There’s a big reward coming for many of the players who toiled in Binghamton during the NHL lockout.
With every game so pivotal during a shortened season, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean says the organization will employ a Binghamton to Ottawa shuttle from the outset. If a proven veteran such as captain Daniel Alfredsson needs a night off to deal with bumps and bruises, the Senators won’t hesitate to replace him with a player recalled from the minors.
“The schedule will dictate a good part of it and the depth of your organization is going to be tested,” said MacLean, clearly ready to roll after being idle for the past four months. “The fact that we have a number of good young forwards in Binghamton and we have the ability to bring them up and down is going to be an important part of that for Alfie and a lot of guys.
“The schedule is going to be a grind and we have to monitor that. Players have to be cognizant of the fact they may have to miss a game (here or there).”
The first Bingo Bus is due to arrive this weekend, when training camp opens – either Saturday or Sunday.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray told the Citizen’s Wayne Scanlan Tuesday that 26 players will be invited to camp. Barring a trade, that group that could include Binghamton call-ups Jakob Silfverberg, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Mark Borowiecki, Patrick Wiercioch, Andre Benoit, Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner. (Good luck to Binghamton coach Luke Richardson in finding bodies for his own lineup).
Cody Ceci, the Senators first round draft pick from last summer, will also be invited to camp. On Monday, Ceci was traded to the Owen Sound Attack from the struggling Ottawa 67′s. The Senators are also contemplating bringing in Plymouth Whalers winger Stefan Noesen.
At this point, Silfverberg, who has scored 13 goals and 15 assists in 32 games with Binghamton, has the inside track on a spot to start the season in Ottawa, possibly as a right winger on a line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek.
There is a distinct possibility that Murray could add a veteran defenceman via trade or through free agency. Colin White, Milan Jurcina, Randy Jones, Sean O’Donnell and Kurtis Foster are among the unrestricted free agents available.
Another body could be necessary to help off set the loss of Jared Cowen to a season-ending hip injury and Mike Lundin, who suffered a broken finger before Christmas, while playing for Almtuna IS in Sweden.
“There’s definitely a concern there, but the comforting thing is that with the team in Binghamton, a lot of players are playing well,” said MacLean.
Benoit, who has nine goals and 14 assists in 32 games, and Wiercioch, who has nine goals and nine assists, currently make up Binghamton’s top defence tandem. Borowiecki has one goal and four assists, but he’s a physical presence the Senators might need after losing Cowen to injury and Matt Carkner to free agency.
MacLean expects all of his players to arrive in camp in great shape, regardless of whether they’ve been playing in Europe, with Binghamton or have simply been skating on their own during the lockout.
“The important thing is to get up and running and to get everybody going,” he said. “The ability to play a lot of people, to not just have a short bench where you’re overplaying people, is going to be really important.”
MacLean believes it’s easier to establish a team identity quicker with a smaller training camp group and that the one week of straight practice “might be the only practice block we have all season.”
The Senators coach also offered a challenge, of sorts, for goaltender Craig Anderson. Like most NHL netminders, Anderson couldn’t find a European job during the lockout and did his best to stay in shape while practicing in Florida. Lehner and Bishop, meanwhile, have been standouts night after night with Binghamton. Lehner owns a record of 13-5-1, with a 1.94 goals against average and .944 save percentage. Bishop is 8-3-1, with a 2.66 GAA and .928 save percentage.
“We have real good depth in our goaltending and that’s exciting,” said MacLean. “Anderson is our number one goaltender and we have young guys pushing each other.”
If Anderson’s inactivity results in him struggling out of the gate, the Senators coach says he won’t wait long before giving the net to either Bishop or Lehner.
“For sure,” he said. “The best guy is going to play, no matter who that is.”