March Madness is all the sports rage in the United States right now, but Canada will soon offer up April Angst – otherwise known as the NHL trade deadline. The hype is slowly building towards April 3.
It hasn’t yet been announced, but in 10 days, TSN will officially be re-branded as the Trade Show Network. That might be an early April Fool’s Day joke. Or, maybe not.
With that in mind, grab a coffee and enjoy Saturday’s Ten Takes involving the Ottawa Senators and the rest of the NHL.
1. Can the defence really rest?: Much of the speculation is that the Senators are in the market for another scorer. Sure, what team isn’t? Yet after the Senators dodged a couple more major injuries on defence this week – Marc Methot and Sergei Gonchar could be back Saturday – it’s clear a team can never have enough defensive depth. The Senators have received surprising contributions from Binghamton call-ups Patrick Wiercioch, Andre Benoit and Eric Gryba, but if the team added a veteran defenceman on the blue line, it would take some pressure off during the stretch run to playoffs. Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester, anyone? Remember that a year ago at this time, Senators GM Bryan Murray acquired Ben Bishop because he was deeply concerned about goaltending depth.
2. It’s time to end the Gonchar rumours: Gonchar’s version of March Madness – one goal and 13 assists in his past nine games – should end the talk he’ll be re-united with good friend Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh this spring. Unless there’s a blockbuster return, the Senators simply can’t afford to lose him. He’s likely gone for nothing as a free agent in the summer, but keep this in mind: If they trade Gonchar now, they would also be severely hurting their chances of making the playoffs and of possibly staging an upset or two in the post-season. What message would that send to the rest of the team and the fans?
3. The future is bright: As the Senators were in the dressing room, lamenting Thursday’s last-minute loss to the Boston Bruins, Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen followed each other out the doors of Scotiabank Place. If there’s another organization in the NHL blessed with a 22-year-old Norris Trophy winner and another 22-year-old Top Four defenceman who are both recovering from season-ending surgeries, I’ve overlooked it. When you add in the presence of Methot, Gryba, Wiercioch and Mark Borowiecki, the Senators should begin the 2013-14 season with a six-pack of defencemen who are 27 years old or younger, all of them with significant NHL experience. Wiercioch and Borowiecki are the only two whose existing contracts expire this season.
4. About those top 6 forwards in the recovery room: Murray is likely dangling minor-league prospects and draft picks in his trade talks, always keeping in mind the danger of destroying team chemistry. An incoming big name can also take up a lot of room. While the Senators have adopted a silence-is-golden attitude with regards to the long-term injury list which includes forwards Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and goaltender Craig Anderson, those players could still play a major role. “We have guys in the training room that are impact players,” says winger Erik Condra. “The chemistry is good. They could come back soon and those guys are part of that chemistry and they’ve been here.” If Spezza assumes his number one centre position, Kyle Turris and Zack Smith would slip back to more comfortable roles as second and third line centres, respectively.
5. Another sign that Robin Lehner is maturing: When Bruins goaltender Anton Khodobin left his net Thursday and challenged Lehner to a fight Thursday, the Senators netminder politely (well, maybe not so politely) declined. It’s about time and place. “Sometimes, you’ve got to stand up for yourself, but I’m not going to run out of my net,” he said. “They won’t get under my skin. I’ve learned when I can do stuff and when I can’t and right now I can’t and that’s fine.”
6. He saves, he scores: The goaltending fraternity stood up and cheered as Martin Brodeur announced his return to New Jersey’s lineup by scoring the third goal of his NHL career Thursday. It’s like a netminders’ version of hitting a hole-in-one. If you’re betting on a Senators netminder to turn the trick, go with Ben Bishop, not Lehner. Bishop says “I came close in college, I missed by about a foot and I shot probably three or four other times and didn’t come close.”
7. Coaches backed into the corner?: A few of us media types raised our eyebrows in shock Friday when Lightning coach Guy Boucher suggested his team might try to win 1-0 or 2-1 Saturday. With 21-goal scorer Steven Stamkos in the lineup? After a hot early start, Boucher could be on the firing line unless Tampa makes a stunning turnaround in the final month of the regular season. Defensive-minded New York Rangers coach John Tortorella, who has blasted his star players publicly several times this season, is in a similar situation. When the Rangers arrive Thursday, might it be the last time Senators fans see him behind the New York bench?
8. Must be an acquired taste: In the eyes of most Senators fans, captain Daniel Alfredsson can do – or say – no wrong. However, many might choose to quibble with his defence of Alex Kovalev’s character. “He’s a great guy,” Alfredsson said of Kovalev, who quietly retired this week following a failed return with Florida. “His time here, we didn’t have our best year. We really struggled, but I think he was a guy who always looked to help the younger guys. He was a lot of fun to be around, on an off the ice. His skill set is up there with the very best I’ve seen in the league. It’s hard for people who see him for four minutes each day and I don’t think he reveals his true self publicly, but when you see spend a lot of time with him, you really see the person he is and he’s a good person.”
9. A .500 record could put the Senators in the playoffs: It’s generally conceded that to make the playoffs, NHL teams will need to pick up somewhere in the range of 52-54 points from the 48-game schedule. Of the Senators final 17 opponents, eight are currently in the playoffs and nine are on the outside looking in. Here’s the easy math: If the Senators average a point per game – loser points included – they should be safe.
10. The cycle starts all over again: I have no issue with Corey Perry. If your boss called you into the office and handed you an eight-year, $69 million contract to prevent you from going to the rival across the country, you would be nuts not to sign. My question is what was the lockout for? We were two months into the thing when NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said five year term limits were “the hill we’ll die on”. It deserves more conversation, but do we really want to talk about the CBA again? There will be plenty of time for that in 2022, when the owners will blame players for having driven salaries out of control.