Cory Clouston announced today that the 23-man roster is how the Senators will open the season on Saturday in Manhattan. This means that Matt Carkner, Erik Karlsson, and Peter Regin have cracked the roster to start the season. Even though Clouston points out that they might be here for anywhere between a week and a year depending on how they do, you'd have to believe they'll get a fair shake.
From the get-go, it was evident that Karlsson was on this team. Murray said as much in interviews at the rookie tournament in Kitchener, so the kid's performance in the preseason really just validated that decision Peter Regin is a kid that was given every opportunity in camp and early games to show his development and really rose to the occasion. So much so that he's been practicing on the second line with Fisher and Kovalev. A ton of credit needs to be given here to Regin. We expected him to come out strong in camp, but he really was lumped in with a big group that included Bass, Zubov, and Smith from Binghamton and the regular vets like Donovan, Schubert, and Kelly. Now, Schubert is gone and Donovan is likely the 13th forward, but we have to point out that Regin clearly showed the coaching staff more than the rest of the cast did. I've been hesitant about praising him, and I will remain that way until he shows that he can maintain the work ethic and skill level through the grinds of an 82-game season (it's tougher than any of us know). But in the meantime, I will give credit where due, and Regin has stepped up.
The big surprise to most is Matt Carkner. People always liked him for his toughness and the staff has moved him around on the blueline and at winger to try and see if there was a way to get him up to the show. The knock on him was that he was all braun, no brains, and that he couldn't be a responsible defenceman. He's no top four blueliner, but it is nice to have a fighter back there that the coaching staff feels is NHL ready. The opportunity for Carkner to win the spot over a guy like Schubert is that Schubie won't fight. The positive effects of a bone-crushing Schubert hit are somewhat neutralized when he skates away from a challenging opponent. We needed a tough defenceman that would engage in those fisticuffs and with Gator retired and Schubert being demoted, Carkner filled a void. Make no mistake - he's in George Parros/Brian McGrattan land, folks. He'll get 20 games this year against the tougher teams and won't sniff 15 minutes of icetime, but he seems to have the right attitude and knows his role.
So where does that leave us? We have not carried 23 players since before the lockout and I don't imagine we'll do it for too long here. In fact, when Winchester is healthy, Murray and Clouston will be faced with a decision. Is it time to give up Winnie, time to waive Donovan, or will another player have faltered that warrants a trade or demotion? The easy answer is that Winchester and Donovan draw straws to see who leaves the team. But knowing the school of hard knocks from which Clouston claims as his alma mater, expect the competition for roster spots and playing time to continue forward from preseason up until the point that Winchester gets back. Seriously, can anyone see us carrying a roster with Carkner, Winchester, and Donovan in the press box? Wasted cap space, comrades. Murray has already said that he's working the phones to move bodies and the only reason that someone hasn't happened yet is the Winchester injury. When Winnie does return, keep an eye on how Chris Kelly has been doing. The guy is a great penalty killer and Gord Wilson refers to him as the smartest hockey player in the history of the mankind, but he needs to play to stay. Winchester dabbled at fourth line centre last year and fits a fourth line grinder role with Neil and Ruutu. And if you look at salaries, I can give you about a million and a half reasons why the staff would consider Winchester. I'm not saying Kelly is on borrowed time because it is clear this organization loves this guy. I am saying, though, that if they feel Winchester can perform the same duties at a quarter of the price, then Murray will find somewhere for #22. Ask Brian Lee about how hockey is a dollars and cents game.
Speaking of Brian Lee, and I don't want to put words into anyone's mouth here, are we looking at an upcoming silent trade request? I sincerely hope not. You just hate seeing an agent speak for the player and talk about how he's shocked. In all seriousness, did Brian Lee not see this coming? I wanted him on the big roster, but when it was clear that Karlsson was here to stay and it was clear from Clouston's comments that he liked the Carkner elements, Lee could have put this one together all by himself, no calculator needed. The dude just had his salary cut down to middle class normal person range. Many solid NHLers today have had to be squeezed off rosters and take it as an indication to work harder and unseat a veteran. I truly hope Brian Lee sees that as the best path here and doesn't go 'Russian' on us and feel like he'd have a better shot if he were on another team. Or maybe we're just conditioned to expect our minor leagues to want to be moved if they don't see a spot for themselves in the short-term futuer. To back up his point, his cracking the roster won't get much easier when Cowen and Wiercioch show up. If you're reading this, Brian (and I know you definitely are not...), sit tight, work your ass off, and make them play you in Ottawa. Make them make a tough decision about someone else instead of this recent easy decision about you.
And finally, how great is it to have a meaningful hockey game this week? We haven't played a meaningful game since the first week of April. We spent our summer trying to trade a disgruntled Olympic star because he didn't like the direction of the team. Season ticket sales are down, pundits expect us to miss the playoffs, and we don't have an elite defenceman. But like we do every Fall, we throw on our rose-coloured glasses and justify to ourselves why we're every bit as good as the rest of the Eastern Conference. Right or wrong, we truly feel that this team will make the postseason and get into that 'anything can happen' point of the year. Across the league, Ottawa fans are among the most demanding in hockey. Perhaps this year, while the rest of North America expects very little of us, we'll rise above that bar and as Lou Brown says, give them all a nice big shitburger to eat. No other organization is more eager to drop the puck than us. Here's to hoping the players on the ice are as pumped and passionate about this season as we are!
I'll be back later with more jibber jabber about this team. In the meantime, Brian Lee - fair demotion, bad decision, or trade request pending?