The Sports Daily > The 6th Sens
Tim Murray Speaks: Ziba’s Health, Wikstrand & More

Given the uncertainty surrounding Mika Zibanejad's return to the Binghamton lineup (it's been 26 days since he last played a game), Assistant GM Tim Murray's morning appearance on In the Box carried some heightened importance. 

You can listen to the interview here, or alternatively, you can stream it at the bottom of this post.

As always, my thoughts in bold.

On the World Juniors being held in Ufa and how heavily the organization’s representation because of the lockout and how far away it is…

“I think less because of both. I talked to Steve Tambellini last weekend and different guys that aren’t going. That seems to be the way it looks, teams will send the (European Scouts) and maybe one or two other guys and obviously, it’s not as convenient to get to. We obviously don’t have any income coming in right now, so it all comes into play.”

No income? Somewhere there's a season ticket holder whose money is still deposited with the organization that is cringing reading the previous paragraph. 

On Noesen being ruled ineligible for the WJC…

“No, I have talked to his representatives about it. I have not talked to the kid personally. It’s too bad for him and I think it could have been handled a couple of different ways, but it wasn’t and it’s not me handling it, so he’ll get over it and it won’t have any bearing on what he is as a pro. Obviously, he’s disappointed, but we’ll move on.”

At least Murray's assessment of the impact that the WJC has on a player's professional development is consistent. He echoed the sentiment when explaning the rationale for keeping Zibanejad in Bingo. 

On there being any precedent for a player under suspension playing in the WJC…

“No, and that’s why I think it could have been handled a little differently. I think they could have said it warranted a ten game suspension but we’re going to give him six because of his participation in the World Juniors and that’s not setting a precedent because who else are you going to do that for? Or other ways I guess is to tell him when he gets home, at the World Juniors, say he gets injured and misses the next four games… whatever the case may be. But, I thought (Jonathan) Huberdeau’s manhandling of an official certainly could have been any number of games and I think that they got it right. They allow a Quebec League player to represent Canada in the World Juniors by giving him a four game suspension and who’s complaining? I don’t think anyone in the Quebec League would complain that it’s too lenient because he is going to the World Juniors, so again… different perspective on our side.”

Prior to this year, Pens prospect Tim Kuhnhackl was the only player to have been affected by this rule, with the IIHF honouring the OHL's 20-game suspension dealt to him last year.

I can certainly understand what Tim Murray is trying to say; even if some may look at it and complain about the perceived entitlement that these WJC eligible players would encounter were they allowed to play in the international tournament. Regardless of whether the individual is suspended or playing in the WJCs, that player is still not playing for their respective junior team. It's not like the Plymouth Whalers are going to account for each Team USA match as one game that Noesen has served as part of his OHL suspension, so in a sense, this acts as a double-punishment. 

It's a rule the IIHF probably needs to tweak. Aj Jakubec has made a similar point in recent days, pointing out that club suspensions in football don't affect eligibility to play for national teams in FIFA sanctioned tournaments.

Has Sweden made their final roster yet? Is Mikael Wikstrand going to be on their roster?

“I understand that he is on their team and I understand that in the first exhibition (game),he was the number one power play quarterback and I think that is the kind of role that he has on his team.”

Great, he's a regular Fulton Reed.

On Wikstrand’s goal scoring production and him possibly exceeding expectations…

“I don’t think with a seventh round pick that you can have any expectations. All your hope is that he can get bigger, stronger, and better. He came over to development camp and he looked like a player. I went to Lake Placid in the summertime to watch him at their unofficial World Junior tryouts against the US team and the Finns, and I have to be honest, he didn’t play very well there. So no, we have no expectations (for him). As the season got going over there and all of the reports coming back were just outstanding as far as: his ability with the puck; his offensive ability and he’s kind of a shootout specialist there also, so that’s a different thing then… we certainly weren’t drafting a Swedish defenceman for that so yeah, it has been a pleasant surprise. In saying that, our guys that saw him a lot and liked him, there was a reason why they liked him – they saw a raw player with very good offensive ability and the ability to move the puck and kind of fits into what the new NHL looks like today. If he continues to improve, we’ve just put another asset or prospect into the system.”

The last statement is an important one. If Ottawa can continue to find late round surprises who can actually provide this organization with tangible prospects who can play or contribute at the professional level, the easier it will be to parlay some of this accumulated wealth of riches as a package for a more talented player that is more difficult to replace. 

Wikstrand's shootout prowess on display here @4:42.

On how close Wiercioch is to taking the next step…

“With the way that he’s playing right now, he’s right there. If we had a training camp and he comes up, it wouldn’t be this year based on play but maybe this year based on need (there may be room). We’ve got a couple of injuries with Jared (Cowen) and that, so I think he’s real close. I think he’ll be a better player in the National Hockey League. I think he’s a cerebral player and he sees the ice really well. He gets up in the play and he does some things that we like as an organization; that Paul (MacLean) likes as a coach. I always say about young guys to start, you put them on a team and they don’t help you lose and then they get better and better, and then they help you win. And I think that he is, at least, in that first category in that he plays a lot and he doesn’t help you lose. And I think it just moves on from there.”

He’s not going to make many mistakes in the National Hockey League with the way that he plays. With his length, he gets that stick out in front of him defensively… The way I talk about a defenceman, (an offensive player) has to beat the stick first. They beat the stick, then they have to beat the body. (Wiercioch’s) stick is so long, it’s going to be a tough go for a forward. He’s not a hard-hard guy, but he can play hard and he can finish checks. But he can go down to the back post and sneak in from the blue line. He has got a lot of different aspects to his game that you can like. Going back to what Jason (York) said about training camp, I think that’s the only positive about the lockout: you’ve got Patty Wiercioch, Robin Lehner, (Andre) Benoit and guys who didn’t get cut (from NHL camp) and go back and are disappointed with their tails between their legs for the first month of the season. It was just right out of the gate, just get going here and play hard and well so that whenever we do start, whichever guy that I am talking about, they’ll be up there on the big team, so that’s the only positive here.”

Can't say I thought Wiercioch looked that out of place in the limited NHL minutes he saw in 2010/11, and with the clear progression in his game this year I"d be very curious to see what he can do if given a chance with the big club. He's playing on the top pair, on pk and pp, and sporting a team best +13 (obligatory note about how deceiving +/- can be). His shot rate is holding at an AHL career best 2.5 per game, and his points per game puts him ninth among U23 AHL defenseman at .67pts/gm (ahead of names like Erixon, Larsson, Voynov, Scandella, Leddy). 

Also thought Tim's point about prospects not having the opportunity to be disappointed in September was a good one.

On Andre Benoit…

“He’s a hell of a player. He’s not underrated to us because we see him a lot. He has played in the American (Hockey) League a long time, he had a trip with Hamilton and then he comes over to our team and we win a (Calder) Championship. Besides Robin in that playoff, I think he was our best player. We had a player in Corey Locke, who was named MVP of the league that year in the regular season and no disrespect to Corey at all, he put up big numbers and all but Andre Benoit was just…you know, that’s why you go after a player like that. It doesn’t seem like a big deal when you made the transaction, but to me, it was crucial with our young guys to get a guy like that back into the fold. Besides being our captain and being a character guy and understanding how to prepare for games and focus in games, he’s just a pro’s pro. There is so much that he can go on to teach our guys, just in that aspect and when he’s on the ice, he’s one of the best players in the league.

Safe to say this was a slightly better FA signing than Lee Sweatt.

On the organization's posture in a shortened season…

Yeah, we’ve got a lot of guys playing in a real good league, playing hard every night. When we play Syracuse, it’s a war. No disrespect to Jason (York) and the Swiss league, but this is not skating figure eights, having fun and playing twice a week. This is a man’s game and this is a man’s league. I’ll tell you, I think we’re set up very well. We have two goalies who I think can play in the National Hockey League. We have two defencemen in the guys that we just talked about, plus Borowiecki, plus Gryba – who can play games for sure –and then up front, we have our kids that have not had to worry about getting cut in their first NHL training camp in Silfverberg and Stone and Zibanejad. Go down the list, I know I’m forgetting guys. We’ve got Derek Grant and Dziurzynski  playing really well; two big bodies that are playing every night. I think we’re set up really well compared to other teams, as far as if we do play a shortened season, in that we can add different pieces on a given night and I don’t think injuries will be a problem for us because we have got lots of depth. We’ve got a lot of guys down there that are really close to playing in the National Hockey League.”

Cue announcement another two weeks worth of games to be lopped off tomorrow.

On Zibanejad’s health and how close he is to returning to the lineup…

“Well, first of all, (his health) was all part of the (WJC) decision. We took some heat and I think I was on the afternoon show maybe, but everything comes into play here. His health certainly came into play and sending him over there to get there and not play or something, we didn’t make (his health) public, but it all comes into play and that’s part of it. How far he is away, I’m not sure. It’s a day-to-day thing and we’re certainly not going to rush him back. We don’t have to rush him back and we’ll see where it falls.”

A little more light is being shed on this now (the Swedish Federation's comments a week ago the first hint). From my perspective the language is telling, "we're certainly not going to rush him back", implies he has something more going on than the common flu. 

Yesterday, the B-Sens radio announcer Grady Whittenburg stated that "late this month or early January" is when he'd expect to see Zibanejad back in the lineup.

On Silfverberg and his development…

“He certainly opened his eyes the first couple of games. We had line brawls and chippy play and I think he understands that now. He is getting better every game, for sure. He’s not going to score every game but he is playing on the wing with Da Costa and Hoffman on the other wing, when that line gets going and breaks loose, they’re certainly capable of putting up big numbers any given night. It’s been a process with him and it’s completely different hockey than what he’s played his whole life and his whole career, and again, there’s another… we talk about the positives of the lockout and that, that he can go down (to the AHL) and get accustomed to the North American game without it hurting the big team. And again, he’s getting better every game.”

Silf can do no wrong.