You’re probably already calling me an idiot for even suggesting the mythical Chris Neil could see time as a healthy scratch over the more obvious and likely more accommodating candidate Courteous Lazar. Had this been a couple of years ago I’d have agreed there wasn’t a chance of this happening. This particular season, however, has me at least Musing™ otherwise.
I heard a pretty interesting argument by former Kontinental Hockey League executive Shawn Simpson that the addition of Thomas Wingels is, of course, to add depth to the line up but more so to provide the floundering Curtis Lazar with a better linemate than who he is currently playing with.
As you all know by now, I be thinkin’ and this comment got me playing around with the idea that even though Lazar might, politically, be the more obvious scratch I think it’s at least possible at this point that the odd man out could be Neil.
Let’s start with ice time. There’s no bigger indicator that Guy Boucher is not a fan of Chris Neil’s unique brand of Post-Enforcer/Jazz fusion than his ever dwindling ice time. He took a mere 7 shifts in 5:33 in his last game against the Capitals. While Lazar’s 10 shifts and 5:38 is certainly comparable, a larger gap can be seen in the near full minute more Average Time on Ice Lazar is given (8:26) over Neil (7:31). I find it at least worth noting that a coach who’s so big on structure might trust the kid more than a veteran who has been playing his bottom 6 role at the NHL level since Lazar was about 7 years old.
Further, though I welcomed the move, I couldn’t help but find it odd that the whole reason Dorion brought in Chris Kelly was to provide “much needed veteran stability to the 4th line”. When I initially heard the news I thought, “Yeah that make sense” but then I realized, “Wait a minute, there’s already a guy on the 4th line set to eclipse the 1000 game mark this year.” It begs the question: Does the new general manager Pierre Dorion also not have confidence in Chris Neil?
Then there is performance. I don’t expect the moon from him play-wise nor for his advanced stats to even be good. And hey, I’ll admit I’ve gone in pretty hard on twitter about his Borowiecki-esque stat line. All that said, did you watch that last game against Toronto? I felt it was the perfect encapsulation of his game this season and it’s this:
He works his ass off but if he gets the puck on his stick he either dangerously gets rid of it instantly, has it roll of his blade or, most often, has it taken from him the second he has it. I play a little game when Neil possesses the puck: Can he carry it for more than 3 strides? This is not a game I enjoy for reasons you will soon learn should you play it.
Anyway, if a dingbat like me notices this stuff there’s no way Guy “Detail Oriented Even For A Modern NHL Coach” Boucher doesn’t.
So Neiler’s not good at moving the puck, he doesn’t kill penalties like Kelly, isn’t defensively aware like Lazar and rarely fights anymore. A lot is made of how Lazar lacks an identity but at least he could make the case that he’s still figuring it out at this early stage of his career. Speaking of figuring out identity early in the career, the addition of the speedier, slightly more productive Wingels to the 4th line could help spark the (alleged) offensive side of Lazar’s game. With a couple 15+ goal, 20+ assist seasons in recent memory Wingels is clearly far more capable of setting up a Lazar goal or finishing a pass from him than Neil.
Why is it so important to spark the snakebitten 4th liner Lazar? Well there’s the obvious aspect that he is a 1st round pick who can no longer be sent down to the AHL without clearing waivers. After losing fellow first rounder Matt Puempel earlier this season to a waiver claim from the Rangers, the optics of another high pedigree pick going for nothing is just plain bad optics. Even more pressing is, I think, Dorion and Boucher’s need to see a better picture of what they have in Lazar as his Entry Level Contract sets to expire at the end of this season (they grow up so fast!).
Chris Neil’s spot in the lineup has been bulletproof in years past. Hell he was getting fucking power play time a few years back let alone a benching. But looking at the addition of PK specialist Kelly and now Wingels to the bottom 6, coupled with Neil’s ever-dwindling ice time it’s at least arguable that, like Young Metro, the new GM and new Coach just don’t trust Neiler like the previous administration(s) did. But how will 1000+ game vet and fan favorite Chris Neil likely take being scratched? Probably not well!
So say the previously unthinkable happens and he starts sitting games here and there or even regularly. Say, he gets furious about this or at least very reasonably feels disrespected by it. I could see a guy who’s worn a letter for years and also fought teammates in practice (without reprimand) feeling comfortable [read: entitled] enough to express this slighting to reporters. Or conversely, maybe he’s a good soldier and expresses this distaste for his situation privately. Either way, he would likely want to play as much as possible for the rest of a UFA year in hopes of one more contract.
Now that he’s played his 1000th game as a Senator, maybe Dorion takes the hit of outrage from the hordes of #25 jersey wearing faithful with a G move like “Eh, I’ll be the ‘bad guy’ by sending you to a contender in the Western Conference for a few months for that 7th round pick back.” In a Post-Alfie to Detroit Paradigm he can lean on thinking “We’ll be homies again when you retire and we’ll put you in the ring of honour, install you as food and beverage coordinator and things of that nature.”
The question all this obviously balances on is this: After spending hundreds of words explaining how useless Neil now is to our DEEC team, what GM of a really good team would be stupid enough to take him on at the deadline? The answer is admittedly that I don’t know. But as we saw this past off season, the role of the enforcer might be more or less extinct but the role of the GM to make a dumb move is still very much alive. If a contender maybe has some injuries or generally needs gritty depth, we know full well Neil’s role changes from enforcer to agitator come playoff time and that is a job more in demand than ever. He also has leadership stuff and nearly 100 games playoff experience and goes to church and life is precious and God and the Bible.
With San Jose retaining a considerable portion of Wingels salary, Neil suddenly became by far the most expensive member of a 4th line that Boucher clearly does not trust or use much. Also worth pointing out is that Zack Smith’s new raise is almost perfectly equal to Neil’s current salary. I bring this up of course because you’re not legally permitted to make an Ottawa Senators related post without mentioning the almighty dollar. I have now fulfilled that obligation.
Anyway, either all the stuff I said happens or they just scratch Lazar or some shit.
THANX 4 REIDINGZ!