With James Wisniewski suspended until the game on October 25th against Detroit, Scott Howson has a whole new set of headaches to deal with as he tries to finish trimming down the training camp roster and setting the lineup.
Based on today's cuts, the team is now down to 11 d-men in camp, 9 of whom are eligible to play (Wisniewski, obviously, is out, while Theo Ruth is currently on the IR with a knee injury.)
Here's a few guesses at how the team may look on opening night as they try to adjust.
Fedor Tyutin - Radek Martinek
Tyutin is a lock for the #1 pairing because of his skills, size, and durability. Though he has been prone to occasional brainfarts, he's looked sharp so far this preseason, including some nice work shutting down the Capitals and Sabres.
Though the idea of moving Grant Clitsome up to pair with Tyutin again is tempting (the two paired quite a bit last season), that was also a move of expediency - and the team had Jan Hejda to use in serious "shutdown" situtations that Clitsome was by and large moved away from wherever possible. While I think Clitsome is improving defensively, asking him to stand up Pavel Datsyuk or Joe Thornton night in and night out could get risky.
Martinek, on the other hand, brings a lot of veteran experience in tough minutes situations, and has impressed quite a few people with his positioning and smart play. This gives the Jackets a #1 pair that can take starts all over the ice and be responsible with the puck, while Clitsome could certainly rotate in to pair with Tyutin on the power play.
Marc Methot - Grant Clitsome
In addition to being workout buddies during the summer in Ottawa, Methot and Clitsome have been paired together before and created a very solid utility pair - Methot a bit more concentrated on the defensive aspects, but both able to log solid minutes. This pairing would also allow Clitsome to shine in some tougher minute situations without putting him in areas of maximum risk right away.
Kris Russell - David Savard
While this is where we start saying "subject to change" a lot, it makes a lot of sense on paper. Savard will be a rookie, but he's been proving in the pre-season that he's ready to step up to an NHL workload after leading the club down in Springfield. Paired with veteran D-men all through camp, he's really never put a step out of place, and the loss of Wisniewski opens the door for him to step in and show the club what he can do when the games really matter.
As a right handed shot, Savard also brings more offensive potential, and he's been doing an excellent job of getting the puck up to the net. Pairing him with Russ gives the smaller d-man a big partner to help back him up while he uses his mobility, and also potentially opens them up as a possible second unit PP pairing (though Martinek also didn't look too bad on the point when he's been put on the PP this pre-season). The biggest questions with this pairing might come down to skating - Savard has clearly worked on his stride and explosiveness, but has he developed it enough to stand up at the NHL level? By the same token, Kris Russell has the potential to be one of the most aggressive puck moving d-men in the NHL when he has confidence in his own ability - but can he do so consistently?
While there are arguments for John Moore and Nick Holden in this spot, too, Johnson seems to fit the bill - able to fit in just about any role, though not really a stand out at any of them, he's a guy who is likely to swing between Springfield and Columbus on callups quite a lot this season, and that's really essentially what the first 8 games will be.
More importantly, putting Johnson in Columbus lets Moore and Holden go down to Springfield and get playing time - something that will be far better for them than practice skates and sitting in the press box more often than not. By giving them more time to play and hone their skills, they'll be that much more prepared if / when they are called up to spell an injured regular.
Once Wisniewski is back, I would expect to see the pairings shift back to something more like what we had been expecting, and a lively debate on if Savard should stay up in the NHL as #7, or return to Springfield so he can play on a more regular basis.
On the other hand, it's also possible that if he's been performing well enough, he might find himself pushing someone else out of a job...
Do these make sense to you? Let us know what you think!