For every hockey team there comes that point where they have to decide whether the team it has can accomplish what it was intended to do (win), or if it is time to bite the bullet and begin a real youth movement. That is a question the Senators will confront as training camp opens in a few weeks.
After the team’s worst finish since the bad old days of the mid ’90s, and with many veterans already moved at last year’s trade deadline, the decision to give the kids a chance has been made. Now, though, comes the question of whether Bryan Murray and the Sens front office will make the remaining moves necessary to allow the teams new young players to take their place on the team.
A key part of this is the question of who will fill the top six spots on the blueline. Let’s presume a young number 1 team of Erik Karlsson and his defensive partner from last year, Brian Lee. Tony Mendes at Senshot points out this was a speed and speed pairing which worked well last year and deserves to be cultivated from the get go this season. It also allows veteran defenders Chris Phillips and Matt Carkner to anchor the 2 and 3 pairs.
Sergei Gonchar will fit into the offensive 2 slot, if he’s there. This is where a move makes sense. Gonchar’s skills, and salary, simply make no sense for a team in a rebuilding phase like the Senators. On the other hand, he might be a good fit for a team that figures to contend this season. While he had an awful year, he is likely to rebound, meaning 40 points or better, with 12 or more goals minimum. Looking at him as an asset to be converted rather than a salary to be dumped, he should at least warrant a decent draft pick in return.
If Gonchar is gone, then David Rundblad could be Phillips new partner. Rundblad is a highly anticipated prospect who showed his abilities last year in the Swedish Elite League. He is ready for a chance at the NHL level, and with Phillips covering his back, he could excel at the NHL level as a rookie. He should be good for 25 to 30 points if he plays a full season with commensurate powerplay time.
That leaves the third pairing. With Carkner as the defensive anchor, not to mention a tough customer when things get rough, his partner will have some freedom to jump into the play. While right now that partner could be Filip Kuba, like Gonchar he is an asset to be moved for useful pieces down the road. This would allow Jared Cowan, Ottawa’s 2009 first-rounder to slide into a regular spot in the line-up beside Carkner. With Cowan’s offensive game needing time to develop at this level, he will be in a good position to get regular minutes without too much pressure. This is a better use of those minutes than giving them to a veteran with a big salary.
That leaves the number seven slot on defence. That can then go to Tim Conboy, signed this off season as an unrestricted free agent from the Sabres organization. He brings size, physicality, and versatility, as he can also play the wing. While other options would be Patrick Weircioch or Eric Gryba, both of these are young players who need to play major minutes in Binghamton. The limited minutes of a number seven d-man won’t do them any good.
With Ottawa’s trials, the time to get young is now.