I'm not going to show up here today and say that Patrick Wiercioch and Jared Cowen are fixtures on the blue line next season. In fact, I've often said that Cowen is at least a year away based on his knee surgery recovery and the fact that he hasn't really blown any minds in the past 12 months. But the signing today (or impending signing) of Wiercioch and the report that Cowen will join the team when Spokane is ditched is another reminder to the lesser blue liners that they have yet to do enough in their time here to be etched into the core.
Here's what we know - Chris Phillips is a lifer. Big Rig will know only one team his entire career and regardless of his ups and downs, he'll always be the poor man's Adam Foote and he'll always have a spot on our blue line for leadership and service. Matt Carkner is here for two more years. The guy has shown that he is an NHL defenceman, albeit a third pairing player that, in a perfect game, will only have his name mentioned once or twice for a big hit or shot block.
Erik Karlsson is the future. Bold statement, especially when I criticized his play earlier in the year. But who didn't? We said bluntly that he needed time in the AHL to figure out how to be an effective offensive-minded player while avoided the big hit from power forwards out to take his head off. Whether or not he did this in Binghamton or just played XBOX 360 is irrelevant because he has absolutely been our best defenceman in the second half of this season. He's our third fixture.
Filip Kuba isn't so much of an enigma simply because he never impressed anyone that much to begin with. I've always liked Kuba because he played a simple game, got pucks through to the net, and didn't induce any profanities from the fan base. But his performance this year, likely in part because of a nagging hip injury, has been pretty sad and it isn't out of the question that he's trade fodder at the draft table.
Sutton and Volchenkov. My hope is that at least one of these guys is back here next year. When we first acquired Sutton, I was pumped about the incoming hits and shot blocks but just assumed that his $3M salary was the result of overpayment from a bad GM for a bad team. In order to get Hainsey to Atlanta and Streit to Long Island, GMs pay top dollar. I'm not saying that Sutton is an All-Star, but his performance in the past two weeks has truly been worthy of $3M a year, given what other players make in this league. His hits are insane and he will step in front of any shot (sound familiar?). While A-Train is the preferred option based on age and because we already know his strengths and weaknesses, it wouldn't be that devastating if Volchenkov follows the money and we are stuck with Sutton.
So we have the potential for some openings next year if Kuba is moved and/or Volchenkov or Sutton aren't retained. Does this mean a free pass for Campoli? For Brian Lee? Even after the Picard trade, these guys are still finding it hard to stay in the lineup, or in Lee's case, to stay in the league at all.
Wiercioch and Cowen will be in camp and just like Karlsson and Carkner this year, they'll be given every last opportunity to make the big team. I know it shouldn't come as a surprise to Lee and Campoli that their spot on the depth chart is written in pencil and due to be erased in the next year or two, but it begs the question about why neither of them has truly risen to the occasion.
In Campoli's case, there are so many times where he takes the puck behind our net and instead of moving the puck up the ice (like a puck-moving defenceman should), he passes off to Carkner. Is Carkner the offensive player on that pairing? Campoli just doesn't seem to have the vision of a younger Wade Redden (before you ask, yes, I did struggle typing a rare compliment to poor Wade). Lee, who hasn't had the benefit of icetime up here, has had so many false starts that our expectations for him have just plummeted. I'm not going to sit here and talk about Kopitar and Marc Staal, who Muckler left on the table when he took Lee, because we can all go through and find situations of poor drafting from every organization. I will say that while he does have a bit more time to develop, as most defencemen do take longer to adapt to the NHL (right, Chris Phillips?), the writing is on the wall for the kid.
It is a tough spot for these two guys to play from, nobody argues that. Many defencemen are given the necessary time to develop into solid NHL blueliners. In the case in Ottawa, we've just been stockpiling there and don't have to give them the luxury of time. Brian Lee and Chris Campoli will be NHL defencemen somewhere. I'm just not so sure that Murray will have it be in Ottawa. Your move, boys.
And a quick dose of Bobby Butler - this guy sounds wicked cool. Here's to hoping that he doesn't lose that New England accent.