FU­TURE IS NOW

Sens need to pair Ceci, Chabot on defence im­me­di­ately

Ottawa Sun - - SPORTS - DON BREN­NAN dbren­nan@post­media.com @sun­donib

While both were able to get what they needed and wanted, the clear-cut win­ner in Tues­day’s trade be­tween the Ot­tawa Se­na­tors and Los An­ge­les Kings — like with most deals — is the team that ended up with the best player.

In this case, that player wasn’t even one of the four di­rectly in­volved.

That player should be­come Thomas Chabot’s new blue line part­ner, ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately. That player is Cody Ceci. Since ar­riv­ing in the Na­tional Hockey League four sea­sons ago, Ceci has ba­si­cally lined up along­side three de­fence­men on a reg­u­lar ba­sis: Jared Cowen and Pa­trick Wier­cioch, first- and sec­ond-round busts who are now 27 years old and no longer in the Na­tional Hockey League; and a slow­ing, but still know­ing, Dion Pha­neuf, who was the men­tor when Ceci was asked to learn a shut­down role.

“I think Cody will be the first one to tell you that Dion was great for his ca­reer,” gen­eral man­ager Pierre Do­rion said Wed­nes­day, about 14 hours af­ter he dealt Pha­neuf and Nate Thomp­son to the Kings for Mar­ian Ga­borik and Nick Shore. "But now Cody is prob­a­bly ready to take some­one un­der his wing.

“I’m a big Cody Ceci fan. I think when you play against the other teams’ top lines, on a night-in, night-out ba­sis, you play those hard min­utes. They’re not hard min­utes as far as phys­i­cal, they’re hard be­cause the oth­ers guys have got the puck a lot, be­cause you’re play­ing against the most skilled guys.”

And they’re hard jobs be­cause, when things fall apart with the rest of the team as they did in Ot­tawa this sea­son, the shut­down guys are of­ten left hold­ing the bag.

Pha­neuf and Ceci were bashed mer­ci­lessly by the “ex­perts” in the crowd, but teams usu­ally don’t get to the con­fer­ence fi­nals with a lousy sec­ond pair­ing. This sea­son, well, ei­ther the league has fig­ured out coach Guy Boucher’s sys­tem or his play­ers have cho­sen to aban­don it. It’s prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit of both, mixed in with some poor goal­tend­ing.

But Pha­neuf was dumped be­cause of his con­tract and Ceci, who has a $2.8-mil­lion salary and is tar­geted for re­stricted free-agent sta­tus this sum­mer, is not go­ing any­where.

“I know a lot of the pun­dits out there might dis­agree with it,” Do­rion said, “but Cody is one player I’d like to have a Se­na­tor for a long, long time.” Which brings us to Chabot. A lot will hap­pen be­tween now and next Oc­to­ber, when the re­sults of games start­ing mat­ter­ing again for the Se­na­tors. Erik Karls­son could be gone by then. The Se­na­tors might get a good, vet­eran right-shot de­fence­man in trad­ing him or oth­ers.

And, in more of a pipe dream, they might wind up with No. 1 prospect Ras­mus Dahlin, who could tell them he’s more com­fort­able be­ing a lefty play­ing the right side and shock every­body by im­me­di­ately step­ping into a prom­i­nent role as an 18-yearold.

More likely, the Se­na­tors could have Chabot and Ceci as their top pair­ing, and that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

By this time next sea­son, in fact, they could be well on their way to be­com­ing a flipped side ver­sion of Karls­son and Marc Methot, at 22 and 25 years old.

The sim­i­lar­i­ties are there. The of­fen­sively gifted Chabot is on track to be­com­ing as good as Karls­son. Ceci is only like Methot in that both are from Ot­tawa, both are good skaters, both have size and — now that Ceci has been groomed to think defence first — both are per­fectly suited to be teamed with a Karls­son/Chabot like player.

What they will need is to de­velop some chem­istry, which is why Boucher should pair Ceci and Chabot in Thurs­day’s game against the Buf­falo Sabres and keep them to­gether for the rest of the sea­son.

Trad­ing for Pha­neuf af­ter two years turned out to be a very good move by the Se­na­tors. He made an im­pact on the ice dur­ing a sea­son that brought a sur­pris­ing play­off run and helped Karls­son out in the lead­er­ship role. If he was the same guy to his team­mates as he por­trayed to the me­dia, Pha­neuf was a class act and well-liked be­hind the scenes.

But this sea­son his play slipped. He didn’t move as well. Pha­neuf should still help the Kings, but here both he and his huge con­tract were in the way for a team that needed to get younger and cheaper.

With Pha­neuf gone and Johnny Oduya on the way, there’s open space for Ben Harpur and Freddy Claes­son. The team won’t be worse off with them, es­pe­cially if Harpur starts reg­u­larly us­ing his size and play­ing with an edge. Next sea­son, they could be full-timers with Chabot and Mark Borowiecki — and An­dreas Englund knock­ing harder on the door — and the left side of the blue line could be fine.

As­sum­ing Karls­son is gone, and even if he’s not, the Se­na­tors will add to the right side. Re-sign­ing Chris Wide­man would be a start, es­pe­cially with Chris­tian Jaros need­ing more sea­son­ing.

But here will be Ceci, who should be the win­ner, and make the Se­na­tors the win­ners, of Tues­day’s trade … if he’s given the chance to take Chabot un­der his wing.

JEAN LEVAC/POST­MEDIA NET­WORK

Se­na­tors young de­fence­men Thomas Chabot and Cody Ceci (left) should be paired to­gether for the rest of the sea­son.

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