The battle for Filip Kuba’s playing time heated up almost instantaneously.
In the Senators’ first on-ice session since the veteran defenceman was diagnosed with a broken right leg that will keep him out at least 5-6 weeks, Chris Campoli became involved in a scuffle with Cody Bass that saw punches thrown before it was broken up by peacemaker Chris Neil.
Such incidents at camp or practice are always shrugged off as no big deal, but in this case, the Senators clearly didn’t mind seeing Campoli playing with the fire they feel he doesn’t always possess.
“It’s great when you have competition,” GM Bryan Murray said Sunday, shortly after the altercation. “Some of the drills are competitive drills. You have confrontation with a defenceman and a forward and it’s nice to see Campoli is stronger than he was last year.”
Campoli, Brian Lee, Patrick Wiercioch and Jared Cowen will have the chance to play more and important minutes with Kuba breaking his leg after skating into a rut during the first day of camp Saturday at Scotiabank Place.
While Kuba will be re-evaluated Thursday, it appears the break was clean and surgery will not be required.
Still, the 33-year-old was looking forward to getting back into form after being hampered last season by a back injury that put him under the knife. Even if his recovery goes smoothly, Kuba will likely miss the first 10-12 games of the upcoming campaign.
That’s a significant loss for the Senators.
“It’s a horrible break, not literally, but the way it happened,” Campoli said. “He’s been through a lot, so it’s real tough. That’s why we’re a team. We’re going to pick each other up.
“We were just competing,” Campoli added of his dust-up with Bass. “That’s why we’re at this level. We all want to make an impression, get off to a good start. No hard feelings, it’s just part of the game. I wouldn’t really expect anything less from a teammate.
“Cody just happened to fall and I fell on top of him. I trained hard this summer. I feel I’m in good shape. I want to get off to a good start. Maybe if I’m a little bit stronger, that’s a good thing for me.”
The Kuba injury throws a wrench into coach Cory Clouston’s plans. He intended to start the season with Kuba and Eric Karlsson as his second pairing, after Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar.
“(The injury) does change things. When, arguably a Top 2 or 3 defenceman goes down, you’ve got to change things up a little bit and try to balance the pairings out a little more.”
If Campoli is the most likely candidate to wind up in the Top 4, Lee is probably next on the list. After coming to camp as No. 7 on the depth chart, his partner Sunday was Gonchar.
Lee, however, was quick to point out that it was just one practice.
“It’s too bad Kubs had to get hurt, I feel terrible for him,” said the Senators’ 2005 first-round pick. “Guys will step up and hopefully it’ll give them a chance to show what they can do.”
Murray said a good season for Lee would be to “play regular, or somewhat regular” and be the guy the Senators think he is.
“He can move the puck, play good defensively,” said Murray. “We know he’s likely not going to score a lot of goals, or get a lot of points, but just be a somewhat regular player that has confidence the coach will play him and ... that he’ll be a real solid defenceman.”
Lee, who played 53 games with the Senators in 2008-09 but only 23 last season, believes he can use his strong skating to become more involved offensively. After working out in the off-season with former Senator Matt Cullen, he came to camp with the goal of being more aggressive.
“It was tough last year. I thought I deserved to be here, but I just kind of got stuck in the shuffle,” said Lee, who was signed to a one-way deal. “It’s a business, and I guess I’m lucky to not have to worry about it this year.”