Five Thoughts for Friday
Prospects, 'Toxic' Personalities, Colin Greening's not Terrible, and more!
As the calendar turns to the second week of July, we've officially entered the sleepiest time of the year for NHL fans. Most of the game's prominent analyst are off on their summer sabbaticals; Pierre Lebrun, Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, and others, have announced their plans to take at least the new few weeks off. Fear not though, dear reader, Silver Seven never sleeps! In fact, it's time for our weekly Five Thoughts feature.
Let's get to it!
Colin Greening's "bad" contract
Colin Greening has a bad contract. At this point, even the most ardent supporters of the Cornell grad would have to admit that he's overpaid for what he brings to the team. Bryan Murray has perhaps never tried harder to trade a player, and yet has shown no real signs of progress. According to Friedman, Murray wanted the Oilers to take Greening in any trade involving Robin Lehner but that extra ask dramatically reduced the return. Accordingly, Murray instead packaged up David Legwand and got himself a shiny first round draft pick from Buffalo. Since Murray has also made it clear on several occasions that the team will not buy Greening out, it's starting to look like the big guy is going to be in Ottawa at the start of the season. We're all going to have to live with it.
The thing is: Colin Greening isn't actually that terrible. He's got a terrible contract, and for that reason most fans have a terrible opinion of him, but he isn't terrible. He's a serviceable fourth-line winger who, last year's calamity aside, should be good for 10 or so goals. He'll get dragged to the bottom of the ocean on a line with Zack Smith and Chris Neil, but given somewhat capable teammates he won't look that out of place. While the Sens should be doing their best to make room for their youngsters, Colin Greening is not the first skater I'd look to replace. If he and his oversized contract are going to be in town, he might as well contribute.
What to make of the prospects
One of the best things about being a sports fan is the process of renewal brought on by young prospects and the possibility of their unlimited potential. It's fun to dream about Thomas Chabot becoming the next Erik Karlsson. SensChirp had a neat guest post from Craig Smith of Hockey Prospectus that took a look at all the players the Sens selected in the 2015 draft. It was encouraging to read someone from outside the organization say some positive things about the kids. What was of particular interest to me, however, was how Smith did a good job of balancing possibilities with grounded realism. This passage, especially, drove the message home:
Colin White has received comparisons to Patrice Bergeron which is unfair and almost unattainable. He has also been compared to Derek Stepan, all though Stepan’s offensive upside is higher than that of White. Lazar is probably the best player to look at for White’s role with the Senators.
The reality is that outside of the top 15-20 selections in a given draft, very few of the players taken will amount to franchise-altering pieces. The Sens did well to re-stock a mostly barren system but if more than one or two turn out to be regular NHL contributors, this will have been a big win. It's a long, slow process to build organizational depth; it may be a few years before Ottawa's dealing from a position of strength. In the meantime, grab as many lotto tickets as you can get your hands on and hope your number gets called.
Alex Semin, Phil Kessel and "toxic players"
Character is a player attribute constantly talked about in the NHL, maybe more than in any other professional sport. Some players have made substantial sums of money for themselves largely on the back of being "good in the room". Conversely, some have seen their stock fall because of perceived character flaws. The middling return the Leafs got for a player of Phil Kessel's calibre speaks in part to that. It's also telling that the moment Kessel was shipped out of town, that so many analysts hopped on the character angle. Whether it was fair to him or not, Kessel had the label of not being a "character guy". This type of information matters to front-office decision makers.
Someone even further down the line is Alex Semin. Semin's reached the point of being untouchable to many, despite posting some very strong numbers. Look, we don't really know if Semin's a good teammate or not. What we do know is that in light of being recently bought out, and with seemingly close to zero league-wide interest, he could almost certainly be had for pennies on the dollar. Semin won't solve the team's problems by himself, but he's a bonafide top six winger and a budget team like the Sens could always use good depth at a cheap rate. The hockey community is sometimes so obsessed with character that players get undervalued for non-hockey reasons. I'm not quite ready to call it a full-fledged market inefficiency, but this one instance is at least worth a flyer.
Substance Abuse and Toughness in the NHL
Character has further reaching implications than simple player evaluation. The definition of good "character" in the NHL is impossible to pin down with complete certainty. Loyalty to your team is perhaps the biggest ingredient but not too far behind comes toughness. Willingness to play through injury, sometimes extreme injury, is held up and praised. Like any type of adulation, there is a dark side. One of the (many) hidden costs is an environment where substance abuse is more prevalent than we'd like to acknowledge. Rich Clune's piece for the Player's Tribune last week was an essential, chilling read. Clune doesn't come out and say it explicitly, but there's something wrong with the picture when endangering your health is not only accepted, but applauded. For Sens fans, Mark Borowiecki's return to a game after having his teeth knocked is a familiar example. Or think about the criticism leveled at Mark Stone for daring to leave the ice with "only" a micro-fracture. These are grown adults, and they make their own choices; we still owe it to ourselves to remember where this kind of fetishization of toughness can go every time a player is heralded for risking his own health and well-being.
Sens' place in the Atlantic Division
We'll close out on a lighter note with a question for the group: with the team seemingly having made most of their moves for the summer, where do you rank the Senators in the Atlantic Division? For my money, Tampa Bay's the prohibitive favourite and Detroit's upgrades give them the inside track to second place. After that, though, it's a bit of a mess. Where do you see the Sens finishing, and why? Vote in the poll, and let's hear your reasoning in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
Where will the Senators finish in the Atlantic?