While Ottawa added no players to its NHL roster on the first day of free agency, they did add a lot to the AHL lineup, so let’s take a look (I’m ignoring the RFA’s they signed, just the FA’s):
-re-signed Michael Kostka (50-5-24-29); the 30-year old defenseman was serviceable last season (keeping his partner, ECHL defenseman Guillaume Lepine, afloat); he’s not a true #1 or #2 blueliner at this level, but for a team this thin on the blueline he’s a needed asset
-re-signed Phil Varone (65-19-36-55); he’s averaged 0.84 points-per-game over the last three seasons in the AHL, which makes him a top-20/25 scorer in the league, so he fills a definite need
-signed Chad Nehring (76-22-26-48) via Hartford; the 29-year old enjoyed a career year, leading the moribund Wolf Pack in scoring; it’s very strange for a player this old to peak like this; I’m not sure what need is being filled here (the org could have just kept Pat Cannone and had the exact same thing), particularly as he isn’t a big, bruising player (5’11 with minimal PIMs)
-signed Mike Blunden (49-21-17-38) via Syracuse; this is much more the kind of signing I expect from the org; the 6’4 29-year old’s AHL stats are solid and he’s coming off a good year (0.77 vs his career 0.54; I think his three year average of 0.64 is more around what we can expect)
I was asked where Binghamton stands in terms of veteran contracts and for those unfamiliar with the AHL’s rules, let’s take a brief look:
Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a game, at least 13 must be qualified as “development players.” Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season. (source and source)
It’s important to note that ECHL games do not count towards veteran status. A team can ice at most 6 veteran players, not including goalies, with their status determined by games played (rather than age). Here’s a look at signed players who fit this definition:
-Zach Stortini (700+ AHL/NHL games)
-Tom Pyatt (600+ AHL/NHL/NLA games)
-Michael Kostka (500+ AHL/NHL games)
-Mike Blunden (500+ AHL/NHL games)
-Phil Varone (370 AHL/NHL games)
This leaves the BSens with one veteran spot left, but it must fit the sub-320 mark (Chad Nehring has only 129 AHL games counting against him, so the rule doesn’t apply)
Development Camp is not a great place to assess players, particularly when it comes to scrimmages (posted up on the Sens website for those who missed it), but a couple of thoughts:
-watching Matt O’Connor give up a weak goal short side (c.16:50 into the period, or c.8:35 into the video) felt like deja vu for the season that was (the 6’5 ‘tender also was beat high by Nick Paul, but saved by the crossbar, he then gave up a soft 5-hole goal from the blueline); it’s such a sharp contrast to better prospects (I remember the year Brian Elliott didn’t give up a goal in the final day of 3-on-3 competition)
-looking at Marcus Hogberg it’s tough to think we’ll have to wait another season before we see him across the Atlantic (he looked great in the 5-on-5 and fantastic at 3-on-3, maintaining a shutout for himself)
-as you’d expect Francis Perron stood out offensively (Brown and Dahlen as well)
-funny (in a sad way) that Ben Harpur struggled to defend even this level of competition (granted he did make a nice pass to start a tic-tac-toe scoring play for the second white goal)
A bit of a tangential but related note, Chris Carlisle is in camp, but as far as I know has not been re-signed by the Sens.
Roy MacGregor doesn’t pull any punches:
While there has been much to criticize in HNIC – the panelists playing ministicks far and away the most foolish – the plummeting viewership is not something to be blamed entirely on tight suits. Or, for that matter, adding in the unfortunate happenstance of no Canadian team in this year’s postseason. … The game, as it is played these days, is more often unwatchable than enjoyable. There may be no available statistic for those “hard-core” fans – including those who played the NHL game and covered the NHL – who have tuned out, but they are legion. Why? Because it’s boring.
His conclusion is that the problem is coaching, but I think that’s far off the mark. The idea that coaches in the 70s and 80s (when hockey was a growing sport) weren’t coaching to win or teaching systems is ridiculous. What’s changed primarily is: 1) goalie equipment, 2) permissible interference. The latter in particular is what gave us the Dead Puck Era, but while it’s been cut back we still suffer from absurd goaltending equipment (we’ve heard promises that it will change in the upcoming season, but I’ll believe it when I see it).
Hockey, like any other sport, is ultimately repetitive–99% of the games you watch unfold in very similar ways. To draw in fans you need some other layer of excitement and what that used to be when I was growing up were players challenging records or milestones–it’s hard to imagine now, but there were legitimate threats to all the records people care about (goals and points) once upon a time. Since then offensive numbers have regressed and outside the first few months of the 2005-06 season players haven’t come close to challenging anything. In that absence, there’s nothing to bring fans in other than winning and very few teams win or win consistently.
Chris Stewart quietly signed in Minnesota and I bring him up simply because I remember all the hype surrounding him in Sensland not long ago (ahem 2014, February (Ottawa Sun and TSN), May (Travis Yost, thankfully arguing against) July (Senshot), October (6th Sens, arguing against it), November (THW), and December (Hockey Insider)). These are just some of the pieces that came out–a solid year of the organisation (and some of the fanbase) pinning after the former first-round pick in 2014. So what happened? The org certainly didn’t consult the analytics, but it became clear that Stewart‘s offensive production was never going to take another step, but the price for him remained high. He was supposed to be the power forward the Sens needed to make the next step, but thankfully Murray never pulled the trigger on a deal.
This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)