Okay, so we're gonna cram the last three guys into one installment so that we can wrap up the Blueliners Top to Bottom in one work week.
This guy was brought in on a two-year contract to be a wrecking ball on defence and to carry on a long career of top leadership. This guy was fresh off the C with the Flyers and his signing was more or less applauded in hockey circles because he could skate decently and was a rock star as a leader.
What happened, though, was that Gator had lost a step out there and couldn't really keep up with the new, fast-paced Eastern Conference. Gone was the clutch and grab and here were the Ovechkins and Malkins that could skate like the wind. Smith certainly was one of the toughest guys on the team, but he had a tough time with the speed. What really hurt his time in Ottawa, though, was that he had a tough time finding his game in Hartbsurg's defensively responsible system. Doesn't make sense, eh? But Gator quickly became a stopgap out there, a guy that was solid in the dressing room and tough on the ice, but a slight liability against offensive opponents. It pains me to say this because I've loved this guy since he was captain in Edmonton because he'd go to hell and back for his teammates and that is the mindset we need in Ottawa, but the problem is that his time on the ice is becoming a problem.
Best moment as a Senator: The triple minor and game misconduct (16 minutes, if you're scoring at home) he took on Kaleta for trying to run Alfie. The penalty call was bogus, but this was a perfect representation of what Gator brings to a team. You don't mess with the captain.
Worst moment as a Senator: March 7th, 2008 - Jason Smith leaves the game against Buffalo with a lower body injury and nobody has seen him since. Rumours are abound that he is on LTIR and rumours are abound that this is Ottawa's professional and classy way of letting Gator retire with dignity (instead of sending him to the minors). Either way, it is probably the last time we see Smith in Ottawa.
2009-10 Expectation: Honestly and unfortunately, we should probably have zero expectations for Smith this season. There is zero indication that he fits into Murray's plans this Fall and it sounds like he'll either be packaged into the Heatley trade to Edmonton or he'll be placed on LTIR or he'll retire (and his contract will come off the books since he signed at 34 years old). As much as I love this guy and think he is one of the last true warriors in hockey, it appears his time in Ottawa, and maybe even the NHL, are over. We'll miss ya, Gator!
I'm going to be honest with you here - I don't care much for this kid. He is a major liability defensively as he has shown terrible positioning and an inability to handle a forecheck. On the attack, he has a decent slap shot but isn't good enough with the puck to truly run either powerplay unit. Where does that leave this guy? On the third pairing and on the fast track out of town. There were stories that Murray insisted on Picard in the Meszaros trade with TB last year and if that is the case, then I think Murray and his comrades missed one. Kuba is solid, but Picard doesn't seem to have the potential to really step up like a Campoli or Lee. To me, Alex Picard is an equivalent of Brendan Bell but on a one-way contract. Rumoured to be trade bait, I don't think Picard is a lifer here and wouldn't be surprised if he is gone by the deadline.
He was hurt shortly before the trade deadline and didn't play more than two games under Clouston. In the interest of time, I'm not highlighting his best and worst moments in Ottawa. In other words, he didn't make many highlight or blooper reels.
2009-10 Expectation: I'll go a step further than in the Gator analysis because signs point to Picard still being on the roster this season. We know who the top four will be and that leaves Picard in that 14-16 minute range. My hope is that he is peddled out of town, but my belief is that he'll get some time on the second powerplay unit alongside Campoli and will muster up a few points. I'll agree that he has a strong shot and is something that we'll need on the man advantage, so he has the potential to pot some goals. That being said, he'll really have to earn his minutes under Clouston because he doesn't do anything 'great', including positioning. If he can get off to a fast start on the PP and in moving the puck through the neutral zone, he has a shot at getting decent minutes.
Projection: Limited playing time, look at Picard to get 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points and he'll play to an even plus/minus. This is his last year before becoming an RFA, so Karlsson and Cowen's development will have a lot to say about whether Picard is retained. He's young but I just didn't see where he is going to improve.
Why is it that so many Sens fans have given up on this kid? Quick reminder that this guy was a top ten draft pick and is 22 years old. While I understand that he was a Muckler pick and that guarantees nothing, and that I just called out Picard, a 23-year old, I truly feel like there is more to come from Lee. When Mucks drafted him, it was when we still had Chara and Redden on contract for another year and the GM was asked if Lee would be ready to step up in two years if one of those guys were gone. Muckler's response: "He better be". Now, it is clear that Lee wasn't completely ready for that jump but we have to keep in mind that players like this take a while to learn the game and fit into their role.
Lee stepped into the bigs two years ago, late in the year, when we choked our way through the 4 game sweep to Pittsburgh. He looked strong on the puck and showed great vision with his movement up the ice. Dare I say, he looked like and NHLer. Last year, though, he didn't really seize the opportunity to be the puck mover that Murray wanted. As a result, Lee is going to be under immense pressure this year to really show a solid step forward. Karlsson, Wiercioch, and Cowen will be on the roster in two years, so that gives Lee this season to show his worth. Add to this that it is a contract year for Lee and we'll see first hand if he is going to have a future in Ottawa. As far as I'm concerned, he is going to make a strong top four defenceman in the league someday. Whether that it is in Ottawa is in his hands, so we'll see what he does with this.
Low moment for Lee was that February 26th game hosting San Jose where Lee took 6 minutes in penalties, a minor followed almost immediately with a double minor, giving SJ the opportunity for two powerplay goals and a 2-1 win. This was seen as a low point and a solid learning experience for Brian Lee as he was taught to shut his damn mouth to the refs.
2009-10 Expectation: Like I said, Lee has 82+ games to prove his worth in Ottawa. If he doesn't become trade bait (courtesy of a strong Karlsson camp and first half), then he'll get third pairing minutes and will have to blow this up to work his way into Campoli's ice time. Like Campoli and Picard, Lee is in the last year of his deal before RFA status, so he needs to outplay those guys and show that he can handle a hit. He's very smart with the puck, but he hasn't figured out how to absorb a hit and keep the puck. It doesn't matter how poised you can be, if you can't take a hit, then you're up Brian Burke Creek.
Projection: As I said, I'm a Brian Lee fan and think he'll go down swinging. Look for 9 goals and 15 assists for 24 points and a +2. Good for a third pairing, but not great. Preissing put up better stats in a similar role. If he can play like Murray thinks he can, he'll stick around:
What are your thoughts? Who of Picard, Lee, and Smith will be here through next season?