In the span of a few days, lockout “movement” in the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement has given way to player movement.
For that, we give thanks.
Not only are NHL players flying home from far flung hockey cities in Europe and the U.S., NHL general managers are actively talking about movement of players via trade and free agency.
More than a week away from the first puck drop, Senators general manager Bryan Murray is already considering a deal, though he’d prefer to see his inhouse talent get a shot at plugging holes on his blueline.
With big defenceman Jared Cowen likely out for the entire season following hip surgery, and newly acquired Mike Lundin sidelined for about three to four weeks with a broken finger, Murray might have to trade for or sign a veteran defenceman.
“I’m not sure,” Murray said in an interview with the Citizen. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to, but from the looks of it, with Lundin out for a bit of time, too, we probably will have to do something.”
Murray has already had calls from several free agents and he’s talked trade with a few clubs. With returning veterans Erik Karlsson, Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar, along with hometown boy Marc Methot, the Senators have a couple of defence spots open, with AHL-tested Mark Borowiecki, Patrick Wiercioch and Andre Benoit knocking on the door.
Newly traded junior Cody Ceci will also be invited to camp.
“Some of our guys are pretty good,” Murray said. “Do we go that route or do we bring in an older guy just because he’s older. That’s what we have to decide.”
Wiercioch and Benoit have been a strong pairing at Binghamton. Workhorse Borowiecki is a favoured son of the organization and will get a great opportunity.
Winger Mika Zibanejad is probably healthy enough to be in camp, but Murray is not sure if he will be brought in. Ahead of him are young forwards Mark Stone, Jacob Silfverberg and Mike Hoffman. As he has adapted to the North American game, Silfverberg has become a star for Binghamton, and Murray believes he will be even better in the more structured game of the NHL.
In all, there will 26 players in camp (15 forwards, eight defenceman and three goaltenders), including both of his big boys in Binghamton — Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop.
Won’t this be fun? While veteran Craig Anderson is the starter in goal, he hasn’t been playing during the lockout and the club won’t wait long if he should falter early on. Lehner or Bishop both have a chance to become this team’s goalie of the future.
Lehner has the two-way contract, and saves the team money by staying in the AHL for the season, but he has been brilliant for the B-Sens, and could get a shot to start in the NHL very soon. If Anderson is solid and can carry the load, Bishop would make sense as a backup while Lehner gets playing time in the AHL.
A one-week mini-camp is expected to start on the weekend before play begins, likely on Jan. 19. Elmira goalies Marc Cheverie and Nathan Lawson will hold the fort in Binghamton while Lehner and Bishop are in Ottawa.
Lehner used to be best known for brash outbursts and flashes of temper. These days? Maturity is the word attached to the 6-4, 21-year-old Swede. His B-Sens team gets outshot by crazy totals and he delivers the win. His overall record is 13-5, with a 1.94 goals-against and .944 save percentage.
Bishop is 8-3 with a 2.66 goals-against and .928 save percentage, and has
been much better lately after a slow start.
“Robin has been outstanding, we know that,” Murray says. “I think Ben, in recent games has been real good as well. Robin certainly has made great steps over the course of this year.
“To be fair, we have to let it play out. See what happens when we bring everybody in and we start. The fact it’s probably 48 games, the goaltending is going to be a priority, we know that, and we’ve got to start with a guy that gives us a chance to win every night.”
Depth and goaltending are huge in a short season.
“We’ve got some veteran guys that haven’t played, not just in goal but elsewhere. It’s going to be real interesting who has a chance to make an impact right off the bat. With a short schedule, you can’t give points away.”
Murray likes the fact that more than half the Senators roster has been actively playing games during the lockout, and believes veterans like Daniel Alfredsson and Phillips are in great condition.
After a delay of four months, Murray expects early season games to be emotional – and physical, a recipe for injuries. The last time the NHL had a 48-game season, in 1995, Murray was GM of the Florida Panthers.
“Every game is so important,” Murray says. “The motivation for every team is going to be real high. Fans are going to see great effort every night. That’s the biggest thing I remember. You come back (from the lockout) and you work and work.”
In a mini-season, mini-slumps can be fatal to playoff hopes. As a result, fans can expect intense regular season games. Last season, the young Senators earned a reputation as a team with energy and resolve. More of the same is in order.
“I think that’s all people care about,” Murray says. “They want you to win, but they certainly want you to try.”