With preseason hockey underway, I've got a lot of thoughts to share with you all:
Mathieu Joseph Might Want to Stay
In the minds of many, Mathieu Joseph's tenure with the Ottawa Senators is likely coming to an end at any moment. The team's cap space situation requires that Pierre Dorion (and his new best friend Steve Staios) get creative with the roster to re-sign RFA centre Shane Pinto. Joseph is the logical piece to be moved; a $2.95M salary for a third line winger who scored three goals in 56 games last season is exactly the kind of largesse a cap team like the Sens cannot afford.
At the time that Joseph inked the deal, it came with some real downside risk as it was predicated on Joseph reaching new levels of production that he'd never met during his time in Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, last season was more in keeping with his time in Florida than those glorious first 11 games in Ottawa. Joseph's mini-explosion on Wednesday against the Habs was a useful reminder of just why he got that contract in the first place: he can skate like the wind, he defends well, and, when the shots are going in, he's an extremely valuable player. Ultimately the Sens might still end up having to deal him but Joseph's offensive outburst was a reminder of just how tantalizing a player he can be.
Fourth Line Struggles
After the first three games of the preseason, it seems that DJ Smith is heading towards a fourth line made up of Mark Kastelic, Zack MacEwen, and Parker Kelly. Nothing is set in stone at this stage, but those are the front runners and the smart money is on all three being part of the 23 man roster to start the year. While I hesitate to read too deeply into preseason games for a number of reasons, it's hard to feel inspired by the trio's play to date. There's an argument to be made that any of the three could credibly play 10-12 minutes a night on a line with stronger teammates, but as currently configured I am very skeptical that they will be able to produce much of anything.
Thankfully DJ Smith does seem to be shaking things up a bit for this evening's game against the Winnipeg Jets. My fingers are crossed that there is time yet to change things up.
Training Camp Battles
Maybe I'm being hasty in concluding that the line-up is close to set, but if it is the case that would be a shame. It is difficult for me to see how a player like Egor Sokolov, or Angus Crookshank, or Jiri Smekal, wouldn't add a little bit of skill to the aforementioned fourth line. I understand that coaches tend to want to lean on proven veterans but none of the aforementioned players are exactly youngsters: Sokolov is the youngest of the three, and he's 23. Crookshank and Smejkal will be 24 and 27 respectively before the calendar year is out. These are players in their prime.
With all that being said, a dearth of true training camp battles is a mark of a team on the rise. An abundance of available roster spots almost always means a team lacking in established, quality NHLers. These are problems worth having, much better to think about than which fringer NHLer was going to be on the second line. Still, the best teams cycle through a combination of vets on short contracts, and up-and-comers on ELCs, to fill the bottom of their line-up. It would behoove the Sens to do the same.
Much of the above section is predicated on the Sens eventually coming to terms with Pinto. If the young centre isn't signed, then there might actually be a real battle for a spot. Doubly so if Josh Norris isn't ready to go.
I don't say this to be a Negative Nelly but I am at the point where I need to see Norris suit up for several games without incident before I'm confident that his body is able to handle the rigors of NHL play. Holding him out of preseason games, even for precautionary reasons, makes me nervous. The fact that he "tweaked" something earlier in the off-season makes me nervous.
I've seen some folks speculate that maybe it wouldn't be so bad if Norris were to spend some time on the LTIR at the start of the season in hopes of freeing up space to sign Pinto. First off all, this type of maneuver just pushes the problem down the road. Secondly, if Norris is hurt badly enough to go on LTIR then that's because he's suffered a somewhat major setback. LTIR is not something that can be used for small nicks and "tweaks". For someone with his injury history, Norris missing meaningful time this season would bode very ill for his whole career.
Let's all just hope the setback really is temporary.
Steve Staios Takes the Lead
The Sens announced earlier this morning that Steve Staios had been named the President of Hockey Operations. The move was a long time coming, as speculation had been rampant that Staios would be part of the organization from the moment Michael Andlauer was chosen as the winning bidder for the team. There's lots to like in this addition as Staios has had considerable success in team building roles, and, by all accounts, is progressive in the way he thinks about hockey. The addition also might very well spell the end of Pierre Dorion's time in Ottawa, though perhaps not immediately. Dorion will be reporting to Staios, and the final decision on hockey matters has now been transferred to Andlauer's longtime right hand man. At the very least, it will represent a major change in the way Dorion has operated up until now. Will Dorion accept that he no longer has the last word? Will Staios want someone with whom he has more experience and trusts?
My other immediate thought on Staios taking over is that it makes me feel old. Staios played in 1,001 NHL games over a 17 year career, and he's far enough removed from his playing days that he's had time to build an impressive front-office resume. But I also remember, vividly, his time on the Edmonton Oilers. He played major minutes for the team that made it to the finals in 2005-06! Was it really that long ago?
Anyways, just a bit of a mild existential crisis to keep off your latest edition of Five Thoughts!