What We Learned: Empathizing with Ottawa's jersey tossers

The situation in Ottawa has become a dire one and fans are taking notice. (Getty Images)

I take back everything I’ve ever said in support of the Edmonton and Toronto jersey-tossers over the years.

Those teams didn’t deserve to have some guy (or gal!!!!) throw their jerseys on the ice because they were losing for what felt like the 500th time in a row.

On the contrary, judging by the standards now laid out by the jersey-tosser in Ottawa, those teams were run competently and to the best of everyone’s ability.

The Senators just lost their fourth game in five tries and are now only four points above last place in the East. Moreover, they have the worst record in the league since the start of November, with just seven wins in 25 games.

One has to keep in mind that when Edmonton and Toronto lost constantly, they were doing so with an eye toward the future. I don’t think anyone in either front office was deluding themselves at that time that either of those teams were supposed to be pushing for a playoff spot. That said, the rebuild efforts in those cities were ignominious insofar as they shouldn’t have taken as long as they did, and while the jury is still out on them, at least there was some cohesion to the thought processes behind them. You may not have liked those thought processes — and in Edmonton’s case in particular, it’s easy to see why — but you could mostly see what was going on.

However, you can’t say that about Ottawa. Not only are the Senators bad, they’re finally spending money this year because they were supposed to be good. Repeat: This very bad team, which made the playoffs despite a negative goal differential and a lot of worrying signs, thought it was entering this season ready to return to a Conference Final. Well hey, that didn’t work out, and just about anyone could have told you that, at least if they didn’t work in the front office.

Maybe the Senators shouldn’t be this bad, on paper, and certainly they’ve been fairly unlucky in terms of their percentages, but they were always going to be pretty bad. The problem with that, of course, is that this is a team in Going For It mode, because there are plenty of good players on the roster, including a generational talent in his prime. Now, is it better to be close to the bottom of the league when you’re in that position than, say, finish 19th in the league and end up with something like the 12th overall pick? Sure. But again, that wasn’t the plan and never could have been.

That’s because Eugene Melnyk wants to milk as much money out of this group as he can. Which is fair, since it’s his team and he can run it as he sees fit, but also he seems to be steering the ship right into the rocks.

Because now, with the team playing poorly and unlikely to get anywhere near playoff contention over the next 30 games or so, it seems like the Senators are headed for a sell-off of talent the likes of which we rarely see in this league. Rumors are swirling that Mike Hoffman will be traded, and St. Louis is the stated frontrunner for his services. Likewise, Derrick Brassard is already basically using the media to beg someone to trade for him. And both JG Pageau and Cody Ceci have reportedly also been discussed in trade calls.

Which, again, fair enough. That is, in fact, the right course of action, because this is a team badly in need of a full tear-down rebuild, but the problem is that one wonders whether that will be the actual course of action. As discussed in this space previously, all efforts to tear down the Senators should begin — but certainly not end — with an Erik Karlsson trade, sooner than later. If you trade Karlsson before the deadline, the (presumably contending) team trading for him gets him for two full playoff runs, and that would make the return for Karlsson considerably more significant than if he were to be traded this summer, or later.

This probably won’t happen, though, because a Senators team with Karlsson on it is also far more valuable than one without him. But with Melnyk so concerned about the bottom line despite spending in the general area of the cap this season, that might not happen despite the fact that Ottawa is both going nowhere and likely to lose Karlsson for nothing.

To trade Hoffman and some other key pieces on the team without even truly considering a Karlsson deal as well (or primarily) is the kind of half-measure that has become this organization’s hallmark. You’re always going to be kind of good with Karlsson around — unless, as is the case this season, you’re not getting the percentages — and therefore you’re not doing the kind of serious bottoming-out that has become de rigueur in realistic NHL rebuilds.

The issue for this team really boils down to misallocation of cap assets, right?  They’re very close to the salary cap after the Matt Duchene trade, but are paying Bobby Ryan and Dion Phaneuf a combined $14.25 million against the cap. That’s 19 percent of your cap number wrapped up in two guys over 30 who have some kind of no-move protection and also aren’t very good.

Duchene was supposed to move the needle. He didn’t. And the team probably can’t trade him because his value on the open market has to be non-existent given his underpeformance since he got to town.

So the approach here seems to be one of half-measures once again. If you trade Hoffman, you trade a 25-year-old player in his prime who’s almost certainly a first-line talent on an AAV of just over $5 million. It’s a great deal the Senators worked out, but they’re ready to give up on it in pursuit of who-knows-what.

And probably this is just me projecting my own feelings about the Senators onto that of the jersey-tosser. Maybe that person just doesn’t like the losing and thought the team would be good this year. But again, there’s no clarity of vision here, as there was with Toronto and Edmonton. It’s just tire-spinning, circling the drain, hoping something will come along to catapult the team to actual real-life, long-term relevance once again.

The only way to start that at this point is to trade everyone and accept the losing as part of the process. But this being the Senators, that seems quite unlikely. So yeah, toss the jerseys for all the good it’ll do. At least make yourself feel better.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Would you look at that: The Ducks have everyone back healthy and also are 6-3-4 since all their injured guys started getting back into games (that is, points in 10 of their last 13 games). Not bad. Not great, but not bad.

Arizona Coyotes: Oh yeah, Nik Hjalmarsson. He didn’t vanish after all. Huh.

Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask didn’t lose a start in regulation in all of December. He went 9-0-1 with a no-decision in 11 games, and stopped 95.5 percent of all the shots he faced. Pretty good.

Buffalo Sabres: Pommer, talk about how special this is.

Calgary Flames: Hmm, okay.

Carolina Hurricanes: Probably too late for this team to truly get it together, but I wish they could just be good for a while.

Chicago: Jeff, it was a fluke!

Colorado Avalanche: This space will now become a Nathan MacKinnon Appreciation Station, because my man had another three points against the Leafs the other day.

Columbus Blue Jackets: This isn’t the trade I would wanna make with Ottawa but okay sure.

Dallas Stars: What the Stars really need is, like, more goals.

Detroit Red Wings: New year, new me.

Edmonton Oilers: The easy road to the playoffs is not to trade all your good forwards.

Florida Panthers: It’s all coming together!

Los Angeles Kings: I hate to learn the game, unlike Alex Iafallo.

Minnesota Wild: None of these can do literally anything once. None of them can go to Alpha Centauri once. (Unless faster-than-light-speed travel is invented tomorrow, in which case, okay.)

Montreal Canadiens: Well, this has to be it for everyone, right? Everyone’s being traded?

Nashville Predators: Man if Juuse Saros can get it going, all things are possible for the Preds this year.

New Jersey Devils: Calling Eddie Lack something” seems awful generous.

New York Islanders: This seems good, to me.

New York Rangers: You hear about this? This playing outside? That’s special.

Ottawa Senators: These three words from Mark Stone could describe so much about this team.

Philadelphia Flyers: Imagine thinking it could have.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Hmm, okay.

San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture coming back will make the Pacific a little more interesting, but honestly it would hard to be surprised either way if the Sharks make or do not make the playoffs.

St. Louis Blues: Really? Jay Bouwmeester? Big plus?

Tampa Bay Lightning: I don’t really think it makes much of a difference who the Lightning’s backup is.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs don’t believe in the dang Vegas Flu. Leafs, thank you.

Vancouver Canucks: This does not seem like a question that really needs to be asked.

Vegas Golden Knights: Vegas is undefeated in overtime. Wild.

Washington Capitals: This seems good.

Winnipeg Jets: Getting Big Buff back would probably be helpful.

Play of the Weekend

I love when guys coming out of the box get a breakaway and score. One of the best things about this sport.

Gold Star Award

Alex Ovechkin had his third three-assist game of the season on Saturday. Those nine assists make up more than half of his season total. Fun!

Minus of the Weekend

Klas Dahlbeck was a minus-3 for St. Louis in less than 13 minutes of ice time. If you ask me, not great.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “heybuddyhowyadoing” has a seven-player, nine-asset trade in mind.

To MTL
Kapanen
Gauthier
Aaltonen
Pickard
3rd round pick in 2018
conditional 5th round pick in 2019

To TOR
Petry
Lindgren
Juulsen

Signoff

Superintendent! I was just, uhh, stretching my calves on the windowsill. Isometric exercise. Care to join me?

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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