Newcomers such as forward Milan Michalek got an extra opportunity to bond with their Senators teammates during a series of unique team-building exercises held over the weekend (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
On a weekend devoted to team building, the Ottawa Senators decided to put their toughest roster decisions off for at least another day.
Senators head coach Cory Clouston said earlier today that the final paring of the team's roster won't happen until Monday at the earliest. The Ottawa lineup currently sits at 26 players, three above the minimum number they're allowed to carry into their season opener next Saturday against the Rangers in New York.
"We have a real good idea of who’s going to be here when the dust settles," Clouston said during a media conference call Sunday. "But we also understand other teams are just finishing up their pre-season and we don’t want to do something until at least everything else is settled and we make our decision with full knowledge of what’s going on with other teams."
While the Senators are set in goal with Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott, decisions remain to be made on defence (eight blueliners are still on hand) and at forward (16 remain here). The latter group includes injured second-year winger Jesse Winchester (right knee), who is sidelined for at least three weeks.
Clouston felt it was important for all 26 players to be a part of a set of team-building exercises the team held over the weekend at an RCMP training centre in Ottawa.
"It doesn’t matter who’s going to be here or who’s not going to be here (to start the season)," he said. "If it’s a young guy going down to the minors or whatnot, we still want him to (feel like he's) part of the organization and at least kind of enjoy the weekend.
"We saw no benefit to (making cuts) today or yesterday as opposed to Monday."
The players spent the past two days going through activities directed by RCMP trainers that Clouston said "put them in a different environment and exposed them to a different team scenario."
"(It showed them) the importance of team," said Clouston. "These guys are dealing with their lives and that’s how important it is to be able to work with somebody and work as a team and to learn to function as a team. We felt those type of things were very important."
Added captain Daniel Alfredsson: "It brings everybody together. We were able to work together in groups and get to know each other a little bit. It's the same basics as we go through as a team. It helps to go through this and do this together."
Given that the Senators could have as many as six newcomers in their opening-night lineup, Clouston said team building has been a key point throughout training camp. Forwards Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, who were obtained from the San Jose Sharks in the Dany Heatley trade, didn't even arrive in Ottawa until a few days into camp.
"It doesn’t matter who’s going to be here or who’s not going to be here (to start the season). If it’s a young guy going down to the minors or whatnot, we still want him to (feel like he's) part of the organization and at least kind of enjoy the weekend. We saw no benefit to (making cuts) today or yesterday as opposed to Monday."- Cory Clouston
"All of a sudden, guys were coming to your team who weren’t prepared for that (change)," said Clouston. "They didn’t know they were even going to be here until basically the (first) day of camp. They weren’t signed right around July 1 and at least had time to digest it.
"There’s a lot of newness to the team right now and so it’s just been about getting every comfortable and familiar (with each other) and creating some chemistry. That’s why this weekend is valuable, just to get the guys together. I think it’s very important."
The Senators finished the pre-season with a 2-4-0 record, including Friday's 2-1 setback at the hands of the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Place. But Clouston likes where his team stands heading into the 2009-10 regular season.
"I don’t think our record was indicative of how we played," he said. "Our goals against and our defensive game were very, very solid. We did generate a lot of (scoring) opportunities and our last game was kind of a mirror of our first two – we didn’t score on our chances. We had numerous opportunities but we didn’t score.
"The positive there is that we’re getting our chances. But definitely, we have to work a little bit on manufacturing some more offence and manufacturing more goals."
The Senators will have a full week to work on that and much more. While the players are chomping at the bit for the real games to admit, Alfredsson admitted the five days of practice ahead are a good thing.
"Since camp started, we haven't been able to work that much as a team," he said. "It will be important to get on the same page and know what the guy next to you is able to do ... We need this week, even though it's going to be a while before we play a game."