27 September 2014

Ahh, the preseason: fantasies & fears.

Welcome back to the wild and wonderful world of NHL hockey, where fans rev up the hype machine right from the start of the preseason and other fans slam them on Twitter for being too excited. So much to discuss: all the possibilities of forward line combinations, the gray hole that is our defence, how Paul MacLean will perform relative to his Jack Adams-standard and whether this site will actually stick with its current theme for at least the first forty-one games. The preseason is built for speculation. What with training camp providing almost hourly fodder in regards to roster updates and line combinations, it's a breeding ground for a hockey fan's fervent fantasies and sprouting hopes that this next season will be the one to take their team to the top.

Take our first line — because at this point our first line does seem to be set: Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan. They shone in both preseason games played so far (albeit against rosters half made up of AHL players); the number of tic-tac-toe plays they managed to complete was a clear sign that they've still got it going. Although Coach MacLean might not want so much Globetrotters-esque play, it's tremendous fun for fans to watch, especially when the puck keeps going into the back of the net.

One also would have to assume that after scoring a few goals already, Ryan might not be too willing to cash in on his bizarre "I-want-to-play-on-the-PK!" statement after all. It seems likely that this odd sentiment was expressed so he could put the onus back on management to meet his demands, but it's a weird choice; if Ryan truly were to be put on the penalty kill, he'd not only dislike it quite a bit more than scoring goals (trust us on this one, Bobby), but he'd also endanger the team's PK EV save% as a middling puck possession driver (he's averaged ~50% over the past five years, according to Progressive Hockey). Therefore, it's an unreasonable demand from both angles. I'd totally be willing to plant him there for a game or five, though, insulating him with Condra, just to let him see how hard being consistently outmanned and outshot really is.

Who will be Karlsson's partner this season? And directly related to this: will our defence get any better? As optimistic as the preseason usually is, there don't seem to be any blueline solutions in sight, short of a near miracle. Then again, the 2012-13 season could be termed a miracle too. How did we suffer through a set of Spezza-, Anderson- and Karlsson-less 48 games and end up beating the Habs in five games? Heck, maybe at this point, any improvement over last year will be a positive sign. There's something to be said about setting expectations low. It's what allowed Ceci to look good last season, and maybe it'll be Cowen's year this time round. (Now there's a fellow for whom "any improvement will be a positive sign" is a huge understatement.)

I fear the evolution of the Senators into a bottom-ranking team. Negative possibilities such as this are ones my mind as a fan's brain resolutely avoids, egged on by the positivity and optimism pouring like glorious waterfalls from the players' and coaching staff's lips at this point in time. But from time to time I wonder whether contemporarily-terrible franchises like Calgary or Edmonton descended into their vortex of mediocrity through circumstances like these: the departure of identity-essentializing individuals, the deterioration of a system of play, hopes pinned upon prospects and single lines. This line of thinking isn't a fun one to venture down. But, if nothing else, it reminds me that the situation isn't that dire yet, and that the point of sports is that they are random, chaotic events, strung together to make meaning and stories so that we the spectators may experience something outside of the norm. Something that fulfills our lives a little more. For every negative possibility, there is always that possibility of the miracle.


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