I starting thinking about the roster decisions yesterday as I waited with extreme curiosity to what Ted Nolan's take on the decisions made would be. I, like many of you, did not understand why Hilbert was on the 2nd line. Or why the gaggle of dmen still stood as a gaggle of dmen on the NHL roster. And I began to see it from another angle:
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When a 2nd Line isn't really a 2nd line
So, if you are like me, you made an audible groan as the your worst fear during the Boston preseason game then became a reality. Where Andy Hilbert - who is NOT a bad player, was going to have a role on the 2nd line. Hilbert is an aggressive two-way forward who, despite not scoring as his Pittsburgh numbers would indicate back two seasons ago - has done everything Nolan asked for. He has a good on-ice ability to see plays and get plays going. He also has the type of grit and wherewithal that this team is trying to embrace. Thus he now sits slated for the 2nd line . . .
Well, really not a 2nd line, actually. I have a rather strong feeling that the 2nd and 3rd line (Sim - Sillinger - Hunter) will really be used depending on whether a defensive or offensive situation. So, the '2nd line', obviously, with Miroslav Satan and Josef Vasicek will have a more offensive bent. And most have felt Jeff Tambellini's speed game and net-finding ability would be an excellent and dynamic fit to this line . . .
Well, not to the coach. Not yet anyway. We had indications of a warning shot across the H.S.S. Tambellini prow during training camp. Despite some good team scrimmages and drills, he wasn't keeping to that high level consistently. One preseason game he would get a goal. Another, you wouldn't know that he was playing.
Later last night, Nolan backed up that decision with exactly that issue with some words on the NYI official website:
"In order for Jeff to be up here, he has to be among the top nine forwards. Jeff’s not a fourth-line guy. The way Sim and Fedotenko played in camp, and the way Andy Hilbert performed for us consistently last year, it was just one of those things. That’s not to say he won’t be back up here in a very short time. He’ll get his chance, and if he performs on a consistent basis, he’ll stay here.”
This is tough love. And its not a bad thing. While we have had years in the past of players sleepwalking some games or disappearing in another, a prospect must break through playing to the potential they seem in him. This is a harbinger of other prospects who will skate this very route (Comeau, Okposo, etc), where Tambs is going to go through a trial by fire to play night in and out as a 2nd line player should: imposing his will and skill upon each game, in each shift. And that, my friends, is why this Isles team is worth it's salt.
We have standards, and they aren't necessarily easy to attain. But prospects will be better for it in the end. You want to be in the 'show'? Better play like you want to be there . . . and that means in every game, in every moment that you are on the ice.
My One Caveat
The only thing that doesn't sit well is that Bruno Gervais last season was give a spot, and was allowed to grow into his role. Bruno has gotten better as the season wore on. But some nights, some games, he was not so present. Not a factor. Sometimes even a liability.
Doesn't Tambs deserve that same shot under this philosophy. Or is it simply that Gervais hasn't really found his groove this preseason that has caused Nolan to change last years tact and allowance on Gervais to a tougher strict guideline on Tambellini?
The message from this to last year seems slightly mixed or at least, not the same to two different prospects. One was given a bit of slack, another was given none, and now will play in Bridegeport until callup time.
A Gaggle of Dmen
So we have 8 defensemen. Who really expected this? I am pretty sure Bryan Berard will be signed. Just because of the fact that he is the best option at Powerplay quarterback, and as the heat was on him before last weekend, every game he played better and made himself a part of that game.
Furthermore, having so many dmen when two of them have been tremendously injury-prone the last couple of years is extremely advantageous. Of course, you hope that Radek Martinek and Berard will be healthy, but then if they are not, or if others get hurt, you have a deep pool to have a less dropoff in player options.
Freddy Meyer, to me, has been the oddman out. I do like his penchant to get opposing player frustrated. Watching Brendan Shanahan lose his marbles in OT to get two penalties in that now infamous preseason game should have had some credit go Freddy's way. After all, the OT win was on that subsequent powerplay.
But Freddy has not gotten his due when he does play well. Simply due to the expectations of a Zhitnik trade last year that was simply removing a cost and detrimental piece out of the lockerroom. Z just wasn't working out. Meyer is a speedy dman, who had a good amount of assists for Philly the year before. But since his arrival, he has been inconsistent and not necessarily thriving in the Nolan system.
Meyer was on the bubble even before last weekend in terms of staff assessments, and he wasn't able to play in the last game versus Boston due to his wife being in labor. So, perhaps his being still with the team has to do with an extended chance or that the Isles might be looking to make a move, which is why 8 dmen are currently on the roster.
On another note, as I said in previous blogs, Chris Campoli's role on the team was quite safe despite not playing on Sunday. In fact, Campoli's name has come up in some powerplay role possiblities if Berard wasn't signed or as an alternative to Martinek or Andy Sutton to play alongside MAB.
And lets all give Marc-Andre Bergeron his due. We all watched Brendan Witt and Sutton play very well throughout the preseason doing their game, well MAB has consistently played his game and been about the only non-question mark on the D besides them. A tremendous statement for a guy who was run out of Edmonton by fans simply because of gaffes that happened by the team and management as they fell from a Cinderella season into an abyss last season. The Grebs trade for MAB has been an absolute godsend for the Isles.
MAB, this blogs for you. Rock on.
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