Lost in the six game win streak the Senators recently had was the fact that Brian Lee did not participate in any of those games. In fact, Lee has not played since Oct 18th which was the 7-2 blowout loss against the Philadelphia Flyers. He has now been a healthy scratch in seven straight games as well as the Oct 11th 4-3 shootout win against Minnesota Wild and the Oct 15th 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals. The four games that he has played so far this season have all been losses. It’s still not known when he’ll return to the line up, so what is to be done with Lee?
As most know, Lee was drafted 9th overall by John Muckler in the 2005 NHL entry draft, ahead of players such as Marc Staal and Anze Kopitar. The end result is people labelling Lee a bust, with him still being unable to crack a permanent spot on the Senators defensive pairings. Lee’s most successive season in the games played department was in 2008-2009 when he dressed for 53 games. However, the following season he would end up spending the majority of his time in Binghamton and would only dress for 23 games. Surprisingly, during this season (2009-10) Bryan Murray made the decision to sign Lee to a two year, one way contract with a cap hit of $875,000 a season. It looked like Lee would finally get his chance to play a full season of hockey.
The 2010-2011 season began well for Lee, finding himself playing in the first seven games. It was at this point during the season in which it would take an interesting turn for Lee. Forced out of the line up by the veteran David Hale, Lee once again found himself a healthy scratch in the press box. With games passing and Lee still on the sidelines, Murray made the decision to place Lee on waivers and send him down to Binghamton and remove his cap hit from the books. Lee would end up clearing waivers with every single team passing on the chance to gamble on the former top 10 pick.
The latter half of the 2010-2011 season would mark a turnaround for Lee. Recalled by the Sens, Lee eventually found himself as Chris Phillips‘ partner. Originally projected to be an offensive defenceman with a style similar to that of former Senator Wade Redden, Lee instead focused on being a solid shut down defenceman. He was able to hold his own with Phillips, matching up against other team’s top lines. He also showed the ability to get the puck out of the zone with the all important first pass. Additionally Lee appeared to have bulked up as he showed the strength to battle with the larger forwards as well as throwing hits whenever he had the opportunity. By the end of the season there were surely several teams that had probably wished they had grabbed Lee off of waivers.
Fast forward to the present and Lee has now found himself in an unlucky situation. After a strong preseason in which he demonstrated a stronger shot than we’ve previously seen along with his solid defensive play, many felt he deserved a permanent roster spot. Unfortunately, the Senators decided to keep 8 defenceman (including Lee) on the active roster. Two of them were the highly hyped rookies Jared Cowen and David Rundblad. Cowen and Rundblad both proved themselves fully capable of playing in the NHL (both now having passed the 10 game mark, making their entry-level contracts kick in) and in the interest of player development will both likely remain in the lineup more often than not. Chris Phillips and Erik Karlsson will never find themselves as healthy scratches, with both being faces of this franchise. This left three remaining defenceman that Lee had to win a spot over.
Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar are two players that were highly criticized at the start of the season. Since then both have vastly improved their play. Nevertheless, there are some that think they should have sat out a few games to make room for Lee whose defensive game is easily better than the two. The chance of this happening was highly unlikely though with the salaries invested in the two (Kuba earning $3,700,000 and Gonchar earning $5,500,000). The only remaining defenceman was Matt Carkner who has yet to play as he recovers from a knee injury. However, when he returns many think that Carkner would likely slide into the lineup before Lee as he brings a toughness that the defence has lacked thus far this season.
With all that being said, it doesn’t look like Lee will find himself in many games this season barring injuries or a trade. So what are the Senators supposed to do with him. He is on the last year of his two year deal that pays him $875,000/season at which point he will become an RFA. The Senators could try trading him, pointing to the success he had at the end of the past season. This likely won’t fly though as teams will certainly point out the fact he wasn’t able to crack the Senators line up this year and will likely offer nothing substantial. Sitting him on the sidelines though isn’t doing any favours to his development which seems to get stalled every season. However, it’s more than likely that Murray will try and move Kuba and/or Gonchar this season (made easier by the fact both are putting up respectable point totals) if the right deal arises. Both of them are certainly not in the rebuild plans. At that point Lee may find himself a spot in the lineup.
Regardless of if he finds himself back in the lineup this season, Lee has proven to be a trooper (to the public at least), never speaking out about being a healthy scratch for so many games. He’s also only 24 years old and as most will agree defencemen tend to peak at a later age. Being an RFA this summer, it’s almost certain that if he’s not traded he will be resigned by the Senators. Lee won’t have much bargaining power (at this point in time) if he decides to go to arbitration having yet to play an entire season, so his upcoming contract would nicely fit into the Senators rebuild plans.
Lee is still too young to give up on, especially since the improvements in his game that fans have noticed starting from the latter half of last season. With Matt Carkner being a UFA next season, as well as Kuba’s contract off the books, Lee may have to wait until next season for a true shot on the Senators blue line. Until then though, Lee will likely have to toil as a healthy scratch for the time being, knowing that his time will come. It’s then that Sens fans will find out if Lee will truly become a part of the rebuild or not.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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Topics: Brian Lee