by SENShobo on 09/19/08 at 11:14 AM ET
Chris Neil is ready to contribute however he can this season, Vermette is ready to score in a more offensive and responsible role, Gerber and Auld not convincing everyone that they are ready to lead the way in net despite their class and talent, and the battle to be our D has no shortage of competitors or options.
Chris Neil is ready to be a difference maker again, says the Ottawa Sun. While he (and others, I expect) did not respond well to Paddock’s goals last year, along with his overreliance on certain forwards, Neil sees a different season ahead. He was one of the players who was able to have a good chat with new head coach Craig Hartsburg, and while more will be expected of Neil, there is an understanding there that he will be trusted and given sufficient responsibility so that his role is not marginalized.
Seeing as how this is a contract year for Neil, he will have a lot to prove. Since Hartsburg has made his vision of three scoring lines with an energy line clear, Neil will undoubtedly have to prove he can be closer to a Tuomo Ruutu or Sean Avery-style pest, who can leave his mark on the ice and on the scoreboard. Otherwise, Jarkko Ruutu, Shean Donovan, and Cody Bass all have longer contracts or youth on their side, which might end Neil’s 8-year tenure with the Sens. But we’re a long way from that still, and there’s plenty of time to prove that he can return to the form that saw him score 28 points last year and 33 the year before, not to mention reignite his fan-favourite status.
Vermette is ready to burst into a more offensive role this season, according to the Ottawa Citizen. Just as Neil and much of the team has done, he’s spoken with Hartsburg about both his and the team’s role this season, and couldn’t be happier with the all-around attack that’s planned for the team.
“It’s perfect,” he says. “I think Bryan was looking for that kind of approach as well. I think it fits well with our team—we’re good when we don’t sit back.”
Indeed, as mentioned, a line with Alfie, Fisher, and Vermette stands to challenge Heatley, Spezza, and partner as the most dangerous line on the ice. With three two-way players who can work the powerplay, while not only killing penalties but creating and capitalizing on shorthanded chances, they could present one of the most nerve-wracking lines to play against. Sure, you know that Heatley’s a great sniper, but when you’re worried that one false move and the puck’s no longer on your stick pointed at Gerber, but being rushed up the ice by one or two of these aggressive and speedy guys, it’s bound to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or at least I hope that will be the case.
An interesting ranking of players with a lot to prove from SI.com would seem to find both Gerber and Auld in the hot seat this season, while TSN has a touch more hope for our netminding duo. Sure, they’ve been around the block, but was it a surprise that Florida would trade Auld for Luongo, that Auld would have trouble carrying Florida or Phoenix to new heights, or that he would find Tim Thomas’ shadow surprisingly large? Was it a surprise when the Ducks chose to keep J.S. Giguere, three years younger and now a proven Conn Smyth winner, or that a stellar playoff performance by another Conn Smyth winner in the decade-younger Cam Ward would see Gerber shuffled off again? There’s too much to like about the drastic changes in maturity on our team, and the prospect of our solid defensemen coached by a fellow blueliner in Hartsburg, and while I can’t see Auld or Gerber as MVP, I think that any real effort by either one will solidify the team this season.
From the Ottawa Senators’ website, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Ottawa Sun, there’s no hiding the ongoing battle to make the last defensive pairing. While there’s no chance we’ll see any less of Phillips, Volchenkov, Smith, and Kuba, the last two or three spots are far from locked up. There’s a good mix of passion, experience, youth, and energy, as the likes of Richardson, Schubert, Lee, Bell, and Picard. Despite my fondness and respect for Richardson, considering that half of the six blueline spots belong to defensive specialists, along with Murray’s oft-stated desire to have puck-moving defensemen, I suspect that barring any major injury or disappointment, we won’t be seeing him back in a Sens jersey (not to say that I wouldn’t love to see him in the organization nonetheless).
As for the remaining four, it’s an interesting dilemma. Schubert has never made it a secret that he wants to end this habit of playing on the 4th line, but he’s been quite successful there as a hard-hitting energy player, although if the preliminary line of Ruutu, Bass, and Donovan sticks, there would be no need for him in that capacity. Lee has worked long and hard to earn himself a spot, and Murray has stated that Lee will be “an NHL player from now on.” As for the new duo of Picard and Bell, Murray had this thought in an earlier Ottawa Sun story:
“Kuba has played on a power play and I know he can shoot the puck,” said Murray. “I hope that Brendan Bell can come in and have strong camp. He’s worked very hard in the off-season and I see him as a guy with a lot of skill.
“Alex Picard, to me, is not that kind of player. He seems to handle the puck well and he moves the puck really well.
“So, there are some different candidates amongst the guys that we have going to camp.”
One of the interesting factors to consider is Murray’s determination not to pay NHL salaries to AHL players. That would suggest that the two with one-way contracts, Schubert and Picard, are the most likely to wind up in Ottawa, and yet it seems to be Lee and Bell that are spoken about most highly. The overcrowding of our roster will give Murray plenty to ponder and to discuss with Hartsburg, and it will be interesting to see what October 3rd (our roster deadline, gratis our Eurotrip) brings; who will stay up, who will be sent down, and who might possibly find themselves in a whole different uniform.
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