January Senators Roundtable

By Scott Petersen

We asked each of the following questions to four different Hockey’s Future analysts and have supplied three of the best answers to each one. Each analyst’s answer is represented by his initials. They are:

Scott Petersen : Fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University, freelance writer, head of the Hockey’s Future Senators page.

Sean Hatchard: Fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University, summer sports reporter at the Moncton Times & Transcript and freelance writer for Hockey’s Future.

Sean Keogh: More frequently known as ‘Hossa’, Keogh is moderator of the Hockey’s Future Message Board and a knowledgeable fan of the Senators.

Nick Quain: Also better known as his alter-ego, ‘Dr. Sens(e)’ is one of the main contributors to the Message Board and brings a logical look to Senators situations.

[1] The Spezza Saga:
From training camp earlier this year right up until now, the Jason Spezza saga has been a hot-button issue in Ottawa.

(a)How well has the organization handled the situation?

NQ:With all of the controversy surrounding Spezza’s demotion, you would think it was handled poorly, but I’m not sure what the Sens could have done differently. The key is they gave Spezza every chance to make the team, but were still going to make him earn it. And while he certainly demonstrated the skill to be a NHL scorer, he wasn’t ready to play the team’s system. This is Spezza’s first year playing professional hockey and while he already has more skill than 80% of NHLers, he needs to learn the defensive aspects of play and how to play as part of a “system”, rather than just freewheeling it. The Sens are Stanley Cup contenders right now and no longer a training ground for future NHLers.

SH:I actually think the Senators have handled the Spezza situation quite well. You knew at the beginning of training camp that the team had a lot of depth at the centre position, and that Spezza would have to have an amazing camp to make the team. He didn’t, so he was sent to Binghamton. Even when he came back up after injuries made room on the roster and Sens fans jumped on the Spezza bandwagon, he was only getting points on the powerplay and was the worst on the team in plus/minus. Don’t get me wrong, Spezza will become a regular NHLer soon, but let him play 20 minutes a game in the AHL in all situations. It will only help him in the future.

SK:Overall, I think they’ve handled the situation quite well. While I don’t necessarily agree with their decisions, I think they’ve done a good job of handling such a hot issue with oven mitts. Every move has been very well thought out, and generally, I’m happy with the way they’ve handled the situation.

(b) How would you have handled it?

NQ:The one thing I might have done differently is send Spezza down sooner, rather than let him hang around as a power-play specialist for that extra week or two. The Sens didn’t need to have Spezza for the man advantage, and it really didn’t help his development playing almost exclusively on special teams before he was sent down. If the coaches deem he isn’t going to take a regular shift, then he shouldn’t be in Ottawa.

SP:The longer the Senators kept Spezza in the NHL, the longer they let the endless debate over his potential fate drag on and the more time they left for fan furor to build. During his first games in the NHL, the contributions of Spezza grew to near mythical proportions as everyone chose to obsess over the positives he brings. At the end, it almost seemed the team was lowering his ice time in order to handicap his stats and brace fans for his eventual demotion, using the +/- stat as added motivation to send him down. In my view, the Senators needed to cut ties with him earlier, as soon as the roster was healthy enough to live without him. Run the organization the best way possible and let him get his regular shift to develop in the minors, don’t start getting wishy-washy on the decision of what is best for him because that is what looks bad to the fans and to Spezza. He was an injury call-up and should be treated the same way as other injury fill-ins.

SK:Personally, my opinion on how this should be handled changes almost weekly. For awhile, I thought there’s no way we can keep Todd White around, and leave Spezza in the AHL. But White has proven me wrong with his success over the last month. I personally would have liked to see Spezza kept up on a line with Bonk and Hossa — a couple very responsible players — with Spezza and Bonk both seeing time at center. I see the reasoning, and while I personally would have liked to have seen Spezza get a longer stay, I think that the right decision was made. I think it’s not about the decision to keep him or demote him as much as how it’s handled, and it’s been handled quite well.

(c) Given his current status in the AHL, should he have been sent to play in the World Juniors?

NQ:While it would be nice for the fans to be able to watch Spezza play in the World Juniors, the bottom line is that his development is better served taking place against men in Bingo. That is the fastest track for Spezza to get back in the NHL, while the priority for the WJC team is to win gold, not help Spezza develop. And that is as it should be.

SH:I don’t think he should have been sent to the world juniors. It’s very rare that NHL teams let their young kids go back and play in the tournament. Besides, Spezza has done the tournament three times, he’s been there, done that. Let him play in the AHL and improve his defensive part of his game, something he wouldn’t do in Halifax.

SP:I believe the decision should’ve been left to Spezza himself. There are positives to him playing in both environments and he should’ve been allowed to choose his fate. I figure he has unfinished business he could take care of in Halifax on a Canadian team where he’d be the go-to-guy. Sure he’s done it before, but his performance last year was abysmal and he could rectify that now. Also, all the pressure to perform, lead, and play well defensively in crucial situations you could want can best be found playing under the collective eye of a country for Team Canada at the WJHC in Halifax.

2/ Prospect Synopses-

Jakub Klepis –

NQ:I think it’s clear he’s not in the same offensive class or pedigree as the Sens’ previous first-round forwards such as Hossa, Havlat and Spezza. If he turns into a competent two-way NHL forward capable of 40-50 points, I’d be very pleased.

SK: He seems to have good skills, impressive vision and enough size to be a good NHL center. He’s got second line center ability, but skating and general scoring touch will restrict him.

SP:He’s a worker who puts time in at both ends of the ice. He’ll do what it takes to win and plays with heart. Should become a solid, though unspectacular, NHLer.

Tim Gleason –

SK:Great skater, enthusiastic hitter, with a high ceiling, and low cellar. If he puts it together and improves defensively, a potential top pairing rearguard.

SH:One of the bigger name Ottawa prospects, Gleason is still a long way from becoming a NHL defencemen. No doubt he has solid skills, but needs plenty of time at the AHL level to improve both his offensive and defensive game.

SP: Improved immensely this year, especially in regards to strength and physical play. Has shown he wants to play at a higher level and do what the organization asks of him. Won’t be as effective offensively at the NHL level.

Christoph Schubert –

NQ:I was very impressed with his defensive play and presence at the rookie tourney. Schubert skates well, plays physical and could be in the NHL in a few years, although his upside is not much beyond a physical #4 or #5 defenceman.

SH: Looked impressive enough in the rookie camp to earn an invitation to the main camp. Schubert dishes out some major hits and is a goalie’s best friend in his defensive end. Give him a little time to adjust to the North American style, but he’s got a future. I’d rank him higher than Gleason on the blueline.

SK:A German defenceman who can do a little bit of everything. He doesn’t have a dominant skill, but plays physical, has some skills and is solid defensively.

3) Movers and Shakers: Which two players are currently making the biggest case for themselves to move up or down the organizational rankings?

(a)Moving up — (pick one player and describe why he’s making waves).

NQ:Ray Emery: He has been one of the most dominant goalies in the AHL this season, which is very rare for a rookie. He is making a case for the back-up role with the Sens next season, although I’m sure management would prefer to see him get a ton of playing time in Bingo, rather than play 15 games with the big club. Either way, he has proven to be the real deal and the best goalie prospect this team has ever had.

SH:Brooks Laich: One of the more impressive draft picks at the Hull rookie camp, showing why he’s one of the best power forwards in the WHL. The Seattle centreman has had a great fall, making Team Canada and showing some offensive skills in Halifax. Thus far, he’s proved immovable in front of the net and demonstrated great hand-eye coordination which will give him success on tip-ins and rebounds. He has the size and the speed to play the professional game, so watch for Laich, a name Senators fans will hear much of in the near future.

SK:Brian Pothier: Not that Muckler doesn’t already know this, he’s been saying for a while that this guy can be NHL calibre. With eight healthy defencemen in Ottawa, Muckler seems even more determined to get Pothier into the line-up now.


(b)Moving down — (pick one prospect and describe why he’s making Muckler cry).

NQ:Toni Dahlman: Given he isn’t a physical player, I was expecting a lot more production out of him in Bingo. Two goals in 24 games isn’t going to cut it, even if goals are hard to come by in the AHL. He was never seen as much more than a defensive role player in the NHL, but if he can neither provide offence nor a real physical element to the fourth line, then there were will always be someone else capable of playing solid D, while providing one of those two assets to boot. Honourable mention goes to Chris Bala.

SH:Mathieu Chouinard: Simply put, this guy has been a major bust. A former star goaltender in the QMJHL and an Ottawa first round draft pick, Chouinard has never adjusted to professional play. While goalies need a lot of time to adjust, the problem in Ottawa is the goaltending depth they already have (Ray Emery, Simon Lajeunesse, Billy Thompson). There is no room for Chouinard in Binghamton, which is a sign his time in the Senators organization may soon come to an end.

SP:Chouinard: See above explanation. This guy’s time has run out and his value is equal to that of dirt. He has wasted the Senators’ time, money and two separate high draft picks they spent on him with his low work-ethic and his failure to shine in the face of adversity.

4) Analyze a position: take a position and analyze the Senators depth at that, taking into account all of the NHL, AHL, and other prospects they have there. Suggest possible moves, possible future looks at that position on the NHL roster, strengths and weaknesses, etc… .

SH:

Goaltending: The Senators are looking very nice at this position right now. Not only has Patrick Lalime established himself as a No. 1 NHL goalie, Martin Prusek has rebounded from a rough rookie start and is now a solid backup. But what is really impressive is the goaltending depth the organization has below the NHL level. Former OHL star Ray Emery is already a fan favourite in Binghamton and is well on his way to the NHL. Emery has been so good that Simon Lajeunesse (a former Moncton Wildcat standout) has been regulated to back up duty in Bingo. Emery and Lajeunesse have been so good that former first round pick Mathieu Chouinard is now patrolling nets across the ECHL and has played a little for Team Canada in Europe. The Sens also have Billy Thompson playing in the WHL, trying to impress John Muckler & Co. With so much depth, expect moves from this position from Muckler. Look for Chouinard to be leaving the organization soon (it’s been a long time coming) and watch either, or both, Emery and Lajeunesse to pressure Prusek for the NHL back up job because they are both much younger and cheaper. Thompson will need time in the minors.

SK:

Defence:In the NHL today, defence is the position most in demand. It’s a good thing then, that Ottawa is loaded in that position. The top four of Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara, Chris Phillips and Karel Rachunek is not only great in the present, but is a group to hang onto for the future, with all four being 25 or younger. Also impressive is the depth. With Curtis Leschyshyn and Shane Hnidy already established as legitimate NHL blueliners, Anton Volchenkov played his way onto the team in training camp after leading the team in pre-season scoring. Brian Pothier and Joel Kwiaktowski both were relegated to 8th and 9th on the depth chart. With Pothier ready to come to the NHL, and Kwiatkowski proving he belongs, Ottawa boasts nine potential defencemen right now, and a good mix too.

In the minors, there are other prospects such as Christoph Schubert, Wade Brookbank, Julien Vauclair and Sean Connolly. Schubert and Vauclair have the best chance at making the NHL. Both solid all-round defencemen with good size, they could be good 5th or 6th on the Senators, if there wasn’t such a logjam already. Both Brookbank and Connolly will have to bide their time.

Outside the pros, Tim Gleason of the Windsor Spitfires is the best junior prospect Ottawa has. With all the tools to be a top pairing defencemen, Ottawa can and will be patient with him. Jan Platil is a sleeper prospect with the Barrie Colts of the OHL and has outplayed Gleason thus far. Platil is a 6’2 defencemen with offensive ability and a mean streak. His skating isn’t as good as Gleason’s, but Platil could surprise a lot of people. Greg Zanon is the other prospect of note. A guy who most people haven’t heard of, Zanon has a shot at winning the Hobey Baker if he keeps up his play all year. Although undersized, he creates offence, is solid on defence, and is a physical player. The final prospect to consider is Neil Komadoski, a 6’2 rearguard at playing for the Fighting Irish right now. Generally considered a stay at home defencemen, Komadoski has improved offensively this year.

It’s hard to not be impressed by Ottawa’s depth at this position. It’s obvious that one, if not two defencemen will be dealt from the NHL roster. Leschyshyn, making two million dollars per year appears to be a good candidate to leave. Shane Hnidy is ever-improving, and has grit, intelligence, heart and is reliable defensively. Kwiatkowski isn’t as good as the above two defencemen, but would bring back almost nothing in a trade. Some suggest Phillips be dealt, but this observer thinks breaking up that top four would be foolish as this team is a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup this year. If a deal cannot be made, Volchenkov could be sent down, but he’s played very well so far. For the future, some of those defencemen are expendable. On a whole, Ottawa has about 16 or 17 guys who are, or one day could be, at least top-seven defencemen. That’s depth!

SP:

Forwards:The offensive balance at the NHL-level is striking. The young crew has grown and matured together to overcome many obstacles over the last few years and become one of the most explosive line-ups in the league. The veterans have assumed solid roles on the team, led by the exemplary leadership of Daniel Alfredsson. Marian Hossa is taking that next step this year in his progression from star to superstar and Todd White is on fire in a lineup that has held few disappointments. The additions of Peter Schaefer and Petr Schastlivy have in turn strengthened, respectively, the penalty kill and upper-line scoring. The whole group is defensively responsible under the Jacques Martin regime, but still managed to open up and provide offensive explosions when needed. Of late, the most pleasant surprise has been Martin Havlat’s high-flying antics and ability to produce no matter the linemates after a stint on Ottawa’s top line earlier this year. He has confidence now and has matured to the point where he’s getting rewarded with time in crucial situations.

In the system, the city holds its breath each time star-in-waiting Jason Spezza is called up or touches the puck during a Sens game. He’ll have a tough time living up to the hype but he has the skills to do it, as long as he does not crack under the pressure of expectations. Outside of Spezza, the system is short on the overly talented individuals. Both Antoine Vermette and Jakub Klepis are projected to be strong skating, two-way players, but neither is a sure offensive threat at the NHL-level. Alexei Kaigorodov and Brandon Bochenski hold potential and Brooks Laich is showing he could be the power winger the Sens have pined for, but there is an overabundance of plumbers after them, many of whom are underperforming. Toni Dahlman, Josh Langfeld, Greg Watson and Chris Bala are just some of the names of players in the system who will have a limited impact if they do make the NHL.

Among the most tossed around names in the league are Radek Bonk and Magnus Arvedsson, who both are deemed possibly expendable because of their salaries. However, it would be ridiculous to tamper with anybody playing with Hossa and his production at this point in time. The team could still use an experienced banger or two for the playoff drive, but it’s much more likely it will do minor tinkering than full-out changes at this point and that the pieces traded will come from the wealth of talent at defence and goalie.

5) Open Season: John Muckler wants to make a trade for a power forward to help the Sens’ run at the cup this year. He defers to you when asking what prospects he can offer up as trade bait. You can only tell him three players you’d protect. Who are they and why?

NQ:

Spezza: There is no power forward out there worth what Spezza will ultimately provide the Sens in the long term. Power forwards are hard to find, but having a player with Spezza’s hands is extraordinarily rare. He is also a center, which the Sens will need in the coming years. Whether he turns into an Andrew Cassels or a Jason Allison, the Sens will need his playmaking.

Volchenkov: He is the kind of player who will never make huge money, but will be a valuable part of the top four for years to come. The kind of defencemen that given Ottawa’s budget constraints, is much more valuable to a team like the Sens. He is the only player in the system that I see capable of winning a spot from one of the top four incumbents in the next three years.

Emery: With his great play in Bingo this season, he has clearly proven he will take a run at the Sens’ No. 1 job down the line. He is big, confident, ambitious and athletic – all with a good bit of attitude. I’m shocked at how much better he is than Lajeneusse this season, as I expected both to post similar numbers given Simon’s considerable experience in the AHL.

SK:

Spezza: The guy has amazing potential, and is a potential franchise player. Ottawa shouldn’t and wouldn’t deal him.

Emery: Ottawa has plenty of depth in goal, but this kid is the prized possession. Emery, last year’s CHL goaltender of the year, has been playing outstanding in his rookie professional season in Binghamton, and has big time potential. He’s similar to Olaf Kolzig in his style, and is the goaltender of the future.

Laich: The surprise pick, Laich isn’t necessarily a better prospect than Antoine Vermette, Tim Gleason or Jakub Klepis, but he’s different. All of the above players offer skills that the Senators boast plenty of. Laich, currently playing for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Halifax has power forward potential himself.

SP:

Spezza: Not much more can be said about the guy. He is being banked on as the future.

Emery: Quickly turning the organizational rankings on its ear. Great positional goalie adjusts well to competition and is showing the league the Sens have an embarrassment of riches in nets. Very reluctant to trade him, but he should hold an excellent value. But for me, also an untouchable.

Volchenkov: A future key to Senators playoff success. Maybe not this year, but he will become a pressure performer adept at shutting down opposing teams’ top guns. His hits and grit make the Sens’ blueline great right now with the possibility of becoming impenetrable in the future.

6) Do a top 10 ranking of the Senators prospects based on whatever standard you want, no explanations needed.

NQ:

Jason Spezza

Ray Emery

Tim Gleason

Antoine Vermette

Alexei Kaigorodov

Jakub Klepis

Brooks Laich

Christoph Schubert

Simon Lajeunesse

Billy Thompson

SH:

Jason Spezza

Ray Emery

Antoine Vermette

Julien Vauclair

Christoph Schubert

Jakub Klepis

Tim Gleason

Simon Lajeunesse

Josh Langfeld

Brooks Laich

SK:

Jason Spezza

Ray Emery

Antoine Vermette

Tim Gleason

Jakub Klepis

Brooks Laich

Alexei Kaigorodov

Brandon Bochenski

Christoph Schubert

Jan Platil

SP:

Jason Spezza

Ray Emery

Brooks Laich

Antoine Vermette

Christoph Schubert

Julien Vauclair

Tim Gleason

Jakub Klepis

Simon Lajeunesse

Alexei Kaigorodov