Well friends, we made it through another off-season. Despite the Sens making very few roster moves, it seems like this summer just flew by. Maybe it had something to do with the Jays doing well, or the endless NFL discussion around deflated balls. Either way, we are on the cusp of yet another NHL season. Here are five things that went through my mind this week.
1) Pre-season Evaluation
We all know what pre-season hockey is like. A series of often uncoordinated, sometimes sloppy games where prospects try to cack the roster and veterans try to shake off the summer rust. But that hasn't stopped us from making bold predictions and providing #hottakes for the upcoming season before. Why should now be any different?
The Senators have played two games so far; a split squad series against the Toronto Maple Leafs and one game against the new-look Buffalo Sabres. How have some of the high-profile prospects performed? Well, Shane Prince had a goal in the game against Toronto and seemed very comfortable on the ice. Then he was virtually invisible in the Buffalo game.
Thomas Chabot played more than 20 minutes in both of his games. He recorded two assists against Toronto, and was a +3 in Buffalo. Needless to say, he's off to a great start, especially when you consider the fact that he was drafted this summer! He did benefit from playing with Erik Karlsson in the first game. Regardless, his performance is likely to catch management's attention if he keeps it up.
He may not be a prospect, but Alex Chiasson has also played pretty well in the pre-season. With a goal, an assist and over 18 minutes played in the game against Buffalo, he is showing signs of improvement over last season. Granted, he was playing on a team of most prospects and a few young NHLers... against Buffalo. So take this with a grain of salt.
Moving on to the player I know you are all dying to talk about: Jared Cowen. I hate to disappoint you, but I have nothing really bad to say about Cowen. In these limited pre-season games, he has looked very patient on the ice. Aside from a handful of questionable passes, I thought he looked alright. He has played over 20 minutes in each game, and while he hasn't exactly been a stand-out player, he also hasn't been at the centre of a terrible mistake that costs the team a goal. Invisibility may be exactly what Jared Cowen needs to get some playing time in and find his game before we start the regular season.
Finally, Matt O'Connor has looked awesome so far. He seems calm in the net, and sound positionally throughout his time on the ice. We won't see much of him this season, but it looks like he is off to a great start with the Senators.
I'll finish this section by reiterating the fact that this is only two games into the pre-season. We have a lot of hockey left to play before the regular season even begins. That being said, I would love to know what you think of how the pre-season is going for the Senators.
2) Robin Lehner
The Ottawa Senators faced off against their former goalie for the first time on Wednesday night. Before the game even started, he was quick to share his thoughts about his time in Ottawa. Speaking with Buffalo reporters last weekend, Lehner voiced his displeasure for how he was used by the Senators. Here's a short quote from his interview:
"Ottawa was a class-act organization," Lehner said. "I owe them a lot, and I can’t express that enough. But I kind of went into a weird cycle there. This is just my honest opinion. People might not agree with me. I don’t really care. But every time I played good, I got benched. That happened on multiple occasions.
"Every time, I started off camp and the beginning of the season good. I never really got the opportunity to keep that rolling. It was frustrating. And when I would get into a slump, I played. It was hit or miss. I played when I didn’t play good, and I didn’t play when I did play good. It was a tough cycle."
Interview courtesy of The Buffalo News.
This doesn't really come as a surprise. Lehner made very similar comments over the summer. But when asked what he thought about Lehner's comments, Senators coach Dave Cameron was less than pleased. According to Cameron, he doesn't have time for such a "dumb question."
Lehner probably isn't feeling any better about the Senators after Wednesday's game, where he gave up three goals on 19 shots and finished with a .842 SV%. I have no doubt that Robin Lehner will be a great NHL goalie one day, and this single pre-season game is no indication of what's to come in his career. But Sens fans can take a moment of solace in that fact that our new goalie of the future didn't let in a single goal during that game.
3) 3-on-3 Overtime
Like many hockey fans, I'm not a huge fan of the shoot out. I am by no means a shoot out hater, but I would rather see overtime than an skills competition during the regular season. So I have been eagerly awaiting the introduction of 3-on-3 overtime. How could you not get excited about the best hockey players in the world being given so much space on the ice?
Well, that was how I felt, until I saw it. These 3-on-3 overtime periods have rarely lasted more than one minute, and have looked more like my recreational hockey league than a professional league. So far, it's had about as much excitement as the NHL All-Star Game.
Rest assured, we are still in the early days of the pre-season. Defensive play is not at the top of anyone's mind at the moment, as most of these players are still trying to get themselves back into game shape for the upcoming season. I will reserve my judgement of the new game format until the regular season begins and the games start to mean something.
Of course, if the NHL had implemented 4-on-4 followed by 3-on-3 overtime, maybe this wouldn't be an issue. But that's none of my business.
4) Room on the Roster... Finally!
We are all aware of the many prospects that Ottawa has down in Binghamton just waiting to crack the NHL line up. And up until recently, their options have been limited. An overly crowded blue line and very little room among forwards have both made it difficult to give these prospects significant ice time in the NHL. But this year, things are different.
Losing players like David Legwand, Erik Condra and Eric Gryba has opened up a few roster spots for both forwards and defensemen. Add to that, Chris Phillips being out for the first few months with a back injury, and suddenly Ottawa's line-up looks a lot different.
Players like Shane Prince, Matt Puempel and Chris Wideman are all under close observation by management this pre-season. There are spots ready for them, if they can prove that they deserve to be in the NHL.
In an interview with TSN, Bryan Murray indicated that he and his management team deliberately removed players from the roster to make room for these young players.
"We did more subtracting to provide more opportunity for young players and it fits our budget at this point in time." - Bryan Murray
Murray even said that he sees Wideman as the 7th defenseman. The fact that he is not waiver-exempt will probably help his case. Shane Prince is in a similar boat, which will likely work in favour of both players. Murray thinks very highly of Prince, saying in the interview that he thinks Prince is an NHL player.
If you haven't watched the entire interview with Bryan Murray, I highly recommend it. There is some great insight into the season ahead, his thoughts on the miracle run from last season and his own health. Callum Fraser transcribed the interview on Silver Seven Sens, and you can read it here.
5) Adding Players
In what comes as not much of a surprise to most fans, Murray continued to make a case for adding another top-six forward to the line-up. Despite "some people thinking we need another defenseman," Murray stays firm on his needs for a top-six forward.
It looks like Murray is going to wait until the regular season starts, to get an idea of what this team looks like, before making any major trades. But it's clear that this is something that Murray is looking into.
While it would be nice to see another offensive threat added to the roster, I can't help but think about Mike Hoffman. Why can't he be the extra top-six forward? He led the team, and all NHL rookies, in goal scoring last season. Despite not having much of a scoring touch in the final games of the season, surely his performance proves that he is more than capable of taking on that role this season.
He's also in a contract year, and is therefore going to be even more motivated to prove himself. He has all the makings of a productive top-six forward, and it won't even cost us anything. But of course, it will all depend on Hoffman's play in the early days of this season. Let's hope he can make a case for himself.
Thanks for reading!