Earlier this week, the excellent Silver Seven blog posted my answers to help their Ottawa Senators fans get to know the Colorado Avalanche a little better. Today, Silver Seven's Peter Raaymakers took some time out of his busy schedule at the Extra Vowel Manufacturing Plant to answer some of our own queries about the Senators.
As a Canadian team, we need to ask you a question about the Maple Leafs. So, what do you think of the Phil Kessel trade?
Well, we hate the Leafs, so I'm almost tempted to refuse to talk about them.But since Phil Kessel cost them so much, and it seems like such a one-sided trade right now, that I'll make a comment on it: It's hilarious. But, to be honest, I don't blame the Leafs for making it. And I'd almost rather they do a little bit better next season--a little bit--because if Boston gets another lottery pick, then that's a hell of a lot of talent on one team in the Senators' division.
Daniel Alfredsson mustache. Cheesy or awesome?
As an Ottawa Senators fans, I'm required to say everything Alfie has ever done is awesome. Crazy haircuts. Questionable off-ice decisions. Questionable on-ice decisions. Cheesy mustaches. All of it is awesome. Although, anyone who thinks the mustache was excessively cheesy need only know that it was a part of a
team-wide initiative to ligthen the mood in the dressing room. Chris Phillips had a beastly 'stache.
What position do you see the Senators as needing the most help?
Most of the Senators problems last season seemed to stem from their goaltending. Although Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire had some good moments in the season, they weren't nearly consistent enough to get the
Senators toward seriously contending for the conference title. With a new goaltending coach - who is Leclaire's old goaltending coach - the hope is that at least one of the two goalies can step up and provide the consistently reliable goaltending the Senators need. And if not, both their contracts are up at the end of this season, and goalie-of-the-future Robin Lehner is a professional rookie in the AHL this season.
To an outside observer – Ottawa’s appears to be a streaky team – the stretch in the middle of the season where Ottawa lost 5 games in a row and then won 11 games in a row appears to epitomise this. Is this perception accurate? Further, do you think that Ottawa’s moves/non-moves in free-agency has them adequately prepared to thrive within what was the strongest division in the Eastern Conference last year?
Ottawa was absolutely a streaky team last season, and those streaks you've mentioned are the best instances of that. It's difficult to explain why, but I think it was the positive feedback cycle between our goalies performance, their confidence, and the rest of the team's confidence in them. So if Leclaire let in a weak goal, his confidence would go down, the team would lose confidence in him, and he'd play worse. To solve the problem, the goalies need to be able to shake off inevitable weak goals, and new goalie coach Rick Wamsley will hopefully help with that. If he doesn't, maybe the incentive of both goalies playing in contract years will do the trick.
Should the Senators have ponied up the cash for Volchenkov? Is he worth what he’s now making and how much will the Senators miss him out of the lineup? Should the Avs have chased this guy?
Anton Volchenkov was a huge fan favourite, and I don't think many would have been too disappointed had the Senators given him a contract similar to the one he got from New Jersey. He's physically punishing, and his
shot-blocking makes me wonder if he's a masochist or something. And the Senators have more money, on a per-season basis, to Sergei Gonchar.
But I think the decision to let Volchie walk and sign Gonchar was, for one thing, a change in outlook. Although they aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, the idea was to have the defence focus on generating offence, instead of focusing almost solely on defending. Volchenkov and Gonchar are pretty much opposite ends of the defencemen spectrum, one pretty much all defence with the other pretty much all offence.
I'm not sure if Volchenkov would have beed a good fit on the Avs--I'll be honest, I don't get to see much Colorado hockey from up here, so I'm not sure how your D-corps functions as a unit. But if you'd need a guy who will absolutely sacrifice his body every game (usually 65-70 per season), but is limited in his offensive abilities, Volchie is your man. [EDITOR'S NOTE: yeah, sounds terrible]. The one concern I have about Volchenkov is about him over-committing to make hits or block shots. It wasn't an issue when he played with Chris Phillips, because Phillips was always backing him up; if his next partner isn't as supportive,he may end up out of position a little too often. [
How happy / confident are you with your goaltending (Leclaire, Elliott, and non-fat Brodeur)?
I don't know if I'd say happy or confident; more resigned. Neither of them are going anywhere, at least not until after this season. The problem is that I know both of them can play damn good hockey, it's just that they haven't been able to perform well consistently. Mike "non-fat" Brodeur, or Not Martin as we call him, helped turn the team around last season--he won the first two of the eleven-game winning streak--and I think he's a solid third-stringer. But if we get to the point where Not Martin is starting more games than Elliott or Leclaire, then the team is probably in some trouble.
Spezza. Stay or go?
Absolutely stay. I honestly don't think it was ever a question. The whole 'trade request/demand/openness' was, in my mind, a complete and utter exaggeration on the part of the media. A guy got pissed after getting knocked out of the playoffs, and said some things. I still don't understand why Bryan Murray mentioned what was said in their private meeting to the public, but that's neither here nor there: There is a vocal minority of Senators fans who don't like Jason Spezza, for whatever reason. But the silent majority wants him to stick around, and I'm actually quite happy that there weren't acceptable offers for him this summer, because I genuinely think trading him would have been a huge mistake.
A year later, are you content with what you received in the Heatley trade? I live in Northern California and was able to watch a lot of Michalek and the Cheech prior to "The Trade" and am curious about how things went?
Terrible. It was a terrible situation, we were in a terrible position, and we got a terrible return for a player who, despite what we may think about him personally, is among the league's best goal scorers. Obviously, Cheechoo was a complete bust; he's bought out now, we're paying for that mistake over the next two seasons, and Cheech is still without a contract--which is too bad, because as horrible as he was, it was plain as day that the guy was working his butt off, he just doesne't seem to have the jets to play NHL anymore. As for Milan Michalek, I suppose we'll see this season. He started off incredibly well last year, and faded fast; injury problems kept him struggling to keep up in the second half of the season. He's still young, his speed is unreal, and if he can take advantage of the innumerable scoring chances he gets, he could be a 50 goal scorer. But I'm not expecting that; I do think, however, that he should have a solid 30-goal campaign.
Ottawa has had a lot of ups and downs over the last few years, including a trip to the finals, one of the best season starts in league history followed by limping into the playoffs and promptly being ejected. Through all of this, Bryan Murray has been the one constant. Whats the fan opinion about him and how has his job been so secure. How many more chances does this guy have before they need to refresh the organization?
There is a chasm in the Sens fan base, and on one side are the opponents of Bryan Murray, while the other side has the supporters. I count myself on the latter side, although there are decisions Murray has made that do make me question his methods (the handling of the Spezza situation, for one thing). I think owner Eugene Melnyk likes Murray and agrees with the approach he's taking to building the organization (namely, building from the draft and focusing on reinvigorating the farm system), and that's why he's had so many second chances. I don't think he'll have too many more, though, before Melnyk decides he's best to move on. Right now, though, it looks like there's a succession plan: Murray is GM and executive vice-president right now, and I won't be surprised if he moves into a different front-office position as early as 2011-12.
There was talk last year before the deadline that the Sens might be interested in acquiring Marek Svatos (who Cory Clouston was familiar with from their time with the Kootenya Ice). Do you think Svatos would be a good fit for the Senators?
Given the steady decline in Svatos' production and what appears to be some serious injury problems, I'm not sure how well he would fit into the Senators lineup. The team also has a good degree of offensive depth right now, especially in the bottom-six positions, so I'm not sure exactly where Svatos would fit. He had a disappointing season last year, so it's understandable that he hasn't signed anywhere yet; I'll be curious to see what kind of contract he ends up getting, whether it be based on a camp tryout, a two-way deal, or if he may simply go to Europe to ply his trade.
The Hockey News rated your top prospects as Jared Cowen, Patrick Wiercock and Robin Lehner. How accurate do you think their ratings were and when do you think you are likely to see any of them play?
That's probably an accurate rating of Ottawa's top prospects. It seems like a given, at this point, that Lehner and Wiercioch will play in the AHL with a revamped Binghamton Senators team, and I'd be surprised if Lehner didn't get the lion's share of starts (or at least half of them). Wiercioch may be ready for NHL time, but I expect a year of pro hockey in the AHL will be better for his development than jumping straight from college to the NHL - especially since he's a more offensive player, and the Senators have a
few of those type already.
Jared Cowen is a different story. He's had huge injury issues in the last year, coming to a head in the World Junior finals last January when he was benched--it was probably his lowest point as a hockey player, at least as a key prospect. The injury question was why he fell to the Senators at ninth overall in the 2009 draft, but there are signs of improvement: He was among the Senators best players at their recent rookie camp. Considering he'll have to go back to the WHL if he doesn't make the NHL, I think he'll get every chance to stick with the Senators. His size and defensive style will help in that front, since the departures of Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton have left a hole in the Senators defence. He'll still have to play well, but I'd think he'll be given the benefit of the doubt before being sent back to
Finally, back in 2006, Paul Stastny and John-Michael Liles both changed their jersey numbers mid-season immediately following a game against Ottawa. What the hell did you guys do to them?
Hahaha... I can't say for sure, but given that it was early in the season,I have to think this was the point where Stastny was told he'd be staying with Colorado for the rest of the season, and so he dropped his assigned number in favour of one of his own choosing. As for Liles, maybe he wanted to emulate Chris Phillips' rock-solid playing style, so he did the most obvious thing: Assumed Big Rig's jersey number.
Thank you Peter, Ryan and all of you who came up with the excellent questions above!