Mika Zibanejad has been freed.
Today the Senators announced that they have recalled the Swedish center. He is skating at this morning’s practice on a line with Derek Grant and Erik Condra, and will play in Wednesday night’s tilt versus the Detroit Daniel Alfredssons.
Sent down by the Senators at the end of training camp, fans were told that Zibanejad’s game lacked a certain urgency and that other centers like Stephane Da Costa and Jean-Gabriel Pageau had done enough during the preseason to ‘earn’ them spots on the opening day roster.
Whether they had done enough during this small sample size against inferior rosters amassed with untested prospects and minor league journeymen to erase what Zibanejad did as a 19-year old (42 games – not including two playoff series) is subject to debate.
Oh sure, there were some benefits to sending him down to Binghamton. Assuming he would have started the season flanked by ineffective wingers who can’t compliment his game (note: the #freemika hashtag can still be used should he wind up on a line with Neil and Greening), logging significant minutes on the first line, playing specialty team minutes and waiting for the organization to have enough time to evaluate Pageau and Da Costa properly, starting Mika in Binhamton was and remains defensible…
…until, you consider the possibility of it being about money.
As well respected hockey insiders have noted, owner Eugene Melnyk’s acknowledgment that the organization was over budget on player payroll days before Zibanejad’s demotion sure left the impression that it was simply more than coincidence.
Given how effective of a player Zibanejad was last season, optics-wise, the decision to send him down looks bad.
And for a player who missed eight games, you can’t help but wonder how attainable some of Zibanejad’s entry-level contract bonuses (which inevitably will include a games played bonus) will be.
This isn’t like Major League Baseball in which prospects have their promotions delayed until the latter stages of the season so that players avoid ‘Super 2’ status and remain under team control for longer. Regrettably, this very well could be a decision that was made to save the organization cash now.
The organization will probably spin the decision to recall him as Zibanejad making the best of a situation and how his play (2 goals, 5 assists, 17 shots on goal – in 6 games) warranted a recall, but any fan skepticism will simply be a by-product of the organization’s crying poor routine that emerged this past summer.
It would be easy harbour resentment for it, but frankly, there’s simply no way of knowing the organization’s true intent. As I joked on Twitter, maybe this was simply a way for the organization to prove to its fans that it could bring back a Swedish fan favorite.
Anyways, welcome back Mika. You were missed.