Welcome to the New Year


I’ve been staring at a blank page for the past few days not knowing what to write.

I suppose the best place to start would be to say that what we’re experiencing right now is absolutely awesome. (Oh, and Happy New Year and stuff.)

I mean, sure, at some point Ottawa’s .263 winning percentage when trailing after two will regress towards the mean like Nick Foligno’s shooting percentage but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy what’s happening with the Ottawa Senators right now.

Having just won their league leading fifth come from behind victory when trailing after two periods, what can you honestly about a team that halfway through their season and is exceeding every expectation that has been placed upon it by prognosticators and pundits alike?

Coming into the season with a roster that had a number of key veteran players who were either on the wrong side of their career or were coming off of an injury-plagued 2010-11 campaign, it was fair to assume the worst. Although Jason Spezza was the one reliable offensive player who could be counted upon, with the exception of Erik Karlsson and the much ballyhooed David Rundblad, even the most ardent Sens fans would have conceded that this year’s team just didn’t have enough young skill to compete and hang with the league’s best teams on a consistent basis.

Having already endured the evolution of the organization from its expansion existence through its perennial contending years, this feels different. Unlike in years past when the organization had drafted the highly skilled forwards but had difficulty insulating them with a variety of hardworking but talented players (my sincerest apologies to the Bruce Gardiner family), the current incarnation of the roster is almost the complete opposite.

There’s no question that the acquisition of Kyle Turris certainly adds that dynamic to the current mix, many of the team’s best offensive forward prospects – Silfverberg, Puempel, Zibanejad, Noesen and Stone — are playing abroad or are still in junior. What you’re essentially left with are a few constants like Spezza, Alfredsson and Neil and a variety of complementary players like Foligno, Greening, Smith, and Condra whose work ethic and penchant for late game heroics is just infectious. It’s the kind of mental toughness that was fostered during many of these players’ Calder Cup run last season. Reading the comments of Edmonton Oiler’s GM Steve Tambellini, it’s certainly an ingredient that he feels his club is lacking right now. Hell, who could forget the years of watching the Senators move future assets at the trade deadline for veterans like Bryan Smolinski or the Cro-Magnon cave dwelling Vaclav Varada?

Granted, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s still early and that there are a number of games to be played before the NHL trade deadline and the start of the postseason. There is a lot of hockey left to be played and enough time for Jeremy Milks to warm up to the idea of trading veteran blueliners at the trade deadline. For what it’s worth, lists Ottawa’s playoff probability at 49.5% and Hockey Prospectus is relying heavily upon the GVT metrics to discredit Ottawa in their team playoff potential rankings.

A Passing Thought On Steve Simmons…

In a tweet the other night, the Toronto Sun journalist (@simmonssteve) wrote,

I used to think the dumbest hockey fans in Canada were in Ottawa but not anymore. PS – I voted for a Sedin for MVP in each of the last 2 yrs.

I always thought that Toronto was a breeding ground for shoddy sports journalism but then James Mirtle and Shi Davidi came along. Glass houses Steve – you’re the same person who can’t figure out social media or whether Ron Wilson is actually blocking you on Twitter.

Lehner Suspended For Three Games…

A little late on this but for his actions during Saturday night’s game against the Syracuse Crunch, Robin Lehner was suspended by the AHL for three games.

Like Joy Lindsay and Kurt Kleinendorst, I was surprised by the light sentence for a player whose actions could easily have been interpreted as excessive abuse of an official.

Per Joy Lindsay of the Press and Sun Bulletin:

“I am a little surprised,” B-Sens Coach Kurt Kleinendorst admitted. “I think Robin might have dodged a little bit of a bullet there. Whatever the league was going to lay down, I was going to be OK with it. If three games is what they think it’s right, I’m certainly not going to argue with it.”

No one should argue with it.

Fortunately for Lehner’s development, he won’t be missing a significant amount of time to this suspension. As much as I love Lehner’s moxie and attitude, having watched the video and having read his comments, it’s pretty evident that Syracuse goaltender Jeff Deslauriers baited him into leaving his crease.

Watch the video below and pay attention to Deslauriers’ head at the 0:09 and 0:13 marks. He’s vigilantly keeping track of Lehner and once he leaves his crease, Deslauriers returns to his.

Friedman’s 30 Thoughts

There were two interesting pieces of fodder on Kyle Turris in this week’s blog by HNIC’s Elliotte Friedman.

25. Get the feeling Ottawa recognizes it won’t see the best from Kyle Turris until next season. Missing two months is “like getting on the treadmill on Level 1 when everyone else is at Level 7,” Senators head coach Paul MacLean said.

This certainly meshes with the reserved expectations that I had when he was originally acquired. Historically, players who have missed significant time due to a contract holdout are a little slow out of the gate:

  • While haggling over the finer details of a new contract extension with GM Dean Lombardi, Drew Doughty missed the bulk of training camp and is off to a slow start this season. With 15 points through 35 games, Doughty is on pace for his worst statistical season since he registered 27 points as a rookie in 2008-09.
  • After his third consecutive season of improved point production, former 67s standout Nick Boynton ended a one-month holdout with Boston in October of 2005. He would go on to post 5 goals, 12 points and a +/- rating of -7. He has bounced around the NHL ever since.
  • After holding out for the first month of the 2003 season, Marian Gaborik had 3 goals in his first 13 games. He finished the 2003-04 season with 18 goals and 40 points.
  • In 2002, Brad Stuart held out for the first 15 games of the Sharks’ regular season before agreeing to a multi-year extension. In the first 27 games of that season, Stuart had a -4 rating with 2 goals and 7 points.
  • Stuart wasn’t the only Shark to carry a holdout into the start of the 2002 season, teammate Evgeni Nabokov missed the first five games of the regular season. Briefly removed from his 37-24-5 season that featured 7 shutouts, a 2.29 GAA and a .918 SV%, Nabokov lost 4 more games and saw his win total reduced by more than half (18) in 2002-03.

And here’s Friedman’s second thought on Turris:

26. Was interesting to hear Turris admit on Inside Hockey that the strategy of asking Phoenix for a huge contract was one he’d do over if he could. It clouded the issue of wanting a fresh start, making him look money-hungry.

A memo to all NHL agents: some NHL reporters need more transparency. Even though it was completely obvious to anyone that Turris’ request for money was just a negotiation tactic to expedite and facilitate a trade from Phoenix, some people took the request at its face value. It wasn’t until Pierre Lebrun actually posted an article on ESPN in late October to confirm that Turris actually wanted out of Phoenix.

Silfverberg the Century Man

Way late on this but maybe there are some readers who frequent this site who haven’t heard that Senators prospect Jakob Silfverberg has sported a #100 jersey for Brynas of the SEL to commemorate the organization’s 100th anniversary. It was originally intended to be worn by their captain, former Senator Andreas Dackell, but he’s been out with an injury. As a result, it’s being worn by Silfverberg instead.