NHL Playoff Disaster, Debrincat, and Nikolas Matinpalo

It’s difficult to imagine a worse outcome for the NHL than the four teams that made it into the conference finals (Dallas, Vegas, Florida, and Carolina). While the league itself likely believes it’s a positive result, increasing their footprint in the south, I’ve seen no evidence the Southern strategy has accomplished anything. None of the four teams draw outside their region and local interest is minimal. Ratings are going to be horrific (NHL’s viewership this year is already awful, illustrating that just two seasons of scoring increase isn’t enough to erase thirty years of stagnation–something I’ve gone over a few times). The NHL has never figured out how to market itself because it’s convinced it’s a major sport instead of a regional one whose limitations (expense and playing surface) put a cap on participation. The best thing for the league would be contraction and moving franchises away from dead areas to where they might have some relevance, but that’s an impossibility as long as the current regime remains in power.

I mentioned in my season wrap-up that I thought all the local voices talking about moving on from Alex Debrincat was a sign that the org itself is moving on and I still believe that as additional voices restate the idea. There’s no guarantee, and moving him won’t be easy, but to me the odds of him going continue to increase. Dorion likes to make splashy moves, so I could see it happening at the draft (I suspect, if they’ve given up on Alex Formenton, he’ll also be moved around that time).

The Sens signed an off-the-radar Finnish defensemen in Nikolas Matinpalo (in the spirit of Artem Zub and Olle Alsing); he’s the second European FA prospect they’ve picked up this off-season after signing Jiri Smejkal about a month ago. The 24 (soon to be 25)-year old wasn’t on anyone’s radar (either this year as a free agent or during his draft-eligible seasons). Here’s a quick look at his recent numbers:

Nikolas Matinpalo, DR, DOB 98 (Oct)
2020-21 Liiga 41-1-2-3 (0.07)
2021-22 Liiga 50-4-4-8 (0.16)
2022-23 Liiga 51-7-9-16 (0.31)

Like Smejkal he’s an older prospect with size (6’3 in his case), and his middling numbers have been augmented (to the Sens brass at least) by a good playoff (8-0-4-4) and then representing Finland internationally for the first time (not a high bar when you consider Patrick Brown was on the US roster). This is not a player you sign to produce offense and he’s unlikely to have NHL-caliber talent (he was well behind former Florida draft pick Ian McCoshen on his team this year, whose best AHL season was his first, 68-4-12-16), but his potential is as a defensive presence for the BSens on their already clogged right side. It’s difficult to imagine this turning out well, but it’s interesting that the Sens decided to go this route in the first place. The plus side of the equation is it’s low risk–both in terms of dollars and commitment.

This article was written by Peter Levi


Revisiting Draft Success (2005-10)

Years ago I wrote an article on the relative success in the draft that can be expected as dictated by their successes. It covered 2005-09, the period that embraced the post-Dead Puck era (into the Life Support puck era) and seemed long enough from when I originally wrote it (2015l revised in 2016) that we could safely assess. The reason I’ve returned to this analysis is that I made the somewhat arbitrary choice of calling a ‘win’ any player who had played 200 NHL games (given that there’s no readily accepted iteration of what a ‘success’ is in this circumstance). Years later I think that was overly generous and I believe 400 games (the equivalent of five NHL seasons, with some judgement calls on goaltenders) weeds out the numerous players an org falls in love with then drops out of the league after a few seasons. The other benefit is how much time has passed since then–there are no more mysteries about their careers.

2005 (here; the Crosby draft)
First Round
14 players have played 400+ games, including 9 of the top-10 (Luc Bourdon tragically died); 3 never suited up in the NHL
Second Round
7 players hit the mark, with 11 never hitting the ice
Third Round
5 players hit the mark; 12 never played
Fourth Round
7 players have reached the plateau; 17 never played
Fifth Round
3 players hit the mark; 17 never played
Sixth Round
None qualify (Matt D’Agostini #190 comes closest); 21 players never played
Seventh Round
2 players reached the plateau; 26 players never played

Here’s the success by team:
St. Louis (Pleau): 1st (Oshie), 3rd (Bishop), 5th (Reaves)
Columbus (MacLean): 2nd (McQuaid), 3rd (K. Russell), 4th (Boll)
Pittsburgh (Patrick): 1st (Crosby), 3rd (Letang)
San Jose (Wilson): 1st (Setoguchi), 2nd (Vlasic)
Los Angeles (Taylor): 1st (Kopitar), 3rd (Quick)
Rangers (Sather): 1st (M. Staal), 4th (T. Pyatt)
Arizona/Phoenix (Barnett): 1st (Hanzal), 4th (Yandle)
Toronto (Ferguson): 1st (Rask), 7th (Stralman)
Dallas (Armstrong): 1st (Niskanen), 2nd (Neal)
Detroit (Holland): 2nd (Abdelkader), 5th (Helm)
Nashville (Poile): 3rd (Franson), 7th (Hornqvist)
Buffalo (Regier): 4th (C. Butler), 5th (Gerbe)
Anaheim (Coates/Burke): 1st (Ryan)
Carolina (Rutherford): 1st (J. Johnson)
Minnesota (Risebrough): 1st (Pouliot)
Montreal (Gainey): 1st (Price)
Edmonton (Lowe): 1st (Cogliano)
Philadelphia (Clarke): 1st (Downie)
Atlanta/Winnipeg (Waddell): 2nd (Pavelec)
Colorado (Lacroix): 2nd (P. Statsny)
Vancouver (Nonis): 2nd (Raymond)
Boston (O’Connell): 4th (Sobotka)
Chicago (Pulford/Tallon): 4th (Hjalmarsson)
Fails (7): Ottawa (Muckler), New Jersey (Lamoriello), Washington (McPhee), New York Islanders (Milbury), Florida (Keenan), Calgary (Sutter), Tampa Bay (Feaster)

2006 (here; the E. Johnson draft)
First Round
18 players hit the plateau, including eight of the top-ten; 3 players never played an NHL game
Second Round
6 players hit the mark; 14 players never played
Third Round
3 players reached the plateau; 14 never hit the ice
Fourth Round
2 players; 22 players never played
Fifth Round
No one hit the mark
Sixth Round
4 players hit the mark; 23 prospects never played
Seventh Round
1 player qualifies; 23 players never played

Here’s the success by team:
Toronto (Ferguson): 1st (Tlutsy), 2nd (Kulyomin), 4th (Reimer), 6th (Stalberg), 6th (Komarov)
Washington (McPhee): 1st (Backstrom), 1st (Varlamov), 6th (M. Perrault)
Boston (O’Connell/Gorton/Chiarelli): 1st (Kessel), 2nd (Lucic), 3rd (Marchant)
Columbus (MacLean): 1st (Brassard), 3rd (S. Mason), 7th (Dorsett)
Islanders (Milbury/Smith): 1st (Okposo), 6th (A. MacDonald)
Los Angeles (Taylor/Lombardi): 1st (J. Bernier), 1st (T. Lewis)
St. Louis (Pleau): 1st (E. Johnson). 1st (Berglund)
Pittsburgh (Patrick/Shero): 1st (J. Staal)
Chicago (Pulford): 1st (J. Toews)
Florida (Keenan): 1st (Frolik)
Atlanta/Winnipeg (Waddell): 1st (Little)
Vancouver (Nonis): 1st (Grabner)
Colorado (Lacroix/Giguere): 1st (C. Stewart)
Philadelphia (Clarke): 1st (Giroux)
Ottawa (Muckler): 1st (N. Foligno)
San Jose (Wilson): 2nd (McGinn)
Edmonton (Lowe): 2nd (Petry)
Detroit (Holland): 2nd (Matthias)
Rangers (Sather): 2nd (Anisimov)
Minnesota (Risebrough): 3rd (Clutterbuck)
Anaheim (Burke): 4th (Beleskey)
Fails (9): Buffalo (Regier), Arizona/Phoenix (Barnett/Maloney), Carolina (Rutherford), Montreal (Gainey), Tampa Bay (Feaster), Calgary (Sutter), New Jersey (Lamoriello), Dallas (Armstrong), Nashville (Poile)

2007 (here; the P. Kane draft)
First Round
18 players hit the mark, including 8 of the top-ten; 5 picks never played a game (Alexei Cherepanov #17 died)
Second Round
3 players reached the plateau; 14 never played a game
Third Round
4 hit the mark; 15 didn’t make it
Fourth Round
2 qualify; 16 never played
Fifth Round
2 players reach the mark; 22 have never played
Sixth Round
4 players qualify; 16 never played
Seventh Round
2 players reached the mark; 24 have never played

Success by team:
Montreal (Gainey): 1st (McDonagh), 1st (Pacioretty), 2nd (P. K. Subban), 3rd (Y. Weber)
Los Angeles (Lombardi): 1st (Hickey), 2nd (Simmonds), 4th (Martinez)
San Jose (Wilson): 1st (Couture), 6th (Bonino), 7th (Braun)
Philadelphia (Holmgren): 1st (Van Riemsdyk), 6th (Maroon)
Edmonton (Lowe): 1st (S. Gagner), 1st (R. Nash)
St. Louis (Pleau): 1st (Eller), 1st (I. Cole), 1st (Perron)
Pittsburgh (Shero): 3rd (Bortuzzo), 5th (Muzzin)
Dallas (Armstrong): 4th (Sceviour), 5th (Benn)
Chicago (Pulford): 1st (P. Kane)
Arizona/Phoenix (Maloney): 1st (Turris)
Washington (McPhee): 1st (Alzner)
Columbus (Howson/MacLean): 1st (Voracek)
Carolina (Rutherford): 1st (B. Sutter)
Colorado (Giguere): 1st (Shattenkirk)
Calgary (Sutter): 1st (Backlund)
Detroit (Holland): 1st (B. Smith)
Nashville (Poile): 2nd (Spaling)
Florida (Martin): 3rd (Dadonov)
Tampa Bay (Feaster): 3rd (Killorn)
Rangers (Sather): 6th (Hagelin)
Buffalo (Regier): 6th (Byron)
Toronto (Ferguson): 7th (Gunnarsson)
Fails (8): New Jersey (Lamoriello), Anaheim (Burke), Ottawa (Br.Murray/Muckler), Boston (Chiarelli), Vancouver (Nonis), Atlanta/Winnipeg (Waddell), New York Islanders (Snow), Minnesota (Risebrough)

2008 (here; the Stamkos draft)
First Round
16 players, including 8 of the top-ten; three never played
Second Round
7 players have reached the plateau (including #34 Jake Allen); 8 players have never suited up
Third Round
3 players; 18 prospects never made it
Fourth Round
5 made it; 15 players never suited up
Fifth Round
3 players; 17 prospects never played
Sixth Round
3 players qualify; 19 players never suited up
Seventh Round
1 player makes it; 22 never played

Here’s the success by team:
Islanders (Snow): 1st (Bailey), 2nd (Hamonic), 5th (M. Martin), 6th (Spurgeon)
Ottawa (Br.Murray): 1st (E. Karlsson), 3rd (Z. Smith), 4th (D. Grant), 5th (Borowiecki)
Rangers (Sather): 1st (Del Zotto), 2nd (Stepan), 4th (Weise)
St. Louis (Pleau): 1st (Pietrangelo), 2nd (Allen)
Nashville (Poile): 1st (C. Wilson), 2nd (Josi)
Arizona/Phoenix (Maloney): 1st (Bodker), 3rd (Mi. Stone)
Buffalo (Regier): 1st (Myers), 1st (Ennis)
Anaheim (Burke/Bo.Murray): 1st (Gardiner), 2nd (J. Schultz)
Washington (McPhee): 1st (J. Carlson), 4th (Holtby)
Columbus (Howson): 5th (Calvert), 6th (Atkinson)
San Jose (Wilson): 6th (Wingels), 7th (Demers)
Tampa Bay (Feaster): 1st (Stamkos)
Los Angeles (Lombardi): 1st (Doughty)
Atlanta/Winnipeg (Waddell): 1st (Bogosian)
Toronto (Ferguson/Burke): 1st (L. Schenn)
Philadelphia (Holmgren): 1st (Sbisa)
Edmonton (Lowe): 1st (Eberle)
Florida (Martin): 2nd (Markstrom)
Minnesota (Risebrough): 2nd (Scandella)
New Jersey (Lamoriello): 3rd (Henrique)
Calgary (Sutter): 4th (Brodie)
Detroit (Holland): 4th (Nyquist)
Fails (8): Vancouver (Nonis/Gillis), Chicago (Pulford), Dallas (Armstrong/Hull-Jackson), Boston (Chiarelli), Colorado (Giguere), Carolina (Rutherford), Montreal (Gainey), Pittsburgh (Shero)

2009 (here; the Tavares draft)
First Round
17 players have hit the threshold (including 8 of the top-10); one never played
Second Round
9 have (including #46 Robin Lehner); 8 players never made it
Third Round
5 players hit the mark; 13 prospects never made it
Fourth Round
7 reach the threshold; 12 players never suited up
Fifth Round
4 players hit the mark; 19 players never suited up
Sixth Round
2 (including #161 Darcy Kuemper); 16 players didn’t make it
Seventh Round
2 hit the mark; 24 never played

Success by team:
Islanders (Snow): 1st (Tavares), 1st (de Haan), 4th (Cizikas), 6th (A. Lee)
Los Angeles (Lombardi): 1st (B. Schenn), 2nd (Clifford), 3rd (Deslauriers), 7th (Dowd)
Nashville (Poile): 1st (Ellis), 4th (C. Smith), 4th (Ekholm), 5th (Bourque)
Colorado (Giguere/Sherman): 1st (Duchene), 2nd (O’Reilly), 3rd (Barrie)
Buffalo (Regier): 1st (Kassian), 3rd (McNabb), 4th (M. Foligno)
Minnesota (Risebrough): 1st (Leddy), 6th (Kuemper), 7th (Haula)
Washington (McPhee): 1st (M. Johansson), 2nd (Orlov), 3rd (Eakin)
Ottawa (Br.Murray): 2nd (Silfverberg), 2nd (Lehner), 5th (Hoffman)
Tampa Bay (Lawton): 1st (Hedman), 2nd (Panik)
Atlanta/Winnipeg (Waddell): 1st (E. Kane), 4th (Chiarot)
Arizona/Phoenix (Maloney): 1st (Ekman Larsson)
Columbus (Howson): 1st (J. Moore), 4th (D. Savard)
Anaheim (Bo.Murray): 1st (Palmieri), 4th (Vatanen)
Dallas (Hull-Jackson/Nieuwendyk): 2nd (Chiasson), 3rd (R. Smith)
Detroit (Holland): 2nd (Tatar), 5th (Jensen)
Toronto (Burke): 1st (Kadri)
Edmonton (Tambellini): 1st (Paajarvi)
Florida (Martin/Sexton): 1st (Kulikov)
Rangers (Sather): 1st (Kreider)
Carolina (Rutherford): 2nd (Dumoulin)
Chicago (Pulford): 5th (Kruger)
Fails (8): New Jersey (Lamoriello), Pittsburgh (Shero), Vancouver (Gillis), Boston (Chiarelli), St. Louis (Pleau), Calgary (Sutter), Montreal (Gainey), San Jose (Wilson), and Philadelphia (Holmgren)

2010 (here; the T. Hall draft)
First Round
21 players hit the threshold (including 9 of the top-10); every pick played at least one game
Second Round
9 players (I’m including #31 Tyler Pitlick, who will hit it next season, and Devante Smith-Pelly, who won’t get passed 395, but I think should count); 5 never played
Third Round
3 players; 18 never played
Fourth Round
1 player; 14 never played
Fifth Round
3 players; 16 never played
Sixth Round
2 players; 22 never played
Seventh Round
1 player; 25 never played

Success by team:
Florida (Sexton/Tallon): 1st (Gudbranson), 1st (Bjugstad), 4th (Donskoi), 5th (Hyman)
Carolina (Rutherford): 1st (Skinner), 2nd (Faulk), 7th (F. Andersen)
Minnesota (Fletcher): 1st (M. Granlund), 2nd (J. Larsson), 2nd (Zucker)
Edmonton (Tambellini): 1st (T. Hall), 2nd (Pitlick)
Islanders (Snow): 1st (Niederreiter), 1st (Nelson)
Tampa Bay (Lawton/Kurvers/Yzerman): 1st (B. Connolly), 3rd (Gudas)
Anaheim (Bo. Murray): 1st (Fowler), 2nd (Smith-Pelly)
St. Louis (Pleau): 1st (Schwartz), 1st (Tarasenko)
Los Angeles (Lombardi): 1st (Forbort), 2nd (Toffoli)
Detroit (Holland): 1st (Sheahan), 2nd (Jarnkrok)
Chicago (Bowman): 1st (Hayes), 3rd (Nordstrom)
Dallas (Nieuwendyk): 2nd (Nemeth) 5th (Klingberg)
Boston (Chiarelli): 1st (Seguin)
Columbus (Howson): 1st (R. Johansen)
Atlanta/Winnipeg (Waddell/Dudley): 1st (Burmistrov)
Nashville (Poile): 1st (Watson)
Buffalo (Regier): 1st (Pysyk)
Washington (McPhee): 1st (Kuznetsov)
San Jose (Wilson): 1st (Coyle)
New Jersey (Lamoriello): 2nd (Merrill)
Pittsburgh (Shero): 3rd (Rust)
Montreal (Gainey/Gauthier): 5th (Gallagher)
Rangers (Sather): 6th (Fast)
Ottawa (Br. Murray): 6th (Ma. Stone)
Fails: Phoenix/Arizona (Maloney), Colorado (Sherman), Philadelphia (Holmgren), Calgary (Sutter), Vancouver (Gillis), and Toronto (Burke)

Round-by-round success rate (with year-by-year in brackets):
First: 14/9, 18/8, 18/8, 16/8, 17/8, 21/9; average 17.33/8.33
Second: 7, 6, 3, 7, 9, 9; avg 6.83
Third: 5, 3, 4, 3, 5, 3; avg 3.83
Fourth: 7, 2, 2, 5, 7, 1; avg 4.0
Fifth: 3, 0, 2, 3, 4, 3; avg 2.5
Sixth: 0, 4, 4, 3, 2, 2; avg 2.5
Seventh: 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1; avg 1.5
Total: 38, 34, 35, 38, 46, 40; avg 38.5

Looking at trends in 2011 (keeping in mind the numbers aren’t completely set), all 10 top-ten picks hit the standard (20 overall in the first); 10 in the 2nd; 4 in the 3rd; 3 in the 4th; 2 in the 5th; 2 in the 6th; and 2 in the 7th. This means there are signs of scouting improving over this period–accuracy of picks declines through the rounds (as opposed to the erratic numbers of a solitary year), albeit the odds of finding an NHL player in the 5th-7th rounds are extremely small. It’s also worth pointing out that almost two-thirds of players (63%) are to be found in the first two rounds (conversely, there still are players who slip through the cracks into the later rounds).

Team Performance (this is quantitative, not qualitative)
St. Louis (Pleaux6): 3, 2, 3, 2, 0, 2=12
Columbus (MacLeanx2; MacLean/Howson; Howsonx3): 3, 3, 1, 2, 2, 1=12
Los Angeles (Taylor; Taylor/Lombardi; Lombardix4): 2, 2, 3, 1, 4, 2=12
Islanders (Milbury; Milbury/Smith; Snowx4): 0, 2, 0, 4, 4, 2=12
Washington (McPheex6): 0, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1=10
Nashville (Poilex6): 2, 0, 1, 2, 4, 1=10
San Jose (Wilsonx6): 2, 1, 3, 2, 0, 1=9
Toronto (Fergusonx3; Ferguson/Burke; Burkex2): 2, 5, 1, 1, 0=9
Minnesota (Risebroughx5; Fletcher): 1, 1, 0, 1, 3, 3=9
Rangers (Satherx6): 2, 1, 1, 3, 1, 1=9
Detroit (Hollandx6): 2, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2=9
Buffalo (Regierx6): 2, 0, 1, 2, 3, 1=9
Ottawa (Mucklerx2; Muckler/Br. Murray; Br. Murrayx3): 0, 1, 0, 4, 3, 1=9
Edmonton (Lowex4; Tambellinix2): 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 2=8
Florida (Keenanx2; Martinx2; Martin/Sexton; Sexton/Tallon): 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 4=8
Anaheim (Coates/Burke; Burke; Burke/Bo. Murray; Bo. Murrayx2): 1, 1, 0, 2, 2, 2=8
Dallas (Armstrongx3; Armstrong/Hull-Jackson; Hull-Jackson/Nieuwendyk; Nieuwendyk): 2, 0, 2, 0, 2, 2=8
Pittsburgh (Patrick; Patrick/Shero; Sherox4): 2, 1, 2, 0, 0, 1=6
Montreal (Gaineyx5, Gainey/Gauthier): 1, 0, 4, 0, 0, 1=6
Colorado (Lacroix; Lacroix/Giguere; Giguerex2; Giguere/Sherman; Sherman): 1, 1, 1, 0, 3, 0=6
Arizona/Phoenix (Barnett; Barnett/Maloney; Maloneyx4): 2, 0, 1, 2, 1, 0=6
Carolina (Rutherfordx6): 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 3=6
Chicago (Tallon/Pulford; Pulfordx4; Bowman): 1, 1, 1, 0, 1, 2=6
Tampa Bay (Feasterx4; Lawton; Lawton/Kurvers/Yzerman): 0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 2=6
Philadelphia (Clarkex2; Holmgrenx4): 1, 1, 2, 1, 0, 0=5
Boston (O’Connell; O’Connell/Gorton/Chiarelli; Chiarellix4): 1, 3, 0, 0, 0, 1=5
Winnipeg/Atlanta (Waddellx5; Waddell/Dudley): 1, 1, 0, 1, 1, 1=5
Vancouver (Nonisx3; Nonis/Gillis; Gillis): 1, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0=2
New Jersey (Lamoriellox6): 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 1=2
Calgary (Sutterx6): 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, 0=2

In terms of ranges through the six drafts:
4 teams had 12 successes
2 teams had 10
7 teams had 9
4 teams had 8
7 teams had 6
3 teams had 5
3 teams had 2

The majority of teams (80%) managed to find at least one NHL player per draft, while the best teams (13%) were able to find two. Most (76%) were between those ranges, but with management changes it’s not always easy to pin down where organizational flaws or successes were (except for bottom feeders like Calgary and New Jersey). There’s also a prejudice against teams that had extra first-round picks since those are more likely to work out. This leaves plenty of room to assess GM’s independent of their teams (ten teams had the same management in place), but I think that warrants a separate discussion. All of this just scratches the surface, but it sheds some interesting light on the draft in the current era.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Sens News & Notes

Recently former Sens and current commentator Marc Methot commented (46:40, since the YTers don’t timestamp their podcast) that Artem Zub is a bottom-pairing player and the Sens will regret his contract extension. This is interesting, because just in December Methot called the signing ‘a steal’. In context, his comment seems based on his estimation of the kind of player Tyler Kleven will be (which would explain the abrupt about face, since the tiny sample of Kleven and Zub‘s injury-plagued year are paired in Methot’s head). It’s also highly amusing how fearful Methot is of analytics (see below). If you’re asking what separates the two players in Methot’s mind, given the context (the Sens content is largely about Brannstrom), it’s that Kleven is a more physical player–we all know how much Methot values the physical dimension (look at how a big, physical team like Calgary is dominating in the playoffs right now). What’s funny to me is how easily Methot flipped the switch on someone who was one of his favourite players, which he blames on this season (and given his Tweet, clearly very late in this season). As for my opinion, I do think Zub was overpaid for what he does, however I think it’s a less ridiculous contract than others Dorion has signed and it’s more easily moved if the Sens decide he doesn’t fit into their plans (since defensive defensemen are overvalued in the league).

Jiri Smejkal, LW/C, Nov/96, 6’4, SHL 49-23-20-43 0.87
I was surprised when the Sens signed Jiri Smejkal out of the SHL (1yr/950k), although perhaps I shouldn’t be since they did something similar with Olle Alsing in 2019. The Czech forward was 6th overall on Pronman’s list of FAs and 2nd out of Europe. An older player (26), it’s uncommon for an NHL talent to be found at that age, but it does happen. Smejkal bounced around early in his pro career, but found his footing in Finland and was able to translate that production into the SHL this past season. He’s not an unknown quantity, as he spent two years in the WHL (2014-16) playing for Moose Jaw and Kamloops. According to Pronman he’s a: “Big, powerful winger with good skills who can help on both special teams. His skating is just OK and whether he will score in North America is a question.” The Sens have never been shy about poor skating, although watching the speed in the playoffs you have to wonder how much that approach will hurt them. More importantly, let’s try to unpack his successful seasons:

20-21 Liiga (Tappara) 48-9-17-26 0.54 6th
The 6th most productive forward on a team, but the most productive import (ahead of Charles Bertrand); former Sens prospect Ben Blood (4-120/07) was on the roster, which is funny to see
21-22 Liiga (Pelicans) 44-25-20-45 1.02 2nd
Played on the top line lead by former Vancouver prospect Lukas Jasek (6-174/15) and there’s a further connection as Jasek has signed with Oskarshamn for next season; as a prospect in the AHL Jasek was unremarkable save his last (half) season in his fourth year (he never played in the NHL)
22-23 SHL (Oskarshamn) 49-23-20-43 0.87 3rd
Finished well behind the team’s top two players, Patrik Karlkvist and Antti Suomela (the latter spent time in San Jose and Toronto’s organizations, playing 51 games for the Sharks with middling AHL numbers), but he was able to remain productive despite a step-up in competition

What can we expect from Smejkal? He’s on a two-way contract and there’s a good chance he spends most of his time in Belleville. His offensive output in European leagues is solid, but not spectacular. He should be productive in the AHL, but his NHL window is as a depth forward. While he’s big I’m not expecting him to crash and bang, but that’s not what’s required. I think he’s a reasonable gamble for the Sens to make, even though they are loaded on the left side. If we want to go into conspiracy theories, perhaps the Sens grabbed Smejkal in order to trade some of their prospects on that side–time will tell.

Back to Methot: I haven’t seen him in quite some time (he left Coming in Hot in the fall, which is the only hockey show I sometimes watch) and I was amused to see how much he complained about people arguing with him on social media about his opinions. The problem for Methot is that his arguments are based on feelings–he’s not a numbers guy–so it’s a bit like religion. If the world was made in six days and you don’t think evidence for that to be true is required, it’s going to get really annoying when people keep asking you about all those fossils lying around. I think Methot is a fun guy to hear from, but like a lot of ex-players he struggles to understand that just playing the game does not make your opinions bulletproof (nor is it a get-out-of-jail-free card in arguments). I think he’d be a a better commentator if he became comfortable with analytics and learned how to incorporate that into what he experienced and sees. Just a thought.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Sens Prospects Turning Pro Next Season

As an adjunct to my BSens review (as well as future speculation about Ottawa’s roster), let’s take a look at Sens prospects who will or could be turning pro for the 2023-24 season. Those below in green are signed to an ELC.

Jorian Donovan has to go back to junior (his only other option is playing in the NHL)
Luke Loheit (CR, 7-194/18, via the Mika Zibanejad trade) won’t be signed
–Jonny Tychonick (LD, 2-48/18, a pick acquired as part of a pick-swap to get JBD) won’t be signed (he turned pro with Toronto’s ECHL affiliate; technically the Sens hold his rights until August 15th)
-Jakov Novak (C/LW, 7-188/18) signed with the Allen Americans, who are Ottawa’s ECHL affiliate, so in theory he could get a PTO or AHL-contract from the BSens
Leevi Merilainen (G, 3-71/20, pick acquired in the Dylan DeMelo trade) will be playing in Belleville.

We also need to keep in mind what we know about Belleville’s roster next season. Given the nature of the AHL, many spots are up for grabs and prospects can graduate to the NHL, but here’s how things stand right now (those with a decent chance to be on Ottawa’s roster are in italics):
Goaltenders (2): Merilainen, Sogaard
Defense (3): Thomson (R), Guenette (R), Heatherington (L)
Forwards (5): Jarventie (LW), Greig (C/LW), Crookshank (LW), Daoust (LW), Reinhardt (LW)
Goaltenders (2): Mandolese, Ferguson
Defense (3): Bernard-Docker (R), Aspirot (L), Larsson (L)
RFA (2): Lodin (C/LW), Sokolov (RW)
This means there’s plenty of room at forward, especially on the right side and at center, while the same applies to defense on the left side.

Pro Candidates

Stephen Halliday (Jul/02) CL, (4-104/22), NCAA 40-9-32-41
The only prospect the Sens don’t have to sign who could be signed (given his season); I don’t think it’s likely (memories of Louie Caporusso loom–still playing in the ECHL after years in Europe), but no one else for whom a decision must be made is anywhere near turning pro.

Ben Roger (Nov/22) RD, 2-49/21, OHL 49-2-11-13
Selected after a pick-swap with St. Louis; he signed an ATO with the BSens towards the end of the season, but never dressed (unlike Donovan). Despite his early selection (2nd-round), he was picked on hope–that puck skills would evolve–but that’s almost never the case (unlike defensive play or skating). I’m not sure what the Sens will do with him–the numbers don’t support signing an ELC, but they clearly like the package he represents.

Tyler Boucher (Jan/03) RW, 1-10/21, OHL 21-10-7-17
Since he was drafted he’s struggled, but barring a trade he’ll be trying to justify his draft position in Belleville. There’s a lot to criticize about the pick, someone whosenot going to score that much, though, due to a lack of offensive IQ and NHL speed, but he could be a “hard to play against” bottom-six winger who plays every day.” He’s also struggled to stay healthy (often the case with rugged players), with just 89 games over the last three years.

Carson Latimer (Jan/03) RW, 4-123/21, WHL 53-14-26-40
The pick acquired as part of a pick-swap with Carolina; his claim to fame was speed, but his junior numbers never really evolved so I suspect he’s not in the org’s future plans.

Zach Ostapchuk (May/03) CL, 2-39/21, WHL 55-31-36-67
A pick via the Karlsson trade; not a top-line player, but projects as a third or fourth-liner who will get plenty of ice time in Belleville. The latest sentiment: “I don’t think he’s going to be the most natural scorer as a pro who makes a ton of plays, but he has some offense. I think he’s for sure a bottom-six winger, with a chance at more if his offense is more consistent.” Keep in mind that Corey Pronman generally thinks no one will score much at the NHL-level, but in this case I think his assessment is fair.

Chandler Romeo (Jul/03) LD, 7-202/21, OHL 54-9-8-17
Picked because of his size and fitness, but just like Roger above, the puck skills are modest. He is a big blueliner, so there’s a chance the org will give him a shot (perhaps on an AHL-contract).

Tomas Hamara (Mar/04) LD, 3-87/22, OHL 56-2-15-17
Pick acquired in the Mike Reilly trade; because he was drafted from Europe, he could turn pro, but given his lackluster season in the OHL I think the Sens will let him play another year before doing so. He seems like a carbon copy of JBD. “As a 6-foot defenseman who doesn’t excel at either end it’s unclear what his NHL role would be, but he has a good enough toolkit to be a third-pair defenseman.” I have no idea why the Sens were so eager to sign him, but maybe this was an off year for the Czech defender.

What I think we’ll get is Boucher and Ostapchuk in Belleville; possibly Novak on an AHL-deal, with an outside chance of Romeo or Roger getting something similar.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Belleville Senators 2022-23 Season in Review

Just like last year, I’m going to review the team starting with individual performances and then talk about the season overall. We’ll start with a basic list. Rookies are in italics; those in green were added during the season, those in red were removed. I’ve excluded those who appeared in just a few games to avoid a mass of inconsequential clutter.

Basic Stats

Jake Lucchini 61-19-34-53 0.87
Egor Sokolov 70-21-38-59 0.84
Cole Cassels (SEL) 64-12-39-51 0.80
Philippe Daoust 9-2-5-7 0.78
Roby Jarventie 40-16-14-30 0.75
Ridly Greig 39-15-14-29 0.74
Rourke Chartier 40-20-8-28 0.70
Angus Crookshank 71-26-21-47 0.66
Scott Sabourin 51-16-17-33 0.65
John Quenneville (SEL) 25-4-11-15 0.60
Viktor Lodin 28-6-9-15 0.54
Cole Reinhardt 66-11-23-34 0.52
Brennan Saulnier (T-Mtl) 30-6-9-15 0.50
Jayce Hawryluk (T-NJ) 19-3-5-8 0.42
Matthew Boucher 50-6-10-16 0.32
Jarid Lukosevicius (released) 52-7-6-13 0.25
Matthew Wedman 41-3-5-8 0.20
Kyle Betts (released) 40-1-2-3 0.08
Graham McPhee (T-Edm) 14-0-1-1 0.07
Lassi Thomson 56-7-36-33 0.59
Maxence Guenette 72-5-35-40 0.56
Jonathan Aspirot 43-5-11-16 0.37
Jacob Larsson 55-4-13-17 0.31
Dillon Heatherington 60-4-11-15 0.25
Jacob Bernard-Docker 41-2-4-6 0.15
Kristian Rubins (T-Cgy) 42-2-4-6 0.14
Xavier Bernard (T-Edm) 17-0-1-1 0.06
Dylan Blujus (T-NJ) 5-0-0-0 0.00
Leevi Merilainen (Liiga) 3-0-0 2.06 .933
Dylan Ferguson (T-Tor) 6-1-0 2.30 .926

Antoine Bibeau 9-10-2 3.51 .894
Mads Sogaard 6-10-2 3.47 .893
Kevin Mandolese 6-8-3 3.33 .890


This is arranged by age because I think that’s useful in considering where a player is at in their career. I’ve included their numbers from last year after a dash for perspective. As a reminder: rookies are in italics; those in green were added during the season, those in red were removed; I’ve included total pro games in anticipation of their status for next season (this is to reflect the veteran rule, wherein 260 games–AHL, NHL, European elite leagues–is the cut off–this works a bit differently for prospects but I won’t go into the weeds of that).

Scott Sabourin, RW, 1992, re-signed FA (undrafted OHL); 51-16-17-33 (0.65)40-5-12-17 (0.33); career: 43 NHL/405 AHL
A career year for the veteran, who was re-signed in the summer; he fought less than last year (5 vs 7), with the team fighting slightly more (24 over 22); this is his first year with the org where he was not called-up to the NHL. Future: I’m fine if he stays or leaves, but I expect the org would like him to stay.

Brennan Saulnier, CL, 1993, trade-Mtl (undrafted NCAA); 30-6-9-15 (0.50)43-3-3-6 (0.14); career: 89 AHL/74 ECHL
The Sens have had good luck taking assets from Laval and making them useful (this was a career year for him)–he’s no Lucchini, but for a marginal AHL player these are good numbers. He’s the only player other than Sabourin to have multiple fights (5), which is one less than the year prior. Future: depending on other decisions, I could lean either way, but there’s a chance his season was a fluke that can’t be repeated.

Dylan Blujus, DR, 1994, trade-NJ (2-40/12 TB); 5-0-0-0/24-1-4-5 (0.21)43-1-10-11 (0.25); career: 362 AHL/27 ECHL
Unfortunately a pointless late-season move by the BSens, as they missed the playoffs and Blujus barely played (presumably he’s the future considerations for Hawryluk). Future: None (there’s just no place for a declining veteran like him).

Antoine Bibeau, GL, 1994, FA (6-172/13 Tor); 9-10-2 3.51 .8944-1-2 2.48 .905; career: 4 NHL/225 AHL/14 ECHL
Signed in the summer after becoming the 5th goalie in Seattle; he had a glorious opportunity to show his stuff due to injuries, but instead had his worst save percentage since his sophomore year in the QMJHL. Future: None (when the team needed him most he failed to perform).

Jarid Lukosevicius, RW, 1995, PTO (undrafted NCAA); 52-7-6-13 (0.25)62-10-9-19 (0.30)released from PTO
The Sens prospect pool is limited on the right side, which helped keep him around for much of the season (despite an absurdly unproductive streak to end his tenure, 24-0-1-1).

Cole Cassels, CR, 1995, Allsvenskan (3-85/13 Van); 64-12-39-51 (0.80)70-6-19-25 (0.36); career: 419 AHL/63 Europe
Failed out of Sweden and the org took another chance on him (having played for the BSens in 2019-21)–he had a career season. Future: It will be interesting to see what he happens to him–his greatest success as a pro has been in Belleville, but after a season like this there’s more money to be made elsewhere (Europe in particular). I’d be fine with him returning, although we have to treat this career season with caution.

Dillon Heatherington, DL, 1995, re-signed FA (2-50/13 Clb); 60-4-11-15 (0.25) (3 NHL games) – 45-2-11-13 (0.29); career: 23 NHL/418 AHL/41 Europe
Signed a two-year extension in the summer; the lumbering blueliner is what he is–he’s fine for what he does at this level. Future: has one year remaining on his contract.

Jake Lucchini, LW, 1995, re-signed FA (undrafted NCAA); 61-19-34-53 (0.87) (11 NHL games) – 72-20-31-51 (0.71); career: 11 NHL/237 AHL
Acquired from Laval last season, he was re-signed after his breakout campaign and this year improved on that. Future: the Sens should bring him back if he’s interested, especially since this upcoming season is the last where he doesn’t fall under the veteran contract category.

Jayce Hawryluk, RW, 1996, FA (2-32/14 Flo); 19-3-5-8 (0.42)SELtraded to New Jersey for future considerations
Signed after an unremarkable season in Sweden; he had played for the org previously as a waiver pick-up (2019-20), but he was well below his AHL averages this year (0.64) and jettisoned.

Rourke Chartier, CL, 1996, re-signed FA (5-149/14 SJ); 40-20-8-28 (0.70) (6 NHL games) – 33-10-15-25 (0.76); career: 19 NHL/222 AHL
Like Lucchini above, he was picked up early last season and performed well enough to be brought back. He cannot stay healthy (40 games this year is the most he’s played since 67 in 2016-17), but when he’s in the lineup he’s productive. Future: a good candidate for the BSens to bring back, especially since his injury issues means (like Lucchini) he’s not yet hit veteran status.

John Quenneville, RW, 1996, SEL (1-30/14 NJ); 25-4-11-15 (0.60)16-1-1-2 (0.12); career: 42 NHL/215 AHL/65 Europe
Like Cassels, he was brought in from Sweden (where he was having a solid season) to fill out the weak right side. This was a down year for him given his career AHL numbers coming into it (0.75). Future: I don’t expect the team to retain him, although I wouldn’t consider it a calamity if they do.

Matthew Boucher, LW, 1997, PTO (undrafted QMJHL); 50-6-10-16 (0.32)career: 55 AHL/77 ECHL
Boucher was consistently inconsistent all year. His difficult path to pro was the Q to Canadian University to the ECHL, being productive at every level except the AHL thus far. Future: If he’ll accept an AHL contract he makes for useful depth, but I wouldn’t invest in him more than that.

Kyle Betts, CL, 1997, PTO (undrafted NCAA); 40-1-2-3 (0.07)NCAA – released from his PTO
Even as a depth forward, you want more from him, so I wouldn’t expect to see him with the org again.

Graham McPhee, LW, 1998, trade-Edm (5-149/16 Edm); 14-0-1-1 (0.07)/41-1-5-6 (0.14)33-5-6-11 (0.33); career: 77 AHL
Presumably the price to be paid for moving Bernard; he added nothing to the roster and has likely played his way out of the AHL (over four years: 77-6-11-17 0.22). Future: None.

Matthew Wedman, LW, 1999, re-signed FA (7-199/19 Flo); 41-3-5-8 (0.20)70-11-6-17 (0.24); career: 111 AHL
A depth player with size but poor skating. Future: He could stay, he could go (it’s an AHL-contract after all)–the Sens may have expected more out of him in his sophomore year.


Jacob Larsson, DL, 1997, FA (1-27/15 Ana); 55-4-13-17 (0.31) (7 NHL games) – 55-2-13-15 (0.27); career: 172 NHL/191 AHL
Posted near identical numbers from when he’d failed out of Anaheim’s organization. Future: I don’t think he adds anything meaningful to the roster, so I’d let him walk, but we’ll see what the Sens do (he’s an RFA and the Sens will want at least one other older blueliner on the roster).

Kristians Rubins, DL, 1997, FA (undrafted WHL); 42-2-4-6 (0.14)58-1-10-11 (0.19) traded to Calgary for future considerations
One of the more puzzling signings in the off-season, as the Toronto castoff was simply a weaker echo of Larsson and Heatherington (how many big, lumbering blueliners do you need?)–the org jettisoned him in March.

Dylan Ferguson, GL, 1998, trade-Tor (7-194/17 Dal); 6-1-0 2.30 .926 (2 NHL games)/2-2-0 3.12 .8885-4-1 2.90 .907; career: 3 NHL/ 29 AHL/27 ECHL
A steal from Toronto, even if he did not play many games. Future: I’m not sure if he did enough to stay (it will depend on what they want to do with Sogaard–if he remains in the NHL, then RFA Ferguson is easy to keep as a pairing with Merilainen, but if not then there isn’t room for him).

Jonathan Aspirot, DL, 1999, undrafted QMJHL; 43-5-11-16 (0.37)47-5-13-18 (0.38); career: 161 AHL
The RFA cannot stay healthy, having never played more than 47 games in his four seasons with the org. Future: His production hasn’t changed as a prospect at all, but the argument for him is depth (he’s easy enough to keep), so we’ll see what they do.

Viktor Lodin, C/LW, 1999, 4-94/19; 28-6-9-15 (0.54) – SEL; career: 1 NHL/38 AHL
Future: Injury robbed the RFA of his season and I fear the Sens will walk away because of it. Projecting is difficult, but there’s a chance he could be a 3rd-4th line NHL player with offensive touch (the kind Ottawa is lacking right now). On the other hand, he could also be Roman Wick–which is to say, not quite talented enough for the NHL–we just don’t know.

Angus Crookshank, LW, 1999, 5-126/18; 71-26-21-47 (0.66) – injured; career: 90 AHL
After missing a full season he caught fire towards the end of this one (18-7-8-15); if he was a better skater there’s definitely a place for him at the NHL-level (a smaller, agitating player with some offensive touch), but I think that’s up in the air. Future: He has a year left on his ELC, so plenty of time for him to develop.

Cole Reinhardt, LW, 2000, 6-181/20; 66-11-23-34 (0.52)70-15-15-30 (0.43); 1 NHL/169 AHL
I’ve been hard on him since he was picked, but there were signs of progress despite lengthy cold streaks (1 assist in 12 games in December and no points in 9 in January); he ended the season well (15-5-6-11). Future: A useful AHL-player, but NHL-potential still seems a long way away. He’s going into the final year of his ELC.

Egor Sokolov, RW, 2000, 2-61/20; 70-21-38-59 (0.84) (5 NHL games) – 64-19-31-50 (0.78); 13 NHL/169 AHL
The popular Sokolov improved on last year’s numbers; his issue remains skating–can he keep up at the NHL-level? Future: If we get the classic Dorion deal of 1 year two-way, 1 year one-way, we’ll know the org envisions him on the NHL-roster; if we get a 1 year, two-way deal, then they haven’t made up their minds.

Xavier Bernard, DL, 2000, FA (4-110/18 NJ); 17-0-1-1 (0.05)21-0-2-2 (0.09) traded to Edmonton
Signed a two-year AHL deal two seasons ago, but was unable to be a regular player in Belleville and that reality finally set in with the org late in the season and he was shipped off.

Jacob Bernard-Docker, DR, 2000, 1-26/18; 41-2-4-6 (0.15) (19 NHL games) – 58-2-7-9 (0.15); career: 32 NHL/99 AHL
One of the most anemic offensive players I’ve ever seen, showing no improvement over his rookie season–atrocious numbers, and if you can’t make a good first pass there’s no long term future in the NHL. Despite that, the org loves him (not unusual when it comes to defense-first blueliners). Future: An RFA, it will be interesting to see what kind of deal Dorion gives him–I’d love to see him dealt for a better asset.

Kevin Mandolese, GL, 2000, 6-157/18; 6-8-3 3.33 0.890 (3 NHL games) – 9-5-0 3.12 .901; 3 NHL/43 AHL/16 ECHL
Future: I think the RFA has played his way out of the org (despite how few games he’s actually played over the last three years); never consistent, his flashes of brilliance haven’t been enough to unseat Sogaard and now Merilainen has arrived and needs to play. Future: His only avenue of staying is if Sogaard is ticketed to Ottawa and he becomes a duo with the Finn (the former is certainly possible, but with Mandolese as part of a duo is less so).

Lassi Thomson, DR, 2000, 1-19/19; 56-7-26-33 (0.59) (2 NHL games) – 44-10-16-26 (0.59); career: 18 NHL/135 AHL
A joy to watch, his season totals were crushed by a late cold streak (9 games pointless in March). He’s a dynamic player with good footspeed and there’s a future for him at the next level. Future: He has one year left on his ELC and at the moment it looks like he’ll stay in Belleville where he should dominate.

Mads Sogaard, GL, 2000, 2-37/19; 6-10-2 3.47 .893 (19 NHL games) – 19-14-1 2.86 .908; career: 21 NHL/64 AHL
A down year for the Dane, although a bit more consistent than his buddy Mandolese. Future: I think he needs more time in the AHL and that forcing him into an NHL role next season will hurt his development. He has another year on his ELC, so why not use it to allow him to develop the consistency he needs?

Maxence Guenette, DR, 2001, 7-187/19; 72-5-35-40 (0.56) (1 NHL game) – 48-6-13-19 (0.39); career: 1 NHL/120 AHL
There are parallels between he and former Sens prospect Max Lajoie (who was pushed into the NHL too early, got moved, but has developed well in Carolina–his NHL potential remains up in the air). Guenette had an excellent sophomore season. Future: The org should let him marinade in the AHL and develop. He has one year left on his ELC.

Philippe Daoust, CL, 2001, 6-158/20; 9-2-5-7 (0.78) – QMJHL; career: 24 AHL
His rookie season was ruined by injury, so despite a good start we have no idea what his year would be like. Hopefully he’s fully recovered and will get to demonstrate that next season.

Ridly Greig, CL, 2002, 1-28/20; 39-15-14-29 (0.74) (20 NHL games) – WHL; career: 20 NHL/46 AHL
Enjoyed a strong rookie season, although he fell off in the second half of the season which was split between NHL call-ups (14-3-3-6 in the AHL). Future: There’s going to be a temptation to keep him in Ottawa next year, but another year in Belleville could be good for him (a chance to get stronger, something he needs given his style of play).

Roby Jarventie, LW, 2002, 2-33/20; 40-16-14-30 (0.75)70-11-22-33 (0.47); career: 114 AHL
I’ve been a fan since he was drafted and he enjoyed a strong, if injury-plagued, sophomore year. Future: He should dominate in the upcoming season and he needs to produce because he’s not the kind of player who can grind it out on the fourth line (he has size, but doesn’t play that kind of game). He’s one of the few players in the pipeline who has top-six potential. Due to Covid quirks, much like Reinhardt, one of his seasons in Belleville doesn’t ‘count’, so he still has two years left on his ELC.

I’m not including late adds like Leevi Merilainen or Jorian Donovan, because the sample size is much too small to judge.

Team Performance

BSens coach Troy Mann was fired February 2nd in the midst of his fifth season as the head coach (inexplicably Elite Prospects has his departure date as January 3rd). His brother, Trent, has been running the Sens drafts since 2017 and been with the org since 2011. The reason Troy was fired isn’t clear (one theory involves injured players, which could get the org in trouble with the NHL if true, cf, but if that was true the Sens would have fired him with cause, which they did not). The theory that makes the most sense to me is that Dorion fired him to ensure impressions about him from within the org to new ownership were more controllable (if true, this means Trent Mann is also under the gun).

2021-22 40-28-4 219 218 PP 19.0 PK 82.8
2022-23 31-31-10 233 258 PP 20.7 PK 77.4

Camp add: Boucher
October 3-4-1 (Lukosevicius, Betts added)
November 5-5-0 (Cassels, Saulnier added)
December 4-8-2
January 4-6-1
February 6-4-1 (Mann fired; Quenneville, Ferguson added)
March 5-3-4 (McPhee added; Hawrlyuk, Rubins, Bernard traded)
April 4-2-1 (Blujus added; Lukosevicius, Betts released)

Troy Mann: 17-23-4
David Bell: 14-8-6

The team improved at the end of the season, but their season was sunk by a terrible December-January, highlighted by awful goaltending. Just like the NHL team, Belleville scored more (+14), but unlike Ottawa saw significant issues in preventing goals (-40). What’s ironic is Pierre Dorion loaded up on FA defensive blueliners in the off-season (extending Heatherington and adding Larsson and Rubins), but things got worse (his veteran goaltender also had his worst season since junior). The in-season repairs are presumably Ryan Bowness’ work and were positive, although their effects weren’t felt until the goaltending stabilized. I don’t expect interim coach David Bell to be back–I think his winning record is irrelevant–as I assume new ownership will want a new coach. Bell was the longest serving assistant with Mann (going back to 2019-20), as Bex Sexton and Justin Peters arrived just the season prior (former assistant Colin Chaulk spent just one season before moving to Bakersfield, where he’s now the head coach; video coach Fred Lemay was let go after last season and hasn’t landed in hockey elsewhere).

In terms of development, the most significant jumps were from Jarventie and Guenette, but they are also two of the youngest players, so it’s difficult to credit that to the staff. What Troy Mann has been best at lately is taking older castoffs like Lucchini and getting the most out of them. Overall his work was a welcome relief from the second Kleinendorst era or Luke Richardson previously (cf), although in each off-season Dorion can’t help himself in signing certain types of players (Sabourin is a more useful version of Zack Stortini, Francis Lessard, etc; there’s also the Heatherington mold, ala Guillaume Lepine or Paul Baier). Broadly speaking, Dorion thinks the team needs an older fighter and big, veteran blueliners, but those decisions are now being nudged into less eye-bleeding territory.

Overall it was a disappointing season, both in terms of performance and in expectations. We had no failed seasons from prospects (except Mandolese, but fail may be too strong a word), but also no breakout performances. Some of that is due to the caliber of prospects beginning to drop (the high end players from the rebuild are in the NHL now), but some of that is simply due to a down year. How much is Mann’s fault? I think the blame is fairly shared with Dorion and management, who cannot help themselves in signing free agents who don’t pan out. Ultimately the biggest struggle for the BSens was goaltending, and Bibeau was not up to the task of bailing them out (requiring the Ferguson trade). This specific problem happened previously (17-18 with Danny Taylor). The other recurring issue is the lack of a #1 puck-moving blueliner, something the org didn’t even try to add, but hasn’t successfully added since since Andre Benoit (12-13)–the hope was that prospects can carry the mail, but that’s a lot of pressure on those players and other than Chabot (for a few games in 17-18) has never panned out. Overall, it’s a failed season, even if it does contain a number of positives.

I’ll write a separate article looking at prospects who might be appearing on the BSens horizon and what to expect.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Ottawa Senators Season Wrap-up

The biggest point of discussion right now is not the team but the GM. One of the more hilarious defenses I’ve heard of Dorion is: 1) all his errors are Melnyk’s fault, or 2) all GMs make mistakes (Zibanejad for Brassard could happen to anyone). Ian Mendes points out Dorion is on the threshold of breaking a historical precedent of being the longest employed GM who consistently missed the playoffs (if he finishes next season he will break Carolina’s Bill Peters record of 328 games). Ian has pushed this point by saying if the team isn’t going to make the playoffs, Dorion should step aside (going through the GM’s rather hilarious pronouncements over the years about his goals and the state of rebuild–comments he’s conveniently forgotten). This willingness to push the org is one of the things I like about Mendes and perhaps the reason he’s at The Athletic and no longer hosting TSN 1200 anymore. The Mendes career arc reminded me of the contrast with Travis Yost, who made his name doing journalism about the team on Hockeybuzz, but now restricts himself to analytics on TSN.

As Mendes mentioned, coming into this season, just like last season (2021-22) and going back to 2019-20, Ottawa was supposed to make a serious push for the playoffs. How different has this season been? Let’s look at the raw numbers:

2021-22 33-42-7 224 (26th) 264 (22nd) PP 19.3 (20th) PK 80.3 (13th)
2022-23 39-35-8 259 (18th) 270 (20th) PP 23.5 (8th) PK 80.1(14th)

Finishing with 86 points (13 more than last year), the team was 11th in the east and 21st overall (moving up 5 spots in the standings). The major difference (6 more wins) was due to an increase in offense (35 more goals), as the team gave up slightly more goals (+6), and their PK was essentially unchanged (-0.2%).

Before we have fun and look at offense, let’s look at the part of the game ex-players and coaches spend 99% of their time talking about: defense. Clearly the coach has limited impact, so let’s focus on personnel. What’s changed between seasons?

Thomas Chabot, DL, 1-18/15, 59-7-31-38 0.62 (0.60) 27th among d-men
Michael Del Zotto, DL, FA, 26-3-10-13 0.50 (0.36) -> AHL
Travis Hamonic, DR, T-Van (3-80/22, Elias Pettersson), 43-4-6-10 0.23 (0.26)
Artyom Zub, DR, FA, 81-6-16-22 0.27 (0.28)
Nick Holden, DL, T-VGK (Dadonov trade), 76-5-14-19 0.25 (0.28)
Erik Brannstrom, DL, T-VGK (Stone trade), 53-0-14-14 0.26 (0.27)
Nikita Zaitsev, DR, T-Tor (Ceci trade), 62-2-9-11 0.17 (0.26)
Victor Mete, DL, Waivers, 37-0-7-7 0.18 (0.21) -> 9th D in Toronto
Thomas Chabot, DL, 1-18/15, 68-11-30-41 0.60 (0.62) tied for 31st among d-men
Jake Sanderson, DL, 1-5/20, 77-4-28-32 0.42 (NCAA) 3rd rookie d-men
Jakob Chychrun, DL, T-Ari (1st 2023, Wsh 2nd 2024, 2nd 2026), 12-2-3-5 0.42 (0.44)
Travis Hamonic, DR, T-Van (3-80/22, Elias Pettersson), 75-6-15-21 0.28 (0.23)
Nick Holden, DL, T-VGK (Dadonov trade), 65-2-14-16 0.25 (0.25)
Erik Brannstrom, DL, T-VGK (Stone trade), 74-2-16-18 0.24 (0.26)
Artyom Zub, DR, FA, 53-3-7-10 0.19 (0.27)
Nikita Zaitsev, DR, T-Tor (Ceci trade)/T-Chi (2nd 2023, 4th 2026 in return for nothing), 28-0-5-5 0.18 (0.17)

The major change year-to-year was the addition of Sanderson, an obvious upgrade, but that only impacted offensive numbers (Chychrun didn’t play enough this season for his effect to be felt). If the top-four can stay healthy, I think the Sens have a competitive group, although the quality of the depth behind them remains untested. How will the roster change? I thought Holden would be allowed to walk (and he was); I think the team will trade Brannstrom (who is ill-suited to the 5-6 spot) with either a sign-and-trade or a direct move. If that’s correct, that means Kleven and JBD move onto the roster (I think Thomson is better than JDB, whose limitations with the puck are exceptional, but I’m not making the decisions–Dorion may give JBD the classic first year two-way, second year one-way to keep his cap number down). I’m unsure about Hamonic–I’d let him walk, but I feel like Dorion will keep him if it’s on a team-friendly deal (he apparently talked to him about a one-year deal).

It’s worth addressing the offensive side of this group. Chabot has settled into a predictable range of production which, while good, is at the bottom end of top blueline producers. Adding Sanderon and Chychrun shifts the group out of the utterly anemic, but it’s unclear if there’s an elite puck mover (Sanderson could get there, perhaps, although that’s not how he was projected when drafted–granted, having read more Corey Pronman than any healthy person should, it’s a default reflex from him to criticize offensive ability); at 25 you’d think Chychrun‘s production won’t change much, but people like Jason York and Denis Potvin think it takes a long time for a blueliner to hit their stride, so increases are possible. A team can win without an elite offensive defensemen, but it’s rare to win to a Cup without one (Carolina in 2006 is what immediately springs to mind).

Let’s move to goaltending (the position Bob Essensa seems to understand so well):

Anton Forsberg, GL, Waivers-WPG, .917 (.909)
Matt Murray, GL, T-Tor (3rd 2023 and 7th 2024 for nothing in return), .906 (.911) -> continued decline in Toronto (.903)
Filip Gustavsson, GL, T-Min (Talbot trade), .892 (.905) -> Career year (.931)
Cam Talbot, GL, T-Min (Gustavsson trade), .898 (.911)
Anton Forsberg, GL, Waivers-WPG, .902 (.917)
Mads Sogaard, GL, 2-37/19, .889 (.889)

Numbers went down, with Talbot reverting to his late Edmonton form (as the analytics community warned he could), and Forsberg dropping towards his career average. In short, the goaltending was not very good. I expect Talbot to be let go (now confirmed, although Dorion tried to re-sign him in January), but will the team go with Forsberg/Sogaard? I’m not sure, particularly given the cap situation (see below). I’m doubtful of the pair, although you have to wonder how much of the performance in Ottawa rests on the shoulders of goaltending coach Zac Bierk. More broadly, goalies don’t tend to hit their stride until 25-26 and Sogaard turns 23 in December. My preference would see Sogaard play in Belleville next year and have the Sens sign someone else to play with Forsberg. Ottawa has a long track record of rushing goalie prospects (Robin Lehner, Brian Elliott, and Filip Gustavsson come to mind), so it will be interesting to see what they do.

Defensive Forwards
The other factor is the assemblage of ‘defensive forwards’ taking up space at the bottom of the roster (a tendency Dorion has had in the AHL as well): Joseph, Kelly, Kastelic, Watson, Gambrell, and the added P. Brown. This group changed absolutely nothing. The org should let Watson, Brown, and Gambrell walk, but D. J. Smith seems to love Gambrell and Dorion loves Watson, so it’s unclear if they will. Keep in mind on good teams there’s a scoring threat throughout the lineup, something Ottawa does not currently have. I think we can also accept that not only did the Sens overpay to acquire Joseph, but signing him to a lengthy deal was also a mistake (as I said at the time, at least his salary is low enough he can probably be moved, but I wouldn’t expect much in return).

Small Sample Size and Late Season Production

I mentioned this last year and I’ll say it again: pay no attention to numbers put up at the end of the season. It happened to Joseph last year and he’s a great illustration of how little it means (his season this year is almost an exact mirror of his 20-21 year in Tampa). Since the Bryan Murray-era (07-08) the Sens have had a bad habit of being won over by small sample size and I’m interested to see what they do with the potpourri of miscellaneous marginalia Dorion added before the trade deadline. Let’s quickly go through it (we’ll grade it via this criteria: did they perform as advertised, was their performance worth the cost, and did they help the team win?):

Patrick Brown, RW, age 30-31 (acquired from Philadelphia for a 2023 6th-rounder)
Phi 43-2-5-7 0.16
Ott 18-2-3-5 0.27
NHL career 138-10-14-24 0.17
I have no clue what Dorion was thinking here. You could argue that Brown isn’t even an NHL player and as he’s about to turn 31 there’s no performance upside to project (albeit there’s some bafflement in seeing former Sens 1st-rounder Stefan Noesen evolving into a useful player in Carolina at 30, but in his case there had been flashes of this before in New Jersey). I’d rather have a 6th-round pick despite the odds then six weeks of Brown (my updated look at draft performance is forthcoming btw). The Sens should walk away from him at season’s end, but apparently have talked to him about staying.
Grade: F (performance as expected, but failed the other two categories)

Julien Gauthier, RW, age 25-26 (acquired from the Rangers to get rid of off-season signee Tyler Motte)
NYR 40-6-3-9 0.22
Ott 17-3-2-5 0.29
NHL career 153-14-18-32 0.21
Has the size the org loves (he’s 6’4), but there’s a reason why this is the 1st-rounder’s third team already. He’s not talented enough to play in the top-six and despite his size he can’t (or won’t) bang and grind on the fourth line. With that said I was fine with Dorion taking a chance on him given the exchange (especially since he got a pick back as well). The right thing to do is to let Gauthier walk despite his RFA status (since Sokolov will grind), but we may be in a Dylan Gambrell situation where the Sens fall in love with a marginal player.
Grade: C (performance and cost were fine, but did not help the team win)

I’m looking at these additions instead of Jakob Chychrun because the deal with Phoenix was about more than just the stretch-run (I looked at it here and I think it’s a fantastic trade). I’ve also left out the Nikita Zaitsev trade for the same reason–no bodies were added, so even though I think it’s a bad trade (link above), it’s not relevant to the immediate roster. If the above seems familiar–paying a cost for irrelevant depth player–it’s because Dorion has a long, long history of doing this–just as he does with Zaitsevs by another name (bodies brought in at cost whom he then has to pay more to get rid of–Matt Murray, Josh Brown, etc). It’s a sign that Dorion (and his staff) have not evolved much. I’ve always said that Ottawa’s amateur scouting has been good (or at least average), but their pro scouting has been terrible.

What about the off-season? Let’s look at the bodies that were brought in to make Ottawa a playoff team:

Alex Debrincat, RW, age 25-26 (acquired from Chicago at tremendous cost)
Chi 82-41-37-78 0.95
Ott 82-27-39-66 0.80
Career 450-187-186-373 0.83
When he was signed I had a lot of concerns, something not shared in the fanbase until six months later, but echoed by outsiders at the time. The Sens paid an enormous price for someone they have to re-sign after one season–a similar scenario to when Dorion traded for Matt Duchene in 2017 and whose disastrous results I went through (link above). In terms of the numbers, I think they’re less than expected but fine, but aren’t the numbers of a 9 million dollar player, nor is it clear just how much the Sens needed to add a player like him. To me he’s the sixth best forward on the team (behind Tkachuk, Stutzle, Giroux, Norris, and Batherson), but he’s not going to sign for Batherson-money, so what are you going to do with him? Dorion can’t recoup the cost of adding him and I can’t imagine retaining him through a nine million dollar season (ownership aside, what would be the point?). Back in September I talked about the Cap problems Dorion was steering the team towards and while a deep-pocketed owner could partially solve them, it’s very easy to hit that ceiling and they need deals for Pinto, a long term deal for Sanderson (kicking in the year after), an extension for Chychrun (the season after that), and something for Formenton (they have to do something with that asset at least)–with Debrincat already qualified they are at 74.77 million. Reading the tea leaves it seems like the org wants to move on from Debrincat, something I gauge from local media and personalities promoting the idea–typically that does not happen when the org is keen on keeping him.
Grade: C (performance is fine, but fails the other two categories)

Cam Talbot, GL, age 35-36 (acquired from Minnesota for Filip Gustavsson)
Min 49gp 2.76 0.911
Ott 36gp 2.93 0.898
When the deal was made I thought it was a worthwhile risk to have someone experienced backing-up Forsberg (whose future success I had major concerns about and keeping in mind I did not think Ottawa was going to make the playoffs this year); it also seemed like Gustavsson needed a change from Ottawa. Travis Yost sounded the alarm immediately, talking about concerning underlying numbers and the analytics were on point. Even if he’d stayed healthy, this has been an awful year for the ‘tender (his worst since Edmonton in 2018-19). The team is letting him walk, as they should, although it’s on-point for Dorion to have tried to keep him despite his performance.
Grade: F (on all counts)

Tyler Motte, LW, age 28 (FA from NYR, who had picked him up from Vancouver to be part of their playoff run)
Van/NYR 58-7-8-15 0.25
Ott 38-3-6-9 0.23
NHL career 331-43-38-81 0.24
When signed I had no idea what Dorion was thinking (Nichols thought a career year of underlying numbers was prophetic–it was not). Ottawa was stuffed with players like him and he was shipped out for the cheaper and younger Gauthier (above).
Grade: F (performance was fine, but failed the other categories)

Derick Brassard, LW, age 35-36 (FA from Edmonton, who got him from Philadelphia for the playoffs and didn’t use him)
Phi/Edm 46-8-11-19 0.41
Ott 62-13-10-23 0.37
NHL career 1013-215-330-545 0.53
In the twilight of his career, the player Ottawa give up Mika Zibanejad for (classic Dorion move) returned to play a minor role on a team going nowhere. When they signed him I didn’t see the point, but also thought there was no harm in doing it and that’s how it’s turned out. I don’t think he helped or hurt the team (most of his production was on the second unit PP), as within the realm of things Dorion, adding him was tolerable. There’s no place for him on the team next season (I see Dorion offering him a PTO as a polite waive goodbye).
Grade: C (performance/cost were fine, but failed the other category)

With the exception of Debrincat, none of these players have the value of Alex Formenton, who missed the entire season in the NLA (22-10-3-13) ostensibly for contract reasons, but I suspect for optics (as Dorion more or less admitted in his press conference). As I’ve discussed before, I don’t know the truth of what happened, but I’ve learned the lesson not to simply assume until matters have gone further than they have here–with no tangible legal action being taken, I’m guessing the NHL’s investigation will more or less absolve him (unlike the Chicago/Brad Aldrich situation, where there was evidence aplenty to bring the hammer down, or like Slava Voynov for that matter).

Offensive Improvement

The part of the game that brings people to the rink and gets talked about the least–offense! Scoring 35 more goals is hugely significant and the reason the team won more games. Let’s compare last season to this one:

Drake Batherson, RW, 4-121/17, 46-17-27-44 0.95 (0.67)
Brady Tkachuk, LW/C, 1-4/18, 79-30-37-67 0.84 (0.69)
Josh Norris, C, T-SJ (Karlsson deal), 66-35-20-55 0.83 (0.72)
Tim Stutzle, C/LW, 1-3/20 (Karlsson trade), 79-22-36-58 0.73 (0.66)
Connor Brown, RW, T-Tor/T-Wsh (Ceci trade; Wsh 2/24 flipped for Chychrun), 64-10-29-39 0.60 (0.49) -> played 4 games due to injury
Tyler Ennis, C/W, FA, 57-8-16-24 0.42 (0.49) -> NLA (37-13-20-33)
Alex Formenton, LW, 2-47/17, RFA, 79-18-14-32 0.40 (0.30) -> NLA (22-10-3-13)
Mathieu Joseph, C/W, T-TB (Paul trade), 69-12-18-30 0.43 (0.35)
Parker Kelly, C/LW, FA, 41-7-5-12 0.29 (AHL)
Chris Tierney, C, FA (Karlsson trade), 1 yr, 70-6-12-18 0.25 (0.40) -> dumped by Florida onto Montreal (0.27)
Austin Watson, W, T-Nsh (4-124/21, Jack Matier), 67-10-6-16 0.23 (0.25)
Mark Kastelic, C, 5-125/19, 16-2-2-4 0.25 (AHL)
Adam Gaudette, C, Waivers, 50-4-8-12 0.24 (0.32) -> AHL
Shane Pinto, C, 2-32/19, 5-0-1-1 0.20 (0.47)
Dylan Gambrell, C, T-SJ (7-204/22, Adam Zlnka), 63-3-4-7 0.11 (0.17)
Tim Stutzle, C/LW, 1-3/20 (Karlsson trade), 78-39-51-90 1.15 (0.73)
Brady Tkachuk, LW/C, 1-4/18, 82-35-48-83 1.01 (0.84)
Claude Giroux, C/RW, FA, 82-35-44-79 0.96 (0.86)
Alex Debrincat, W, T-Chi (1-7/22, Kevin Korchinski, 2-39/22, Paul Ludwinski, 3/24), 82-27-39-66
0.80 (0.95)
Drake Batherson, RW, 4-121/17, 82-22-40-62 0.76 (0.95)
Ridly Greig, CL, 1-28/20 (Pageau trade), 20-2-7-9 0.45 (WHL)
Shane Pinto, C, 2-32/19, 82-20-15-35 0.43 (0.20)
Josh Norris, C, T-SJ (Karlsson trade), 8-2-1-3 0.38 (0.83)
Derick Brassard, CL, FA, 62-13-10-23 0.37 (0.41)
Mathieu Joseph, C/W, T-TB (Paul trade), 56-3-15-18 0.32 (0.43)
Julien Gauthier, RW, T-NYR (Motte trade), 17-3-2-5 0.29 (0.22)
Patrick Brown, CR, T-Phi (6th 2023), 18-2-3-5 0.28 (0.20)
Tyler Motte, CL, T-NYR (Gauthier trade), 38-3-6-9 0.24 (0.25)
Mark Kastelic, C, 5-125/19, 65-7-4-11 0.17 (0.25)
Dylan Gambrell, C, T-SJ (7-204/22, Adam Zlnka), 60-4-6-10 0.17 (0.11)
Austin Watson, W, T-Nsh (4-124/21, Jack Matier), 75-9-2-11 0.15 (0.23)
Parker Kelly, C/LW, FA, 55-1-3-4 0.07 (0.29)

Despite losing Norris for most of the season, career years from Stutzle (who was fully moved to center) and Tkachuk powered the team forward; Giroux also had a fantastic season (his best since 18-19). Pinto, returning from having missed most of last year, posted numbers similar to his rookie year (0.47). Batherson, troubled by injury and the accusations that chased Formenton, had a solid year, but down from the year prior. Kelly and Watson both declined (the former off a cliff), Joseph returned to typical numbers and we got a taste of Greig at this level (who is a couple of years away from fully hitting his stride). Broadly, the Sens had a top-six that can compete, but things fall off beyond that (Pinto wasn’t ready to fill a top-six role).

In terms of forward contracts, DeBrincat, Pinto, Gambrell, and Gauthier are RFAs (Mark Wallace believes all RFAs will be resigned), while Watson, Brown, and Brassard are UFAs. With the exception of Pinto and DeBrincat, I’d let them all walk. Locking up Pinto ought to be the priority, but I’d move DeBrincat (see above; perhaps with a sign-and-trade). Do I think the Sens will do all the above? No. One or both of Watson and Gambrell will be kept (we’ve had confirmation that Dorion wants the former back, but there’s disagreement over term so it may not happen) and a number of scenarios are possible with DeBrincat (he might get the Mark Stone treatment–Dorion will want to recoup the 1st-round pick he gave up for DeBrincat, but unless he’s very lucky it won’t be in the top-ten, so even if he gets it, it won’t be the same value).

The Lineup

We’ll go through what I’d do and then what I think Dorion/Smith will do (assuming they both remain). Keep in mind that for the 2023 draft, Ottawa has just 4 picks, with the earliest in the 4th round, so immediate depth can’t come from it (barring trades). Players in italics are either possible targets to move or could wind up in the minors (I’ve used the CapFriendly RFA calculator for qualifying numbers–I’m not implying all or even most will wind up at that number, it’s just the bare minimum if they stay).

Tkachuk (8.2/5yrs) – Stutzle (8.35/8yrs) – Giroux (6.5/2 yrs)
LW UFA/tradeNorris (7.95/7yrs) – Batherson (4.975/4yrs)
Formenton (RFA)Pinto (RFA, 0.874) – Joseph (2.95/3yrs)
Crookshank (0.838/1yr)Kastelic (0.835/2yrs) – Sokolov (RFA, 0.787)

Extra: LW Kelly (0.762/1yr)

Chabot (8.0/5yrs) – Zub (4.6/4yrs)
Sanderson (0.925/1yr) – Chychrun (4.6/2yrs)
Kleven (0.916/2yrs)Thomson (0.863/1yr)

Extra: RD Bernard-Docker (RFA, 0.874)

Forsberg (2.75/2yrs) – UFA G

Meaningful Prospects (those the org thinks could be ready)
G Sogaard (0.925/1yr), C/LW Greig (0.863/2yrs)
Prospects to be re-signed/signed or released
LD Larsson (RFA), G Ferguson (RFA), C/LW Lodin (RFA), LD Aspirot (RFA), G Mandolese (RFA), LD Tychonick (2-48/18), L/LW Novak (7-188/18), C Loheit (7-194/18), RD Roger* (2-49/21), RW Latimer (4-123/21), LD Romeo (7-202/21)
* Roger signed an ATO in Belleville, but never dressed for a game

My iteration of the team has an improved third line while letting (older) prospects fill out the fourth (I left Joseph in the lineup–while he should ultimately be moved, the return would be poor and in the short-term he’s fine to start with). Either the trading of Debrincat or through free agency the team grabs a leftwinger to slot in with Norris on the second line (I’ve seen the dreams of Pierre-Luc Dubois, but I don’t think the Sens can afford him). While neither Sokolov or Crookshank bang like Watson, both go to the dirty areas and they have better hands. The downside is neither are particularly fast (unlike Kelly–granted, Watson isn’t either), but they are cheap and if there are issues are easily cycled back to Belleville. On the blueline I prefer Thomson to JDB, with the latter serving as a competent #7 or #8 who can fill-in for the inevitable injuries. Thomson would be a good compliment to Kleven–a fast, puck-moving blueliner next to a physical one. In the crease Sogaard needs more seasoning–he’s been maddeningly inconsistent at both levels, so I’d sign a veteran to play with Forsberg. What do I think Dorion will do? Differences in red.

Tkachuk (8.2/5yrs) – Stutzle (8.35/8yrs) – Giroux (6.5/2 yrs)
DeBrincat (9.0/1yr)Norris (7.95/7yrs) – Batherson (4.975/4yrs)
LW UFAPinto (RFA, 0.874) – Joseph (2.95/3yrs)
Kelly (0.762/1yr)Kastelic (0.835/2yrs) – P. Brown (UFA)

Extra: RW Gauthier (RFA, 0.840), C/RW Gambrell (RFA, 0.997)

Chabot (8.0/5yrs) – Zub (4.6/4yrs)
Sanderson (0.925/1yr) – Chychrun (4.6/2yrs)
Kleven (0.916/2yrs)Hamonic (UFA)

Extra: RD Bernard-Docker (RFA, 0.874)

Forsberg (2.75/2yrs) – Sogaard (0.925/1yr)

I think Dorion will move Debrincat, but I have no idea when, so I’ve left him on the board. I think Formenton will be signed and moved (probably for picks; there’s no point in leaving him in Switzerland–this isn’t a Mikael Wikstrand situation), as will Brannstrom (also for picks). He’s approached Brown to stay and, really, where else is he going to go? Both Gauthier and Gambrell are cheap and easy to keep, albeit playing the same side makes keeping both redundant. On the blueline we know Dorion loves JBD, but I think he’ll bring back Hamonic if the numbers work for both sides (it’s likely more about contract length than cost). Finally, pushing young goalies into the lineup is a proud org tradition, so I suspect Sogaard will back-up Forsberg.

Final Thoughts

The Sens became an entertaining team to watch this season, despite having plenty of problems. I like a lot of the components and the foundation is there for a playoff team, but do they have the management to get them there?

I’ve long thought Dorion was a terrible GM (going back to the Zibanejad trade), but I like the long term deals he signed this off-season (other than Joseph) and the fantastic trade for Chychrun (assuming he can stay healthy and be re-signed). The problem remains all the other nonsense he does–what, really, was the point of getting DeBrincat? It’s similar to the Duchene trade or Zibanejad trade. The team didn’t actually need Debrincat‘s offensive punch; he costs too much (both in terms of assets spent and in real dollars) and he was always just two seasons away from controlling his own fate. Beyond that we have Dorion’s persistent belief in marginal players who inevitably crash and burn (either absolutely or in terms of expectations). This was apparent on the AHL side as well, although of late someone has stopped some of it (he does his damage in the off-season, then during the year better moves are made). The best thing for the future would be to dump Dorion before he can tinker too much more (realistically he’ll be around for the draft and the beginning of free agency), but until we have a new owner it’s difficult to know what will happen (they may well give him one more season). I’d also get rid of most of the team’s pro scouts, since poor pro scouting has long been a problem in Ottawa.

This article was written by Peter Levi

The NHL’s Playoff Problem, Goaltending in Belleville, and More

The NHL needs a playoff refresh. I mentioned this in passing a year ago, but a struggling league needs an injection of excitement that goes beyond the recent increase in scoring (cf). In the halcyon days of the Original Six (1942-43 to 1966-67), 66% of the teams made the playoffs and while when I was growing up (the 1980s), 16 of 21 teams (76%) made it to the post-season. We can debate what the ‘appropriate’ percentage of contenders is abstractly, but the fact is that a team making the playoffs is better for the fanbase and the franchises–it maintains hope and excitement throughout the long regular season. If the NHL wants to remain at its current 50% tally (I have no idea why, as it was a slow process that took 30 years), at least add a play-in format to give more of the league the opportunity. As it stands, each season there are close to ten teams that have nothing to play for–that’s not healthy. The Premier League gets around this problem by having other things for mid and low-tier teams to play for, but the NHL can’t function that way. The AHL has solved the problem by having 23 of its 32 teams (72%, so very close to the NHL of the 1980s) make the playoffs. Too many fanbases have nothing to look forward to other than the draft all season. Maintaining the static 16 playoff teams of 1979 is probably due to a fear of the playoffs running even later into the summer, but that’s easy to solve and you could do it without cutting the regular season down. Americans don’t watch the latter stages of the playoffs anyway (ratings are unchanged since 2008), so worrying about that is pointless–accept that hockey is a regional sport and give those supporters something to get excited about.

What a debut for Leevi Merilainen, who made 41-saves for a shutout in the BSens 4-0 win over Toronto. I wonder if that performance has slammed the door on bringing back Kevin Mandolese, who hasn’t been able to perform consistency over his three years as a pro. It’s been a bizarre season in Belleville who are a nightmare defensively (despite loading up on big blueliners this summer). Let’s take a look at the goaltending (in order of games played and we’ll exclude the Finnish rookie for now):
Antonie Bibeau (6-172/13 Tor), 28, QMJHL-AHL, 22GP, 1119min, 9-9-2, 3.43, .896
Hasn’t been a starter in the AHL since 2018-19 and after this season I think he will struggle to find a spot in the league; his numbers are similar to Sogaard’s, but you expect more from a veteran
Mads Sogaard (2-37/19 Ott), 22, WHL-AHL-NHL, 21GP, 1055min, 6-9-2, 3.30, .898
Fans are very familiar with him given that he’s played in 16 NHL games this season; his AHL numbers have seen a steady decline in save percentage (0.917-0.908-0.898), which is a mix of inconsistency and the quality of defensive play in front of him
Kevin Mandolese (6-157/18 Ott), 22, QMJHL-ECHL-AHL, 17GP, 1008min, 6-8-3, 3.33, 0.890
The unfortunate thing for him is his year-by-year save percentage has remained middling (0.888-0.901-0.890); I don’t think occasional flashes of brilliance (like his first NHL-game) are enough to illustrate he’s got NHL potential in him, but keep in mind goaltending progression is weird and slow (‘tenders often hitting their stride in their mid-20s)
Dylan Ferguson (7-194/17 Dal), 26, WHL-ECHL-AHL, 7GP, 332min, 5-1-0, 2.35, .924
Hasn’t been a starting goaltender since his days in junior; flopped out of the Toronto org and then caught fire here–is this a sustainable performance? I doubt it, but he’s probably done enough to get an AHL-deal for next season (here or elsewhere)
Logan Flodell, 26, WHL-Cdn U-ECHL, 5GP, 174min, 1-0-0, 5.88, 0.813
The BSens called him up from the ECHL last season as well and while he wasn’t great then (0.881) he wasn’t as nightmarish as this season (he’s been equally bad in his only ECHL start this year, 0.813)
Luke Richardson, 23, OHL-Cdn U, 3 GP, 150min, 0-1-1, 3.99, 0.873
Acceptable numbers for someone still playing university hockey at Queens, but this is not someone you want starting games
Ryan Bednard (7-206/15 Flo), 26, NCAA-ECHL, 1GP, 64min, 0-0-1, 3.74, .875
Drafted and signed by Florida, he’s become a good ECHL goaltender; his one appearance wasn’t horrible, but the save percentage just isn’t up to what’s needed

One trend that Dorion and Mann have really sunk their teeth into is drafting, signing, and trading for players whose fathers were in the NHL. I’m sure others have covered this, but it’s quite remarkable just how many there are within the org:
Brady Tkachuk – son of Keith (1201-538-527-1065)
Jake Sanderson – son of Geoff (1104-355-345-700)
Jakob Chychrun – son of Jeff (262-3-22-25)
Ridley Greig – son of Mark (125-13-27-40)
Patrick Brown – son of Doug (854-160-214-374)
Cole Cassels (AHL) – son of Andrew (1015-204-528-732)
Matthew Boucher (AHL) – son of Philippe (748-94-206-300)
Graham McPhee (AHL) – son of George (115-24-25-49)
Tyler Boucher (OHL) – son of Brian (328gp)
Jorian Donovan (OHL) – son of Shean (951-112-129-241)
Signing players like this is something Dorion has done for a long time and while there are some obvious successes, for the most part this does not work out–it’s quite rare for the son of an NHLer to also be a good NHL player.

From watching the team play (the cherished eyeball test that keeps most TV and radio folks employed), the Sens fourth line gets destroyed by good teams–the depth at forward needs serious work for the team to become a true playoff threat. I also remain (cf) mystified at the org’s enthusiasm for Bernard-Docker–I’m not opposed to defensive-minded players, but I at least need them to distribute the puck and I’m not convinced JBD can do that at the NHL-level (his ppg in the AHL isn’t quite 0.15 despite time on the powerplay–that doesn’t inspire confidence, as it’s barely more than half Fredrik Claesson‘s (a player much like JBD) initial production and that’s a prospect who fell out of the NHL after 57 games outside the org. Ottawa has a long history of falling in love with marginal defense-first prospects who then disappear from the league once Ottawa trades them (let’s not forget that the Sens offered Jared Cowen an eight-year deal).

This article was written by Peter Levi

Lucky Number Kleven

Yes, I remember the stupid advertisements for that movie, so now you can too. Headline aside, in the least surprisingly development of the season (cf), the Sens have signed Tyler Kleven (2-44/20) to an ELC. It’s a 3-year deal, which is plenty of time should he require seasoning in Belleville. For those who don’t recall, the Sens packaged two 2nd-round picks to Toronto (Roni Hirvonen (signed; Liiga 57-15-13-28) and Topi Niemela (signed; Liiga 58-8-10-18)) to acquire the pick they used for Kleven. Back in 2021, Corey Pronman (The Athletic) pegged him as a bottom-pairing defensemen, which hadn’t changed a year later. According to Dorion, he’ll play in a couple of NHL games. The signing isn’t about this season however, but next (I suspect in Belleville to start). The org likes to compare his hitting to Dion Phaneuf‘s, but hitting means less in the game than it has since (maybe) the Original Six, so I’m more interested in the other aspects of his game. As for his performance, remember that one good game doesn’t make him great and one bad game doesn’t make him awful–we’re looking for a body of work over time.

Another move the Sens made is bringing Leevi Merilainen over from Finland. Karpat’s season is over and the Sens goaltending situation is a mess, so the move makes sense. He’ll get some starts, as Mandolese‘s numbers have not been great in the AHL (.889), Sogaard and Ferguson are in Ottawa, Bibeau (.892) was awful returning from injury (5 goals and .861), and none of the other lower league goaltenders have performed well. Merilainen had one mediocre season in the OHL, but played well in Finland, so it will be interesting to see how he does with the BSens. I’m more excited for him than Kleven at this stage, largely because his potential impact is far greater (Pronman’s analysis, above, is cursory and based on his prior season–doesn’t make it wrong, but food for thought).

It’s funny how many goaltenders have to leave Ottawa to find their game. The 24-year old (soon to be 25) Filip Gustavsson is enjoying a career year in Minnesota. As a straight one-for-one trade it’s easy to compare his numbers with Cam Talbot:
Gustavsson – 33GP 18-9-5 2.04 .932
Talbot – 32GP 15-14-1 2.85 .904
He leads in every category, but context is important: Minnesota is a better team (41-22-9 vs 35-32-5) and a better defensive team (197GA vs 233GA). There is some sort of Pierre Dorion karmic cycle in effect where most of his pro deals crash and burn. The Wild will undoubtedly keep Gus (an RFA) while Talbot (35+ UFA) was always imagined to be one-and-done. The Sens (going back to Bryan Murray) have had insanely inconsistent approaches with goaltenders and generally picked poorly on when to be patient and when to give up (Ben Bishop, Brian Elliott, Robin Lehner, Chris Driedger, and even depth ‘tenders like Joey Daccord). [After I posted this, The Athletic rated him as the second-best off-season acquisition among goaltenders in the NHL.]

This article was written by Peter Levi

Interesting NCAA/CHL/European Free Agents and Ottawa’s Success with Them

I don’t expect Ottawa to sign any college or European free agents this year (it’s a tough sell since where are they going to play in the lineup?), but I wanted to look at the names being bandied about (here for multiple leagues, here just for the NCAA). Overall the Sens have an awful track record with such free agents (Zub is the obvious exception) and I’ll touch on that below. I’ve included Pronman’s ranking from his top-30 list in brackets and those included in the other article have a star (*); those since signed are in green:

Hardy Haman Aktell, LD, DOB 98 (1) – (4-108/16 Nsh; SHL 51-9-27-36) The analysis: “can make a good first pass and has a strong point shot. His skating will be a major limitation in the NHL, but I think he defends well enough to potentially overcome that and be a third-pair defenseman in the league.” Aktell was unranked when Nashville selected him and it seems like they picked him for the same untapped potential being discussed seven years later. Signed by Washington.
Jiri Smejkal, LW, DOB 96 (6) – (SHL 49-23-20-43) “Big, powerful winger with good skills who can help on both special teams. His skating is just OK and whether he will score in North America is a question.” A lack of offensive talent has never troubled the org, although at his age (27) I doubt he’d cross the pond for anything other than an guaranteed spot on the NHL roster. Signed by Ottawa.
Grigori Dronov, LD, DOB 98 (16) – (KHL 41-8-11-19) “Can move pucks well and is able to defend well at the KHL level. The big issue for him in the NHL will be his mobility.” I’m not sure the Sens have ever had this combination of good hands but questionable skating on the blueline–plenty of the latter, but they always have hands of stone as well.
Konstantin Okulov, RW, DOB 95 (17) – (KHL 60-18-36-54) “Has very good offensive skills and is a legit goal-scoring threat at the highest levels. His shot can beat quality goalies from the circles. Whether Okulov’s feet will hold up in the NHL is a question. I don’t think either his compete or skating really stand out.” A KHL veteran wound only cross the pond for a roster spot in the NHL and the Sens wouldn’t do that at this stage (at least with a forward).
Rickard Hugg, LW, DOB 99 (18) – (SHL 52-13-24-37) “Competes well and can score, but he’s 5-foot-11 and not a great skater.” The Sens have experimented with forwards who have good hands and can’t skate (Cole Schneider among others). I had him pegged as a fifth-round pick in 2017, but he went undrafted.
Valetti Pulli, LD, DOB 01 (23) – (Liiga 53-3-14-17) “Has some hockey sense, but his puck game is limited. I’ve seen worse feet on a big guy like him but I wouldn’t call his skating an asset either” He sounds a bit like Andrej Sustr (300+ NHL games) if he pans out. Size is a drug NHL GM’s can’t quit either.
Isac Brannstrom, LW, DOB 98 (30) – (SHL 47-13-16-29) “Very skilled and creative with the puck, and can run a pro power play effectively with his great vision. He works hard enough, but he’s not that big and unlike his brother [Erik], he’s not an amazing skater.” Again skating is rarely an issue for the Sens, but size is something they covet.

Owen Pederson, LW, DOB 02 (7) – (WHL 62-32-41-73) “Excellent puck skills and size, and can create a lot around the net which makes him intriguing for the pro game. Pederson’s skating has and continues to be an issue.” The org used to have a heavy western bias when it came to CHL FA’s and while it’s not as universal as it was, it’s easy to name a few signed or drafted recently (Parker Kelly, Zach Ostapchuk, and Mark Kastelic).
Christopher Sedoff, LD, DOB 02 (10) – (WHL 58-4-46-50) “The offense has been good. As an older WHL player it’s hard to tell whether the puck game is now real or a mirage from an older player in junior.” Signed by Vegas.
Kyle McDonald, RW, DOB 02 (19) – (OHL 42-34-18-52) “Big winger with excellent puck skills and a good track record of scoring goals in the OHL. His skating is quite heavy though and whether he can even be an average AHL skater is a question.” Signed by Dallas.
Logan Morrison, C, DOB 02 (25) – (OHL 54-38-50-88) “Very good skill and playmaking ability … His average-sized frame combined with a lack of speed and average off-the-puck play will make an NHL path difficult.” Sounds like Brannstrom above; the 67s link isn’t what it used to be (Ceci, Prince, and Cowick). Signed by Seattle.

[Prospect analysts have an obsession with the NCAA that I think is on full display with the lengthy list below]
Sam Malinski, RD, DOB 98 (2) – (32-8-18-26) “Excellent playmaking ability. …has the ability to run a pro power play with his vision and shot. His skating is solid too and he can create with his skill and feet.” Oddly, the Sens have never signed an offensively talented NCAA FA defenseman (it’s always been forwards).
Jake Livingstone, RD, DOB 99 (3*) – (38-8-27-35) “Doesn’t have a ton of offensive skill and his mobility is just OK. Livingston is a 6-foot-3, intelligent, two-way defenseman though.” Can’t skate, no hands, but he’s big? Dorion likely got weak at the knees just hearing that (Andreas Englund but he doesn’t cost a 2nd-round pick!). Signed by Nashville.
Austen Swankler, C, DOB 01 (4*) – (35-19-25-44) “He can create a lot with his offensive creativity. The big knock on Swankler was his skating, which used to be terrible. It’s still not an asset, but it’s improved notably.” This is very much in the wheelhouse of the early days when Ottawa was trying to find scoring in the NCAA.
Victor Ostman, G, DOB 00 (5) – (.918) “I find his reads and puck tracking can be somewhat inconsistent but I think there’s a lot of talent to bet on.” If this season has proven anything it’s that the Sens need more goaltending depth; their efforts to find that in the NCAA have been mixed.
Riese Gaber, RW, DOB 99 (8*) – (39-20-17-37) “Skating is excellent and … he gives an honest effort every night.” The Sens do value character/effort highly.
Hunter McKown, C, DOB 02 (9) – (38-21-7-28) “Overall compete can be inconsistent too and he’s probably not a pro center. The skill and scoring touch will be worth a team taking a gamble on.” Signed by Buffalo.
Luke Krys, RD, DOB 00 (11) – (30-2-14-16) “Skate and competes well … a lot better a defender than his [older] brother [Chad] was, but he doesn’t have near the offensive abilities and whether he can move pucks versus pros will be his challenge.” Lack of puck skills have never troubled the Sens as long as he’s gritty.
Travis Mitchell, LD, DOB 99 (12) – (32-6-12-18) “Competes well and could be a solid pro defender. His skating is fine for his size but not a major selling point. Whether he can move pucks versus men will be [his] main challenge.” As I’ve said above, puck skills on the blueline never seem like a heavy emphasis for the org (Macoy Erkamps, below, might have had the worst hands I’ve ever seen in the AHL). Signed by the Islanders.
Anton Malmstrom, LD, DOB 00 (13) – (33-3-3-6) “Can skate very well for a defender his size. … has very little to no puck game though and his hockey sense will be a major question at higher levels.” Sounds like Andreas Englund. Signed by St. Louis.
Cooper Black, G, DOB 01 (14) – (.899) “Closer to 6-foot-9. His technique is rather smooth given that large frame and he shows good hockey sense in net. Not surprisingly, his lower half is a little heavy and how quickly he can move will be his main challenge for the pro game, but Black still moves fairly well for a guy his size.” The Sens love size in net.
Collin Graf, RW, DOB 02 (15*) – (37-20-35-55) “His vision and his shot are major assets and inside the offensive zone…. He can play way too much on the perimeter, though, and his skating isn’t ideal for the pro game.” The Sens have rarely (if ever) signed a perimeter FA (albeit they traded for one in DeBrincat).
Jacob Bengtsson, LD, DOB 99 (20) – (36-1-22-23) “Offensive touch isn’t that great, but he can make a good outlet pass and shows instances of O-zone playmaking. Bengtsson’s skating will be his major issue for the NHL.” Nothing that would scare the Sens away.
Jaxon Nelson, C, DOB 00 (21) – (36-8-14-22) “Skating is fine for a 6-foot-4 guy…. He has decent skill. I don’t think he’ll be a big scorer versus men but there’s enough talent to his game to be intriguing for the next level.” He’s big, so Dorion’s hand is creeping towards his phone.
Akito Hirose, LD, DOB 99 (22) – (37-4-23-27) “Strong skater … has strong playmaking abilities … whether he can defend men will be a question. His skating will help him, but I wouldn’t call him the hardest to play against defenseman.” With the exception of Erkamps, the Sens have only signed blueliners who (at least in theory) are hard to play against. Signed by Vancouver.
Jason Polin, RW, DOB 99 (24*) – (38-29-17-46) “Good hands, and has scored a lot of goals the last two seasons in college. I do have some questions about how natural a play driver he is.” The Sens have signed a few players like this (watching Matthew Wedman (7-199/19 Fla) skate for Belleville causes me mental anguish). Signed by Colorado.
T. J. Hughes, C, DOB 01 (26) – (36-13-20-33) “Skilled and intelligent center … skating is just OK.” A reminder that skating doesn’t worry the org.
Ryan Siedem, RD, DOB 01 (27) – (33-1-16-17) “Skating has historically been his issue and it’s still not a strength, but given his frame and sense I can see someone taking a shot on him.” See above.
Max Sasson, C, DOB 00 (28*) – (37-15-27-42) “Works hard enough with his feet to potentially play a lower role on a team. The question with him will be offense.” The Sens like hard workers, so the possibility is there. Signed by Vancouver.
Ryan McAllister, LW, DOB 01 (29*) – (38-13-35-48) “A lot of skill and offensive creativity. He’s an undersized winger who’s a fine but not great skater and plays a lot on the perimeter.” Perimeter players are not commonly signed. Signed by Florida.
David Silye, C, DOB 99 (NR*) – (38-23-16-39) Described as a powerplay specialist. The Sens have never signed someone with that as their selling point (some people might argue about Stephane Da Costa, but he was supposed to be an everyday player).
Matt Brown, LW, DOB 99 (NR*) – (36-15-29-44) Another powerplay specialist (if not as potent as Silye above). See analysis above as well.
Yaniv Perets, G, DOB 00 (NR*) – (.929) Projected as a team’s third goaltender. At just 6’1, I’m not sure he fits into the Sens effort to sign only giants as goaltenders. Signed by Carolina.
Devon Levi, G, DOB 01 (NR*) – (7-212/20 Fla; .933) Projected as a backup, he was signed by Buffalo.

One of the common themes above is skating issues, which is something the Sens think they can overcome (and to be fair, they have made some awful skaters merely bad or even average).

Ottawa’s History with NCAA/CHL/European Free Agents

How have the Sens done with such players? Let’s take a look at the record (skaters with at least a season’s worth of NHL action are in green, as are goalies with 40 or more games; those who utterly failed are in red):
Jesse Winchester, NCAA (2008) – How quickly people forget the buzz that he was going to be the other winger with Spezza and Heatley when signed; 285-20-50-70, never scoring more than 18-points in a season (Curtis Lazar without using a 1st-round pick)
Bobby Butler, NCAA (2009) – Another supposed scoring winger; 130-20-29-49, now playing in the ECHL; he gets points for the Boston accent
Craig Schira, WHL (2009) – After three declining seasons in the org, he’s since spent his career in Europe (the SHL for the last 9 years)
Stephane da Costa, NCAA (2010) – Dynamic offensive forward who maybe could have found a home in the NHL, but there was much more money in the KHL (where he continues to play to this day); perhaps best known for getting hammered; 47-7-4-11
David Dziurzynski, BCHL (2010) – The man known as Dizzy, he was a big, grinding power forward; spent six straight seasons and part of another with the org (probably best known for being KO’d in the NHL); stopped playing pro after a few years in the ECHL; 26-3-3-6
Pat Cannone, NCAA (2011) – Three unremarkable seasons with the org; now retired; 3-0-0-0
Wacey Hamilton, WHL (2011) – A pest/energy player; spent three years with the org; now retired
Cole Schneider, NCAA (2012) – Another scoring winger; nearly five years with the org; still playing in the AHL; 6-0-1-1
Buddy Robinson, NCAA (2012) – Checking winger; nearly five years with the org; a useful minor pro who is still kicking around; 58-3-6-9
Andrew Hammond, NCAA (2013) – We all know and love the Hamburglar; over four years with the org; currently in the KHL; 67 games played and a worthy third-goaltender
Ludwig Karlsson, NCAA (2013) – One disappointing season with the org; now retired
Garrett Thompson, NCAA (2013) – One disappointing season with the org; now retired
Troy Rutkowski, WHL (2013) – Was unable to be an AHL regular through three seasons; currently playing in Europe
Matt O’Connor, NCAA (2015) – Goaltender of the future when signed; two seasons with the org and now playing in Europe; 1 NHL game
Macoy Erkamps, WHL (2015) – Two seasons with the org where he was unable to be a regular player; now playing in Europe; the worst signed defensemen I’ve ever seen play for the org

Jordan Murray, USports (2016) – Blueliner spent three seasons with the org (putting up decent AHL numbers) and now plays in Europe
Ryan Scarfo, NCAA (2017) – Traded almost immediately; now plying his trade in the ECHL
Aaron Luchuk, OHL (2017) – Big CHL scorer bombed out; after a couple of ECHL seasons he’s now playing in Europe
Boston Leier, USports (2017) – Played one season with the team; now retired
Andrew Sturtz, NCAA (2018) – Part of one season; now in the ECHL
Jonathan Aspirot, QMJHL (2019) – In his fourth season with the org with his production unchanged; while a solid AHL-contributor, I’m not sure what the org thinks they got out of giving him an ELC
Parker Kelly, WHL (2019) – An energy player; this is his fourth year with the org and he’s essentially the 13th forward (so Curtis Lazar without using a 1st-round pick); 97-9-8-17
Olle Alsing, SHL (2019) – Part of one season with the org; back in Sweden; 4-0-0-0
Chris Clapperton, USports (2019) – One season; now retired
Max Veronneau, NCAA (2019) – Most of one season; currently struggling in San Jose’s org after dominating in Sweden
Artem Zub, KHL (2020) – Diamond in the rough–the org hit a homerun; 169-12-33-45
Xavier Bernard, QMJHL (2021) – Season and a half before being jettisoned

What constitutes success when dealing with such players? ELCs aren’t being signed to create good AHL pros–the intent is to be useful to the NHL lineup, even if they aren’t regulars. I accept that it’s impossible for all signings (or even 50%) to work out, but unlike with the draft, these are usually older players, so scouts ought to have had far more time to assess what they are getting.

Artem Zub – They found a regular, top-four blueliner for free, which is incredible–top marks for that (especially given the orgs general disinterest in players who play in Russia)
Andrew Hammond – Not just for his remarkable run, but for being a solid third goaltender for various orgs
Jesse Winchester – An unremarkable regular fourth-liner on a mediocre-to-bad Ottawa team (missing the playoffs two of his four seasons and losing in the first round in the others); he’s a success, but at the bottom of what that term could mean

Parker Kelly – For me the jury is still out–the Sens have so many players like him who have more talent I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out of the org sooner than later
Buddy Robinson – While not an NHL-regular, he’s good enough to be a call-up and there’s some value in that
Stephane da Costa – We’ll never know if he could have been something more, but unlike Butler there are signs that his NHL potential was never fully realized
Bobby Butler – More than 100 games in the NHL, but all of that was early in his career when there were hopes he could show more and instead he fizzled out badly

Broadly that’s 7 out of 27 players, which is not great (25%), but the more important number is how many have played two or more full NHL seasons and it’s just 2 (Zub and Winchester); that’s a 7% success ratio (akin to picking in the 7th round of the draft, cf). You’d expect better with so much more time to assess the players (as much as a 1st-round pick gets, and the org has done much better in that scenario, cf).

We can also see some trends in where the org has looked for free agents and what kind of player they were:
NCAA: 13 (5-13) – From 2019 onward the Sens have only signed one college FA
CHL: 9 (1-9) – No noticeable change
USport: 3 (0-3) – The Canadian university experiment lasted from 2016-19
Europe: 2 (1-2) – The only two signings are from 2019-20
Offense (3-11*): Winchester, Butler, da Costa, Cannone, Schneider, Thompson, Murray, Scarfo, Luchuk, Sturtz, Veronneau
Grit/Character (3-14): Schira, Dziurzynski, Hamilton, Robinson, Karlsson, Rutkowski, Erkamps, Leier, Aspirot, Kelly, Alsing, Clapperton, Zub, Bernard
*None could translate their offense to the NHL

Lest we forget, Trent Mann said back in 2018 that the org didn’t want to gamble on skill anymore and that’s largely been true since his tenure (Veronneau would be the starkest exception). I think the small number of players from Europe is more about Ottawa as a destination than disinterest from the org–certainly signing a player from Russia is something Bryan Murray gave up on after a number of failures (Kaigorodov comes to mind). The massive decline in NCAA signings I assume is related to how rarely they’ve turned out–the days of top players falling through the cracks seems largely gone. As for the CHL, it’s difficult to imagine a league that’s more heavily scouted, so I wouldn’t expect the success rate to be high (and most of those signings have been for depth anyway). I’m not sure what was behind the USport effort, but nothing came of it and clearly the Sens have given up on that route. The type of players has changed with Mann looking for character, energy, pest, and defensive players as prospects.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Playoff Chances, DeBrincat, and Belleville Changes

The make-or-break road trip for the team was a disaster, with both Buffalo and Washington passing them in the standings and the Islanders, Pittsburgh, and Florida having (slightly) better records over their last ten games. The young goaltenders have not been up to the task (this is no surprise with Mandolese, whose AHL-numbers regressed to his rookie season, while Sogaard has struggled much like he did in his sophomore season in Belleville). The team in front of them hasn’t made their lives any easier. I don’t think the losses themselves are what’s troubling to the fanbase, but rather how bad they’ve been. This isn’t doom and gloom for the future, but the path forward for this season seems out of reach (Dom Luszczyszyn has them at just 2% and Ottawa has the toughest schedule in the entire NHL for the rest of the year). If the Sens continue to falter, Dorion’s trades (recent and not) are going to come under scrutiny within the fanbase (as we can see below). The Sens have sacrificed so much draft capital (their first pick this year is in the 4th round) it means there’s no arriving hope to sell from prospects (the high-end players are already in the organization). I think the Sens are too good to tank completely, but the playoff dream has been shattered.

It’s not quite schadenfreude, but the current debate over Alex DeBrincat‘s future reflects what I said when they traded for him in the first place (echoed in September by Sean McIndoe of The Athletic): that he turns into merely a 1-2 year rental or underperforms (and in either case at great cost–1.5 seasons of Matt Duchene cost the Sens Bowen Byram, after all). Ottawa has cap issues that will particularly impact the future blueline (something the fanbase recognized six months later), so as I posed in the summer and Ian Mendes is asking now: what do you do with DeBrincat? His point production has been fine (a decline, but not a huge one), but his goal scoring has cratered (he’s on his worst goals-per-game pace since his third season in 2019-20). Pierre Dorion has a lot of pride and he struggles to admit mistakes–did he make one here? He’s not a 9 million dollar player, so if you want to keep him you have to sign him long term, but is he a long term solution? Three players have scored more than he has this season (Stutzle, Tkachuk, and Giroux), with Batherson essentially on par and Pinto would be there with different usage (not to mention Norris missing the season). If you have plenty of goalscoring, how many forwards can you pay top dollar for (does it makes sense to pay 32 million to just four forwards)? It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months.

The Sens finally came to the realization that signing FA’s Kristians Rubins and Jayce Hawrlyuk was a pointless exercise. Both have been shipped out for a bag of peanuts (to Calgary and New Jersey respectively). I’ve seen it suggested that this is to make room for FA signings, but I’m not convinced by that (with Anton Forsberg and Josh Norris on injured reserve, the Sens had 3 contract slots open before they hit the ceiling of 50 already). Neither player counted towards the AHL-veteran cap, so I think it’s simply shipping out players who failed to meet expectations. The org has a desperate need in net in Belleville, so they had previously signed Dylan Ferguson (7-194/19 Dallas; who has been excellent after bombing out in Toronto). The bag of peanuts in return from New Jersey became Dylan Blujus, who was a second-round pick back in 2012. He has to be an improvement on Rubins, although to what extent remains to be seen.

This article was written by Peter Levi