Thursday, September 29, 2005

Waivering on the decisions

With the pre-season nearing an end, the Senators continue to evaluate the group of players I affectionately have dubbed the Bubble Boys (by the way, all you scribes who’ve lived that term need to break me off with a check asap). Bryan Murray has said he wants to have the team he’ll ice on opening night October 5th in Toronto in place for the final two pre-season games against the Montreal Canadiens.

Which means that tonight’s contest against the Penguins, a team they pretty much dominated in the previous two pre-season games, will be the final test for those trying to stick with the big club.

One of those guys, who was believed to be on the outside looking in, Steve Martins, may have improved his standing with a couple strong games lately. I thought he was solid, though not spectacular, Sunday against Toronto and reports from last night’s game in Buffalo said he played well. Having said that, he probably doesn’t have much of a shot of making the team. With Brandon Bochenski having all but guaranteed himself a spot with his stellar preseason, it leaves two spots on the fourth line open. Brian McGrattan likely has the right side locked up because he brings something to the table Murray seems to think this team needs. I’m not convinced we do need another tough guy, but we’ll see soon enough I suppose.

The other spot open is as a result of Vaclav Varada’s knee injury, but according to the team, he’s ahead of schedule and may not miss the six weeks originally thought when the incident occurred. It was thought that Chris Kelly and Denis Hamel would be the ones battling for that spot.

Rookie Patrick Eaves, a personal favorite of mine, has had a tough pre-season, and though those who’ve seen all the games say he’s gotten better with every outing, they also still admit he doesn’t appear to be NHL ready. His conditioning is said to be worrisome. He was moved up to the third line for last night’s game in Buffalo, playing with Mike Fisher and Peter Schaefer, apparently because the coaching staff wanted to see how he’d fare with some of their better players.

On defence is where it’s gotten interesting. Going into camp, I would’ve thought Christoph Schubert had a major leg up on Andrej Meszaros, having already played three years of pro hockey in the AHL, but it now looks like it’s Meszaros who is the favorite to win that sixth defence spot. He got the most ice time of any Senator in Sunday’s win.

However, all these battles for jobs are a result of a decision made by the new coach that I’m still left questioning: Murray has decided the team will only carry 20 players. Upon hearing this news, I expressed my skepticism, and two weeks later, nothing has occurred to cause me to change my mind. I still feel like it’s a mistake.

The team has plenty of salary cap room, so the idea that this is because of that would be wrong. As best I can tell, they would still be several million under the 39 million with a 23 man roster, leaving them some room to add to the team at some point during the year (ideally, at the deadline I imagine).

Murray’s rationalization is that players need to be playing, not sitting in the press box in a suit and tie. In the case of some guys, I agree. Patrick Eaves needs to be playing. Andrej Meszaros needs to be playing – which is why I’m not sold on him being the sixth blueliner, as it doesn’t allow the kind of minutes he needs to continue his development. But does Denis Hamel need to be playing? Does Lance Ward? Does Steve Martins?

I would think all three would’ve improved in the AHL as much as they’re going to. Why not keep them up with the big club, even if they’re not playing? Having a few extra guys around during practice can serve as a great motivator for the guys in the line-up, as they can see the guy who will take their spot should their play drop off. As well, it gives the team the option of icing different types of teams. While you might want to put Ward in there against the Leafs, maybe a guy like Hamel would make more sense against a skating team like Tampa Bay. Versatility will be an asset any team would love to have, and the Sens seem to have the option of it at their disposal and are rejecting it.

An aspect of who will be Ottawa Senators, and not members of the Binghamton version, is the issue of waivers. It’s something that I must admit I hadn’t considered all that much in my analysis of these guys. As best I can tell, in order for Kelly, Hamel, Martins, Ward, and Schubert to be sent down, they would have to clear waivers. The same can’t be said for Eaves, Meszaros, and McGrattan, who can come and go without being exposed. How will this play into their decision?

It’s especially interesting in the cases of Schubert and Kelly. They’re both young guys who the team has spent many years developing, and losing either one would not be ideal I’m sure. Some have thought that the best idea is to hold onto both for a while, having a 22 man roster, and then sending them down when teams have filled their own rosters out with other waiver pickups and have little cap space.


Why not keep each with the big club in the first place. Forget this nonsensical plan of Bryan Murray to have the bare minimum. It’s not smart. I know, I know, who I am to question Bryan Murray, and I assume John Muckler as well.


At 9:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have not seen much from Eaves -- he did not impress me in the rookie camp, and while he has looked better with each opportunity, it is a big jump from NCAA to NHL. Nothing wrong with a year of pro hockey in the AHL, even to just get used to the number of games he will play.

I like the idea of all guys with the "big club" playing, I think it just creates a better dressing room and team atmosphere. With less western games, Bingo is close enough that an emergency call-up is less of a travel issue.


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