The Ottawa Senators currently have 6 defenseman on one way contracts, with a certain RFA still to be signed to another assumed one way contract. It is easy to surmise, that at least 5 of these players have a very secure roster spot, barring injuries of course. The top pairing will undoubtably be; Marc Methot and Erik Karlsson again after their impressive (mind you short) time together from last season. Followed by any number of combinations of Patrick Wiercioch, Jared Cowen (RFA), and Chris Phillips. The question here is who fills out the final D spot?
The Senators re-signed former Ottawa Senator Joe Corvo, who played in 40 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season, to a one year one way contract this offseason, and to most he is assumed to be the final piece of the depth chart puzzle, because of his offensive ability and his veteran presence on the blue line, something Ottawa is severely lacking after the departure of Sergei Gonchar. What about the likes of Eric Gryba, who appeared in his fair share of games at 33, as well as 4 playoff games last year, is he ready to step into to that final role, and become a top six defenseman, just as he was forced to be in the lockout shortened season? There is also the question of whether the 2012 first round draft pick Cody Ceci will be ready to come up and play in the NHL this season. He is still very young, and while there is no immediate need for Cody to come up just yet, impressive play in the OHL and his brief stint in the AHL at the end of last season made him intriguing enough to garner extra attention, and potentially earn some time with the big club this year. Even Mark Borowiecki who showed strong play in BInghamton last season, deserves to be in the conversation.
So who truly deserves to round out the top six next season? Gut instinct would follow the consensus and say that experience can not be replaced and that Corvo is the right guy for the job, while curiosity still steers us towards the Senators young blue liners to see if they are really up for the challenge. But what do the numbers say for the four aforementioned blue liners?
*stats listed below are from NHL.com and Behind The Net*
Let's start with the veteran of the group and the most likely to fill out the role, Joe Corvo. Over the past three seasons with the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes, Joe Corvo has been a very durable player appearing in a solid 197 games. The 36 year old defenseman is a career +36, last season being a -3 on a relativley bad Hurricanes team. His strength has been as a depth scoring defenseman throughout his career has consistently been a steady offensive defenseman amassing 300 points for his career and 17 in 40 games last year. While playing with Carolina last season, Corvo's relative corsi /60 minutes was an unfortunate -4.0 but while playing with the Boston Bruins two seasons prior he managed a more acceptable relative corsi of 1.9 which brings promise for a defenseman who will undoubtably be surrounded by a much higher level of skill and talent in Ottawa than Carolina. While his possession stats aren't eye popping, Joe Corvo appears fully capable of taking on that 6th defenseman role, and even capable of having a bounce back season defensively. The fact does remain that Joe Corvo is 36 years old and while he may not be done in the NHL for some time, it's in the realm of reason to believe his best days are potentially behind him.
Next will be the second most experienced of the four Eric Gryba. It is a drastic drop in experience between Corvo and Gryba, from Corvo's 683 games played to Gryba's measly 33. Gryba struggled at times in his first season with the Senators, slow decision making and an inability to hold the line at times, but that is as expected with a rookie defenseman and all in all Gryba held his own in the 33 games he played. His 6"4, 222 lb frame is his best asset as he becomes an intimidating factor when in the corners battling for the puck as well as in front of the net. He put up 6 points in his first 33 games with the Sens to go along with a -3 rating which is far from standout, but again as a rookie this can be expected. Gryba had a horrendous corsi relative of -18.3 which one can only hope would go up with more experience. While this is only a brief summary of Gryba, it is apparent that he is young, big, and Ottawa isn't usually the team shooting the puck when he is on the ice. He has upside and has shown the ability to play the game at an NHL level in a small sample size, but Gryba needs to improve to be able to compete for the last spot.
Mark Borowiecki, the Binghamton Senators captain has 8 NHL games under his belt, and that minuscule sample size makes it difficult to project his usefulness to the club in the coming future. With that being said, Boro is always described as one of the Sens hardest working prospects and helped the B-Sens win the Calder Cup in 2011. His physical play is admired by the Sens brass and has made him a prospect that appears to be trending upwards every year he's been in the organization. He put up 22 points in the AHL last year, but has yet to acquire his first NHL point. Boro along with Gryba has some ways to go, but if he continues to be among the organizations hardest working prospects we could see him slotted in the 3rd pairing fairly soon.
Finally Cody Ceci, the Sens 2012 first round draft pick is a long shot at the position as he is only 19 years of age, and has a large amount of talent and experience in line in front of him. Ceci may not even see the NHL next season, but it's hard not to be excited about a defensive defenseman who put up 60 points and 64 points in the last two OHL seasons. Cody gets extensive time on both the PP and the PK for the Ottawa 67's and the Owen Sound Attack, and the 6"2, 205lb prospect, most certainly has the size and talent to play in the NHL, but hopefully he isn't needed to be called upon any time soon as he still has much to learn.
The sixth D spot on the third pairing is by all means Corvo's to lose, and with his age, short term, low money contract, and with the younger defenseman's talent and growth ever increasing, it's not impossible to fathom Corvo loses that spot. Hopefully, for all involved, Joe Corvo retains that spot for the majority of the season allowing Gryba and Boro to be slotted in here and there to allow them to learn slowly and not be rushed in to a developmentally stunting situation. All in all at a position that was looking fairly thin to most last year, the future of the Senator's blue line is in good shape and is going to be fun to watch for years to come.