Coaches and GMs under the gun like never before

Ken Campbell
Brian MacLellan (left) and Barry Trotz (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Around this time of year when we all get antsy for hockey to get going, one of the most popular topics of conversation centers around which coach will be the first to get fired. Randy Carlyle and Paul MacLean look to be the early frontrunners in that department.

And with the average lifespan of a coach running at about 2.4 years, why wouldn’t they be in peril? Carlyle is approaching that with the Toronto Maple Leafs and MacLean has already exceeded that in Ottawa, having been there for the past three seasons. After two seasons in which he could do no wrong, MacLean was blamed for everything from his handling of the Senators goaltenders to how clueless his team was in its own end last season. Read more

Senators extending Craig Anderson all about security and stability

Ken Campbell
Craig Anderson (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

If there’s one NHL team that could use some good karma these days, it’s the Ottawa Senators. The GM is battling cancer, they’ve lost their captain for the second straight year, ownership has a case of the shorts, they’re the only Canadian team that has trouble filling its building and the on-ice prospects don’t look particularly good at the moment.

There could have been worse things than the news that they had signed a 33-year-old goaltender coming off a bad year to a three-year contract worth $12.6 million. This means the Senators go into this season with a goaltending tandem consisting of the aforementioned Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, which isn’t exactly Ben Bishop and Brian Elliott – two elite NHL starters the Senators traded away – but it’s not bad.

Still, it’s a little perplexing why the Senators would choose to extend Anderson’s contract when they don’t really know which Anderson will actually perform for them and he was still a full year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent. With the off-season market for goaltenders being what it is, they could not been afraid of losing him as a UFA in a year, could they?

From this corner, it looks as though the Senators made this move for a couple of reasons. The first is they clearly think Lehner, who recently signed for three years at $6.675 million himself, is the Senators goaltender of the future. They’re just not sure about the present. If Lehner proves to be capable, Anderson becomes a pretty expensive backup.

The second is this is a franchise trying to sell some security and stability at a time when neither has been terribly omnipresent of late. With Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza both bolting, this is an organization that needs to prove to its fans that it is serious about retaining its core players. Why else would they sign Clarke MacArthur and Mark Borowiecki to extensions a year before their contracts expired? And it appears as though the Senators are intent on doing the same with Marc Methot and Bobby Ryan.

Which is all well and good when the team is winning. But the Senators are selling security and stability of a roster that missed the playoffs last season and, barring an overachieving 2014-15, appears to be subject to the same fate this season. But if the Senators do bounce back and make the playoffs this season, there’s a good chance Anderson will have something to do with it.

And there’s the conundrum the Senators face with their goaltending. In fact, almost every team in the NHL faces a similar one. When it comes to goaltending, a lot of teams are stumbling around in the dark looking for a tandem that works. Last season’s Vezina Trophy contender could be this season’s flop. Nobody realizes that more than Anderson, who was superhuman in leading the Senators to the playoffs during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, only to be plagued by inconsistency last season.

It didn’t help that Senators coach Paul MacLean seemed to botch his handling of both Anderson and Lehner last season. There was a stretch in November when Lehner put together a 3-0-2 record in five starts and was named the NHL’s first star of the week while Anderson was injured. Despite the streak, as soon as Anderson came back, MacLean gave him the net and the Senators went into a tailspin from which they never recovered.

There’s not a lot of risk, though, to signing Anderson for three more years, particularly when they were able to do so without attaching any kind of no-trade clause to the contract. At a $4.2 million cap hit for the three seasons after 2014-15, Anderson’s money and term are not untradeable. The New York Islanders signed Jaroslav Halak for four years at $4.5 million a season and Anderson at his best is better than Halak. And the third year of the deal the salary goes down to $3.1 million, which might appeal to a small market team struggling in goal that needs a higher cap hit and less salary.

If Anderson proves to be the goaltender he was two years ago, the Senators will look brilliant by getting him under contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent. If it’s more of the same from last season, they can hand the ball to Lehner and Anderson can make a lot of money for wearing a ball cap and opening the door at the players’ bench.

The top 10 players to watch in the Champions League

Washington first-rounder Jakub Vrana has already started his season (Photo by Andreas Froberg/Linkoping HC/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

If you can’t wait for the NHL season to start, maybe turn your attention to Europe, where the Champions League is off and running. The super-sized tournament for club teams features squads from all over the continent and it’s more than just a place to find fun NHL names from the recent past (Chuck Kobasew! Mikael Samuelsson!). A lot of great young talent is on display, including some top NHL prospects and draft eligibles. Below you’ll find 10 players to watch for as the tournament goes on. Not included were skaters on rosters but yet to play in a game, including 2016 prospect Patrik Laine of Finland, 2015′s Michael Spacek of the Czech Republic and Pittsburgh first-rounder Kasperi Kapanen.

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Ottawa Senators prospect Nick Paul is busting out

Nick Paul helped drive North Bay to greatness this past season (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

There was a lot of buzz on Tuesday afternoon surrounding the shootout goals scored by Jordan Subban and Josh Ho-Sang at the BioSteel Sports camp in Toronto, and deservedly so. But one of the other finalists in the informal skills competition was center Nick Paul and he had some pretty nasty moves as well – the difference was, Paul did it at a hulking 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds. Check out all the highlights below, starting at the 1:30 mark:

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Erik Karlsson would accept Sens captaincy. Is he the right pick?

Matt Larkin
ErikKarlsson

At 24, Erik Karlsson is already the best offensive defenseman of his era. His 74 points were 13 more than the next-closest blueliner, Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, had in 2013-14. Karlsson has outscored every D-man in the league by 29 or more points over the last three seasons.

But should he be a captain right now?

The Ottawa Senators have a vacancy after trading Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars. This week, when asked about wearing the ‘C,’ Karlsson responded with an open mind.

“Obviously it’s something I wouldn’t say no to, (but) it’s not something that I’m going to ask for,” Karlsson told the Senators website Monday. “Whoever makes the decision is going to make the right one, and whether it’s me or someone else, it’s going to be good for the team and good for the organization.”

The idea of Karlsson wearing the ‘C’ raises the question: what constitutes a captain in today’s NHL? And has it changed in recent years?

Here’s a look at the league’s captains 20 years ago, in 1993-94. Top-30 scorers that year are bolded, as are defensemen who scored in the top five at their position. Age at the start of that season is in brackets.

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Rumor Roundup: What will the Senators do about next summer’s UFAs?

Lyle Richardson
Marc Methot

The Ottawa Sun’s Don Brennan recently observed the Senators could enter training camp with eight NHL defensemen, seven of whom are under one-way contracts. If the Senators decide to make a deal, Brennan feels they could draw upon their blueline depth for trade bait.

Defenseman Patrick Wiercioch could become a trade candidate. Brennan noted coach Paul MacLean had some issues with Wiercioch’s game last season. He also cited a league executive praising the 23-year-old’s passing skills, which could make the young blueliner an attractive trade chip.

Another option could be veteran Marc Methot. The Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Warren reports contract talks between Methot and the Senators are at a stalemate. Warren claims Methot, who’s in the final season of a four-year, $12-million contract, has been compared to Washington’s Brooks Orpik (five years, $27.5 million) and Tampa Bay’s Matt Carle (six years, $33 million).   Read more

Armed with new contract, Robin Lehner will soon grab Sens’ starting goalie job

Adam Proteau
Robin Lehner (Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Senators signed Robin Lehner to a $6.675-million contract Thursday morning, locking up the 23-year-old restricted free agent goalie for the next three seasons. Lehner has been hailed for years as Ottawa’s goalie-of-the-future, but by the end of this coming season – or perhaps sooner – he’ll be firmly, finally ensconced as their No. 1 netminder.

Given that veteran Craig Anderson – who’ll be 34 years old at the end of the coming season – is entering the final year of his contract, Lehner won’t have to wait much longer to be given the starter’s job. Playing on a poor Sens squad in 2013-14, he posted a better save percentage (.913) than Anderson (.910) and his workload has increased gradually (from 12 games-played in 2012-13 to 36 last year). His new contract, which carries an annual average value of $2.225 million, is perfect for his budget-conscious franchise and won’t raise fan expectations to unattainable levels.

What does Lehner’s new deal mean for Anderson? Read more

Rumor Roundup: Will Bobby Ryan be the next Senators player to leave?

Bobby-Ryan Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

The departures since last summer of Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza from the Ottawa Senators prompted ESPN’s Craig Custance to suggest Bobby Ryan could be next to leave town. Custance notes Ryan, 27, is entering the final season of his contract at an affordable cap hit of $5.1 million. He becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.

Wayne Scanlan of the Ottawa Citizen recently reported the Senators opened contract talks with Ryan and fellow 2015 UFAs Clarke MacArthur and Marc Methot. Of the trio, Ryan will be the most difficult to re-sign.

The rebuilding Senators took a step back in their development last season, Ryan’s first with the club. The loss of Spezza via trade and Ales Hemsky to free agency makes Ryan their top scoring forward. How the Senators perform this season could influence his future plans.

Another factor will be Ryan’s asking price. He’ll have a golden opportunity to cash in via free agency, where he could be the best available player. It could cost the budget-conscious Senators more than $7 million per season on a six- to eight-year deal to keep Ryan in Ottawa. Read more