Sens News & Notes

What Is The Defense In Hockey?

Despite my lack of posts I have been working on various things (some of which I’ll fold into digests like this)–I want to update my article on hockey’s popularity from three years ago and when I finish that it will be its own thing. I still intend to give a (very belated) preview for Belleville, but I’m unsure when that will appear. That out of the way, I wanted to catch-up on a few things, some of which are from the distant past at this point:
-In terms of player performances, most of what we’ve seen this season is as expected–Stutzle will eventually score, so his goalless streak doesn’t concern me; Ennis‘ initial hot streak has cooled down, but he’s been a useful addition thus far; Paul and Formenton have deflated hype and performed as expected; Sanford has been underwhelming and I’m not sure what his issue is
-I think the Sens slightly overpaid Tkachuk, but getting that deal done is ultimately a good thing and as long as he doesn’t unexpectedly crash and burn in the next 3 years it’s worth it even with a decline at the end of the contract
-I thought sending Brannstrom to the minors to start the season dynamited D. J. Smith’s declaration that the best players play; I’m glad he’s back, although expectations need to be kept in check
-I’m not sure why, other than for financial reasons, Gustavsson was returned to Belleville–why not play him until he regresses to the mean (if he does)? While the BSens need help between the pipes, surely the Sens need it more [Turns out it’s a roster-limit issue]
-Playing at a .318 pace through eleven games reveals just how silly it was for Pierre Dorion to declare that the rebuild over; I always thought that was for marketing reasons, but by creating the expectation we’re now seeing the awkward conversations about how realistic it is to have said that. I expect the team to have a better record by the end of the year, but the result isn’t a huge surprise to me
-Travis Yost has a short piece praising Zub (nothing new to Sens fans I think, but some numbers to back-up what they see)
-Nichols goes over the horror of the Sens D and poses the question (without answering) if coaching is part of the problem–given how weak that D-core is, I’m willing to give Smith a pass to some extent (I think the order from on-high, ie Melnyk, that one-way contracts play, has added a caveat to ‘the best players play’ moto)
-I’ve enjoyed Shawn Simpson making fun of the Del Zotto signing–I suspect he knows who is responsible (McGuire?) and, given that he’s not wrong, it has to rankle the Sens’ brass
-Remember four years ago when the Sens had Pius Suter at their rookie/main camp? He’s having a solid sophomore season in Detroit and you have to wonder why the Sens didn’t take the plunge at the time and invest in him
-A story I missed was Anders Nilsson alleging the Sens hid a concussion he suffered; there’s been no follow-up to this so it’s difficult to say much more about it (if true it’s obviously terrible)

Secondary Jersey Logo - Belleville Senators

What’s been the story of the 4-6-0 BSens? Lack of scoring, struggling D-corps, goaltending inconsistency, and injuries. While the org made an inspired pick-up to land current leading scorer Jake Lucchini from the Leafs, they’ve seen a parade of ECHL filler accomplishing nothing while veteran signings have been underwhelming (Agozzino has underproduced and Aberg‘s production is buffed by some meaningless second assists on empty net goals). In my earlier preview I was concerned by the limp veteran signings and thus far that’s largely been borne out (albeit Clark Bishop has been injured and Logan Shaw is in Ottawa). It’s worth emphasizing that injuries have meant a lot of roster juggling and I think the team is better than their current record.

As for the most exciting prospects, the young blueliners have been a mixed bag thus far–you expect more from both Brannstrom and Bernard-Docker (Thomson, in limited action, has been on-point), although in fairness to them you have to have someone to pass the puck too. On the forward side Sokolov had a slow start (pointless in 5 games) before heating up; Jarventie also started slowly (1 point in 4 games) before performing as expected–as a rookie, the latter adjustment is completely understandable. All these players should continue to get better, so it’s the core around them that’s could be the stumbling block. As for the goaltenders, both Sogaard and Mandolese have been erratic, but as young ‘tenders this is not unexpected–given the team in front of them, they have to be excellent or else things fall apart.

Blackhawks scandal: Cheveldayoff apologizes to Kyle Beach | CTV News

I followed the Blackhawks/Brad Aldrich scandal and Chicago’s actions (or, largely, inaction) does not surprise me (I still vividly remember the Penn State sex abuse scandal from ten years ago). I do think this is a tipping point for the NHL and that we’re unlikely to see something similar occur again–that doesn’t mean scandals from the past won’t come to light, however. Whether Kevin Cheveldayoff should have resigned or not seems to be the one lingering issue. With so little to go on, there’s blame to lay on Cheveldayoff for not after the fact pursuing the matter (when it became clear that the Hawks’ promise to look into it was false), but I think it’s clear the actions (or in-actions) taken by the org cannot be laid at his doorstep. What the proper move is considering that, I’m not sure, although it seems like on his own Cheveldayoff would not have acted like Stan Bowman et al, so the NHL not punishing him is something I can live with.

NHL 22 - This is Breakthrough Hockey - EA SPORTS

I haven’t written about an EA NHL game in a long time (2018?). I’ve never played them consistently and, for me, what’s most enjoyable is Franchise Mode (formerly called GM Mode). I decided to jump back into the pond this year and I do have some thoughts. Keep in mind I’m playing on a PS4 and that the experience, particularly on PC, is likely different.

The gameplay itself seems slightly better. NHL 20, which I’d experimented with recently (I did not play it when it came out–I got a free copy of it awhile ago), doesn’t feel that different from its prior iterations. NHL 22 seems to have made a small step to feel more like how hockey is played. One specific change I appreciate is that you aren’t locked against the boards as easily as in the past, allowing you to skirt them more effectively.

The drafts continue to be unrealistic, although investing in better scouts does seem to lead to better results (albeit the process of gathering good scouts is tedious since quality scouts get released on the market in a slow dribble). There’s really no other way to get accurate scouting beforehand and allowing the game to sim the scouting for you is less reliable than controlling it yourself (which makes sense in a way, but is a laborious process). While scouting will tell you a player’s attributes at the time, it has an indirect relation to their future potential, such that the potential itself is the only factor that really matters (so it’s the only thing to bother looking into).

Other issues that have carried over: the number of prospects for the draft magically shrinks as soon as the IRL players are gone, emptying some regions completely (the Allsvenskan and the Rest of the World). There’s also a very weird situation where a player drafted will be immediately released to become a free agent by AI teams–I have no idea why this is the case since unsigned players don’t count against the limit. The special trade deadline feature seems pointless, as AI teams continue to offer horrendous trades while rejecting perfectly valid ones. I also have no idea why there’s no option to stop the AI from adjusting your trade parameters.

A broader issue are the limitations in searching for players. Let’s say I want to sign a free agent and I’m looking for a depth player who is both physical and can skate–you can’t search for both–it’s one category with very minimal filters. For most gamers this is fine as they chase a Stanley Cup and are looking for established players (who cares about the AHL team or future?), but for me it’s a constant irritation until my rebuild (how I always start) truly gets going.

The player editor remains a joke, with the only meaningful option being beard or no beard. I have no idea why this is the case–presumably it’s a technical issue, but if so, I’d rather it was completely removed or at least renamed (call it a Facial Hair Editor).

An improvement is that when you see what a player wants for a contract he actually seems to mean it, whereas previously you’d offer that amount and have it rejected (which was pointlessly irritating).

This is a rambling set of observations, I realize, rather than a review. At the end of the day I don’t think the game has changed much–if you enjoyed prior iterations, this will please you, but if you didn’t EA hasn’t done enough to change your mind. Hockey is probably too small a market to ever get proper investment, so that all we’ll see are tweaks and few (if any) of those will impact the narrow way I like to play the game. EA’s focus is most certainly on microtransactions and other forms of monetization, so the sorts of changes I’d love to see aren’t likely.

This article is written by Peter Levi