Ever since the moment Zenon Konopka signed with Ottawa yesterday, the chatter started on the blogs and the boards that this is somehow a sign from the Gods that either Chris Neil or Matt Carkner could soon find themselves on their way out of town.
Reading this stuff first thing in the morning is like accidentally spooning rat poison into your coffee instead of sugar, but hey, people are entitled to their conspiracies and never ending rumour obsession.
It's like people believe there is some secret rule where you can only have three roster spots for tough guys and one more in the boat means one has to go overboard. Not sure where this belief springs from, but it's rather condescending to guys like Neil, Carkner, Konopka and Zack Smith and presumes that all they can do is fight and take stupid penalties. Which, of course, is complete B.S.
Konopka's signing, to me anyways, is a sign that GM Bryan Murray and new coach Paul MacLean actually want guys like Neil, Smith and Carkner on the ice more this year, not less. Neil has evolved from a middle weight enforcer into a hell-on-wheels menace who crashes the net and leads by example. Smith is a Neil clone but with a little more upside and better wheels. Carkner is a prototypical 15 minute a night defensive defenseman who plays a simple game that coaches love and has the added bonus of being perhaps the scariest fighter in the NHL today. Why would the Senators feel any of these guys are expendable? It doesn't make sense. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong and I'm sure you guys will let me know about it, but I just don't see it.
The Boston Bruins won a Stanley Cup with a team that was twice as tough as Ottawa will be this year. In that town, tough players with character are celebrated. In Ottawa, they are merely tolerated and treated like relics of an old-school style which has gone out of fashion by new-school fans who are extremely uncomfortable with on-ice violence. So why do NHL general managers keep signing tough players anyways? Why did the Islanders re-sign Trevor Gillies? It's not because they're stupid. It's because NHL general managers know that intimidation is still a big part of winning hockey games, even if some skittish fans wish it would go away.
That's not me pontificating. That's just the way it is. If it wasn't, the enforcer would be extinct. So would the pests like Sean Avery and Maxim Lapierre (who just signed a big deal in Vancouver, one of the least physical teams on the planet who let their star players get punched in the face repeatedly and did nothing about it).
Which brings me back around to the point of this article in the first place. Konopka's signing only gives room for guys like Neil and Carkner to play more. It doesn't threaten their role on the team.
Mind you, if a soft team like Vancouver offered Ottawa a top-six forward for someone like Neil or Carkner (highly unlikely, nee impossible), then Murray might take the bait. But these guys aren't leaving the team just because they signed someone else who actually knows how to body check.
Some may see Carkner's job more threatened by incoming rookies like Jared Cowen and David Rundblad, but it's important to remember that just because us armchair coaches already have them penciled into the lineup doesn't mean they will actually make it. And if they do, it's more likely that Filip Kuba would be the casualty and not Carkner. If Kuba comes back and totally reverses his recent decline, then maybe Carkner ends up sitting more often. I'm just not sure that's really in the cards. Even if Carkner is your seventh guy, it's a hell of a lot better than having Brian Lee as your black ace.
There are certainly guys in danger of losing their jobs this year, but to me their names are Kuba and Lee. I don't see Jesse Winchester or Peter Regin losing their spots just yet at the forward ranks. In fact, I'm picking Regin as the comeback player of the year. I stand by my view that Regin could be the next David Krejci. He had a sophomore slump. So have 500 other NHL players over the years.
But here we go again. It's early July and already people are panicking and ingesting rat poison. There's a long time to go without hockey. Let's try and act like normal human beings for at least a few months.