Last Tuesday, I tried to outline some of the key battles that I think will emerge during the Sens training camp later this month (it's almost time!), and asked all of you to rank which is most important to be resolved successfully. Here are the results!
As you can see, it was pretty close! The 30 votes given to the bottom ranked option is larger than the margin that separates 1st and 4th. Let's go through some of your comments and my thoughts on each option, starting with:
#4. Having Rookies on the team
There are a ton of rookie candidates that'll be vying for spots in Ottawa this year, and many have done their time in the AHL after being drafted back in 2009 (Wideman), and 2011 (Puempel, Prince, McCormick, Dzingel). The new hotshots on the block, Tobias Lindberg and Nick Paul, could use some AHL development time, and many seem to think that Mikael Wikstrand, despite being drafted back in 2012, could use some time to get adjusted to the North American ice surface, despite playing against men for the past two years in Sweden.
Here's what user hvr had to say about the rookies:
I have a feeling that for contract/$$ reasons, Greening, Neil, and Smith will get an opportunity to play, and that no rookies will be in the starting lineup. I think that they will give them 15 games, and then make the call to the rooks if they aren't performing. I have the feeling the same goes for Wideman, though I think he is a sure call-up. Robinson is defensively responsible, so he might be the best choice for a checking line. I would really prefer Prince and Puempel, and I expect them to be regular players this season, just not at the start.
User OttawaWendy followed up with a theory behind why she voted to play the rookies as well, which many of you agreed with:
Playing the rookies means that we don't have Greening-Smith-Neil as our fourth line.
NHL GMs, including Bryan Murray in this case, sometimes get affected by what I like to call 'death by a thousand papercuts'. The signings of Greening and Smith, in particular, looked to be 'safe', low-risk moves given that both were emerging players after being key parts of Binghamton's 2010 Calder Cup run. However, the Sens misevaluated their projections, not taking into consideration that Greening was heavily dependent on Jason Spezza and that Zack Smith was drafted as an overager and was on the wrong end of the NHL player aging curve. Fast forward a couple of years, and both still have two years (including this one) left on their deal, and more talented players who have served time in the AHL like 1st round pick Matt Puempel and 2nd round pick Shane Prince can't get an NHL roster spot. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, as perhaps the team will bite the bullet on Greening for another season and send his $2.65M salary down to the AHL like they did last season if Prince/Puempel outplay him for a bottom-six left wing spot.
#3. Having the "right" people to play on defense
Only separated by two votes from #4, the defensive logjam question is a little more certain after the news that emerged this week. Chris Phillips is definitely starting the year on the LITR, which means that there's room for Chris Wideman and Mikael Wikstrand to perhaps be the 7th and 8th D on the team. I highly doubt the team would keep Wikstrand in Ottawa if he wasn't ready to be a regular, and given his contract situation, a big question for training camp is whether the team will force Wikstrand to report to Binghamton, or whether they'll keep the player happy and send him to Farjestad for one last year. The latter would mean that Chris Wideman is definitely going to get a shot at some games early on, and being one of the three right-handed D on the team will help his chances. The money bet for the opening night defense pairings by my estimation are:
Methot - Karlsson
Wiercioch - Ceci
Cowen - Borowiecki (on his off-side)
It is easy to see how Wideman can slot in if one of the latter two struggle early, or if Dave Cameron dislikes having two lefties on one pair (though Borowiecki did play RD down the stretch for a bit). If you include the fact that Wiercioch and Ceci are in contract years, and that Cowen likely has *one more* year to prove that he's an NHLer, then the Sens have four defensemen with a lot to prove at the NHL level this season. Is this uncertainty usually the recipe for a team that wants to contend in the playoffs? Nope. Is there reason for optimism if Wiercioch - Ceci play at the level that they did at the end of last season, if Cowen isn't a tire fire, and if Wideman brings his AHL All-Star puck-moving ability to the bottom-pair? For sure.
User OD99 echoes these sentiments:
To me it is Who Plays D. That goes a long way to establishing the core and allowing rookies to play...if Wideman gets a chance and any of Cowen/Philips/Boro don't get ice if they don't deserve it then I think we will begin to see the core on D emerge.
I would expect if that rule applied for the D then the same would be up front and that could mean that Greening/Neil/Smith don't play unless they show they can contribute consistently and if that IS the case then I would expect Prince/Puempel/? to be getting a shot and some decent time.
I have said this for about 18 months now...just an exciting time to be fan because there are so many unknowns and so much more the team will be required to do in terms of player movement to fit guys in without losing them for nothing...really going to be quite the ride and just hope that the guys we have faith in show it was founded.
#2. Ensuring that the emerging core (defined as Stone, Hoffman, Zibanejad, Wiercioch) maintain or up their ice-time
User spencerdjblake had this to say to start off the discussion:
I voted "emerging core." But the "have the rookies play" is a close second. The most important part for me is ensuring Mika, Stone, etc know this is their team now and those top minutes are their top minutes. They were incredible down the stretch and their ice time should be more or less guaranteed to start the season.
Given where the Senators are at in their development, it's about time that the young players take the next step and carry them as far as they can go. There's actually a decent amount of veterans (Michalek, MacArthur, Methot), young talent (emerging core), and players on cheap deals (Pageau, Lazar, Ceci) on the Senators roster right now, which is similar to the roster construction of Stanley Cup contenders. The main thing holding the team back is the lack of a possession-driving 4th line or obvious defensive players to play the penalty kill, and the fact that the only star player is Erik Karlsson, whereas most contending teams have a star forward or goalie alongside a #1 D. Now could VERY WELL be the time for a run, which is why it's frustrating to fans that there's still uncertainty on defense due to past roster mistakes when they could've easily upgraded for cheap this offseason. For the Senators to NOT give Stone, Hoffman, Zibanejad, and Wiercioch prime minutes would be to undermine their entire philosophy that they've been shouting for the past 12 months, and I highly doubt that happens.
It's going to be a big test for Dave Cameron to see how he manages his players ice-time now that the team doesn't have their back against the wall every game. It may be useful for him to adapt that mentality anyways.
#1. No Greening - Smith - Neil as the 4th line
We've all been scarred, haven't we. User rehabman asks:
What is considered poor play for Neil and Greening?
Neil and Greening will be given a chance, but how do you tell is they are bad enough to take out? Hard to use points as a criteria for 10 4th line minutes. Hits .. perhaps. Fights ... maybe but time are changing. I would use posession as the criteria. The young faster guys were on the puck all the time and helped wear down the opposition. If Smith, Neil, Greening can generate the same pace and energy, then they will earn their time on the main team.
Yes, the 4th line really doesn't play all that much, but given the NHL's current climate, it's important that they're useful players. Playing defensive minutes like Marcus Kruger on Chicago, or being tablesetters like Jonathan Drouin on Tampa Bay. The Senators need possession-drivers all throughout the lineup in order to ensure that teams can't just load up their matchups on the skilled top-six players.
Trevor took the liberty of writing an entire post on Ottawa's 4th line problem, which I'll direct you all to now to kick off our Nuggets. Thanks for participating!
- The Top 25 Under 25 series has rapped up, with Adnan and Callum writing about the forwards that ranked #1 and #2. For a masterpost with links to where every player ranked, check the recap that Ross put together. Lastly, each staff member revealed where they ranked each player (we believe in transparency!) and Ross put together some questions for us to answer. [T25U25 - #2, #1, Recap, Staff Questions]
- This is the first year in quite some that Erik Karlsson isn't the top ranked player. Adnan was sad about this fact, so he wrote about Karlsson's (long) list of accomplishments anyways. [Silver Seven]
- The biggest news of the week has to be with respect to Sens assistant captain Chris Phillips, who will certainly not be ready for training camp, and who's future is looking very much in doubt. Phillips has stated that he's having trouble doing day-to-day stuff with his kids, and you have to consider the quality of life seeing that he's actually only 37. [Silver Seven, 6th Sens, SensChirp]
- Want a quick lighthearted break? Check out this Sens comic from Mike Wheeler! [Bonk's Mullet]
- Top D prospect Mikael Wikstrand has been a constant source of offseason news, with Wikstrand stating last week that he wants to either play in the NHL or develop back in Sweden for one more year. Nichols provides some much-needed context, and Chirp chimes in on the situation. [6th Sens, SensChirp]
- Another report (via Bruce Garrioch) that teams are continuing to call on Jared Cowen, but that Sens GM Bryan Murray is hesitant to give up on him. We've heard this three times now! Nichols has a more in-depth column that echoes my skepticism. Trevor decided to ask all of you what the Senators should do with the hulking blueliner as this week's Weekly Question. [Silver Seven, 6th Sens, Silver Seven - Weekly Question]
- So we've talked about the unestablished defensemen in the organization - what about the established ones? Chirp has a column on Marc Methot being the key to the Senators success. [SensChirp]
- Kevin Lee with a column that only he can write: ranking each Sens player by their autograph. [Bonk's Mullet]
- Peter Levi's weekly column has a couple of interesting notes on who the Sens ECHL affiliate, Evansville, are expecting from Binghamton. [Eye on the Sens]
- Lehner misses us :(((((( [Ottawa Citizen]
- Speaking of the Robin Lehner trade, Luke uses David Legwand as an inspiration to find some other oft-forgotten Senators. [WTYKY]
- Ross has a fantastic, hilarious flowchart that can help you make your next Sens jersey purchase. [Silver Seven]
- New Bonk's Mullet blogger Rob Poirier has a parody of Jonathan Bernier's new mask. [Bonk's Mullet]
- Jeff is back with Bingo Bites, this time focusing on BSens training camp details. [Silver Seven]
- Over at the official Senators website, Craig has been creating weekly photoshops featuring Sens players. He ranked them by social media engagement for your viewing pleasure! [Ottawa Senators]
- Want a recap of last week's Sens news? Nate has five thoughts! [Silver Seven]
- Want to be a blogger? Bonk's Mullet is looking for some new writers! [Bonk's Mullet]
- Your end-of-Nuggets audio, courtesy of the folks over at SensNation. [SensNation]
- A column on Nick Kyrgios and his parallel to Andy Murray, which contains a lesson that's easily applicable to young "loudmouth" players in hockey. [The Score]
- Speaking of passion and motivation, Isles 2015 5th rounder Ryan Pilon is leaving hockey because he's lost the passion for the game. Pilon was a big part of the Brandon Wheat Kings strong WHL 2014-15 season. [The Score]
- Jen Lute Costella with a fantastic post on NHL teams investing into things that could potentially give them a 'competitive advantage' [JenLC]
- Want a glimpse of how powerful pro sports leagues are? Sony altered their film "Concussion" in order to avoid angering the NFL. [New York Times]
- Yost with a column on how analytics try to predict who's going to succeed, and who isn't. [TSN]
- Daniel Carcillo wrote a touching tribute to his friend Steve Montador in the Players Tribune a while back. He continued to raise awareness about post-career issues that NHL players face during his celebration with the Stanley Cup. [ESPN]
- Shared by Eldur00 in the comments, Bryce Salvador's Players' Tribune article is enlightening on player mentality and the injuries that some go through night-in, night-out. [The Players Tribune]
- One of the league's most resilient players, Rich Peverley, announced his retirement last week after being unable to work his way back into game shape following his cardiac incident in March 2014. Peverley is taking a player development role in the Stars organization, which suits a guy who was undrafted, went through a weak conference in the NCAA, and worked his way into regular NHL minutes from the ECHL. [Dallas News]
- Capgeek fans rejoice! A new site has emerged with the 'Armchair GM' feature. Sean Tierney has a column with the site creator. [NHLArmchairGM, Today's Slapshot]
- Want another tool to play with? Try the play diagram made by our friends over at Datarink! [Datarink]