As Adnan's recent post suggested, we're rapidly approaching d-day for Mika Zibanejad. Bryan Murray's suggestion that the team might sit Z-bad so that he can continue to practice with the team without blowing the first year of his ELC is perplexing, and I'm hesitant to put much stock in it. He's either headed back to Sweden or he isn't, and we'll likely get word on the club's decision sometime between now and Thursday's game against the Panthers.
So, with this major decision in the balance, I got to thinking about where the team's depth chart is at, and what the line-up might look like in both Mika and non-Mika scenarios. Here are some random thoughts:
- The top-line is looking pretty solid right now. Spezza is tearing it up with Michalek and Greening on his wings, and that line's been kept largely in tact on the (highly effective!) first power-play unit. It seems unlikely that the Paulrus will mess with a good thing, even were Bobby Butler to return from injury.
- The "second" line has typically featured Foligno and Alfredsson on the wings, but there remains much uncertainty with regards to who their center will be. None of the possible candidates (Regin, Zibanejad, Da Costa) has been getting true second-line minutes, but that may well change if one of those guys finally wins the job on a more permanent basis.
- After the Spezza line, ZSmith's line has been the team's best in the early going. Playing mostly with Condra and Neil, Smith has looked like a very competent third-line center with offensive upside. With Neil spotting in for Alfie last night, Daugavins looked excellent on this line as well.
- The fourth line is sort of a mess. Last night it featured three natural centers, which is great for face-offs, I guess...but playing with Winchester and Konopka is clearly a waste of Da Costa's talent. He needs significant minutes with skilled line-mates to be effective. This line isn't getting much ice-time and I think that's partly because they lack a clear role on the team. (Keeping Daugavins up to play on the fourth line and kill penalties might help solve this problem.)
The current injuries and AHL-assignments only muddy the waters and raise a number of questions:
- Where will Butler slot in when he returns? The fourth line? The press box? As the guy who only plays when Alfie gets a day off?
- Is ZIbanejad simply keeping Regin's 2nd-line spot warm until he returns from injury? If Z-bad heads back to Sweden, does that job fall to Da Costa by default? Is it only a matter of time before we see Da Costa centering Filatov on Bingo's second line?
- And what the hell is Filatov doing in Binghamton anyways? Will he languish there indefinitely until another winger sustains a major injury, Zibanejad returns to Djurgardens, or Foligno gets traded?
- Lastly: why has Daugavins only been given two NHL games thus far in his career? He looked great last night, showed tons of chemistry with Smith, killed penalties as well as anyone, and played the kind of high-tempo, high intensity game that MacLean preaches.
Where this leaves Zibanejad is, to me at least, totally unclear. He hasn't shown enough offensive acumen to warrant top-six minutes thus far, but MacLean continues to use him in that role. On the flip-side, he's been responsible enough defensively that he could conceivably contribute on the third or fourth line, but there's already a log-jam in the bottom six, even with Regin and Butler out of the line-up.
To conclude (finally), here's what my inner-GM sees as the two mostly likely outcomes:
(1) Zibanejad is sent back to Sweden, sooner than later. Da Costa takes over the second-line center job, for now. If he continues to struggle, it's an easy decision to slot Regin in between Foligno and Alfie when Regin returns, at which point SDC heads to Bingo to play with Filatov, who isn't going anywhere until somebody else gets traded or waived to the minors. If Da Costa magically turns things around, Regin ends up in the bottom-six and that hypothetical trade/waive is even more likely to happen.
(2) Zibanejad stays, learning the second-line job, one tough game at a time. Da Costa is sent straight to Bingo to await injuries and/or further roster moves. When Regin returns, things get interesting and the various fourth-line guys take turns as healthy scratches, biding their time in practice and receiving tough love from the Paulrus. Eventually, one of those guys gets packaged with Kuba at the trade deadline.