The Binghamton Senators may very well still be celebrating their amazing Calder Cup win while you are reading this, but for the Senators franchise as a whole, there's no time to bask in the glory of any victory. Binghamton's success doesn't salvage Ottawa's failure, but the draft and Senate Reform loom large. Who were the winners and losers when all the dust settles? Let's take a look.
Winner: Robin Lehner
The most obvious candidate comes first. Many, including Senators GM Bryan Murray, felt that the shuffling Lehner experienced this season hurt his development. His sometimes shaky play, sometimes awesome temper, and penchant for giving badass quotes instead of cliches indicated how much maturing he still had to do, and he just didn't get that opportunity during the regular season.
All that changed when he got the chance to shine in the AHL playoffs. Lehner led the team to consecutive overtime wins to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the first round and never looked back. He finished the playoffs with a 14-4 record, a save percentage of .939, and a GAA of 2.10. He did not look at all like the kid we saw earlier in the year. Drago's dominant performance is perhaps the single most promising thing Senators fans have seen all year -- the franchise's goaltender struggles are legendary at this point. There can be no doubt Lehner will be given every opportunity to succeed after this year, and he looks poised to do just that.
Loser: Barry Brust
Poor Brust. At one point so beloved by Binghamton fans that he got his own t-shirt with his own catchphrase, he
stumbled with one injury just plain stumbled in the first round and watched Lehner -- who he had kept firmly planted on the bench during the regular season -- swoop in and take his job in a death grip. Brust's play during the regular season was often outstanding, and now it's merely meaningless. Lehner has established himself as the top goalie in Binghamton, and all of Brust's efforts have been wasted. It's the unfortunate side of competitive sports.
(read on for more winners and losers...)
Winner: Zack Smith
Our love of Z. Smith is well known, but unfortunately, so is his tendency to take dumb penalties. When Murray traded away centers Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly, it left an opening for a player like Z. Smith to fill. There was some uncertainty of his ability to do that given his play during the regular season, but his 20 points (8G, 12A) in 23 games during Binghamton's playoff run went a long way towards alleviating those concerns. In fact, his play earned him a two-year, one-way contract starting next year. Z. Smith suddenly has the look of a quality third-line center.
Loser: Colin Greening
While Greening also earned a one-way contract, this one for three years, his playoff performance of just 5 points (1G, 4A) in 23 games left much to be desired. This is a player who spent most of his NHL games on Jason Spezza's wing, and had fans thinking he could earn a permanent spot there as early as next season. His performance during the Cup run -- as a role player, not an impact one -- means fans need to reconsider his place in the organization.
Greening showed at the Sens Super Skills competition that he has all of the physical tools to be a first line player. We know from his collegiate career that he has the intelligence to be that player. Instead he looked much like the seventh-round pick he was. Greening is going to have to show a lot in training camp to convince fans his new contract wasn't a rush to judgment by Murray.
Winner: Bobby Butler
The Bust continued to show a goal-scoring ability the Senators desperately need, potting 13 goals and 4 assists in 23 playoff games. Many of his goals were the kind of shots you want to see from a forward: not garbage shove-ins, but pure shooter's goals that beat opposing netminders cleanly. Butler hasn't given anyone in the organization a reason to believe he's not going to be productive at the NHL level, nor any reason to believe he's not ready to play at that level. As a restricted free agent this offseason, his playoff performance is going to go a long way towards his next contract.
Loser: Roman Wick
Unlike Butler, Wick did not show the level of production the team had to be hoping for in the playoffs. He managed just 8 points (3G, 5A) in 20 games -- he missed two due to injury. For a player who had a coming out party in the last Olympic tournament and at a crossroads in his career, he didn't make a compelling case for the team to continue to invest in his future. It's highly possible the Senators could decide they would be able to get similar production from one of their young prospects from this year's draft. That would be bad news for Wick's North American career.
Winner: Ryan Potulny
Originally an afterthought in the Chris Campoli trade, Potulny was a player whose last name I had no idea, nor desire to learn, how to spell. I can spell it now. This "afterthought" absolutely tore up the early rounds of the playoffs, averaging nearly two points per game. He finished with 26 (12G, 14A) in 23 games. Perhaps no one on the BSens did more for their immediate future than Potulny. He will almost certainly earn a new contract just by his performance alone, and he'll almost certainly get a long look at training camp next year. His play was so outstanding it simply cannot be ignored.
Loser: Kurt Kleinendorst
It may seem strange to call the coach who just won the Calder Cup a loser, but what has it really earned him? A courtesy interview with Bryan Murray tomorrow before a different head coach is named a few days later? That's not much thanks for the guy who was the primary influence in developing all the winners we just listed. Kleinendorst's reward for doing his job won't be more than keeping his job, and that sucks. If Eugene Melnyk's friend Dave Cameron is named head coach over Kleinendorst, it will be both a travesty and an injustice. The job he has done with this team over the course of the season has been nothing short of outstanding, and it's a shame to think how little he has to show for it within the organization. Of course, if he is named the next head coach of the Senators, we can safely call him a winner -- but no one expects this to happen.
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