Off to a 2-0 start to this preseason, Senators GM Bryan Murray made an appearance on The Drive yesterday afternoon.
There were a few items that Bryan touched upon that I didn't include in this transcript — like yesterday morning's tragic bus/train crash and his family history — but they are definitely worth listening to. So I highly recommend checking out the full interview by clicking here, or by streaming the embedded audio below.
As always, my thoughts in bold.
On the number of positive things that have happened over the past week…
“Yeah, it’s a lot of things happening in a short order here – which are good things for the most part. We played well in both preseason games for the most part, again. Jason (Spezza) taking over as captain, I think we’re going to get a guy that’s highly motivated – that will be real good for our young players in particular. I think (the captaincy) will help his game evolve. Jared getting back there – Cowen signing his contract and coming back. I know every young player just wants to play hockey and I think it’s always between the agent trying to get comparables to make the right deal and we tried to do the right thing for Jared here. Signing (Curtis) Lazar I think for us, in the future, is a real good item. He’s going to be a real good player for us. That’s what training camp is – it’s a real busy time with lots of travel, lots of discussions with your staff, lots of meetings with your coach to make sure we do the right thing with each and every young player. We let four young guys go back to junior yesterday and they were very positive in what happened for them in rookie camp and so far in the main camp. We want to grow this organization so that we’re one of the elite and to do that, it’s a lot of time and effort, but it’s a good thing.”
I like Murray calling Lazar an "item", like he's playing a video game. Collect enough of the right items and eventually you gain passage to the final level for a showdown with the boss and a chance to rescue the mystical amulet (Stanley Cup).
On the process in naming Jason Spezza as the captain…
“I think first of all, losing Daniel to Detroit – as you say, we lost the face of the franchise and a good example for a lot of people here and a lot of the young people here. But, we’re fortunate that we had Chris Neil and Chris Phillips here as veteran guys that had been part of the leadership core; obviously Jason being there as well. Paul (MacLean) spent a fair bit of time talking to the three of them. I only talked to Jason at the end and spent some time asking some, I thought, were very important questions that I needed his answer to. We know he’s the high-skill guy on this team. He’s a young veteran to me. I think he brings a real dimension to this team. We missed him a great deal during the year last year. I really felt he… I think we’re being a little selfish in that we think we can get him to a higher level by giving him this responsibility. And in turn, I know that many of the young people approached Jason on the various topics over the last year or two where he could maybe help them out, spend time with them, show real concern for them. So, we just wanted the right answers. We wanted the right guy. We want to motivate a guy and we think we got that in Jason. I think we could have selected any one of the three really, and we would have got a real good captain. It just came down to a couple little details and we felt doing that for Jason and Jason doing more for us, would really help the hockey club in the long run.”
I suppose that’s the polite way of saying that the organization believes it can’t extract that much (if any) from Phillips’ and Neil’s respective games. The point about Spezza being more motivated is an interesting one. I’ve pointed out a number of times over the course the year that Spezza only has two seasons remaining on his current contract. In acquiring Bobby Ryan and by anointing Spezza as the captain, they’re certainly making every effort to do right by him before he hits UFA.
On doing the due diligence to make the right choice and the right choice for the players within that room…
“Yeah, there’s no question and Jason is a popular guy and respected. Every player knows the level of skill that he brings to the organization and he’s a real honourable guy. He’s honest with the players and he’s not afraid to come and ask questions on behalf of the players and point out some things to us that maybe have to be pointed out. So you’re right Shawn (Simpson), people in the room know and we felt that we had to it the right way because we would have to answer questions otherwise.”
Jason Spezza for prom king.
On Erik Karlsson’s health and how positive it is to see him look like he’s close to being at the level he was at before the injury…
“Yeah, there’s no question Erik is back and he will be. I think it’s just a matter of getting into games now and being pressured to step up once in awhile. I think the flexibility, any issue he does have with his Achilles will be straightened out quickly. We know he can be a dominant player in this league and certainly on this team, a very important player. But, if you go through the whole list of guys that were hurt last year, they all look like they’re back to where they have to be and that should make us a much better team and certainly, a deeper team because of the opportunity some of the other players had.”
Even if it’s not necessarily true yet, it’s still great to hear that Karlsson, who I believe admitted Jason York and Steve Lloyd last week that he was less than 60-percent during Ottawa’s series with Pittsburgh, is close to the level he was at before the injury. Real games will be the test though, hard to guage much in preseason.
On the other hand, one of the delicate things that the organization may need to balance is the ever-important sense of self-worth by some of its players. In the absence of many of the team’s star players, unheralded depth guys stepped up admirably. And now that these star players are back, how these handle their reduced roles and how the coaching staff manages egos will be critical to this team’s progression this season.
On Lazar being in the mix to make the team…
“Well, he’s got to be considered a competitive guy here. I mean, watching him in development camp and then in the rookie tournament, he was outstanding as a young player. It’s going to be difficult because of numbers, but hopefully he’s ready to get into some games next week and we’ll have a better viewing and a better understanding of what he is. But he certainly looks like he’s got a lot going for him in hockey and in our consideration anyway.”
A very political response in that Murray isn’t going to be forthright and say that Lazar doesn’t have a chance. He wants to dangle that roster spot like a proverbial carrot in front of Lazar and see how he responds.
On the team’s depth up front pushing the veterans for jobs…
“This is the thing – there are too many (laughing) for us right now. We’ve got some really, really tough decisions to make. We’ve got some kids who are very, very close to (being) NHL-ready, if they’re not already. We’ve got a couple young guys that are just starting – they’ve played part of one year or a full year in the American (Hockey) League only – that look like they’re kicking at the door. (Buddy) Robinson looks like he is a candidate. He’ll probably have to start (in the minors) at this point, but he sure looks like a player to me so… There are is a good number of young people here that are going to play games at some point during this year.”
Looking at the logjam of bubble players in who have NHL-experience – David Dziurzynski, Stephane Da Costa, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Andre Petersson and Derek Grant — and guys like Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Jim O’Brien, something is going to have to give.
With the exception of a Colin Greening or a Mika Zibanejad, assuming the organization comes off its position that he’s better developing as a center, there aren’t many players on the current roster who can graduate from one of the bottom two lines into a top-six role. Although there are a few name like Stone, Hoffman or possibly Petersson who have the skill to play in a top-six role, thrusting them into this role at the NHL-level right away might be too onerous a task.
Since inheriting the mess that John Muckler made of the organization and its system, the Murray regime has excelled by accumulating a bevy of draft picks and collegiate free agent signings. But now, we’re at a phase of the process in which the organization has to pick and choose how they’ll use their internal assets to maximize their window of contention.
Milan Michalek will be an UFA at the end of this season and replacing him internally with Greening will create an opening on the team’s third line. However, for as cost-efficient as this internal move is, will it make the team better and help push them towards their ultimate goal?
I don’t know, but linked with Eugene Melnyk’s insistence that the team stick to its internal cap, Greening’s extension sure makes me think this will be the last season we see Michalek in a Sens jersey. The Senators didn’t give Greening the extension they did so that he could keep playing with Zack Smith and Chris Neil; I believe they still see him as a top six forward in the making.
The organization could re-sign Michalek, but in doing so, they’d have to be mindful of his salary, his health, the impacts that having both Greening and Michalek on the left wing would have on boxing in a number of this team’s prospects over the course of the next few seasons and the fear of complacency setting in on this roster.
On the other hand, not every prospect can play for this organization and the organization shouldn’t simply move assets to create space for the sake of creating space for these prospects. It’s possible that the organization could make another Bobby Ryan-like trade – moving its young and unproven talent for an established product. But, the risk in that is emptying the cupboards and mortgaging the future when a number of this team’s best forwards are slated to hit UFA within the next two seasons.
On balancing the amount of depth out with contract situations (ie. putting players on waivers and etc.)…
“Well, that’s always the difficulty. You want players to have the chance to play in the National Hockey League and it’s not fair to hold people back after you’ve worked with them and they’ve worked really hard within your organization to be recognized and become members. But, because of numbers, you can’t do it for them right now. It would be very hard to lose them, but we’ll try to do what’s right for the organization and then hopefully, if it doesn’t work out for an individual, hopefully get him to a place where he gets a chance to play in the league.”
In other words, don’t expect much back in return.
On at what point in the camp, where managers start making some phone calls to create opportunities for players who would otherwise have to go through waivers…
“Yeah, that’s what we would definitely try to do. But, we’ll certainly have to play through tomorrow’s game and the three games next week before I get into that process.”
Say the Sens only carried 13 forwards (budget), would be 15 forwards in Bingo if no moves or waiver claims, so least one or two in Elmira.