The bottom six forwards in place, it's time to turn our attention to the top-6. I think it's fairly obvious who goes in there, but chemistry is even more important on the first two lines than the last two. Sure, you could put Kovalev, Michalek and Spezza together, but all you get out of that is a trio that passes the puck too much. There's just not much firepower there. And you could put Regin, Alfredsson and Cullen (should he re-sign) together, but Regin needs someone to get him the puck. I don't have a doubt in my mind that Cullen can get it done, but if the playoffs showed us anything, it's that Regin and Spezza just clicked. For what it's worth, I think either you put Spezza and Regin together, or you drop Regin to the third line. Regin's a solid player, but take away his playmaking center and you're left with a grinder-type player, something Ottawa doesn't need.
So let's try it this way:
Regin - Spezza - Kovalev
Michalek - XXXXX - Alfredsson
Michalek - XXXXX - Alfredsson
I can already hear both my readers complaining that Kovalev hasn't played like a first line player. And hey, no argument here, you're spot on. But if Regin stays as dynamic with Spezza feeding him the puck, can you imagine how explosive he'll be if he's taking pucks from Kovalev AND Spezza? Think about the positive impact Regin's hard-nosed backchecking could have on Ottawa's favourite whipping boy, Spezza. Think of how dangerous this line would be to contain, especially if Spezza and Kovalev gel.
Second line... Michalek is fast. We know this. Alfredsson's losing a step, partly because of injuries, partly because of age. Pairing these two together is a high-risk, high-reward duo. Either you get an offensive force with a defensive touch, or you get a disjointed crew of misfits. The Xs, of course, are placeholders. Ideally, I'd like to see the Sens re-sign Cullen and move some money around (maybe by dealing Kelly, who I've never really cared for), but in the Cap world, that's not always doable. An M-C-A line would definitely be a speedy line with a fair amount of defence. The question is, can Murray pull it off?
And, more importantly, what if he can't? That leaves a pretty gaping hole at center. Fisher, a good player by reputation and historically, has proven that he's not a number two center-type player. He's best suited to the third line where he can play his style of game. If NEEDED, of course he'll take this spot. A glance at the depth chart on Hockey's Future, combined with the info from my last post, tell me that, while we have Silfverberg, Caporusso and Greening on their way, there's not much in terms of immediate help. Zubov crawled off to Russia after he didn't get his way. At the rate they're playing, O'Brien and Bass look unlikely to crack the roster anytime soon. And I'll admit I don't know much about Derek Grant, but that's not a good thing.
Where do we go from here? Do we make a trade for a top-6 guy, shedding unwanted cap bucks in the process? Do we re-sign Cullen and hope we can replace Volchenkov on the cheap? Do we roll with lines anchored by Spezza-Fisher-Kelly-Winchester? Or do we play a winger at center to see if they can successfully transition? There's definitely no lack of fringe NHL talent on this team, but when the chips are down, our second line is as identity-less as Stephen Harper. Too soon to be cracking politics jokes? Fair enough. But it's never too soon to think about how we're going to balance our lineup this season to get the most competitiveness out of this team.