Although I haven’t managed to trace the origin of the rumour, somewhere along the line Robin Lehner’s name came up as a possible option in the net for the Ottawa Senators when we next see regular season hockey, should Anders Nilsson continue to suffer from post-concussion symptoms. Beyond the need for Ottawa to hit the salary cap floor (Lehner should get over $5M annually and Ottawa needs some $20M), I don’t see the fit. First and foremost, I don’t see Lehner returning to the team of his own volition after the complicated relationship he had with the Senators. Secondly, with the uncertainty of the market, I imagine that this is the year Lehner signs whatever multi-year deal he can get after one-year contracts in Brooklyn and Chicago. A month from 29-years-old, and considering his resume, Lehner rounds out a modest class of free agent goalies along the likes of Braden Holtby, Cam Talbot, and Jacob Markstrom, so Lehner should have offers.
From the Senators’ perspective, I just can’t justify bringing in a veteran while Marcus Hogberg and Joey Daccord wait in the wings. I don’t need to reiterate my pro-youth/anti-free agency agenda for any regular visitors to the blog, but I’ll try to explain in a goalie-centric way why Ottawa can proceed with Hogberg and Daccord. Lehner, the last hyped Senators goalie prospect to become a full-time NHLer came to Ottawa full-time at age-22 and put up respectable numbers. While some may question Lehner’s results in Ottawa, I would look first and foremost and the team in front of him. And even if we do entertain the argument that the organization rushed Lehner at 22, Hogberg and Daccord will respectively turn 26 and 24 this fall (both older than Lehner was when Ottawa traded him (!)). And Daccord’s 2015 draft-mates: Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Filip Chlapik, Christian Wolanin, and Christian Jaros, have outgrown gigs in the AHL (albeit as position players). If the Senators want to become one of those wise teams who use youth to their advantage to create a competitive edge over more wealthy teams then they could do worse than starting in the crease. Based on the research available, goalies do NOT improve with age and they do decline at a pronounced rate once they hit age thirty. Per friend of the blog, Micah Blake McCurdy, skaters peak at age 24 and I don’t believe goalies peak much later based on the numbers we’ve seen.
Again from the rumour mill, Lindy Ruff will take over behind the bench for the Devils. From inside my glass house of Sens-fandom I won’t throw any stones at the Devils right now, although I recommend you read the prior link about the hiring from our Sibling site in New Jersey to get a sense of how Devils fans have received the news. Given the organizational state of the Devils and their ostensible pivot towards analytics, the Ruff hiring seems somewhat incongruous. While I tend to criticize just about everything the Senators do, I have to say that I strongly supported Dorion’s decision to hire Guy Boucher back in 2016 and have hope for D.J. Smith after his rookie season. Boucher had a reputation as a progressive, young coach who would revolutionize the team and, to his credit, Boucher’s system worked until it didn’t (full marks to Mark Stone, Erik Karlsson, and Craig Anderson). While not reputed as quite the mastermind Boucher is, Smith is still a younger, more cerebral coach than a lot of the others in the league and we at the blog took note of his solid performance this season. The cynic in me could chalk it up to financials but at the end of the day I would rather see the team roll the dice on young coaches than recycle dinosaurs.
On saying goodbye
Here’s an honest question for the readers, other than Alfie’s one-day retirement contract, have we ever had a proper farewell for a long-time Senator? To my knowledge, every beloved Senator has either gotten traded, left in free agency, or retired, unceremoniously. It may be a baseball fan bias on my part, but this is one of those traditions that baseball teams seem to handle so well while hockey teams always hold their cards close to the vest under the pretense that other teams will capitalize on their future plans. Please watch this video and then imagine having this sort of send-off for any of Alfie, Phillips, Lalime, Neil, Redden (you get the idea) when the team acknowledges that this beloved player will not come back in the same uniform instead of breaking the news months later.
We already said goodbye to Jean-Gabriel Pageau this year and got our video tribute. We have little idea what the future holds for Mark Borowiecki in Ottawa and can only speculate that Craig Anderson will commit to twitch-streaming full-time. Since I joined the blog, I’ve laboured the point a lot about appreciating players while they’re here, but I guess I feel I can’t overstate the importance of the sentimental element of sports fandom when everything else is so ephemeral. More than anything, now that Clarke MacArthur’s contract has officially expired, I’m so grateful I saw Grizz’ last game in Ottawa on May 23rd, 2017 even if we didn’t know it at the time. I count myself among those who consider Grizz the best free agent signing in team history (Brandon ranks him in a virtual tie with Todd White) and Clarke’s story will always be a crucial chapter in Senators history. For the fans, for the organization, and mostly for Grizz, I wish he could have taken one last solo lap.
On the draft
First of all, if you’re tired of reading about the draft, this might not be the best blog for you. Secondly, if you’re invested in this team then I think you might want to do at least some preliminary research before the draft (Colin and Ary have you covered on that big time!). Colin shared this article recently and as far as free reading material about he upcoming draft goes, this is about as good as it gets (outside of our website). This summary should interest both the stat-heads and the traditional scouting report-types, and answer a lot of the questions you may have about the top prospects we’ll see this fall. As a Sens fan I always hope for the best and prepare for the worst, and this article assuaged a lot of my concerns about Dorion “reaching” with any of Ottawa’s first round picks. When players in the high-twenties get compared to Jordan Eberle, Brayden Point, and Blake Wheeler, it really gives you a sense of just how deep this class is and how near-impossible it will be for Dorion to miss with any of his high picks. My biggest fear has been Dorion going off the board for a defender in the top five and even those players are drawing comparisons to Ryan Suter, Kris Letang, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. I understand that this is just one writer’s opinion and that drafts are as unpredictable as anything in sports but I can’t over-emphasize how even if things go terribly wrong at the draft, they’ll still be mostly okay. And this is, as I said, one of the more thorough and detailed profile pieces I’ve read (and it has videos!) so you can judge for yourself. Now it goes without saying that I hope Dorion nails all three first-rounders and builds a cup contender but I’m mentally preparing myself for a possible reality when Dorion makes the wrong picks and we only end up with players who would be at the top of the draft class basically any other year. If Ottawa ends up with Lundell and Holtz instead of Byfield and Raymond, rest assured, we’ll survive.
Finally, to those who stayed on for the trip (thank you), we need to talk about return to play because now, just like in March, it makes no sense. I won’t try to convince anyone who supports return to play and I know it will proceed whether I like it or not. I just need to state again, for the record, that it troubles me that I follow leagues that endanger the lives of employees for profit. You can argue that I have a bias because the teams I follow wouldn’t make the post-season anyway but as Ary said in a separate piece, Sens fans who remember 2005 know as well as anyone what it feels like to lose a year of contention (and that was for financial reasons as opposed to health and safety(!)). I don’t idolize many athletes outside of the game but as a bespectacled metalhead who enjoys science fiction novels, I thoroughly enjoy reading Sean Doolittle’s interviews and he really puts it into better words that I can in this piece. We’re no longer living in an era of decadence. Sports are a luxury we can’t afford right now. Stay safe and take care of each other.