Looking forward at next season’s defence, no starting spot is set in stone after the top 2 (Methot/Karlsson) and the veteran presence of Chris Phillips. Ignoring the possibility of Fredrik Claesson (AHL: 75GP, 3G, 26A, +37) and Chris Wideman (AHL: 73GP, 9G, 42A, +5) putting on a show in training camp/pre-season, we have 5 defensemen fighting for 3 on-ice spots and 1 press box seat. It’s time to weigh our options.
Option #1: Mark Borowiecki (AHL: 50GP, 2G, 6A, +14, 158PIM) (NHL: 13GP, 1G, 0A, -2, 48PIM)
The BoroCop can be described as a hard-hitting stay-at-home reliable defenseman who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves when needed. Having him in the line-up would reduce the "necessity" of having a Kassian-like player taking up a spot in the line-up. He was handed the Binghamton Senators captaincy at the end of the lockout and excelled in a top 4 shutdown role; ranking second among defensemen on the team in plus/minus with +14. While he was up in Ottawa (13 games), he led the team in blocked shots/60 with 4.8 and was a solid penalty killer only allowing 1 powerplay goal while he was killing (20 minutes of ice time). Borowiecki was also the top defensemen in Hits/60 with 15.1 (Gryba 9.7, Cowen 9.2, Methot 6.6). Those stats may not mean much in such a small sample size, but they do show that there is a solid potential upside to Borowiecki. I can definitely see him in a 5-6 role in the upcoming years. With him already signed to a one-way deal this year at 575K, I would fully expect that this would spell curtains for a contractless RFA Gryba.
Option #2: Cody Ceci (AHL: 27GP, 2G, 17A, +10, 10PIM) (NHL: 49GP, 3G, 6A, -4, 14PIM)
Thanks to a Cowen suspension in December, Ceci was called up to the big team and made the most of his opportunity locking up a roster spot. While not putting up the best numbers, he had a solid season nonetheless. He was temporarily tasked with the duty of quarterbacking the Senators second-unit powerplay to use up whatever was left after Karlsson's 1:20ish shift. While Ceci was unable to earn any powerplay points, his powerplay unit was only able to cash in 3 times in 70 minutes of work. This number would have to rise in order for Ceci to receive some more powerplay looks. We know he has the playmaking ability as he has been just under a point-per-game player in both the OHL and AHL, we just need him to show it some more next season.
Option #3: Jared Cowen (NHL: 68GP, 6G, 9A, E, 45PIM)
After a positive end to last year after coming off of hip surgery, Cowen started the season off on the wrong foot by skipping training camp due to contract negotiations. It seemed like he was a step behind everyone else on the team. It appeared that he had given up on the physical aspect of the game despite being a huge (6'5, 235 lbs.) man. He got caught too often trying to play the puck with his stick rather than knocking the other player down which led to him getting out of position and/or taking avoidable penalties. Cowen took 0.8 penalties/60 while only drawing 0.2 penalties/60. That is a lot of extra minutes in the box for someone who is on the team to be keeping the puck out of the net. Cowen needs to simplify his play, get back to using his size to his advantage, and he'll have a bounce-back year.
Option #4: Eric Gryba (NHL: 57GP, 2G, 9A, +9, 64PIM)
Gryba, the only defenseman without a contract for next year, is in a tough spot as a similar styled Borowiecki is already signed to a one-way deal for this upcoming season. In a season where the Ottawa goaltenders had a .918 Save% at 5-on-5, Gryba benefited from an on-ice Save% of .935. This helped Gryba earn the highest plus/minus among defensemen on the team. Even so, it seems like Gryba is a very replaceable player as he is neither a shutdown defenseman nor is he offensively gifted.
Option #5: Patrick Wiercioch (NHL: 53GP, 4G, 19A, -1, 20PIM)
For some reason, as the season progressed, Wiercioch found himself in Maclean’s bad books and was forced to watch from the press box on many occasions. Wiercioch was a solid offensive defenseman who found time on either the first or second powerplay units, and posted a 5-on-5 Corsi of +6.64 which was second only to Karlsson. Wiercioch was very rarely used on the penalty kill, which may be the reason he might find himself up in the press box again as there is only room for one defenseman to skip the penalty kill (Karlsson).
Without a contract, it looks like Gryba will fall victim to the numbers game and will be on the outside looking in. I'm sure he'll find a home, but I highly doubt it will be Ottawa. With a little luck, we might be able to be able to trade away his rights for a late round pick as I doubt the Sens would want to carry 8 defensemen again this year.
Here's how I see the line up for next year:
Methot - Karlsson
Cowen - Ceci
Phillips - Borowiecki
If things stay as they are heading into next season, our defensive corp lacks NHL experience. I would not be surprised to see Bryan Murray pull the trigger on a trade or a UFA signing to bring in someone who has played top 4 minutes in the past.
All of our defensemen have solid up-sides, but is it too much to ask to have them all have positive years at the same time? I think it is, but only time will tell.