The Sports Daily > The 6th Sens
The Brian Lee Project

For anyone who has watched the DIY Network, you’ve probably seen advertisements for a new show hosted by Robert Van Winkle (aka Vanilla Ice) called the Vanilla Ice Project. It’s the latest career reinvention for Van Winkle, a laughingstock best known for being a white hip hop artist who parlayed his 15 minutes of fame into a cameo in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – Secret of the Ooze movie. According to DIY, Vanilla brings more than 15 years of home improvement experience to this 7,000-square-foot Palm Beach mansion. In each episode, Vanilla Ice and his crew of contractors get down to business and renovate a different room of the home. He’ll pound nails and call the shots in this room-by-room renovation.

Who knows, maybe this will work out a little better or have some more longevity than his rap/nu-metal musical career did?

Speaking of reinventions, it has become difficult not to notice the transformation in Brian Lee’s game. Drafted as a smooth skating puck-moving defenceman, Lee was the ninth overall selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by then GM John Muckler. Based off some preliminary third party scouting rankings, it looked like the Senators had reached on Lee — who was ranked 15th by Central Scouting — taking him ahead of some more highly regarded prospects.

“We got the guy we wanted,” said Muckler, who thought he had a done deal with the Sharks before they made the trade with Atlanta. “Lee was the guy we had at the top of our list and he was the guy we were going to take. We feel he is a guy that the Ottawa Senators are all about. He’s got good skills and he’s got a lot of upside potential. We’re very happy.” (via Slam! Sports)

Obviously no scouting service list is infallible but when other draft picks from the 2005 Draft like Anze Kopitar and Marc Staal excelled, revisionist fans (including myself) cursed the day that Muckler drafted Lee. It was nothing personal against the player once viewed as an heir apparent to Wade Redden but Lee’s game has taken some time to develop and at times, it looked like it he wasn’t going to. There has always been something that prevented Brian Lee from being a regular on the Senators.

For three consecutive seasons Lee has never been a stranger to the travel between Binghamton and Ottawa. Even after he was one of the few who Senators players who played well during the 2008 quarterfinals playoff matchup against the Penguins, Lee was returned to Binghamton because the organization felt that it needed some offensive punch on the blueline – preferring to dress the likes of Alexandre Picard and Brendan Bell. One season later, through the emergence of Matt Carkner and Erik Karlsson, Lee was the obvious choice to be returned to Binghamton because of a two-way contract that paid him a substantially reduced salary to play in the minors.

Having been bounced around, whenever Lee did get an opportunity to play, he never looked comfortable.

“Overall, I thought his play was better than when he originally went down (during training camp). I think he lost his game a little bit the last three or four games. I think he looks a little indecisive, playing not to make a mistake. I think he has just got to go down there and recapture his game and find his game again — play bigger minutes, play more roles, bigger roles, and be a dominant defenceman down there.” ~ Cory Clouston (via Faceoff.com)

Despite this constant shuffle between the minors and the NHL, Bryan Murray surprised many by giving Lee a two year, one-way contract last March. I suppose you could chalk it up to the organization not wanting to give up a young asset, but it only delayed the inevitable. Having sat out the first 18 games of the 2010-11 season, Lee was eventually placed on waivers. Unfortunately for him, teams were unwilling to take on Lee’s salary because of salary cap or self-imposed budget restrictions. Re-entry waivers were never an option. The Senators didn’t want to recall him and risk having him get claimed by another team –  meaning that the team would pay half his salary and absorb half the cap hit as well. For Lee to be moved, the Senators were going to have to do something that they didn’t want to – take back a NHL contract.

So for 25 straight games Lee sat in a professional hockey player’s purgatory, keeping a positive attitude and waiting for an opportunity to play.

“I wasn’t happy sitting in the stands all that time. I was pretty upset, but I figured and hoped I’d get another chance, and I wanted to be ready, be better when I did. So I tried to learn as much as I could every night.” (Via Don Brennan, Ottawa Sun)

Wearing Alfredsson’s ‘C’ during a practice didn’t hurt either. Just ask Mike Fisher, “The way he stretched us, that was incredible. That’s what good leaders do. Lead us in a good stretch, wear the ‘C’ in practice … bam!”

Did the good karma from Alfie’s ‘C’ rub off on Lee? Lee hasn’t admitted to it.

“I think I’m playing harder physically. I think before maybe I was a little tentative. Kind of afraid to make a mistake because I never knew what they wanted.

Once I got a chance to play again, I said fuck that, I’m just going to go out there and play hard. I’m not going to sit back and try to play a perfect game, I’m just going to play hard, go at guys, things like that.”

And Lee’s definitely going at guys while playing on the team’s top pairing with Chris Phillips. With 61 hits in 34 games, it’s a pace that would have him lead the Senators blueline provided he had played in every game. It looks like the defenceman who couldn’t find a role has finally found his niche. He may never live up to the lofty expectations placed on him or stop the bellyaching from fans who refuse to move on but as Don Brennan noted, he’s young, and he has a modest contract that will pay him $875,000 next season, and for a guy the Senators couldn’t previously find a taker for in a trade, he’s suddenly looking like a pretty decent keeper.