Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Alright, first off, sorry for the delay. Both of us were out of town over the weekend on post-Heatley vacations. Seriously, though, we don't plan on having long breaks like that now that the season is back underway. To bring it back in style, we're going head to head in a current affairs debate: do you leave the old guys in there or do you cast them aside and make room for the kids? This is truly Murray and Clouston's biggest decision as the top two lines are taking shape, as is most of the blue line (except Karlsson vs Picard vs Lee). And finally, we know who the goaltenders will be. So how do we handle those role spots in the forward ranks?
In the midst of preseason, we find ourselves looking at our youth. I'm not referring to the superstars of the future, I mean the young guys who have spent some time on the bus in the AHL, the guys who work their behinds off in the summer to have an edge, the guys who are mostly unproven in the Show and are hoping to crack a 3rd or 4th line just to prove they can do it. We always have these guys, but this year appears to be different. Over the last few seasons, we've heard about these guys but it seems our final roster is no real surprise. Fast forward to 2009. Where Donovan, Kelly and Ruutu used to be a natural fit for opening day, they find themselves questionable this year. Believe it or not, and our readers believe it, Neil and Ruutu are even fighting for a forward spot. And I, for one, love it!
How can these NHL vets be overlooked for guys with minimal (or less) experience? Because it's time. I like our veteran stalwarts, but I'm excited to see the future. Guys like Peter Regin and Zach Smith deserve huge look this year and I'm glad to see they're getting it. Donovan's a good guy, Kelly kills penalties, Ruutu gets under every opponents skin - but how did that work out a year ago? Well, it didn't. It's time to infuse this team with new blood. Get a group of youngsters who'll do anything to make the team and when they do, do anything to stay there. That will result in wins.
Let me start my response bluntly, Pynch - the kids aren't ready for full time duty. I said it. There's a reason guys like Cody Bass get cut and Zach Smith and possibly Peter Regin will soon follow. They're simply not ready for an 82-game season with much on the line. I think Ottawa fans are very fond of overstating the development of our rookies. Some people expect a dozen rookies to be contending for spots in the next couple of years and it just won't happen. Guys like Hennessy, Bass, and Zubov are just younger versions of Denis Hamel. They just aren't consistent enough, fast enough, and strong enough to get full time duty with the big boys. I know this sounds like I'm being hard on them, but I really mean it as constructive criticism. Go watch what Neil, Ruutu, Kelly, and Donovan do out there. Do I think Kelly and Neil's salaries are a bit much and really hold us back from adding a key piece on the blue line? Sure, but every team has a couple of guys that make a bit more than their fans think they are worth. But they provide a skill set that the kids haven't developed, including the ability to show up and battle for 82 games at a very high level.
Okay, what if the Sens continue doing the same old routine. Now, I'm not saying guys like Neil or Donovan won't work hard but I'm scared about complacency. Sure, their experience provides consistency where a newbie will definitely have off nights and be non-existent - but how else do you develop in the Bigs? Expose them to what it really means to produce and they'll be there. I'm not talking about talent that just can't cut it, but Regin and Smith are legit prospects who've shown they mean business so far in 2009. Let the kids play!
I am as curious as you are about how these kids will do over the course of a full season, but history hasn't been kind. While I will say that the Murray Bros. have been doing a far better job with development in the minors than their predecessors, there is still a long way to go in Binghamton and in drafting until we turn into a Red Wings organization where we can plug and play any one of half a dozen rookies. I know this team is in a retooling phase (don't call it a rebuilt), but nobody wants this team to miss the playoffs again. It is hard to argue against the pressure on Murray to get this team back into the playoffs and he and Clouston need to trust that task to the guys that know how to get there. Is Peter Regin looking comfortable on a line with Fisher and Foligno? Did Brandon Bochenski position himself for a scoring title three years ago in the preseason? At last check, Bochenski is actually driving the taxi that shuttles players back and forth from Ottawa to Binghamton. Preseason is a feel-good party that gives the guys a taste of how much harder they need to work. It doesn't necessarily mean that you should make room by waiving a guy that's been at it for a dozen years.
Pynch: Duff, you're so damn stubborn and old school! Here's another angle: while new faces can make you as uncomfortable as watching Bob Probert attempt figure skating, don't forget who is a familiar face to our young lads - Cory Clouston. This guy was they're freaking coach for the bulk of last season! They know him and they know his systems. While they might take a few games to realize the pace and pressure is significantly different, they'll pick up the playbook quickly. This isn't teaching a new dog new tricks (wait, that's not right...), it's reuniting new dogs with their old master. So can you teach old dogs new tricks (there it is!)? Sure you can, but it's not the answer we need this year.
Duff: I forgot about our blessed saviour, Cory Clouston. We already got into this one earlier in the summer. I'm just glad you didn't do the whole 'make room in payroll' argument. As I said earlier, I know that Kelly and Neil make salaries that really hurt us on the blue line. That being said, Kelly's salary is par for the course and Neil should understand that he needs to get his game back on track this year. They are textbooks role guys and if you look at any team in the league (think John Madden, Sam Pahlsson, etc), each team has them. And you can't just trade them for a 7th rounder and hope that Peter Regin turns into a penalty killing star, or that Matt Carkner can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league. The expensive vets on our team (and Donovan with his 600K price tag) are just valuable enough that you can't give them away without a return. So while I will argue that these guys DO provide depth and experience that the kids aren't ready to supply, I'll also add that we're kinda stuck with them because they're too important to just give away.
It is clear that I won't get through to you. Clouston has said that they're keeping everyone in camp until after the Friday game so we'll just have to wait and see what they do with this group. My money is still on them finding a way to keep Regin (and Karlsson, though we didn't get into defencemen). I know you believe that the Donovans and the Neils will always have a spot on this team. I'm telling you that it is time to make room for something fresh and new. Either way, we'll have our answer by week's end.
Duff: Deep down, I fear that you might be right about some vets getting cast aside. I just hope we don't cut out some very valuable intangibles that cost us some games, cost us some power play goals against, some key backchecking shifts that kill time until our top three lines get their juices going, etc. And one thing that we do agree on: we'll have our answers by the weekend.
Posted by Geoff at 8:00 AM