This past week, I asked our Twitter followers to list their five favorite Senators pests.
The answers were varied but somewhat predictable. Names like Chris Neil, Vaclav Varada, Jarkko Ruutu, Denny Lambert, Andre Roy and Dennis Vial were thrown out with the most regularity.
The longer I pondered the question itself, the more I came to the realization that yes, the Senators have had an on-ice asshole or two, but in the Senators’ modern years, the organization hasn’t cultivated many difficult to play against, chippy, sandpapery, gritty, vulgar, foulmouthed, piece of shit players that other teams loathe playing against.
Moreover, when I think of hockey’s pests, they’re not the kinds of players who drop the gloves with any kind of regularity. According to this personal rule of mine, ‘heavyweight’ tough guys are excluded from this classification.
So despite this glowing recommendation from former tough guy Brian McGrattan, Neil wouldn’t fit my criteria.
“I heard about it,” McGrattan said of Neil’s actions. “That’s typical Chris Neil. I had to protect that guy for three years when I was there. He’d do that and I’d have to fight all his battles for him the next time we’d play a team after he’d do something stupid like that. It doesn’t surprise me.”
“That’s the way he does it,” McGrattan said. “He’ll do something where he knows he’ll get kicked out of the game and won’t have to come back and fight anybody. I’ve been around him long enough to know he does that. Then I’m the one who usually has to fight his battles the next time. It’s typical.”
He only played in slightly more than 100 games with the Ottawa Senators.
Despite the Andrew Peters incident in Buffalo that Adam Mair’s subsequent rant (note: it might also be the last time that anyone has seen Adam Mair), Ruutu was a player who never really seemed to live up to the reputation that made him a fan favorite in Vancouver or Pittsburgh. Of course, thanks to the six postseason games that Ottawa played during his tenure here, Ruutu was never really given the platform to showcase and cement his legacy.
No, not since the days of Sprague Cleghorn, has the City of Ottawa seen such a perfect blend of talent and on-ice dickheadedness.
“Who is Sprague Cleghorn?”
Here are some excerpts from an article that I wrote last year that championed the idea of a reverse-Masterton Trophy awarded for on-ice NHL douchebaggery.
Sprague Cleghorn makes Ulf Samuelsson look like a choir boy.
Cleghorn was the filthiest player ever. Kneeing, butt-ends, high sticks to the face, purposeful cutting with skate blades, ramming guys faces into the boards. He beat up Lionel Hitchman so viciously that Cleghorn’s OWN manager suspended him over it. One night he beat the snot out of Newsy Lalonde (no pushover himself) so badly that people in attendance thought that Lalonde was dead, laying on the ice. This is a guy that had to be snuck into arenas to avoid angry mobs.
Cleghorn even beat his own wife with his crutches after he broke his leg in 1918. THAT’s dirty. Samuelsson was well known for low hits, but didn’t go nearly as a far as Cleghorn enjoyed going.
If there’s any good side to a nutjob like Cleghorn, it’s that he was a phenomenal offensive player. Most people have never heard of him, but he was truly great, though violent. ~ Darryl Schilling, Hfboards.com
Here’s a brief blurb about Cleghorn from the New York Times:
*Cleghorn is the player shown in the bottom right photograph.
Want to hear more about Cleghorn?
Here are a few paragraphs from The Ottawa Senators: The Best Players and the Greatest Games authored by J. Alexander Poulton, quite possibly the worst book ever written about the Ottawa Senators, that were devoted to Cleghorn:
The 1921-22 regular season … was a fairly uneventful season for the Senators, except for the brief reunion with Sprague Cleghorn. After the 1921 Cup victory, the Ottawa Senators unceremoniously dropped Cleghorn from their roster, preferring to go with younger talent such as King Clancy. A natural force on the ice, Cleghorn did not have to wait long before being picked up by the Montreal Canadiens where he was teamed up with his brother Odie, but Cleghorn still held a grudge against his former team. Cleghorn declared war on the Senators, and when they met again for the first time on February 1, 1922, he was out for blood.
Cleghorn did little to hide his contempt for his former club after the puck was dropped. He started by viciously checking Senators captain Eddie Gerard and then slashing him on the head, opening up a cut above Gerard’s eye that required five stitches to close. A short while later, Cleghorn set his sights on Ottawa’s top scorer, Cy Denneny, and gave him a nasty cut above the eye that spurted blood all over the ice. Not yet satisfied, Cleghorn set his sights on the Sens’ Frank Nighbor. Cleghorn got his chance when Nighbor had the puck in the corner with his back to the play. Cleghorn rushed into the corner and slammed Nighbor down to the ice, landing on his elbow hard enough that Nighbor couldn’t play the rest of the game. Cleghorn had single-handedly removed three of the Senators’ best players from the match. Ottawa police on hand that night offered to arrest Cleghorn and make him spend the night in jail for his obvious assault on the Senators players, but the referees persuaded the police to let the NHL handle its own discipline. For his offences, Sprague Cleghorn received a match penalty, a warning from the league president Frank Calder and a $15 fine.
A match penalty, a warning and a $15 fine?
That’s $15 more than Brendan Shanahan fined Wojtek Wolski for his illegal blow to Daniel Alfredsson’s head. Who knew that the NHL’s discipline committee handed out stiffer sentences 90 years ago?
Has Ottawa ever truly had a great ‘pest’ who could effectively play in all three zones since the days of Cleghorn?
Simply put, I don’t think so. However, I believe that Zack Smith is quietly making a name for himself as one of those players that teams cannot stand.
The next time you watch a Senators game, watch the subtleties in his game: like the the extra jab or face-wash after a whistle; an extra slash on the wrist or back of the ankle; and the exchange of pleasantries before the puck is dropped in the faceoff circle.
It’s because of these subtleties, his physicality, the infrequent fights like this and his modest offensive game that is making Zack Smith one of my favorite players on this Senators team.
A Thought on Nikita Filatov
I realize that the Senators likely called Filatov up because the organization feared the possibility that the league would take disciplinary action against forward Zenon Konopka. I also recognize that Daniel Alfredsson’s concussion has created a situation in which the Senators would have had to bring up a body from Bingo to replace him on the roster.
However, the fact that Filatov has been used sparingly – 5:16 in his first game, 6:34 in his second and 7:18 – and hasn’t registered any ice-time on the power play for the past three games doesn’t make any sense. Unless the intent is humble the talented prospect, he needs to play and develop. Playing him on the fourth line with the Jesse Winchesters, Zenon Konopkas and Erik Condras of the world isn’t doing him any favors.
If he’s not going to put in a position to succeed or given the minutes to gain some confidence, return him to Binghamton. But for everyone else’s sake who’s tired of watching Nick Foligno being given every opportunity to play on the second line, quit teasing us with Filatov’s presence so that we stop believing that he’ll eventually be given a prolonged shot to play significant minutes.
One Closing Thought Filip Kuba
Averaging the second most ice-time on the Senators blueline, Filip Kuba of all people is the only defenceman who has a positive plus/minus rating. Like him or not, you can’t deny that he’s not playing some effective hockey that the coaching staff appreciates. Thanks to some savvy asset management by the organization for not cutting its losses during the summer, the trade market for Kuba should develop nicely.
First Week of Movember Contest Winner
Thanks to everyone for registering for the month long ‘Movember’ contest. (Note: If you’re registered for ‘Movember’ but haven’t emailed us with your profile, there’s still time to get that in and be eligible for the next three weeks’ prizes.)
The winner of our first week’s prize (random name drawn from the list of names that registered) is Kareem S.
Congratulations to Kareem. Expect an email from us soon.