Ottawa is the NHL’s third “least improved team?”

I’m a frequent reader at SBNation’s Ottawa Senators blog, Silver Seven Sens and they posted an article which really caught my attention this morning which was a link to The Hockey News’ feature on “The NHL’s Five Least Improved Teams” this off-season and how #3 on the writer’s were the Ottawa Senators. This was the explanation for it:

Speaking of total disasters, have you seen what currently projects to be Ottawa’s second forward line? Its 2011 first round draft pick Mika Zibanejad centering Nick Foligno and Bobby Butler. I’m surprised schlock movie director Michael Bay isn’t lobbying to film that trio.

Then there’s the Senators’ defense, which is comprised of two slightly mobile turnstiles (Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba), a 21-year-old up-and-comer in Erik Karlsson, and a depreciating asset named Chris Phillips.

Given that information, it is nothing short of baffling to think of what GM Bryan Murray did this summer. He signed Zenon Konopka to toughen up Ottawa’s fourth line when the team already had a tough guy in Chris Neil. And he signed Alex Auld to back up Craig Anderson in net. This is akin to someone who is burdened with a Jimmy Durante schnozz opting for laser eye surgery and a pedicure. See you at the draft lottery, Sens fans.

Seeing how the only notable free agent signings Bryan Murray made this off-season were Zenon Konopka and Alex Auld to cheap contracts, I can see why one would say the Sense aren’t much improved compared to last season. The problem I have with this article is that the writer feels it’s “baffling” that Murray didn’t go out and spend a lot of money this summer to “improve” his team. When you’re a team in rebuild mode like Ottawa is, spending money on players who aren’t going to help your team that much (especially with this year’s UFA class) isn’t what you want to do. Trading away under-performing players for draft picks and letting your young talent play instead is the way to go and that’s what Murray is doing. Look at the trades he made over the last several months; He got picks in return for Chris Kelly, Mike Fisher, Chris Campoli Jarkko Ruutu and Alex Kovalev along with another first rounder from Detroit in exchange for two of their second round picks (they had three in that round anyway). Not to mention he also traded away goalie Brian Elliott for Craig Anderson who proved to be a huge upgrade in net for the Sens.

It should also be noted that the Sens were 11-9-1 after the trade deadline last year after they shipped away most of their players and some of their younger players like Bobby Butler and Erik Condra performed really well during that time. The better idea would be to let them play more and see how they develop instead of throwing money at someone like Tomas Fleischmann, Raffi Torres or Marco Sturm. Yes, their defense is a concern but with prospects like David Rundblad and Jared Cowen in the system, it’s better to call them up when their ready instead of overpaying for someone like Ed Jovanovski, especially when they already have too much money tied up in Sergei Gonchar. I also have a problem with how he refers to Konopka as a “tough guy” in the way that Chris Neil is. Konopka is a tough, gritty player but he’s also an excellent face-off man and can actually be a useful player with fourth line minutes unlike most enforcers.

This team isn’t going to compete next year and Bryan Murray knew that so he is electing to rebuild through the draft and let the younger talent on his team grow (especially if Zibanejad starts the year with the team) instead of wasting money on players who likely won’t make the team much better than they are now (i.e. what he had last year in Kovalev, Ruutu, etc.). Ottawa is rebuilding and Murray’s doing it the right way, unlike Dale Tallon in Florida. It wouldn’t shocked me that Florida is referred to as “the most improved team” because they look better on paper but they won’t even sniff the playoffs.

Capitals-Senators preview

The Caps last two stops on this road trip are the in Great White North with a game against the Ottawa Senators tonight and the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow. I’m hoping that if we win tonight, it’s a little more decisive than the one over Philadelphia on Tuesday. Not that I’m sneezing at two points but it’s tough to say that the Caps were the better team that night. As everyone probably knows, Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott are sitting out for at least the next couple of games. Also out is Eric Fehr who suffered a lower body injury (hopefully way less serious than the last time). I’ve also heard news that Mike Green might be out for the beginning of the playoffs, too. Obviously, it’s not good to have players hurt but think of this as an opportunity for guys like Dennis Wideman, Alex Semin, Marco Sturm and Marus Johansson to fill-in for them and show them that they can be ready for the playoffs. Wideman and Johansson have done a great job so far while Semin’s been on-and-off and Sturm is probably only in the lineup because of injuries. Let’s see how the latter two do in the next few games. Semin’s had a very good history against Ottawa (12 goals, 21 points in 16 games) and this is a good game for him to get out of his slump.

Know Your Enemy: Ottawa Senators

For the better part of the year, the Sens were an awful team. They are sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference due to a disastrous beginning and middle part of the season which saw them being out-shot and out-scored nightly. The off-season signing of Sergei Gonchar proved to be a bad one as he has looked considerably slower this year and his -15 rating shows that. The emergence of Erik Karlsson as the team’s powerplay quarterback has almost made his signing look unnecessary. They are also saddled with bad contracts to Pacal Leclaire, Chris Neil and now Chris Philips as some of GM Bryan Murray’s signings haven’t helped the team at all. He did make a good trade by sending Brian Elliot to Ottawa for Craig Anderson (then followed it by giving him a stupid contract) and getting a decent return for tw0-way centers Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly but he also traded Alexei Kovalev and Jarkko Ruutu for basically nothing and decided to re-sign Chris Phillips instead of trading him. You get some good and a lot of bad with Murray. The Sens have been playing better since the arrival of Anderson and some of the call-ups from Binghampton have done well and they are coming off a win against the Rangers last night so let’s not mark this one down as an easy win.

News/Notes:

Craig Anderson stopped 40 of 42 shots last time he played the Caps (as a member of the Colorado Avalanche) and has a .940 save percentage since joining Ottawa. They rewarded him with a 4-year deal worth about $3+ mil in cap space per season. Yeesh, and thought the Niemi contract was bad. At least this is after Leclaire’s contract goes off the books. Anderson has done well for himself, though but I think it’s too early to give him a 4-year deal considering they have Robin Lehner in their system.

– Speaking of the Sens farm system, there’s some great defense prospects sitting there (Jared Cowen, David Rundblad, Peter Wiercioch) but we’ll only get to see Wiercioch tonight.

– Bobby Butler and Erik Condra have both done pretty solid since being called up from Binghampton. They’ve definitely earned a look for the Sens next year. Also, Ryan Shannon’s been giving the Sens a lot for his contract’s value. When he’s your second line center, that’s a bad sign.

– Michal Neuvirth is feeling ill so Semyon Varlamov will get his first start since February tonight. Remember how Varly’s first start since coming off his groin injury last year ended? Yeah, let’s hope that tonight goes nothing like it.

– So much talk about Washington’s scoring troubles this season but then I look at the Sens top goal-scorers and see that Jason Spezza is sitting at the top……..with 16 goals. He’s missed about 20 games, too. I bet he misses Dany Heatley right now. Or a goal scorer in general besides Milan Michalek.

– Over/under how many minutes the King/Beagle/Hendricks line gets tonight. I’m going to say that Hendricks is the only one to have even close to 10 minutes because he’ll be on the PK unit. King will probably fight Chris Neil and have more PIM’s than ice time again.

Lines:
Washington

Laich-Backstrom-Semin

Chimera-Johansson-Knuble

Sturm-Gordon-Bradley

Clark-Beagle-Hendricks

Alzner-Carlson

Schultz-Wideman

Erskine-Hannan

Varlamov

Ottawa

Greening-Spezza-Butler

Michalek-Shannon-Condra

Folingo-Smith-Neil

Svatos-Winchester-Lassard

Phillips-Lee

Hale-Karlsson

Kuba-Wiencioch

Anderson

 

Making sense of the Anderson/Elliott trade

In an odd move earlier today, the Colorado Avalanche traded goaltender Craig Anderson for Ottawa Senators goalie Brian Elliott. Being the nerd I am with goalie stats, I get excited when a straight up goalie-for-goalie swap happens. This one was definitely really confusing when first looking at it, we’ve got two goalies who are UFA’s at the end of the year and are having bad seasons. The way I see it is that it works as a salary dump for the Avs while the Sens improve their goaltending. The more I think about it, the more I think that both teams did this trade just for the sake of doing one.

This is really the only “bad” season Anderson has had in his career so far.

2008 FLA 17 13 408 19 389 0.953 13.8 40.6 0.71
2010 COL 71 71 1755 130 1625 0.926 11.7 8.0 0.16
2009 FLA 31 27 753 54 699 0.928 7.0 11.2 0.23
2011 COL 33 31 763 70 693 0.908 -8.9 -14.0 -0.44

Definitely the worst season Anderson’s had in his career but his other numbers aren’t bad at all, especially last year. He was only making $2.125 mil this year, too and his cap hit was less than $2 mil. The downside to him is that he’s 29 and this rough season could be the sign that he’s on the downturn of his career and the Avs would rather not re-sign him since he’s a free agent this off-season. What about Brian Elliott, though?

Brian Elliott 2009 OTT 31 30 628 50 578 0.920 0.9 1.7 0.03
Brian Elliott 2010 OTT 55 48 1089 101 988 0.907 -13.1 -14.4 -0.28
Brian Elliott 2011 OTT 43 39 906 94 812 0.896 -21.4 -28.6 -0.91

It seems he’s getting worse with each season and he’s been getting a lot of time as the #1 goaltender in Ottawa with Pascal Leclaire being injured and struggling. It’s clear the Sens don’t think he’s the one and with Robin Lehner waiting in the wings, they can start to look forward to the future with their goaltending. Leclaire’s contract expires after this season so if Anderson plays well enough for Ottawa down the stretch, they can re-sign him. They know what they have in Elliott and they probably weren’t going to re-sign him so it’s better to see what they have with someone like Anderson instead since he’s had a history of playing well on bad teams.

The Avs meanwhile, clear up some cap room but are now stuck with a goaltending tandem of Elliott and Peter Budaj (who is really only useful as a back-up). I’m not liking how that sounds for the Avs even if they were out of the playoff chase anyway. I know the goalie market is rough but you would think they could get more from the Sens, for Anderson. Then again, with the year Andy is having, it’s probably best to sell low.

I think it’s clear that Ottawa got the best end of this deal since Anderson’s upside is much higher and assuming they let Leclaire walk, it looks better for the future. I think the chances of Anderson re-signing are low, though since he’s a UFA and there will be some other teams looking to sign him. This will probably be Elliott’s last chance to prove himself since he’s a free agent after this season, too. He’s had good performances but is widely inconsistent. If he has a good showing with the Avs, it will make his value increase just a little.

Senators-Capitals recap

Another losing streak broken against the Senators, only this one was much less extreme than the 8-game one in December. I’ve come to terms that a team playing a full-60 minute game just doesn’t happen as often as I would like to so I’ll stay away from the complaints on that. After sleepwalking for most of the first 40 minutes, Washington exploded in the 3rd period with three goals to take the win over Ottawa and head into Philly on a winning note. They were playing from behind for most of the game, which has been a problem all season but it doesn’t hurt you as much when you’re up against a team with a weak offense like Ottawa. Against better teams it will, though and it has plenty of times this season. We were bailed out by good goaltending and bad penalties on the part of Ottawa .

Thoughts/Observations:

– I’m surprised CSN didn’t try to put their commentators “between the benches” earlier since that’s what a lot of other networks are doing. The broadcast didn’t feel that different other than Laughlin getting a closer view on the action, which he probably needed. It may have been just a gimmick for the day game, though.

– How nice was it to see the powerplay convert today and at a critical point in the game, nonetheless?  It only took a few seconds into the powerplay for Carlson to make it a 2-1 game and that’s definitely something good to build on. The PP itself didn’t look that bad either. Lots of good chances generated.

– Speaking of penalties, I’m surprised Milan Michalek didn’t get more than 2 minutes for his boarding penalty on Karl Alzner. He pushed him right into the boards from behind and Alzner is lucky that he wasn’t seriously hurt on that play. Apparently he is alright but I remember him leaving the game and I’m not 100% sure if he returned or not. If there’s one player we can’t lose right now, it’s him. Especially after how poor Mike Green played today.

– Great game in net from Michal Neuvirth. He bailed the defense out numerous times and was the main reason why it was only 1-0 for awhile. Also had a wonderful stop on Fillip Kuba which you will probably see on the highlights later tonight. Brian Elliott also had a great game for Ottawa. He was sharp all day aside from the Chimera goal, which bounced off his shoulder and into the net.

– Glad that Brooks Laich was able to break his goal-less drought today. That strike off Phillips’ turnover was his first goal since mid-December. There’s one top-6 guy who broke his skid. Now we just have to wait for the two others to follow suit.

– Marcus Johansson continues to impress me. He earned himself 22 minutes of ice time and was great at creating offense. I think he was one of the few players who was actually forechecking well for Washington today. He even played on Ovechkin’s line for a little bit and the two worked pretty well. I’m not sure whether or not I want him to play as a winger because we need a center more but it’s good that he’s finally making an impact after a slow start.

– Washington wasn’t paying well for the first 40 something minutes of this game in terms of forechecking. They kept losing momentum while entering the zone and Ottawa’s defense didn’t have to do much to stop them from getting got the net. Speaking of which, I don’t think the Caps even tried to get to the net early in the game at all. That’s another problem that’s been lingering all year. Thankfully, they changed that in the 3rd and Johansson and Ovechkin’s strong forecheck is what led to Phillips’ turnover and Laich’s goal.

The game against Philly should give us a good judgment of how well this team can play against tough opponents. Hopefully it goes better than the last two Tampa games.

Three Stars:
1. John Carlson

2. Mike Fischer

3. Michal Neuvirth