A: Oh yeah, (the players) are excited and ready to go. And management and coaches are excited as well. It’s going to be really good to get going playing some hockey, but we have got to realize, we have got three preseason games and that’s it. We have got to tone down this big group to a workable number.
Saturday, the Binghamton Senators announced that they had assigned defencemen Chris Wideman and Danny New, and Snapple heir/mucho hair-haver Brad Peltz to Elmira. Jakub Culek has been assigned back to Rimouski of the QMJHL.
Q: It’s amazing how far training has evolved for a hockey team.
A: Definitely, it’s way more functional. It is way more adapted to the sport - sport-specific. When we did the big makeover at our gym, one of the biggest things we did was get rid of a lot of pieces of fixed equipment that we said we are not using and we brought in more floor space, we brought in more functional equipment, and we brought in the Keiser stuff. It was more ground-based training.
I remember those guys looking at me, saying, “What are we doing?”
I said, “We are getting rid of all this stuff,” and they said, “Oh, are you sure?”
And I said, “Yeah, trust me.”
Even some of the players looked at me and said, “What are we doing with this stuff?” They bought in and I thought we had a really state-of-the-art weight room and we have replicated that weight room down in Binghamton; which is a really nice testament of how they committed they are to winning down here.
This all sounds far less painful than the hand-to-hand combat sessions and getting blasted by water for a 5 am wake up call mechanisms that the Pittsburgh Pirates employ as part of their Navy SEALS-like training.
Q: Do you scratch your head when you hear stories like Kadri’s, not showing up to camp in shape?
A: Definitely, at the end of the year, we have our testing results and Chris Schwarz will sit down with the guys and we’ll do it at development camp. We give them targets of where they have to got to go. It’s a continual progression of how to get to the next level and we tell them how good of shape the top end guys are - the NHL type guys. So you’ve come a long way and that’s great, but now you have to get to this level to compete against the Daniel Alfredssons and the top end players. That would really concern me if it was one of my top end guys, and it’s too bad because I’m sure he is a good kid. But there is something going wrong there where there is that much of a drop off in your training like that and to report in that kind of shape.
Zing. "I'm sure he is a good kid," is probably the nicest thing anyone not named Don Cherry has said about Kadri all offseason. Team1200 isn't doing him any favours either with this unfortunate misspelling.
Q: Have you been generally satisfied with the fitness levels that you received from your players?
A: Oh definitely. The biggest thing that we were impressed about was the attitude. They really competed in the testing. Chris Schwarz and the testing group came down here and we replicated everything that we do at a regular training camp and there was some really good leadership shown from the veteran guys. You could see when guys were doing the test and looking at (the results), and coming back and saying, “Can I get another rep in, I want to see if I can beat that.” So the competitiveness is there, which is a great tell-tale sign for the future of this team.
Sure, having a competitive nature blended with a decent skillset is a great combination of characteristics to be imbued with but real tell-tale signs for the future of this team are more obvious:
- Ownership has not visited Seattle to gauge it as a potential hockey market. And more importantly, a historically great former Ottawa Senators player like Mike Peluso, wasn't conveniently seen in Seattle during this same stretch of time.
- Management doesn't follow the Calgary Flames' model for running their organization like it's the American justice system - by locking up as many pieces of crap as they can long-term.
- That Norris 22-year old Norris Trophy winner on the blue line.
- Mika Zibanejad is already being featured in commercials that are infinitely better than Jason Spezza's Jubilee Jewelers ones.
Q: There is such a small time frame to select this team, guys have to show up in that competitive spirit.
A: Definitely, and with the September 15th date of the lockout, some of these guys who were assigned to Binghamton were in an odd situation where they would normally go to the rookie tournament, then they’d come and do the main camp, then they’d have one or two days off to come to Binghamton – which is our natural progression. But here, they had no camp, no rookie tournament, and then the gap until the Binghamton camp started. And we were proactive. We started our camp three days earlier and the American Hockey League said that we could do that. It saved us a couple of days, but in theory, we would have started on (October 1st), which would have been really tight. We have got to get guys in playing shape. No matter what, when you’re doing their scrimmages, it’s not the same as going head-to-head in a training camp scrimmage.
As brutal as the preseason is I'm actually a fan of the rookie tournament, another lockout casualty. The chance to see the Sens and NE Division's futures matchup in dimly lit, poorly shot arenas was always good for small-bore bragging rights.
Q: Are the prospects, who are on the cusp, somewhat insulated by the fact that they can develop a bit in Binghamton without the scrutiny of playing at the NHL-level thanks to the lockout?
A: Absolutely because they get the benefit of having our staff with them. Our coaches are down here. Our management team is down here and then during the season, just like we do, we replicate the same program that we have in Ottawa. They get the advantage of having the skating coach, the conditioning coach, and our nutritionist and they get all that benefit. Some guys who are aren’t in that position who are out trying to find a job somewhere else, it’s tougher because they are sort of on their own. They have to figure what to do and take responsibility for their own training. So (these prospects in Binghamton) have an advantage. It was nice to see guys like Jakob Silfverberg and Freddie Claesson, who really embraced the challenge of coming over because they know they have to adapt their game to the North American style. I talked to Freddie Claesson last year at the World Juniors and the first thing that he said was, “I need to be in Binghamton next year. You have got to get me there. For me to take the next step, I have to play at that level.”
Without watching the B-Sens pre-season closely I'm not prepared to speak to how Claesson's looked adjusting to NA ice. But after sending Wideman and New to Elmira, the B-Sens now have eight defenceman remaining on the roster; Benoit, Borowiecki, Cowen, Wiercioch, Eckford, Gryba, Blood and Claesson. Wiercioch is injured at the moment so there shouldn't be a rush to send anyone else down to Elmira. But once everyones healthy it will be interesting to see who's on the outs, and if the organization would risk frustrating a player like Claesson with an ECHL stint after he took the initiative to leave a comfortable situation in the SEL.
Q: How much do you replicate what you do in Binghamton?
A: Pretty well, but we have less days here. The problem is that we only have a couple of days but as soon as we get going, definitely, we replicate that. And we try to get them all down here and try to keep that same continuity in the program. We get some really good feedback from our players after the development about what they have learned and on what aspects of the training (they need to improve). We really break it down. Chris (Schwarz) does a great job of not just telling them how to get bigger, stronger and faster but if they can’t pivot on one leg, or if they can’t turn one way, or have poor mechanics in a certain way, we get it addressed and we tell them how to do that and we follow up. We do a thing, a functional movement screen, at all of our training camps and development camps and we show progress in that. We try to find imbalances that players have or left-right instabilities. If we can identify that, that’s usually the root of most guys’ problems. If we can address that and make them functionally sound as the basis before they get their training going, then they are building on a really good foundation.
I wish the Senators had these left-right video imbalance sessions capabilities earlier in their franchise history. They could have been instrumental in convincing Bill Muckalt that he should actually shoot left-handed; anything would have helped him during that 2001/02 season.
Q: It’s such an advantage to do this for the players.
A: And it’s a team effort, one person can’t do all this. Whether it’s the sprinting coach, the skating coach or the tactical aggression coach… well, we’re told we have to call him that. It’s a great term, but it is about battling, battle strength and compete strength. It’s not really fighting. It’s more how to defend yourself. But it does teach you a lot of skills and body placement and balancing. It’s really worthwhile and the players get good benefits. We’re hoping that we can do that with these guys, so if the lockout gets resolved quickly, we will be ready to go and have a good advantage on most teams.
The Senators now employ a tactical aggression coach in the event that another Francis Lessard takes a run at a more highly-skilled teammate during practice.
Q: How different is your schedule despite the lockout?
A: It’s exactly the same for me. It is fun and I enjoy it. Some guys say that I could run for the Mayor of Binghamton and I’d probably get a few votes because I know most of the people here. But it is a good environment and the fans embrace it. You have to admit, you want (the prospects) to play in a hard rink with a harder schedule. For the guys coming over from Europe and the guys making the transition from college hockey, it’s really important because you’ve seen it before, some of the college guys do well and then past Christmas, they start getting pretty tired when they start having the three (games) in four (nights) and some pretty tough travel schedules. Sometimes when the NHL is going, they call up three or four guys and you’re playing with 5 D, and one is banged up, so you’re playing with 4 D. It’s a real adjustment for some of these kids and it’s huge to make that transition to the NHL.
Lee certainly has the hair required to succeed in American politics.
Q: It feels like there are a lot of kids who are ‘this close’ to making it to the NHL, they must feel like they can parlay a good start in Binghamton into a better chance of cracking the NHL squad thanks to the lockout?
A: Oh for sure, and they have embraced it. The Jared Cowens, you can just see his mindset, his mannerisms and his professionalism. They realize that they definitely would like to be playing in the NHL but it’s not happening right now. They are saying that this is the next best thing for me, and now they have realized that they are going to have an advantage. They are playing top calibre hockey and they are going to reap the benefits. We can’t say enough about those guys and the Andre Benoits and these guys who are coming in. It’s a really good group and the practices have been really up-tempo and really competitive. There is lots of camaraderie and some good grit. We had a really good tilt between Darren Kramer and Corey Cowick the other day, it was good to see. They are hanging out together but they realize that they are competing for jobs. They are going head-to-head and it was good to see.
Glad to hear the grit has been "good". That bad grit is a bitch to get rid of.
Q: The competition for ice-time is going to be fierce once the season starts, it’s very, very deep because of this lineup?
A: Oh definitely, and one of the things that we assess our players on in a big picture basis is how well (players) accept a different role. And there are guys who are going to have to accept a role because of the depth at certain positions, and if guys can’t do that, it sort of gives us some insight into that person. We’re going to be testing guys and saying, “Well, you’re not going to get as much ice-time. And you may have to be a bit more defensive, you may not get first power play (ice-time) and you’ll have to adjust to it.”
Some guys who thought they would be guaranteed top six D, are going to have a tough time now with the numbers here. They are going to have to adjust. I think they are realizing… the players aren’t dumb. They do the math. They are realizing that there are too many guys here for the number of positions available, so some people aren’t going to be happy then and they’re going to have to adjust. And that’s one thing that we will look at, how did you handle that? If you do get sent down to the East Coast (Hockey) League, how did you handle that? What was your approach when you went down there? How did you work? Did you pout? Or did you embrace it and challenge (yourself) and force us to bring you back? We always tell them, “You make the decision, if you’re good enough, we’ll put you back on the team, but you have to prove it. If you pout, you’re sending us a really bad signal.”
The make up and composition of the Binghamton roster is going to be fascinating to watch evolve over the course of the season. With older and more established pros like Petersson, Hoffman and Da Costa slotting ahead of players like Prince, Pageau, Stone and even Zibanejad, the previously mentioned competitive levels should be juicing.
Q: Where is Peter Regin as far as his health is concerned?
A: We were told that everything is on pace. He is training well. He had to get the second surgery. It was not the same injury. It was a different part of the shoulder that he needed corrected. You give Peter credit last year, he wanted to prove that he could play last year. The shoulder was coming out quite a bit. There were times when he was on the foam roller and it popped once and it was hurting and he was putting it back in. And then, that last time that he got hurt and he was on the ice, I was up in Bryan (Murray’s) box, and I said, “What’s wrong with Peter?” And his shoulder was out and he stayed on the ice trying to kill a penalty. So we had to get (a surgery) done and he got it done properly. All reports are that it is going to be fine. If you see Peter Regin, he’s one of those guys that he really has a lot of talent. He’s a good team guy and he really cares. He just needs the opportunity to play healthy and if he can play healthy, I think he could surprise a lot of guys.
Regin might be someone who benefits from the lockout, just in the sense of if he wasn't fully rehabbed and his strength wasn't there 100% in September. By the time the season starts (if it does) you'd think this extra time will have done his new and improved shoulder well.
Q: He stayed in Ottawa until July trying to rehab and get ready for the NHL season.
A: Oh definitely, he wants to do whatever it takes. He accepted that contract and it’s a good, attractive contract to us. And he said, “I just want to prove that I can play. You guys have invested a lot into me. I played well when I could, but the injuries set me back a bit. I want to get through and prove to you with a no-injury season what I can do as a NHL player.”
Interesting comments about a player who is frequently ignored in the aftermath of his injury. Too often in sports, players get stigmatized for being too easily injured or banged up from people who are not close enough to the team to have some understanding of what pain thresholds a player tries to cope with before choosing corrective alternatives. To hear how badly Regin tried to prove that he warrants a spot on this roster, and the lengths and potential earnings that he gave up, it speaks volumes about the player. More importantly, it reflects well on the internal level of competition that the organization keeps shoving down our throats.
Q: From a maturity and conditioning aspect, has anyone improved more in the organization than Robin Lehner?
A: Well, a lot of guys have improved, there’s no question but with Robin, yeah, he definitely (improved). He addressed some issues that we had. His weight was an issue and he addressed that. It’s down two camps in a row now. In terms of being at development camp last year, he was very good. He was under 10-percent body fat and under 10-percent fat now, so he has addressed that. That was part of his approach. He is sleeping better and eating better. You know what it is like, guys learn at different paces and some guys get it faster and some guys take a bit longer. Robin is a very good talent. He has just had to adjust his lifestyle. He has adjusted his approach to the game. He has been calm. He has been competitive. He has looked really solid in the net and that is great for him. It’s our job to support these guys. We know it’s not going to be automatic that once we explain this to you and say that you should be at this level, it just happens. Guys take longer and he did have big success. He won MVP of the Calder Cup and then we wanted that to follow that up. They have been very good. Rick Wamsley has worked with him and Bryan has been very (forthright) with him. We want you to play lots. We want you to dominate and we want you to be a great teammate and a great worker, and he has done that. He has done everything that we have asked of him.
He has done everything that has been asked, but play games. This offseason, Lehner has said all of the right things, now he just needs to go out and get it done on the ice. #LehnerIsMature