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Black Aces



Bringing A Take On The Ottawa Senators And The NHL From Deep In The Heart Of Canada's Capital City.



Updated: 2018-03-02T10:48:11.713-05:00

 



The Heavy Metal Kid

2015-08-13T12:40:23.382-04:00

For those wondering ... and there have been a few... Yes, I'm still alive. I put the blog on indefinite hiatus as I wanted to write about other things for a while, and possibly get together some kind of collection of stories I could sell... or bury. While that's still going on, I thought I might as well get one of those stories out there and Black Aces is as good a spot as any. There are no plans to write here full-time again but I may post some things once in a while, hockey-related or not.And yes, this is a true story.The Heavy Metal KidBy Jeremy MilksAll Rights Reserved.Bill Cogen was hunkered down at the back of our Grade 6 class, at least a year older than the rest of us because he had failed it the first time around.  There were wild rumours he had failed other grades as well, including Grade 1, and that he might even be 15 years old. No one really knew, but it was an accepted fact among everyone that he had hair on his balls. One story going around was that he had walked into the Almonte beer store the last summer and bought himself a six-pack without being carded.  The effect of such a story on kids our age doesn’t need to be explained.But as far as I was concerned, Bill Cogen was the one guy I needed to stay the hell away from at all costs. He skulked at the back of our classroom like a brooding, evil presence, scribbling heavy metal band logos onto the blood-red skin of his binder. If he had any friends, they were long gone to Naismith Junior High across town. And he didn’t look too happy about it.He had dull black hair hanging over heavy lidded eyes, pale green skin that looked translucent under classroom light, the beginnings of an oily moustache and a black AC/DC tour t-shirt, which implied he had actually seen the band and been to a concert, where he probably smoked drugs. I didn’t really know what drugs were, but I knew you had to smoke them.As we picked our desks that first day, the early kids grabbed anything that wasn’t near Cogen. I took a desk in the front row by the window, the farthest point away in the classroom.  Fred Denning was less fortunate.  His mom had dropped him off late and there was only one desk remaining, right in front of Cogen. Fred’s hands were shaking as he slowly walked up the row, his head swinging around in one last desperate attempt to see if he had missed an empty desk somehow, or even a trash can he could turn over and sit on. Anything.Bill had his feet up under his desk, resting on the only empty seat in the room. He didn’t flinch when Fred walked up. Fred stood there for a moment, looking at Cogen’s dirty white running shoes with the wet laces untied and hanging off the side of the only empty chair available. Everyone watched this situation develop in silence.It was then that something crucial broke in Fred’s little mind. He turned abruptly and walked back to the front of the classroom, heading for the exit with a look on his face that said “Fuck it, I’m going back to Grade 5.”That’s when Mrs. Church strode forcefully into the room and everyone, even Bill Cogen, took careful notice.  She took care of the situation in a matter of seconds with brutal efficiency.“Mr.Denning, where do you think you’re going? You were instructed to take a desk. Now I see there is an empty one in front of Mr. Cogen and you will take it. Mr. Cogen, you will remove your shoes from Mr. Denning’s seat and tie those shoe laces. Now…. Welcome to Grade 6. We’ll take attendance.”She wasn’t asking that these things be done. She was simply describing the events that were to happen in succession, and she was always accurate. Even Bill didn’t dare defy Mrs. Church. He moved his shoes … slowly … but he goddamned well moved them.             Fred carefully took his seat (now with mud on it) and leaned as far forward as he could. You could tell by his eyes that his mind was now shattered with fear. The pressure of a first day at school was already enormous, but now he could feel [...]



Black Aces On Tumblr

2014-09-20T12:32:12.234-04:00



While the blog is on hiatus this season, I'm still chasing my obsession with vintage NHL memorabilia and photographs over on the Black Aces Tumblr page. Head on over. Some old baseball stuff too.








10 Comments

2014-07-15T08:52:43.633-04:00

Hi all,

Just a short note to let you know I haven’t been hauled away by a pack of rabid dogs or been in a Mexican prison. I’ve been hella busy with other things in life and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. That’s why I’m putting a bullet into Black Aces for now, effectively ending the run that’s been going on since 2007 and before that on the original Black Aces in 2004.

The reasons: I have a new child on the way in August and a new position at work that takes up almost all of my time that I previously had for the blog. There’s just no way I can keep it current so I’m going to “walk before they make me run”, as Keith Richards once said.

It doesn’t mean Black Aces is permanently dead. It’s just on hold until I have some real time. I don’t want people coming here looking for new content when a big deal goes down and being disappointed. If something so momentous happens that I can’t help myself but write a few hundred words, I’ll do so. Who knows, maybe in a few months I’ll get the itch again and find the time in the middle of the night with 3 cups of coffee flowing through my sleep deprived brain. If I do pick it up again, I’ll post a notice on Twitter, so go ahead and follow me there if you don’t already.

So that’s it. For now. Thanks to all my readers for sticking with the blog so long. I’ll still be around, but with a couple kids hanging off me screaming to watch Thomas The Tank Engine instead of Ottawa vs. Buffalo on a Tuesday night. That’s life I guess.



Garbage Bag Day Roundup

2014-04-14T14:18:05.383-04:00

Winter has struck me one last cruel blow with a head cold that’s burrowed into every last crevice of my large skull, so while I’m at home catching reports on exit interviews by the Senators, I thought I’d try to offer at least a few coherent sentences.I’ll be updating this post as the day goes on, heavy-head allowing...Craig Anderson – So far, he’s sounded like the most disappointed Senator, although Jason Spezza was close. He mentioned that players were too often looking for others to step up and make a difference instead of doing it themselves. Sounds about right, especially when you look at how this team performed last year when Spezza, Karlsson and many others were out. Anderson also told reporters he “100%” wanted to stay in Ottawa and later on had lots of praise for rookie defenseman Cody Ceci.In that same interview he also made a smart distinction between number of shots against compared to bonafide scoring chances against. With the rise in the mainstream of stats like Corsi and Fenwick as barometers of team play, Anderson made it clear that it’s not necessarily the amount that bothers him as a goalie... it’s the quality. Teams keep internal stats on “scoring chances” and that may be why they’ve been notoriously resistant to more general possession stats like Corsi. When it comes to these things, I’m not loyal to either side but I’m more apt to take a goalie’s word on it than anyone else’s. Jason Spezza – Unsurprisingly, he sounded incredibly depressed about the situation, but he’s sounded like that for at least a few weeks. When teammates were spouting positives about the team coming together to finish strong, Spezza was saying stuff like “too little, too late”. Clearly, he’s taking his first season as captain hard... and he should. A lot of the organization’s hopes rest on his sometimes unstable back but he wasn’t able to deliver this team to the playoffs like his predecessor had for many seasons. Team’s have bad years, and I don’t think you can pin much of the blame on Spezza, but as captain he’s doing the right thing by being accountable, at least to the media. Yet when asked if he wanted to return, his tone of voice took on an even darker tone and he simply retorted “I do”. It was a short answer, and didn’t do much to convince me or anyone else that he’s a happy guy right now. To me, trading Spezza won’t do this team much good in the short or the long term. Extracting that much skill out of your lineup is never a good thing. Even if they get a first-rounder back in the trade, that player won’t be on this team and contributing regularly for 3 or 4 years. They’re not going to get back a first-line centre either. Spezza is a 220 pound point-scoring machine who’s just 30 years old. The only reason you would part with a guy like that is if he wanted out himself. I’m not sure he’s at that point yet, but it could be close. Nobody gets treated worse by the fans than #19. Alfredsson went through some tough times here with the fans and perservered. I think Spezza can do the same but this is a delicate summer for both sides. Spezza may want some assurances that GM Bryan Murray is going to either re-sign Alex Hemsky or get someone similar to play with. If I had to put money on it, I think Spezza survives here and gets another contract. Paul MacLean – When asked, both Kyle Turris and Erik Karlsson had lots of praise for the suddenly beleaguered head coach. As Ian Mendes tweeted out, Karlsson said “Guys have a lot of respect for him and we like him.” Turris maintained MacLean’s message is still getting through to the guys in the room and you can only think that a lot of the players said this to Murray in their exit meeting when asked. When Barry Trotz was let go this morning by Nashville, it decreased the job security of at least 10 coaches around the league, including, arguably, Paul MacLean’s. The one thing everybody has been harping on has been this team[...]



Who Stays... Who Goes? Diagnosing The Senators Defence

2014-04-09T12:22:46.979-04:00

Sure, going over the forwards in the last post was easy. Scoring hasn’t been the problem with the Ottawa Senators this season as they figure to settle in the Top 10 in league offense. In goals-against, the Sens are in a category with the Oilers, Panthers, Islanders, Sabres and horror of all horrors, the Leafs at the very threshold of hell.At the beginning of the season, this team couldn't even get the puck out of their own end. Coach Paul MacLean held a practice where all they did was breakouts over and over again. Still, the pain continued. It didn’t help that this team couldn't get any goaltending, but the defense core aggressively underachieved this season to the point of satire. Opposing teams would break over the blueline and the Senators most highly paid, veteran defensemen would start doing something that resembled the doggy-paddle. Almost every defenseman at one point ended up on blooper reels during the long season and nothing the coaching staff came up with ended up staunching the flow of errors. Now we get to sit and watch other teams play in the post-season. Surely there’s going to be changes on defense... but maybe not as many as you’d think (or like). Here’s my rundown on each individual defenseman who played the majority of the year here and what awaits them next season. Pray with me. (Contract values are approximate cap hits per Cap Geek)***Erik Karlsson- 5 years left on deal at $6.5m: The most telling thing about Karlsson’s season is that he’s still not a hundred percent healed from his Achilles injury. Yet he’s comfortably in the team lead in scoring with 72 points and 3 games to go, he broke Steve Duchesne’s team record for goals by a defenseman in a season when he notched his 20th, and is only 6 points off his Norris Trophy season total. He’s also logged the most minutes of his career in 2013-14. What can this kid do with a full-summer of training and healing? It will lash your mind with fear if you think about it too deeply. I’m not one to nitpick some of his defensive lapses because that mostly comes from always having the puck and trying to create offense. I get the sense that if Alfie was still around he would have let Karlsson know it’s not always wise to chirp at refs and visibly show your frustration by banging your stick and shaking your head. Once Karlsson cleans that up – and he will with maturity – he could win a Hart Trophy. This guy is the franchise. And his contract is a major bargain compared to what he means to the team. And let’s always remember that the Leafs chose Luke Schenn 5th overall the same year the Sens grabbed Karlsson at 15th in the first round. Jared Cowen – 3 years left on deal at $3.1m: Here we go. No defenseman took more blasting from fans this year than Cowen. Some of the things said on Twitter about the young defenseman would have made Don Rickles wince. It was a disaster from the start, with Cowen holding out through most of training camp waiting on a deal and then looking very much like a guy who missed the season before with a wonky hip. Cowen was burned savagely game after game this year by speedy forwards and most of his physical game seemed to disappear for long stretches. The coup-de-grâce was Cowen imploding against both the Bruins (-4) and Red Wings (-3) in games right before and after the Olympic break. You could see that coach MacLean was trying to get Cowen through the rough patches by playing him regularly despite the mistakes but even MacLean had to finally admit defeat and reduce Cowen’s ice-time significantly as the season wound down. Yet, I still like the guy. One bad year doesn’t mean you give up on a high-pedigree defenseman. He has the size and mobility to be a top-4 defenseman for years and the Senators paid him with that in mind. It’s tempting to imagine at least one of Karlsson, a confident Cowen and Cody Ceci on the ice at all times for the next 5 or 6 years. That’s the plan for GM Bryan Murra[...]



Who Stays... Who Goes? Opinions On Ottawa's Forwards

2014-04-04T11:49:59.906-04:00

Usually I wait until the Senators are eliminated from the playoffs to do a “sign or trade” compendium, but much like this cruel, sadistic winter, this season has dragged on miserably for way too long and I don’t feel that any big surprises are waiting for us in the last 6 games of the regular season that would change my opinions on anybody. Like anyone else watching this team or freezing our asses off out there, we’re all looking for closure.For what it’s worth, here’s my take on each individual Senators forward (we’ll do the defense and goalies next week). We’ll look at their performance this season and whether or not I think they should or will be back. As usual, there will be a lot of dissenting opinion, so if you disagree, let me know in the comments or on the Twitter machine. When there’s a lack of success, there’s always a tidal wave of opinion. I’m no different. So here’s my rundown... (Contract values are approximate cap hits per Cap Geek)CentresJason Spezza – 1 year left on deal at $7m: I love the way Spezza plays the game and would like nothing more than to see him sign an extension to stay in Ottawa, simply because I enjoy the entertainment. He’s a throwback to an 80’s style centre but that’s what gets him into trouble with a lot of the fanbase. Seeing Spezza come alive with the addition of Ales Hemsky has convinced me yet again that there’s a lot of great hockey left in that wonky back, but there has to be some concern from management. To resign Spezza will take a lot of capital and commitment and there’s a risk involved with his health. He’s still only 30 and should have about 3 or 4 strong offensive years left. Yet the Senators can’t risk losing him for nothing in 2015. They have to re-sign or trade him this summer. I’m not completely convinced that Kyle Turris or Mika Zibanejad are true number-one elite centres, either now or in the near future. Moving Spezza would hurt this team in more than just entertainment value. Here’s a more in-depth look at how I view Spezza from a few weeks ago.Kyle Turris – 4 years left on deal at $3.5m: Right now he’s the perfect second-line centre on this team and has been, along with linemate Clarke MacArthur, the Senators most consistent player all season. There’s not much to criticize about his game except that he’s still a little scrawny. That may be the only thing holding him back from being able to go up against the other team’s top centres every night the way Spezza does (Spezza is 30 pounds heavier). Turris has a great contract as well. GM Bryan Murray absolutely stole him from Phoenix for David Rundblad, a trade I initially didn’t like. I was wrong. Big time. Mika Zibanejad – 1 year left on deal at $900,000: Coach Paul MacLean has brought Zibanejad along very slowly which has infuriated some fans but in the end it’s probably the right thing to do. That’s the Detroit Red Wings style that MacLean brought over with him and at times it seemed Zibanejad was being held back, but I think we’re seeing that approach pay off. You can see glimpses of so much power in his game and if he eventually fills out to 220 pounds he’ll be even harder to take off the puck. If the Senators decide to deal Spezza, Zbad will get a lot more responsibility but right now he’s in a pretty good spot. If that old cliché about players breaking out in their fourth year holds true with Zibanejad, we should start to see some real offensive numbers in about two seasons. Zack Smith – 3 years left on deal at $1.8m: Ottawa’s second best faceoff man behind Spezza, Smith has the most even-strength defensive zone starts of anyone on the team who’s played over 50 games. He kills penalties and is a welcome physical presence down the middle. He sometimes loses his temper and takes bad penalties, but according to Extra Skater, he also draws a lot of penalties on the other teams, leading the Senators in th[...]



Mark Messier - Fashion Plate And Man Of Many Hats

2014-04-02T12:20:36.104-04:00

Yes, in my spare time I occasionally look at Mark Messier pictures on the internet. It's sad really.(Via Tumblr - that's not my text on the picture)[...]



The Many Faces Of Chris Neil

2014-04-02T09:29:33.308-04:00

Originally I was going to title this pic post as a play on Lon Chaney, "Man Of A Thousand Faces", but realized that Neil doesn't really have a thousand faces. He's got three, with endless permutations - Ecstatic, Grumpy and Enraged. And for this reason, there's a motherlode of great Neil pics out there. He's never just going through the motions on the ice. He's either in the midst of a shitstorm around the net, in a mob celebration or throwing punches. How can you not take a great photograph of Chris Neil? It's impossible.Neil isn't a very PC player to like anymore in this enlightened age of temperance, and I can guarantee you I'm the only Sens blogger who will say "he's one of my favourite players to watch on the Senators right now". Win or lose, there's always something happening with this guy. And I like seeing stuff happen. But mostly, I love the faces. [...]



5 Options Bryan Murray Has To Fix The Senators

2014-03-18T11:26:29.818-04:00

*** NOTE: I’ve already had some people completely misinterpret this article as a list of things I’d wish to see happen. Not even close. If you read the intro, it should be clear that these are all just options facing Bryan Murray this summer, not some kind of misanthropic manifesto calling for Spezza and Ryan to be traded away. I thought I made great pains to convey that but clearly some people just read what they want to read. Never had to do this for an article before, but anyways....***Nobody wants to revisit the horrors of Saturday night and the historic collapse against the Canadiens. Who wants to waste words on the lousy Sunday matinee against the Avalanche? Everybody knows this season is over for the Ottawa Senators (it was over in Alberta a few weeks back) and we all just want to know what GM Bryan Murray does now.The slow march to April 13 is on for the current roster, but Murray has work to do that will last months. The choices he has to make are among the hardest for any GM. Do you hope this year was an aberration in the rebuild or do you make drastic, risky changes to get this thing back on track?Here are five options (among many) that face Bryan Murray this summer and every single one of them could work like a magic trick or backfire like a dirty Plymouth rolling down Carp Road. I’m not saying I advocate any of these moves (in fact I disagree with many of them), but they are possibilities when a team has played as badly as Ottawa has. So let’s get on with it:1. Trade Bobby Ryan at the draft or this summer: A lot of Sens fans would be aghast at this scenario but it could definitely happen. The remaining two years on Ryan’s contract that the Senators inherited was seen as a rehearsal for both sides before committing marriage on a long-term deal. Ryan, who left a better situation in Anaheim where he was unhappy, holds most of the cards because he can choose where he wants to go as a UFA in the summer of 2015. If I was a betting man, I’d wager Ryan hasn’t found happiness in Ottawa just yet.He told reporters he was excited to get a chance to play with Jason Spezza but coach Paul MacLean barely gave that combo a chance. Ryan found success with Kyle Turris early on but has faded badly since being snubbed for Team USA. He has two goals since the beginning of February and just one since the Olympic break, which happened to coincide with the most important games the Senators played all year. His linemates and ice-time have fluctuated and has never seemed like a go-to player for MacLean. Ryan is on pace for the worst full-season goal totals of his career. That won’t make for a happy player or a happy GM. And on the basis of that, the two sides must come to a contract agreement in a short-time frame. This may be headed for a separation.If Murray doesn’t believe or knows he can’t get Ryan to sign long-term in Ottawa, he may have to move him as early as this summer. I don’t think Ryan’s value has diminished that much, but if Murray waits until his back is against the wall next season, other GM’s will know he’s desperate to get an asset back. If this isn’t going to work out – and my suspicion is that it won’t and Ryan already knows this in the back of his head – it would make sense for both sides to move on right away. Murray can get a lot for Ryan, even after a bad season. Murray can't lose Ryan for nothing considering what he gave up to get him.If I’m wrong, and Ryan decides he likes his situation here, all the better. Guys who can score like Ryan don’t come around very often, especially to Ottawa. But if it’s not working, both sides will agree to quickly move on. To me, this is the biggest story heading into the off-season.2. Trade Jason Spezza: This is a less likely scenario than a trade of Ryan, but it’s still a possibility. Again, it’s an expiring co[...]



On Jason Spezza ... And Other Underdogs

2014-03-12T12:57:08.136-04:00

Someone I was talking to recently said, rather matter-of-factly, that the Senators should have traded Jason Spezza at the deadline and gotten him out of town. When I politely disagreed, he seemed shocked. Not that someone would disagree with him, but that I disagreed with him.“But I thought you only liked tough guys?”For some reason I’ve gotten that reputation in the Sens small but fiercely opinionated online community and maybe that’s my own fault. When someone slags Chris Neil or Matt Kassian (and that happens about once every 2.7 seconds according to Stats Can), I’m sometimes the only one with anything contrary to say. In a way it’s made me a pariah, or a bit of a black sheep, but I’m fine with that.Many take the leap of logic that because I see value in a player like Chris Neil, I must dislike skilled hockey players, which is ridiculous if you know me. I grew up in the 80’s worshipping the Edmonton Oilers and Steve Yzerman. Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson are part of a small handful of players I’d pay to see. My vision of great hockey is high-scoring, end-to-end play with tiny goalie equipment and a harsh crackdown on obstruction.I love the shootout for crissakes. But I also love the hits and the fights and the drama that a little violence brings to the game. To me, hockey at its best is an opera of speed, skill and violence that hearkens back to a less sensitive age, when people could separate entertainment from moral hang-ups and just enjoy the tradition of the game. I realize those days are over, but I cling to it stubbornly because I can. It’s the same with rock ‘n’ roll. I prefer the danger of Iggy and the Stooges in the 70’s to the corporate, nice-kids feel of Arcade Fire in 2014 (although I’ll be at that show this Friday - not in formal wear as the ticket suggests). The NHL is moving into safe indie-rock territory where it strives to offend no-one. But that’s a terrible, uncalled-for digression. Let’s get back to Jason Spezza.Just look at the title of this blog. It was symbolic to me when I started this thing back in 2007 that the title Black Aces represented the underdog. That underdog label over the years has, to me at least, covered a wide range of players, from stars to 4th-liners.When the whole city was intent on running Ray Emery out of town with a sort of indignant hysteria, I was on here defending him. When Dany Heatley was being excoriated, I took his side over Cory Clouston and got nothing but daggers for it. I don’t want any medals here, but when that many fans get onto one side of an argument, it creates a herd-mentality and that basically precludes any rational thought on the subject. Even if I’m wrong sometimes, I take satisfaction in defending a player that gets almost unanimous scorn. Twitter is a big playground full of anonymous bullies who can say vile, moronic things and not be held accountable, mostly because everyone tends to agree with the person saying the most jaded, mean-spirited and post-ironic things disguised as “analysis”. Which brings us to Jason Spezza, easily the most divisive player in Sens history. He’s a throwback to an earlier time when offensive players were allowed to try plays seemed to have been concocted by a group of drunk coaches trying to one-up each other. He’s got an “aw-shucks” demeanour and a teenager’s laugh. His hunched over skating style makes him look slow when he's trying to backcheck. In short, he doesn’t fit any kind of prototype in the modern NHL. Yet here he is at 30 years old with 674 points in 671 career games, wearing the captain’s C for your Ottawa Senators, the same team that has made the playoffs in 8 out of the 11 years he’s been here.And still, all fans can say is they “want more”. Some call him the “second-line centre”. He’s in trade rumou[...]



Black Aces vs. Trade Deadline Day... Full Sens Analysis

2014-03-05T15:13:29.542-05:00

A busy day for the Senators that started wobbly with Cory Conacher getting picked up on waivers by the Buffalo Sabres, but things brightened up (for some) with the announcement of a new Chris Phillips contract and a trade for Alex Hemsky from the Oilers. It’s been a busy day for me as well, so let’s get right into it, move by move.Cory Conacher Claimed On WaiversThere were a lot of upset people on Twitter yesterday with news of Conacher being on waivers, and even more anger when he was picked up by former Sens assistant-GM Tim Murray in Buffalo today at noon. The screaming is understandable from a lot of angles, especially in light of Ben Bishop dominating in Tampa Bay, but I think it’s all a little overblown.First, does the thought of Conacher in a Sabres uniform really put a scare into Sens fans? I don’t think so. I like Conacher’s feistiness in front of the net and his courage on the ice, but the Senators aren’t losing a key player here. If it wasn’t for the fact he was moved for Bishop, Conacher would have been out of the lineup or waived a lot faster than he was. It just didn’t work out for him here. At least GM Bryan Murray has essentially admitted his mistake and isn’t going to force the organization to pay over and over again by forcing a player who doesn’t fit on the team just because the GM’s pride is on the line. Murray blew that trade and he knows it. Now it’s time to move on. As some pointed out on Twitter today, Murray robbed Phoenix out of Kyle Turris – you win some, you lose some. The point is not to let the ones you lose distract you from going forward.Second, there seems to be a recurring complaint that the Senators could have gotten at least a late draft pick for Conacher instead of losing him for nothing. I’d share that complaint if it was realistic. If somebody was willing to part with a pick, Murray would have gotten it. To think that Murray didn’t try to move Conacher before waiving him is nonsensical. Of course he did. Waivers are always a last-resort. The trouble is, teams like their draft picks and they also like free players. A lot of guys make it to waivers because nobody wants to part with an asset for them. But if they’re free? Sure, a lot of teams will take a chance on a free player. That’s what Tim Murray did on Conacher and wasn’t about to part with a pick in a rebuilding situation. If Conacher was as valuable as a lot of Sens fans think he was, Murray would have had no trouble moving him. Third, Conacher is a pending RFA next season. With his game being so up and down, mostly down, how do you determine what kind of contract he gets? His short career has been so uneven that it makes for a headache just trying to figure it out. That’s one less contract negotiation for Murray and opens the door further to players like Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Shane Prince, Matt Puempel and Jean-Gabriel Pageau among others. All of the above are better prospects, in my mind at least, than Cory Conacher is. Fans feel like all young players are precious cargo and flinch when one is cast off, especially in the manner that Conacher was. Truth is, a lot of them just don’t work out. When you have so many in the system, as Ottawa does, you have to make judgements quicker in order not to stall the progress of others. When one doesn’t work out, you part ways and give their spot to the next guy. That’s what Ottawa did here with Conacher and I think it was the right move, despite how bad it looks with Bishop.Ales Hemsky TradeGreat move when you consider how little Bryan Murray had to give up to get the slick winger from the Oilers. A 5th round pick in this year’s (weak) draft and a 3rd rounder in 2015, while the Oilers also pick up half of what Hemsky is owed for the remainder of this season. For that mod[...]



Fans Want Youth But Can’t Live With The Mistakes

2014-02-28T10:59:36.893-05:00

You can’t have it both ways. You just can’t.Fans gush over prospects and young players the way teenage girls used to scream about The Beatles in 1964. They’re just so new and exciting. Then they play a year or two, and suddenly the new guys aren’t so fresh anymore, and a little too human for our liking.Bring on the new batch of kids, most of whom have benefitted from the NHL Entry Draft hype machine and haven’t had the chance to disappoint anybody yet. Too often, fans embrace the fresh face but don’t have the patience to watch them grow into veteran hockey players. And in order to become vets, they have to make mistakes and figure out how to play against players that rarely do. Sometimes that takes years. In the case of defenseman, it almost always takes four or five years, unless you’re a phenom like Erik Karlsson, and even he went through some nights where fans were calling for his pretty little head. Now you see it every night on Twitter (that institution of sober second thought) with Jared Cowen. Fans are prepared to throw a 23-year old 1st round pick defenseman with under 150 games NHL experience on the garbage heap. On to the next guy.Not that I want to turn this into an argument about Jared Cowen. I want to talk about young players in general.If you like your hockey team young and exciting, that’s often what you’re going to get, although you might not fully understand the term “exciting”. That can cut both ways. Exciting sometimes means watching a rookie dash up the ice with unexpected speed, only to lose the puck at the blueline with a blind drop-pass and watch the other team go back the other way at 100 mph and pop the water bottle. “Exciting” has never implied a certainty of outcome. What’s exciting about that?If you want youth, you have to learn to live with their sometimes moronic, unintelligible blunders. There’s no way around it. My son once dumped his entire cup of milk onto his plate of food that I’d spent an hour making, and just looked at me innocently for a moment and then said "Dad, can I get more milk?". (Naturally, I went right to Twitter and put him on blast.)It’s a brutal fact that young, inexperienced hockey players are going to make mistakes at crucial times. Over 100 years of hockey should have taught us that. Forget hockey history ... common sense tells you that.Look at last night’s game against Detroit. The Senators are controlling the play early in the first period until 20-year old rookie Cody Ceci makes a bad pass in his own zone that’s picked off by Riley Sheahan and rifled past a stunned Robin Lehner. The Wings never looked back and put a further five pucks past the rattled 22-year old netminder.It was a must-win game for Ottawa with all sorts of pressure and the players who made the critical early errors for the Sens were all young guys with little NHL experience in this sort of situation.Cowen was -3 on the night, continuing his horrid play that dates back to the Sens last game before the Olympic break against Boston, a veteran-laden team. Eric Gryba, who’s 25 but has only played 68 NHL games was also -3 as Cowen’s partner. We saw what happened to Lehner and Ceci.Mike Hoffman, with 7 career games going into last night, was probably Ottawa’s best player because of his energy and skating, but he’s already failed to crack this lineup on multiple occasions. A handful of rookies and prospects have failed to make a dent this year, including Stephane Da Costa, Mark Stone, Derek Grant and Mark Borowiecki. All had their good moments but all were sent down just the same. For most of those guys, it’s going to take a lot more time. And for the guys already here, like Ceci, Gryba and Mika Zibanejad, there have been many times where Coach Paul MacLean has [...]



23 Games Remaining That Will Test The Sanity Of Every Sens Fan

2014-02-28T14:16:34.087-05:00

One thing we can say for sure about this Ottawa Senators team is that they have the God-given ability to confound and frustrate even the most hardcore hockey watchers this side of Toronto. Gentle souls have been lobotomized as far back as November, and they now walk around town like Clint Eastwood in The Unforgiven … scarred, angry, hopelessly darkened.The hardier minds toughed it out past Christmas (with the help of alcohol) and they were rewarded with a sunny January, when the team suddenly looked like a playoff contender again, showing speed, grit, goaltending and finding a little bit of luck where they once found disaster.Yet look where they sit now. 23 games to go, surrounded by teams playing as good, if not better. Stuck in a division with a top three that’s basically been decided already, with only a wild-card spot in reach. The pundits say they’ll need 93 or 94 points to make it, which means they can only lose 6 or 7 games the rest of the season, depending on how the wind blows. Wonderful.It’s going to go down to the last rotten week in April when a lot of horrific nightmares can come true. The Senators face the Leafs the last weekend of the regular season. That could be the game that decides their season, and, as fate would have it, probably the season of the Red Wings and Daniel Alfredsson as well. As I talked about before on this blog, it seems like the door to the playoffs is going to be guarded by Alfie, a situation nobody wants to think about right now, especially in the middle of the day with no recourse to tranquilizers at hand.They can take one step to avoiding that horrible fate by beating the Red Wings on Thursday in the first game after the break, and hope that Henrik Zetterberg (now out for the season after back surgery) was the one guy the Wings couldn’t afford to lose. Then there’s the specter of the Leafs on that last Saturday, who may even be eye-to-eye at that point with the Senators (at least that’s what the advanced stats gurus predict). It’s all speeding towards a bloody conclusion.Do the Senators have what it takes to survive the gauntlet they now have to run?.We’ll start at the top.Paul MacLean has pissed off more fans this year than Cory Clouston did in his “Little Napolean” prime, but the stubborn coach has slowly gotten his way after a near-disastrous start. Fans seem to think that only the top two lines should play and scream bloody murder on Twitter when Chris Neil gets a second more ice-time than anybody else, but MacLean comes from a Red Wings franchise that once used Sergei Fedorov as a defenseman and always ran four lines to win Stanley Cups. That’s the type of team MacLean is trying to mould here in Ottawa, and eventually it’s going to pay off. If it takes humbling one of his star players, he won’t hesitate for a second.A lot of early anger seemed to stem from the fact that he’s been trying to make Mika Zibanejad earn his role rather than handing it to him as many fans expected. He’s had a leash on the kid and sometimes he’s pulling back on it, despite Zibanejad showing he should have more ice-time. He won’t waver down the stretch so expect a few more decisions that will send Twitter into a panic spiral. When you see him smirking under that moustache, you know that somewhere deep down inside he enjoys tormenting people who think they know more about hockey than he does – namely bloggers, reporters, Twitter. You can even imagine him giving the same speech to his team that Coach Lou Brown does in 1989’s Major League: “The local press seems to think that we'd save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I'm for wasting sportswriters' time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a whil[...]



Leafs Rivalry Dies Hard For Some, Never Existed For Others

2014-01-31T12:38:06.751-05:00

Another Saturday night. Another Leafs vs. Sens matchup.It doesn’t seem to have the same intensity that it used to, does it? In fact, there’s a whole generation of new fans who probably don’t truly understand the enmity both teams and fanbases had towards each other during the height of the rivalry. At times, there was real bloodlust there, like when Tie Domi absolutely crushed Martin Havlat with a hit that ended up on repeat in Don Cherry's videos, or when Domi beat up Magnus Arvedson. Clips of Daniel Alfredsson destroying Darcy Tucker against the boards are now played alongside sentimental music during tributes to the former captain, but many forget the ugly incidents that led up to or followed that. Like Darcy Tucker irrationally diving with fists swinging into the Senators bench, trying to fight the whole team, only to later claim that a Senators player spat on him. Or Leaf coach Pat Quinn accusing Marian Hossa of intentionally swinging his stick into Bryan Berard’s eye. Or Curtis Joseph exploding into a rage after a Sens goal and tackling plump referee Mick McGeough in the corner, later claiming to have “slipped”. The last major controversy was probably Mark Bell crushing Alfredsson with a blind-side hit just before the 2008 playoffs. Even that seems like ancient history. Now we mostly get Nazem Kadri and Cory Conacher yapping at each other in scrums. Luckily for Conacher, Kadri always has Lupes to “hold him back”. Expect all this politeness to change. Very soon. But before we get into the reasons for that, let’s take a quick look back at some of the playoff carnage:1999-00: Leafs beat Sens in 6 games in the first round of the playoffs. Ottawa scores only twice in 3 games against Curtis Joseph at the new Air Canada Centre.2000-01: Leafs sweep Sens in first round, despite losing all 5 games to Ottawa in the regular season. Ottawa scores 3 goals in the entire series, getting shutout by Joseph in the first two games at home. Games 1 and 3 ended in overtime on goals by Mats Sundin and defenseman Cory Cross respectively. Ottawa’s best player, Alexei Yashin, gets one assist in the series and promptly gets traded to Long Island.2001-02: Ottawa loses again to Toronto, this time in a close 7-game, second-round series. This is made all the more painful because the Senators held a 3-2 series lead going home for Game 6. They raced out to a 2-0 lead early in the first on goals by Hossa and Alfredsson, only to watch defenseman Ricard Persson take a 5-minute boarding call and game misconduct for checking Domi from behind into the boards. Many felt Domi went down a little too easy, but the Leafs tied the game with two goals on the ensuing power-play and went on to win by a goal, tying the series. The Sens didn’t recover in Game 7, getting shutout by Joseph again in Toronto.2003-04: After marching to the conference final the year before, the Senators and their fans were confident going into a first-round match against the now hated Leafs. It would be Jacques Martin’s last as coach in Ottawa. Somehow, the Senators get shutout 3 times in the series but still manage to push it to a seventh game in Toronto. Before the game, new Sens owner Eugene Melnyk was quoted as saying “We’re gonna kill ‘em!” Famously, Ottawa goalie Patrick Lalime implodes in the first period on two long shots by Joe Nieuwendyk and his career in Ottawa ends along with Martin’s. Domi says after the game, “A big inspiration was Eugene Melnyk's comments.”***At the time I was working at Hy’s Steakhouse and one of the cooks came in the next day with a broken hand from smashing it into his coffee table after the second Nieuwendyk goal. He had to work the salad station for a [...]



Erik Cole: Spezza Needs You. If Not, Can You Ask Ray?

2014-01-28T13:06:12.030-05:00

Suddenly Black Aces has turned into a rumours blog that’s putting Eklund to shame, but at this time of year, even I get sucked in.So here’s an unsolicited one of my own.GM Bryan Murray should look closely at bringing Erik Cole in from Dallas to play with Jason Spezza.The reasons? In the Matt Moulson article below I talked at length about Spezza needing a winger. Everybody’s talking about that. Even Brian 5or6’s Granny is talking about that. So as a fan, you go through the usual suspects like Moulson, Thomas Vanek and Ales Hemsky, but chances are, if something does get done, it will be a name that catches everyone by surprise. Like Oleg “Freakin” Saprykin.Let me throw Erik Cole into the mill. Remember him? The guy who used to victimize Ottawa with speed and goal-scoring in his prime years?I’ve always liked Cole over the years, but lately he’s been out of sight, out of mind. Playing over in Dallas, I don’t get to see him much anymore and his stats aren’t exactly forcing us early-to-bed Easterner’s to take much notice.Then his named popped up in Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts article today – not in connection to Ottawa – but as a player who may be unhappy in Texas. As Friedman noted, Cole’s agent strongly denied that rumour and there was no more elaboration on the subject. Chances are it really is case closed. Cole has a no-trade clause according to Cap Geek, and with one year left on his deal at $4.5 million (but just $4 million in actual salary), he’s not exactly a deadline rental. Yet Dallas is a long-shot to make the playoffs in the brutal Western Conference. GM Jim Nill is in his first year at the helm and has barely started to rebuild the team that suffered some tough years under Joe Nieuwendyk. A guy like Erik Cole is not in the long-term plans and a Stanley Cup is not in the short-term plans. Cole has been around a long time and I’m sure he can see what’s happening.From a purely hockey standpoint, it would tough to see him objecting to a trade. Family and lifestyle issues may stand in the way, but if you dangled the prospect of playing with Jason Spezza in front of Cole, wouldn’t he be at least a little interested in paying more taxes?Many of you will scoff and say Cole is injury-prone, old (he’s 35) and not even close to the same player he was when he won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006. He can’t be worth a $4.5 million cap hit. But how much would he be worth if he was riding shotgun with Spezza? How do you calculate that?Cole scored 35 goals just two seasons ago with Montreal. He has 14 this season on a fairly bad Dallas team and he’s reached the 20 goal plateau 5 times since 2006. He’s also left-handed shot, which is what Dany Heatley was (as is Moulson, another reason I thought he could work with Spezza - I'm obsessed with this apparently), and Cole is big (6’2, 212 lbs.) and fast. Coach Paul MacLean could have Spezza flanked by both Cole and Colin Greening, which would be a hulking but skilled line.Of course, in this imaginary world, the Senators would be on the hook for Cole’s contract next year, but it would essentially replace Milan Michalek’s cap number, who will be leaving this summer as a UFA. Both players have been injury prone (Cole once broke his back) but have played almost a full slate of games so far this season. If anything, swapping Cole’s deal for Michalek’s next year would work. It feels like the exact same argument I made for Moulson, although at least the Senators know Cole’s cap hit for next season. Moulson’s would have to be negotiated, and could top $5 million. I also get the feeling someone could get Cole for less than what Moulson wo[...]



A Closer Look At The "Moulson To Sens" Rumours

2014-01-22T12:06:19.760-05:00

Jason Spezza needs a winger. This is not breaking news.If you’ve been watching the Ottawa Senators for the past 3 months, you know it as well as anybody. Coach Paul MacLean has put Spezza on an island, and that’s no place for your team captain and arguably most skilled player to be.There’s no denying Spezza is having a tough year. Not a terrible year, but he’s not the same guy we’ve seen in the past. The reasons for that are numerous, and a lot of the blame rests with his own play, but he hasn’t exactly been put in the best position to maximize his particular talents. That’s on both MacLean and GM Bryan Murray, although Murray gets an "A" for effort by bringing in Bobby Ryan to play with Spezza, only to have MacLean keep them apart out of what seems like stubbornness at times.Spezza is a glaring -17, second worst on the team, but that’s not necessarily an indication of a big drop-off in his defensive play. Spezza has always been a risk-taker and a bit iffy on the defensive side, but the difference this year is that his line is not scoring 5-on-5 like it has in the past. If anything, Spezza has improved his commitment to backchecking and playing down low in his own end (as a team captain has to do), but he’s been struck with the double plague of skating in front of bad goaltending early in the season and having a rotisserie of wingers on either side, none of whom are a natural fit.And you can see it out there almost every night. When Spezza makes something happen, it’s usually because he’s forced the issue on his own, making a brilliant solo play while his wingers just try to go to the net and pull some defenseman along with them. Last night in Washington was a good example. You could tell Spezza was “on”, but he couldn’t really get any offense going 5-on-5. It took a power-play and an awkward looking game of tag with defenseman Patrick Wiercioch (who refused to shoot) for Spezza to just say, “screw this” and power one from the sideboards through Caps goalie Braden Holtby for the insurance goal in the third period.There’s no doubt in my mind that Spezza is still a 90-point player in this league, but he’s not going to get there playing with 30-point wingers. He needs to play with a sniper to utilize his biggest strength – which is playmaking – but unless MacLean decides to loan either Ryan or Clarke MacArthur to Spezza’s line, this team seems to be wasting the franchise centre’s second-last contract year.Cue the Matt Moulson rumours.It makes sense at first glance. Moulson’s a natural goal scorer, a left-handed shooter like Dany Heatley was with a very manageable pro-rated $3.9 million salary (3.1 cap hit) the rest of this season until he becomes a UFA. Basically, it’s a rental player scenario that’s easy on the payroll and doesn’t carry a burden past this season, unless both sides want it to.The other reason this makes sense is that Bryan Murray will be dealing with his nephew and ex-employee Tim Murray in Buffalo if this deal were to go down, and that’s surely what’s given this rumour some legs. TSN mentioned it, as did the Ottawa Sun, so this isn’t just one of those HF Boards doozies that occasionally seeps into the mainstream, causing seasoned reporters to panic thinking they missed a major lead. It all sounds fairly reasonable, even inevitable.But so did Mike Sillinger, Peter Bondra, Martin Lapointe, and Mike Comrie. These things don’t always work out like they should.If you’re wondering about Moulson’s credentials as a goal-scorer, Tim Wharnsby had a piece back in late-December  pointing out that Moulson has scored the 12th most goals in the[...]



Dale Hunter, Bobby Ryan, Dee Snider and Coca-Cola – How One Game Sent Me Back To The 80’s

2014-01-17T12:21:31.474-05:00

The game last night between the Senators and the Canadiens had some kind of magic to it, a strange forgotten appeal that somehow found its way here from the 80’s when the game was wide open and a little more dangerous. The rink in Kanata was charged, the two teams getting away from their coaching systems enough that it resembled something long gone, something unpredictable and addicting.We saw a winger, Bobby Ryan, skate over the blue line and beat Carey Price clean. That doesn’t really happen anymore except for the very few elite players with an overpowering shot. Even for them, it’s rare. We saw tragic bounces (Jared Cowen), wild rushing defensemen (Erik Karlsson), actual athletic goaltending that was at times astonishing (Price), 9 goals, lead-changes and even a wild overtime celebration from P.K. Subban who until that time was playing in the shadow of a determined Karlsson all night long. I think his histrionics had as much to do with beating Karlsson as it did with beating the Senators.It was a hell of a game … so good in fact that it dawned on me how few of these we actually get outside of the playoffs. The consequences of the outcome didn’t seem to matter once you got caught up in it all. You just wanted to see what happened next, and you got a little nervous thinking about it. I never found myself wandering over to Twitter out of boredom. I didn’t want to see how sarcastic or angry everyone was over somebody's ice-time. I was just watching a hockey game, unable to break away.And it reminded me of Lonny and my Old Man.My Dad’s best friend was a guy named Lonny. We called him “Uncle Lonny” but there was no relation there. It just seemed natural to call him that and I think he liked it. They drank beers together on Saturday nights – Molson Ex in stub bottles only - and showed me my first hockey games just a couple of years after I was born ‘76. I don’t remember those early nights, of course, but eventually it kind of comes together in the early 80’s when Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier caught my attention.Lonny had red hair and always wore a bright orange Calgary Flames jersey that was a little too tight. My old man wore a red Chicago Blackhawks sweater, and later on a white Washington Capitals. They used to order them from the ads in the back of The Hockey News and it was a big deal to them. They’d get stinko drunk but never get a drop of anything on those sweaters. When the game was over the jerseys would go back on a hanger in the closet. Sometimes my old man would take out the Blackhawks jersey and just stare at it for a while and put it back, wordlessly. These were the most valuable things in our house, or at least it seemed that way to me. Transmissions would fall out of our cars and lamps would wobble over and smash on the floor, all replaceable. But those sweaters were handled with perfect care, sober or not.When I was real young my Dad told me he’d once played for the Blackhawks and knew Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. He was lying but it was a pretty good lie. When I was in Grade 3 my Mom told me he was full of it but my Dad never admitted to anything. He’d just smile when I asked him if it was really true. “Where do you think I got the sweater? They don’t just give them to anybody. You have to be a player. You shoulda seen me out there. I cut down Marcel Dionne one night with a stick right to the back of his leg. Wap! Down he went. They didn’t mess with me after that.”So I’d ask, “Did Uncle Lonny play for the Flames too Dad?”“Are you kidding? He’s a shrimp”.It was a jumble of confusing lies but I was in awe. Seeing Lonny and my Da[...]



Sens Internal Cap Remains, Just The Spin Changed… For A Few Hours

2014-01-14T13:57:16.404-05:00

With General Manager Bryan Murray riding the high of a newly announced four-year contract (two as GM, two as an “advisor”) and the team on a sudden upswing in the standings, you can’t blame Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and Murray effectively ringing the dinner bell here in town, relaying the message to fans that the Senators are “open for business”.After months of nothing but bad news, it was time for a few smiles.Already enduring the perception (fairly or unfairly) of being the local Scrooge, Melnyk seemed to dance around the subject of increasing the team’s player budget. On the conference call to announce the Murray deal, both parties hinted that room could be made to bring in a player or two who can help them this year, leading most observers to think that the hard ceiling of the Senators internal budget may be softening. Some speculated that Murray may have even demanded more budget room if he was going to stay on, but that’s just conjecture at this point. Regardless, the effect was a good one for the Senators on the public relations front. It gave the impression of a stable management team working for an owner still committed to winning, even if it meant doling out a few extra bones with those alligator arms that couldn’t quite reach the wallet during the Daniel Alfredsson negotiations this past summer.They even talked about the Stanley Cup coming to town in the next two years. It was quite the show.However, if you listened to Melnyk’s interview on TSN 1200 Monday afternoon with Ian Mendes and Lee Versage, a few hours after the initial feel-good announcement, a bit of the veneer had already washed away. Melnyk bristled at one of Mendes’ questions about a possible raising of the internal budget and avoided a direct answer, instead going into his now familiar routine of “any idiot can go spend money” but he wasn’t going to be one of those fools.Specifically he said “There are so many idiots out there that spend to the cap every year. Take a look where they are. It all comes down to cost per point. That’s the only stat I care about. Cost per point.”That’s a bit of a tonal shift from the Melnyk we heard in the Murray conference-call and doesn’t exactly give the average fan goosebumps of anticipation. Instead, it sounds like the philosophy has only hardened, not softened. It seems that any deal is likely to be a money-in, money-out proposition or possibly a minor add-on cost that could be absorbed by cutting elsewhere. With the Canadian dollar trending down and a Stanley Cup out of reach this season (they aren’t even in a playoff spot right now), don’t expect a spending frenzy any time soon. To put even more of a downer on the point, Melnyk actually mentioned the dreaded “relocation” scenario and brought up Rod Bryden’s bankruptcy. “It’s not a philanthropic thing... you have to go into a season and say, ‘You know what? We need to support this team.' Otherwise, you know what happens? Exactly. Everybody keeps forgetting what happened 11 years ago. The team goes bankrupt and it moves. Period. Full stop. And it was going to move until I came in. So unfortunately I take heat for it. I don’t mind taking the bullet…”It was a bit of deserved grandstanding on Melnyk’s part, reminding the city that he jumped in to save the franchise (which he undoubtedly did), but he also went on to make a very reasonable statement that maintaining the team’s financial viability was the top concern. Hard to argue with that. Nobody wants to see the franchise endangered because Melnyk decided that it was Stanley Cup or bust this s[...]



Sens Will Survive The Latest Defection … This Time Tim Murray

2014-01-08T21:10:43.462-05:00

As of this writing, the departure of Assistant General Manager Tim Murray from Ottawa to become the new Buffalo Sabres GM hasn’t been officially confirmed, but when Bob McKenzie says it’s going to happen, you can probably go ahead and turn out the lights.The first thing I saw stirring in fans was anxiety at the pending announcement, and that’s understandable. Tim Murray has recently been acclaimed as the “genius behind the curtain”, the ideal successor to his Uncle Bryan, and the man who invented hockey scouting.Yet here’s why Tim Murray’s departure will initially hurt, but ultimately prove to be a survivable change for the Senators organization.Firstly, it was never a sure thing that Tim was the heir apparent to Bryan Murray in Ottawa. That decision would have ultimately come down to Eugene Melnyk, although I’m sure Bryan would have highly recommended his nephew. Tim’s hockey acumen would make him appear to be the candidate, but that’s not always the only qualification to be a manager in this league. It is for a scout, maybe a director of hockey operations, but not for a job that requires you to step in front of a microphone and calmly explain why your group of players just tanked for a month straight but fans should still rush out to buy tickets for a Sunday afternoon game against the Florida Panthers.Tim Murray, although noticeably improved in recent years, is not exactly a crowd pleaser. Luckily, the Buffalo Sabres don’t need their GM to be one right now. They’re just understandably desperate for a hockey guy to come in there and fix their system, not be the public face of their franchise. The svelte Pat Lafontaine is doing a good enough job of that right now. Instead, the Sabres are going back to the meat and potatoes. They resurrected Ted Nolan and now look like they’re trading in the suave dinner-and-a-handshake style of Darcy Regier for the melt-your-face-off stare of Tim Murray.Tim is gruff to the point of satire. When he announces picks at the NHL Entry Draft, it’s like he’s in the midst of an audit from Revenue Canada. A public smile is rare. He smoked well into his time with the Ottawa Senators, although that may be a habit he’s already quit. This guy can’t spell “polished”. This is not to disparage Tim Murray as a person. I quite like his no-nonsense style and I’m sure he’s a little gentler away from the hockey rink, but his public persona doesn’t seem to be a put-on. Of course, being the grandfatherly, friendly face of the franchise was a job that fell to his Uncle Bryan, so Tim had no need to plaster on a fake grin and reassure fluttering hearts across the city. He just had to get hockey decisions right. And with the help of a great hockey operations department around him, especially with Pierre Dorion as Director of Player Personnel, Tim Murray helped build this Senators team to the point where they can trade a first-round pick and say with a straight face that they don’t mind because it’s a poor draft year in 2014. That’s a luxury most teams don’t have.In short, he’s a great fit in Buffalo, because of their different needs, but not necessarily a smooth successor in Ottawa where some finesse is needed on the public relations front. Pierre Dorion, almost ten years younger than Tim, also comes from a scouting background, had a huge hand in the building of this team, and has a public style much more similar to Bryan Murray. For one, he’s actually smiling in his media guide photo. Tim’s photo comes across like a mugshot from the Apalachin Conference in 1957. Secon[...]



Cruel Fate May Force A Final Day Race Between Wings and Sens

2014-01-03T13:25:17.601-05:00

If the Ottawa Senators are going to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to crawl over Daniel Alfredsson and the Detroit Red Wings to do so.Only the hockey gods could have such a sick and deranged sense of humour.As of Friday morning, the Senators are 3 measly points behind the Red Wings for that last, coveted Wild Card spot with no teams in between. But the only ones smiling about it are the reporters.Surely Alfredsson isn't happy about the situation. He thought he’d signed on with the Detroit franchise that’s made the playoffs every year since 1991 and are always a threat to play into June. Instead he’s playing on a team in obvious decline that’s already been through both a 7 and 6 game winless streak over the course of three months. They've lost 3 of their last 4 and 10 of their last 14, all the while managing to let a whole slew of Eastern Conference teams to get within reach, including New Jersey, the Rangers, Columbus and Carolina. But it’s Ottawa who must give the Wings more sleepless nights than the others. Winners of their last 3 and suddenly getting real goaltending from Craig Anderson, the Senators undoubtedly have the most talent of the teams currently out of the two wildcard spots. Ottawa has played well-below what they’re capable of and that’s got to be a concern for Detroit with their number one goalie Jimmy Howard having lost 11 of his last 12. Anderson looks like he may be turning things around. Howard, not so much. It gets even more complicated for the Wings as they now embark on a 5-game road trip that brings them way out West to meet powerhouses like Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose, bookended by trips to Dallas and New York – neither “gimme games” in any sense.The good news for the Wings is that they’re actually better on the road than they are at home, sporting a 12-4-3 record away from Joe Louis arena where they’re 4 games under .500. If you’re a Sens fan looking at those numbers, you might be thinking you can’t catch a break, but the Wings have already faced the Sharks and Ducks and lost both times. They haven’t played a lot of the really good teams on the road yet with the exception of Boston at the start of the season. So there’s a real chance for Ottawa to make up some ground here if the Wings falter. And their recent record indicates there’s a better than good chance of that happening.Despite Ottawa’s recent run of good hockey, they can’t be smiling about the situation either. On top of being a lousy team for most of October and November, they now have to catch and overcome the one organization that could do them the most public relations damage. Let’s be serious here. Having the Wings be the one team to keep Ottawa from making the playoffs would be heartbreaking for the entire Sens organization. It would once again remind everyone of the lousy summer that had fans openly mocking their owner for perceived cheapness in the Alfie negotiations, only now Eugene Melnyk would also be losing playoff profits at the end of the fairy tale.It would be one thing for the Sens to miss and see Detroit finish in the top 3 like most had them pegged. It would be another to miss out because the Wings out-survived you for the final Wild Card spot.Let’s face reality here. The Leafs have shown no signs of really falling off the map despite a few bad stretches along the way. I’m not saying they’re a lock for the playoffs but I can see them pulling away from Detroit and Ottawa more than I can see them falling back. In fact, let’s just ignore every other[...]



Anderson Still Hanging In There After Terminal Diagnosis From Fans

2013-12-30T10:48:13.058-05:00

Fans who have been (impatiently) waiting for Robin Lehner to supplant Craig Anderson as this team’s number one goalie are likely to be waiting a little longer than they thought. It’s not happening just yet. Anderson still has the confidence of Coach Paul MacLean and the goalie’s recent efforts have rewarded the sometimes stubborn-to-the-brink-of-death coach.Most of the damage to Anderson this season has been done by the Western Conference. Against the much superior West, Anderson is 1-6-2 with a 4.48 goals against average and a brutal .867 save percentage. Those games have been among the worst of Anderson’s career, giving up 6 goals to Chicago, 5 to San Jose and 4 to Los Angeles, Minnesota, Vancouver and Phoenix respectively. That means out of 11 games against a Western Conference opponent, Anderson has given up 4 or more goals in 6 of them. That would have been enough to make Hardy Astrom retch all over his beautiful Colorado Rockies jersey.But when Anderson faces Eastern teams, his numbers are actually quite good. In 15 games he’s 10-3-2 with a 2.56 GAA and a .921 SV%. He’s won 7 out of his last 10 against Eastern teams and that includes Boston (twice), Pittsburgh and Washington among others. His biggest pain in the East has been the Philadelphia Flyers who racked up 9 goals on Anderson in only 2 games. Yet Anderson still came out on top in one of those via the shootout. The good news is Anderson is getting better as the team improves defensively in front of him. The bad news is Ottawa faces Western teams in 4 out of their next 6 games. Yet none of those are the elites. They see Winnipeg on Thursday and go out on a 3 game swing into Denver, Nashville and Minnesota. Keep in mind all of those teams have more points than Ottawa with the exception of the Preds who sit with 38 points to Ottawa’s 39 (as of Monday morning). So what does MacLean do? Don’t expect him to deviate from starting Anderson throughout most of this stretch unless things really go to hell (and that’s always a possibility with this team). Sure, Lehner has better numbers against the West but only one win to show for it (at home against St. Louis). He’s done a lot of cleanup work for Anderson in Western Conference games and may have to step in again, but I think that’s less likely to happen now. As good as Lehner has been, the one result that matters – wins – have been elusive for Lehner. He has one win in his last 9 appearances, not long after becoming the go-to fan favourite for his 3-game winning streak in November. Many even point to MacLean going back to Anderson right after Lehner’s streak as the reason the season rolled into the ditch just as the snow started falling in the Capital. Forgetting the math, what this probably comes down to is MacLean’s personality. It’s not carved out of marshmallows like Dustin Byfuglien’s physique. It’s weather-beaten rock, creased and chipped from many hard years in this league. People laugh at things like a “code” in today’s NHL, mostly because everyone is hyper-cynical and irrationally non-traditionalist, but coaches have a “code” as well as the players. A lot of that code has to do with loyalty and MacLean follows it religiously. And 9 out of 10 coaches would have done the same thing with Anderson and Lehner, especially when Anderson helped win you a Jack Adams one year and made you a finalist the other. There’s a belief there that a hockey player is more than just a month’s worth of stats. His whole career and what he’s capa[...]



Senators First NHL Goals - A Compendium

2013-12-18T12:56:47.427-05:00

Watching Cody Ceci score his first NHL goal in overtime against the St. Louis Blues on Monday night was something a lot of people around here won't forget. But my memory is possibly marred by the cold ones I've had over the years, so I decided to go back and see how many clips of Senators first goals I could find. Here they are.Mika Zibanejad - Jan. 30 2013 vs Montreal allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/JmF7SZqo708?rel=0" width="640">Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Apr. 12 2013 @ New Jersey allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/8HDhgJNSapA?rel=0" width="640">Erik Karlsson - Dec. 19 2009 vs Minnesota allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/sNTPJiNpNyM?rel=0" width="640">Nick Foligno - Oct. 18 2007 vs Montreal allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/UjPz_hE1IWY?rel=0" width="480">Jakob Silfverberg - Jan. 21 2013 vs Florida allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/zIdEUhzrnZY?rel=0" width="640">Kaspars Daugavins - Oct. 30 2011 vs Toronto allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/z1cKa2PBHmg?rel=0" width="640">Patrick Wiercioch - Mar. 3 2013 @ Long Island allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/1VUZdVVDwzU?rel=0" width="640">Jared Cowen - Nov. 1 2011 @ Boston allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/czqT5QDdH5M?rel=0" width="640">Eric Gryba - Mar. 23 2013 vs Tampa Bay allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/1AEtHWzJ5xA?rel=0" width="640">Andre Benoit - Feb. 19 2013 vs Long Island allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/sHnVl_lsGpI?rel=0" width="640">Colin Greening - Mar. 3 2011 @ Atlanta allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/0wNWI5uDJbc?rel=0" width="640">Here's the skinny on some more notable Senators first goals (if you can find good video of any of these, please send me a link).Daniel Alfredsson - Oct. 13 1995 @ FloridaAlexei Yashin - Oct. 14 1993 @ FloridaMarian Hossa - Dec. 9 1998 @ FloridaChris Phillips - Oct. 30 1997 @ FloridaRadek Bonk - Jan. 27 1995 @ PittsburghAlexandre Daigle - Oct. 9 1993 @ St. LouisPavol Demitra - Oct. 9 1993 @ St. LouisMike Fisher - Oct. 31 1999 @ AtlantaChris Neil - Oct. 30 2001 @ AtlantaJason Spezza - Oct. 29 2002 @ PhiladelphiaErik Condra - Feb. 26 2011 vs PhiladelphiaWade Redden - Oct. 5 1996 @ MontrealZack Smith Jan. 16 2010 @ MontrealAndreas Dackell - Oct. 5 1996 @ MontrealChris Kelly - Oct. 29 2005 @ Toronto[...]



It’s Time Spezza And MacLean Start Helping Each Other Out If Season Is To Be Saved

2013-12-16T11:27:16.255-05:00

It’s been a tough season for Paul MacLean, hasn’t it?The Jack Adams award winner for 2012-13 is more often than not standing in front of reporters that want answers after yet another loss, many of them at home, and his words seem more clipped and brief by the day. We’re not talking John Tortorella brief yet, but for MacLean, a guy who likes to kid around with the “ink-stained wretches” occasionally if things are going well, there’s been little time for jokes in a season gone almost irreversibly sour.And for the first time, fans are slowly turning on a guy who was actually this team’s biggest hero in last April’s first-round series against the rival Montreal Canadiens. Sure, fans are fickle, especially the brand that stalk Twitter looking to complain about everything even mildly associated with the NHL (“with fans like these…”) but MacLean was sort of a folk hero around these parts with that iconic moustache and old-school attitude, turning this Senators team around after some disastrous seasons under the Little Napolean, Cory Clouston. The seeming domination of Habs coach Michel Therrien in last year’s playoffs – on the ice and off – cemented his status in this town. You’d see the phrase everywhere on Twitter – “Trust the ‘stache”. Team loses Alfie? “Trust the ‘stache”. Team decimated by injuries to Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza? “Trust the ‘stache”. Twitter accounts were created for his upper lip. A lookalike of Mac became a minor celebrity.Just having him walk into a room seemed to fix things immediately. But behind it all, MacLean never claimed that status. In fact, he’s said multiple times over his two and a half seasons here that he and his coaching staff are “scared to death” of this team falling off and the possibilities ahead. Finally, those fears have come home in a very real way.Right from the beginning of this campaign, nothing seemed right. Of course, two of the main reasons for the Senators struggles were out of his control. Losing Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar, two future Hall Of Famers, was a blow. Sure, they replaced Alfie with Bobby Ryan, at least stats-wise (intangibles from his presence were not replaced), but the Gonchar loss was never really addressed, forcing other defenseman to play minutes they obviously weren’t ready for.It’s also not MacLean’s fault that Craig Anderson has come in this season and fallen off a cliff. Understandably loyal to a goaltender that had a lot to do with him winning the Jack Adams, MacLean has probably now stuck too long with Anderson while Robin Lehner, having played better so far, has been sitting on the bench for important games. The fans complained immediately about Anderson getting starts over Lehner, but you can see why Mac kept going back to him. Simply, Anderson was that good last year. He’s a leader on this team and in the prime of his career. 9 out of 10 coaches would have done the same. It’s almost a “code” for coaches.But sometimes it just doesn't work. Sometimes that goalie spends a whole year floundering. Tim Thomas once lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask but came back the next year and won a Stanley Cup. Roberto Luongo was once on his way out of Vancouver, now he’s playing incredible again. Goalies can disappear for a while. The trouble is figuring out when they’ll come back. If you get it wrong, a whole season can go down the toilet.What’s clear now is Anderson needs to give way t[...]



Sometimes The Chase Is Better Than The Catch

2013-12-10T10:23:45.558-05:00

If most fans had their way, winning would be easy. Their teams would cruise through the regular season without drama, knocking off opponents one by one with precision and confidence. Not me.I like the rocky roads along the way. I like the struggle, as long as it’s a true struggle and not a white-flag waving surrender. I like the theatrics, the blood, the frustrations, the crisis moments and the last-minute heroics that force columnists to rewrite entire columns half an hour before deadline. Who likes watching movies where the good guys cruise around unscathed? Rocky even lost in the first one, right?As a regular watcher of these Ottawa Senators, last night’s up and down affair with the Flyers was exactly what I was looking for in a hockey game. Most of that was personified in embattled goalie Craig Anderson.Not many fans have his back anymore. In fact, most have knives to it. That’s natural of course. Goalies take the most heat when things go badly and take the most praises when it’s going well. Anderson is going through a stretch where everything seems to be broken and the fans suddenly think he’s not good enough to play for the Cornwall Aces.Just watching the body language on Anderson the past few weeks has been intriguing. He’s not stupid. He knows that people are crying for Robin Lehner to take over in net, the hockey equivalent of unblemished, fresh fruit. Anderson has a Twitter account and he likely gets the odd tweet from an expert telling him to go for a skate on the canal - in October. You can tell he’s fighting everybody in his head, as every goalie has to do their whole career. It’s the curse of the profession.Only the hockey gods were to blame for the two quick goals he let in during the second period that allowed the Flyers to both tie and then take the lead when it seemed Ottawa was finally getting it all together – offensively, defensively, physically. Both were deflected through a series of black and orange sweaters and Anderson looked like he wanted to throw down his stick, take the net, turn it around and push it flat against the boards, daring anyone to try and score on that.Suddenly it seemed like the whole season was finally slipping away. That’s not hyperbole but a real statistical fact when you looked at the standings. Things looked bleak before the Flyers game but another loss at home would have been too much, especially one in which they were playing well and had the lead. Philadelphia came on even stronger in the third with 11 shots and Anderson was again battling himself. Ottawa took back the lead but Kimmo Timonen’s floater from the point went by Anderson undeflected. It was almost too much for some people to handle. They were writing Anderson’s epitaph on Twitter. I’m sure some columnists were too. They’d seen enough.It was then that the best moments of Anderson’s season happened. He started it by making a Statue Of Liberty save on Jakub Voracek to keep the game tied. Then with about 45 seconds left in the period, he almost impossibly turned back two Claude Giroux shots, the first with a darting pad save and the second with a dive across the crease like Dominik Hasek playing for Teddy Nolan in 1997. The crowd was out of beer but they were standing and putting their hands on their face in disbelief. The narrative was starting to skew. But then the shootout loomed and the naysayers came out again with force. A sense of doom hung over the proce[...]



How I Scored The Greatest Goal You’ve Never Heard Of

2013-12-06T11:49:51.877-05:00

Yes, that’s me. It was 1986 and I thought I was Mark Messier or Steve Yzerman out there. My poor coach. Those ridiculous glasses (which my father picked out for me because they were the cheapest ones on the shelf, not the prettiest) used to get fogged up under my cage during shifts and I would sometimes have trouble finding the bench to get off the ice. I can still hear a coffee addled Coach Munro screaming “Milks, Milks, you’re going to the wrong bench!”Stopping on the ice was also a problem. I could only stop on one side – my right - which meant that no matter where the play was headed or what direction I needed to go, I had to dig on my right side and then adjust afterwards. Often I would just crash into the boards to stop my momentum because that was easier. I was like a pinball out there, a really slow rolling pinball.No one wiped out harder than I did. I can still remember the crowd of parents in the stands going “Oooohhhh” really loudly a few times when I went crashing into the boards (which were anchored in cement and felt like titanium). Hockey equipment would be everywhere. My mother said she thought I had killed myself a few times and used to cover her eyes whenever I started to go for a puck in the corner. Sometimes I would get that puck but it was usually under my body as I lay on the ice trying to breathe properly again.Those moments brought back bad memories for my mother, who used to sit in the stands watching my old man playing Junior B in the early 70’s who would get into a lot of fights he could rarely win. My old man was what they called “a bleeder” and a “goer”, which meant that he never turned down a fight but usually looked a lot worse than the other guy when it was all over. Sort of like Brandon Prust, I guess. My mom would sit in the stands every night, sobbing until after the game when he would emerge stitched up, wearing his prized team jacket and smiling. “Kim, I’m fine. Let’s go get a hamburger.”That 1986-1987 Almonte Centennials Atom team was a good one. We went 18-1-1 during the regular season according to the little newspaper clipping I saved from the Almonte Gazette. I played left-wing and didn’t score a single goal until the last game of the season in Stittsville against the Redmen. In that same clipping, which read like it was written by Slaphshot’s Dickie Dunn (in which he tried to “capture the spirit of the thing”), every player got a descriptive sentence or two so the parents could be proud and show it to the rest of the family at the summer barbeques. My sentence said “Jeremy Milks; what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in hustle.”Which essentially meant “this kid was brutal (and blind) but his parents paid the 500 bucks so we had to play him”.A kid named Mike Hand and I were the two smallest guys on the team and we usually played on the same line. Those shifts were when the other team would get their goals. Both Hand and I were goalless after the 15 game mark and time was running out. Coach Munro started playing us with the best guys on the team just praying a puck would bounce in the net off our ass so he wouldn’t be getting any dirty looks from our parents at the year-end banquet. Then one night Hand scored a goal and I was the only guy left on the team with a zero beside my name. I still remember Coach Munro leaning over my shoulder as the team celebrated and s[...]