by SENShobo on 09/28/10 at 11:25 AM ET
The temptation of Ottawa’s third line, a whirlwind existence for Fisher, and Alfredsson’s sympathy for Redden, but first. . .
While Nick Foligno has provided the “wow,” Senators management surprised no one Monday when separating training campers into two groups that will soon officially be known as Ottawa’s NHL team and its Binghamton-bound farm boys.
Predictably, the battle for the temporary job as Filip Kuba’s replacement on the blue line appears to be winding down to veteran David Hale and first-round pick Jared Cowen, while rookie Patrick Wiercioch has been clumped with the Baby Sens.
“It’ll be close,” coach Cory Clouston said when asked if the newly formed ‘Group 1’ was what the Buffalo Sabres could expect to see in the season-opener Oct. 8 at Scotiabank Place. “That doesn’t mean the guys who aren’t practising with us today have no hope. We’re going to play some of those young guys at least two more games. We did this basically to work on a few things we wanted to make sure we had enough time to do, and get ourselves ready for the weekend (in a home-and-away series with the New York Rangers that ends Ottawa’s pre-season schedule), where we’re going to use more of our team.”
While debate about lines looms large, there is but one possible roster spot up for grabs.
Sure, if Elliott or Leclaire were to get a chance to post back-to-back stinkers, or if the wheels were to fall off one of the five younger forwards, or another freak injury were to burst ironically onto the scene, some other player could get pulled off the bus, but brutally cruel moments can hardly be counted as competition. Based on the Ottawa- and Binghamton-bound groups the team was effectively split into, the only competition left is between Cowen and Hale.
For Hale to make the team, he need only be a seventh defence man, be reliable and mistake-free in his own end, without anything fancy. For Cowen to make the team, he will need to beat out Hale and Lee — needing to be as reliable as either in his own end, more physical than both, and dependable enough to be used on the penalty kill here and there and make the good, easy first passes — for while Cowen has to be returned to the WHL rather than the AHL, as with Karlsson last season he must prove that he can play a regular shift: burning through the first year of his contract so that he can spot duty fill into 20-30 games will not help his development, even at the NHL level.
While I had been hoping for the sub-thousand fans in Dundas tonight to be treated to a better Ottawa roster than one that sees the top six forwards and top four defence men stay in Ottawa, this will prove to be an interesting test for the more parts Binghamton bound roster. A day after being separated into the non-NHL group, playing in front of fewer than a thousand fans whose loyalties won’t be clear, and playing without much NHL-caliber support, guys like Gryba, Wiercioch, Bass, Butler, Hoffman, Keller, Locke, and Wick will have a chance to play to their strengths on their lines, and show management what really drives them.
With this situation looming raw in their minds, all these players will have opportunity to show management that they still feel ready to play just as hard, even if the stakes aren’t visibly as high. Being assured that they can handle the mental turmoil of failing to make the NHL squad off the bat, these players will have a chance to show that they can excel in their proper roles, not lined up behind Ottawa’s big guns, and do so against higher-than-AHL competition. This game will give them all an otherwise unaffordable opportunity to fix their place on the depth chart, for the eventual slump or injury driven call-ups.
Not quite the glory you want to be fighting for, but still definitely worth winning.
From the Ottawa Citizen, what’s not to like about Ottawa’s third line?
Call them Old Reliable. Or Old Steady. Or maybe, in a couple of months, the 30-Something Line (Ruutu is 35, Neil is 31 and Kelly turns 30 on Nov. 11).
While coach Cory Clouston said Monday that line combinations were “never set in stone,” Kelly, Neil and Ruutu will be back together on Tuesday night for a preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres at Dundas, Ont.
It will mark their first appearance together since last season, but, barring major injuries, they’ll probably be together when the NHL regular season starts Oct. 8.
Ruutu established career highs with 12 goals and 14 assists, joined Kelly on an effective penalty-killing unit and was again the thinking man’s pest, always striving to get under an opponent’s skin. Kelly scored 15 goals, tying a career-high, while rarely putting himself or teammates out of position. Neil scored 10 goals in 68 games, up from three in his disappointing 2008-09 season, and forced defencemen into mistakes with his forechecking. All three were outstanding in the Senators’ first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well.
As effective as they have been, I still find myself thinking somewhat begrudging thoughts about their line. Yes, they have been effective in generating a little offense (37 goals), in keeping more skilled lines in check, and rarely hang the team out to dry with their play, but I still yearn for something different.
This line holds the same Chris (sometimes stone hands) Kelly who was able to fill in for spot duty a few years back when Spezza, Fisher, and Vermette bequeathed to him the role of first line center. For his pesting flair, Ruutu has been a reliable defensive player, killing penalties effectively, and his shootout success shows that he has some skill to tap when needed. Even Neil, for all his physical play and tough guy status, has shown this pre-season in sharing the team’s point lead with Foligno, that he has the sense to offer some hard work in the offensive zone when called upon.
Maybe I’m crazy for wanting to see a bit of line shuffling, maybe I’m nuts to want to see three lines instead of two that are rolling out on the attack, but I can’t help myself.
So, what did you do this summer? Mike Fisher, after leading his teammates in goal scoring for the first time in 17 years, married superstar recording artist Carrie Underwood in the off-season and appeared in a music video with his bride, plus the couple is having a new home built on the outskirts of Ottawa.
It can’t be easy being a “Fish” in two fish bowls: the music/glam world he has married into and the fish bowl he has known, as a Canadian player on a Canadian-based National Hockey League team. Growing up in a small city like Peterborough, Ont., learning to skate and fish and hunt in his Kawartha Lakes, Ont., backyard, was hardly ideal training for fending off paparazzi (although that crossbow he favours would come in handy). But, on the surface, anyway, Fisher takes all the fuss and hype in stride.
“You know what, living in Ottawa, we’re kind of protected from a lot of it,” Fisher says. “Nashville, the same. It would be different if we were living in L.A. or New York or something, but we’re fortunate to be living where we are. You just kind of learn to live with it. It’s all good. It’s all worth it.”
Last week we talked about how Ottawa’s fans are supportive but not Montreal or Toronto level vindictive. But it’s not just at the arena.
While Fisher is setting up his house on Ottawa’s outskirts, Jason Spezza and his wife settled down right in Ottawa. For all the kids who showed up after school let out, for the cake that was left on the doormat, the attention actually faded after not too much time. They found themselves able to exist without too much attention, right in a Canadian city. Imagine that, and thank you to Ottawa’s citizens and fans for it.
When the former all-star defenceman cleared waivers and was formally assigned to the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack, it meant that, at 33, Redden’s NHL career is probably over.
“He’s just not sure what’s going to happen next,” said Daniel Alfredsson, who talked to his longtime friend after he was placed on waivers. “I think he’s still a little bit looking for (answers), how did this come about? I hope he can just find somewhere to play where he can rejuvenate himself, and just turn the page and start new.
“It’s been a tough few years in New York for him, obviously. It didn’t work out for both sides, the way they wanted. Hopefully, he can find somewhere to play, where he can kind of get the fun back in the game. Get the energy back.”
“I can just imagine it must have been extremely tough for him to get through this, when you can’t turn the corner,” said Alfredsson. “I think he still has a lot to give. He just needs to find the joy in playing, and the energy again, and he can be a good player.”
Even as Redden’s second and final year at $6.5 million in Ottawa was deemed too highly paid; the six at $6.5 million that the Rangers laid out for him was destined to be far more excessive, and this step an eventuality. Ignoring the financials of it, you do feel some sympathy for yet another NHLer who could find a spot in the League, albeit a vastly different one, now being effectively retired. But it will take a new CBA to right this more common issue for players, with ground being ceded by more than just one side.
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