Editor’s Note: As I mentioned, there are going to be some changes around here in 2016. One of them, and basically the big one, is I’m going to start putting more and more of what goes into the game program on here. It’s kind of a trial balloon for me to see how the model is changing and what I will do in the future. I’m not sure if I’m going to go full out for every home game or every game total. We’ll kind of find out together what I have the energy for. We’ve been doing Q&As with bloggers all over the league for years, so these are the easiest to share. Ahead of tomorrow night’s game, here’s the one we did with Ross from SilverSevenSens.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Sheer_Rossyness.
The Senators sit just outside the wild card spots in the East, but are only five points from the top of the Atlantic Division (even though Ottawa is nowhere near the Atlantic Ocean). They’re one of the higher scoring teams in the league, but they’re also one of the worst possession teams in the league. What is this team?
I can sum up this team in two words: Erik Karlsson. Granted, there are other players – Mark Stone is other-worldly, Mike Hoffman is a supreme talent, Craig Anderson has been great – but this team lives and dies with Karlsson. Keep in mind that he has a six point lead in the Eastern Conference entering tonight’s game. For a defenseman to be that far ahead of everyone else is mind-boggling. He leads the league in ice time per game. Ottawa’s possession stats are about even with EK on the ice, and are awful with him off it. I’d say more and more Sens fans are realizing that his prime years are being wasted on a team that keeps claiming it’ll wait for the right moment to spend. But for now, having him in the lineup is enough to keep the team afloat despite significant depth issues and questionable coaching choices.
Curtis Lazar hasn’t quite popped after making the team at 19 last season. What’s kept him from showing off some of the things he did as a junior?
Ottawa, like most NHL teams, tends to overvalue character and undervalue skill in its players. Lazar was deemed to be very mature, definite leadership material, but was deemed a safe pick likely to make the NHL but unlikely to be a top-six player. It wasn’t until his 18-year-old season that he was putting up big point totals in junior. So it seems unlikely he’ll be more than a responsible third-line centre in the NHL. Watching him this season, he seems to be lacking in confidence and I haven’t been too impressed with his shot. In my ideal world, he’d be sent down to the Binghamton Senators to spend some time as a top-line center and try to see if his offensive game can be developed. Right now, he’s being played mostly as a bottom-six winger which pretty much guarantees that’ll be his ceiling.
Mike Hoffman is headed for a 30-goal season after exploding in the 2nd half of last year. He’s also headed to free agency, though restricted. Given the Sens’ internal budget, any worry he’s going to get a little pricey?
Big worries he’s going to get pricey. Mike Hoffman is probably the second-best forward on the team behind Mark Stone, but I think Sens management for whatever reason doesn’t see him as part of the core. There has actually been a lot of debate among bloggers as to whether it would be worth trading Hoffman for a top-four defenseman, since defense is a much bigger area of need for the Sens. Now that it’s January, every day that passes is one more day in which Ottawa has a chance to extend Hoffman long-term and hasn’t. There’s a very real possibility that a combination of Colin Greening’s contract, Jared Cowen’s contract, and the inevitable extension to Chris Neil will make Mike Hoffman too expensive for Ottawa’s budget.
Patrick Wiercioch is a name mentioned in a trade rumor seemingly every week, and sometimes connected to the Hawks. Yet, we have a real hard time figuring out what it is he does. Help us out here.
Wiercioch is the classic case for the eye-test vs. advanced stats crowd. His skating looks awkward, he isn’t very physical for a big guy, and yet he’s put up good possession numbers for most of his career. This season has been a down year for him, but he’s still put up much better possession numbers than Cody Ceci, Jared Cowen, or Mark Borowiecki. And yet he’s still been healthy-scratched a few times this season. Like Hoffman, Wiercioch seems to be undervalued by management and seems likely to be traded by the summer despite being one of the team’s best players at his position. Whichever team ends up with Wiercioch will end up with an under-the-radar top-four defenseman who will likely be happy to sign a very reasonable contract.
What in the world happened to Jared Cowen?
Cowen is a sort of mythical creature in Ottawa. The idea that Cowen was ever good in the NHL is baseless. His first season, he played just the fifth-most ice time per game on the team among defensemen. He had one game against the Penguins in which he put up four points, and fans were hoping that would be the future of Cowen. Instead, he’s played more than 250 NHL games, has been mediocre in nearly all of them, but is somehow making $3.1-million against the cap for another season after this one. (Ottawa really dodged a bullet that he didn’t sign the eight-year contract he was offered a few years ago.) Cowen keeps getting chances to prove himself because of his draft pedigree as a 9th-overall pick, and because he’s 6’5″ and 238 lbs, and if we’re being honest, because GMs have pride and don’t like to admit their mistakes. The problem is that he is always two steps behind the play, and despite his huge frame he’s pretty easy to push off the puck. At Thursday’s game, fans cheered when it was announced that Jared Cowen was a healthy scratch. It seems most fans are hoping some GM can be suckered into trading a late pick to see if his potential can still be attained.
Where do the Sens finish this year?
As long as Karlsson stays healthy, either in the final playoff spot or within three points of it. If Karlsson misses a bunch of time due to injury, bottom-five in the league.