Monday, September 30, 2013
Sens Blindside Zibanejad With Demotion - Theories Start Flying
One day it will be an obscure footnote in the career of Mika Zibanejad, but today it seems like a strange turn of events in the early going for the Ottawa Senators, who shipped Zibanejad down to Binghamton, presumably because of his waiver ineligibility and the notion he was beat out for a roster spot by players like Stephane Da Costa and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Meanwhile, rumours and insinuations are being thrown around that this was a budgetary move on orders from Eugene Melnyk, who commented publicly the other day that he “just found out” the team was over-budget. Others suggested, like myself, that the old-school management team might have been less than impressed with his one-off summer gig as DJ Zbad at a local nightclub, possibly bringing up issues of focus. Both theories seem like a stretch (although if you count in Zbad’s entry-level performance bonuses, this has the potential to save real money in the unlikely event he stays down), but until GM Bryan Murray speaks to the media later this afternoon, people will remain guessing why the fan favourite just got dumped on the eve of the season.
Strictly from a hockey perspective, it’s a tough one to get your head around. I suppose the signs were there for everyone to see but it almost seemed impossible to imagine Zibanejad, a near prototypical modern hockey player with size, skating ability and soft hands, would be thrown overboard for one of two smallish centres in Da Costa and Pageau.
Now Pageau, I can understand. This guy was going to be on the team no matter who he had to climb over. His character and talent dominated the Senators training camp and he’s already shown he can play at the NHL level. But Da Costa?
We’ve heard nothing but praise from Coach Paul MacLean on how Da Costa showed up to camp ready to play after being told he needed to change in exit meetings last season. It’s pretty easy to assume he showed more hunger than Zibanejad in camp, because if you’re talking NHL talent, there’s no way you could justify either player over Zibanejad, especially Da Costa who already fell out of favour once with the organization because he couldn’t adapt to the NHL.
Yet if two centres outhustled Zibanejad, and MacLean has already stated he only likes Zibanejad as a centre, you can see what happened here. Don’t believe for a second the team intends to have Da Costa ahead of Zibanejad for the long run. This is strictly message sending time and its clear Ottawa didn’t like the young Swede being outperformed by two prospects on the bubble.
There are very few times an organization has the ability to swing this kind of hammer on a young prospect and not hurt their own chances in the short-term. It happened to Jason Spezza early in his career under Jacques Martin when the comment was made about the NHL being a “man’s game” to justify Spezza sitting out. Now it’s happening to Zibanejad, and it’s likely the Senators can get along without him for a few weeks if it means getting this kid back into the right mindset to compete harder, assuming that’s the issue the Senators have with him.
Starting for a few weeks on the road without last line change will be pretty tough on some of the more slightly built Senators, such as Kyle Turris, Pageau and Da Costa, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Zibanejad join them halfway. It’s a bit mystifying why MacLean would want to go into L.A., Anaheim and San Jose with the smallest team possible, but maybe Zibanejad’s training camp was just that bad. He looked good in the pre-season games that I saw, so there must be something behind the scenes that hurt his spot on the team.
It seems excessive, but it might be the best thing for both Zibanejad and the Senators if this cranks the kid up a bit.