Silver Nuggets: Will the critics of Dave Cameron's lineup decisions please stand up.

Ah, the hot topic. What else did you think I was going to write about today? The must-win game? The goaltender debacle? The lineup decisions are so prevalent that there's been a ton of criticism, not only by the fans, but by members of the mainstream media as well. In this short piece, I'll present some of this criticism and engage with it a bit - hopefully you all will as well in the comments!

For a quick review of how far we've come in... a week, here's what I wrote about Cameron's in-game decisions in a game recap where the Sens pulled away from the Bruins to win 6-4:

Dave Cameron continues to learn as a head coach and plays Wiercioch - Ceci over the stereotypical defensive pairing of Borowiecki - Gryba in the last 10 minutes of the third. (Shiftchart from War-On-Ice)

sens bruins shift chart
And of course, Mark Stone continues to be Mark Stone. After Curtis Lazar misses an empty netter (he was trusted by the coach to play the final minute of the most important game of the year, a telling sign of Cameron's faith in his defensive ability), Milan Michalek's fantastic effort gets the puck to Stone, who manages to skate the puck up the ice and instead of shooting it into the empty net, he passes it off to Kyle Turris who scores with 19 seconds left in the game, after scoring 19 seconds INTO the game in the first, to cap the Sens win. The team is now only TWO points behind Boston with a game in hand, although Boston owns the first tiebreaker - regulation wins - if it ends up like that.

Yes, Dave Cameron did indeed make these coaching decisions! He used rookies Mark Stone and Curtis Lazar in the final minute vs. the BOSTON BRUINS (i.e. the team they're chasing) TWO WEEKS AGO.

Here's what Nichols had to say in an excellent piece:

For whatever reason, Cameron is tactically afraid to deploy his more "skilled" players (read: Hoffman and Wiercioch) now that the games matter. It ignores the contributions both players made playing a principle role in getting the Senators back into the playoff hunt and in relying on his trustworthy grit players, they made the on-ice product worse.

There's something to said about sending messages, but Cameron's has the unintended consequence of being, "Hey, I'm prepared to make my team worse during the most pivotal phase of the season."

The Senators had fate in their own hands and they compounded their own problems with self-inflicted dumb decisions. Now maybe the pressure of the situation is getting to Cameron and his players, or maybe other prevalent matters are distracting them. I can't even begin to imagine how much Mark Reeds' ailing health is weighing on their minds.

Yet despite these pressures, Cameron can make things easier for himself by relying on the guys that got him here.

Exactly. What's the logic behind Dave Cameron switching up his lineup, with the most talked about change being the demotion of Mike Hoffman on the line with Zibanejad and Ryan and instead, trying a rotating crop of left wingers that don't include Shane Prince, the latest being Zack Smith? Here's some thoughts from the man himself, from a great Wayne Scanlan piece:

"Straight lines and somebody on the net," Cameron said, when asked about placing Smith with Zibanejad and Ryan. "It sounds simple. It is simple."

Cameron's practice drills Monday emphasized the direct approach from one end of the ice to the other - "north-south" in hockey parlance - and eliminating large gaps between the five players on the ice.

Okay, look. The logic - eliminating gaps between players and have them travel up ice as a unit - is what the best teams do. Watch a couple games that feature the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, or the New York Rangers, and you'll see that it's what they're coached to do. The big question I have then is why he thinks Zack Smith or Colin Greening are better options than just sticking with Mike Hoffman? Is it because he's better at creating offense when he's on the ice (CF60; SCF60) or is it because he's better "defensively" than Mike Hoffman (CA60; SCA60).

(all statistics from War On Ice)


Corsi For/60

Corsi Against/60

Scoring Chances For/60

Scoring Chances Against/60

Mike Hoffman





Zack Smith





Colin Greening





Clarke MacArthur





There are usage concerns to consider here, but in general, Hoffman is a significantly better offensive talent when you look at shot attempt numbers and scoring chance numbers (not to mention goals and points). and we can see that here. Defensively, the numbers are interesting as Hoffman's CA60 is worse than Smith and Greening, but when he's on the ice, the Sens give up less scoring chances per 60 minutes of ice time. I've put Clarke MacArthur in here as well, even though he's generally Turris' linemate when healthy, because he's also a left-wing option on the team that isn't on the Lazar - Pageau - Condra line. He's had a bit of a rough season, but is definitely a top-six forward and is generally considered a good two-way forward, although the numbers don't support it here. On a line counted on for offense, putting two wingers that are significantly worse than Hoffman (or MacArthur) on there - with BSens offensive leader Shane Prince remains in the minors as a left-wing - is silly.

What about the oft-heralded reason for coaches to make changes - to mix things up, to have the team play with a spark? The always excellent Luke Peristy has some pertinent thoughts on a must-read roundtable by the folks over at WTYKY:

3f. I don't begrudge Dave Cameron making lineup decisions based on nebulous psychological reasons like "trying to give the team a spark" or needing to "change things up a bit". As no less than Ian Mendes pointed out, it's tough not to argue that something had to give after the preceding two gong shows. I see this idea on Twitter a lot that coaching should really as simple as sending out your best players and that any other coaching adjustments are a sign of overthinking things and that psychology is overrated. I'd be willing to accept this idea a lot more if it weren't for the fact that a number of the most successful coaches in sports are especially noted as much for their motivational ability as for their skills as tacticians and teachers. If you want to tell people that coaching the Bulls was as easy as sending out Michael Jordan at the same time as Scottie Pippin, be my guest, but also be prepared to accept my serene dismissal of that opinion. Dave Cameron's been hitting every note correctly for six weeks straight while trying to drag this team into the playoffs. He missed one yesterday, but the task he's been set is analogous to playing Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto as the guest soloist filling in for Yefim Bronfman. Even the pros think that ossia cadenza is a real tricky bastard to get right every time. Selah.

This lines up with my thoughts on Dave Cameron in general. You can't ignore the improvement in score-adjusted Corsi from 47.3% on December 4th, 2014, to 52.1 in the games from December 4th till now, and I definitely think that some of it is due to system changes Cameron talked about when he was hired. The money question though, for the Senators future, is how much of that increase is completely due to personnel? Since he's taken the helm, the Senators two worst possession players - Chris Phillips and Chris Neil - have missed significant time, with the third and fourth worst - Mark Borowiecki and Zack Smith - missing a ton of games as well. With those four out, more minutes went to the younger, better forwards like Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and better possession defensemen like Patrick Wiercioch and Cody Ceci.

Now, with some of those players back, healthy, and ready to contribute, Dave Cameron has to make tougher lineup decisions. It's also not as easy as: "sorry Jared, you suck, so you're sitting." From a player development standpoint, especially as a young player, do you think it makes sense for a coach to go to a player and say "look, right now you're playing terribly so we're going to sit you out. Work on this, this, and this in practice and if you put effort in, you'll get better" and then not give the player any opportunity to try it out in a game situation?

Trust me, I completely get the concerns about it being a high-leverage situation. The Sens played out of their minds to generate this opportunity, so now it just looks strange because they're squandering it all away due to a couple of preventable mistakes (and some unpreventable ones, like save percentage regression). Cowen, Smith, Greening, Legwand, etc. can wait it out until the Sens have clinched or since they've done poorly in the opportunity they've been given, don't deserve another chance. 100% with you on that. But if you're the head coach, that's an incredibly difficult philosophy to put into practice, and even harder with the whole loyalty thing you have with veterans in sport. That's why I think we should be critical of the team's management group for making poor evaluations and signing "bad" veteran players, putting Dave Cameron into this situation, rather than the coach himself, who needs his veterans to hold the young group together by being older role models that the players learn from.

We haven't even discussed the pressure that the entire hockey operations crew faces from a financial level either, with Eugene Melnyk's need for playoff revenue putting pressure on the short-term results - for the team to deliver. This only adds in another layer of confusion though, because with so little room for error, why would the team mess with a lineup that just had the best month of March in franchise history? This is the question that I think a lot the concerns re: the team's decisions over the past week boils down to, and it's what we desperately need an answer to.

What do you think?


Sens Links

  • Well... I knew that my obnoxious title on Tuesday's post was going to jinx everything, so feel free to pass all of the blame for yesterday's loss to the Rangers to me. [Silver Seven, Rank the Performances, Ottawa Citizen, SensChirp, SenShot]
  • The Sens did manage to get a point on Saturday night though! (although it was against the lowly Maple Leafs) [Silver Seven, Rank the Performances, Ottawa Citizen, SensChirp, SenShot]
  • They didn't follow it up with a good performance against the Florida Panthers the next day, though. Jaromir Jagr looked fast that night. Jaromir Jagr! [Silver Seven, Rank the Performances, Ottawa Citizen, SensChirp, SenShot]
  • Here's Brad with a look at the week ahead on the NHL schedule. I know I'll also be supplementing these games with the Women's World Championship in Sweden - a tournament that has already produced a few upsets so far. [Silver Seven - Week Ahead, Silver Seven - WWC Preview]
  • Wayne Scanlan has a great piece on the emotions that a lot of us are feeling right now. We're on a roller coaster and don't really have a clue on when (and how) this ride is going to end. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • There were a bunch of off-ice stories with the Senators last week because of a) Hamburgers being thrown on the ice and b) people wanting to open the Sens Mile early. [6th Sens, SenShot (burgers), SenShot (Sens Mile), Bonk's Mullet (Sens Mile)]
  • In case you missed anything funny last week, Eldrinson has your twitter roundup! [SenShot]
  • With both Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond likely at less than 100%, Amelia asks which goalie should start this crucial stretch of games for the Senators this week. [Silver Seven]
  • Despite a meh week for most of the players on the team, Mark Stone continues to put up points at a torrid pace. Here's Nichols on the Winnipeg native, and how he deserves Calder recognition. [6th Sens]
  • Richard has a fantastic post on the run the Senators have been on thus far. Really helps put everything in context. [Silver Seven]
  • On that point, Amelia has a great post on the players other than Andrew Hammond that have helped contribute to this marvellous late season run. You may be surprised by how well practically every player has played! [Silver Seven]
  • Matt Jackson has a post on the 6th Sens about the effect of the Methot - Karlsson pairing on each of the team's current centres - an interesting read! [6th Sens]
  • Jay has a nice piece about the future of Chris Neil and Chris Phillips, with speculation on what's next at this stage of their careers. [SenShot]
  • For the start of our end-of-Nuggets prospect spree, take a look at Ian's weekly report! [Silver Seven]
  • Peter has a news and notes column that includes prospect updates that is worth checking out! [Eye on the Sens]
  • A quick prospect update by Arik Parnass in the Fanpost section on Stephane Da Costa's great KHL year. [Silver Seven]
  • Jack has news on Matt O'Connor, a college free agent goaltender currently playing in the Frozen Four with Jack Eichel's Boston University squad. I'd welcome the additional depth, but I don't know the Senators can offer what other teams can (immediate playing time). [SenShot]
  • Jeff has a column on the alternatives BSens have to cheer for right now, such as the promotion of their top players to the NHL being a good thing for the BSens legacy. Jeff also has a couple game recaps from the BSens weekend fixtures [SenShot, SenShot - v. Penguins, SenShot - v. Bridgeport]
  • In case you missed it, Ross had five thoughts for Friday! It's fun to look back on the good times... [Silver Seven]
  • To end, some optimism courtesy of Wayne Scanlan. The big picture view can certainly look a little better than how we feel right now. [Ottawa Citizen]

Hockey Links

  • There's a new women's hockey league in town, and the folks over at Stanley Cup of Chowder have the lowdown. [Stanley Cup of Chowder]
  • Steve Burtch has a great piece on the overvaluation of goaltenders - a topic that's also pertinent here in Sens land, especially for next year. [Sportsnet]
  • A wonderful piece on Grantland by Katie Baker on the lovable Florida Panthers (even though they're currently chasing the Sens) and the duo of Willie Mitchell and Aaron Ekblad. [Grantland]
  • Alexander Ovechkin is currently the NHL's goal scoring leader. This is not a recording. Here's a piece on the dominance of Ovie, and why he should be appreciated and lauded as one of the best to ever play the game. [Japers Rink]

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