The Forgotten Man

It’s not my intent to slight Brendan Bell when I say this — but unless you enjoy rooting for former 67s; are a puck bunny who brags about your conquests; or are a member of the Bell family — odds are you’re not particularly interested in the latest news that Bell is fielding offers to play in the KHL. That’s why it has to be satisfying that with the conclusion of the Conference semi-finals, we’re now one step closer to that point in time when pertinent Ottawa Senators information can once again be abundantly available.

Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Even though this article was written a couple days ago, nothing new has come out since. (No, I’m not including the circle-jerk that has become the NHL rumor mill.) I’m a bit fortunate though. Had things not been this boring, I probably never would have re-read the Bell article and paid attention to this small bit buried at the bottom of it.

The talk in league circles is Senators coach Cory Clouston is looking for a former player to round out his staff. Sources told Sun Media that former Senators D Luke Richardson is not likely to return. After retiring as a player following a 22-year career early last season, Richardson was added to the club’s coaching staff and worked in the press box for former coach Craig Hartsburg and Clouston. The indications are Richardson was welcome to return and was offered a contract, but the Ottawa native may have decided to step back to spend more time with his family. ~ Bruce Garrioch, The Ottawa Sun

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Richardson was only an assistant for one season and has now been in the organization for two years. But think about it — How do you think Christoph Schubert feels right now?

It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, Schubert was a rookie coming off a season that saw him play a hybrid role on a Stanley Cup finalist team. On this deep and talented Senators squad, Schubert played a unique role. While he did spend some minutes on the back end killing penalties or filling in for an injured defenseman, his positional inconsistencies while playing at even strength prevented him from seeing quality minutes at the position. Compounding this problem was the fact that he was simply too efficient at doing his other job, playing a grinding, fourth line energy role that allowed him to use his combination of size, speed and checking to wear down opponents and create turnovers.

When the 2007 campaign ended, many assumed that Schubert would assume and develop in the bottom pairing spot that Tom Preissing had held. As many know, this never happened. Luke Richardson was signed that offseason as a depth guy and surprised many by making the squad in spite of his age and general shittiness. At the time, I was amazed that he broke camp as one of the top six defensemen. However, in retrospect it sort of made sense from a coaching perspective for a few reasons.

First, this was a relatively unaltered roster that had just gone to the Stanley Cup Final. In consequence, there was intense pressure from the fan base and the local media to produce a winner. It really didn’t help matters that in 2006, Melnyk penned a letter proclaiming that not only would the team win a Cup soon but a dynasty to boot. Bigger expectations proportionality lead to less margins for error. Rather than entrust Schubert to develop and learning from his mistakes, Paddock relied upon the veteran Richardson to play well enough for the team to win. It didn’t matter that in the long-term it’d be better for the team to develop Schubert than to use Richardson as a stop-gap solution, Ottawa had to win now.

Secondly, Despite the team’s success on the ice, controversy enshrouded this team as a number of their players were rumored to have been engaged in drug abuse and maybe partying a little too hard. Enter Richardson. A man renowned for his leadership and character. Ottawa was an ideal situation for him — his playing career was almost over and he was looking into furthering his NHL career as a NHL coach. What better place than here in his hometown?

We all know how that season ended so let’s look at last season. When it was announced that Craig Hartsburg was the new Head Coach, it represented a fresh opportunity for Schubert to make a positive impression. When he failed to land a spot on the blueline, he handled it like a professional basketball player and sulked. If he was pissed off then, imagine how pissed off he must have been when he was subsequently admonished to the pressbox and was forced to watch Brian Lee and Alexandre Picard shit the bed for the first portion of the schedule. Yikes.

Fast-forward to the present.

Unless he’s dealt, Christoph Schubert will enter training camp in the same position he’s been in the past two years — As an undeveloped project who feels that he deserves the opportunity to play full time back there. It doesn’t help matters that Bryan Murray has assembled a very average defense that is deep in numbers. Things are so bad for Schubert that he’s not even being discussed as a candidate by the local media. Simply put, he’s an afterthought. A one-time prospect who has detrimentally wasted the last two seasons of development for an organization’s short-term gain.

Maybe I’m being a bit naive to assume that he would have developed properly if given the opportunity to play fulltime without having to worry about making mistakes. But I’ve always been the kind of sports fan who would rather watch a player with upside play over a shitty veteran any day of the week. It’s the same reason I abstained from watching Blue Jays baseball for a portion last season when Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson were shitting the bed and stealing at bats from Adam Lind and Travis Snider. (My apologies for the baseball reference hockey purists.)

I may be oversimplifying things here when I say this but I have always felt that what he lacked was the experience necessary to develop the positional hockey sense to play at even strength. If you watch him play 5-on-5, you can’t help but notice that he gets lost out there. There’s a reason why he’s an effective PK guy, he simply knows where to be.

While I know that some of you simply won’t give a shit because it’s Schubert and your fondest memory of the guy is that he once put a guy through a glass window. I see a wasted talent and a player that the organization failed.