What We Learned: Who gets blame for empty seats in NHL Playoffs?

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

The Ottawa Senators’ second home game of the second round was a sellout, which makes sense because it was an important playoff game on a Saturday.

But the first home game fell about 2,000 seats short of a sellout, which is a sad commentary on a whole lot of the things wrong with that organization.

Everyone recognizes that there are a lot of reasons why this whole situation is a mess, but a big one has to come down to ownership of this team being arguably the worst in the NHL. And there are plenty of people who would say it’s not even particularly arguable, that Eugene Melnyk — who is perfectly content to simply make the playoffs every year forever because you don’t actually have to spend a lot of money to do that — is for-sure the worst owner in the league. I get it.

But the take that popped up more than a few times after that first game failed to sell out, and did so by a fairly large margin, is that the fans somehow owe it to the Senators to come out and support them in this pivotal second round of a playoff series. After all, Ian Mendes asked at TSN, hadn’t they delivered on all their promises early in the season?

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One has to consider, though, what kind of a promise “we’ll make the playoffs and try not to get smoked” actually is, and whether the circumstances by which the Senators went above and beyond those initial expectations are really all that praiseworthy.

By some measures, the Senators are one of the more successful franchises in the League. Okay, not by attendance or winning anything or developing good players, necessarily, but they’ve made the postseason 16 out of the last 20 seasons. Some ask whether that should count for something with fans.

Now, I’m obviously not a Senators fan (thankfully) but the “16 times in the last 20 years” argument seems extremely disingenuous because I really can’t be asked to care about a 77-point team from 20 years ago when Ron Tugnutt was the starting goaltender. Especially because the four playoff misses in that 20-year span are in fact over the last nine seasons. And this is only the second time since the team lost in the Cup Final that they’ve even made it to the second round.

Which, any team can win in the first round every once in a while, and that’s certainly evidenced by the AHL team they beat in the first round this season. So to even hold that up as a sign of success is, shall we say, disingenuous. If we’re taking the playoffs as some sort of proof of overarching team quality, even if you finish seventh or eighth, how close to winning the Cup were you, really?

If people want to stay away from an organization with a bad owner and a rink an hour outside of town on a weekday, hey man, I get it. Especially because it’s not like the Rangers should be in any way a draw at this point. Moreover, it’s not like anyone should be deluded to thinking this Senators team is really all that good. It all runs through Erik Karlsson, of course, and if you’re holding your breath that this team will be meaningfully competitive in the near future, one need only look at the CapFriendly page.

Number of guys on this team on an ELC right now: Two. And it’s Ben Harpur and Colin White, not exactly meaningful contributors. Now, they have some good prospects that will likely be with the club next season, in Logan Brown and Thomas Chabot. But that’s it. And if this is a team committed to keeping the cost of the roster down, how on earth is that conducive to getting more competitive?

And things are only likely to get worse in the near future. Dion Phaneuf is 32 and signed forever. Marc Methot makes $4.9 million and has two more seasons after this one. Bobby Ryan is signed until he’s 35. You can go on like this, but the number of guys on the wrong side of 30 signed to big-money, long-term deals is irresonsible at best if you’re trying to say simultaneously that it’s important to keep costs under control and also pay Bobby Ryan $7.25 million.

One need only look at the Erik Karlsson splits in this postseason to see how dire the team’s circumstances actually are. A generational defenseman, who’s probably going to end up in the top five to ever play his position, is all that stood between the Senators and a first-round elimination at the hands of an injury-riddled Bruins roster.

The Senators have 23 goals scored in their eight playoff games so far. Karlsson has been on the ice for all but eight of them. And they’ve allowed 20, with Karlsson the ice for just seven. For those scoring at home, Karlsson’s on-ice GF is 15-7 (65 percent), and his off-ice GF is 8-13 (38 percent). Like, come on, man. This is as close to a one-man team as you get in the NHL without having that one man being pre-2016 Henrik Lundqvist.

The thing is that you hear a lot about fans who don’t agree with “the direction” of the team, and that’s why they don’t want to schlep out to Kanata to see a mediocre team with one transcendent player.

How can you blame them? An organization that Corey Pronman ranks as having the 16th-best prospect pool in the league and an aging, more-expensive-than-it-should-be roster for a “budget” team? Come on.

Teams owe their fans something, not the other way around. If they want people to actually care, the Senators need to show that they’re able — or willing — to do something other than finish somewhere between 12th and 20th in the NHL. When you finish there, as too many teams have learned to their dismay, you’re neither good enough to actually compete for anything or bad enough to get players who will help you do so in the future.

That is, however, a big if. Because if we’re being cynical here (and when should we not be where Melnyk is concerned?), you can safely say there’s plenty of evidence the team wants to do little more than than cynically point to the barest of successes and have local media say, “What else do you want from them?” while pocketing a few extra playoff games’ worth of gate and concessions revenues.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Yeah they’re really shutting down McDavid by hard-matching him against the Kesler line at home. He may not have picked up a lot of points in the first two games, but he didn’t have a lot of points in the San Jose series and he destroyed the Sharks anyway.

Arizona Coyotes: While the current lottery format is very dumb, this year’s results are also very funny.

Boston Bruins: One wonders if this is the start of a more-in-earnest rebuild in Boston. They can’t think “rebuilding on the fly” works for a roster like this, can they?

Buffalo Sabres: Please be me please be me please be me please be me please be me.

Calgary Flames: Honestly this GM situation is so stupid. Why hasn’t this happened yet.

Carolina Hurricanes: I really like this move for the Hurricanes. Scott Darling is almost certainly better than Ward and Lack combined.

Chicago: Jonathan Toews is 29 now. And that for-sure means they’re just one more assistant coach firing away from being that Same Old Chicago.

Colorado Avalanche: Now this is how you frickin’ tank! What’s that? You want to actually win the draft lottery, but lose the games? Oh, well, that’s bad then.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Hey remember when Sam Gagner was the big genius reason their power play was so good to start last season? Yeah me neither baby!!!!

Dallas Stars: If ever there was a draft you’re gonna want to move up a ton of spots, this one wasn’t it.

Detroit Red Wings: This is Ken Holland’s chance to show he’s the kind of smart-drafting GM everyone said he was forever, because he threw two darts with his eyes closed 17 years ago and nailed Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

Edmonton Oilers: It’s so cute that Edmonton is doing all the normal “can you believe this team made the playoffs?” stories they’d have roasted Florida or Carolina fans for doing.

Florida Panthers: Given the way this lottery went, dropping only one spot really isn’t that bad.

Los Angeles Kings: Frankly it’s a little weird that Mike Futa didn’t get fired with the rest of the purge, right? Worse: Terry Pegula might be his boss soon.

Minnesota Wild: I don’t agree with the central thesis of this blog post.

Montreal Canadiens: Marc Bergevin isn’t the kind of guy who admits when he’s wrong.

Nashville Predators: Hmm, fair. Thanks for asking.

New Jersey Devils: They should trade the pick.

New York Islanders: Haha, no they don’t.

New York Rangers: Vigneault has been horrendous in this postseason. These are fireable offenses to be perfectly honest with you.

Ottawa Senators: Not to put too fine a point about it but the other three goals were fairly important as well in my opininon.

Philadelphia Flyers: Trade the pick for a goalie. I’m dead serious.

Pittsburgh Penguins: There’s a dumbass theory that is so wildly dumb-assed that I can’t believe it’s real. Ovechkin’s shot that hit Ron Hainsey in the face? People, apparently including people in the Penguins locker room, think he did it on purpose. What kind of a goddamn brain malfunction do you have to have to look at a play where the guy clearly misfires on the shot (only absolute tip of the blade makes contact on the puck, whic wobbles on takeoff) as he’s moving away from the pass and say to yourself, “He did that on purpose?” Y’know what, if he did, and it worked out like he meant it to, then he’s the most skilled player in NHL history. These people are diseased.

San Jose Sharks: Since Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are probably leaving this summer, I’d go with “forwards.”

St. Louis Blues: What’s great about having a really good record in one-goal games is, uh, you can do it forever.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Knowing the Lightning, this 14th overall pick will end up being one of the 15 best players at his position and they’ll sign him for 20 years and $1.5 million per.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The love affair is OVER, folks!!!

Vancouver Canucks: No team will ever fail as much as the Canucks and it is truly wonderful.

Vegas Golden Knights: Welcome to the league. Your first-ever draft pick won’t be in the NHL for two years.

Washington Capitals: This has been a truly incredible turn of events.

Winnipeg Jets: Don’t worry, gang. Kevin Cheveldayoff is really….. good? Hold on here.

Play of the Weekend

Oft-undiscussed on the Pageau game-winner: He no-looked it.

Gold Star Award

The guy with four goals in one game is probably the best player of the weekend. If you ask me.

Minus of the Weekend

Caps in another meltdown. We all fell for it again!!!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Spektre” is powering up.

To STL:

Tavares

To NYI:

Jaden Schwartz + Tage Thompson + both 2017 1st’s + Jordan Schmaltz + Zach Sanford

Signoff

I said I don’t want any damn vegetables.

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

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