Five Thoughts For Friday: Ownership, Defense and Legacies

Plus a bit of optimism!

The last week has given us much to think about.

Giroux’s homecoming

Sens fans have seen this movie more times than we can count.

A fan favourite - someone who was never supposed to leave - makes his grand return to the city where he started his career. He’s wearing different colours now, playing for a team that has a slightly brighter future. It’s hard to describe the emotions that run through you as a fan during these games - sadness, because things should have worked out here but they didn’t. Anger, at management for driving him away. Maybe a little bit of betrayal, because he could have chosen to stick around.

We’ve had to watch so many of these games in the 30 years of this franchise’s existence. Some of us have attended in person, and some of us have refused to watch, still too sad or upset to try to get closure. There was Mark Stone in 2019, and before him there was Erik Karlsson, and Jason Spezza before him, and Daniel Alfredsson before him. It’s weird, then, to be on the other side of one of these games this time.

What has really struck me about this Giroux saga is how well the Flyers have handled it, under the circumstances. You couldn’t get a better storybook ending than his 1,000th and final game in a Flyers uniform last spring. It’s clear that the organization at least talked to Giroux about this and made sure to respect his wishes. The Flyers’ social media team even posted his media availability before last week’s game - a small gesture, but one I could never imagine the Sens doing.

I don’t think any fanbase could understand the emotions Flyers fans will be feeling tomorrow as well as Sens fans could. But I also hope Flyers fans realize how lucky they are that this was handled so well, and that he left on such good terms. Most fanbases don’t get that kind of closure.

Ryan Reynolds???

We’ve heard so many wacky ownership rumours over the years that it’s no surprise things are getting weird now that the team is officially up for sale. In case you missed it, the latest rumour is that Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds is interested in joining a consortium to buy the team.

I can’t quite believe this is actually real and happening, but I genuinely hope it is. There’s something so fitting about the Ottawa Senators - the small market team stuck between Toronto and Montreal that’s constantly overlooked and has the biggest inferiority complex in the league - being owned by one of the most beloved celebrities in Canada.

Early reports say that the Melnyks would prefer to sell to a single owner than to a consortium, but I really hope that doesn’t end up happening. Multiple owners allows for greater financial stability, and after the last decade you’ll have to forgive me for being a bit wary of billionaires who want to own hockey teams. Give me Reynolds and a bunch of Canadian celebrities. That sounds like more fun, and better for the team.

The Blueline

We knew going into this season that the Sens were going to be weak on defense, and Artem Zub getting injured has only made that more clear. The possession numbers are actually pretty good, but it feels like several times a game we see defensive breakdowns that lead to backbreaking goals against.

Waiving Zaitsev was a long overdue step in the right direction. It’s also been great to see Jacob Bernard-Docker in the NHL and doing well. It is, however, a little bit frustrating how predictable this situation was. We knew Zaitsev was bad. We knew Bernard-Docker was NHL-ready, or close to it. Why the delay?

The good news is that if JBD sticks around after Zub comes back, the defense might actually be good.

Alfie To The Hall (real)

This weekend is the Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, and there will be lots of discussion about Daniel Alfredsson and his legacy in Ottawa and around the hockey world. Speaking to fans and media about this very topic over the last few days has reminded me of the extent to which Alfie’s legacy is tied to the Ottawa Senators.

A lot of hockey fans think of Daniel Alfredsson as Just Some Guy, and I think that’s part of what makes this whole thing so special. He’s our guy. No one else understands what he means to us.

Alfie was one of the first real stars this team had, the first long term captain, the first guy we could point to as our guy. Now, he’s the first player who was mostly known as a Senator to make it to the Hall. It feels right.

Some optimism

We’ve just had to endure an extremely frustrating stretch of games. I won’t lie and say I’ve stayed calm throughout all of it. There’s no way to watch six consecutive losses by a team that has no business losing six consecutive games and not get angry. It feels unacceptable, and it feels like something needs to change.

However, I do want to point out there are a lot of indications that this losing streak is more of a run of bad luck than a continuation of the same issues we saw in the bubble season and 2021-22. The Sens are near the top of the league in all 5v5 possession metrics, including unblocked shot attempts (corsi), expected goals and scoring chances. That was very much not the case at this point last season, or the one before that.

Micah Blake McCurdy’s “sadness” rankings currently rank the Ottawa Senators as the team most likely to both miss the playoffs and miss out on a high draft pick. Not exactly where anyone wants their team to end the season, but certainly an optimistic outlook for a team that currently sits 30th overall - firmly in lottery territory. They are simply not as bad as their record indicates.

Sticking with Micah’s work, here’s the team’s with-or-without you chart for this season so far. I like these charts because they’re relatively easy to read - names close to the top are good defensively, and names closer to the right are good offensively. The labels in the four corners give you an idea of how the team does with that player on the ice.

Almost the entire team is on the correct side of that red line, which means that they’re creating more chances than they’re giving up. For comparison, look at how the team finished last season:

They can’t finish, and the powerplay does legitimately suck, but that’s about it. They’ll be okay. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.

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