Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Forward Roles Need A Shakeup

With a new coach in town, are we about to see a truly fresh outlook for the organization when it comes to their forward lines? Because let’s face it – the team has been stale in its thinking for too long now, similar to the way it was in Jacques Martin’s final year as a coach in 2004.

Core players on this team such as Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Antoine Vermette and Chris Neil have been pigeonholed, or even typecast by the fans and coaches into roles that either don’t suit them or limits their contributions.

For what seems like years, the team has been trying to force Fisher to be a second line center for Daniel Alfredsson, despite the two of them having little to no chemistry together.

Their failure to click has forced past coaches Bryan Murray and John Paddock to put Alfredsson back with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, leaving Fisher in a sort of no-mans land – is he supposed to score or is he supposed to shut down the other team’s scorers?

Gord Wilson on the Team 1200 this morning made the point that Fisher may be able to excel in a role similar to Anaheim’s Samuel Pahlsson – a top-notch shutdown guy. With Fisher’s size and speed, he could be as effective as Bobby Holik was in his prime winning Stanley Cups for Lou Lamoriello and the Devils.

Wilson also threw in Vermette’s name as a possibility to be the second line center and it struck me that nobody has talked about Vermette as a center for years, even though it’s his natural position.

Why not give Chris Kelly more of a chance to play offense? He already has chemistry with Vermette and a 2nd line of those two with Alfredsson would be formidable at both ends of the rink. (Note: Alfredsson played on a line with Kelly and Nick Foligno today during the morning skate)

Why not throw a gritty forward next to Spezza and Heatley instead of the talented but inexperienced rookie Jesse Winchester? Those two don’t need more talent on that line. What they need is more room to move out there. Either Chris Neil, Jarkko Ruutu or even Shean Donovan could make an impact on that line, even if their statistics don’t merit the promotion.

Sometimes chemistry happens in the strangest circumstances. Maybe Fisher would be better as winger on the top line or maybe Neil scores 20 goals in that slot while driving to the net as a physical distraction.

That sort of scenario would allow a skill player like Winchester to add a little flair to the third line, creating more balance throughout the lineup. Of course, if Winchester proves he belongs on the top unit, all the better.

We all like to classify players as either first, second, or fourth liners, but on the ice, sometimes the right experiment based on out-of-the-paradigm thinking can produce much better results.

It’s too early to tell whether Craig Hartsburg will stick with the status quo or really try to shake things up. Let’s hope he opts for the latter.


For those of you wondering what Alex Auld's newly painted Senators themed mask will look like, you can take a peek here, here, and here.


nate said...

I think the forwards are fine in this group, perhaps better than those in the stanley cup run.I really dont understand what splitting the top line is going to do unless murray forces a trade. We know from experience that spezza and heatley do not play that well without alfy and play very well when are with him. Unless they meet a defense in the playoffs comparable to the pronger/neidemeir wrecking crew this lineup does not need secondary scoring because that line cannot be stopped when they are on. Last year the sens had argueably the best top 6 in the league in terms of raw scoring ability with cory stillman, fisher and vermette on the second line. How much are we going to miss stillman? If they play the way they can this is always going to be a very high powered offense.
There are more pressing needs for an offensive prescence on the blueline.

Anonymous said...

They just need to play better than last year. i dont think it will be much of an issue because theyve got a lot of motivation from such a bad season, a new coach, lower expectations, fewer distractions in the dressing room, alot of new blood and they are well rested from their dissapointing playoff run. Not to be overly optimistic but i think things are on track.

Peter said...

Great post. I've always said Fisher seems too good for the third line, but not quite good enough--offensively, at least--for the second line. Kelly was really good in 2006 when Spezza and Vermette were both injured, playing between Alfredsson and Heatley. You may be onto something there. Hopefully Hartsburg's fresh look at things will offer the line shifting necessary.

As for Auld's mask... a little ugly, if you ask me. Mayeb it will grow on me, though.

kevin4peace said...

This morning Hartsburg put the only TRUELY CONSISTENT players on one line together (Alfie, Foligno and Kelly), it sounds good, but all the other lines will just be lost, so I guess its back to the drawing board. (And btw, what do YOU think the lines should be, blog writer guy?

Meaghan said...

I've always thought that Fisher and Alfie have great chemistry. This is the second post I've read today suggesting otherwise, which really surprises me.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you said, but I had to chime in to say... Neil does not belong anywhere near Speatley, and any time he has been with them he has looked horrible. There is not a player on the team that I wouldnt put on that line ahead of Neil. besides, this is the year of the youngsters for the Sens, which is very refreshing.