Goal of the Night: Matt Duchene
Goal of the Night: Matt Duchene
Colorado's Matt Duchene scores a sneaky goal against the Penguins Tuesday night.
Colorado's Matt Duchene scores a sneaky goal against the Penguins Tuesday night.
The Ottawa Senators drew family and friends for a game against Arizona Tuesday night. Even though the number was dismal, empty seats are nothing new in Ottawa.
When the members of the Arizona Coyotes looked up into the stands during their 7-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night, they could have been forgiven for being a little confused. They would have been excused if they had thought for a moment they were actually playing at home instead of the Canadian Tire Centre, or whatever it is they’re calling the rink in Ottawa this week.
That’s because the game drew an announced crowd of just 11,061. It was a number that was, by some accounts, a generous one. It was also a low-water mark for the arena and it was believed to be the lowest attendance figure recorded for a game in Canada since late in the 1995-96 season, just before the Winnipeg Jets left town.
What does this prove? Well, a cynic might suggest it shows the Coyotes are just as popular on the road as they are at home. But it’s much more troubling than that. Low attendance in Ottawa is not a novel concept. In fact, it is following a trend that has been established over the past couple of seasons. So, 11,061 for a Tuesday night against Arizona is troubling in a Canadian market. But just as troubling was the fact the Senators came almost 1,000 short of a sellout for their season opener, which just happened to be against their most hated rival. Then they came almost 400 short of a sellout for home game No. 2 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Since the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, attendance has been robust in every market but one. Generally speaking, almost every game since then has been sold out in every Canadian market with the exception of the nation’s capital. So we have to wonder whether or not fans in Ottawa have reached their breaking point here. The Senators have what they refer to as a Dynamic Pricing Structure for single game tickets, so it’s fair to assume the games against Toronto and Montreal were probably the most expensive of the season.
There’s a good chance that if there is a breaking point for fans, it has been reached in Ottawa. Ticket prices and an arduous journey out to a suburban arena are usually cited as the two most prominent factors when it comes to the Senators trouble filling the arena. (The resurrected Canadian Football League team, meanwhile, has sold out 25 of its 27 home games so far.) And tickets for hockey games are just like anything else when it comes to a free market economy. In reality, there is absolutely no connection between the fact that Bobby Ryan will make $7.25 million this season and Senators’ ticket prices. The cost of tickets to the consumer is the function of one principle – supply and demand. Hockey tickets cost as much or as little as the market will bear. And in this case, the market has quite obviously sent a message with its feet. And part of the problem then becomes perception. If there is low attendance, then fans who might otherwise feel a need to get their tickets early will realize they can probably get their ducats on the secondary market or by simply going to the box office on game night. So if the weather is bad, traffic is nasty or you’re just not feeling it, you don’t go to the game. And that kills demand.
But Ottawa is not the only market in Canada that seems to be softening. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association claims the World Cup was sold out, but there were swaths of empty seats, right up to Canada’s two-game final against Team Europe. The luxury boxes at the Air Canada Centre were a barren wasteland. The secondary market was flooded with inventory, which drove down the cost to a small fraction of the face value.
And consider that there are reports of soft ticket sales for the World Junior Championship in both Toronto and Montreal. The latter is of particular concern, largely because it was so dismally attended when the event was split between the two cities two years ago. The same fans who haven’t seen their team win a Stanley Cup for a quarter of a century are still not willing to pay top dollar to watch teenagers play for world supremacy. With Canada not playing any games in the preliminary round in Montreal, expect to see enormous swaths of empty seats prior to the medal round.
Canadians love hockey. A lot. But there comes a point where it doesn’t seem reasonable to continue it as an open-my-wallet-and-take-all-my-money unconditional love. The Senators appear to have reached that point. And it should be a cautionary tale for other teams who think occupied seats are a given just because people are watching NHL hockey.
Senators coach Guy Boucher said it would be good for Clarke MacArthur to be around teammates as he fights through yet another concussion.
Clarke MacArthur’s career isn’t over, but it is on hold after he suffered a concussion during Senators’ training camp, his fourth in less than two years.
MacArthur met with media Friday and, according to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, the 31-year-old said his career is going to continue and that he’s working to get back into the lineup as soon as he can.
The news that MacArthur won’t be hanging up his skates comes little more than a week after Senators GM Pierre Dorion announced that MacArthur would be meeting with a concussion specialist to talk about his future.
The hit that concussed MacArthur came during a Senators scrimmage during training camp when defenseman Patrick Sieloff crunched MacArthur into the boards from behind. MacArthur needed to be helped off the ice after the hit and was sent home by the team. After the scrimmage, Dorion announced MacArthur, who had missed all but four games of the 2015-16 campaign due to a concussion, was again dealing with a concussion and that the team was “heartbroken” about the situation.
That MacArthur is continuing his career is a relief, and comes a day after the veteran winger got back on the ice for what appeared to be the first time since he suffered the concussion. Coach Guy Boucher was hesitant to talk about MacArthur’s progress, but admitted that MacArthur has been back on the ice.
“The news is positive, but it’s extremely early in a long-term process,” Boucher said, according to the Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Warren. “Right now, we’re just happy for him that he feels good.”
And it sounds as though MacArthur is actually feeling well enough that he could be hitting the road with the Senators when they make the trip to Western Canada for a three-game set against the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
Boucher wouldn’t confirm that MacArthur would indeed make the trip — the Senators bench boss said it wasn’t “100 percent decided” — but it would be a way to keep him with the team and around the game during his latest concussion battle. Boucher did say for certain that MacArthur would not be suiting up on the trip, though.
MacArthur is currently in the second season of a five-year, $23.25-million contract that he signed with the Senators in August 2014. The four games he played to start the 2015-16 season are the only games he has played under his current deal, but he has registered 40 goals and 91 points in 145 games with the Senators.
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Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.
The top two picks from the 2016 draft aren't the only rookies worth talking about. Here are our picks for the most impressive performances from players other than Matthews and Laine.
The 2016-17 NHL season may become known as the Year of the Rookie. It's still very early days, but there are a number of first-year players playing big roles, and impressing in big ways.
A total of 29 teenagers began the season on NHL rosters, and two of them already have scored hat tricks. Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine went No. 1 and 2 in the 2016 draft and so far they've not disappointed. Matthews made headlines by scoring four goals in his first game, and Laine bested Matthews on Wednesday by scoring three goals in a Jets win over the Maple Leafs.
But they're not the only rookies worth talking about. Here are our picks for the most impressive rookie performances so far -- from players other than Matthews and Laine.
Zach Werenski has carried over the momentum from his dominant AHL playoffs, in which he stepped in for his first pro action right out of the University of Michigan. He played seven regular season games for Lake Erie and was a crucial reason why it won the Calder Cup. Now he seamlessly has transitioned to the NHL with the Jackets, already playing major minutes and toiling on the top power play. He has been an elite prospect since even before the Jackets drafted him eighth overall in 2015, so none of this is a fluke. Werenski is a stud and a legit Calder Trophy candidate. Or, he at least would be in a non Matthews/Laine year. (Matt Larkin)
He’s ninth in rookie scoring, the third-highest scoring first-year player on his team, and currently sits second-last among freshmen in plus-minus, but Mitch Marner is everything the Toronto Maple Leafs could have hoped he’d be, and more. Auston Matthews scored four goals in Toronto’s first game this season, but there were large swaths of that game when Marner was the best player on the ice. His skill level is breathtaking. There have been shifts where he has controlled the entire ice surface. And when you have that kind of skill, it’s only a matter of time before the numbers start coming. Some players are rushed into the NHL, but not Marner. There would be nothing, absolutely nothing to be gained by sending him back to junior hockey. The kid is where he belongs. (Ken Campbell)
The acquisitions of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers marked two big steps forward for the Florida Panthers’ blueline, but it’s the development and play of Mike Matheson that has impressed most early in the season. Matheson, 22, spent the entire 2015-16 campaign in the AHL after finishing up three years at Boston College, and the 2012 first-rounder has come a long way in one short pro season.
Averaging more than 20 minutes per game, Matheson looks more than capable of handling a top-four role in Florida, and his offensive instincts have been on display early. His opening-night overtime assist was a thing of beauty and he’s scored in back-to-back games against top Eastern Conference competition. Maybe this could have been seen coming, though, after Matheson was named top defenseman at the 2016 World Championship with a remarkable two-goal, six-point performance in 10 games with Team Canada. (Jared Clinton)
Travis Konecny was so far off the Calder Trophy-race radar, he wasn't included in Bovada's pre-season odds. But he's looked perfectly capable of sticking in the show after his first four professional games. Konecny jumped straight from junior to the Flyers this season, and is already getting important minutes on the second line with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. He's yet to find the back of the net, but he has four assists in his first four games, and is averaging over 15 minutes of ice time per game. And the goals will come. The 2015 first-round pick scored 23 goals in 31 games last season after being traded from Ottawa to Sarnia. If he continues to get put in a position to contribute offensively, there's no reason to believe he won't. (Ian Denomme)
We should really start to seriously savor these head-to-head meetings between Jaromir Jagr and Alex Ovechkin, because we don’t know how many more there will be left. Barring an injury to either player we’ll get at least two more – including the last day of the 2016-17 season – but with the 43-year-old Jagr, you just never know. He goes year by year when it comes to signing contracts and he seems pretty comfortable with that.
But we have to come to grips with the fact that someday, Jagr’s scoring touch will leave him permanently. Wayne Gretzky had nine goals in his final NHL season, which put him 38 behind league leader Teemu Selanne and tied for 226th in the NHL along with, among others, the likes of Bob Corkum, Mike Stapleton and Alexandre Daigle.
So the day is coming at some point. Let’s just hope it’s not too soon. Thursday night in the Panthers 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, Jagr and Ovechkin hooked up once again. And once again, Jagr scored. Also once again, Ovechkin stuck a stake in the Panthers’ heart with a goal of his own, which turned out to be the game-winner. Jagr’s goal was his first of the year and the 750th of his career, Ovechkin’s was just his second and the 527th of his career.
The goals were scored back-to-back, which is fitting since they were scored by the two best goal scorers in the history of the game. Yeah, I said it. Depending upon how productive he is and whether he plays beyond this season, Jagr could sit second on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. Ovechkin, on the other hand, would need at least eight more 50-goal seasons to think of unseating Gretzky for No. 1 of all-time.
But Jagr and Ovechkin are the best. First, the obvious. They’ve both piled up hundreds of goals in eras when scoring has been at near historic lows. If you adjust their totals to reflect the eras in which they played – something a website called www.hockeyreference.com does by putting all players on equal ground – it provides some perspective. According to that site’s adjusted goals, Gordie Howe would lead the all-time leader board with 925 goals, followed by Jagr at 842, a significant margin ahead of Gretzky’s 758. Ovechkin, according to his adjusted goals, would be at 642 and counting.
But even without the adjustments, Jagr is worth considering. In fact, if not for lockouts and the three years he spent in the KHL, Jagr would probably nipping at Gretzky’s heels for the all-time lead as we speak. Let’s start with the 1994-95 lockout that limited the NHL to 48 games. Jagr was in his prime then, scoring 32 goals, which prorates to 55 goals that season. Gretzky had 11 goals, which prorates to 19.
So that puts Jagr at 773 goals and Gretzky at 902. Now, let’s look at the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. It’s hard to put a goal total on Jagr, since he put up 31 the season before the lockout and 54 after the game was opened up to create more scoring. So let’s put him at 35 for that season. That now puts him at 808. Then we go to the three seasons he spent in the KHL and judging by his scoring pattern, he probably would have been good for somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 a year, but let’s give him a total of 70. That would put him at 878 goals, just 24 behind Gretzky for the all-time crown. If Jagr does play beyond this season, he’ll probably score at least that many in his sleep.
Now to Ovechkin. He’ll need a whole whack of otherworldly seasons to even think of penetrating the upper tier of scorers in the NHL. But does anyone believe he doesn’t have at least one more Rocket Richard Trophy in him? If he does manage to do that, it will give him seven and eclipse the only other man who led the league in goals six times during his career, Phil Esposito. Gretzky, Howe Rocket Richard and Charlie Conacher each did it five times.
So, you see, it’s certainly not a stretch to suggest that last night we got to see the top two goalscorers ever placed on Earth go head-to-head last night. How much longer it continues is anyone’s guess. That’s why Nov. 5 and April 9 of this season could end up being very special days.