Bo no longer knows Ottawa
This is probably not a Halloween Brandon Bochenski will want to remember. As many expected, the Ottawa Senators demoted the rookie right winger to the Binghamton Senators this morning.
With Martin Havlat coming off his suspension, the Sens had to make a roster move of some kind, and Bochenski was the logical choice. Despite tearing it up in the pre-season, Bo has yet to be an effective scorer since the regular season started, scoring only one goal in the 10 games he’s played.
One goal from a rookie might not be bad, but when you consider he’s playing on their top line with Dany Heatley on the left side and Jason Spezza at center, both of whom are in the top 5 in NHL scoring, that kind of a slump simply can’t be justified. Bochenski was put on the line because he’s a goal scorer - or at least, that’s how he was billed to us -, having scored over 30 goals in his first year of pro hockey last year in Bingo, leading all AHL rookies. As well, he played with Spezza, who led the league in scoring that year, for most of the season, leading one to assume they had some kind of chemistry that would translate in the NHL.
It hasn’t. Instead, Heatley and Spezza have developed that one-two punch combo while Bochenski has mostly stood around watching. He’s had some decent games where he has chances generated from going to the net, and it looked like he was on the verge of turning the corner, but for the most part, he’s been an anchor on the line.
The problem with Bochenski is that besides his offense, there’s little else to his game. He’s not a particularly strong skater or checker, doesn’t win faceoffs, and can’t kill penalties. If he’s not scoring, he’s not contributing much to the team. Thus, it made the most sense that if they had to send one player down, it would be him. Some have pointed to Chris Kelly as another option, but I think, in his role, Kelly has been very effective. Because he’s the fourth line center, Kelly doesn’t get a whole lot of ice time, but he always makes the most of what he’s given. He backchecks hard, is strong on the forecheck, wins most of his faceoffs (a problem for this team last season), is a force on the PK, and despite his young age (24), is a leader. He spent the previous two years as captain down in Bingo, so you know he’s got good character. It made no sense to send him back down because he has to clear waivers, and though he’s a fourth line center on Ottawa, on some less talented teams, he might be someone they can utilize full-time, and therefore, they’d lose him for nothing.
John Muckler was on The Team 1200 today and chalked up Bochenski’s inability to be a contributor to his inexperience and lack of mental toughness. It takes a certain level of maturity to be an NHLer, and Muckler all but said Bo doesn’t have it yet.
This doesn’t mean they’ve washed their hands of him though. He’ll likely be at the top of their list of call-ups when an injury occurs (or whenever the next time Havlat decides to kick a guy in the balls). Because he doesn’t have to clear waivers, Bochenski, like fellow rookie Patrick Eaves, is the ideal guy to bring up in an emergency. In the meantime, he’ll join a struggling Binghamton team that is at the literal bottom of the AHL standings, having won only one game in seven outings. Whether or not Bochenski is enough to turn it around remains to be seen, but adding a guy who’s proven he can score at that level can’t hurt.
Who to put with the red hot Heatley and Spezza combo remains a good question. The obvious solution is to place captain Daniel Alfredsson on the top line. When Bochenski struggled, coach Bryan Murray would sometimes take him off the line and put Alfie in his place. The results were fireworks, as the new line scored both of the goals in the season opener against Toronto, allowing the team to win. The three seemed to work well together and it didn’t appear as if it was forced. In addition, Alfredsson brings a veteran presence to the line, and unlike Spezza and Heatley, is a excellent defensive forward, thereby
The downside in putting #11 on the line is that you’re essentially stacking the line-up and creating one superpower line. While this can often be good, resulting in a lot of offense from the combo, it also allows your opponents to concentrate solely on that one line if they want to shut you down (see Vancouver). It might make more sense to distribute the scoring over two lines, which would mean keeping Alfredsson on the second line with Smolinski and Mike Fisher, a line that struggled Thursday against Montreal but rebounded to have an excellent night versus Toronto two days later.
That would then bring up Martin Havlat. Havlat started the year on the left side with Alfresson and Bryan Smolinski, but he found playing out of position difficult and requested a move back to his natural right wing spot, even though it meant moving down a line. Havlat has played with Spezza before and the two had good chemistry. He’s certainly more explosive than Alfredsson is and is likely more of a offensive threat. But he’s not a shooter. He likes to make plays, often by himself, and so that might create some problems if Spezza is trying to distribute the puck for goals.
Either way, this is a good problem to have, having to choose which 30 goal scorer you want on your top line. I’m sure most teams wish they had to deal with this dilemma.