Bye Week for Sens and Leafs. How Does Ontario Hockey Look Moving Towards the Playoffs?
SENATORS: A Week in Review is a weekly column looking back at the week in Ottawa Senators hockey written by OLMSports Dave Gross.
Feature photo Courtesy NHLI via Getty Image
Fun in the sun week for both the Ottawa Senator and Toronto Maple Leaf players, but I kind of get the idea that both Pierre Dorion and Lou Lamoriello aren't slathering on the SPF 15 sunscreen as well.
Both Ontario teams are enjoying what the league has deemed a bye week – stealing a page from the NFL.
As such, the players get time to take the family to Disney World or Jamaica or head up north for skiing and frolicking in the snow or binge-watching Game of Thrones (…highly recommended by the way. Umm: The Game of Thrones thingy).
For the two general managers, vacation just isn't part of the equation; not even close.
The road towards a stretch run leading to the playoffs is nearing – where phone conversations with their comrades across the NHL should be plentiful and hopefully productive . . . and at the very least: interesting.
Talk might indeed be cheap, but not at this time of year.
For the two clubs though, the objectives are diametrically different. One (guess which?) is looking to build for a potentially hefty playoff run, the other (guess again) is looking to build for future campaigns.
For Ottawa, the shifting from playoff white-knuckling to the realism that this team would need a miracle to catch a sniff of the post-season has taken its time. Too much time, really.
But what we saw prior to the upcoming break should satiate those of us who've been cawing for Guy Boucher et all to play the kids (at least some of them).
Hey Colin White? 'Bout time.
Thomas Chabot? Welcome to some prominent minutes.
Ben Harpur has struggled for the most part, but there is potential.
Filip Chlapik has been up and down more than an insomniac. It would be nice to see what he could accomplish full-time.
So with all that nicely tucked into the bonnet, what to do on the trade front.
Finances are going to be an enormous challenge in the next year or two as Ottawa's two best players are due for new deals – Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone (more on them in the 'notes' section below). Matt Duchene and his $6 million US per year are up after next season as is Derick Brassard and his $5 million per (all numbers courtesy Capfriendly.com).
While plenty of you think Cody Ceci is average at best, he's an RFA this summer and will certainly get more than the $2.8 million he's earning now.
We're talking serious money here.
Factor in the amount Eugene Melnyk is paying Dion Phaneuf and Bobby Ryan and there's a necessity to move some bodies/money.
While a complete rebuild is unlikely and impossible given that the only guys to take on Phaneuf and/or Ryan's ridiculous contracts would be the cast from Dumb and Dumber, things gotta change.
We're not breaking new ground here suggesting the names Zack Smith, Mike Hoffman and J-G Pageau are on that trade list.
Same with netminder Craig Anderson who's showing his age.
Feb. 26 – aka trade deadline day – is clearly going to be about shedding and not adding for Ottawa.
Let's shift locales.
“We came out of the gate scoring five, six goals a game (to start the 2017-18 regular season) and as the year dwindles, it gets a lot harder to score and you have less margin for error. So you have to have that consistency or you’re going to be chasing the game a lot and that’s not really a way to win," Toronto Maple Leaf forward James van Riemsdyk told Postmedia.
The Leaf veteran isn't wrong. Toronto roared out of the gate as a seemingly unstoppable goal-producing machine.
That's dried up.
In the Buds five games this month, they've managed 11 goals.
I don't see this continuing, there's just too much gunpowder in the lineup.
Nope, the trouble sits on the opposite side of the red line. Toronto ranks 18th in goals-against average.
That in itself is not mortifying, but if you've seen this team play in front of Freddie Andersen, then you get the willies.
As much as I relish the talents of Auston Matthews (. . . and you know that I do, right?), Andersen is the Leafs' MVP. He bails this team out more than John Turrturo in HBO's The Night Of (cultural references abound in this space).
Seriously? Andersen's faced 1,261 shots. No. 1 in the league and nearly 100 more than Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky.
His .922 save percentage is underrated, simply because I don't believe there's another goalie in the league that steers away more top-notch scoring chances.
So, if Toronto wants to swing a pretty decent regular season into an even better post-season, Freddie needs help.
I have zero complaints regarding Morgan Rielly who is gradually creeping into the discussion for the Norris. With 31 points, the 23-year-old is well on his way to his best season yet, and clearly his best days are on the horizon.
Ron Hainsey's been a whole lot better than advertised, but after that this group's thinner than Don Knotts (keep up, people).
Jake Gardiner can be brilliant, then careless. Nikita Zaitsev is serviceable, when not injured. The rest of the gang is just plain deficient.
I'm not letting the forwards off the hook either. Assignment-missing is rampant.
While trade deadline day – and the days leading up – should signal a discard for Ottawa, for the Leafs it needs to signal augmentation.
Failing that, the famed blue-and-white will turn a promising season into just plain blue.
NEWS, NOTES AND NOTIONS: Morbidly humorous is this headline from the Buffalo Sabres blog site DieByTheBlade.com: "Who Deserves to Represent the Sabres at the All-Star Game?" Unfortunately former Sabre John Scott has retired . . . Most ridiculous all-star selection from an Ottawa perspective was Erik Karlsson who's been god-awful at times this season. Mark Stone's not only been far and away Ottawa's best player, he's been the team's best leader as well. This was a 'reputation' move; nothing more and nothing less . . . Remember that Seinfeld episode where George Costanza pined for the upper hand? "I have no hand! No hand at all! She has the hand, I have no hand at all!" Bobby Ryan surely can relate . . . Not hard to see why Tampa is the best team in hockey. The Bolts rank second in goals-against average per game (2.50) and first in goals-for (3.61).
THE WEEK AHEAD:
Thursday, Jan. 18: St. Louis at Ottawa (7:30 pm)
Saturday, Jan. 20: Toronto at Ottawa (7 pm)