Today, the Ottawa Senators are fifth in their conference and sixth overall in points. The Ottawa Senators make the playoffs; a team that has nearly all of their top performing players out with injuries. How important can your number one center, last year’s Norris Trophy winner and arguably this year’s top performing goaltender actually be? Interesting question don’t you think? Plus there are the other regular injuries that they’re dealing with, but that’s just regular hockey.
Today’s team is made up of 12 players that played for the Calder Cup winning Binghamton Senators of 2010-2011 (not counting Cowen who hasn’t played this year due to a season-ending injury in the AHL). I remember growing up and following the Montreal Canadians when they were considered a dynasty. They always had a pipeline of talent coming from their farm team but I don’t think they ever counted 12 players being used just two years later. So how have the Senators done it, how have they managed to keep pace and move forward when many fans expected them to tank all the way down to this summer’s lottery draft pick?
That’s easy enough to answer, foot soldiers with character, a tight defensive system built with speed that the entire team buys into including the AHL call-ups, a coach that has his player’s attention, a goaltender that can stop the first shot and torrid goal scoring. Wait, they don’t have torrid goal scoring. Okay then, how about focussed goal scoring? They certainly don’t waste their goals by scoring any extra. Why waste them? Shoot-outs are fun. They’ll probably need at least one goal a game, maybe even two. Watching this type of hockey isn’t very exciting... or is it?
They’re playing as a team, they’re fast and they’ve got decent size. Fans have heard about the 200 feet game. The support the forwards give the defense means that the gap is small as they try to make three lanes available to exit the defensive zone. I don’t profess to know the intricacies of their defensive game but it seems to be working. They’re trying to play a puck possession type of game. It’s all about support and a team first attitude. They’re managing to win some while their call-ups are learning and gaining valuable experience. What they’re accomplishing is no small feat – it’s unbelievable... and exciting.
The team is skating like they don’t have many tomorrows to plan for. And a bunch of them may never get another chance, as big as this one, to show the brass that they’re good enough to stay in the "show". They’re rising to the occasion. Which leads us to the question of next year’s team; who stays, who goes, what happens to the players who proved their worth to the team but are caught up in the numbers game once the injured are back?
The Latendresse (UFA) experiment is over. If he had filled the net he would have stayed but I think most will admit it was painful to watch him lumber up ice when the system is made for faster players. He’s gone.
Peter Regin (UFA) – once the rust came off he’s relaxed and played some very good hockey. I thought he looked great on the fourth line and added offense to it. Until last year Turris and Regin’s numbers were essentially the same. With a little luck his point production could improve substantially. Is next year "the Danish Gretzky’s" breakout year? I hope he’s with the Senators when it happens. I think his flexibility to move up or down the line-up is invaluable. Is he in or out?
Can we send PK specialist Daugavins (RFA) to Erik Condra’s "lockout finishing school" in the second tier German league that seems to have worked wonders for Condra’s puck possession game? Daugavins does have an extra gear but appears to be using a goaltender’s stick in the offensive zone on occasion. Is his skill set enough for another year as the thirteenth forward? I like the underDaug and think that MacLean can get more from him. Is he in or out?
Silfverberg’s in. The only question is what nickname to chant when he realizes his full potential. He hunts the puck, has strength, speed, heavy shot, quick release... his roster spot is etched in stone.
Zibanejad’s development seems to be in high gear while with the big club. I like that some of his minutes can be protected. For the record, I think he’s going to be great in a year or two but I’d like seeing him managed in the NHL because he’s contributing on both sides of the puck. Should he continue his development at NHL next year or go back to the AHL for more seasoning?
Da Costa, Hoffman and Dziurzynski are all RFAs. They’re all assets and all works-in-progress. Hoffman – has the speed and shot, add weight/strength to his attributes and he would make it hard, if not impossible, to keep off the team. Hoffman’s been a long term project from the start. I think he’s about to pay off and Ottawa will qualify him. Stephane "the French Adam Oates" Da Costa have exceptional vision and creativity – add strength and he could be a second line center too. That’s not a bad thing. Dziurzynski is a harder read. He wasn’t having much of a season in the AHL but he’s produced since being called up. It’s a small sample size. Who gets another contract?
I’ve managed to catch five B-Senator’s games, a small sampling I know but I haven’t seen much from Mark Stone to warrant the hype attributed to him. I watched the WJC and agree that he was lethal with the puck. Today, improved skating aside, he looks slow and while he goes to the net he’s not a physical player in any way. At the very least I think he’ll need to dominate in the AHL before his game would translate at the NHL level. Good positioning, good passing/vision is it enough? Will he be a top six impact player when he gets to the NHL?
Gonchar (UFA) has been very good, better than previous seasons in Ottawa. Does Ottawa resign him or trade him for future picks? I imagine that they will trade him because his value is as high as it will likely be going forward. It’s time to cash in. Trade or keep?
Lundin (UFA) looks replaceable. I expect he’s done in Ottawa. Does he keep a roster spot?
Wiercioch (RFA) and Gryba will take two roster spots. Karlsson and Cowen will return from injury. Methot and Phillips will be waiting. While Wiercioch and Gryba both make their share of rookie mistakes, each brings a needed dimension to the team. A little more experience will iron out the rough spots and each will settle into their respective roles. Wiercioch’s outlet pass can be a thing of beauty and once he gets his PP shooting down it looks as though it will be very good. Gryba’s a strong physical player who will be tasked with shutdown duty. Reserve roster spot for Wiercioch? For Gryba?
I believe that Benoit will try to cash in on his Ottawa audition, the same way Derek Smith did and he’ll find another NHL home. That opens up a spot for a seventh defenseman. Borowiecki (RFA) proved he needs more time in the AHL to work on decision-making. I doubt it will be filled from within as most prospects, especially defenseman, who begin their professional careers will need some AHL time. I think Ceci and Sdao will be with the B-Sens next season; I’m not sure if another college grad might be coming. Will the Senators fill the seventh defenseman from within the organization or look for outside help?
Goaltending is Ottawa’s favorite problem and they’re in a position of strength. Bishop is good, but is he a number one? Not yet. Once he gets control of rebounds... he’ll be ready. The best scenario for Ottawa, in my opinion, would be to keep Anderson going strong and bring in Lehner as his backup next season. I hope they continue to guide Lehner’s development and keep to their schedule and needs. Bishop is a great asset to be used very carefully.
Could the Senators pull off a giant heist and pick up two players at the top of this summer’s entry draft? We have plenty of assets and IF it could be done, we might be able to jump the cue and arrive into the NHL’s elite. For the purpose of this example let’s say our trade partners are Columbus and Florida - who would you be willing to package and trade?