Silver Seven 2014 Report Cards: Defense

Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo

The season is over. The Silver Seven Staff has voted. It's time for the final report cards for the 2013-2014 season!

11 staff members assigned grades for each player on the Ottawa Senators providing us with aggregate final grades. Unfortunately, playoff performances don't count this year.

Up today: defense.

Jared Cowen D

Last season: C

Jared Cowen's 2013 season ended with a speedy recovery from an injury that was supposed to end his season. With the departure of veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar and the decline of long time Senator Chris Phillips, management gambled that Cowen could step in and be a top-4 defender. Things went off the rails from the start. Offered an eight-year, $28 million deal in the summer by the Senators, Cowen waited, missing most of training camp, before signing a four-year, $12.4 million deal.

Cowen struggled with the addition minutes, responsibility, and expectations. Simply put, he was not a top-4 defenseman in 2013-14 and many routinely called for him to be benched. He was moved to Karlsson's side, perhaps in an attempt to provide Cowen cover, but dragged on Karlsson instead. He missed the final two weeks of the season with a hip injury, giving other defensemen an opportunity to shine. At 23, Cowen is young enough to still improve at the NHL level. However, his 2013-2014 season was a disaster.

Highest grade: D+

Lowest grade: F

Chris Phillips D+

Last season: B

After a fairly successful shortened campaign last season, in which he provided an unexpected offensive contribution, Phillips struggled in 2013-2014. His minutes were reduced from 2012-2013 and still he couldn't keep up. He was given the role of mentoring Cody Ceci when the young defenseman was called up in December, but at times Ceci carried Phillips. Ultimately, the pair was routinely Ottawa's worst in the second half of the season.

Many were calling for Phillips to be traded at the deadline. Instead, Bryan Murray re-signed the 36-year-old blueliner for two more seasons. Phillips missed 12 games this season and while some were due to injury and rest, I suspect he was a healthy scratch in a few of them.

Highest grade: C-

Lowest grade: D-

Joe Corvo C-

Last season: N/A

Joe Corvo's season was a mixed bag. Brought in to provide offensive cover as a seventh defenseman, Corvo chipped in with 10 points in 25 games. However, defensive miscues and the decision to keep Ceci in the NHL saw the veteran Corvo banished to the press box. He did not play another game after Ottawa's visit to Nashville on January 11. Corvo was placed on waivers at the trade deadline and allowed to join the AHL Chicago Wolves, a move which in all likelihood signals the end of his NHL career.

Highest grade: C+

Lowest grade: F

Mark Borowiecki C

Last season: N/A

Borowiecki played a limited role for the Senators in 2013-2014, dressing in just 13 games fall. He was also the most sheltered blueliner in terms of minutes, averaging just 12:35 per game, almost five minutes less than any other Sens defenseman (Ceci 17:12 TOI/G).

What Borowiecki excelled at in his 13 games with the big club was playing physical. He recorded 41 hits, four fighting majors, and one game misconduct, while taking nine minors. With Ceci the preferred Bingo option and Gryba's increasing reliability, Borowiecki was return to Binghamton after the December 1, 2013 game against the Red Wings.

Highest grade: B+

Lowest grade: D

Marc Methot B-

Last season: A

Methot quickly became a celebrated addition to the Senators during the 2012-2013 season: a local boy who provided reliable defending, thunderous hip checks, and leadership when Erik Karlsson went down with injury. His strong play last season increased expectations for this year, and like so many Senators, Methot struggled out of the gate.

Fans debated whether Methot should be paired with Karlsson or one of Ottawa's sophomore blueliners to provide stability. His possession numbers weren't great in the first few months. Things culminated when Methot, returning from injury but declaring himself healthy, was left off the line-up sheet by Paul MacLean for a December game against New Jersey and a January game against Tampa. Ultimately, Methot missed five games to injury and flu and two as a healthy scratch.

While his defensive play in the first half of the season was a concern, he did improve in 2014. Still, he was second in ice-time among Ottawa defenders after Erik Karlsson, averaging almost 22 minutes per game (21:45 TOI/G). Discipline was a very real problem for the 2013-2014 Senators, but Methot (as physical a player as the Sens have) recorded only 28 PIMs while notching 181 hits. Methot contributed offensively, with six goals, 17 assists, and 23 points, tied for second among Ottawa defensemen with Patrick Wiercioch.

Highest grade: B

Lowest grade: C-

Eric Gryba B

Last season: C+

What a difference a year makes.

For much of last season, Gryba was a disaster in his own end. As Ryan put it in last year's review: "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 his play improved by the end of the season: "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?"

Gryba didn't dress regularly in 2013-2014. He played in just 57 games and was a healthy scratch in the other 25 games this season. Used sparingly, Gryba tied with Corvo for fifth most ice time per game among Ottawa defensemen, averaging 17:31 per game. However, he was one of Paul MacLean's preferred penalty killers, averaging 3:00 SH TOI/G. Ultimately, Gryba was one of Ottawa's most reliable defensemen this season.

Highest grade: B+

Lowest grade: D

Patrick Wiercioch B

Last season: B

Like Cowen, Wiercioch was also given a nice new contract in the offseason; like Cowen, Wiercioch was also expected to be a second pairing defenseman. Well, the Wiercioch/Cowen pairing didn't work out. Both blueliners were crushed early on. While Cowen stayed in the line-up regularly, Wiercioch spent a lot of time in the press box (29 games).

Like so many Senators, his play was rough early in the season. However, from about November on, Wiercioch played well when he was in the lineup. He was a positive possession player and solid point producer and deserved to be in the lineup more.

Highest grade: B+

Lowest grade: D

Cody Ceci B+

Last season: N/A

Cody Ceci was supposed to spend the season in Binghamton. That didn't happen. He was recalled on December 12 and has been a fixture on Ottawa's backline since then. Ceci's smooth play impressed many when he first arrived and left some in the organization saying things like "Ceci stabilized the defense".

However, Ceci did struggle after the Olympic break. Maybe it was the rigours of playing an NHL schedule for the first time, maybe it was his deployment. Regardless, he showed enough in his first 49 games in a Senators uniform to provide a lot of optimism about his future. For a teenager thrown into the fire that was Ottawa's porous defense, his performance was more than enough to impress.

Highest grade: A+

Lowest grade:C+

Erik Karlsson A+

Last season: A-

After his miraculous comeback from a serious Achilles injury in the spring of 2013, questions remained about what could be expected from Karlsson in 2013-2014. His answer? More of the same Norris-calibre play. While his detractors focus on plus/minus and occasional attention-grabbing defensive mistakes, Karlsson put together another season worthy of major awards.

He set a club record for goals with 20, and led the team in points with 74. Pretty similar numbers to his 2011-2012 season. His strong possession numbers this season also compared favorably with 2011-2012. Late in the season Karlsson admitted he still didn't feel 100% and felt worn out. After an intense 14 months of rehab, Olympic participation, and an NHL season in which he played all 82 games, he did look sluggish to finish the season.

Highest grade: A+

Lowest grade: A-

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