FJM’ing a Bleacher Report Article

As the clock winds down on the 2010 offseason, for better or worse, there’s going to be an influx of content on the internet. Here’s an article written by a Mr. H. Joseph, pulled from one of my favorite websites, Bleacher Report. As always, my comments are in bold. Enjoy.

The Ottawa Senators are looking to continue their surprising success and join the league’s elite teams.

What is this surprising success you speak of? I find it difficult to believe that Ottawa’s ready to join the elite when they’re blowing 3-goal leads at home in the sixth game of the Conference Quarter-Finals.

Last season’s playoff series against Pittsburgh showed that the Senators could hang with the previous season’s champs and also highlighted their areas of need in order to take the next step toward a Stanley Cup run.

Or to play devil’s advocate, it could have been a sign that without Marc Andre Fleury on top of his game, Pittsburgh’s just a consortium of average players who surround their top three centers.

Just like every team, it begins with finding the right mix of players and putting the right coaches in place to guide them.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I know where this article is going…

While the Senators lost blue-liner Anton Volchenkov, they brought in the highly regarded defensemen Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar, 36 years old, will serve as a point man on the Sens’ power play and give another veteran in the locker room. While Gonchar will provide more scoring, it also opens the door to more goals allowed since they will lose Volchenkov’s defensive grit.

Grit has a new loose definition. It’s that thing that closes the door to the opposition scoring more goals. Grit is something Gonchar doesn’t have. This is all so scientifically accurate. His ability to retrieve the puck quickly and start the transition game successfully has nothing to do with goal prevention. Those skills are only unique offensive characteristics. If Ottawa gets off to a slow start, I may be opining for more grit.

Gonchar will join a cast of capable veterans including Jason Spezza, Alex Kovalev, Chris Phillips, and Milan Michalek as the leaders of this club transitioning back to contender status. This transition will move along quicker with less underachieving, increased cohesion, and recovery from injuries. Both Michalek and Kovalev are coming back from major off-season knee surgery and are currently on track to be ready for training camp.

Weird. Whenever I see the word transition used in the context of sports, it’s typically accompanied by some reference to a youth movement. I would normally be concerned with such a veteran movement, but then I realized it was described in a Bleacher Report article. Attention readers: It should be duly noted that the success of the Senators is dependent upon less injuries, better teamwork and less underachieving. Good thing these are three characteristics that organizations can easily bank upon.

The enigmatic Alex Kovalev should be expected to play at a high level since this is a contract year and that happens to be one of the few driving forces he understands. His potential was never questioned, and his desire has never been beyond reproach. Kovalev, 37 years old, is essentially playing for his last good contract and needs a comeback campaign that resembles his 2000-01 campaign with 96 points, or 2007-08 with 84 points.

As George Costanza would say, “Beep! Beep! Beep! Back the truck up!” There’s too much to discuss in this little paragraph:

  1. I wish Kovalev could play and move like he did 10 years ago too.
  2. I’ve already discussed the lazy contract year theory that many pundits throw out there. For the last time, the difference between a good Kovalev year and a bad one is his power play production.
  3. If Kovalev’s looking for a third come back season, is it really a come back season?
  4. Let the record show: If Ottawa can have no injuries, better cohesion, less underachieving and a productive Kovalev, things are looking pretty fucking good.

Michalek, 25 years old, came over in last year’s Dany Heatley deal and was supposed to be an impact player. Now he looks to regain the form of a couple years ago and expect him to become a factor as he enters his physical prime.

No mention that at the young age of 25, Michalek’s already had to deal with concussions and significant injuries to both of his knees. Ah well… he’s entering his physical prime. While some look at him as that impact player that we got from San Jose in the Heatley deal, I’ll continue to refer to him as That Player Whose Acquisition Necessitated The Inclusion of Jonathan Cheechoo In Any Trade. (TPWANIJCAT.)

The younger players are also ready to contribute and play more significant roles. Forwards Peter Regin and defensemen Erik Karlsson are ready to regularly contribute to a team poised to make another step forward in a competitive Eastern Conference. Both proved they were ready to stay and expect them to receive more ice time and help carry the burden when the aging veteran core needs rests during the 82 game season.

Wait a second. A few paragraphs ago, this veteran core was referred to as capable. Now they’re a burden over the course of a long schedule? Maybe this veteran core wouldn’t need rests if they paced themselves over the course of a season like Kovalev. And what is this competitive Eastern Conference that you speak of? Is it the one in which last season’s eventual champions snuck into the playoffs by winning a shootout? Competitive is one word, mediocre is another.

In goal, a position battle will be a major story line as Brian Elliot looks to prove last year was no aberration and reclaim the starting job over Pascal Leclaire. Elliot, 25 years old, was serving as the team’s backup goalie over stretches of the three seasons. In his first shot to start regularly, Elliot thrived and was a major factor in the Senators’ surprising success last season. Unfortunately, he struggled in the playoffs, opening the door for a training camp competition sure to be the talk of the Ottawa media.

Leclaire was a major disappointment last season and needs to build on his strong performance in the final two playoff games. He also needs to play well to ensure his ability to get another multi-year contract so expect a high level of focus missing during stretches of this season.

Elliott can improve and so can Leclaire. Add goaltending to the burgeoning list of things that can go right for this team next season.

Another potential story to follow is the Senators’ potential flood of cap room going into next offseason. This space can be leveraged to help them acquire talent from teams looking to acquire expiring contracts if they are in the playoff hunt. However, if they were to start slow and be on the outside looking in, the Senators could become sellers at the deadline and then make a huge splash next offseason.

What a swerve! It’s almost better than the elevator shootout scene from The Departed. Just when I thought that the context of this article was Ottawa’s dark hore status in 2010-2011, I can start looking forward to 2012. Amazing! This author is just brimming with optimism.

With the veterans ready to rebound and the young guns ready to take the next step, the Senators are in a good spot to make a deep run next season. A serious run that will be fueled by off-the-ice forces, contracts and new marriages (Mike Fisher), and the chemistry building on the ice. So feel good about picking this team as a sleeper for the Cup.

The Senators organization needs to immediately change this year’s slogan from My Town, My Team to New Marriages, New Season.

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