Training camp and preseason are mega-weird; would you disagree? It’s a nexus of emotions in which withdrawal from hockey pushes our interest to peak levels, and yet the hockey being played is literally at its most meaningless. I’m consuming everything I can get my hands on. I just watched a video of Chris Phillips working out.
But what preseason does offer is an opportunity to follow an alternate reality Ottawa Senators where lineup combinations are surreal and fruitful new relationships blossom. Remember when Brandon Bochenski broke some kind of franchise record for preseason goals scored? (Or something.) And then he didn’t last the year? That’s what I’m talking about. For about two weeks we’ll all watch games that don’t mean anything before we start a season that’s already too long and we can feel like acid casualties in the throes of an episode. It’s how our grandfathers taught us to love the game.
So, in the spirit of writing about something that is so irrelevant it might not even exist, I posit three experimental combinations you might see during the preseason that are the hockey equivalent of free jazz, and totally worth exploring.
1) David Legwand on the wing with Mika Zibanejad as his center and Mike Hoffman or Mark Stone on the other side.
WAITWAITWAIT hear me out.
We’ve had some good times talking about where Zibanejad fits in vis-a-vis our second line center fantasies. Is he ready? Are WE ready? What IS ready? Our consensus seems to be something like Zibanejad COULD be a second line center, but it’s probably too early to expect it, and Legwand MIGHT be an ideal third liner, but he’ll probably be a second, and Zack Smith is too good to be a FOURTH line center, but where else do you put him? And Zibanejad can play wing so there’s that. And so on.
But what about David Legwand as a winger? Checking here… (*typing sounds*) he’s…never done it before. Ok. Bad start. The guy’s played like 1000 games as a center. But we know what we’re getting from Legwand at this point: he’s a defensively responsible two-way player on an affordable contract whose ceiling is somewhere between 45-50 points. He’s not much of a playmaker. Zibanejad, on the other hand, we know less about. He hasn’t been given steady ice time with consistent linemates long enough to know if he can distribute the puck. So give him a finisher like Hoffman or Stone, insulate the line from risk with Legwand, and CATCH THE RUSH.
2) A youngin’ on every line
What do I mean by that? Well, we all know that this camp will be chock full of desperate young millionaires (or soon-to-bes) looking to cement their position on the team. Not counting those with significant NHL time already like Zibanejad or Cowen, we’ve got Lazar, Hoffman, Stone, and Chiasson. This isn’t even counting spry cowboys like Pageau, Puempel, or Shane Prince. So what if we spread around the young butter? I’m talkin’:
Stone – Turris – Ryan
Michalek – Zibby – Hoffman
Chiasson – Legwand – MacArthur
Lazar – Smith – Condra
I know, I’m mixing up wings and centers here like I’m mixing vodka and some of the herbs I found in the cupboard when I moved into my apartment. But that’s what makes life exciting / your hockey team not very good / your liver incapable of processing alcohol. It gives the youngins experience. It gives the fans a fresh face on every line. And MOST IMPORTANTLY Chris Neil didn’t even get into the lineup in this scenario.
3) Break up Turris and Ryan, stick Bobs on an all-scoring line
The latest rumblings out of our perpetual “When is a Bobby Ryan Deal GOING TO HAPPEN??” media coverage / hourly anxiety attacks is that Ryan wants to see how he’s going to be used on the team before he commits long-term. This obviously is totally nausea-inducing because it recalls the whole Dany Heatley debacle about usage with Cory Clouston (RIP).
Part of me thinks this is just posturing. “I’m a scoring specialist, and I always have been. I WANT TO PLAY ON THE PENALTY KILL!!” Are you kidding me? Nobody wants to play on the penalty kill. You stand in front of Shea Weber slapshots and get to be on the ice when you get scored on the most. The penalty kill sucks. He basically picked something the team would be totally crazy to humour, asked for it, and got himself wiggle room to see if the team is competitive for the next few months.
But let’s assume for a moment that he’s being genuine. Well, ok then: let’s see if we really can run a responsible line through Bobby Ryan. Take him away from great two-way players like MacArthur and Turris and see what he can do. Put him on a line with, say, Stone and Hoffman. Maybe give him some Milan Michalek, who’s been known to score 30+ goals but whose play is deteriorating. At the very least it might have a positive influence on negotiations.
So there you have it. Three terrible suggestions that entirely ignore the fact that you’re not going to pay Chris Neil almost $2MM not to play and doesn’t even acknowledge that we have a defense. And that is what we call in the business “making sausage.”