What's so bad about a logjam on defence?

It seems like just about everyone (see: the Sun, ProHockeyTalk, and CKAC) has been writing about the glut of defencemen the Ottawa Senators currently have on defence. It is a glut: With Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips, Brian Lee, and Matt Carkner on one-way deals and no chance Erik Karlsson plays anywhere but the NHL next season, it looks like David Rundblad and Jared Cowen are going to have a hard time cracking the Sens' roster.

But what's wrong with a little competition?

Prospects like Rundblad and Cowen need to be pushed in training camp; that's the point of training camp battles. And as we found out last season when Kuba went down with a knee injury on the first day of camp (which was later followed by injuries to Carkner and Gonchar, both of whom missed significant time), even just one injury can pose a real challenge to a team's defensive depth.

Entering camp with more defencemen than roster spots is nothing new for the Senators, and the situation usually manages to work itself out. Last season, Kuba's injury opened the door for David Hale to step up and out-duel Brian Lee for the final spot on the blue line; keep in mind that Hale was on a two-way deal while Lee was on a one-way, so contracts aren't the be-all and end-all of the roster spots.

Even without injuries, though, making room on defence is a lot easier than finding defencemen to fill gaps, and that seems to be the mentality Bryan Murray has historically entered training camps with.

I wrote about the history at this time last season, because we were having the same discussions then as we are today--and in fact, we've been having this debate for a few seasons now. But, as history shows, there are ways to make room for newcomers to the blue line, which have included retirement, trades, waivers, and--of course--injuries.

  • 2008/09/02, Lawrence Nycholat: Coming into a one-way deal, Nycholat was dealt to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Ryan Shannon.
  • 2008/11/27, Luke Richardson: After being signed to a one-year contract, Richardson was put on waivers, assigned to Binghamton, and retired. He was then given a coaching job with the Senators.
  • 2009/09/02, Jason Smith: After missing time the previous season with a knee injury, Smith retired under curious circumstances despite one year (and $2.6M) left on his contract.
  • 2009/10/02, Christoph Schubert: On a one-way deal, waived and picked up on re-entry waivers by the Atlanta Thrashers.

Although Cowen had a taste of pro hockey in last season's Calder Cup run with the Binghamton Senators and Rundblad has had a heck of a career in the SEL already, both of them still have a lot to do in order to show they're ready for NHL hockey. If they do, it's an easy situation to remedy: One of the players they out-play, whether it be Kuba, Lee, Carkner, or whoever else, will be moved somewhere.

Bruce Garrioch mentioned in his article that hitting the salary cap floor could be an issue if it's Kuba or Gonchar who's moved, but I don't think staying above it will be much of a problem; the Senators could take money back, or pull a move out of the New York Islanders' handbook: When the inevitable injuries happen, don't use the long-term injured-reserve cap credits; either way, there's little doubt the team will stay above the floor. Again, not really an issue for a GM with a little creativity.

Although James O'Brien of ProHockeyTalk said that the Sens could be "stuck" with too many defencemen, it's a problem significantly preferable to the alternative: Not enough NHL defencemen. I'd wager that given the choice, 30 GMs in the league would pick the former and deal with making room, if room needs to be made.

I'll conclude by quoting last year's post, which pretty much summed the situation up:

The bottom line is this: Right now, it looks like there are a lot of defencemen competing for very few spots. We've already seen what a single injury can do to that situation. And as we've witnessed in each of the last two seasons, it's not difficult to clear room on the roster, even if there are one-way contracts that appear to be standing in the way.

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