With Spezza out long term, the question is, now what?
Well, it can be reasonably assumed Mike Fisher will see a bump in his ice time, from his current 18:24 to something closer to Spezza’s 19:10. Not exactly a huge jump, but he’ll be expected to lead this team offensively in all situations, and not just be a secondary scoring guy with solid two-way skills.
This will be a huge challenge for Fish, and he’ll be leaning on his wingers for support. Expect to see him keep centering Alfie and Michalek, with the latter also likely to see a bump in his ice time.
Both Alfie and Mich have struggled offensively this season, and now is the time for them to step up and take over games at both ends of the ice, not just defensively. All three of these players have the talent to be impact players, and combined they can at least compete with most other top lines in the NHL, at least in the short term.
Nobody is expecting the Sens modified top line to be Cup contenders, but it is only fair to expect them to be at their best, which is pretty darn good.
They’ve yet to be at their best this season, but no time like the present.
In some ways, the demotion of Kovalev and Regin to the fourth line has made this transition somewhat easier to make, assuming Clouston chooses to keep the two together which I suspect will be the case, at least at the beginning.
But if the top line leaves fans worried for production, the second line is downright anemic. Regin and Kovalev have been awful.
Just. Plain. Awful.
Foligno isn’t going to be the spark for these two, although he has significantly improved his play of late, for Regin and Kovy it will have to come from within.
Hopefully Regin playing his natural center position, and Kovalev getting his wish to prove himself an impact player, will get these two going when the team really, really needs them.
So here is my predicted second line: Foligno – Regin – Kovalev.
The third line is immutable, especially when the team will be in a state of flux. Clouston will need at least one line he knows he can throw over the boards no matter what the situation.
Ruutu, Kelly and Neil have, by far, been this team's most important and reliable line. They’ve scored important goals, played important defensive minutes and kept other teams honest in a variety of ways. This line simply cannot be broken up without risking major chaos.
Lastly will be the fourth line, the line likely to see the greatest change.
Regin and Kovy will be gone, but Winnie will remain, and he has been a standout in his role as fourth line banger/grinder/agitator.
This is where Murray and Clouston will have to work some magic. It has been speculated that Smith will get the nod from Bingo, and that is a fair assumption, particularly if the player coming up will be tasked with a bottom six role.
But the final player on this line will be harder to predict. The job could fall to Shannon, but honestly, is he a fourth liner?
I say no. No offense Ryan, but you just do not have the size to play this role, and your skill game isn’t suited to playing less than 10 minutes a game.
I’d sooner see Shannon packaged with Lee, in a trade, but I’ll get to that later.
If I were GM, I’d be looking to Cody Bass to fill this final fourth line role. Cody is a banger with good speed, and has a willingness to stir it up and, if required, drop his gloves in defense of his teammates.
This team is not going to win by getting offense from the fourth line; it is going to win by frustrating and pounding their opposition, and Cody will provide this ability well ahead of Shannon.
Add to this the fact Bass is gaining nothing in his development by playing in the A, and to me you have an easy move, particularly as Spezza’s salary can be relieved through LTIR provisions of the CBA.
My proposed fourth line: Smith – Winchester – Bass
Now, what to do with Shannon. He’s a great depth guy, but his size just limits his role, and the team is already lacking for size up front, leaving Shannon vulnerable to physical defensemen no matter which line he plays with. The other long-standing player of note is Lee. For everyone’s sake the kid has got to go.
If pairing him with Shannon can get a deal done, I say make it happen.