Gather ‘round friends, and let’s share some thoughts:
On playing out the string
We’ve talked about the potential side effects of “tanking” in this space before, but during last night’s broadcast of the Sens-Sabres game Mike Johnson and Gord Miller had a brief discussion that merits some commentary. The TSN broadcast team in this instance was specifically talking about Ryan Dzingel’s breakout season, and Johnson was relating to Miller how it was okay to chase personal goals at the end of a lost season such as this one as long as it was done “in a team context”. Hockey’s a sport that has an unyielding obsession with placing the team above the individual, so it was refreshing to hear Johnson speak frankly about the players’ need to look out for their own self-interests in times like these. No one wants the asshole on their team that’s cheating to try to pot another goal or two to the detriment of the greater good, but we should also be realistic about what’s really going through the players’ heads in times like these; particularly those with precarious NHL futures. It’s the job of management, and the coaching staff, to figure out how to balance the short-term needs of their current players and the development of the team’s future stars. The players need to look out for themselves, too. Good on Johnson for talking about it candidly.
On the dangers of the harmless icing
One of my pet peeves as a hockey fan (and player, and coach) is when someone ices the puck when they’re not facing an intense, immediate threat. On the Sens, Mark Borowiecki and Cody Ceci are probably the two most frequent offenders. Unforced icings don’t seem that bad because teams rarely give up a goal after an icing. The truth is that goals are extremely rare occurrences, and even starting the play in your own end only slightly increases your odds of getting scored on. So why worry about them so much if you’re unlikely to suffer any immediate negative consequences? Because of the lost opportunity to generate a goal of your own. Teams rarely give up goals in the immediate aftermath of a defensive zone face-off, but the offense dries up at an ever faster rate. All of this to say, the “safe” play probably hurts your team more than you know. Don’t ice the puck if you don’t have to!
The deployment of Thomas Chabot and Cody Ceci
One issue that the Sens should turn their attention to now that the competitive part of the season is well and truly over, is trying to figure out whether they can make a pairing of Chabot and Ceci work next year. Since the Dion Phaneuf trade, Guy Boucher has settled into a deployment that’s heavily reliant on Erik Karlsson and Ceci, and then everyone else filling the gaps depending on the need that night. Lately, that’s meant Ben Harpur with Ceci and Chabot rotating between Borowiecki and Karlsson depending on the score and the situation. I doubt even the most optimistic of his supporters would tell you that they reasonably expect Harpur to be a top four defenseman, let alone a shutdown pair with Ceci. So why is Boucher wasting his time on this pair? Chabot-Ceci has the potential to be the team’s second, or heaven forbid first, pair next year. The whole rest of this season should be focused on learning things that will be useful for the future. Whether Ceci and Chabot can work together is one of the most important things that needs to be figured out.
The (unexpected) rise of the Atlantic Division
This one is only Sens specific in so much as that part of the reason there was some optimism that they could return to the play-offs this year was the perceived weakness of the Atlantic division. Part way through the season predictions of Metropolitan dominance seemed to be coming to fruition, but now as the season reaches its conclusion the top three teams in the Eastern Conference all hail from the Atlantic. Certainly the bottom of the division is just as putrid as one might have expected, but Tampa Bay’s return to dominance and Boston’s ascendancy count as at least moderate surprises. This writer, for example, believed that the Bruins were losing their fastball after last season but the complete opposite has been true. Chara may not be able to summon his Norris-winning past, but Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy have more than picked up the slack. Add in some superlative play from Danton Heinen and the makings of a very good team are plain to see. In Tampa Bay’s case, it seems most of us just forgot how good they were when fully healthy after being ravaged by injuries last season. The Atlantic is back, and better than ever.
There was quite the brouhaha this week over the Sens’ team picture this year, which, as I’m sure you’ve all heard, included a somewhat sour looking Karlsson sitting between Pierre Dorion and Eugene Melnyk. Karlsson, of course, dismissed any speculation of tension yesterday. Here’s the thing: this specific instance may not matter, but the overall feeling in the organization (and most importantly management’s relationship with the star player) matters very much. Karlsson has, mostly, done his bit to put on a brave face and say the right things. Dorion, or even better Melnyk, really, really need to do the same. Dorion’s press conference after the trade deadline did not exactly inspire a lot of confidence that this would be a relationship that could be mended. Make an unequivocal statement that you will make a serious contract offer to Karlsson. Don’t throw in a caveat about whether he’ll be on the team on July 1st. Just say you’re making the offer. At the very least, get the PR right because if they don’t it’s going to be an awfully long last month.
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