On a weekly basis, I, Derrick Brose, will summon the far reaches of my being, scouring my innards for every shred of hockey and Senators related knowledge and instinct in an attempt to answer a burning question. The questions will vary from week to week, but be assured, each question will be burning, each question will pertain, but not exclusively, to an Ottawa Senators related issue, and each question will be subject to the full extent of the Brose psyche.
This week’s query:
Does Brian Lee fit into the “rebuild” puzzle, and if so, what is his role?
Brian Lee, the 24-year-old native of Moorhead, Minnesota, is oft-dubbed “Not Marc Stall“. The reason being, of course, because then GM John Muckler opted to draft Lee at 9th overall in 2005 when Stall was still on the board. Stall was eventually scooped up by the New York Rangers at the 12th spot and has gone on to forge himself a respectable young career in the NHL. Lee, meanwhile, has yet to establish himself as a consistent NHL defenceman. In his five professional years with the Ottawa Senators, Lee has played 132 games, scoring four times and adding 16 assists for 20 points and a minus 16, plus/minus rating. Not the kind of sexy numbers the organization expected out of a top ten first round pick with anticipated offensive upside. At times, like the second half of the 2008-2009 season, Lee has shown enticing potential, but it’s the consistency that remains elusive.
The logjam on the Sens blueline is no secret. No less than five defencemen, including Lee, are on one-way contracts. Add Erik Karlsson into the mix and the six defensive spots on the roster are accounted for. The logjam comes into play when management desires to insert young studs, David Rundblad and Jared Cowen, into the lineup; eight bodies in six spots does not compute. One popular answer to this problem among Sens’ brethren has been a unanimous ”Filip Kuba!” Kuba has one year left on his terrible contract/cap hit and his play has been sliding faster than a weekend at your local water park, (Jared has more on this unmitigated disaster). Thus far, Bryan Murray has been unable and/or unwilling to offload Kuba and is perhaps realizing that a taker for the leader of “Tank Army” may be impossible to come by.
Another solution to the over-crowded boat ride may be dealing Matt Carkner. Carkner is projected to be the 6th or 7th blueliner on this team and the addition of Zenon Konopka decreases the need for the fighting ginger from Winchester. Carkner’s tiny cap hit, intimidating presence, and solid defensive play may make attractive to contending team.
Ignoring a virtually untradeable Sergei Gonchar and a freshly reigned Chris Phillips to a three-year contract with a NTC, is Brain Lee a leading figure on the trading block or does he figure into the plans of the rebuilding Ottawa Senators?
For all intents and purposes, Lee spent the first half of the 2010-11 season in the press box. Even while the team struggled, head coach Cory Clouston seemingly had no use for the Minnesotan. Once injuries started taking their toll at the turn of the new year in January, Lee found himself back in the lineup. And while chaos swirled the Senators like deck chairs on a crippled Titanic, a special thing was happening with Lee right before our eyes; he was reinventing his game.
The 9th overall pick in 2005, once scouted as an offensive threat, was now focusing all of his energies on the defensive aspect of his game. Through February, March, and April Lee saw his ice-time shoot up to the high teens and low twenties on a nightly basis. Typically paired with Phillips down the stretch, Lee had morphed into a shut down defenceman almost overnight. With encouraging regularity, Lee was making the smart, safe in-zone decisions, utilizing his significant frame to eliminate opponents and defending on the PK. The decision to “shut it down” could be the defining moment in Lee’s young career.
In Gonchar, Karlsson, and Rundblad, the Sens have offense to burn on the back end, but the void left from Aton Volchenkov, who moved to New Jersey last summer, looms large. If Lee, entering a contract year, can recommit to the shut down role this fall AND be effective at it, he will be a part of the Ottawa Senators moving forward. It is the role and kind of player the Sens now covet. FYI, I am not saying that Lee will be the next Volchenkov, just that Lee could slot into the Volchenkov role (with Phillips as a partner).
Now armed with the knowledge of the kind of role he needs to play within to be successful, I can legitimately see Lee establishing himself as a permanent NHLer this season. This is his opportunity should he chose to accept it. If not, he will find himself forever in AHL limbo and Sens fans forever Staal dreaming. (I also believe that Kuba and/or Carkner will be moved prior to October, they are the most expendable parts, Murray will find a way).
… and now you know what Brose Knows.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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Topics: AHL, Brian Lee, Byran Murray, Chris Phillips, David Runblad, David Rundblad, Erik Karlsson, Filip Kuba, Jared Cowen, John Muckler, Marc Staal, Matt Carkner, New Jersey Devils, NHL, Ottawa Senators, Sergei Gonchar, Zenon Konopka