Okay, hear me out on this one before you rip me a new one in the comments.
The Ottawa Senators have a bit of an enigma in Curtis Lazar. As Colin4000 points out in his excellent breakdown of the team’s bottom six forward options, Lazar’s preference is to play centre, but he’s likely destined for the wing. Colin also states that Lazar isn’t ready for the top six and he’s not wrong… in the traditional sense of the “top six”. But what if the idea of “top six” is changing?
In winning the Stanley Cup this year, the Pittsburg Penguins may have redefined the concepts of top six, top nine, and bottom six by playing Crosby, Malkin and Kessel on separate lines. No one would argue that Crosby is not that team’s top centre, but his linemates for most of the playoffs were Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist. Malkin, the team’s “second” centre (and first line centre on any other team), played with Chris Kunitz and Bryan Rust. On Kessel’s line were Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino and the trio was arguably the only line consisting of all “top six” calibre forwards.
Ottawa’s strength has been offence for a while now and finding ways to spread that offence around, while also improving team defence could be a real challenge if the team does things the same way as last year. So, what if the Senators learn something from Pittsburg’s example?
Consider this line-up for the Senators top nine:
Hoffman – Turris – Lazar
MacArthur – Brassard – Ryan
Smith – Pageau – Stone
There are some real wins with a line-up like this. For one, it ensures at least two forwards known for his “defensive responsibility” is on each of these lines (Turris-Lazar, MacArthur-Ryan, all three on line three). More importantly, each line has solid possession drivers who should be able to limit shots against. It also puts the team’s best two goal scorers, Hoffman and Ryan, with the centre most likely to succeed at feeding them the puck since Turris, a righty, can pass to Hoffman on his forehand, as can Brassard, a lefty, to Ryan. Finally, it keeps together the line (Smith-Pageau-Stone) that was a bit of a revelation for the team in the late going last season.
Oh… and if each line gets 16-18 minutes of ice time per night, that would only leave as little as six minutes of ice time for the fourth line each night. With two players in their mid-thirties and a rookie the most likely make up of that line, such limited time might not be the worst idea.
Is it the perfect line-up? Probably not. Plus, the way that coaches juggle lines, it likely wouldn’t last more than a week. Still, I think there are some real benefits, not the least of which is a real test of Lazar’s abilities. While he wouldn’t be expected to drive the offence of the first line, he’d certainly be expected to keep up and these would be the best linemates he’s played with since he joined the team. It might be a case of throwing the young player into the deep end, but after two full seasons with the team, even he admits he has a lot to prove. This opportunity would give him the chance to do just that.
Alright, I’ve said my piece. Let the ripping begin.