of emergency situation, but to actually stare down NHL shooters in a regular season game? He even made a couple of tricky saves:

They say half of success is showing up, and well, it’s hard to argue with that after things like this. Hang around long enough, and you too can play in an NHL game.