Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Comrie Finding a Role in Ottawa

Earlier today ran an insightful article on Comrie's resurgence in Ottawa. The article features some praising quotes from his teammates, including Fisher, Neil and Alfredsson, and is a great read.

Though his slump through mid February to early March (rumoured to be caused by lingering effects of the flu and a nagging shoulder injury) left some fans slightly dissatisfied with the acquisition, Comrie's reliable clutch play and ramped up energy early in the post-season has made the trade look like the steal of the year. Acquired for suspended young centre Alexei Kaigorodov, a promising player but one who had no future with the Senators organisation, Comrie was reportedly the "plan B" move by GM John Muckler as a band-aid for the injury troubles the Senators ran into in late December 2006, when the team found themselves without the services of their top three centres for an extended stretch. Plan A was the acquisition of Petr Nedved from the Philadelphia Flyers via re-entry waivers; Muckler's reluctance to pull the trigger on a Comrie deal was more likely out of salary cap concerns than any coveting of Nedved. Traded on the morning of January 3, 2007, Comrie flew from Carolina (where his former Phoenix Coyotes teammates would be playing the next night), to Ottawa by way of Washington and Toronto, to make it to Scotiabank Place within an hour of the nightly deadline for roster changes. Cleared by Senators medical staff, Comrie dressed that night for a game against the rival Buffalo Sabres. If it weren't for a jaw-dropping performance by his power-play linemate Dany Heatley, Comrie might have turned in the best performance of the night, marking 2 assists.

There had been questions about his attitude and commitment, and concerns about his chemistry with teammates and coaches when he arrived in Ottawa, his 4th NHL city in just 6 seasons. He had posted 2 30-goal seasons, including on the dismal Phoenix Coyotes in 05-06, but had little opportunity to prove his worth on a team with depth, or in an intense scenario like the NHL playoffs. In his limited playoff experience with the Edmonton Oilers, he never ventured past the first round. Comrie was maligned by Edmonton fans following a salary dispute, and among NHL fans there was little desire to risk adding him to their roster, despite his able production.

So while Senators fans approached the trade with some trepidation, glad to have an able injury fill-in, perhaps a temporary second line centre for Daniel Alfredsson, there was little thought that he would truly fit in as an Ottawa Senator. This was almost confirmed in February; the initial excitement had worn off. Comrie was stalled as a third line centre to Chris Neil; he didn't up his game much when playing as a third line winger to Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly. It wasn't until a late February game against his former team, the Edmonton Oilers (where he recorded a humdinger of a shootout winner) that Comrie rewoke. Still, he struggled through early March, culminating in a disappointing performance in a loss to Chicago, after which Comrie admitted he was afraid to make mistakes on the ice for fear of being marginalised. But as the regular season wore down, Comrie was perhaps the most consistent performer, recording 6 points in the final 5 games. Comrie stepped up his game even further in the playoffs, recording 2 goals and 1 assist, and buzzing around the ice like nobody's business. He's hitting everything with a pulse, being more creative in the offense zone than any other player on the ice (Senator or not), and has even stepped up his defensive play. He's stood up for his teammates on two occasions, first by dropping the gloves late in game one (though the ref restrained his would-be opponent), and then squaring off against pest Colby Armstrong. He set up the game-winner on Tuesday night with a mind-blowingly perfect setup to Volchenkov. He's doing everything right. Right now, there's hardly a Senators fan who wouldn't want Comrie back next year at any price. Well, the lustre may wear off as the playoffs continue or once we've had time to re-evaluate come the off-season, but it can safely be said that a half-season of Comrie was worth far more to the Senators than Kaigorodov ever would have been. All in all? Great move Muckler.