Senators blog roundtable: Training camp questions

Pascal Leclaire ended last season on a high note, but is he or Brian Elliott the 'starter' heading into training camp? The Senators blog roundtable weighs in.

The second of the Ottawa Senators blog roundtables is here, discussing some of the battles we're expecting and question marks we're expecting answered heading into training camp. Joining yours truly, Graeme from The 6th Sens, and SLC from Five for Smiting this month is Tony, repping SenShot in place of Bobby.

Here goes...

1. Zack Smith seems to have the inside track, but which other prospects do you think have a good chance to make the NHL squad? Bobby Butler? Jared Cowen? Roman Wick? Someone else?

Tony, SenShot: I think Cody Bass will be a surprise in training camp and will start the season in Ottawa. He has been in the organization for awhile now and needs to prove he can handle the NHL. Seeing others such as Smith pass him on the depth chart, I think Bass will come into camp with a chip on his shoulder and will use his grit to earn a spot with the big club. The top six forward spots are spoken for and a third line of Ruutu-Kelly-Neil will be hard to break up. The Sens already have too many defensemen with one-way contracts, so the only spots possibly available are on the fourth line. Bass is a hard worker and great penalty killer and will use these assets to earn a spot.

Peter, Silver Seven: I think the Senators will have some prospects making strong statements in training camp, but looking at the number of players on one-way contracts, it's going to be difficult for anyone to really stick on the NHL squad. I'm pretty sure Z. Smith will continue to play as the fourth-line centre, with Jesse Winchester or Ryan Shannon as the healthy scratch, but I think we might be surprised on defence: Jared Cowen's got a decent shot. The losses of Andy Sutton and Anton Volchenkov have left a pretty big void in terms of physical, defensive defencemen. Chris Phillips and Matt Carkner are the obvious choices for penalty-killing, but where do we go after that? I don't think Cory Clouston would be too excited about both Filip Kuba, Chris Campoli, or Brian Lee killing penalties (and imagine if one of those four were in the sin bin... ), so Cowen will get every chance to make the team--including a nine-game tryout before the Sens have to decide what to do with him.

SLC, Five for Smiting: Bank it: Cowen will get a full nine game audition coming out of camp, especially if he brings the pain at the rookie tourney.  Murray has shown he's not afraid to burn a year on an ELC if he thinks it will help the club (see file: Karlsson, E.) and Lord knows our StayPuft D will need all the bang it can get.  In a perfect world, Cowen wins a spot outright, meaning The Bryan will be free to dump...er... "trade" the now entirely redundant Filip Kuba.  This would make my pants very happy.

Graeme, The 6th Sens: Poor Brian Lee. From being passed on the depth chart, to losing his number fifty-five, to his exclusion from prospect discussion by the Senators blogosphere. Of all the names listed, I think they all stand a reasonable chance to play on the big club this upcoming season. Whether they all crack the roster at the end of the exhibition schedule remains to be seen. Obviously based on their experiences last season, Smith and Butler will probably get the first opportunity to play regular minutes up front. Wick will likely get recalled once he's earned a promotion and adapted to the North American style. Like SLC, I'm in agreement that Cowen will be given every opportunity to make the club. As was the case with Erik Karlsson last season, his addition to the squad would help fill a void that the team lacks. However, if Cowen shows that he's not ready. I wouldn't be shocked to see him returned to junior for another year and see the Senators move a body or two to bring in a physical defenceman who can fill that void with guys like Patrick Wiercioch or Eric Gryba filling in as injury replacements.

2. The final two games in the playoffs did a lot to restore Pascal Leclaire's standing on the Senators, but which of Leclaire and Brian Elliott do you think will begin the season as the number one goaltender?

Tony: I think Leclaire will begin the season as the starter as he is in the last year of his contract and Sens management want to know if he should be resigned. Sens brass also bought in Leclaire's old goalie coach from Columbus to help Leclaire regain his confidence. Leclaire has a larger upside then Elliott, however, he needs to prove he can stay healthy and be consistent. Leclaire's playoff performance has restored some faith in him, but he will be given a short leash as Clouston only cares about winning. I believe Leclaire will be the starter on opening night, but I am not as confident he will end the season as the undisputed number one.

Peter: In the crease, we're starting from scratch right now. Clouston's familiarity with Brian Elliott probably gives him a slight edge, but Pascal Leclaire seems to think his injury problems are behind him now (we can only hope), and he's got more pedigree as a starting goalie. In terms of pure skill, I have to give the advantage to Leclaire, but Elliott seems to have more physical and mental discipline. But right now, I don't think either of them can be classified as the starter.

SLC: Snoopy's salary guarantees he'll be the starter come October 8th.  But he will be on a VERY short leash.  It was fairly obvious last year that the Little General didn't trust him, and I don't think two decent games (one of which involved choking up a three goal lead, let us remember) six months ago will be enough to change that.  This of course assumes that Snoop even makes it to camp and doesn't get hurt tying his skates.

Graeme: Since both goalies are headed towards free agency on July 1st, I believe that both are going to be given every opportunity to take hold of the number one gig and roll with it. Based on his salary and the way that last season ended, I would fully expect Cory Clouston to anoint Leclaire as the opening day starter. Mind you, if Robin Lehner has a productive season in the AHL, all of our eyes will be looking towards the future.

3. With Sergei Gonchar, a more experienced Erik Karlsson, and (hopefully) healthy returns for Filip Kuba, Alex Kovalev, and Milan Michalek, the Senators' powerplay should be better than last year. But do you think the difference will be significant, in terms of PP efficiency and, ultimately, Ottawa's point totals in the standings?

Tony: I think Ottawa's powerplay will improve this year with the addition of Gonchar and healthier players. However, Ottawa has never really had a dominate powerplay that scared teams. I think the team this year will set the foundation for a good powerplay and maybe next season, their chemistry will be greater and lead to more success.

Peter: Ottawa's powerplay has got to be hugely more potent than it was last year, I don't think there's any question about that. And I do think that will translate into more points in the standings, especially when you consider all the one-goal losses become ties thanks to more powerplay efficiency. Improved goaltending consistency is the Senators' biggest area for improvement in the standings, but a better powerplay is a close second.

SLC: Unlike some of our esteemed coleagues *cough*Nichols*cough* I'm expecting a huge upgrade on the PP over last season, not that that would be a particularly tough trick to pull off.  With Gonch, Karlsson and yes, even Kuba (whom I'm still totally willing to give away to a good home) feeding them, the forwards should actually be able to hit the zone with some speed instead of having to constantly come back to recover another cement handed flub from Carks or A-Train (RIP).  All that remains is to convince the Zebras to actually give us a PP every now and then.  Then we're golden, kids.

Graeme: Let me start by saying, I'm not sure why SLC singled me out as  a believer that Ottawa's PP won't improve. I thought I've written a number of pieces indicating my belief that the addition of Gonchar and the maturity of Erik Karlsson can only help Alexei Kovalev and Ottawa's PP. Let's take a look at last year's numbers. In 290 PP opportunities, Ottawa scored 49 PP goals. Assuming that these defencemen can help revert just one player, like Kovalev, back to his career norms in terms of PP production the difference could be huge. Five to ten goals could have pushed Ottawa's PP into one of the ten best success ratings. 

4. Although Matt Carkner, Chris Neil, Jarkko Ruutu, and even (one would assume) Zack Smith are expected to be in the Senators' lineup next year, do you guys expect tough guy Francis Lessard to play much (or at all) for Ottawa this season?

Tony: I don't think Lessard will play any games in Ottawa this year. Along with the above mentioned players, there are many guys in the line-up that play with enough grit to keep teams honest. Fisher, Michalek and Foligno can all hold their own. Lessard is a fighter and is needed more in the AHL protecting the young kids then being a liability in the NHL.

Peter: I think there may be the odd game where Lessard plays, especially if we run into injuries at some point. Looking at the bruising lineup the Maple Leafs have, and the historic rivalry, I think those are a few obvious games that Lessard could be useful--especially since Carkner stands to be a more important part of our defence (at least defensively speaking), so we can't afford to lose him for five minutes at a time too often.

SLC: Saturday, November 27th, 2010.  Game three against the Leafs, at home.  Phaneuf can bang his rocks together in a truculent fashion from the infirmary.

Graeme: No. If I've noticed one thing from the Murray/Clouston regime, it's that they favour pugilists who can contribute in other facets of the game.

5. How do you want to see the defence pairings set up for next season

Tony:

  • Gonchar - Karlsson : This will give Karlsson a mentor on the ice who he can tailor his game after. Together they may be a defensive liability, but these two can move the puck so well that they can exit their zone quickly and push the offense, thus limiting opponent's chances.
  • Phillips - Lee : This can be our new shut-down pairing. Phillips is as solid as a rock and is a great teacher. Lee needs to establish a role for himself to stick in the NHL. He can be the smooth skating defensive defensemen. It is now or never for Lee and I think this gives him his best chance to succeed.
  • Kuba - Campoli : These two have tons of offensive talent, and by being the third pairing, they will go up against other teams third and fourth lines which can open up the ice for them. These two will also be the second powerplay unit and can work on building chemistry together.
  • Carkner : Matt can be the seventh defensemen who can come in and play the physical shutdown role and/or the enforcer role. He can also fill in when injuries happen (and with three defensemen well into their thirties, injuries are bound to happen). Matt can also play on the fourth line if more toughness is needed. This is no slight to Matt, but the Sens' defense this year will be all about puck possession and pushing the offense, which is not exactly Matt's game.
  • Cowen : I think Cowen will get a nine game audition with the big club before he is sent down to junior. This will be to see what Cowen's got and to see how far along he is in his development. He probably will be paired with Phillips as a safety net.

These pairings pair our younger defensemen with veterans to help them learn the game and to protect them too.

Peter: I seem to be one of few people condoning an absolutely stacked offensive first-pairing: Sergei Gonchar with Erik Karlsson. They'd play almost the entire span of just about every powerplay, take offensive-zone faceoffs, and basically get the sweet ice time for increased offensive production. I think the second pairing would be somewhat of a shutdown pairing, although Kuba's presence with Phillips makes it a little difficult to call it that (although I think without putting undue offensive pressure on Kuba, we might enable him to simplify his game and, ultimately, play a lot better). Third will be Carkner with either Lee or Campoli, whoever's playing better at the time, unless one of Cowen or even perhaps David Hale gets a shot as a defensive force on the blue line.

SLC: Gonchar - Karlsson (the softness terrifies me)
Big Rig - Campoli
Carks - Cowen (WE HAVE BECOME DEATH, DESTROYER OF WORLDS)
Wiercioch

Kuba + Lee will make for a lovely gift basket.  Just sayin...

Graeme: Like it or not, Chris Phillips has always been partnered with the team's best defenceman since he entered his prime. First it was Zdeno Chara, then it was Anton Volchenkov. Now, it's Sergei Gonchar's turn. Here's what I have:

Phillips-Gonchar
Kuba-Karlsson
Campoli-Carkner

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