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Past and the Present

July 24, 2014, 2:37 PM ET [108 Comments]
Travis Yost
Ottawa Senators Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
A quick Thursday afternoon thought.

I talked at length with Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill about a wide variety of topics this morning. Click through if you're interested in his thoughts about building a winner, being able to complement scouting/data, and where he sees hockey analytics heading in the future. I think this quote is particularly interesting though, especially in light of Elliotte Friedman's piece earlier this week in which it was suggested that Ales Hemsky and Jason Spezza may play on different lines to start the year:

“The roster assembly is really going to be something we find out in training camp. Right now, we’ve been playing a little bit of fantasy hockey before the hockey actually starts. We’re trying to figure out where everyone fits — the right ice time and stuff. The thing about Hemsky is that we had him targeted before we picked up Spezza. We wanted someone to complement the first line. We had some players that played with Hemsky previously — during our exit interviews, those players thought he would be a great fit with the team. Great passer, high-end skills. Seguin and Benn are really known as shooters — their niche is great shots. Hemsky’s a guy we targeted anyways. We’re going to come to camp now and Lindy and his staff are going to put it together.”

It's an interesting process of thought by Nill and presumably the coaching staff, one that attempts to pair players together who can effectively complement one another. There's another thing in there, though he didn't expand on the point much. Is moving Hemsky to the top-line a way to strengthen the toughs, or is moving Nichushkin down to a second-line with Spezza a way to strengthen the depth?

This is a question Paul MacLean's going to have to tackle this year in Ottawa, too. Even in a poor season last year, the team's top line of Kyle Turris, Clarke MacArthur, and Bobby Ryan was exceptional. MacLean could very easily assemble that line again, play them with Erik Karlsson and whoever on the back-end, and watch the five-man group roll to 54% of the Corsi and goals at even-strength.

Ottawa is teeming with talent, and yet, there's a lot of young talent in that mix. It's hard to say which guys are going to rise and which guys are going to fall. And, Paul MacLean may be intrigued at splitting up the above line in order to create something of a balance in his top-six (or top-nine). After all, if young Mika Zibanejad is going to get second-line minutes -- he certainly deserves the role at this point -- you're going to want to surround him with talent. Are the likes of Milan Michalek, Alex Chiasson, Mike Hoffman, Mike Stone, et al. going to supplement Zibanejad enough here? It's possible. But the burden would be eased if the likes of, say, Bobby Ryan was moved onto the second-line, promoting a guy like Mark Stone to the top-line in the process.

This is a question that a lot of teams outside of Dallas and Ottawa have to answer, too. It's about finding the right blend, the right chemistry, the right balance. Sometimes an elite line has to be broken up to form two good lines, and sometimes two good lines have to be merged to create one elite line.

At any rate, it's going to be a knife-fight for ice-time this season. There are a lot of young guys looking for minutes, and a string of a few bad games might be enough for a guy to experience a demotion. You sense that guys Mika Zibanejad and Mark Stone have an inside edge, and that wild cards like Mike Hoffman and Alex Chiasson could really push upward for next season.

The team may or may not be good. But it's going to be fun watching these guys crawl over one another for bigger roles. And that's only a good thing.

Since you made it this far, here's one other thing Nill added about the Spezza trade, which wasn't in the above piece:

Bryan Murray and their staff did a real good job. People are going to be very surprised by some of the players they got.”

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