The #6 Question

See, I can't read Gulitti or post here during most of the day; so during home games in the week, I go right to the Rock.  So I don't get a chance to know what news happens from the day until, well, after the game when I put up a Quickie Thought.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to read from Gulitti that Andy Greene was medically cleared to play yesterday.  What's more is that Greene just played his first full practice earlier today and Gulitti reports that it went well. 

Defenseman Andy Greene said things went well in his first full practice with the team since he fractured his right hand on Oct. 29 against  Toronto.

"It was my first time being on the ice there (with the full team) and I thought it went pretty well," he said. "I have to give it a little bit of time to get the timing down with the passes and what not, but I kind of expected that going in."

Greene won't play Friday against the Rangers or Saturday against Buffalo, but hopes to get back into the lineup next week when the Devils play in Toronto on Tuesday and in Buffalo on Wednesday.

And there in-lies a pretty good problem to have for Brent Sutter.

A little over a week ago, Sutter sent Anssi Salmela down in favor of Jay Leach.  At the time, I thought it was a decent enough move; and in all honesty, Leach has looked steady with Mike Mottau on the third pairing.  OK, so Leach isn't going to be firing wide-ranging bombs from the point like Salmela.  Given that he's been out there against Philadelphia, Montreal, and Pittsburgh and has even gotten some time on the penalty kill (OK, an average of 0:32 a game), I'd say he's growing into his spot well.  He even got 17:32 of ice time last night at Pittsburgh.  That he's 6'4" and 220 lbs. doesn't hurt either, giving the defense another big man.

However, Greene and Salmela bring to the ice what Leach can't: offense.  Well, I should say the ability for offense.  Salmela has started with the Devils right out of camp, and has looked good in his spot after Greene's injury.  He likes to shoot, as evidenced by his 29 shots on net - second highest among Devils defensemen; and he has been granted time on the power play when up with New Jersey. Sutter seems to like him (h/t Gulitti), Doc Emerick has come up with an adjective for him (Salmelian), and he's young, so there's room for growth.   Unfortunately for Salmela, he's young, so he tends to make mistakes on defense.  And he's not a defensive stopper right now; so if he's wildly missing the net and coverage, he's just wasting time out there. And so we come to Greene.

Greene's in his third season with the New Jersey Devils and last season wasn't so good.  He had opportunities to take a spot, only to be stuck in a rotation with 3 to 4 other defensmen.   While he started off with limited minutes, he commanded more ice time with a couple 19-20 minute games prior to his injury.   It's what you'd call a strong start to the season. I guess he sensed Salmela was a threat and he upped his game along with the experience he had last season.  1 goal, 5 assists in 6 games and he broke his hand just after a 3 assist game against Toronto.  Makes you wonder what could have been.  And now he's a few practices away from getting minutes in a game.  However, Greene has to make his case quickly with Leach and Salmela having already proven themselves to a point; and at 26, he's got to show that he has developed into an offensive, NHL-calibur defenseman.

Now that he's cleared to play, I would have to think Sutter will give him some games in the near future.  But on a go-forward basis what should he do?  Should he send Leach back down with Salmela and keep Greene on the third pairing?  Should Salmela be brought back up to "push" Greene and/or take that third pairing spot? Should Leach stick around because he's looked good so far? And consider that I didn't even bring up Sheldon Brookbank - I think his spot as a regular is seriously threatened and I think he'll only see limited action.   Personally, I think the position is only Greene's for now.  If he falters or gets hurt, I think it's Salmela's spot in the long term.  Though if Salmela improves, and I think he will be, maybe that spot opens up later. 

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