Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sens Can Survive Without Michalek

While there has been no official word from the Senators organization, more and more, it looks like Milan Michalek will be either out for the rest of the season and playoffs, or at least has some serious ACL damage to his left knee. While many say that Michalek could conceivably play without an ACL so long as he wears a knee brace, you have to wonder how effective he will be in such a scenario.

Already a survivor of two major surgeries to his right knee (at one point there was even talk of his right leg being amputated due to an infection!), this latest injury will certainly trouble GM Bryan Murray, both in the short term and long term perspective.

But the way Michalek plays the game, devastating injuries are going to be par for the course. That’s just his style. He flies down the ice and goes straight to the net, with or without the puck. Bad things tend to happen that way, but that’s how Michalek earns his living. You can’t fault him for that.

Yet, let me propose this theory.

Of all the top 6 forwards on the Senators, with the exception of Alex Kovalev, Michalek is the guy you can live without the most.

That’s not to diminish his skill and the fact he co-leads the Senators in goal scoring with Mike Fisher. But when you look at the bigger picture, Michalek is essentially an accessory and not a vital part of the core. In a way, he’s like a lone wolf whose statistics probably outweigh his real impact.

For the sake of brevity, let’s just all agree that the top six forwards on this team are : Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Mike Fisher, Matt Cullen and Alexei Kovalev. I know how you all feel about Kovalev lately, but he still deserves to be on this list for now.

In order of importance to the team, I would rate them as follows:

1. Alfredsson
2. Spezza
3. Fisher
4. Cullen
5. Michalek
6. Kovalev

I’d be willing to bet that the top two on that list won’t be argued by many. Probably the top three. It’s the last three players on the list that could conceivably be interchangeable, depending on your viewpoint.

The reason I rate Cullen a more important forward than Michalek probably comes down to one characteristic: hockey sense.

Michalek has most of the tools that someone like, say, Marian Hossa has. They both have speed, size and quick hands. But what Hossa has that Michalek doesn’t is above average hockey sense. Same goes for Cullen.

Michalek is like a racehorse – he’s good at going straight ahead faster than most but there isn’t really much sophistication to his game when you look at him objectively. He kills penalties the same way. He hounds for the puck and when he gets it, he’s off. His game relies on beating the opposing player physically, either through speed or along the boards with muscle.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Michalek is certainly worth his salary and is a great member of the team.

But someone like Cullen, he makes plays. He sees the ice in a manner similar to Alfredsson and because he’s a natural centre, he’s a more well rounded player than the prototypical winger Michalek.

What makes a player like Alfredsson superb is that he can do what both Michalek and Cullen can. He can beat you on speed and skill, or he can out think you and make the little plays that baffle the opposition.

As for Michalek, his importance is also lessened by the fact that the Senators have so many great penalty killers that his absence on that front hasn’t been felt. With guys waiting in the wings like Peter Regin and Nick Foligno, the minutes and spot on the top line vacated by Michalek is also being filled quite ably so far.

While it’s true this Senators team is still having a hard time scoring goals, the evidence suggests they can still be a very good team without Michalek. That wouldn’t be the case if they had lost any one of their other top six forwards (excluding the streaky and baffling Kovalev of course).

And if you accept that argument, you can think of the possibility of Michalek returning as some kind of last minute trade deadline player added to the mix for the playoffs.

What all Sens fans can agree on is that they all wish him a speedy recovery and that he has a long career ahead of him, hopefully in the local black and red sweater.


PvR said...

Well thought out, well said.

Anonymous said...

I think Michalek has a great skill set, but he just hasn't found his groove yet. So, I agree with you, he's not a huge loss.

Someday, he'll get it together and his offensive numbers will pop. I don't know if that'll be in Ottawa or elsewhere, but you can see that the guy has huge potential.

Anonymous said...

most of the goals #9 scores are from standing in or near the crease. he isnt a natural goal scorer. that said he will be dearly missed and should his knee be toast - that absolute idiot B Murray gave Heatley away for sweet frak all - worse, we are now paying the salaries of 2 NHL players and neither of which are on the ice.

BTW, Alfie hasn't been 'fast' in 2-3 years. he is amazingly agile, but no, he is not fast.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely, and that's also why I always thought of the Big Three, Heatley was the most disposable.

Now obviously Heatley is better than Michalek, but did he ever really make plays? No... Alfredsson and Spezza did the creative work and Heatley set up for the shot.

I think that's a big reason we haven't tanked this year like everybody said we would. We've still got our playmakers and you can always find someone who can shoot accurately (although maybe not 50 times a year).