Senators News: August 31st

-Reactions to the Kyle Turris deal have varied, but I thought James offered the most salient comment about the extension:

If things were to go South and Turris were to end up a 3rd line centre, he’d be making 500K more than our beloved Chris Kelly currently is and for just one more year….except Turris is 23 to Kelly’s 31.

Megan Robinson talked to Sens prospect Chris Driedger, who talks about this upcoming season where he’ll his first chance to be the starting goaltender for the Calgary Hitman:

Right now it’s just prep, getting back into game mode and working towards a big season. You know, during that stretch [last fall when he struggled], I went back to Winnipeg and just thought about things and I realized that if I keep playing like that, I’m not going to get drafted at all, so I tried to pick it up and I kind of got more hopeful. It was great for my confidence [getting drafted],  just knowing that Ottawa wanted to me and to take me in the third was pretty huge. It’s given me a new motivation to do better and make it further because the WHL cannot be the end of the road for me. It’s nice for me because it’s not going to be me constantly worrying about ice time with [BrandonGlover like last year, it’s just a new focus on the game. [Mack] Shields is going to be a really good back-up and I think he’s going to be a really good goalie so it’s nice to have him. It’s going to be cool mentoring him and showing him what I can. I just wanted to make sure that I could capitalize on the opportunity because nothing is worse than having the job and losing it when you’re expected to take it. So, I made sure I was mentally and physically ready to take this job. It’s one of the best groups I’ve seen in front of me in a while. I think we’re going to have a lot of good veterans and the young guys coming up are going to contribute a lot too, so I think it’s going to be nothing but good things this year.

-Here are my thoughts on NHL play-by-play and colour commentators.

-The Elmira (ECHL) roster remains pretty vague at this stage, as the Sens have yet to sign their fifth goaltender and could theoretically send a platoon of prospects to join the roster.  There are currently six players signed (three forwards and three defensemen): Matt Campanale (DL, 66-7-16-23, 6 AHL games to his credit, including one with Binghamton last season), Jimmy Martin (DR, 70-7-27-34, entering his sophomore season as a pro), Kyle Bushee (DL, 57-4-15-19, 13 AHL games to his credit; spent most of last year with Wheeling), Dustin Gazley (LW/RW, 72-25-60-85, lead Elmira in scoring last season, he’s entering his sophomore year as a pro), Chaz Johnson (RW, 64-20-15-35, 70 AHL games to his credit, including a half season with Binghamton in 08-09), and Jordan Pietrus (RW, 65-13-27-40, entering his third year in the ECHL).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Thoughts on Colour and Play-by-Play Coverage in the NHL

It’s virtually impossible to watch or listen to a game of hockey without being affected by the broadcasters.  With so much exposure, fans inevitably have strong opinions about who is or isn’t good at what they do.  It goes without saying that rink side reporters and in-game interviews remain a complete waste of time (I’ve often thought they should pick a random interview, loop it, and in post-production simply replace the jersey and face of the player as needed).  My exposure to local broadcasting has primarily been to the Sens, so my comments on the local side are confined to Ottawa while I’ll also look at the wider coverage provided by the CBC, TSN, Sportsnet, and NBC.

I’m less interested in whether someone likes or dislikes something than in why they have their opinion, so in this exercise the question becomes what service are broadcasters supposed to provide?  My expectation is that the play-by-play does more than just describe the action–it should also heighten the entertainment of my viewing enjoyment.  Colour commentators, on the other hand, should primarily break down plays and provide insights on the players.  They can add some excitement as well, but I find those who focus on cheerleading more annoying than entertaining.

With that preamble here are my thoughts on the broadcasters I’m regularly exposed too (pbp=play-by-play, cc=colour commentator), with a simple Yes or No in terms of whether I enjoy listening to them followed by an explanation:

Dean Brown (pbp, Yes) – I’ve listened to Dean ever since I moved to Ottawa in 1996, and while he’s not the best play-by-play man in the business he knows his stuff and has entertaining goal calls
Jim Hughson (pbp, No) – I’ve been listening to him for a very long time (back to his early days at TSN); he isn’t terrible–he knows the players and disguises his bias–but he may as well be describing paint dry
Bob Cole (pbp, No) – oh baby, oh golly!  I’ve been exposed to Bob for decades and look forward to the day he finally retires; he’s biased, overly fond of particular words (no one has ever said the word “again” more than he has), struggles to identify players, habitually states the time of the game despite it appearing on-screen, and he’s often dismissive of the colour commentators (post Harry Neale); the one thing I think he does well is to create energy with his voice
Garry Galley (cc, Yes) – losing him on The Team 1200 has left a void on that radio station that no one has filled; he offers great insight and is among the best colour guys on TV
Greg Millen (cc, No) – he’s inconsistent and doesn’t cover his biases
Glenn Healy (cc, No) – currently rumoured to be on his way out at the CBC, he’s possibly the most arrogant and combative guy on Hockey Night in Canada; he has strong player biases and provides very little insight
Craig Simpson (cc, No) – he’s essentially Healy but less entertaining; he’s biased and doesn’t offer much insight

Gord Miller (pbp, Yes) – among the most professional of his colleagues (lack of bias etc) and provides a lot of energy with his calls
Chris Cuthbert (pbp, Yes) – another broadcaster I remember from TSN’s early days; he knows his stuff
Ray Ferraro (cc, Yes) – I wish I was able to watch more of Ray’s broadcasts, because along with Galley he’s my favourite colour man; he provides excellent insight on the game and has no obvious bias
Mike Johnson (cc, No) – while I’ve started to see some improvement in his work, he doesn’t offer enough insight or meaningful chatter

Dean Brown (pbp, Yes) – see above
Denis Potvin (cc, No) – I have mixed feelings on him, but thus far he’s been too much of a homer; he does (occasionally) offer interesting insight

Mike Emrick (pbp, Yes) – I don’t hear Emrick a lot, but he does a good job at adding energy to the broadcast
Pierre McGuire (cc, No) – formerly on TSN, his hyperbolic commentary mixed with his heavy bias creates a complete mess; he constantly references his dated time in the league and any previous associations he has

The Team 1200 (radio)
Dean Brown (pbp, Yes) – see above
Dave Schreiber (pbp, Yes) – while Dave is a complete homer, he does such a good job of adding energy with his calls I can forgive him
Gord Wilson (cc, No) – a fixture in all respects for Senators coverage, I’ve never been a fan; he’s a selective homer (in terms of players he likes and thus won’t criticise), he doesn’t break down plays and offers virtually no insight

The experience in studio (before games and between periods) is a mixed bag and outside of TSN a complete waste of time.  Mike Milbury, whose opinions aren’t needed anyway, inflicts pain on both NBC and CBC (although the word is he is gone from the CBC).  Sportsnet has a platoon of commentators who offer no meaningful insight (Doug MacLean might be the worst–he seems to think yelling his opinions makes them valid), while on the radio Jason York is clueless (his once frequent soliloquy’s on how great Keith Ballard is come to mind).  I was not a fan of Marc Crawford on TSN, but otherwise they have the best studio group on TV.

To summate, if I could choose my broadcaster it would be the TSN package, particularly with Pierre McGuire and Marc Crawford out of the picture.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News: August 29th

-The big news of the day is that the Sens have signed Kyle Turris to a five year extension with a 3.5 million cap hit.  This is a contract based on potential, as Turris‘ has yet to crest the 30-point plateau in three NHL seasons (he spent one full year in the AHL).  It’s a reasonable risk for the third overall pick in the 2007 draft; if it doesn’t work out the amount isn’t so high that he couldn’t be moved.  The other thing it confirms is that the Sens don’t see Mika Zibanejad playing center in the NHL or that someone like Stephane Da Costa could fill that role.

Allan Muir doesn’t like Ottawa’s off season moves (giving them a “D” grade) because…they let Zenon Konopka and Matt Carkner walk!  Yikes!  Muir also makes the oft-debunked assertion that the Sens are in trouble of being below the cap floor.  Nichols deconstructs the player-by-player criticisms provided, but to me the article smells of lazy journalism–the comments are straight out of Don Brennan’s columns where undoubtedly his ideas originate (especially here).

Patrick Wiercioch talks about improving his strength and conditioning this summer:

Working with Schwarzy [Chris Schwartz] and retooling, it’s been huge. It’s a considerable amount of weight to put on over the course of the summer … but it’s been progressive. It’s been one or two pounds a week or every two weeks. It hasn’t been a jump from one period or another. It’s been slow, it’s been progressive, it’s been a process since the end of May. That’s something (the Senators) wanted me to do, to put in the time, put in the effort and I think it’s been really good. Both Kyle and I have really benefited from working with Schwarzy in the weight room and off the ice, too.

He also talked about the injury that derailed his sophomore season in Binghamton:

[It was] a pretty serious fracture in the back of my neck with a lot of internal bleeding that was cause for a lot of panic and concern. It was a while [before it improved]. When you’re living it, you don’t really think about how serious it was. But once you can move a step past it and reflect on it, and you see how serious it was and what could have happened from it … there’s definitely things that you struggle with daily. You’re still at that point where you feel lucky to be alive. Hopefully, something like this doesn’t ever happen to me again, yet alone anyone else. I think you always appreciate the game because it’s fun and it’s something that you love to do. But when something like that happens and it could be taken away from you that quickly, then you realize how fragile you are.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Player Profile: Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson, D, Contract: 1.3/12 (RFA) Drafted 1-15/08 (Murray)
5’11, Shoots R, YOB 1990, Lannaskede, Swe
2008-09 SEL Frolunda 45-5-5-10 (ppg 0.22) +3 10pim
2009-10  NHL Ottawa 60-5-21-26 (ppg 0.43) -5 24pim TOI 20:06
2009-10 AHL Binghamton 12-0-11-11 (ppg 0.91) Even 22pim
2010-11 NHL Ottawa 75-13-32-45 (ppg 0.60) -30 50pim TOI 23:30
2011-12 NHL Ottawa 81-19-59-78 (ppg 0.96) +16 42pim TOI 25:19

The 2008 NHL Entry Draft was the first real draft for Bryan Murray.  He was the GM for the 2007 picks, but all the scouting work was done under John Muckler’s regime who was fired just beforehand.  The Senators had the 18th overall pick, but Anders Forsberg and Tim Murray were high on Erik Karlsson, so the Sens made a trade with Nashville to grab him with the 15th overall pick (the Preds received picks they used to select with Chet Pickard, who is now in Sweden, and Taylor Beck, who just completed his rookie season in the AHL).

As expected Karlsson needed another year of seasoning before coming to the NHL, so he spent one more year with Frolunda.  Karlsson‘s expectations for himself were much more moderate than those among the fanbase, but he made the team out of training camp, leading to Jared Cowen being returned to the WHL and Christoph Schubert being put on re-entry waivers (claimed by Atlanta).  Karlsson was demoted to Binghamton in late October and stayed there for a month.  Recalled at the end of November, he spent the rest of the season in the NHL.  Other than hurting his shoulder trying to throw an open-ice hit on Ryan Kesler in February, Karlsson enjoyed a strong rookie season including a great playoff against Pittsburgh (6-1-5-6).

The following season expectations for Karlsson were high.  There was no question that Cory Clouton was going to play him a ton.  For awhile he actually lead the team in scoring, although questions remained about his defensive play.  At season’s end he was first on the team in powerplay points (one ahead of Sergei Gonchar, who played fewer games), second in overall points, and just lost out to Chris Phillips for the team lead in the minus category (he also played in the NHL all-star game).

Karlsson‘s meteoric development took a leap forward under Paul MacLean.  A Norris Trophy winning season, he finished second on the team in points (again, being well ahead of my 50 projected points, just outside the top-ten in NHL scoring, and the most by a blueliner since Niklas Lidstrom in 05-06), tied for the second best plus/minus on the team (behind Filip Kuba), and was the engine for the team’s explosive offense.  Assuming the new CBA doesn’t include a new crackdown on obstruction and increased powerplays, I think Karlsson‘s production will slip, particularly as there’s no one other than an aging Gonchar for team’s to target on the Sens blueline; somewhere in the 55-60 range would be reasonable.

Here’s every point Karlsson accumulated this year; a great defensive play; and his brief Norris Trophy speech

Senators News: August 27th

-For those of you who have spent the summer wondering why I didn’t include my point projections for Sens players in my regular season review, your wait is over as I’ve added them into the article.  My two biggest errors from last summer were my point projections for Bobby Butler and my expectation that Jared Cowen would need time in Binghamton.  Overall however, my prognostication was solid.

-Here are my profiles of Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips, and Chris Neil.

Peter Raaymakers looks at the Sens blueline and I recommend reading it in full.  Here are my thoughts:

Other than Methot and Cowen, no blueliner is capable of playing the kind of ice time Karlsson carries each game.

I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment and I think Raaymakers is right that Paul MacLean will certainly aim for a MethotKarlsson pairing.  If Methot can’t handle the role and Cowen suffers from a sophomore slump, it will hurt Karlsson a great deal as he’ll have to change his game for a weaker partner.

Gonchar will certainly be used on the powerplay, and he may be moved down the lineup at even strength to decrease the amount of ice time he plays–pretty much the opposite of Cowen, who will be used on the penalty kill, and may be bumped up in the depth chart since he can definitely gobble up minutes. Cowen may also see a bit of powerplay time this season, depending on whether or not Paul MacLean wants to use a forward on the blue line with the man advantage.

I have little doubt that Gonchar and Cowen will start the season together.  Given the limited offensive talent on the blueline Gonchar and Karlsson will get the majority of the powerplay minutes.  It will be interesting to see if MacLean went with a forward option on the second unit, although I think Alfredsson‘s days of walking the blueline are over and I’m not sure who among the forwards could play that role.

Lundin‘s not exactly an offensive powerhouse, but he looks like a capable puck-mover, and Phillips has a tendency to get trapped in his own zone if his partner isn’t able to move the puck out (or forwards aren’t willing to get deep in the zone and carry the puck out on their own). Against fast, offensive teams, Lundin may draw in to the lineup to allow MacLean’s system to work most effectively.

If Lundin has a good first pass it must be the only good pass he makes, as he’s never had more than 11 assists in an NHL season.  I agree wholeheartedly that Phillips needs someone to bail him out and Lundin‘s skating ability should help.  I think Raaymakers’ distinction between playing a fast versus a physical team is a good one for where Borowiecki (or Gryba) could slide into the lineup.

The article goes on to exclude Ceci, Wiercioch, Benoit, and Eckford from the lineup and I believe that’s likely.  What interests me is that he excludes Gryba who, prior to Borowiecki‘s ascendance last year, was the next in line to add a physical element to the blueline.  What’s concerning in looking at Ottawa’s blueline is how few players offer anything offensively.

Corey Pronman provides his list of the Sens top-ten prospect:
1. Mika Zibanejad – could be a top line forward
2. Cody Ceci – either a top two or top four blueliner
3. Jakob Silfverberg – could be an above-average second liner
4. Mark Stone – could be an above-average second liner
5. Shane Prince – could be a good second liner
6. Stephane Da Costa – could be an average second liner
7. Stefan Noesen – could be a decent second liner
8. Patrick Wiercioch – could be a top four blueliner
9. Matt Puempel – could be an average second liner
10. Andre Petersson – could be a below-average second liner
The Next Five
11. Mike Hoffman – may push for an NHL spot
12. Robin Lehner – he’s “way ahead of the curve”
13. Jean-Gabriel Pageau – no specific projection given
14. Mark Borowiecki – on the cusp of NHL time
15. Derek Grant – no specific projection
Robbie Baillargeon – no specific projection

Pronman joins the horde of Ottawa locals who love Shane Prince and while I could quibble with the positioning of the other players that’s the one selection that puzzles me the most.  Notably low in his rankings is Robin Lehner, but Pronman isn’t fond of goaltenders as prospects.  I have no idea how Pronman distinguishes between “average” and “decent” (Noesen).  He writes:

This [Ottawa] is a ridiculously deep system. Players like Jarrod Maidens, Ben Blood, and Fredrik Claesson, who would all be in just about any team’s top 15 prospects, end up off Ottawa’s top 15. They lack the multiple star prospects outside of Mika Zibanejad, but there are still so many quality youngsters in this organization.

Pronman’s sentiment is pretty common–the Sens have stockpiled a great deal of depth, but like most teams they have a limited number of top end players.

Stu Hackel takes a look at the NHL’s interest in cutting back on diving and obstruction, spending most of his time writing about the former.  I don’t think diving is a big problem in the league and the emphasis on it seems like a lot of wasted effort given the larger problems the NHL has with its officiating.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Player Profile: Chris Neil

Chris Neil, RW, Contract: 2.0/13 (1.9/16 UFA) 6-161/98 (Gauthier)
6’1, Shoots R, YOB 1979, Flesherton, Ont
2008-09 NHL Ott 60-3-7-10 (ppg 0.16) -13 146pim (14 fights) TOI 10:58
2009-10 NHL Ott 68-10-12-22 (ppg 0.32) -1 175pim (13 fights) TOI 11:58
2010-11 NHL Ott 80-6-10-16 (ppg 0.20) -14 210pim (12 fights) TOI 12:45
2011-12 NHL Ott 72-13-15-28 (ppg 0.39) -10 178pim (10 fights) TOI 12:47

At this stage of his career Chris Neil‘s seasons have been up and down.  Three years ago, in his contract year, Neil had a disappointing injury-plagued season.  Despite that, Bryan Murray re-signed him to his current four-year deal, having faith that it was an aberration.  Neil responded well the following year, scoring 10 goals for only the fourth time in his career, then struggled along with the rest of the Senators the following season posting the worst plus/minus numbers of his career.  All the indicators at the time were heading south and there wasn’t much change in his game late in the season when the Senators were playing better (he was part of trade rumours heading into the deadline, and he was also critical of his teammates during the year.

This past season Neil rebounded with his best season (offensively) since 06-07 and provided his usual gritty play.  On the down side he led the team by far as a minus (the next regulars were -4) and he hasn’t been a plus player since 06-07.  As a veteran, there’s no excuse for that and I expect him to improve on his defensive play.

Neil is one of the best middle-weight fighters in the game, although he has been fighting less and less but he remains a feared hitter.  Like any physical player I wonder about his long term future, but I had no issue with the deal he signed this off-season that should see him end his career as a Senator.  Last year I expected him to produce 20 points and I think that’s reasonable to assume for the upcoming season as well.

Here Neil‘s hitting Bryan Little and Chris Drury; Neil fighting the late Rick Rypien; Neil scoring against Washington.

Player Profile: Chris Phillips

Chris Phillips, D, Contract: 3.083,333/14 (UFA) 1-1/96 (Gauthier)
6’3, Shoots L, YOB 1978, Calgary, Alb
2008-09 NHL Ottawa 82-6-16-22 (ppg 0.27) -14 66pim TOI 21:52
2009-10 NHL Ottawa 82-8-16-24 (ppg 0.29) +8 45pim (1 fight) TOI 22:20
2010-11 NHL Ottawa 82-1-8-9 (ppg 0.11) -35 32pim TOI 21:31
2011-12 NHL Ottawa 80-5-14-19 (ppg 0.24) +12 16pim TOI 19:06

The last player selected first overall by the Ottawa Senators, Chris Phillips signed a new 3-year deal amidst a terrible season (10-11) and rumours that he would be dealt.  While it was a difficult year for the entire team, Phillips was one of the few who failed to improve along with the rest of the team late in the season.  He led the league in the minus category, making some question his reputation as a top-end, shutdown defenseman.

The previous season, Phillips put up typical numbers (82-8-16-24) and was tied with Alfredsson for second in plus/minus (behind Peter Regin‘s +10).  He was also second in ice time behind Filip Kuba and second in blocked shots behind Anton Volchenkov.  So despite Phillips struggles I only took issue with the term of his re-signing.  There’s no questioning his work ethic or desire, even if that doesn’t always translate into on-ice success.

As I predicted he largely returned to form this past season (my guess was 20 points), seeing an appropriate drop in ice time under Paul MacLean’s regime.  There’s nothing remarkable in Phillips‘ game; he’s big, but not physical, he has decent hands, but can’t contribute regularly.  A useful player, I expect his usual production (20 points if he plays the entire season) in the upcoming season.

Here’s Phillips getting drafted; scoring arguably the biggest goal of his career; throwing a big hit; scoring a pair of goals in game number one-thousand