Kukla's Korner


Yesterday’s Game Takes Backseat To Yesterday’s Signing

  • Senators pounce late on Cats’ early lead, win 2-1.
  • We’re happy, he’s happy: new deal means Alfie is here to stay.
  • A sad tale of two player types.

Only hours after captain Daniel Alfredsson signed a contract extension that will keep him in Ottawa for the rest of his NHL career, the Senators showed they still have plenty of fight in them as they poured it on in the third, getting a power-play goal from Dany Heatley before Kelly’s winner.

“The puck was just kind of lying there. I think (Jarkko Ruutu) and (Chris Neil) both had a couple of whacks at it, but I just happened to be the last one to get in there,” said Kelly, who scored the winner on Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun at 10:20 of the third.

“(Losing games) was not the start we wanted to get off to, but we did and this road trip has been good for us. We’ve got to bond a little more and we showed that we can play the game for a full 60 minutes. We played well as a team and that’s what’s most important.”

It was a hard-fought battle, but the Sens found a way. Maybe not quite the two-goal, three-point outburst Heatley had against Toronto when he signed his new deal, but Alfie still managed to get an assist on Heatley’s powerplay marker, and we can all be sure that he helped lead the Sens to this victory out of sight of the cameras.

Not the prettiest of games, or the most exciting. It was interesting to me that the Sens often looked so good and deadly coming in, but their offensive prowess seemed to dry up the closer they got to Vokoun, typified by Spezza making a good rush into the zone, but managing to collide with Heatley to douse any offensive fires he may have been about to light.

That it took a 5 on 3 powerplay for the Panthers to score spoke to the team’s defensive strides, lead by none other than Auld, quite literally standing tall in the face of the team (then with Murray as its GM) that drafted him. It took Olesz screening Auld for the Panthers to sneak one in, quite literally admiring him by having his face constantly turned to watch Auld and match his moves, never giving a care to any thoughts of trying to deflect the puck or have anything to do with the play.

A goalie duel was what this game amounted to, as Heatley caught Vokoun going the wrong way on his goal, Kelly got the last bang at the puck battling by the Florida crease with Neil and Ruutu, and Auld jumped out of his crease no fewer than three times to make risky defensive plays as far out as the faceoff circles.

No crazy excitement, no terribly nifty plays, not many sniffs of real scoring chances; this 2-1 victory marks exactly the kind of hard-fought game the Sens have been trying to win for so long. Last season, the Sens won only 17.9% of the games where they left the first down a goal, and only 15.2% of the games where they entered the third under the gun; this season they’ve won 25% and 20% of those games, respectively thus far. Nobody likes seeing the Sens start the season so poorly, but at the same time, isn’t it nice to see them showing improvement, rather than any decline or even a stable trend?

“This is obviously a special day for me and my family,” Alfredsson said at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., where the Senators will face the Florida Panthers tonight (7:30 p.m., NHL Network, Team 1200). “To be able to spend my whole career with one team… it’s pretty special in today’s pro sports. We’re really rooted in Ottawa, in the community, and I really look forward to the challenges ahead, both on the ice and off the ice as well. Ottawa has become my hometown.”
Alfredsson has also been heavily involved in charity work within the community, something he is eager to continue in the years to come. He said he would also consider a position within the organization after his playing days are done.

“I’ll probably be around the team in some capacity,” he said. It’s an idea that Melnyk has clearly already entertained as well.

“We see each other all the time and talk about things,” he said. “(Alfredsson) has some ideas. He’s more of an entrepreneur than a lot of people think. We’ll see. But the key is, he’s here for the next four years and you know what, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he played beyond that.”

I know I was very excited yesterday as the story kept developing until the announcement was finally made. Currently, the contract stands as a four-year, $21.6 million deal. $5.4 million per season doesn’t seem too big, but Alfie will be paid $9.1 million in his first season, followed by seasons of $7 million, $4 million, and $1 million. Of the deal, $2.1 million is marked as a bonus for buying out the option years of his contract. The League has not decided whether this will count against the cap or not, but the hit will either be $5.4 million or as low as $4.875 million (though I expect they won’t allow it to float outside the cap).

There is a possibility that he will not play that final year for $1 million, but it helps keep the cap number reasonable, and having the hit on the books for an extra year, even with no Alfie, is worth it to have him for the next three seasons, with maneuvering space under the cap. Besides, Melnyk doesn’t seem to think that’s a guarantee at all.

“I fully expect that he’s going to play longer than four years,” [Melnyk] said.

Top in the League in class, ability, and character, as a Sens fan I couldn’t be happier to see him signed to be a Senator for life, and do indeed hope to see him here long after his skates, and jersey number, have been hung up. I’d say it’s a pretty good sign too that with this announcement, for all the work Murray put in, all the excitement Melnyk had about the deal, and all the sacrifices the media will forever remind us that signing this contract represents, despite all that it’s still Alfie with the biggest smile on his face.

Time for new goals, even as many have written the Sens off. Can you really count out our top line though? Do our secondary scorers not have the potential, even as they haven’t been showing it yet? Does our checking line not do its fair share of work, and draw penalties for the team? Has our grind line not been finding a way to wear down any opponent, often getting scoring opportunities for their hard work? Do we not have a trio of highly prized physical and defensive specimens, and another tied for the League lead in blueline scoring? Has Auld not indeed found a spark within him, did Gerber not have a spark in our early playoff exit that could still be seeking fuel, and will Elliot not be able to continue his confidence-inspiring development? I think there are a lot of positive answers there, even as we wait to see them all come together at once.

“That’s the ultimate goal. There’s no question,” said Alfredsson. “I’m in the last third of my career and the window is not going to allow me to get too many more opportunities. With the team we have here, and the experience we had going to finals (in 2007), was my best experience in hockey.

“We just want to give ourselves a chance to win here and put ourselves in a good position by getting into the playoffs every year. I think if we’re able to do that, then we’re going to have as good a chance as anybody. That would obviously be the pinnacle of my career to win a Cup.”

Dean Brown had a good interview with the captain yesterday. He talked about finding out that he’d been drafted a day or two after the fact by a phone call from a Swedish agent, and he figured he’d come over and give it a shot, knowing he could always go home. Winning the Calder trophy, he thought he’d spend four, five years here, and call that a career; Daniel always figured at that point that he’d return home. Now though, signing this new four year deal, he says that indeed he feels that this contract is the one that’s keeping him in his home. Alfredsson is Ottawa, and Ottawa is and always should be Alfredsson.

He might not be alone in that respect though, although we do have a while to wait before serious work needs to be done.

Spezza said it’s realistic to think he might play his whole career in Ottawa.

“I’m still early in my career, but I hope so,” he said. “That’s my intention. I signed here for a long time and I want to win here and build roots here. I really like the city a lot, but it’s a little early in my career to be talking about that. I don’t control that.”

Phillips will be 33 when he has to negotiate his next deal. At that age, it could well be his last. Since he plans to live in Ottawa when he retires - his wife, Erin, is from Ottawa - he doesn’t really want to move.

“I’ve got this year and two more, and we’ll see what happens after that,” he said. “But to have the opportunity to do that would be pretty special, especially with all signs indicating that I’ll still be living in Ottawa when I’m done playing.”

Well, the Alexander Nikulin situation has taken another twist. After practice today, Nikulin said he will leave for Russia on Monday if he is not traded this weekend.

“He said 100 percent, yeah,” teammate Kaspars Daugavins said, translating for Nikulin. “Monday, no trade, he’s gone.”
[Bell] confirmed he’s received calls from several leagues overseas—Switzerland, Sweden, Russia—but that his focus remains on working his way back to the big club in Ottawa.

“Yeah, there’s some big money in other places,” Bell said, “but I’ve got a contract with Ottawa and with Binghamton, and so this is where I am. I’m content here with the way things are going, and the way I’ve been playing. ... I know a couple buddies of mine have gone over there and done that, and now they’re in some trouble. So, I don’t look at that as an option right now.”

So that’s nothing he’s been pursuing?

“No,” he said. “I can’t. I’m under contract. I don’t even have that option. I don’t know about tampering, or any of that stuff, and how that works, but to me, that may be what it is, and I don’t think that you want to get involved in that kind of shady business.”
And finally, just in time for this weekend’s two-game home series against Bridgeport, goalie Brian Elliott returned to practice Thursday following a four-day call-up to Ottawa.

“Whenever you get a chance, it’s good to get up there and practice with the big guys,” Elliott said. “And get to know the guys. And if I was called upon, I was ready. So it was a fun time, and I’m glad to do it.”

It really paints a contrasting picture. On one hand, it’s been reported before that Bell had every belief that his contract would see him help fill out a rather empty (at the time) looking blueline, and now he might be looking at a season in the AHL. As well, Elliot does have to be wondering how much longer he’ll have to spend fine tuning and proving himself before he gets his real chance in Ottawa.

On the other side, there’s Nikulin. We all know he started out endearing himself to the fans with his blog (perhaps unaware of this though, as it was in Russian and only available to us through translations on HFBoards). He started out appearing to be the same as Bell and Elliot are now: eager to be in Ottawa, but glad either way to be a Senator.

I give kudos to guys like Bell and Elliot, showing the kind of character that shines so brightly on them, and that not only helps their stock rise, but sets a good standard and morale for the team as a whole. Nikulin though, trying to hold Murray hostage, this is exactly the kind of behaviour that doesn’t work to anyone’s favour, even his. Does he realize how few teams would make a trade for him considering his eagerness to bolt to Russia? Maybe for future considerations, or with varying returns depending on how many games he plays for the other team or their AHL affiliate.

If he’s ready, he’d be up here now. As I mentioned multiple times when I saw him in the Kitchener rookie tournament, he certainly had skills, but still didn’t seem to be fully adapted to the physical North-American game, and was outshone by Zubov, Winchester, Regin, O’Brien, and Smith. If he was indeed ready to rise to the NHL, he’d be with the Sens right now. If he was ready and we were holding him down there contrary to his ability to rise up, other teams would be inquiring about him, and making offers until we moved him; that you have to try and make demands shows you aren’t ready, not in skill, not in professionalism.

I don’t like coming down hard on Nikulin, I had such high hopes for him. After all those that have bolted the NHL, leaving despite NHL teams having their rights or having them under contract, I thought Nikulin would be patient, mature, different. The example set just yesterday by Canadiens prospect Valentenko is not the one to follow; why not look to Columbus’ Filatov, undoubtedly far more talented and deserving of NHL time than Nikulin, my apologies for the honesty, but when he was sent down to the AHL, he did not bolt or complain, although he is far more acclimatised than Nikulin.

Character is beginning to be the real currency in this League, and bit by bit these actions may well continue to erode the credit rating of all Russian players drafted into the League. You also have to wonder how his agent J.P. Barry, after helping to get Alfie signed to the deal he wanted, could be the the same man reporting that Murray said “he has no spot (on the) Ottawa Senators in the future” and that “he’s not (the) kind of player they want there.” Of course, according to Michael Sharp, “Ottawa’s director of hockey operations Brent Flahr said the notion that Nikulin had no future in the organization was “not true at all,” and that while he “has some things to learn ... we want him here.”,” which is quite a different tale. This is a sad story for those players deserving of a better rap, but the risk is only being proven again and again to be rising too high. Please, continue to work to prove that statement wrong.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Ottawa Senators, Trades, | SENShobo | Permalink


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About SENShobo

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net