After a dreadfully slow last few months, I'm not sure I could have prepared for today's onslaught of Senators news. Not that I'm complaining mind you, it was a refreshing change of pace that culminated with Senators GM Bryan Murray making an appearance on this afternoon's edition of The Drive.
Murray did hit on a few things that I did not bother to include in this post, so if you wish to listen to the full interview, you can do so here, or via streaming the embedded audio below.
As always, my thoughts will be in bold.
On looking forward to camp…
“I am. It’s been too long obviously and we’re all glad that we have a chance to play some games this year, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Aren’t we all Bryan. Aren’t we all.
On when camp is going to open…
“I’ve heard the same thing (on camps opening possibly this Saturday). I don’t have any insights, other than that, I’ve been meeting with Paul MacLean and his staff a little bit today and trying to have a plan, but we’re kind of at the whim of the people making the decisions. And that’s a good thing, I guess, but we’re ready whenever they tell us we can do it.”
For the first time in some time, I’m finally starting to recognize just how much I’ve missed watching hockey being played at the highest professional level. Much like Murray, I’m ready for hockey whenever the league gives them the go-ahead.
On the sense of urgency in playing a 48-game schedule and the pressure to get back to winning…
“It really is a sprint now. During the regular hockey season, you have games where you don’t play very well, players aren’t at their best by any means and you have two or three games in a row where that happens and you can still recover. But in year like this, where it is 48, 50 games or whatever it may be, you have got to be ready and work real hard every single night. And I think that’s the good thing from a fan’s point of view is that every night should be competitive. And if you have a bad game, you don’t have all week to get ready, you’ve got to get back the next night and be ready to go and play and work hard. I think there’s more pressure, without a doubt. More pressure on the players. More pressure on all of us and I don’t think Paul (MacLean) is very scared. I think he’ll be ready and his staff will be ready to do what they have to do to get the players ready to go.”
Considering the brevity of the schedule, the possibility of a GM making some egregious error based on the circumstances that some bizarro 48-50 game schedule will create makes me incredibly worried. Well, until I sifted through the 1995 calendar year’s trade history and realized that one of the worst trades in that lockout shortened season involved Vancouver trading Gerald Diduck to the Blackhawks for Bogdan Savenko and a third-round pick that turned out to be Larry Courville.
On what teams a shortened schedule favours…
“Good question. I’m not sure. I feel we’re in a real good position for this kind of run. We know full well there’s going to be a lot of intensity early on in particular. There will be some injuries around the league. We have had a couple already and we don’t need any more. But, we have more depth of young players and Luke Richardson has obviously done a good job in Binghamton. We have eight or nine guys down there that are NHL ready, we think. Having a young group that is somewhat healthy that work hard every single night, I think that is the advantage. I mean, veteran guys over the course of time seem to find a way to win particular games, but I think in this kind of a situation that having the energy player that is NHL-ready , which is very important, but I think having the energy player will give us an edge.”
Any prognosticator who claims that Team A has a better chance than Team B this season because the season shorter is tailored to their benefit, is completely full of shit. In a 48-game season, any team could be undone by any one or more of the following: 1) an injury to a star player – even it is a short-term one; 2) a prolonged stretch of poor play; 3) a cold goaltending spell; and/or 4) having Brian Burke as a General Manager.
Kidding aside, I don’t know how the Senators are positioned for a good run unless Bryan has a trade up his sleeve that nets the team a competent defenceman. The Jared Cowen injury really buggers up the Senators depth chart and with the possibility of starting the season with three new defensive pairings, the potential lack of cohesion on the back end gives me cause for concern; especially if it necessitates playing Gonchar and Phillips together against decent competition for 20-plus minutes per game.
On the cohesion and chemistry amongst the forward group…
“Yeah, I think the setup on our first couple of lines should be, we have good skill. Obviously we think with that, we have some goal scoring ability. On the next two lines, we have a little bit of size. We have a little bit of variety of players – penalty killers, hard-nosed, competitive guys. I think our forward group is good and on top of that, we have Noesen, who is playing in Plymouth. We’ve got (Mark) Stone and (Mike) Hoffman. We’ve got a good group of young forwards down in Binghamton that, if they have to come up and play some games for us, can contribute. I think that’s where we really have a good edge right now.”
The forward core and depth is an obvious strength for this team, they are going to need to score (often) if they stand any chance.
On the impact that Silfverberg could have this season…
“Yeah, he’s got a (good) head and hands. When a player has that, and he can get up and down the ice somewhat, you know he can contribute. You’re right, Jakob started fairly slow down there. I think the smaller ice surface, the type of game in the American (Hockey) League was a bit of a factor for him but he made the adjustment. I’ve seen a few of his highlight goals on tape and I keep replaying them hoping that he’ll be able to do it up here. He shoots the puck a ton. He’s got a head around the net and he makes real quality plays, so whoever plays with him will benefit from that as well.”
Considering Bobby Butler spent a considerable amount of time flanking Jason Spezza over the past few seasons, the bar has been set low for RWs who are qualified to line up alongside the team's number one center. ‘He shoots the puck a ton’ is a measurable step up from ‘that bum who sounds like Mayor Quimby when he talks’.
On the state of the defence right now and the injuries to Jared Cowen and Mike Lundin…
“Well, it’s interesting, over the last day and a half now, I’ve received a number of calls from free agents, veteran guys that we will look at. But, we do have… again, we have some kids that have played very well – (Mark) Borowiecki, (Andre) Benoit, (Patrick) Wiercioch and (Eric) Gryba… people of that nature. So we will take a look at them as well. But I’ve talked to a couple of GMs about some surplus that we might have to get what we need. It’s like a normal year there. We will try and take our time, be smart about it, add the right chemistry type of guy to our lineup and hopefully (defence) won’t be the weak spot. We’re short in numbers, there’s no question and it’s really terrible that we lost Jared the way we did. But hopefully it will work out to our benefit later on because of this; we get a kid playing that will learn a lot and be better in the long run.”
Much like Justin Schultz in the summer, these free agents cold calling Bryan see opportunity, ergo this is a bad defence. Are we supposed to read too much into Murray’s last sentence and infer that the organization is willing to take its lumps by giving a younger defenceman like a Wiercioch or a Borowiecki an extended opportunity, regardless of the consequences? I’m fine with that, if that’s the case. It’s a deep draft and as a playoff bubble team, the silver lining to missing the postseason dance is that every non-playoff team will have some (small) shot at 1st overall.
On making a deal for veteran defenceman…
“No, they’re hard to get and it’s hard to have enough depth there. As I say, we have some big, young kids that are playing there and playing very well. We know they’re well-schooled in Binghamton and I think the way that it looks now at any rate, we’ll probably start with our own group and if we have to make an adjustment as we go forward, we will do that.”
Still have to believe that the familiarity and modest success that Wiercioch and Benoit have had playing together against the opposition’s best lines in the AHL this season gives them a leg up on the competition.
On updating Lundin’s status…
“He’s going to be out for three or four more weeks at least. It’s been about two weeks (since) he had surgery on a finger. It was a broken finger. So we just have to wait for that timeframe to go by. The good thing about a hand is that he will be able to skate. He will be able to work out. It’s just a matter of – he can’t play until we feel that he’s 100-percent. We’ll make accommodation for that to happen.”
I can’t recall having ever watched Mike Lundin play. It says something about the state of this team’s blue line when I’m hoping for his expedited return.
On his thoughts of Cody Ceci and the announcement that he’s dealt…
“Well, we think he’s a real good prospect. We know that they have had a tough year. We know it’s probably a good thing for the local team, the 67s, to get an asset for him. In turn, I think it’s good for Cody to go and play in a competitive situation; hopefully get into the playoffs and get that kind of experience. But, we’re really looking at him as a little longer-term guy… HOWEVER, I say all of that, it looks like when we start camp, we will bring Cody to camp and have a good look at him. I think it will be a great experience for him and obviously a great situation for us to have a viewing. We’ll see if we can make a few strides and accelerate his pace to get to the NHL.”
Can’t emphasize how hilarious Bryan Murray’s dramatic/comedic timing was when using the word ‘however’ to play up Ceci’s inclusion for training camp. Speaking of hilarious (not too mentioned far-fetched possibility), how entertaining would it be if Ceci outplayed a number of his peers during camp and actually made the squad? Imagine the disdain of Owen Sound’s management if that scenario came to fruition. Hahahahaha.
On the goaltending depth for the Senators and having three capable goalies…
“Yeah, we’ve been very, very happy overall. The two kids in Binghamton have been outstanding. Robin Lehner has been really, a star. A lot of nights they get outshot badly and outplayed and they win the hockey game and only give up one goal. So we’re going to really have to take a hard look at the two young guys along with Craig (Anderson). Our depth, again I mention up front and in goal in particular, our depth is really good. And in a shortened season, goaltending is going to be a major, major factor. So we have to play the right guy to start off with and hopefully he’ll carry the ball, whoever it may be, will carry the ball and help us win some games early on in particular.”
But, Luke Richardson just described how Robin Lehner has been his team’s MVP, despite downplaying the volume of shots that his team has surrendered since so many of those shots originate from the periphery. Where does the truth lie??!?!?!
Scott was going through the numbers this week and prior to their most recent game against Albany, he determined that Binghamton’s PDO — the sum of a team's even strength shooting percentage and even strength save percentage – is higher (1039) now than the Minnesota Wild’s was (1028) through 30 games last season. (Note: in the event that you missed last season’s sabermetric analysis of why the Minnesota Wild would falter down the stretch, please refer to this Kent Wilson piece that he penned for Puck Daddy.) At least in the event of Binghamton's regression, the organization has a ready-made excuse in its best players being recalled to Ottawa.
On Lehner needing to play games or the possibility of staying in Binghamton being a hurdle for him…
“Yeah, the one thing that has happened with Robin, he’s matured so much. His game is so much better. His approach is really good. I think he understands now, which is hard for young players sometimes, that it does take time to make it (to the NHL). But you hope when you make it, you stay for a long time. And I think Robin understands that totally, so we’re going to give him a great viewing here. We’re going to give him a great opportunity here and if he has to go back (to Bingo) and play, I know he’ll be terrific down there as well.”
Everything that Murray is saying certainly lends itself to my belief that the organization will opt to keep Lehner in Binghamton for the duration of the season (barring an injury or a trade obviously). With Ben Bishop being on a one-way contract and Anderson being one of the few marketable veterans on this team who could actually fetch something of value in a trade, it’s in the organization’s best interests to a) do whatever is necessary to satiate the impending UFA Bishop; and 2) let Anderson carry the ball and hopefully maximize his trade value in preparation of making Lehner ‘the guy’ next season. If the organization’s assessment is correct, and judging by Lehner’s quotes this season, he does seem to realize that his time is coming, it’s in his best developmental interests to play as often as possible.
On whether the team is tough enough…
“Oh boy, if we’re not tough enough, I’ll get some advice from (Don Brennan) I’m sure and he’ll tell me who to go get. I think that’s the one issue… there’s no question that having Matt Carkner and (Zenon) Konopka last year was a nice ability to put into (the lineup) – like in Game 2 against the Rangers. I think we’re tough enough. I think we have competitive people. And if we’re not, we’ll have to address it. But I think again, with the shortened season, we’re going to see a lot more competitive hockey. You’ve got to stay on the ice and you’ve got to play hard. Recognizing that, there probably won’t be a luxury of carrying a tough-guy only.”