Monday, September 20, 2010

On Lee... Part Two

At the risk of being accused of picking on poor Brian Lee, I have two questions for you:

Even with Lee playing at his maximum potential, is he the type of guy you want in your top six going forward through 6 months of the race to make the playoffs, and then nearly 3 months of the brutal grind of the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Likely that won't be the case anyways once Filip Kuba returns from injury, but the question is useful for the purpose of looking at a player like Brian Lee objectively.

Do the Senators really require the services of another offensive defenseman whose offensive skills are below those of Sergei Gonchar, Erik Karlsson and Chris Campoli?

Jason York of the Team 1200 (himself a past offensive defenseman) made a great point this afternoon when he said that Lee will never be effective as a 5th or 6th defenseman because too often that pairing faces the other teams grind lines, guys who chip the puck in the zone and then try to run the defenseman through the boards a few seconds later.

He's got a great point. Lee is a make or break kind of defenseman. He either plays on the power-play and a top pairing or he's not going to help you much because he's not a physical rearguard and will quickly wear down over the course of a season, never mind the onslaught that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Just look at the kid's frame. He's not that kind of player. Never will be. Teams like the Philadelphia Flyers will eat this kid alive if given the chance. It may seem unfair to make these kind of assumptions, but it's just common sense.

The Senators lost two fistfuls of toughness when Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton both unfortunately walked this summer. The Senators have gone quickly from having perhaps the meanest defense (with Matt Carkner in tow) to having one of the softest in the league in a matter of months.

That sensitive balance will really seem off with Brian Lee parachuting into the lineup mostly based on the fact that he has an ill-advised one-way contract. There's got to be a better way.

But then again, maybe Lee has the training camp of his life. If he does, I'll be the first to admit I was wrong and congratulate him for it. Yet, I just don't see Lee suddenly morphing into an effective NHL defenseman over one summer of training.

With camp in its initial stages, it's way too early to tell what will happen, but with Kuba gone for close to two months, the Senators have an opportunity to fast track one of two potentially tough defenseman: Eric Gryba and Jared Cowen (or turn to David Hale who has some decent NHL experience). If they both flop in camp, then let's bring Lee on with a vengeance. We at least know Lee can play an NHL shift and give you 10 somewhat average minutes a night. But you have to think if one of Gryba or Cowen shows the slightest hint of being ready (my money is on the 22 year old, 6'4, 220 pound Gryba) that Murray will find the room to add that salary to his roster.

Maybe I'm wrong. If I am, I know my readers will certainly let me hear it. I've been wrong before and I will be again. I was once really high on Lee's prospects, as a lot of us were after that great playoff series he had in 2008 against the Penguins. He looked like Wade Redden's heir apparent at the time.

Maybe that's the problem. He still reminds one of Redden, but not the Redden we all knew in Ottawa.


Anonymous said...

I'd have to respectfully disagree with both you and Yorkie on this one. Lee is 6'3" and over 200lbs. He has the size to be a shutdown D.

I see him as being less like Redden and more like Phillips when he started. Phillips was drafted as an offensive defenseman - he struggled for the first couple of years under Jacques Martin - even being shifted to the wing for parts of a season. It took him awhile to transition from being a power-play QB to a shut-down type of player and I would argue that it wasn't till he was paired with Chara that he developed to his full potential.

Lee doesn't have the ability of Karlsson - and he will likely never be the player we'd hoped for when he was picked in the first round. But he does have the size and talent to develop into a serviceable, regular defenseman.

The real question is - does he want to?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the anon above.

First off, big kudos to Jason York for those little nuggets of insight that he consistently delivers.

Secondly, just to be clear, York wasn't dumping on Lee (at least I didn't get that impression). He just said that his game was better suited to lining up against the skilled guys that he would see, if he was in a top 4 role.

That being said, I'm gonna defend Lee, because I think that he helps our team.

Hockey's a simple game. You gotta score more than your opponent. Look at the following stat, it's our goal differential over the last five years:

05-06 +103
06-07 +66
07-08 +14
08-09 -20
09-10 -13

I think this reflects our decline from an elite team, to an average team. We score less than our opponents. We need scoring.

Last year, the leaders in goal differential were:

Washington +85
Chicago +62
Vancouver +50
San Jose +49

They were all also the highest scoring teams in the league, and considered Cup contenders. Many people also would say that this group will contend this year as well.

Here's another stat. It's points from our defensemen, our final points standing as a team, and our place in the conference:

05-06 203 113 1st
06-07 191 105 3rd
07-08 146 94 7th
08-09 134 83 11th
09-10 140 94 5th

It's not an exact science. But, it all correlates pretty well.

When we can't generate offence from the back-end, it's tough to score goals, and it's tough to win.

Now, I understand the fever about being tough to play against. But, to me, a team that is tough to play against is a team that beats you on the scoreboard and wins the game.

Chicago, Pitt, and Detroit have won the last three Cups. But, Calgary is probably a "tougher" team to play against. But, who wins games?

If you look at our Cup Final season of 06-07, we had Corvo and Preissing as our third pair. We had four mobile d-men.

Guess who led our D in scoring? Tom Preissing. Our #6 d-man.

I think the fact that we lack a pure sniper like Heatley, just makes the need for a guy like Lee more pressing. We need skill at the back end to help with our offense.

For all the optimism coming out of camp, I think the results will be the same as previous years unless we get our skilled d-men more involved with the play.