Positional Analysis: ‘Wings’ and a Prayer.
Though certainly not referring to hockey, when considering this seasons group of wingers, a quote from Ray Bradburry sprang to mind;
“Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall”
This season, apart from one player, Ottawa has jumped, without knowing if it has any wings. Although Ottawa lacks elite depth at centre, they do at least have one legitimate elite player. At wing, however, the Sens may no longer have even one elite player, let alone two or four, as in the past. Remember fondly the days of Hossa, Alfie and Havlat, all playing at one time, over-whelming the opposition. Now, at best, there is only Alfie to raise the offensive banner, and expecting a 38 year old player, no matter his pedigree, and heart, to single-handedly provide a teams offense, is folly.
But so is the case of the current Senators roster, like it or not.
Alas all is not lost, because what the Senators lack in proven top 6 talent, they over flow with in un-proven talent. This examination will be the most volatile of all positions, as much will depend upon how the rookies perform, and that remains highly difficult to predict, especially over an 82 game season.
Well, here it goes, all the same.
The role of the 1st line winger is offense, plain and simple, offense. This is not to mean they have no defensive obligation, but, as a first line winger, you will be judged upon your ability to light the lamp. There will be no hand wringing over not playing physically, or not grinding in the defensive corner, but if you fan on one timers, or consistently miss the net…prepare to be judged, and harshly. On the other hand, if you fill the net on a consistent basis, much, if not all, can be forgiven (see Heatley).
On the left of centre, on the first line, will undoubtedly skate Milan Michalek, a still young, but oft recovering from injury, offensive talent. Few believe Mich has reached his full potential, but many believe he may have attained his peak, due to multiple injuries. I have no idea. I do know Mich began playing much better in the second half of the season (apart from a 12 game sideline due to a foot injury), scoring 20 of his 33 points, and skating smoothly for the first time since having off-season reconstructive knee surgery (again). I can say this though, at 26, this has to be the season Milan takes his next step as a top forward, and earns the salary his superior 06/07 season garnered him. As is always the case in pro-sports, you’re paid based upon expectation, not performance, and to date Milan has been held back from proving the predictors right or wrong. This season he is healthy, acclimated, and, with Spezza as his pivot, without excuses not to score at least 30 goals, or risk being deemed a bust.
On the right will be Alfreddson, back on the ice for his 17th season, after off season spinal surgery. I love Alfie, he is, in my eyes, a hockey God, I am unabashedly proud to say he is a hero of mine…but, he is human, as much as we like to think otherwise, and eventually father time will catch up to him. Will it be this season? I sure hope not, and not solely because of the impact on the Senators, but because it will hurt my very soul to see it. Even if it is not this season, one cannot reasonably expect Alfie, at 38, soon to be 39, to carry the offensive torch for this team, over 82 games, it just won’t happen.
This isn’t to say I predict Alfie will suffer a major performance stumble, but anything more than 70 pts. would be a very impressive achievement, IMO, and that’s just not elite winger numbers, as much as it destroys me to say it. BTW, I hope to be proven completely wrong, nothing would make me happier.
Michalek – Spezza – Alfredsson
The second line wingers, like the 2nd line centre, will be tasked to play a more physical, and defensive game, but still with an expectation of better than average offense. I suspect this will be the line to see the most shuffling, barring a break-out performance, as each prospect gets a chance to show their stuff. The names on the left will undoubtedly include Foligno, Greening, Filatov, and quite possibly Regin and Smith. This line will be the barometer for the team, the more shuffling, the less performance. It will be here that MacLean will do his most in game coaching, and will be hoping to find some magic combination. Unfortunately, expecting consistency from this line will be just too much to reasonably count on.
Foligno, is the most likely to start as the 2nd line LW’er, based upon his good last season. The hope is, securely ensconced on the 2nd line, at least to start, he will continue to progress into a reliable top 6 winger, providing some stability on an otherwise in-experienced line. That being said, two others will be doing their best to take his spot, namely Colin Greening and recent acquisition Nikita Filatov.
Greening turned some heads in his brief NHL showing, no doubt helped by riding shotgun to Spezza, he made the best of his opportunity and management hope to see more of the same going into this season. He’s big, fast, and continued to prove his worth with his solid play during Bingos run to the AHL championship. He may be hard to keep off this line, and that will be a good problem to have.
Filitov is at a stage in his development where it is up to him to earn a spot in camp, or risk having to do so in the AHL. He has added some size, claims to have improved his defensive acumen, but, fair or not, must overcome the stigma of “bust” by what he does, not what he has done. IF Filitov comes into camp eager, willing and able to score, and follows the system, he will no doubt catch the coaches eye and steal a spot on the top 2 lines. It is un-likely he will play in the bottom six, as the Sens have players for those spots, and Filly isn’t a bottom six player, rather, if he fails to make the top 6, he will be in the A, riding the buses and eating drive-though burgers.
The right could be available to any number of players, with the most likely being Butler, having just signed a one way deal in the off-season. However, should he fail to remain in the top six mix, or is moved up to the first line in the case of injury, don’t be surprised to see a very real battle develop in camp between rookies Zibanejad, Petersson, Condra and DeCosta, although all four remain long-shots just to make the team, let alone a top 6 role… but desperate times.
Foligno – Regin – Butler
The 3rd line wingers are pretty much set, with Greening on the left, and Neil on the right. This will allow Greening to work on his power game without having to worry about being gooned up by the opposition. This is going to be one tough line to skate against.
Greening – Smith – Neil
Last is the 4th line wingers, again, pretty much set with Konopka and one of either O’Brien or Condra. If the Sens find themselves facing a particularly feisty opponent expect to see Lessard draw in.
Condra/O’Brien – Winchester – Konopka