Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Konopka Brings His Act To Town... And Other Strange Rookie Dinner Tales

I like the Zenon Konopka signing, most of all because I like watching tough hockey teams who stand up for each other, but where are all these forwards going to fit?

For arguments sake, let's say the top 12 forwards are:

1. Alfie
2. Spezza
3. Michalek
4. Filatov
5. Foligno
6. Neil
7. Regin
8. Butler
9. Winchester
10. Greening
11. Smith
12. Konopka

You might argue a player here or there, but that's a good approximate of what we will probably see (Ryan Shannon must now be officially out).

Where does that leave Mika Zibanejad, Stephane Da Costa, Erik Condra and Roman Wick? And that's not to mention that GM Bryan Murray says he wants Jakob Silfverberg to stay in North America. Da Costa and Condra in particular are going to be in tough to make a lineup that they may have expected to be on opening night. Zibanejad can go back to Sweden with Silfverberg and it would probably be the best for them anyways. But at least Murray has created some heavy competition here among the forwards, but if Nik Filatov somehow doesn't work out (even though my guess is he will), the Senators will be a little bottom heavy with third and fourth liners and lacking a distinct threat past their first line.

But why get nervous in July?

As for Konopka, I once worked at a fairly decent restaurant downtown Ottawa and was working the night the Anaheim Ducks had their "Rookie Dinner" here in town during the 2005-2006 season. There are a lot of insane stories I could tell about that night, but I don't think it's wise to subject my readers to such abject debauchery. Yet I remember Konopka very well. He had just been called up to the NHL a few nights before and was one of the official rookies along with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin (who had played some previous NHL games in seasons past but was still considered a freshmen and fit enough to pitch in on the enormous bill).

Let's just say Konopka is not a shy person. This guy was the life of the party, running around the room and causing all sorts of madness, making a greying Scott Niedermayer shake his head a few times (that I saw) and leading the rookies at the front of the room in a sing-along which was part of their initiation. Guys like Perry and Getzlaf looked at their feet uncomfortably and warbled out of tune with goofy smiles but Konopka held his head high and sang his heart out in front of veterans like Keith Carney and Sami Pahlsson.

It was quite the sight, and later on Konopka was the victim of a vicious sour cream shoe-check administered by Mr. Pahlsson.

My gut feeling is that Konopka is going to be an important part of that dressing room, now that he's a proven veteran, and it will also let Matt Carkner and Chris Neil stay on the ice more often, rather than having to platoon nights throwing the gloves.

Right away he'll be a fan favourite due to his Ottawa 67's and Brian Kilrea connection, and he's an underrated player who can usually break pucks loose in the corners, or at least leave a few bruises if he loses the battle.

In short, you'd rather have a warrior like Konopka wearing your uniform than seeing him line up against you with that shit-eating grin plastered all over his face, warning you to keep your head up in the corners.

I'm sold.


Peter Raaymakers said...

Agreed--let's not get worried in July. The Sens will almost certainly carry 13 forwards, which opens up one spot, and your 'top 12' includes Filatov (who is far from a sure thing) and could still change if players are waived or traded. It also fails to consider injuries, and with a lineup that includes Alfredsson, Spezza, and Michalek, injuries are a very real possibility. Not that I'd hope for them (heaven help us if any of those three are injured for an extended period of time), but injuries are an inevitability in the NHL and they open up spots for kids who start the season in the AHL.

Training camp will go a long way in determining whether or not our apparent depth at the moment will be anything but a good thing. And if Da Costa, Condra, or Wick (if he's even re-signed) spend more time in Binghamton, so be it; there have been far better players who've spent far more time in the lower leagues than those three.

Anonymous said...

Well we know you're sold, Murray could sign a lamppost and it would be great.

To me though, this is yet another 3rd/4th liner on a team with an overabundance of them. Isn't the goal to work toward a Stanley Cup playoff berth and then championship? Konopkda seems like a "Don Brennan" signing, just not that useful but great for the "meathead" sector of the fanbase.

Going to be a long year...

Andy said...

Yep, still lots of time yet. Also, lots of guys in that list with no guarantees (I'm looking at you, Regin). Training camp will be extremely competitive this year, and that's a good thing. My guess is that a few of these guys will drop off the radar and make those decisions easier when the time comes.

And of course injuries happen. Whoever slots in at 13/14/15 will get starts soon enough. Also guys like Zibanejad & Da Costa won't be fourth liners, so they'll either be higher in the order or sent down.

To me the problem isn't too many forwards, it's too many 3rd/4th liners and not enough top 2. Hopefully a couple will break away from the pack and earn a shot.

So far I see something like this:

Butler/Filatov - Spezza - Alfie
Butler/Filatov - ??? - Foligno
Neil - Regin - Greening
Smith - Konopka - Winchester

So maybe ??? is MZ, or maybe Foligno centres and Da Costa/Condra/Silfverberg on wing?

Lots of centres but no one you'd call a legit #2.

Anyone still care about Wick? Doesn't seem to have done much with his opportunity.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last two comments. I like Konopka, but I don't think that he addresses our needs. Rather, he's more of the same. Another bottom 6 guy.

The fan base is familiar with him due to the 67's connection, so it's a feel good story. But, how does this make us better?

We're fiddling at the margins, and then celebrating. We need a guy who brings some skill. That's what we lack.

I'd bet that this signing will mean the end of Chris Neil in Ottawa. Wouldn't surprise me one bit if that is the real motivation for this signing.

Jeremy Milks said...

Let's not forget that Chris Neil is a perennial NHL player. Konopka has barely established himself as a full-time NHLer. Neil provides a lot to this team that Konopka can't. I don't see Neil or Carkner going anywhere. What's wrong with having a tough team? It's not like you can just grab a top-six player on the free agent market right now. Konopka provides depth. He doesn't push anyone else off the team, let alone leaders like Neil or Carkner.

Jeremy Milks said...

Unless, of course, if Neil is dealt for a top six forward, which I suppose is possible...

Anonymous said...

If anything, the Konopka signing signifies the end of Jesse Winchester's tenure here as the 4th line centre.

Remember, Winchester, unlike many of the cogs of the rebuild, is not young- he's 27.

So assuming he's out, I'd have to predict that barring the acquisition of another centre via free agency, we'll see Stephane Da Costa play second or third line duties down the middle.

Anonymous said...


I'm not questioning Neil's value. I'm a big believer in Neil. I'm saying that from my best educated guess, after following this team and Murray very closely for several years, Neil's on borrowed time with this team.

It's not about tough team vs non tough team.

I think this move signals that Neil is done. I hope I'm wrong. And, I hope that Neil starts off the season strong so that it makes it difficult to cut ties. But then again, to start strong you have to be given the right opportunities. We'll see if that happens.

Canucnik said...

We're gettin' bigger, rougher and tougher...maybe even more skilled?

Shannon is out, Winni is down, I would not be surprised if #13 starts in Binghamton. The Big Swede makes 2nd Line center with Alfie and Butler. Leaving 9 and 19 to turn Filatov into the Russian Rocket!

Konopka is worth his weight in Gold.