Murray Speaks: Roster Cuts, Mika, Da Costa Praise

The Team1200 has relaunched as TSN1200 and who better to mark Ian Mendes' debut as a radio host in Ottawa than Senators GM Bryan Murray?

With the Sens having to submit their final roster to the NHL today, and a number of intriguing cuts to the parent roster (cough, cough, Mika Zibanejad, cough, cough), the timing of the interview could not be better. 

If you would like to listen to the full interview, you can do so here, or via streaming the embedded audio below.

As always, my thoughts in bold.

On trimming the roster to 22 players and what the most difficult decisions were…

“Well, there will always (be) a lot of decisions. Certainly, Mika Zibanejad (being sent down) was a big one. (Stephane) Da Costa staying here was a big one. We felt that Mark Borowiecki had played very well in camp and just from a numbers point of view, he couldn’t stay and probably a couple of other guys (couldn’t stay) too. But, we felt that we had to get down to what we did – twenty-two players. We had to move Jim O’Brien down to the minors to get him playing again and get him back up to speed. So, there are never easy calls when you’re dealing with young men’s lives and the personalities that we have in this organization.”

Interesting. To this point, we have not heard much on what has happened to O'Brien. A few days ago, Paul MacLean had mentioned that O'Brien was simply a victim of too many prospects leapfrogging him on the depth chart and here, Murray is stating that he simply hasn't played very much and the organization is looking for him to get his feet wet again. I can certainly understand why the GM of a team wouldn't want to come out and say that a player is obsolete (negating whatever value the asset may have in a trade), but I can't envision O'Brien having too much of a future with the organization, even in the event of injuries.

On Zibanejad’s glass being half-empty or half-full and whether this is a wakeup for him or whether this is just an opportunity to play more…

“Well, we want him to be a frontline player and we want his intensity to be better. We know (that) his speed and shot are NHL-calibre. Just winning puck battles and playing a physical-type of game occasionally along the wall and the front of the net are going to be real priorities for him to be a real good player in the National Hockey League. (The demotion) is a jumpstart for him. It’s a little bit of a kick for him. Hopefully he’ll get down there. I know Luke Richardson will give him good ice-time. He’ll be a priority player. He knows that he has to work in certain areas of the game that we’ve discussed with him today. I suspect if he does what we think he’s capable of doing, he’ll be back here in some period of time a little later in the year.”

Sounds like every conversation I have with friends regarding Mika's upside. Like Mike Fisher, he had every physical tool that you could hope for, but his ability to read and think the game is what's going to determine whether he can reach his ceiling and be that top six forward who can play with skill players. 

On the play of Stephane Da Costa realistically get into the conversation that he can make the roster…

“Well, when we signed him as a free agent, we thought he had a chance to be an NHL player. He wasn’t strong enough at the time and obviously, the competition that he played against wasn’t helping his development a great deal. We did ask him at the end of the (2013 season) to do certain things: to get stronger; to spend the summer in conditioning; to play with a different attitude; to play a harder game – and he did that. He came back and he’s been, along with Pageau, one of our better players throughout each game and each scrimmage that he participated in in our camp. To be true to our word, if we ask players to do certain things and they do it and we don’t reward them, then we’re not the right people to give kids an opportunity. And that’s exactly right Ian (Mendes), he came in and I told Mika today, I said, ‘You watched these two guys play better and better every day and outplay you in a number of situations and you didn’t step up.’ I think he admitted he took a little bit for granted, but at any rate, Da Costa I thought really played well and based on that, there’s a reward for doing what you’re asked to do and did it and he’s going to get a chance to start with us.”

It's a fair point and one that should be recognized. These players are humans and at some point, you do have to recognize them and acknowledge the work and effort that they've put in. As much as it makes sense for Zibanejad to play as many minutes as possible, there's something to be said about demoting a player who finished fourth on the team in scoring as a 19-year-old!

The organization appears to be doing everything in it's power to maximise this asset, though I think the absolute best case scenario in a trade is nothing more than a mid-round draft pick.

On being pleased with the progress that some of the prospects like Da Costa have made this summer…

“Well, the one thing that I have great respect for are the Randy Lees and Chris Schwarz’s in our organization. They get these young players. They put in a summer with them. They’re here most every day – either in texting with them in touch or actually (being) in the gym with them – and the young players here develop. It has a lot to do with our staff and obviously the attitude of the individual players. So Stephane (Da Costa) did that. (Cory) Conacher did that. (Jean-Gabriel) Pageau was here all the time. We’ve got Chris Neil, who’s a great example of a veteran player that spends a lot time with these young people. So, as I’ve said earlier, if you don’t reward them then you’re not doing justice to the individual. And they did it, and we admire them for that, and we’re going to give them a chance as a result.”

Unless Spezza misses a bunch of games off the top, where does Da Costa fit? There's not a chance he bumps Pageau, so I guess he'll get minutes as the fourth line center with Zack Smith and Neil on the wings? How is he going to prove his worth without playing on one of the top two lines? I'm guessing it's going to have to be on the second power play unit. 

Also, Murray omits his name here, but Zibanejad was in Ottawa training with Chris Schwarz for much of the summer too, reported here by Sylvain St-Laurent.

On Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman being sent down and their message to them upon demotion…

“Well, first of all, Mark Stone has to play. He’s been hurt a lot in the last year. He hurt his finger yesterday in the game, we thought it was broken, in the game (versus the Islanders) in Barrie. But, Mark just has to have a sequence of 25-30 games at least where he’s just an everyday player – he can relax and go play and score and play the way we think he’s capable of. And he’ll do that; he’s that kind of character. I think he’ll make the best effort possible to stay as a real good, regular player for that Binghamton team. Mike Hoffman has the speed and he has the puck skills and shooting ability. I think Paul (MacLean) said it best – he has to fit into the structure. He has to be willing to chip the puck in and go forecheck once in a while and not every pass has to be a great skill pass. Like yesterday, I think there were about five turnovers that Mike had because he was trying to make a skill play instead of a safe play. In the National Hockey League, as we all know, it’s very different than junior that you can’t make those mistakes because goals against really come back to haunt you in a big way. So, he just has to go play and fit and become a structured player as much as a skill player.”

As it stands right now Luke Richardson has got to be pretty happy with the roster he has to work with.

On the question marks surrounding the first line entering Friday night…

“Well, hopefully (Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan) will both be healthy. Jason could have played yesterday and we told him not to. We put Bobby in to play and he certainly didn’t play – none of our players played up to scratch yesterday against the Islanders, there’s no doubt about that. But, I really think there’s certainly a skill level there and with Milan Michalek being able to work the way he does and play without the puck the way he does and create traffic in front of the net with his speed, I think you’re going to see a very effective line. Will they be 100-percent in the first game? Not likely. Most of the good lines take a little while to develop the chemistry and that, but I like what they are. I like the kind of players they are. I think the skill level will allow us to at least create a lot of offence on a regular basis. The big thing for me with that group will be: can they really make an impact on the power play? Because, I think that in this league today is such a major, major issue that if they can do that, along with Erik (Karlsson) and whomever Paul (MacLean) decides to play on the other side, I really think that will make a big difference on our team.”

I'd rather have a first line dominate at even strength than a dominant power play unit, but that's just me.

Wonder if as a right shot, Ryan is gonna line up off the left half wall like Alfie.

On the matchup problems that the first line will create for other teams…

“It’s going to be a real test for them. It’s going to be a test for the whole group, but that’s why we think having a real effective second line will make a big difference this year. Kyle Turris had to play first line minutes most of the year last year and this year with Spezza, hopefully healthy all year, Kyle will get a little different matchup and the depth of our team comes into play big-time.”

It goes beyond Turris and extends to Smith and Pageau as well. Health permitting, Ottawa's depth down the middle is going to create some massive problems for the opposition.

On how much dialogue took place between the other 29 teams and Ottawa in the lead up to the submission of rosters…

“Not much with me. I think early on in the last week or so, I talked to a number of GMs. But, today was a very quiet day. I guess we all deal with the media today and we all deal with our individual players. We had meetings with each of our players who were being sent down – we felt that we owed them that at least. So that was a few hours, so the opportunity to talk to other managers wasn’t as available as it would be going forward now.”

To be a fly on the wall in that Zibanejad meeting.

On the change in pace and tempo whenever Pageau steps onto the ice…

“Well, I’m very happy and I’m really happy for ‘The Page’ too. I mean, he came in here in the playoffs last year and looked like a guy that could contribute. But, you never know until you get guys that are at the top of their game in the minors and come up and play well for some games and then go back to the minors. But, Pageau had just come up here – most every day, he was one of the best players on the ice along, I thought, with Da Costa. He plays with, as you say, a great change of pace. He plays against big guys and does fine. So, I’m very excited about what they bring and the depth in our organization is very substantial.

What the hell kinda nickname is the "The Page". I know the team is the Senators, but still that's super lame.

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