Randy Lee Speak: Binghamton’s First Two Playoff Games

I planned on posting this earlier but after Elliotte Friedman’s comments this morning and yesterday afternoon’s comments by Darren Dreger regarding Jason Spezza’s future with the Ottawa Senators, I figured I’d handle that topic earlier before posting Senators Assistant General Manager Randy Lee’s comments regarding the Binhamton Senators first two playoff games.
If you want to listen to the interview, you can do so by following this link or by streaming the audio embedded within this post.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.

On what Da Costa has to do to make the next jump…

“Well I think you’d be able to tell if the biggest thing about some guys, I mean they are 6’2” and they are 210 pounds, but you play them in a playoff game and they don’t play big. I mean, if he can be an effective player when there’s all this intensity and all this physical play where he’s the guy being targeted and getting hit after the whistle. I mean, they’re hitting him and throwing him to the ice. They’re pinching him pretty good. If he can keep elevating his game and play (like) that, that’s a good indicator for us that he can do it at the NHL level. And that’s what Bryan wants – ‘Find me guys who can play in playoff games.’ Some guys are great during the regular season and then Houdini – they disappear and you don’t seem them anymore. If you can do it in this type of game, then it’s a good indicator that you can do it at the next level.”

Having listened to Lee’s appearance from last week that cued up the Binghamton Senators playoff series versus Scranton Wilkes-Barre, he articulated an importance seeing how players can elevate their game in the postseason. I’ll come back to this topic a little bit later on. 

On guys looking more and more comfortable with each recall…

“Exactly and sometimes we see guys, we give them the taste (of the NHL), they play pretty well and it’s time for them to go back and they don’t respond really well. We talk to Luke (Richardson) and Steve (Stirling) and they’ll say, ‘He was no good coming back,’ because they feel that they didn’t get enough of an opportunity. Other guys go down and say, ‘Okay, this is what I’ve got to work on in my game. This is what they want to see out of me.’ And right away, they go and they try to execute that and that’s a good indicator. Those are the guys who make the best of their next opportunity by doing the things – adjusting their game, taking the feedback from the coaches, going down to Luke and Steve and say, ‘Okay, what do you want me to do? This is what I’m going to do,’ and deliver. Those are the guys who can make that progression that much quicker.”

Now if only he could explain what has happened to Jim O’Brien’s career.

On Cody Ceci’s play and development since being returned to Binghamton…

“Well, I think it’s a good indicator of the character of all our guys because when we sent him back, (Jean-Gabriel) Pageau back and (Mark) Stone back, they were excited about the opportunity. They said, ‘I want to go down. I want to have a good playoff run.’ They embraced this challenge, which is really good. And (Ceci’s) been good. I mean, even for him, he’s a big guy and a young guy, but he’s got to sit there and go back and play in the American (Hockey) League in sort of a tight rink and he’s been hard. He’s had to have been hard. They’ve challenged him as well. He’s been good on the power play. He scored a big goal for us. I could see each game over the weekend that he was getting better over the two games and really elevating his compete level.”

If Ceci can embrace the challenge of adhering to and following Chris Phillips’ on-ice finger pointing directions, he can handle anything the AHL has to offer him.

On any update on Matt Puempel’s health from the weekend…

“Uh no. He was having a good game too. I was worried about him and how he was going to respond and he had three scoring chances in the first period of the first game and then he got hurt. He did try to come back. He did play a bit and he just wasn’t perfect, so we said, Luke was smart. They just said, ‘Shut him down. We’ve got lots of bodies here.’ There was a chance that he could have played in the second game. Like he could have gone, but it was a really good decision by the therapy staff and the coaching staff – risk versus reward. ‘Let him sit the extra game. We don’t play until Wednesday, (let him) get the full recovery.’ It was a good opportunity for other guys to step up. Garrett Thompson was a guy we signed as a free agent – he went up on that first line in the first game and he did pretty well. And then in the second game, they put Cole Schneider on that line and he was really good, so it’s a good opportunity. We’ve got a lot of depth and a little bit of injury and other guys get to step up in their game.”

It is expected that Puempel could return for game three. He missed game two after absorbing some hard hits in game one. According to WBNG, Puempel skated alone on Monday and practiced with the team on Tuesday. Jim O’Brien will probably also make his return to the B-Sens lineup.

On Ryan Dzingel’s progress…

“Well, I have a lot of time for this guy. He was a very skilled player and to me, a bit one-dimensional when I first got to see him. And then we talked about how he needed to adjust his game and he really worked at that. I thought that would be the limiting factor, could this kid adjust his game to the things that he’s got to do to play at the pro level. By this year in Ohio State, he was killing penalties and he was playing the point on the power play. He was not going by the net, he was stopping at the net. He was the go-to guy, so he was getting hit, targeted and abused and he still kept his game going. Killing 5-on-3’s and blocking shots, stuff that I didn’t see in his game before, so I think there’s a lot of upside for this kid, so it’s good for us. But, it was an interesting dynamic too for myself to see that at the end of the season, you go add a Pageau up front, you add Stone up front, Da Costa comes back from injury and then you add Garrett Thompson and Ryan Dzingel, so it’s a real interesting dynamic to see the big redistribution of ice time and adjustment of roles. It was a good indicator to watch and to see play out and to see who’s a good teammate and who could adjust to that because you noticed that some guys came out of the lineup when you had this influx of players.”

Dzingel had quite the torrid start to his professional career with two goals and seven point in his first nine regular season games. Albeit, has was held pointless in the one playoff game that he has played in, but his emergence as a prospect provides the organization with some offensive depth as it prepares for the graduation of prospects like Stone and Pageau as early as next season.

On how close the organization was to thinking that they could sneak Mike Hoffman through waivers to return him to Binghamton for the playoff drive…

“It was a tough call and it was interesting, people say, ‘Why did you do it?’ We had to clear him because he didn’t need waivers at the trade deadline day and if you don’t clear him that day, then he’s ineligible totally. So if we kept him for a couple of more days and then we decided to flip somebody else in an out and he went down and then played the rest of the season and then we didn’t clear him on clear day, we’d look like donkeys. So it was a smart move to clear him. His (exemption from) waivers kicked in part way through and we just felt that we put a lot of time into this player and we just felt that we put some time in on this player. We’ve felt that he’s really shown some good things. He’s not there yet, but he’s shown some good things. We want to see if he can compete for a spot next year, so the risk of putting him through waivers, I don’t think it was just worth it from an organizational point of view to lose an asset for nothing. He couldn’t play for anybody else, but they could just claim him, qualify him and gain an asset. And the fact that we had this other depth, we said ‘We could absorb this,’ so it just created an opportunity for somebody else.”

Rather than lose Hoffman for nothing, perhaps we could see the organization move Colin Greening, a player who not only in line for a bump in pay next season but struggled when playing in a third line capacity away from Jason Spezza. Maybe the organization believes Hoffman is the kind of player who can make Colin Greening expendable. 

On Mark Stone’s development…

“Definitely, but how he performs in this playoffs is going to go a long way to painting the picture of who Mark Stone is. Same with Jean-Gabriel Pageau. I mean, we need these guys because you’ve been in the NHL, you’ve had a taste of it and know what it’s like and now you’ve got to deliver at the American Hockey League level. And that’s another guy, Mark stepped up with, like you said, a goal and a couple of assists. He was strong. Pageau was a man out there. He played really hard. I guess you guys painted a good picture about the game. It was a tough game and it was a tough series. Rick Wamsley called it a man’s game and Jean-Gabriel Pageau really, really stepped up. He was playing hard, he was getting in peoples’ faces, he was finishing the checks, he was good on the penalty kill, he scored a big goal, so it was good to see those guys sort of take on this challenge.”

There’s obviously something to be said about prospects who can rise to the occasion and play their best hockey in the postseason and yes, there’s also something to said about building a winning culture at the various levels within an organization, but whether that transcends to the next level remains to be seen.

Too often in sports, there’s a tendency to romanticize or admonish the efforts of a player because it makes for an easy narrative. In essence, we’re really talking about such a small sample size of games for drawing conclusions and if that’s the litmus test for evaluation, I have to admit, it is slightly concerning.

It’s the same kind of logic that applied to Colin Greening. Although he put up some modest numbers playing as part of a five-man unit with Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson, and he boasts some of the physical tools that GMs have a tendency to drool over, Greening developed a “playoff performer” label last season because he scored three goals and four points in the team’s playoff series versus Pittsburgh.

This line of thinking overlooked the fact that Greening has zero goals and one assist in his previous 12 playoff games. Even though underlying numbers showed a player whose production has dipped every year since he entered the league and who has been ineffective playing a dump and chase style with Zack Smith and Chris Neil, people disregarded these larger sample size issues because four goals in his five most recent playoff games all of a sudden transforms someone into a “playoff performer”. Rewarding him with an extension that boxed out the team’s prospects just never really made sense and that holds true today. 

On whether Pageau’s will allows him to succeed irrespective of his size…

“It’s a mindset. I think Luke (Richardson) did a really, really good job of painting a clear picture to the guys of the kind of mindset you need if you want to win in a series. That’s a tough team they’re playing. They finish every check. There are scrums at the net. You want to get to the net, you’re going to get shots in the face and sticks across the backs of the legs. If you’re going back for the puck, you’re going to get hit, so you have to have that mindset that ‘I’m not just going to hit and finish checks, I’m going to have to take some hits to make some plays.’ Pageau was doing that. Stone was doing that. Da Costa was doing that. Wacey Hamilton was doing that. Dave Dziurzynski, it was pretty good to see. Mark Borowiecki was crushing guys out there.”

On Mark Borowiecki and his value to the organization…

“And he just came back from the playoffs. I mean, he was out with an injury, so they were targeting him as well and he was going back for pucks and they were just rocking him. He just kept going and kept plugging and when he just had a chance to rock some guys, he either steps up in the neutral zone and wow, it’s scary sometimes how he comes after guys and he rocked one guy behind the net. He just crushed this poor guy’s ribs right into the boards. You felt this guy’s ribs just collapse and you went, ‘Ooof.’ He can do it and it sends a message. It sends a message to your team and it sends a message to your bench that ‘Here boys, here’s what the commitment level is going to take.’ And everybody stepped up. I think the coaches are really proud that their team responded. They felt a sense of accomplishment that their group responded to this challenge and figured out how hard this was going to be and elevated their game. It was a real fun game to watch.”

Crushing hits aside, does Mark Borowiecki have a spot on the Senators’ roster next season even with his one-way status? 

On the excitement level around the young prospects and them seeing the opportunity to play next year…

“Exactly and that’s what we’re telling them, ‘You have to showcase yourself. Paint a picture of why we can trust you in big games. Why you can help us win in big games.’ And it was great to have Paul (MacLean) down there, so Paul got to see it firsthand and see the guys step up and he was really impressed. Nick Polano, one of our scouts was down there and Rob Murphy and they were really, really impressed to see some of the guys that maybe they weren’t sure about, maybe they haven’t seen a number of times – how would (the players) respond in this situation – and they were pleasantly surprised. It’s encouraging that the competition is from within. They know that we’re the type of team that builds from within. Like, we’d like to have our own players fill the key roles and then supplement or complement with free agency from outside. We’re not going to go through free agency to fill our big holes and we’ve got players who can do that and we’ve got character guys coming who can do that. So it’s really encouraging for the organization and the coaching staff are doing a great job there challenging them to step up their game and it’s great to see.”

Should the Senators follow through as expected and trade Jason Spezza, barring some unforeseen situation in which they re-sign Milan Michalek or Ales Hemsky before they hit unrestricted free agency, the Senators will have some “key roles” to fill and a lot of production to replace. 

On the play of Andrew Hammond stepping up in goal…

“I’m very surprised. You’re right, this is a young man and a big adjustment for him and he’s really worked on his conditioning. He’s really become a pro. He’s a good example in the room and he gives the guys confidence when they play. He gives them a chance to win every game. He’s a calm guy and he makes the big saves and the key saves at the right time and that’s what you need to win in the playoffs.”

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