Thoughts on 30 Thoughts

On Monday night Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman published his latest ’30 Thoughts’ blog and amazingly, it contains a bountiful number of nuggets of information pertaining to the Ottawa Senators.

Considering the uncertainty in which the Senators are heading into the offseason, perhaps it’s not surprising to see Friedman devote this many pieces of information related to the Senators. Mind you, he was in Ottawa last week to cover Friday night’s game at the Canadian Tire Centre versus the Habs, so maybe instead of paying more attention to the organization’s uncertainty, he simply had greater access to a number of Senators-related items.

Whatever the case, it’s to the betterment of us all, so let’s take a look at what Friedge had to say.

7. Clarke MacArthur, who did not have a good relationship with his last coach, went to Paul MacLean’s defence last week, saying it looks like the Senators overachieved last season. “We’re young. We’re learning. [MacLean] is trying to get us to play with structure and under pressure. We’re still on the way up, I believe. A lot of guys in this room think that.”

I like what Friedge did here – pointing out one of the few Senators players who is actually willing to play a little defence on and off the ice.

Given the timeframe, this Friedman thought is likely just a continuation off of MacArthur’s availability last week in which he openly discussed his willingness to negotiate an extension with the Senators, MacArthur confessed that he really enjoyed his usage under MacLean.

Granted, it’s not much of a surprise to see MacArthur stick up for MacLean considering where he came from. With that in mind, MacArthur has never been shy to hide his disdain for former head coach Randy Carlyle, so whether this is really just legitimate praise for MacLean or relative praise based upon his terrible experience playing in Toronto under Carlyle, is open to interpretation.

Moving on…

8. MacLean said last week the Senators gave up 11 chances per game last season, and are up to 18 a night in 2013-14. That’s tough on your goalies. The organization is concerned with repeated mistakes and with the lack of progress by Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch. You can see the stress on MacLean, going through his first major adversity as a head coach in an intense market. But, his job being in question makes little sense to me.

In an exceptionally reasoned post over at mc79hockey.com, Tyler Dellow discussed how improbable it is that Ottawa’s scoring chance data could have such a large disparity when the volume of shots being allowed by the Senators has not really changed that much from previous seasons.

As Scott illustrated in a tweet on Monday, something’s amiss with the Senators’ numbers.

@mc79hockey i counted all last season and first 21 games of this season: pic.twitter.com/223IDxvZ7h

— scott (@Wham_City) April 8, 2014

LikeDellow concluded in the post, this means one of two possibilities: 1) the Senators are being more liberal in their determination for what qualifies as a scoring chance – either through the work of a different employee counting chances versus previous years or because they are influenced by the high volume of goals getting past their goaltenders; or 2) the coaching staff is trying to distort the data for their own benefit and/or purpose.

To what end could MacLean possibly be hoping to achieve?

It could be self-preservation, for one – which seems crazy to even suggest considering you would assume that he would have built up some equity with management and ownership after essentially being at the helm of this same group of players and leading them to the postseason on two separate occasions. Last season even culminated with MacLean winning the Jack Adams Award for the coach adjudged to have had the biggest impact on his team’s success.

However, MacLean’s usage patterns have been criticized many times this season and he also has made some inane lineup decisions this season – including last night’s decision to make Mike Hoffman a healthy scratch so that the team could play Matt Kassian in a meaningless game in which player development should be prioritized.

So is MacLean’s job safe?

It remains to be seen, but listening to those who’ve been around the team for some time, it certainly sounds like he’s not out of the clear.

MacLean’s comments could also be an appeal to authority to bring in better players.

When asked last week how the Senators could improve upon their poor defensive zone play and limit their penchant for turnovers and penalties, MacLean responded by saying, “Practice is the first solution and the next solution is (to get) different players.”

As easy as it is to shit on the coaching staff for not getting enough out of his players, it ignores the performance of the players on the ice and the men responsible for putting them there and having the confidence in them to get the job done.

Operating this team under Eugene Melnyk’s watch and doing it in a hockey market like Ottawa can’t be easy. But, pinning the blame exclusively on the coaching staff for this year’s failures is incredibly short-sighted and ignores how Bryan Murray has overseen the construction of this roster.

The roster is riddled with inadequate defencemen and too many forwards who excel at one aspect (offence or defence, but not both). Too often this season, there’s been an unwillingness to come back hard and support the defencemen.

You can blame the finances. You can blame ownership’s unwavering desire to just reach the playoffs (hello profit!) instead of build a contender and you can blame Bryan Murray for acquiescing to Melnyk’s short-term thinking. Everything from Alexei Kovalev to Cory Conacher to even the organization’s “rebuild” that jettisoned Chris Kelly, Mike Fisher and team lynchpin Chris Campoli out of town and never really did address the gap in windows between the team’s young core and productive years of guys like Spezza and Alfie.

From the moment that Murray inherited the GM position in 2007, there have always been suspicions and rumours of Melnyk influence and the pressures he exerts on management to keep this team competitive in the interim.

MacLean should not be absolved from blame, but by the same token, ownership and management bear much of the responsibility for how this season has unfolded as well. And no one should lose sight of that, even if they do fire MacLean.

9. Ten months ago, MacLean won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year and received a three-year extension, which begins next season. Quite likely, he gets another job if he’s let go, but, let’s say for argument’s sake he doesn’t. Then, the Senators, who have a tight budget to begin with, are going to pay him to do nothing? Will it hurt their ability to do other hockey business? That makes a lot less sense than sitting down with a guy who’s got you into the playoffs two years in a row and saying, “We have some concerns, let’s figure out how we’re going to fix them.” Also better than a sixth coach in eight years.

If MacLean is fired, expect that news to come as early as the conclusion of the season. By doing it then, it affords MacLean the realistic possibility of catching on with another team in some capacity, say Winnipeg, without this budget conscious organization having to fret over having to pay him for the remainder of his contract.

10. You can’t help but wonder if Ottawa’s decision will be influenced by something also faced by the likes of Toronto, Vancouver and Washington — the budgeting of playoff revenue. I’d be curious to hear how many home playoff games each of these franchises expected. (It sounds like the Maple Leafs hoped for three.) It is rare for a team that makes the post-season not to include this kind of projection a year later. And, if that goal is endangered, frustrated owners write blog posts like, “Media Says It All About Last Night’s Game” complete with links to the gory details.

Like the rest of the season, everything seems to come back to money for the Senators. It’s this nagging problem that we can’t seem to avoid.

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