Silver Seven 2013 Report Cards: Defencemen

Pictured: Player No. 46 - USA TODAY Sports

Now that enough time has passed that we at Silver Seven can reflect on the season without the bitterness of defeat fresh in our minds, it's time for the 2013 season report cards.

Nine members on staff assigned grades for each player on the Ottawa Senators roster, providing us with aggregate final grades. And yes, playoff performances do factor.

Up today: defencemen.

Benoit-grade_medium

Coming into this season, Andre Benoit was 28-years old, the captain of an American Hockey League franchise, and had only eight NHL games under his belt. With an injured Jared Cowen, this journeyman defenceman was poised to be this season's Matt Carkner: the overachieving minor league player who finally became an NHL regular. That's exactly what happened.

Benoit had a solid season for a guy expected to play third-pairing minutes. Not many defencemen score four goals (only three of which counted) and ten points on the bottom rung of the roster monkey bars. However, Benoit's offensive numbers don't outwrestle his defensive shortcomings. The coach thought he was a liability at times, and that brings his grade down a bit. Overall, Benoit exceeded expectations.

Highest grade: B
Lowest grade: C

Cowen-grade_medium

Let's get this out of the way first: Cowen's return from injury is impressive, and it does factor into his grade. But it doesn't exclude the fact that he was downright awful in the playoffs. Look, I know +/- isn't a thing that's really worth paying attention to, but Cowen was a team-worst -6 in their 10 playoff games. It became painful to watch and increasingly more apparent that maybe Cowen came back a little too early.

He only got 17 games out of 58 in this year, so this sophomore season was a bit of a wash for Jared. Next year there will be even greater expectations on him, though, especially without the next guy on the list.

Highest grade: C+
Lowest grade: C

Gonchar-grade_medium

The disparity between Sergei Gonchar's highest and lowest grade highlights the up and down season that he went through. For a brief period in March, Gonchar was an A+ player while posting a ridiculous 15 points in only 10 games. That stretch, which broke a Filip Kuba defensive record for most consecutive games with an assist, also propelled Gonchar to second in team scoring.

Excluding those 10 games, Gonchar only had 12 points in 35 games, which puts him only a little bit ahead of Andre Benoit. He's a player who was buoyed by one hot streak and somehow scored $5-million per season for two more years from Dallas. But you can't exclude that hot streak, and so Gonchar falls in the middle Neither a great season nor an awful one.

Highest grade: A-
Lowest grade: C

Gryba-grade_medium

A worthwhile question: if not for several injuries to other players, would we have seen Eric Gryba play in the NHL this season?

Gryba stayed in the lineup for most of the season because he was the only right-handed shot left on the backend. He was given often first-pairing minutes right off the hop. To say that Gryba was thrown into the deep end would be an understatement.

He was awful to start. In over his head. It seemed like everything he touched ended up somehow going into his own net. He was a D-level player at best. But then a curious thing happened: Gryba improved. Slowly at first, and then by the end it was significant. And his grade went up. Next year should be interesting. Is there room for him to be a regular?

Highest grade: B-
Lowest grade: D+

Karlsson-grade_medium

It was very nice of P.K. Subban to hold onto that Norris Trophy for Erik Karlsson while his leg recovered. Very kind.

Karlsson's injuries are well-documented, so there's no need to rehash them here. As awful as he was against Pittsburgh, he was excellent in the games prior to that series. Amazingly, his points-per-game were better after his injury (.92) than before (.71). Before getting hurt, Karlsson was also playing better than he had been during his Norris-winning season the year prior. He loses a few marks for his second round, but overall he was unsurprisingly one of the best players on the team.

Oh, and he led the Finnish SM-Liiga in scoring amongst defencemen this year. He only played half the season.

Highest grade: A+
Lowest grade: B

Lundin-grade_medium

If you blinked and missed Mike Lundin's season, you wouldn't be the only one.

He was picked up in the offseason to be a short-term depth player, and thanks to two injuries of his own (broken finger, concussion) and the recovering from injuries of other players, Lundin barely got into the lineup. In the 11 games he did play, he was underwhelming at best.

Highest grade: D
Lowest grade: F

Methot-grade_medium

When Marc Methot (alias Heisenberg) was acquired, it was to be a steady defence partner for Erik Karlsson; a complimentary player. Instead, thanks to a horrible string of injuries to the lineup, he became a steady defence partner for Eric Gryba. Not only did Methot end up playing as the team's top defenceman, but he helped convert a disaster on skates to a reliable NHL defenceman.

Methot turned out to be the steady defenceman he was acquired to be, but he also ended up being so much more. He could hit, fight, skate, and even had some deceptive offensive flashes toward the end of the season. Senators fans thought they were getting another Anton Volchenkov. Instead they got someone considerably better.

Highest grade: A+
Lowest grade: B

Phillips-grade_medium

After spending the lockout being the Beer Baron of Bytown, Chris Phillips had a decent season. While he'd struggled in recent seasons, Phillips seems to have found his game again under Paul MacLean and has turned into the perfect third-pairing defenceman. Phillips did tend to struggle when presented with more minutes, which is something fans in Ottawa are used to seeing. What they weren't used to was offence: Big Game Chris scored five goals, tying his mark from last year in just over half the number of games.

He was the only defenceman to play every game this season.

Highest grade: B+
Lowest grade: C

Wiercioch-grade_medium

Some nights Patrick Wiercioch was invisible. Other nights he was the most dynamic player on the blueline. He had an excellent March when playing alongside Sergei Gonchar, and many advanced stats people will tell you that it was Wiercioch who made Gonchar go and not the other way around. When the season came to an end and players returned to the lineup, Wiercioch became the odd man out in a numbers game. He only played once in the playoffs, skating for just 1:47 before getting hurt and not showing up in the lineup again.

What Wiercioch needs to work on is being more consistent. Now that Gonchar is gone/richer, Wiercioch has a chance to evolve into the dedicated second offensive threat on the blueline not just a fill-in. It will be an excellent opportunity for him.

Highest grade: B+
Lowest grade: C+

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