Friday, February 15, 2008

Where we stand: Last year to this year

The Sens are in the stretch run now. While Bryan Murray is looking for more additions to fill out the roster in preparation for the playoffs, there are already a few changes that can be argued to have strengthened or weakened the team. After making it to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, how does this year's roster stand up to last year's? While some of these were not straight-up deals, here is a comparison of players who, at this point, will be on the roster come playoff time:

Now: LW Cory Stillman
Then: RW Mike Comrie
  • This is a tough call. Comrie's speed offered a lot to that second line, but Stillman comes in with the potential for clutch scoring and much more playoff experience. They play a similar style, but the six points Comrie scored last year should be replicated by Stillman should the Sens progress in the playoffs (knock on wood).
  • Verdict: Now. Although it's still early, I'll give Stillman the benefit of the doubt.
Now: D Mike Commodore
Then: D Joe Corvo
  • Also, it's such recent news that you're probably bored hearing about it. We lost a speedy, puck-controlling defencemen who is great on the powerplay but could be prone to defensive liability--although he was solid in the playoffs. In place we have Commodore, a punishing defenceman who's limited offensively but makes it unpleasant for opposing forwards to hang around in front of the net. He'll be a valuable presence physically and shot-blockingly in the playoffs, but our powerplay might feel a pinch.
  • Verdict: Now. It's a tight race, but if Murray can acquire another puck-mover then Corvo's absence will be softened. And the presence Commodore brings come playoff time should be pretty valuable, especially if it allows D Wade Redden to take a few more offensive chances.
Now: RW Randy Robitaille
Then: LW Oleg Saprykin
  • Since the Stillman acquisition, Robitaille has been relegated to fourth-line minutes, which is probably a good place for him to be. While his quickness is not as good as Saprykin's and he's not as willing to work in the corners, Robitaille has the ability to add a scoring dimension to the fourth line of Shean Donovan and Chris Schubert, which is valuable in the playoffs.
  • Verdict: Then. With the minutes the fourth line plays under John Paddock it's negligible, but Saprykin seemed to have a little more gusto. If Robitaille steps it up come playoff time, though, this verdict could very well change.
Now: C Shean Donovan
Then: LW Peter Schaefer
  • This is a strange comparison because the expectations for each of these guys is completely different. Where Schaefer was expected to be a second-line player, Donovan is expected to be a third- or fourth-liner. Donovan's numbers aren't as good as Schaefer's, but neither is his ice time. While Schaefer was occasionally good offensively and could kill penalties like nobody's business, he couldn't be relied upon in clutch situations. Donovan hasn't been given a shot at PK, but he did it last season, and he's a decent player for the 10 minutes or less he plays in a night.
  • Verdict: Then. Just because Schaefer looked good on a line with Mike Fisher and Comrie, coming reasonably close to a second scoring line in the playoffs. If another second-liner comes in to off-set the hole on that line, then Donovan's position as a role-player will be valuable.
Now: D Luke Richardson
Then: D Tom Preissing
  • Richardson brings a lot of experience to this team. He's recently spoken of how this is the time the team needs to really pick up their socks, and he showed he's ready to do so with a two-point effort in the last game against New Jersey. Scoring is just an added benefit, because Richardson's real role is to offer leadership to young players--hopefully Andrej Meszaros will benefit from their pairing--and to play a physical game in limited ice time. However, it remains to be seen if Richardson will last through the playoffs, and whether or not he will be the odd man out if the Sens acquire another defenceman. Preissing, on the other hand, was underappreciated for what he brought to the team throughout the season in 2006-07. He scored two important goals, and was an extremely good sixth defenceman.
  • Verdict: Then. But that's a shallow judgement; it's difficult to know what immeasurable intangibles Richardson is bringing to this team off the ice.
Now: Distracted G Ray Emery, Flustered G Martin Gerber
Then: Focussed G Ray Emery, Supportive G Martin Gerber
  • Maybe this is changing. Hopefully this is changing. But there is no way you can say Emery's play this season has been anywhere near where it was last season. It might be the contract he's been awarded, or the inability to get motivated, but Emery's play has fallen off. No matter what happens anywhere else in the lineup, if a goaltender doesn't step up, this team won;t likely last long.
  • Verdict: Then. Obviously.
Now: Coach John Paddock
Then: Coach Bryan Murray
  • With the other changes being rather subtle, this might prove to be one of the biggest changes in the approach to the playoffs. Murray was a much more confident coach, and seemed to know what his players were thinking at all times. From a complete outsider's perspective, Paddock seems to be unable to challenge his players positively, and some individuals have fallen off as a result. Also, although this is changing, the two individuals approach ice time very differently; Murray was ready and willing to play his fourth line, while Paddock seems hesitant and overplays the first and second lines as a result.
  • Verdict: Then. But there is no way to know; Paddock's approach may be tailored to the playoffs, and our experience of it during the regular season is misinformed. I hope that's the case, but I have my doubts.
Now: GM Bryan Murray
Then: GM John Muckler
  • Murray isn't afraid to make big moves. While he's stated he isn't interested in removing any more players from the lineup, he is obviously willing to do anything that will make this team better. The chief criticism of Muckler is that he only made small deals, and wasn't able to pick up players that could take the Sens over the top (see this post). His confidence in the roster he had, however, was admirable.
  • Verdict: Now. Murray's willingness to make more trades might enable this year's team to address all the areas where there has been a step backwards (mainly defence and goaltending).
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