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All attention was on the Ottawa Senators this week, what with the Alfredsson presser and the woefully delayed mainstream media reporting of Eugene Melnyk's financial issues. Travis Hair (@TravisHeHateMe on Twitter) has been way, way out of ahead of this story for a couple of months, but because his work is hosted on hockeybuzz.com it has been ignored.
Remember the old adage: "don't judge a book by its cover?" It's applicable to journalism to it seems: "don't judge reporting by where the work is hosted."
Overall the Senators organization had a tough week to say the least. Alfredsson completely and totally schooled them in the public relations game, and it wasn't even close. I mean, he called Ottawa home consistently during his press conference, referred to his children as "Ottawans" and the entire thing happened at a mental health hospital Alfredsson has volunteered at for the past two decades - so the Senators were in a hole right away.
Then Alfredsson began talking, and essentially admitted he'd conspired with the club to circumvent the salary cap while accusing the Senators - in effect - of breaking a verbal agreement betwee the two sides. Ouch.
Melnyk compounded things when he blamed super agent J.P. Barry for outright "lying" to Alfredsson about Ottawa's contract offers to their former captain. Barry wisely took the high road when asked for comment.
Isn't it funny how in the midst of an offseason clustercuss we forget totally about judging organizations based on the quality of their hockey teams?
Lost in the din of the Alfredsson back-and-forth and the "internal cap" and other assorted handwringings is the fact that the Senators had one of the best offseasons, from a hockey perspective, of any team in the league.
That top-six forward group could be frightening what with Jason Spezza, Clarke MacArthur, Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Kyle Turris and Cory Conacher. Meanwhile Ottawa's bottom six packed with useful grinders from Chris Neil to Erik Condra to Colin Greening to Zack Smith. Their top-pairing of Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot might be the best in the Atlantic division next season, and Craig Anderson is being slept on as a potential US Olympic team goalie, but I'd be seriously considering him if I were David Poile and co...
In other words: don't let the off-ice dysfunction distract you from the reality, which is that the Senators will likely compete with Detroit and Boston for the division crown this upcoming season.
The same applies in Vancouver, I think. Luongo isn't happy to be returning to Vancouver and the organization still looks silly in the wake of their complete mishandling of the whole Schneider/Luongo saga. Combine that with an aging core, a move into a tougher division and a four game sweep in the 2013 postseason - and you have a lot of observers vastly underestimating this Canucks team.
But, again, the reality is a bit different. Luongo is still an elite goaltender and probably has two or three more seasons left in which he's a good bet to post an elite save percentage.
Vancouver's defence is among the best in the league (top-5 at worst), and might be the best in their division what with Los Angeles losing Rob Scuderi, Willie Mitchell's status uncertain and Robyn Regehr and Jeff Schultz likely to play more minutes than Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin next season.
Meanwhile the Sedins are going to turn thirty three in September and their production has dropped the past couple of seasons. But somehow in their early thirties they just put together the most impressive two-way season of their careers. Literally the Canucks were a one-line team last season, and still had a successful regular season because the twins outscored opponents three-to-one in score close situations while being tasked with the toughest matchups.
Vancouver's lack of a third-line centre is a significant concern and the clubs failure to buy credible Ryan Kesler insurance could still come back to bite them. Even so, we're talking about a forty-five win team.
Though admittedly the Canucks aren't a cub that anyone will (or should) be describing as a "contender."
I was talking to Justin Bourne about Columbus defenceman Jack Johnson this week. Bourne suggested to me that the amount of Jack Johnson hate on-line was so overstated and so vociferous that the "over-rated" pendulum had swung the other way on Johnson, making him now "under-rated."
I responded that Jack Johnson is probably the worst regular top-four defenceman in the NHL when it comes to playing defence and started making my case. Ultimately I convinced him.
Here's how I convinced him, in case you're among the skeptical: I pointed out that Jack Johnson's teams consistently get outscored when he's on the ice, even when those teams are good.
Last season's Columbus Blue Jackets, for example, outscored their opponents by two goals (63 GF, 61 GA) in score close situations at even-strength. With Jack Johnson on the ice in score close situations at even-strength, however, they were outscored by two (19 GF, 21 GA).
The Blue Jackets controlled 46.7% of all even-strength shot attempts in score close situations in 2013, but only controlled 44.2% of all even-strength shot attempts in score close situations when Jack Johnson was on the ice.
The season before that, Jack Johnson suited up for the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings in sixty games. In those sixty games the Los Angeles Kings posted an even goal differential in score close situations at even-strength (59 GF, 59 GA), but were outscored by ten(!) goals when Jack Johnson was on the ice in those situations (16 GF, 26 GA).
The Kings controlled 52.7% of all even-strength shot attempts in score close situations but controlled 48.2% of such shots with Jack Johnson on the ice...
In 2010-11 the Los Angeles Kings outscored opponents by four at even-strength in a score close game state (GF 105, GA 101). With Jack Johnson on the ice at even-strength and the score within one? Outscored by 16 (33 GF, 49 GA).
The 2010-11 Kings controlled 51.5% of even-strength shot attempts in score close situations that season overall, but only 47% of such shots with Jack Johnson on the ice...
So what's my point? That with Jack Johnson on the ice his teams spend more time in their own end while the puck spends more time in their own net.
Still pencilling Jack Johnson onto the US Olympic team?
As a Canadian, I hope the Americans bring the Johnson brothers to Sochi. As a hockey fan I hope they're smart enough to roll with a top-four of John Carlsson, Ryan Suter, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonaugh...
Finally I'm headed to Europe for the next three weeks and won't be writing this Sunday column again until mid-September. Thankfully there should be more actual hockey to talk about then, but I've really enjoyed sharing my thoughts here this summer and passing the time. I can't wait to continue when hockey season starts up again!
Thank you for reading!
Thomas Drance is a news editor at theScore.