So much for a couple of days of California fun and sun for the Ottawa Senators.
After kicking off the West Coast Tour with only one game in five days, they now face the difficult task of playing the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks on consecutive nights. The Senators were lucky to pick up in Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings, but if they play the same way Saturday, they’ll get chewed up and spit out by the Sharks.
To help you pass the time during the long weekend, here’s a little turkey talk: The first 10 Takes column of the season.
SPEZZA IN LIMBO
Jason Spezza says he’s skating pain free and desperately wants to return to the Ottawa Senators lineup Saturday against the San Jose Sharks. Once again, though, the decision on whether he will return from his groin injury is a consensus deal. Spezza, coach Paul MacLean and the training staff will discuss the issue Saturday morning before making the call. It would seem prudent to err on the side of caution with a guy with groin problems playing on back-to-back nights.
Spezza’s absence Wednesday against Los Angeles put a spotlight on how small the club’s other centres are. Kyle Turris checks in at 6-1 and 191 pounds, Stephane Da Costa is 5-11 and 180 pounds and Jean-Gabriel Pageau is 5-9 and 175 pounds. Zack Smith (6-2 and 210 pounds) was the only other big guy down the middle Wednesday. It’s another reason why fans might expect Mika Zibanejad (6-2, 211 pounds) to be back from Binghamton sooner rather than later.
Here’s the odd part about the controversy surrounding San Jose rookie Tomas Hertl’s between-the-legs goal and Joe Thornton’s rather graphic description of how he would have celebrated scoring four goals in a game: The Sharks’ on-ice domination has been pushed to the background a bit. In case you haven’t noticed, the Senators are facing a team that is a tidy 4-0, having outscored its opponents 21-5. As for my opinion on the Hertl goal? Adam Oates and the rest of the old-school types have to understand it’s a game. Fans pay big bucks to be entertained, and Hertl did just that.
THE ROOKIE RACE
Hertl and Calgary’s Sean Monahan have added some early spice to the chase for the Calder Trophy. But let’s not discount Winnipeg defenceman Jacob Trouba. How about this: Trouba topped all Jets skaters with 25:27 of ice time in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Minnesota and has averaged 22:48 per game. He’s looking a bit like Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin did last season, stepping directly into a top role on the blueline as a rookie.
FORMER SENS SWEDES
Ex-Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson hasn’t exactly filled the net early on for Detroit. Alfredsson has one assist in four games so far and sported an ugly minus-3 in the Red Wings’ loss to Phoenix Thursday. However, the Senators are going to run smack dab into the red-hot Jakob Silfverberg when they face Anaheim Sunday. Silfverberg scored twice in Anaheim’s 6-0 romp over the New York Rangers Thursday. He has four goals and an assist.
EYE ON THE FUTURE
At some point, the Senators are going to have to decide whether to keep pending unrestricted free agent Milan Michalek. Michalek has looked decent so far, but given his history of knee problems, the Senators are naturally leery of investing long-term. He is making $6 million this season ($4.333M salary cap hit) in the final year of the six-year, $26 million contract he originally signed with San Jose. Still no talks regarding an extension.
LEANING ON LEHNER
The Senators have also yet to begin contract talks with backup goaltender Robin Lehner, who is expected to receive his first start at some point this weekend. Lehner, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent July 1, is still playing on his initial three-year entry level contract, even though he’s in his fourth pro season (his contract slid an extra year because he played eight big league games in 2010-11, just shy of the necessary 10 games for it to be counted as an NHL season). It makes cents (er, sense) for Lehner to play the season out. If his numbers end up being anything like last year with the Senators (2.20 goals against average and .936 save percentage), he’ll be due for a big raise.
MORE LOCKOUT TALK
The tail end of Phil Kessel’s eight-year, $64 million contract extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs protects him from — sorry to bring this up, people — the possibility of yet another NHL lockout. Kessel is slated to make a total of $6 million in the final two years of the deal (in 2020-21 and 2021-22). But when you look closer, Kessel’s contract calls for him be paid a signing bonus of $5 million, and a salary of only $1 million in each of those seasons. That means that even if there is no hockey in those two seasons, he’ll make $10 million. While the NHL and NHLPA agreed to a 10-year CBA last January, there’s an opt out clause after eight seasons, which could kick in on Sept. 15, 2020.
FRITSCH GETS HOT AFTER SENS BRASS LEAVES
MacLean and Senators assistant GM Tim Murray spent Thursday afternoon watching Ottawa’s Brad Fritsch play in the opening event of the PGA season in San Martin, California. Fritsch, who sports a Senators logo on his hat, shirt and golf bag, struggled with his putter on his way to shooting a two over par 73. While the Senators were at practice Friday, Fritsch fired a seven under par 64, moving into a tie for 16th place heading into the weekend rounds.
ONE HULL OF A PENALTY
Nepean’s Derek Campbell, playing for the Hull Stingrays of the Elite Hockey League in the U.K., received a stunning 47-game suspension earlier this week. Morey Hanson, the EIHL’s version of Brendan Shanahan, dished out 15 games for fighting off the ice, 12 more games for an attempted eye gouge, 10 games for a knee to the head and an additional 10 games for using excessive force in hitting an opponent’s head to the ice. Is that all? Actually, it’s not. Campbell was promptly fired by Hull Stingrays ownership. Campbell has apologized for his actions, but told the Evening Telegraph that “I would probably have done the same thing if I was an owner.”