Donovan deserves his chance, but who comes out?

Shean Donovan, right, has been a healthy scratch for six of the Ottawa Senators' first fifteen games, despite consistently inspired play. Why is he often the odd-man out?

It's a question I've been asking for most of the season, but can't seem to find an answer for: Why does Shean Donovan so often seem to be the odd-man out this season? There's no doubt that his place on the team puts him among a group of players who are likely to be scratched, including Jesse Winchester, Ryan Shannon, Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Kelly, Chris Neil, and Jonathan Cheechoo--two of whom, depending on injuries (and maybe an eventual trade), will be in the press box for each game.

But it's not as though Donovan's been a liability this season. In fact, the Senators are 7-2 (point-winning percentage of .778) with Donovan in the lineup, and 1-3-2 (point-winning percentage of .333) without him. That could very well be a coincidence, but they're pretty convincing numbers to be pure coincidence. So what is it that makes Donovan so often the scratch, while many of the others continue to struggle to find the kind of consistency that Donovan brings every game he plays?

(Read a bunch more... )

First off, let's take a look at Donovan's game-by-game stats this season:

Date Result Goals Assists Points PIM +/- Shots Hits TOI GV TK
Oct. 6 W 2-1 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 5:49 0 0
Oct. 8 W 3-2 (OT) 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 7:25 0 0
Oct. 10 W 4-2 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 7:11 0 0
Oct. 12 L 1-4 0 0 0 0 -1 1 0 8:35 0 0
Oct. 15 W 7-1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 11:17 0 0
Oct. 17 W 3-1 0 0 0 0 -1 2 0 9:21 0 0
Oct. 28 W 4-3 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 4:16 0 0
Oct. 29 L 3-5 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 9:38 1 0
Oct. 31 W 3-1 0 0 0 0 -1 1 4 8:46 0 0

 

There's one thing you'll notice on there: A lot of zeros. But in some instances, that's not a bad thing. For one, Donovan has only committed one giveaway on the season, meaning he's not costing the team in that regard. He's also only taken one penalty on the season, which was a five-minute fighting major; he has not taken a single minor penalty, which is a pretty good statistic considering the Senators' ongoing penalty problems. On no night has he been a liability--which you can't say about everyone on the Senators--but he has been a boon on most nights he's played.

Although he's not putting up big offensive numbers, his three points (1G, 2A) still puts him right in the middle of the pack on the team's scoring chart. He may only have one takeaway, but I can guarantee you that he's caused his fair share of opponent-giveaways. Being credited with only six hits on the season is baffling, I'm sure most people who've watched even a few of those games would give him credit for more than that. And he's even on the year, another zero on there, but a pretty good one, all things considered.

It's no secret that Donovan's not going to score a lot of points (although he scores a lot fewer from the press box). The trick to Donovan's game is intensity: Whenever he plays, Donovan will forecheck hard, backcheck hard, wreak havoc in front of the net, and basically play the dirty, greasy style of play that the Senators lack on some nights. His style strikes a good balance with that of Kelly and Ruutu on the fourth line, and that trio can often make low-pairing defencemen on the opposition turn the puck over, and keep the pressure in the offensive end. Even if it doesn't result in a goal for Ottawa, it builds momentum, and if it means an offensive-zone faceoff, it means a good starting position for Ottawa's more skilled players to begin their shift from.

In all likelihood, there are two reasons Donovan's the easy scratch for head coach Cory Clouston. The first is his salary, a cap hit of $625k, near the league minimum and among the lowest on the team. Fans aren't likely to object to a low cap-hit being scratched, but, more importantly, general manager Bryan Murray won't look like an ass for having a high-paid player sitting in the press box, while owner Eugene Melnyk won't see extra money paying guys while they aren't even playing. It makes it an easy decision for Clouston.

Another thing that makes it an easy decision is Donovan's team-first, easy-going attitude. On the Team 1200's pre-game show this past Tuesday, in discussing the Donovan situation, one of the media personalities mentioned that Donovan, when asked about being scratched, said he feels lucky enough to be playing in the NHL right now, and won't be raising a stink if he's scratched or not. That's not to suggest he's as happy being scratched as he would be were he dressed, but he won't complain about the coach's decision. Instead, whenever he gets to play next, Donovan can be counted on to bring his best game. Which is just another reason to get him on the ice, because he's exactly the type of player Clouston should be using as an example for his style.

Would it be easy to take another player out in favour of Donovan? Certainly not. Kelly brings plenty to Ottawa's penalty kill, and (similar to Donovan) provides more than can be seen on the scoresheet (although he has very quietly scored six assists). Ruutu is currently fifth on team scoring, and draws more penalties than he takes. Neil's had a renaissance since two consecutive disappointing seasons, and is rediscovering the ways he can be effective. Cheechoo has been disappointing, but he just scored his first goal of the year; could it be he just needed to get one, and more will come soon? Similarly, Shannon has started slow, but is getting his speed back, and had a gorgeous assist on Tuesday against the Oilers. Winchester's barely had any chance this year, only has one game under his belt, so you've got to at least give him a chance. So who comes out? I can't really say.

All I know is that Donovan deserves a chance to stay in the lineup regularly, because the team seems to play far differently when he's playing--even if it's just for a few minutes a game.

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