Losing Happiness: 407 Days of Misery for Sens Fans

Erik Karlsson

It took 407 days to completely destroy a fan-base’s optimism and happiness. Here I am writing about something, the Ottawa Senators, something which for nearly my entire life had brought me joy. Accordingly, you would think I would be excited to write about the Sens, but honestly lately I have wanted to avoid them in my writing. I am writing about the implosion of a franchise, and all it took was 407 days. The Erik Karlsson trade saga is the final nail in the coffin.

Let’s just look at the Senators starting lineup for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals:

Bobby Ryan – Kyle Turris (traded) – Mark Stone

Mike Hoffman (traded) – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Tom Pyatt

Clarke MacArthur (retired) – Derick Brassard (traded) – Zack Smith

Viktor Stalberg (Europe) – Chris Kelly (free agency) – Ryan Dzingel

Marc Methot (traded) – Erik Karlsson (basically traded)

Dion Phaneuf (traded) – Cody Ceci

Fredrik Claesson (free agency) – Chris Wideman

Craig Anderson (Requested trade)

Mike Condon

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9 of 20 of those players are no longer in a Sens jersey, Karlsson is bound to join them and Anderson has requested to leave Ottawa. To say it is not going well, is putting it in kind terms. This has been a disaster, and the roster and hockey team sucking is just the tip of the iceberg. Eugene Melnyk has bashed, belittled and ignored his once loyal fan-base, who have been left hurt and betrayed. Melnyk’s attempts to fix the problems that exist in this organization have been feeble and poorly executed.

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His apologies have hardly been apologies, the town hall meetings were met with lukewarm and mixed reactions and the LeBreton Flats development has been stalled. This after Mr. Melnyk had proudly addressed the situation on January 25thAccording to Ottawa Mayor, Jim Watson the hold-up is entirely on Melnyk. Melnyk has no plan, no money, and no guidance. He has liquidated half of last year’s roster, yet does not understand how the team has gone downhill so quickly. He has to “refinance” to pay off debt he owes. Finally, the CEO (Tom Anselmi) he brought into help speed up the LeBreton Flats development and rebuild the Senators brand has already left. In just over a year Anselmi, the man who oversaw the construction of the Air Canada Centre and was formerly the COO with MLSE, left. He wanted nothing to do with this tire fire. You cannot blame Anselmi, who was tired of working with Melnyk and an organization with zero direction. This has been the most painful year of my life as a Sens fan, and I think you would be hard pressed to find a Sens fan who disagrees. How can something so beautiful and heart-warming like the 2016-17 Senators team, be obliterated and tarnished so quickly?

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Blame whoever you want to blame, but you will not move me from my stance. Eugene Melnyk is the problem here. Not Pierre Dorion, not Guy Boucher and certainly not the players. Melnyk is the tyrant who put these people in their positions, and he is the same man who oversaw the destruction of this franchise. Instead of attempting to stop the bleeding, he has increased it and stepped on our hearts. To threaten relocation, because fans are displeased with the team performance, arena location, and management decisions is probably one of the worst courses of action. Yet, he did it confidently and with zero remorse in his words. I think those comments on December 16th, speak volumes about Melnyk’s outlook on this franchise. On arguably the biggest weekend of the franchise’s history, as Ottawa was set to proudly host the NHL 100 Winter Classic, Mr. Melnyk decided he needed the spotlight and to steal the show. He is selfish and does not care about the fans, and he has burned almost every single bridge the Senators organization has made.

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I wish I could say the Ottawa Senators could make me happy right now, but unless Erik Karlsson miraculously ends up staying, or Eugene Melnyk sells the franchise, I believe I will be left saddened by the Sens until at least the end of this summer. I will never stop cheering for this franchise so long as they exist, because of the disease that is sport fandom, but you can be assured I am gripping my wallet much tighter. I plan to do all in my power to avoid giving Melnyk another dime of my hard earned money until our Ottawa Senators are run properly. And yes, I said our, because us the fans have invested hundreds, even thousands into this franchise year over year, and we deserve better than this. Here’s hoping in 407 days, Eugene Melnyk will simply be a name in history, rather than the source of our endless nightmare for Sens fans.

Thank you for reading and Go Sens Go.

#MelnykOut

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Put Up or Shut Up: The Raptors’ Roadmap to Beating King James

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For the 3rd straight year, the Toronto Raptors will face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Playoffs. The past 2 years were immensely disappointing for the Raptors. 2016 saw them lose a 6-game series, where they were, quite frankly out-classed in Games 5 & 6. To add salt in the wound, last year they were utterly embarrassed as they got swept to the curb in 4 games. In both of those series the Raptors were underdogs according to seeding, talent and experience. However this year, while the Raptors remain underdogs in talent and experience, they hold the seeding advantage over the Cavs. Accordingly, they hold home-court advantage – the Air Canada Center is a hostile environment where the Raptors are not only comfortable, but thrive. Therefore, the excuses need to stop, it’s time to put up or shut up for the Raptors.

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Of the 3 years the Raptors have met Cleveland, the Cavaliers have never been weaker. Kyrie Irving is gone, Kevin Love has been woefully inconsistent as of late and the Cavaliers’ bench and role players are a shell of their former selves. The Cavaliers are more dependent on LeBron than ever before. He willed them through a grueling 1st round series against the Indiana Pacers, which went 7 games and came down to the wire. That being said, the Raptors cannot stop King James offensively and they absolutely cannot match him in star power. But, there are 4 ways in which they can improve their chances at dethroning King James – and they will need to excel at all 4 if they want a chance at redemption.

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#1: Sticking To The Game-plan

Earlier this year I wrote about how the Raptors underwent a drastic culture change. A team who undermined themselves in the playoffs with their isolation-heavy offense, the Raptors took a step forward this year by improving their ball movement and 3-point shooting. The Raptors attempted 35.4% more 3-pointers this season as compared to last, and ranked 4th in 3-pointers made. During the 1st round, the Raptors torched the Washington Wizards from 3-point land, cashing in on 41% of their attempted 3’s – up 5.2% from their regular-season numbers. Re-visiting ball movement, their assist numbers were also up 31.5% as they have increasingly emphasized team basketball. This helped up the Raptors scoring to 111.7 points per game, good enough for 4th in the NBA. Unfortunately, their ball movement has begun to dip during post-season play. The Raptors dropped from 24.3 assists per game to 22.2, and DeMar DeRozan – the Raptors best player in isolation – has seen his scoring frequency drop from 49.2% in the regular season to 36.8% during the 1st round. With DeRozan likely to go head-to-head with LeBron on offense, isolation will want to be avoided, as the Raptors ball movement and team basketball will prove to be more successful than asking DeRozan to consistently beat LeBron 1-on-1.

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#2: More Jonas and Less Serge

Toronto’s Head Coach Dwane Casey is finally starting to see value in his starting center Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas averaged 24.7 minutes per game during the regular-season, but during the first 4 games of the 1st round he played 23 minutes or less. Including playoffs when Valanciunas plays 23 minutes or less the Raptors are 33-15 (68.75%) compared to 27-10 (72.97%) when Valanciunas plays 24 minutes or more. The Raptors series against Washington changed altogether when Valanciunas got court-time during the 4th quarter something that had previously eluded him under Casey’s tutelage. The Raptors were +25 in just under 15 minutes when JV played in the 4th quarter, as opposed to the Raptors usual 4th quarter center, Serge Ibaka who was just +2 in slight less than 24 minutes of 4th quarter play. Ibaka is not what he once was, and his overall effectiveness, particularly this post-season is similar to that of his sophomore year. Furthermore, JV has proven to be a much better match-up versus Cleveland this year compared to Ibaka, who despite more minutes was significantly outdone by JV in points per game, rebounds per game, plus-minus and shooting efficiency against Cleveland. The Cavaliers have failed to find consistency at center, as Tristan Thompson has been an up and down rollercoaster all season, so this would be the ideal time for Valanciunas to bang bodies down low. He would be tested defensively, specifically if he was matched up with Kevin Love who can spread the floor, but this is the challenge JV needs to reach another level. I believe Valanciunas is the x-factor for this Raptors team, and that he can be a difference maker. With an uptick in minutes for JV, and a reduction in minutes for Ibaka, both players can benefit. Valanciunas being a match-up nightmare, and Ibaka providing more impactful minutes with his additional rest.

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#3: Contest the Glass and Shots

It is easy to see why the Raptors must contest the glass, as the more rebounds they grab the less time they give LeBron to run the Cavaliers offense. While the Cavaliers do not excel at grabbing rebounds (14th of 16 playoff teams), they are tough on their opponents down-low, as they contested 39.1% of the rebounds in their series versus Indiana (3rd of 16). Contesting rebounds wears down opponents, and can slow down their offense or even create extra possessions for your offense. The Raptors contested 35.8% of the rebounds versus Washington, and while that is great, their rebounding overall was underwhelming. The Raptors lack great rebounders as they try to play small, but this is where Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl are important as they can make a huge difference on the glass. The European duo will likely be rotated on and off for each other in many of the Raptors lineups against Cleveland, and accordingly when on the court these 2 need to be absolutely ferocious in the paint. Among qualified players, only 14 players have contested 50% or more of their rebounds this playoffs – and both JV and Poeltl find themselves on this list. These numbers not only need to be maintained, but improved by the supporting cast. Rebounding must be by committee, just like the defense. At 1:22 of TSN’s segment with Jack Armstrong & Leo Rautins, the pair expertly break down how the Raptors closed out Game 6 versus Washington. Not only were shots being contested, but as soon as the ball went into the air 4 Raptors collapsed into the paint, so as to box out and rebound the ball. The Raptors led round 1 of the playoffs in contested shots, contesting 70 shots per game. However, that was largely because of their defense inside the perimeter. The Raptors ranked 2nd last in contested 3-pointers, something which will need to improve against a potent 3-point shooting team like the Cavs. The Raptors will need to contest everything versus the Cavaliers, and accordingly wear them down.

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#4: The 1-2 Bench Punch

The bench includes the unsung heroes of the Toronto Raptors; from Delon Wright to Pascal Siakam, the Raptors bench is the best in the league. They can go deeper than any other team and they can mix and match with the best because of their depth. They bring defense, energy and team basketball. Anyone can get hot from the field, many can lockdown a hot scorer and they will all go to war. However, there are 2 players who stand above the rest. In the 1st round the Raptors were without Fred VanVleet, an undrafted sophomore out of Wichita State, but his impact was felt in Game 6. The Raptors were +12 with VanVleet on the court, and he gives them unmatched poise and confidence in the 4th quarter. VanVleet has shown this poise and confidence, by playing more 4th quarter minutes than any other Raptor this season. He is crucial for helping close out games, but he has help in Delon Wright who has also been incredible down the stretch for Toronto. Wright is longer than VanVleet and offers more versatility defensively as despite being a point guard he stands at 6’5 with a 6’7 wingspan. Watch here, how Wright uses his length and size to create something out of a dead possession. Not only is he a floor general when Lowry is not on the court, but he is also lethal off-the-ball as his basketball IQ helps him find open shots. From the same game as before, we see Wright never take his eyes off the ball while moving his feet to give Lowry a secondary option, which in turn results in a high percentage 3-pointer. These 2 will be vital to match Cleveland when they go small, and they can protect Toronto’s big men by closing out the perimeter.

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At the end of the playoffs last year I was admittedly frustrated with the Toronto Raptors and thought they were cooked. However, with a reworked culture and playstyle, the Raptors have gone to another level, and have a legitimate shot at beating the Cavaliers. Now while they can, the million dollar question is: will the Raptors be able to defeat LeBron James and the Cavaliers? Unfathomable to my former-self a year-ago, I am now going to answer yes. In most scenarios I would pick LeBron regardless of who he was playing against. But, this year feels different. LeBron’s supporting cast is as weak as ever, and the Raptors have never been stronger. This smells like a 7-game series that will be a war. One thing I am certain of is that the Raptors need to stay the course with their reworked culture, while following the outlined roadmap. Otherwise King James will simply be all too much to handle. This is it Toronto, there is no time for talking or complaining.

 

It is time to put up or shut up.

 

Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful day. Go Raps Go!

LeBron Season: Where will LeBron James land this summer?

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LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world –  this is an irrefutable fact and needs to be acknowledged. On numerous occasions he has won the NBA Championship, each time as the best player in the world, and has even delivered upon his promise to bring the fledgling Cavaliers franchise a championship.

Getting down to business, LeBron is in the last year of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers made a number of  moves at the trade deadline to help them both in the future, and for the remainder of this season. This begs the question: will LeBron stay, or go? I believe his mind is already made up. This July, LeBron will be taking his talents to a new destination.

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The Cavaliers have been attempting to prepare for life without LeBron for awhile. The team’s recent moves, while productive and calculated in the short-term, are more focused on the future rather than the now. The players they brought in (George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance) are not rentals, but rather insurance policies, as the Cavaliers know the likelihood of LeBron’s departure is quite high. With LeBron’s departure seemingly imminent, the question remains: where would LeBron go? Let’s visit where LeBron is at both professionally and personally.

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He is one of the most accomplished basketball players of all-time, achieving the title of world’s best player, as well as building a global brand. LeBron’s brand includes: Klutch Sports Group – the brainchild of Rich Paul and LeBron – was the 34th ranked sports agency by commissions ($20.7M) in the world during 2017. During the All-Star Game, LeBron had the phrase “More Than an Athlete” on his shoes, a slogan used by both him and his production company Uninterrupted. LeBron’s initial $1 million investment in Blaze Pizza is now estimated to be valued at a minimum of $35 million. On top of all of this, LeBron has a minor stake in Liverpool FC. It is clearly evident that one of the world’s top athletes’ business interests extend well beyond the basketball court. Therefore, it would only make sense for LeBron to take his talents to a bigger U.S. market in an effort to further expand his brand. According to this theory, only 3 NBA teams would make sense for LeBron.

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Firstly let’s open with the obvious one. The Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron have been linked for some time. LeBron has had quite a few television and movie ventures, so it would only make sense that the star makes his commute to Hollywood much shorter. Furthermore, Klutch Sports’ current location is Cleveland, Ohio. Assuming LeBron wants to continue its growth, a bigger market such as Los Angeles would be a great business move. In December, LeBron, who spends off-season time in L.A., bought a second home in the Brentwood neighbourhood. Additionally, rumours have surfaced that LeBron’s family has been scoping out private schools in the Brentwood area for his children. However, recently the Los Angeles Lakers have cooled off on their expected pursuit of LeBron.

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First reported by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers are intending to shift their focus and priorities to the 2019 free agency class. A class which would include the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson, both Los Angeles natives. However, the Lakers did make moves at the trade deadline to clear cap space for not only the summer of 2019, but for this summer as well. The hunt for LeBron could still be on for the Lakers, but I believe their little brother could slip in and steal The King away.

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“Our ultimate goal isn’t to beat one other team…. It’s to beat 29 other teams. If you tell me you were the top team in L.A., but the 28th team in the league, I say to heck with that.” Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers has made it apparent that his intentions for NBA success remain focused on winning the NBA Championship. What better way to position your franchise than to have the best basketball player in the world? LeBron could easily end up on the Clippers. The Clippers off-loaded Blake Griffin’s max contract this season to make cap room, and, with some tinkering of the roster, there could be a Clippers future with LeBron James. With the Clippers front-office working overtime to make cap room, Jerry West, now a consultant for the Clippers, has the opportunity to lure LeBron to the franchise. A man LeBron refers to as “The Godfather”, West was brought in by Steve Ballmer for this exact purpose: to attract and recruit the best basketball players in the world. It must be reiterated that this move for LeBron would not only be a great move on the court, but off the court too, as he would not only be in Los Angeles, but he would also be aligned with multi-billionaire Steve Ballmer. The Clippers may seem to be a darkhorse in this race, but as time continues to pass, it seems more and more plausible for LeBron to be a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.

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Another plausible destination for LeBron is Houston. Teaming up with Chris Paul, James Harden, and the rest of the Rockets,they could turn an already established title-contender into a potential favourite, even over the Warriors. This move for LeBron would undoubtedly be more oriented towards winning and basketball, but it would also leave room for growth off the court as well. Houston is a Top 10 media market in the U.S., one of the fastest growing cities in America, and has tax exceptions to allow LeBron to retain more of his paycheque. Houston would be a great location for LeBron to move his empire. It seems like a perfect fit, except for one potential problem. LeBron is very passionate about politics, and going to Texas means he would be in a state which primarily supports Donald Trump – someone who LeBron does not see eye to eye with. Many are probably thinking, “Ya, but why would LeBron care?” To those people, remember LeBron’s motto “More Than an Athlete”. Would this be a deal-breaker for LeBron? No way, but I believe that LeBron’s political agenda will certainly have an influence on his decision as to where he would like to play.

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Those are the three teams which best fit my theory for LeBron. Does this mean LeBron to Los Angeles or Houston is a sure thing? Absolutely not, there are plenty of other teams which may make sense too. But, none seem to compliment LeBron’s on-court play and off-court interests quite like these three franchises. A lot of things could change by July, but rest assured, we will be kept guessing and theory-crafting all the way up until LeBron James signs his next contract.  

Disagree with me, or have some feedback? Let me know on Twitter (@sassysaslove), on my personal Facebook, or in the comment section below. Please do not forget to share my work with your friends, and to stay tuned for more of my posts. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to grab your attention again sometime soon.  

The Case for Canada: Adding a Canadian Team to March Madness

The Case for Canada: Adding a Canadian Team to March Madness

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March Madness is one of the greatest spectacles in sport. For nearly a full month, 68 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division 1 schools fight to be the sole survivor and be crowned NCAA champions. This tournament has exploded in popularity over the past 2 decades. The tournament’s audience has also expanded north of the border, as Canadians have begun to join in on the basketball craze. In 2015, Bell Media reported a 24% increase in viewership for March Madness compared to the 2014 tournament. In total, 6.9 million unique Canadian viewers took in a portion of the 2015 tournament. Furthermore, that year’s Final saw a 62% increase in viewership compared to 2014’s. ​

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Much of this increase in viewership came with TSN’s expanded coverage of the NCAA in 2014, but in particular their coverage of the Kansas Jayhawks because of young Canadian Andrew Wiggins. However, for the viewership to not only hold, but increase in 2015, it showed excellent promise for the future marketability of March Madness in Canada. This poses the question, other than viewership, how could the NCAA market March Madness to Canadians? This has been done with Canadian players. In 2017, 26 Canadians took part in March Madness, highlighted with the Oregon Ducks and their trio of Canadians (Dillion Brooks, Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis) who made a Final Four run. Canadian basketball and its influence on the NCAA is at its peak, as Canada continues to churn out high quality prospects, highlighted by next year’s #1 recruit R.J. Barrett. Barrett has committed to Duke University, and will certainly be garnering the attention of Canadians in the lead-up to March Madness.

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In the fallout of next year’s tournament, and in the wake of potential increased viewership, the NCAA should take the next step for expansion into the Canadian market. Give the U SPORTS champion a spot in March Madness. Currently, U SPORTS men’s basketball holds their annual Final 8 tournament the week before March Madness. Therefore, it would only make sense that the winner of the Final 8 would gain a spot in the NCAA tournament and represent Canada in March Madness. This idea may seem far-fetched, but hear me out. NCAA pre-season games vs U SPORTS schools have shown that Canadian schools can hang with mid to high majors and even some Power 6 teams. The Carleton Ravens, the class of USPORTS men’s basketball, played 11 pre-season games versus D-1 NCAA schools in 2017. They went 9-2, winning all 3 games against Power 6 conference teams. Furthermore, in the majority of these games the NCAA schools were playing their starters. Alabama, who lost 84-71, played projected NBA lottery pick, Collin Sexton. Sexton went 4 of 13 from the field and was held to just 15 points. While these may be pre-season games, they should also be huge indicators of the quality U SPORTS possesses.

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In spite of this talent, I do agree it would be unfair to take away a spot from an NCAA team who earned it, especially mid-major schools. But, there is a solution. When the First Four was introduced it took March Madness from 64 to 68 teams, adding in 4 “play-in” games for bubble teams and low mid-major conference winners. The winners of the First Four games make it to the First Round of March Madness, joining 60 other teams. The First Four is annually held in Dayton, Ohio on the Tuesday and Wednesday before March Madness begin, and has helped expand the tournament’s length and media presence. With this in mind, why not have 2 First Fours? This solution appeases 2 populations; the angry fans of bubble teams who missed out on the tournament thanks to the selection committee, and it appeases Canada who would get to see a U SPORTS school do battle with NCAA schools in March Madness. Angry populations of many NCAA mid-majors could benefit from additional at-large bids. Schools such as Monmouth, who, despite a 27-7 record, missed out on March Madness last year, would instead get an opportunity to participate with these additional “play-in” games.

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The venue for this second First Four could easily be Buffalo, who hosted First/Second round March Madness match-ups last year. Putting the second First Four in Buffalo also gives a pipeline for Canadians to come and take in the First Four action as it borders Canada. Consequently, Southern Ontario and Toronto itself could make the trip down. These two regions have never been more interested in basketball with the Toronto Raptors rise in popularity. While adding more teams to March Madness may seem over-saturated, an additional 4 teams makes much more sense than the NCAA’s pondered expansion to 128 teams.

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This expansion would do wonders for the NCAA, as it is not only an expansion of their tournament, but of their market. Furthermore, it could elevate Canadian basketball to an even higher level and encourage more youth to dribble a basketball. In a time where the NCAA has seen some of its basketball programs go under FBI investigation, it may be wise to shed a positive light by granting a huge opportunity to a U SPORTS school. Is it possible to expect anything like this to happen within the next 5 years? Probably not. But, the NCAA would be naïve to brush this aside. The numbers do not lie, and they spell success for the NCAA with the addition of the U SPORTS champion to March Madness.

Diamond In The Rough: Mark Stone’s Emergence As A Leader     

Diamond In The Rough: Mark Stone’s Emergence As A Leader

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On July 8, 2009, the Ottawa Senators traded Alex Auld to the Dallas Stars for their 6th round draft pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The trade would become a memorable one for Sens fans. With the pick, the team selected Mark Stone from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. Once projected to be a Top-50 pick, the forward’s injuries and below-average skating ability hampered his draft stock.

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After being drafted, Stone would score 229 points in 137 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings, and, in 2012, would give Senator fans a glimpse into their future. The Senators chose to recall Stone for a pivotal 1st round Game 5 match-up vs the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Stone played a meager 8:43, but showed his offensive capability by recording 3:35 in power-play time and recording the primary assist on Jason Spezza’s game-winning goal.

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It was not until the 2014-15 season, though, that Stone secured an opening night roster spot. Since then, Stone has become a treat to watch due to his offensive abilities. In his first 226 games, Stone tallied 179 points and 339 takeaways, over 100 more than any other player in the NHL. Stone is a masterful two-way forward, able to pick opponents’ pockets and turn takeaways into offensive opportunities.

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Outside of Ottawa, many fans have overlooked Mark Stone. He was left off of TSN’s list of the top 50 players for the 2017-18 season, and his projected goal total was just over 20. Stone has exploded this season: in 43 games, he has 18 goals and 42 points. In a year where the Senators have struggled, Stone has been an offensive mainstay. Stone has used his quick hands in tight to fill the net this season.

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Stone has not lost sight of the main goal; to win hockey games. In December, frustrated with his team’s play after another blowout loss, Stone called out the locker room, This has not been the only time Stone has been the loudest voice among his peers. A no non-sense approach, accompanied by blunt and critical statements, has made Stone a leader on and off the ice. This approach has grabbed the attention of the Senators organization and management.

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Shortly after these comments, the Senators asked their players for their no-trade lists, signalling that change could be on the way. For a period of time, the entire Senators organization was being openly scrutinized. Then, Pierre Dorion and the Senators made their best decision of the season. While Dorion did indicate the Senators were ready to make roster moves, they also made it clear that Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone were untouchable. The once-6th round pick was not only having a spectacular season, but his value was deemed so important that the Senators found him unmovable. Once a diamond in the rough, Mark Stone is now one of the few positives found on an underachieving hockey team as they have hit the mid-point of their season.

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The Senators are in rough shape, and no bye week could hide that. But, this team and organization has a knack for stringing together wins in the second half of their season. It would be surprising to see them tank, and there is no way Stone will stop playing hard. As many may remember, the “Hamburglar” run of 2015 was the Andrew Hammond story. Yet, this was the beginning of Stone’s coming out party. In his last 27 games of 2014-15, Stone recorded 31 points, and finished the season on a 9-game point streak. If the Senators are going to have any hope of making the playoffs, they will need this sort of production from Stone. A tall task, but it would be a shock if he did not provide it.

Culture Change + 1: The 2017-18 Toronto Raptors

Culture Change +1: The 2017-18 Toronto Raptors

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The Toronto Raptors’ off-season appeared to have been a disappointment in September. Re-signing Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry were good moves; however, these are aging veterans getting huge contracts. With the These moves stopped them from signing any big name free agents, which looked to hold the Raptors in a state of limbo. However, the disappointment has changed into optimism.

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The Raptors have undergone a culture change internally, which has led to this change in weather. The architect of the Raptors’ recent success, Masai Ujiri, saw the potential of young guards Fred Van Vleet and Delon Wright. Accordingly, he traded Cory Joseph for cap space to sign C.J. Miles in mid-July, who gave the Raptors some much needed scoring and a greater ability to stretch the floor. Comfortable beyond the arc, Miles has given the Raptors’ offense a new weapon. The Miles move also signaled a change in the Raptors game-plan and their offense.

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After the moves by Ujiri, Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey has retooled the Raptors and created a new system for the offense; turning it into one which emphasizes ball movement and encourages their players to shoot for three. Furthermore Casey’s offense has seen the Raptors play more of an up-tempo style, resulting in an increase in pace, from 94.7 in the previous season to 98.3. In doing so, Casey has dug into his depth and bench, which has resulted in an uptick of usage for young players. On paper, the Raptors offensive rating has only improved slightly from last season’s rating (112.3 to 113.5). However, when looking at their assist and three point statistics it becomes apparent where the Raptors have improved. Last season the Raptors ranked dead-last in assists per-game, their offense was static and often relied on isolation. Much of their prior offense did not engage all five players, and made it easier to defend. Team basketball is especially important come the playoffs, in past years the Raptors have been exposed in the playoffs, due to their previous isolation-heavy offense.

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This year, the Raptors rank 21st in assists per game, going from 18.5 assists per game to 22.8. The improvement in assists comes largely from their spacing and ball movement. They also have no fear to shoot from three; while last season they shot 24.3 3-pointers per game, this year they have skyrocketed to 32.1. While their 3-point percentage is down from 36.3% to 35.1%, their effective field-goal percentage is up from 51.7% to 53.8%, good enough for 6th in the NBA. This has been Casey’s greatest year in Toronto because of his ability to create an effective team-oriented offense, especially with his use of the second unit and young talent.

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Van Vleet and Wright have seen an uptick in minutes and production, and have been a key players in the Raptors Van Vleet’s net rating of 9.9 is 12th best in the NBA, yet is not even the best on the team. Rookie OG Anunoby has the 2nd best net rating in the league (14.4), and the 3rd best offensive rating (115.5). While these numbers are a bit skewed from Anunoby’s small sample size (21.3 minutes per game), the rookie has exceeded all expectations thus far. A perfect fit for the Raptors tough defensive style, he is the perfect two-way starter. Anunoby’s movement and effort on defense may even be more impressive, as he has the ability to lockdown the NBA’s best as a rookie. The rugged Raptors have continued to defend well, but to get players to embrace their new offensive culture, the Raptors needed their best player to buy in.

Toronto Raptors beat Indiana Pacers in game five 102-99 in their first round NBA playoff series

DeMar DeRozan is a different animal this year, and has been the leader for this Raptors offense. DeRozan’s scoring has dropped from 27.3 points per game to 25.3, but his efficiency, three pointers, and playmaking have all improved. DeRozan is averaging a career-high 5.0 assists per game, and has an effective field goal percentage of 51.8%, also a career-high. An obstacle for the Raptors superstar has been his inability to shoot from three, however, with hard work and an increased volume, DeRozan’s 3-point shooting has improved. He is shooting 3.1 three-pointers a game, which is an increase of 1.4 attempts compared to last season. Additionally, he is knocking down a higher percentage of threes. DeRozan is sporting a career-best 37% 3-point shooting percentage, a huge improvement compared to his 26.6% last season. As DeRozan continues to improve and gain confidence from the 3-point line, the Raptors will become even more potent offensively.

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The Raptors are a good basketball team, but they are not great. But, with one move, they can make the jump from good to great. In particular, the Raptors’ frontcourt could be better. Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas are not a scary combination; but, the addition of Marc Gasol would see the Raptors become contenders. The Memphis Grizzlies have had a disaster of a season thus far, and are unlikely to make the NBA playoffs. With the season awash, the Grizzlies have discussed moving Gasol. While nothing is imminent, the Raptors have an opportunity to get an NBA all-star. Gasol is potent from three, a former defensive player of the year, an elite rebounder, and an above-average passer. He is a great fit for the Raptors, as he provides rough and tough defense while spreading the floor and moving the ball offensively. This culture change is still in its infancy. It would be solidified and accelerated by acquiring Gasol.

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To add, you must subtract. It seems straightforward for the Raptors to subtract from the position they are adding at, which would mean trading Jonas Valanciunas. The Lithuanian, while highly regarded by the Raptors, has never risen to the heights the team had hoped for. His role has been in question for some time, and the new playing style the Raptors have adopted makes JV stand out as a sore spot. Now JV alone would not be enough but, with a first-round selection and a couple of secondary picks, this deal could get done. A comparable deal would be the DeMarcus Cousins deal between the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings from a year ago. Gasol’s price would be lower though, as he is an older player and is not as valued as Cousins.

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The Raptors have a rare opportunity and need to get this deal done. Players like Gasol are rarely available, let alone on a contract that is not expiring. Gasol’s contract matches the team’s ideal timeline, as DeRozan is in his prime and Lowry and Ibaka will likely only have 2-3 quality years left as starters. Grabbing Gasol is a calculated risk, which would most likely not require parting with valuable assets, outside of JV. The culture change has started well, but it is not fully complete. It needs one more piece: Marc Gasol.

 

 

Unjustified Disrespect: Eugene Melnyk’s Last Stand

Unjustified Disrespect: Eugene Melnyk’s Last Stand

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In 2003, the Ottawa Senators had filed for bankruptcy, but were saved by Eugene Melnyk, a Toronto-born businessman who was eager to win a Stanley Cup. For nearly a decade he helped foster and create a culture of winning and consistency in Ottawa.

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On July 5th, 2013, he made his most infamous decision. Melnyk decided to not pay Daniel Alfredsson’s his requested salary, and the Ottawa Senators lost their greatest player in franchise history. Once heralded as the saviour of the franchise, Melnyk cast away the greatest Senator of all-time for a mere 1 million dollars. This show of disrespect for Alfredsson’s contributions not only wronged the Swede, but it wronged a fan-base who embraced Alfredsson as family.

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Melnyk’s downfall has accelerated over the past few weeks. There had been speculation regarding his desire to sell the team and his ability In the midst of this the NHL 100 Classic, a celebration of the Senators and Ottawa was looming. A win over the New York Rangers this past Wednesday had perked up the fan-base, who grew excited for the outdoor game and its festivities. Then, on the biggest weekend in team history, Melnyk decided to challenge and disrespect the city.

During the Senators’ alumni game on Parliament Hill, Melnyk used the media attention to make a statement.

“I think the market here has to prove itself, or you have to make changes. We’ve cut everything to the bone in the organization. We are probably one of the thinnest management groups in the league. The next thing you have to look at is players.” – Eugene Melnyk

Per Frank Seravalli: (https://twitter.com/frank_seravalli/status/941837557842690048)

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Before 30,000+ paying customers braved frigid temperatures at TD Place, Melnyk felt the need to question the market of the National Capital Region. Recall that Melnyk was fighting for his life in 2015, and used his celebrity status to skip the line and recruit potential volunteer donors. Over 500 people volunteered to donate their liver so Melnyk could receive his transplant. An experience which would have humbled most seems to be forgotten by Eugene. Not only this, but Melnyk used last year’s playoff struggles at the box office as ammunition against his fan-base.

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Melnyk, a long-time horse owner and inductee into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame claimed that the Rideau Carleton Horse Racetrack “is a little, tiny C track that wouldn’t even make it in the Idaho State Fair.” Melnyk made this comment because the City of Ottawa had declined his proposal and intent to build a casino close to the Canadian Tire Centre. These statements were not only damaging to the horse-racing community, but it was not received well by many regular attendees to the Rideau Carleton Raceway. Melnyk has built quite the reputation in Ottawa. Eugene Melnyk has disrespected the Senator fans on numerous occasions, and fans are bellowing their frustrations.

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#MelnykOut took Canada by storm this past weekend. The hashtag can largely be accredited to Abdi Omer, who first tweeted the phrase on December 14th, but peaked in usage on the 16th. The fan-base is clearly not pleased with their controversial owner who attempted to steal the spotlight on the Senators’ most important weekend in franchise history. Melnyk’s actions and comments have even expanded beyond Canada’s borders and reached the U.S. On Friday evening, Keith Olbermann aired his opinion on Melnyk and the Senators’ unique situation. Olbermann said, “This is not a bright man, even for an owner”. Olbermann highlighted an absolutely ridiculous situation, and brought worldwide attention to it.

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Melnyk’s comments were not mentioned to the Senators’ players until today, when Erik Karlsson was questioned as to his thoughts on Mr. Melnyk’s comments. Karlsson was quoted as saying “It’s none of our business.” Karlsson went onto make it clear that the team’s focus was on playing hockey. Gary Bettman and the NHL took a different line at the situation. “We believe in all of the places that we have franchises now.” Bettman would go on to say the NHL is not looking to threaten markets, and he believes that LeBreton Flats is “vital” to the Senators’ future success, and believes it will also benefit Ottawa as a city. Bettman firmly backed Melnyk’s ability to get a deal done, but I would be incredibly surprised, if he was the sole owner of the Senators as they move to LeBreton Flats.

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Recently, talks of selling the team have heated up, and the Desmarais family has emerged as a possible buyer for the Senators. The Desmarais family was with the Devcore, Canderel and DLS group, who were the competing bid against that of Melnyk’s for the LeBreton Flats development. This same group has previously tried to buy the Senators from Melnyk. The events from this weekend will remain in infamy for some time, and you can be sure that things will not got better for Melnyk if he continues to be the owner of the Senators. Therefore, I am willing to make a bet. By this time next year, Melnyk will not be the sole owner of the Ottawa Senators. I do see a possibility of him remaining a minority owner, but there is no way he could recover from this and remain the sole owner. He has betrayed Ottawa and the National Capital Region once again, and for many this was the last straw. This past spring, Melnyk blamed “previous management” for the Senators attendance woes, and Don Brennan, a post-media journalist, responded by saying “It must be Eugene Melnyk”. Many months later the narrative stays true. What is the problem Mr. Melnyk? Simply put, it is you.

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Your continuous penny-pinching roster moves have plagued the Senators and stained management’s reputation. The Alfredsson decision still has ramifications today, as Alfie recently stepped away from his hockey operations position with the Senators. Melnyk is even entertaining the thought of repeating negotiation history with Karlsson’s contract coming due. According to reports, Melnyk was quite “unhappy” after Karlsson made it clear he would not be taking a hometown discount. The Sens fan-base would likely launch into anarchy if Melnyk let Karlsson walk, as he did with Alfredsson. Furthermore, the constant belittling of Ottawa and its citizens is insulting. It is nearly impossible to sell a product to people, whom he continuously disrespects. Melnyk has expressed his frustrations and the fans have responded vigorously. It is time for new ownership in Ottawa.

 

 

My wonderful readers, thank you so much for your support. Apologies for the lay-off school and work gave me a busy November and December, but I am back and hoping to better than ever. I hope you enjoyed this piece and those which are to come. Thank you to Geoff Marlowe for the editing as always, and I hope that your eyes will grace Josh Saslove’ Sports Talk again in the near future. Happy holidays everyone!