Positional Analysis: In ‘Defense’ of Youth


“You have to play defense, that’s how you win.”

Petr Bondra

He may have done little or nothing to help Ottawa win, but he did at least know the secret to success, defense.

There’s no doubt that the focus of the re-build to date has been defense.  Karlsson, Cowen, Rundblad, Wiercioch, and Gryba, there’s a teams defense, in prospects alone, without the need of a single veteran player.

Now, we all know that the Sens 11/12 defense will not be comprised exclusively of prospects (yes, Karlsson remains a prospect).  There will be Phillips, Gonchar and Carkner and one of either Lee or Kuba, to help bridge the gap between the ages, and experience.  But of the above list, Karlsson, Cowen and Rundblad are almost locks to make the team out of camp, barring some performance implosion.  So how will this impact the pairings?  Does the coach develop pairings based upon impact today, or tomorrow?

The first pairing of NHL defense is best made up of one elite player, and one defensive specialist.  Tasked with facing the teams best offensive line, this duo must be able to both shut down the offense, and provide sufficient fire power to ignite their own forwards, and, in a best case, pressure the opposition defense to pay attention to both the points and the hash marks.

Unfortunately Ottawa does not have an elite Dman, and hasn’t since losing Chara to the Bruins.  An elite Dman is able to play both elite shut-down, and elite offense.   But this isn’t to say they entirely lack in skill on the blueline.  Phillips provides solid shut-down ability, and Gonchar, at his best, is a solid all around defenseman, though no longer elite, with an offensive gift.

Traditionally one would expect to see Phillips on the left and Gonchar back manning the right flank on the first pairing, but, considering the goal of development, I suspect this pairing will not be a full-time partnership.  But then what?  Will it be Phillips and Cowen, a defensive mentor for a developing defensive specialist?  Will Gonchar pair up with Rundblad, an offensive specialist with a developing offensive specialist?  Phillips and Karlsson?  Karlsson and Gonch?  Phillips and Rundblad?  My head is spinning.

Honestly, I have no idea.  Absolutely no idea.

Phillips – Gonchar

The second pairing can take one of three forms, sometimes they’re exclusively defensive, the shut-down tandem, sometimes they’re 1st pairing light, or a reverse of the top pairing, with an offensive specialist and a more well  rounded defenseman.

Clearly, if a number of prospects make this team (which I suspect), there is no obvious second pairing.  This will depend greatly on who makes the team, how they play, and if both Kuba and Lee remain in the mix.  Assuming one of either Lee or Kuba leave the active roster, come opening night (for whatever reason), I would expect to see a pairing of Karlsson and Cowen, the hopeful top pairing of the future.  Obviously this duo will be entirely out experienced on a nightly basis, making for the very real possibility of splitting them up to play with each of the top pairing skaters, but time will tell.

Cowen – Karlsson

The third pairing is traditionally similar to the 4th forward line, reliable, aggressive and generally lacking in offensive skill.  Expected to spell off the top pairings who play the lions share of the game, more than provide impact shifts.  Carkner is an excellent example of a bottom pairing Dman, and will likely remain in this role going into this season.  His linemate will be difficult to predict.  Again, assuming no Kuba, I would expect this last spot to be filled by Lee.  Lee remains too young to write off, and last season began to show himself to be a reliable NHL, if not the top prospect he was once considered.  It remains possible, although not likely, that Lee may yet blossom into a second pairing defender and, considering his contract status, worth keeping around with an eye to the future.

Carkner – Lee

This leaves the 7th man, a player who, depending on the teams infirmary may or not dress.  Right now I have this as Rundblad.  This however can be quickly adjusted to reflect the play of either Cowen, Karlsson, in fact, it can only be assumed that this 7th role will rotate through-out the season between Cowen and Rundblad, giving each a chance to learn the NHL from both on and off the ice.

Rundblad (Cowen)

So what of Kuba?  There’s been talk of him being moved in exchange for an equally expensive forward, going to a team needing defensive depth, not forward depth.  Another school of thought has been a courtesy trade to a team needing to reach the cap floor, in exchange for a nominal pick or prospect.  Last but not least is a loan to a European club willing to absorb some of Kuba’s contract.

GN

 

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2 Responses to “Positional Analysis: In ‘Defense’ of Youth”

  1. Too early to tell…Rundblad looks just like “EriK” and this may hurt him early in the year.

    • He has more size, and his SEL experience, but his biggest challenge will be the ice surface and its close quarters and limited time to think.
      We’ll see, and I’m much looking forward to watching it all un-fold in the coming weeks.
      GN

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