Oct 012007

Boston Bruins
-Good 1-2 tandem at center with Savard and Bergeron
-Should get improved goaltending with Manny Fernandez
-Lack of overall depth.
-No quality game breakers on the wings.
-Mediocre defense
Question Marks:
-Can Chara rebound after a questionable season last year?
-Can Fernandez be the anchor in goal that the Bruins desperately need?
-Can Glen Murray stay healthy and get back to 40 goal territory?
The Bruins addressed one of their key problem areas with the acquisition of goalie Manny Fernandez but one still has to wonder if Fernandez, who only once has played more than 44 games in a season, is going to be enough to turn this team around. The reality is they still have a mediocre group of defensemen and not a lot of depth up front after the first couple of lines. With Fernandez the Bruins should be a bit better but still aren’t likely going to be playoff contenders.

Buffalo Sabres
-Still possess a lot of quality young talent and good overall depth.
-Miller is one of the better goalies in the game.
-The Numminen health issue hurts the depth on defence.
-Lost a lot of experience and leadership with the loss of Briere and Drury.
Question Marks:
-Are youngsters like Derek Roy, Tomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Mazim Afinogenov ready to become the leaders of the team rather than followers of Briere and Drury?
-Can Tim Connolly stay healthy?
Some might look at the loss of Daniel Breire and Chris Drury as critical losses for the Sabres but I would disagree. The Sabres are still an elite team with elite level talent. Vanek is one of the best young goal scorers in the NHL and Derek Roy is ready to take over as first line center as evidenced by his dominating performances in the pre-season. Those two guys and Afinogenov were a dominating line last year and will likely play with each other this year and have a chance to be one of the top 5 lines in the league. When you add Pominville, Hecht, Kotalik, Gaustad, and Stafford the Sabres should still be able to put out three good lines that can score and not many teams can boast that. If the young guys can step up their games a bit and take on leadership roles there is no reason why the Sabre’s won’t once again be one of the top teams in the eastern conference and battle with the Senators, Rangers and Penguins for the best record in the east.

Montreal Canadiens
-Good goaltending depth and a prime prospect in Carey Price.
-Koivu is one of the better leaders in the game.
-No real top end talent on either forward or defence.
-Loss of Souray will really hurt the power play production which was a key to Montreal’s success last season.
Question Marks:
-Can Carey Price be a quality NHL goalie this season allowing management to trade Huet or Halak for some help elsewhere?
-Can Kovalev improve on a dismal season?
Two years ago the Canadiens just barely made the playoffs and last year they just barely missed. This year will probably be no different though I would suggest they are more likely to miss the playoffs again than make it. They just don’t have enough game breakers on offence or enough depth overall to play consistent, quality hockey throughout the season. The only saving grace is they have generally had pretty good goaltending over the past couple of seasons and top prospect Carey Price just adds to that. Some in Montreal feel that goaltending lost them a chance at the playoffs when Huet blew a game against Toronto in the final game of the season but goaltending is one of the only reasons why they have been in the playoff race in the first place. Expect the same this year.

Ottawa Senators
-The big 3 up front (Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley)
-Phillips and Volchenkov are one of the better pairings of shutdown defensemen.
-Lost some scoring depth with the Comrie and Preissing leaving via free agency and Schaefer being traded.
-None of Spezza, Fisher and Redden have played 70 games in either of the past 2 seasons.
Question Marks:
-Can Eaves and Vermette step up their offensive production to replace some of that lost.
-Can the Redden and Meszaros defence tandem rebound after a sub-par season.
-Have teams learned from the Ducks that playing hard hitting, hard forechecking hockey is the best way to beat the Senators?
The Ottawa Senators will once again be one of the better teams in the eastern conference led in large part by the offence of the big 3 and the defensive ability of Phillips and Volchenkov. But unlike many, I believe they will suffer a bit with the loss of Comrie, Preissing and Schaefer. Preissing was the Senators top scoring defenseman last year and Schaefer has been Ottawa’s fifth best point producer in each of the past two seasons. The loss of those guys is going to put added pressure on guys like Patrick Eaves, Antoine Vermette and Andrej Meszaros to really step up their games and provide some quality secondary scoring if Ottawa wants to be a top contender for the Stanley Cup again.

Toronto Maple Leafs
-Offence from the back end.
-Overall depth
-As a team they have a track record of suffering a lot of injuries.
-Questionable goaltending.
Question Marks:
-Can either Toskala or Raycroft step up and be a quality number 1 goalie?
-Can they stay reasonably healthy?
-Can their younger forwards (particularly Steen and Stajan) become quality second line players and contribute more offensively.
The Leafs should have an improved team this year with the addition of Toskala and 40 goal scorer Jason Blake. Combine that with hopefully a more healthy season and they should make the playoffs. Any chance they may have at a higher playoff seed than 7th or 8th will likely be dependent on whether the duo of Toskala and Raycroft can be an average or better goalie tandem in the NHL.

Sep 122007

Based on the same forumula as the western conference ratings, here are the eastern conference ratings. As usual, if you disagree feel free to post your thoughts and if you can back up your arguement, who knows, maybe you can get me to change my mind.

Forwards Defense Goaltending Total
Talent Depth Exp. Talent Depth Exp. #1 goalie Depth Exp. Score
Ottawa 10 6 7 8 7 7 8 7 6 53.2
Buffalo 8 8 6 7 8 7 8 7 6 52.8
Pittsburgh 10 8 6 8 7 6 7 6 6 52.5
NY Rangers 9 7 8 6 7 6 9 6 6 52.2
Toronto 7 8 7 8 9 7 6 6 6 50.7
Philadelphia 8 8 6 7 7 7 7 7 6 50.3
Florida 7 6 5 7 7 6 9 6 7 49.5
New Jersey 7 6 7 6 6 7 9 6 10 49.5
Montreal 7 6 6 7 7 7 8 7 6 48.8
Atlanta 9 6 7 7 5 6 8 6 5 48.0
Carolina 8 7 7 6 7 8 6 6 6 47.0
NY Islanders 6 7 7 6 7 6 8 5 6 46.8
Boston 7 6 6 7 7 6 7 6 6 46.5
Tampa 9 6 6 8 6 6 6 5 6 46.5
Washington 8 6 5 6 6 5 7 6 7 45.2
Jun 302007

As I am sure you are all aware, tomorrow is free agent day. As some of you know, I am a Leaf fan but I live in Ottawa so am intimately aware of all the happenings in Senator land. The Senators are in a tough situation heading into the free agent period. As of right now they have close to $42 million spent on 16 players with at least another million dollars committed to Saprykin should Saprykin want to sign his qualifying offer. They have 3 restricted free agents that they likely want to re-sign in Ray Emery, Chris Kelly and Christoph Schubert. But here is there problem. Other teams are seemingly interested in putting in a qualifying offer for Emery. Rumours are that Boston is interested as might be Los Angeles or St. Louis. I am still convinced that Detroit might be interested as well as they are seemingly having trouble finding an appropriate number for Hasek. Or rather, maybe conveniently not finding an appropriate number in order to wait and see if they could get someone like Emery. Regardless, Emery might be getting as much as $4 million next year so that is going to quickly eat up Ottawa’s cap space.

So that brings me to Chris Kelly. Chris Kelly is probably my favourite player on the Senators and I don’t think he gets the respect he deserves. He is fast, feisty, great defensively, a great penalty killer and last year got 15 goals and 38 points. If I were the Leafs, I would toss some money at this guy as I think the Leafs could really use Kelly speed and penalty killing abilities. Is Kelly worth as much as Nik Antropov? Probably. If I am the Leafs I’d present Chris Kelly a 4 year offer sheet in the $1.8-2 million dollar range and see if Ottawa has the guts, or cap space, to match. The compensation for a deal in this range is only a second round pick so it is well worth it. You could even front load it and include a no-trade clause to make it even more difficult for the Senators. My guess is it is at best 50/50 whether they would match or not. Kelly is Toronto born so he might jump at the opportunity to play in his home town.

If the Leafs could sign Kelly and someone like Paul Kariya via free agency they would add a lot of speed to their lineup which is very much in need of some speed. Kelly would significantly improve the penalty kill and Paul Kariya will add a lot of offense as well as a guy who has been very good in the shoot out (12 for 18 the past 2 seasons). With those two players and Toskala in the fold and a bit of luck in the health department the Leafs should easily pass the Islanders, Thrashers and Lighting to move up several spots in the eastern conference standings next season.

Jun 262007

There is a lot of talk about the Leafs wanting to bring in a veteren hockey man to provide some assistance to current GM John Ferguson Jr. Apparently the Leafs tried to get Scott Bowman and even may have made inquiries to Brian Burke about whether he was interested but neither of those two want the job. The current talk is that they are now looking at John Muckler, the recently fired GM of the Ottawa Senators. The question I have to ask is why John Muckler?

To the best of my knowledge, Muckler has been GM of two teams, the Buffalo Sabres from 1993-94 to 1996-97 and the Ottawa Senators from 2002-03 to 2006-07. In his four years as GM of Buffalo his teams missed the playoffs once, lost in the first round twice and in the second round once. In Ottawa he has had a bit more success having lost in the first round once, second round once, third round once and this past season lost in the Stanley Cup finals. But, when he joined the team it was one of the most talented teams in the NHL so it’s not like he built it from scratch. Of the players on this past seasons roster most of the key players (Alfredsson, Spezza, Redden, Fisher, Volchenkov, Phillips, Emery, Schubert, Neil, Schaeffer, Vermette) were in the organization before Muckler joined the Senators and most of the players that Muckler has acquired over the past year or so the new GM Bryan Murray is desperate to let go. Comrie and Preissing are not going to be re-signed. Gerber and Corvo are being shopped to anyone willing to take on their contracts and Murray has no real interest in keeping Saprykin around who Muckler acquired at the trade deadline and gave a qualifying offer to just prior to being fired.

When one truthfully evaluates his career as a general manager in the NHL the evaluation has to be mixed at best. He has had some good teams and some not so good teams, some playoff success and some playoff dissapointments but what it all means is that it is difficult to conclude that he is one of those elite hockey minds that the Leafs want to employ akin to the Bryan Colangelo and the Toronto Raptors.

May 262007

Ottawa at Anaheim

Ottawa (road) Anaheim (home)
Predicted Winner Anaheim (Some)
Fair Odds +122 -129
Overall Record 48-25-9 48-20-14
Home/Road Record 23-12-6 26-6-9
Last 10 Games 6-2-2 5-3-2
Past Games
  • None

It cannot be argued that the Senators and Ducks have been the best teams in the eastern and western conferences these playoffs. The Senators made it to the Stanley Cup losing just 3 games and the Ducks lost just 4 on their route to the Cup and only a strong team in Detroit gave them any kind of challenge. So, the question becomes, which team is better. Well, during the regular season the western conference was by far the better conference as teams in the west compiled an outstanding 82-48-20 record against teams in the east and only Chicago and Columbus had sub .500 record. It could also be argued that Minnesota was a better team than Pittsburgh, Vancouver was a better team than New Jersey and Detroit was as good or better then Buffalo. All-in-all, I think Anaheim had the tougher path to the Stanley Cup than Ottawa.

For Ottawa, they finally obtained playoff success by playing a significantly different style of game that they have in past playoffs and even different that how they played in the regular season. In past playoffs and in the regular season they tried to play an offensive style game and in large part tried to out score their opposition. In the playoffs they have played the opposite style of game by trying to give up fewer offensive chances and goal than the opposition do and by capitalizing on turnovers and power plays. The statistics back this up in dramatic fashion. In the regular season the Senators averaged 32.3 goals for and gave up 30.2 shots against. In the playoffs they have average fewer shots for per game (30.23) and significantly fewer shots against per game (24.4) and the differences would be even more dramatic if you adjusted to a per 60 minute basis because of the longer overtimes in the playoffs.

With that in mind, I think the question for Anaheim becomes, can Anaheim’s offence break through Ottawa’s defensive play? Well, the Anaheim Ducks have average 32.3 shots per game and 2.42 goals per game these playoffs against Minnesota, Vancouver and Detroit, all very solid defensive teams so I think they should be well prepared for a defensive-minded team in Ottawa. If the Ducks can get close to 30 shots a game on Ray Emery they should get enough offence to win the series. What the Ducks bring that the Senators have not faced yet in these playoffs is a far more aggressive, physical forecheck and I think we need to watch how Ottawa’s defence handles that. In particular, watch the Redden-Meszaros pairing because at times in the past those guys have backed down from the physical play. If Ottawa’s defence is at all intimidated by Anaheim’s physical play the series won’t go well for the Senators.

The other reason Ottawa has made the finals is by the offensive production of Ottawa’s top line of Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley. That trio has combined to score 23 of Ottawa’s 46 goals in the playoffs while the rest of the Senators forwards have combined for just 17 goals in 15 games. The challenge for the Ducks is to figure out how to stop Ottawa’s big line and a huge part of that is going to be placed on the shoulders of Selke Trophy nominee Samuel Pahlsson and Norris Trophy nominee Chris Pronger. This is going to be an interesting match up because while Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley have never faced anyone close to the calibre of Pronger in these playoffs, the Ducks have never faced a line the quality of Ottawa’s top line either. If the Ducks can hold Ottawa’s big three to no more than one goal a game they will be in good shape but that will be tough, particularly if the Ducks take too many penalties.

The final thing I want to point out before I make a prediction is what I pointed out prior to the Sens-Sabres series. Back then I mentioned I thought it was important to put some pressure on the Senators by winning early and maybe putting some doubt in the minds of the Senators players. The same holds true in this series. In all three of their series so far the Senators have come out playing hard in game one and ended up winning all three game ones in relatively dominating fashion. The Ducks need to turn that around and take it to the Sens as much as the Sens are likely to take it to them in game one and let the Senators know that they have a tough series on their hand and nothing is going to be easy. Two factors that might come into play here is whether the Senators will be a tad rusty after having a full 8 days off and whether Ottawa will be at all affected by the travel to the west coast, something they haven’t done all season. What happens in game 1 of this series could set the tone for the rest of the series so it should be interesting to watch.

Ok, so now for my prediction. I think dealing the Ducks with their aggressive, physical play, something the Senators have not faced these playoffs, will be a huge challenge for Ottawa in this series. That aggressive play will mean the Ducks will take some penalties and give Ottawa lots of chances on the power play which will keep them in the games but I think 5 on 5 Anaheim will be the better team and will break down the Senators defensive game. I also think Giguere is a better goalie and will out play Emery and the Ducks aggressive fore check will allow them to capitalize on Emery’s rebounds. In the end I think the Ducks take the series. Prediction: Ducks in 6.

Apr 242007

Time for the second round predictions. Like the first round, the second round features some intriguing matchups and also like the first round, none of those match ups are divisional rivals.

  1. NY Rangers at Buffalo

    NY Rangers (road) Buffalo (home)
    Predicted Winner Buffalo (Good)
    Fair Odds +135 -155
    Overall Record 42-30-10 53-22-7
    Home/Road Record 21-15-5 28-10-3
    Last 10 Games 7-2-1 7-3-0
    Past Games
    • 2006/10/14: NY Rangers 4 at Buffalo 7
    • 2006/11/05: Buffalo 4 at NY Rangers 3 (OT)
    • 2006/11/26: Buffalo 3 at NY Rangers 2 (OT)
    • 2006/12/01: NY Rangers 3 at Buffalo 4 (SO)

    My Opinion: Buffalo has been my pick to win the east before the season and they are still my pick though I think the Rangers could give them a challenge. With Jagr, Straka, Nylander and Shanahan the Rangers have 4 legitimate threats offensively, Sean Avery has given them a valuable boost in the ultra-pest category and he has also played great hockey too. The Rangers also have a servicable group of defensemen that are more of the stay at home defensvie minded variety which is probably better against a deep and talented offensive team in Buffalo. And most importantly what the Rangers have is some of the best goaltending in the NHL over the past 2-3 months.. With Buffalo having a deeper set of forwards and a better group of defensemen the Rangers are going to need Lundqvist to substantially out play Ryan Miller if they are to win. Problem is Miller is a very good goalie too so I think Buffalo will win this series. My Prediction: Buffalo in 7

  2. Ottawa at New Jersey

    Ottawa (road) New Jersey (home)
    Predicted Winner New Jersey (Some)
    Fair Odds +110 -111
    Overall Record 48-25-9 49-24-9
    Home/Road Record 23-12-6 25-10-6
    Last 10 Games 6-2-2 6-3-1
    Past Games
    • 2006/10/21: New Jersey 1 at Ottawa 8
    • 2006/11/17: Ottawa 2 at New Jersey 3
    • 2007/01/06: New Jersey 3 at Ottawa 2
    • 2007/04/03: Ottawa 1 at New Jersey 2 (SO)

    My OpinionOttawa looked very good in defeating Pittsburgh relatively easily but I think the Senators are going to be in tough now against New Jersey. The defense first, rely on exceptional goaltending style of play the the Devils play seems to be a challenge for Ottawa to overcome. In the first game of the season series Ottawa trounced the Devils 8-1 but only mustered 5 goals in the final 3 games. Ottawa has also struggled to generate offense against other defense-first, top goaltending teams losing 1-2 to Calgary and 2-1 to Vancouver. As for the Devils they looked off their game early in the Tampa series but rounded into form late in the series winning 3 straight games to take the series in 6 games. Ottawa has a lot more secondary scoring than Tampa did so that should be a bigger challenge for the Devils but Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley didn’t have good series against the Penguins either. That has to change if the Senators are to have any chance against the Devils. The Devils also have two lines producing goals which bodes well because you know that Volchenkov and Phillips will do a good job at shutting down one of them. Getting that second line scoring will be key and if the Devils get that they should win this series. My Prediction: Devils in 6

  3. San Jose at Detroit

    San Jose (road) Detroit (home)
    Predicted Winner Detroit (Some)
    Fair Odds +120 -125
    Overall Record 51-26-5 50-19-13
    Home/Road Record 26-14-1 29-4-8
    Last 10 Games 7-1-2 5-1-4
    Past Games
    • 2006/10/19: Detroit 1 at San Jose 5
    • 2006/10/25: San Jose 1 at Detroit 2
    • 2006/12/02: San Jose 3 at Detroit 2
    • 2007/01/04: Detroit 4 at San Jose 9

    My Opinion: I was not sold on the Red Wings going into the playoffs but the way they dominated the Flames at both ends of the rink was very impressive. If it weren’t for Kipprusoff it could have been a sweep for the Wings. But San Jose looked very good against a strong Nashville team as well so I think this might be a dandy of a series. San Jose will provide more of an offensive threat than the Flames did, but their goaltending isn’t near as good. The Wings are better defensively than the Predators and more experienced but may not have the raw talent than Nashville had. But I don’t beleive that raw talent is what wins in the playoffs. Smart team play, hard work, dedication, depth and experience is what wins in the playoffs and I think the Wings have a bit more of that than the Sharks. My Prediction: Wings in 7

  4. Vancouver at Anaheim

    Vancouver (road) Anaheim (home)
    Predicted Winner Anaheim (Some)
    Fair Odds +117 -120
    Overall Record 49-26-7 48-20-14
    Home/Road Record 23-15-3 26-6-9
    Last 10 Games 6-3-1 5-3-2
    Past Games
    • 2006/11/09: Anaheim 6 at Vancouver 0
    • 2006/11/30: Anaheim 2 at Vancouver 1
    • 2007/02/20: Vancouver 3 at Anaheim 2 (OT)
    • 2007/03/11: Vancouver 2 at Anaheim 4
  5. My Opinion: I am still not sold on Anaheim being a typical Stanley Cup winning team as I think they lack depth on defense and have a lot of young and relatively inexperienced forwards. But, they fairly easily defeated Minnesota and I think should relatively easily defeat the Canucks. The reason is, those two teams are ideal match ups for the Ducks. With a high dependence on just a few defensemen I think they are better suited to play against one line teams like the Wild and Canucks than deep, talented teams like Nashville, San Jose or Detroit. As we saw in the Dallas series, if you can shut down the Sedin line you go a long way to completely shutting down Vancouver’s offense. I think the Ducks can mostly do that just like they shut down the Wild’s offense. The Ducks should be able to generate more offense against Luongo than the Stars did so I think this is the end of the line for the Canucks. My Prediction: Ducks in 5

Apr 102007

When writing up these first round matchups I realized that not one of them features a divisional rivalry. I am too lazy to check but I am not sure that has ever happened before. Anyway, here are my eastern conference predictions.

NY Islanders at Buffalo

NY Islanders (road) Buffalo (home)
Predicted Winner Buffalo (Good)
Fair Odds +137 -159
Overall Record 40-30-12 53-22-7
Home/Road Record 18-17-6 28-10-3
Last 10 Games 6-3-1 7-3-0
Past Games
  • 2006/10/26: Buffalo 3 at NY Islanders 0
  • 2007/01/01: NY Islanders 1 at Buffalo 3
  • 2007/01/27: Buffalo 3 at NY Islanders 5
  • 2007/03/30: NY Islanders 4 at Buffalo 6

Through some gritty play, some surprise goaltending and some luck the Islanders managed to find their way into the playoffs but unfortunately for them in the first round they are going to play the best team in the east just as they are getting healthy for the first time in a long time. In other words, it is going to be real tough for the Islanders to move on to the next round. That said, if Dubielewicz can provide quality goaltending like he has the past week I think the Islanders could steal a few games. The Islanders may not have any superstars on their team but they have some very good, hard working players like Blake, Smyth, Hunter, Witt, Hill, etc. and should make the Sabres work for their wins. But in the end, the Sabres have by far the better talent, depth and probably goaltending.
My Prediction: Sabres in 6

Tampa Bay at New Jersey

Tampa Bay (road) New Jersey (home)
Predicted Winner New Jersey (Good)
Fair Odds +129 -140
Overall Record 44-33-5 49-24-9
Home/Road Record 22-15-4 25-10-6
Last 10 Games 5-4-1 6-3-1
Past Games
  • 2007/01/18: Tampa Bay 3 at New Jersey 2 (SO)
  • 2007/01/26: New Jersey 2 at Tampa Bay 0
  • 2007/02/11: Tampa Bay 4 at New Jersey 1
  • 2007/03/22: New Jersey 1 at Tampa Bay 3

Those who read my blog will know that I do not think that Tampa is a very good team. Tampa is really just a 4 player team of Lecavalier, St. Louis, Richards and Boyle. Their goaltending is weak, they don’t have a lot of quality depth and if it werent for their shootout play they wouldn’t have been close to making the playoffs. All that said, Tampa has beaten the Devils 3 times this year including both games in New Jersey (one by a shootout) so who knows, maybe they have a chance. Plus, I am not completely sold on the Devils either. But even so, I think between Brodeur and their defensive oriented game the Devils play they will shut down Tampa’s big 3 forwards and New Jersey will get enough offense to put away the Lightning fairly easily.
My Prediction: New Jersey in 5

NY Rangers at Atlanta

NY Rangers (road) Atlanta (home)
Predicted Winner Atlanta (Some)
Fair Odds +121 -127
Overall Record 42-30-10 43-28-11
Home/Road Record 21-15-5 23-12-6
Last 10 Games 7-2-1 6-3-1
Past Games
  • 2006/11/10: NY Rangers 5 at Atlanta 2
  • 2006/11/28: Atlanta 5 at NY Rangers 4 (OT)
  • 2007/01/20: Atlanta 3 at NY Rangers 1
  • 2007/03/16: NY Rangers 1 at Atlanta 2 (OT)

This is a real interesting series between two fairly similar clubs. Both teams are using second year goalies (Lundqvist, Lehtonen) with real promising careers ahead of them. Both teams rely heavily on 4 forwards (Jagr, Straka, Nylander, Shanahan vs Hossa, Kozlov, Kovalchuk and Tkachuk) for offense with 3 of them being European and both teams have decent, though relatively anonymous group of defensemen. The Rangers have a super pest in Sean Avery and the Thrashers have gritty veteren forward Scott Mellanby. For the Rangers I really like that Lundqvist is going into the playoffs playing the best hockey of his season if not his young career and that might be the difference. But I also think that the Thrashers have a little more experience and leadership with guys like Mellanby, Holik, Rucchin, DeVries as well as coach Hartley and that bodes well for the Thrashers. This should be an exciting and long playoff series but in the end I’ll go with the team with home ice advantage.
My Prediction: Thrashers in 7

Pittsburgh at Ottawa

Pittsburgh (road) Ottawa (home)
Predicted Winner Ottawa (Good)
Fair Odds +129 -140
Overall Record 47-24-11 48-25-9
Home/Road Record 21-14-6 25-13-3
Last 10 Games 6-3-1 6-2-2
Past Games
  • 2006/11/10: Ottawa 6 at Pittsburgh 3
  • 2007/03/06: Pittsburgh 5 at Ottawa 4 (SO)
  • 2007/03/18: Ottawa 3 at Pittsburgh 4 (SO)
  • 2007/04/05: Pittsburgh 3 at Ottawa 2

In some ways this is kind of like the San Jose-Nashville series in the west where both teams are quality offensive teams but both teams have their question marks. For Nashville it was their small, soft players and for San Jose it was relying heavily on a couple of young defensemen. In this series it is lack of leadership and grit for the Senators along with carrying the heavy burden of numerous playoff failures in the past. For Pittsburgh it is depending heavily on 3 forwards aged 20 and under a 22 year old goalie and a second year defenseman in Ryan Whitney. I normally would not want to pick a team with that much youth but Crosby and Malkin are rare talents that might be the exception to the rule and Ottawa isn’t exactly a veteren laden, playoff hardened team. Ottawa has their own 21 year old defenseman, a 24 year old second year goalie, and a 23 year old number one center and most of the rest of their team just 25-26 years of age. But what I think will be the difference in this series is the veteren leadership that the Penguins have that the Senators don’t. Between Roberts and Recchi the Penguins might have the two best playoff experienced leaders in the game. Recchi has a pair of Stanley Cups and 135 games of playoff experience. Roberts has a Stanley Cup and 114 games of NHL experience. Ottawa doesn’t have an equivalent and if those two guys can keep Pittsburgh’s young players focused and confident I like Pittsburgh’s chances in this series. Before I make my prediction I will add that it will be critically important for both teams to stay out of the penalty box as both teams have the ability to be especially devastating on the power play.
My Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6

Mar 082007

It is probably the marquis match-up of the night. Ottawa is in another of its ‘mini’ slumps and their fans are once again wondering if they have a team to win. The Leafs are on the edge of making or missing the playoffs and should be in desperate hockey mode. This is a game which is both highly important and which should be highly entertaining. This is one of those games that you could sell hockey with to generate new fans. Problem is, in Ottawa, the majority of people won’t get to watch it as it is pay per view only.

One could easily argue that the Senators are the least supported of any of the six Canadian teams. Though season ticket sales have improved the last couple seasons the Senators still trail other Canadian NHL teams by a significant margin. Off Wing Opinion had an interesting post the other day about StubHub (a ticket sales company) and the average price of a hockey ticket and the other 5 Canadian teams ranked 1-5 but Ottawa failed to even crack the top 10. In essense, Ottawa is still in the process of building a loyal, ticket buying, fan base.

NHL’s Top Ticket Powerhouses (data as of March 6)

Per Ticket Price
Team (US Dollars)
—- ————
1. Toronto Maple Leafs $183
2. Edmonton Oilers $120
3. Vancouver Canucks $118
4. Calgary Flames $113
5. Montreal Canadiens $103
6. New Jersey Devils $ 95
7. Detroit Red Wings $ 93
8. Carolina Hurricanes $ 90
9. Minnesota Wild $ 90
10. New York Rangers $ 89

In the early 1990’s, the Chicaco Blackhawks ruled winter sports in Chicago and generally getting more coverage than the Chicago Bulls. In the mid 1990’s the Blackhawks made the decision to put all of their home games and some of their road games on pay per view only. Now hockey is almost considered a second rate sport in Chicago and their fan base has been significantly eroded away. On Tuesday a grand total of 9,118 fans showed up to watch the Blackhawks play the Los Angeles Kings. It is the opinion of many that PPV played a significant role in the demise of the Chicago Blackhawks and the erosion of its fan base. The lack of TV exposure cost them fans. Out of signt, out of mind.

So it seems to me to be a bad business decision by the Ottawa Senators to want to put one of its marquis games on PPV. Sure, it could generate a fair amount of revenue for this season, but it would seem to me to be a larger benefit if you used it to help generate a new, loyal, long term fan. Hiding the game on PPV and limiting exposure to the casual fan will not accomplish that.

One can certainly argue that if the game wasn’t going to be televised anyway (and there are several Senators games a season that do not get televised locally), why not put it on PPV. You know, I could accept that arguement but I cannot accept that one of Ottawa’s local braodcasters (A-Channel or Sportsnet) would not be interested in televising a marquis matchup like the Sens-Leafs. This was a cash-grab business decision.

Now I doubt that putting one Senators-Leafs game and a small number of other games on PPV will have serious long term effects, but if Senators ownership gets addicted to the new found cash they will certainly put more and more games on PPV and it is going to hurt them in the long run. I think the Vancouver Canucks have 17 or so on PPV this season and in my opinion that is getting seriously close to the threshold of doing long term harm but limiting access to the Canucks by the casual fan. Exposure and ease of access is the best marketing tool any team can utilize.

So, my message to fans is this: Support your teams by not buying their games on PPV.

Feb 072007

The Ottawa Senators have to have one of the streakiest offenses in the NHL in recent years.

First 6 games: 10 goals, 1.67 goals/game
Next 3 games: 21 goals, 7.00 goals/game
Next 4 games: 8 goals, 2.00 goals/game
Next 15 games: 60 goals, 4.00 goals/game
Next 13 games: 29 goals, 2.23 goals/game
Next 7 games: 38 goals, 5.42 goals/game
Next 7 games: 15 goals, 2.14 goals per game (2 of these goals were empty net goals)

That is up and down offense if I ever saw it and that is one thing Ottawa is going to need to straighten out if they want to make a serious playoff run. Scoring ~2 goals/game for significant stretches of time is not going to cut it. It cost them last year when they stopped scoring against Buffalo and it has cost them in previous playoffs as well. That is putting way too much pressure on your goalie even if Emery continues to play great.

Nov 212006

This past summer the Ottawa Senators decided to make a statement in the free agent market by signing Martin Gerber to a 3 year, $3.7 million per year contract hopefully ending all of their goaltending issues they seem to have always had. I didn’t like the deal at the time and next summer we will all find out why. The Senators have about $34.5 million in salary cap space already committed to 13 players. If we assume that the salary cap remains at $44 million (it may even drop), that leaves about $8 million to spend on 8-9 players and approximately $1.5 million in buffer space that every team wants.

Now the problem is that one of the players that needs their contract renewed is Ray Emery. Emery has not only clearly been the Senators best goalie, but he has been one of the better goalies in the NHL. Last season at times he showed he can be one of the better goalies in the NHL. So, is it unrealistic to epect that if he continues performing like he has that he doesn’t deserve at least what Martin Gerber is making? If that is the case Ray Emery is going to suck up half of that $8 million leaving $4 million for 8 players. That means those 8 players will have to be close to league minimum ($475,000) players. Problem is, only 3 defenseman (Redden, Corvo and Meszaros) are signed for next season and trust me, that will be a pretty horrible defense with 3 league minimum players playing on it.

So where does that leave the Senators? It leaves them in desperation to free up some salary cap room sometime between now and the free agent signing period of next summer. The obvious choice will be to try and dump Gerber on someone but as of right now, who would want Gerber with the way he has played and with other better goalies like Nabokov, Toskala, Bryzgalov or even Biron all potentially available. The only team in dire need of a goalie is Phoenix though Philadelphia and a few other teams might be looking to upgrade as well. But the way Gerber has played he wouldn’t even provide them with an upgrade. So if the Sens are to be able to trade Gerber between now and next summer they will need to play him and hope he can show that he can be at least a second tier starting goalie. Problem is, with the poor start the Senators have had to the season they don’t have a lot of room to play at the moment to let Gerber work through his game. To me it seems highly unlikely that they will be able to trade Gerber.

So, what are the other options? They could at some point demote Gerber to the AHL taking his salary off the salary cap books but the Senators aren’t a money making organization and I am not sure Melnyk would want to take that financial hit. They could buy him out resulting in a cap hit of approximately $1.23 million for the next 4 years but one has to wonder if that is a vialble option too because Melnyk would still be on the hook for paying him close to $5 million for not playing with the Senators. They could demote him to the AHL, recall him and hope someone takes him on recall waivers saving the Senators half his salary and half his cap hit. This seems to be the somewhat more vialble but still not ideal. since by the time you pay for half of Gerber’s salary and at a minimum $500,000 for another backup goalie you are still forking out $2.35 million for goalies after Emery saving just $1.35 million from the keeping Gerber option. You are still not going to sign any quality defensemen for that amount of money.

The only other option to free up cap room for next summer is to keep Gerber and trade another high priced player. I wonder who that could be.