Zibanejad Point/Counterpoint


Today could very well be Z-Day and with that in mind, there have been a number of articles written that weigh the merits of keeping Zibanejad in town.

Here’s today’s Don Brennan article on Zibanejad. As always, counterpoints are in bold.

It’s checkout time for Mika Zibanejad.

Time for him to get out of the Ottawa hotel he’s lived in for the last two months. Time for the Senators to settle up on the bill and send him to a good Swedish home, where he can enjoy home cooked meals and do some growing.

I feel like I’m watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Just waiting for the swerve…

But no, not the good Swedish home that belongs to his good Swedish parents, in Sweden.

(Note: For the record, it just so happens that Mika was raised in Sweden. Mika’s dad is Iranian and his mother is Finnish. Or as Sun Media’s target audience refers to them, ‘foreigners’.)

The good Swedish home that belongs to Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a short drive from Scotiabank Place.

There it is! There’s the swerve!

Assuming the lovely Birgitta Alfredsson would take in another teenager, as she did when her husband brought Erik Karlsson home two years ago, that is.

Shhhhhh…. no one needs to be reminded that Erik Karlsson was returned to Sweden for one season before coming over to live in Daniel Alfredsson’s basement.

Point is, this is where Zibanejad belongs. And that’s the decision needed to be made now.

When the Senators return from North Carolina, the team’s No. 1 draft choice from four months ago will have played his ninth game. Management and the coaching staff must choose whether to allow him a 10th — which would kickstart the first year of his contract and thus keep Zibanejad in Ottawa for the season — or return him to his team in the Swedish Elite League.

It might be a telling sign that Bryan Murray has already had conversations with officials from Djurgardens IF Stockholm.

“He would be a first-line player back there, I’ve been assured of that,” said Murray. “That he would play power play and do all the things that good players do on a hockey team.”

In Ottawa, Mika isn’t a first-line player. Nor is he a second line player. He rarely sees any special teams ice-time. He averages slightly more than 12 minutes per game and hasn’t contributed offensively at all.

Carry on…

But he would also be playing in Sweden, again, on a bigger ice surface and with a softer schedule. That doesn’t get him as NHL-ready as playing in the NHL would. Ideally, the Senators could put Zibanejad on a major junior team, or in Binghamton, but that’s not permitted as he is 18 years old and has a contract with Djurgardens. If he’s going anywhere, he’s going there.

So he really shouldn’t be going anywhere.

I’ll come back to this in a second…

Yes, Zibanejad has looked out of place at times. He has no goals and one assist in eight games. He has a minus-3 rating. Coach Paul MacLean likes the way he plays defensively, but has noted that Zibanejad has not handled the puck like he can, has had difficulty keeping up to the pace in the best league in the world.

So here we have it: Ottawa has a center who plays responsibly but has trouble keeping up with the pace, handling the puck and winning faceoffs (42.8%). I’m sold. Obviously the best solution is to prevent Zibanejad from playing in that garbage Swedish Elite League that produces poorly developed NHL players. He’d easily be better served playing against 16 to 19 year olds in the CHL than playing significant minutes against grown men in the second best league in the world. Because let’s face it – having played in 26 of his team’s 55 games last season and having finished 17th on his team in scoring (5 goals, 9 points) – there’s nothing left to prove there. Nevermind the fact that Zibanejad could represent his country at the U-20 World Juniors.

I love the assertion that the bigger ice surface and shorter schedule in Sweden will be detrimental to Zibanejad’s development this season. For a player who has only played 26 games at Sweden’s highest level, there’s no possible way that the grind and scrutiny of an 82 game NHL schedule could mentally and physically exhaust him.

But the kid has also had lots on his mind — including daily reminders of his situation by the media.

“There’s a lot of pressure on him leading up to the nine-game mark,” said Jason Spezza, who went through something similar a decade ago. “It’s tough for him. Whether they decide to keep him or let him go, he’ll feel much better once the nine games are over. He’ll be able to kind of relax and play. He’s a good hockey player. Whether he plays a full year this year or not, he’s going to be a great player in the league. He’s doing a good job of handling it. It’s not easy to ask of a 30-year- old guy, let alone an 18-year old guy to talk to the media every day. He’s doing a good job of it. I think it would be good to see him just worry about his game and not the outside stuff.”

Ah, Jason Spezza. A player who spent a year in junior and half a season in Binghamton before he was given the opportunity to play in Ottawa. If the daily reminders are getting to him now, who’s to say that they won’t get to him if he’s not contributing in 10, 20, or 30 games?

Said MacLean: “I think it’s been a bit of distraction for him, the last four or five games. He’s a young player. He wants to play here. He wants to do his best out there. But as a young player, you can get distracted by something, especially something as big as this is for him.

“He wants to play in the league and I believe he’s good enough to play in the league. But we’re going to make the decision after some lengthy conversations and make the best decision we can make for Mika, for down the road. We’re building a foundation for down the road, and he’s obviously going to be a part of that puzzle.”

Zibanejad is fast and skilled. He’s a Swedish Tyler Seguin, with the potential to be much more physical. Seguin’s development wasn’t hindered by spending last season as an 18-year-old Boston Bruin, was it? Seguin stepped up as their best forward at one point in the playoffs, and he’s been their best forward to start this season.

As nice as it is to see that those Swedish Mike Fisher comparisons have gone out the window, this is just an example of cherry picking some statistics to prove a point. For every Tyler Seguin comparable, there’s a Josh Bailey or a Manny Malhotra.

And don’t get going with that stuff about Zibanejad being affected negatively by playing on a losing team. That’s not even real. It’s a notion. What’s real is that here, Zibanejad will be practising with real NHL players, playing against NHL players, learning how to play in the NHL.

Which differs from any of Mr. Brennan’s ‘notions’ that lack tangible evidence to support the claim that Zibanejad’s development would be negatively impacted by spending an extra year in Sweden. I challenge anyone to find one specific example of a player who was negatively impacted by being returned to Sweden. That “stuff” that Brennan refers to simply represents reasonable arguments supporting a patient and less risky approach that ultimately won’t cost the organization a year off of his ELC. As Ryanbatty noted on an excellent blog on why Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should be returned to Red Deer of the WHL, I’m not trying to be Chicken Little saying that if Nugent-Hopkins isn’t returned to junior that the Oilers will have no chance to win after his ELC expires but the simple fact is, that with fewer value contracts the margin for error in building a winning team gets smaller because the cap flexibility is gone. At Arctic Ice Hockey there was a similar debate around Mark Scheifele and I thought the argument against keeping him in the NHL was best summed up by statement: Cap management is the biggest skill a general manager can have in the NHL these days. It’s inexcusable for them to intentionally hasten a player’s UFA status.”

In Sweden, he’ll continue learning how to be come a European hockey player.

It’s really too bad that Alfredsson spent so much of his early career in Sweden. Imagine how good he could have been had he spent the early portion of his career playing in the NHL. 

“I don’t know that he’s absolutely NHL ready at the moment,” said Murray. “I believe this of young people though, as they play games, they get better, they get more comfortable. they get more confidence, they get a position on the team that allows them to play at the level they want to play at. So the decision is what’s best for him, rather than what’s best for us, at this very moment.”

Weird, Bryan Murray once said of the same thing about Jared Cowen and look how he’s progressed since bein

And what’s best for Zibanejad is a reservation at Chez Alfredsson.

Or he could move in with Matt Carkner instead and hope that the rugged Canadian lad rubs off on him!

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