Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Two days ago, after Brandon Bochenski was sent down to Binghamton, I wondered aloud who would take his place on the top line with red hot Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza.

The logical choice was Daniel Alfredsson, for a lot of reasons. It seemed like Bryan Murray thought this way as well, because Monday he announced to the local media that Alfie would be playing on the top line. Done and done, right? Well, no.

Yesterday, in practice, Martin Havlat was practicing on that line. When asked why, Murray said he still intended to go with Alfredsson, but in case that didn’t work, he wanted to see what Havlat looked like in the spot should he have to go to it.

When pressed about what line would be starting, he danced around the question, joking that Sabres’ coach Lindy Ruff didn’t need to know that. Oh, how coy.

Beyond who will be paired with Spezza and Heatley is an even more interesting scenario: Chris Neil, who’s been a welcome surprise this season offensively, will play on the second line with Mike Fisher and Bryan Smolinski should Alfredsson leave that line to play with the big scorers.

I assumed, wrongly, that if Alfie moved up a line, Havlat would take his place with Smolinski and Fisher. Since coming to Ottawa, Havlat had been behind Marian Hossa and Alfredsson on the right wing depth chart, stuck on the third line, yet still managed to be a major contributor offensively. In 2001-02, he was fourth on the team in scoring with 22 goals and 28 assists, behind the previously mentioned right wingers and Radek Bonk, yet was only 8th in average ice-time for forwards. The next year, he was again fourth in team scoring with 24 goals and 35 points, then only surpassed by Alfredsson, Hossa, and Todd White, but again he was 7th in ice time. And the last time we had hockey, Havlat had a career high 31 goals and 37 assists (in 68 games, averaging a point-a-game). His ice time? Again 7th of all the forwards.

Despite not being featured prominently, Havlat has been one of the most consistent producers scoring wise this team has had. Testicle kicking notwithstanding, he’s come a long way as a player, and is no longer the defensive liability he was his first few seasons as a pro.

It’s time he gets his shot.

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