Sens News & Notes

I haven’t posted in awhile, but unlike previous years I have been watching occasionally (both the NHL and AHL). Win or lose the org is more entertaining to watch. Prior to the season’s open I’d started writing about D. J. Smith and I wanted to continue on with those thoughts since they are so relevant right now. Let me quote myself from prior to the season:

I was glad to see people talking about D. J. Smith’s poor starts & how he makes his gravy when the team is already irrelevant. I say this not because of a specific animosity towards Smith, but because it’s a reality that ought to be discussed and kept an eye on (is he the victim of circumstances, or is there an underlying problem–this season will make that clear).

And, indeed, as the season progressed there isn’t a noticeable difference in results between this year and last (4-8-1). The team has scored more, but otherwise they are statistically very similar to last season. Dressing Zaitsev was bad enough that he was put on waivers, but this is something Smith shouldn’t have needed to experiment with to know. However, one bad blueliner isn’t enough (we also can’t know how much pressure Dorion put on Smith to attempt to use the overpriced veteran).

I raised the alarm about this possibility in the summer, but the rest of the fan sites and local media were silent–pumped up by various signings and re-signings. I was hardly a lone voice in the wilderness however, as outside the marketplace caution was raised and the poor start has barely impacted impressions at The Atlantic for the team (as Shayna Goldman says, “Trendy picks from preseason like the Senators have dropped off, too, because their defense is still awful“), as their various odds have shifted only a little (pre-season/now):
Finish last place: 0% > 8.3%
Playoff Team: 25.6% > 2.8%
Stanley Cup Contender: 15% > 0%
First Coach Fired: 17.9% > 19.4%

The most interesting category relates to D. J. Smith, whose assumed future for The Atlantic‘s staff has barely been impacted by yet another horrific start.

There’s a lot to unpack about the early season, from losing Josh Norris to Artem Zub‘s being irreplaceable (going back to the lack of defensive depth in the org) to Anton Forsberg‘s struggles to carry the team. All roads, however, point to the blueline and that’s as much on Pierre Dorion as it is on D. J. Smith. Dorion could have got out of the Zaitsev business this off season or last, but he remains like a pustule on the buttocks of the org. That said, I’m not intending on a deep dive into the numbers, since I think the big picture problems are so obvious we don’t have to wade into the weeds to figure it out.

The Derick Brassard signing has proven largely meaningless, although at least the org understood he’s simply a fill-in. My question is whether his depth (at forward) was really worth an NHL contract, but it’s not an impactful enough choice to get excited about.

On the AHL side of things the BSens have been plagued with injuries making them hard to judge. The three most notable things to me are: 1) Cole Reinhardt might be on the verge of breaking out at this level (11-2-6-8, 3rd on the team), something I would not have predicted going into the season, 2) Jacob Larsson‘s acquisition has been a train wreck thus far, 3) the goaltending cannot save the team from its weak blueline (echoing the NHL team; and let me re-emphasize a point I made in July, that the BSens went all-in on big, defensive blueliners–maybe a few more puckmovers, eh Dorion?). We might have expected more production from Angus Crookshank and Ridley Greig, but as it turns out they did need some games to re-adjust (both coming off injuries and for the latter it’s his rookie season). The team’s middling record (4-6-1) matches their special teams and their primary problem is they give up a ton of goals (the most per-game in the conference) and are scoring less than expected (middle of the pack in the conference).

As a fan I want both iterations of the org to turn it around (I don’t think the sale of the team is much of a distraction). However, I think Smith is going to be a sacrifice to save Dorion from a fate he created for himself and there’s a decent chance he’ll continue to sail along until new ownership or the off-season arrives. Time will tell!

This article was written by Peter Levi

Advertisement

Sens News & Notes

We had a much needed outsiders preview of the team from Dom Luszczyszyn and Shana Goldman at The Athletic. Let’s sum up their sentiments:

The Senators still aren’t a bonafide playoff team with a projected 88-point finish. That’s well short of the projected 95 points for the eighth-best team in the East and explains the team’s 27 percent chance of making it. That’s still a strong step to make, but perhaps a slightly disappointing one for some Senators fans who might have hoped the team’s new additions would be enough for a wild-card spot. … At the very bottom of the lineup, however, there’s a lot to be desired on that fourth line. … Defense is still a weakness, especially on the right. If there aren’t any major systematic tweaks to change that, it may leave Sanderson a bit exposed — so this could be a sink or swim experience in his first NHL stint. Ottawa is putting a lot of faith into him being able to swim. If he sinks – the team will struggle to take as big a step as expected by many. Including the model.

The writers question whether any of Ottawa’s top-six are truly elite (going through the numbers to demonstrate they have not established that yet, while admitting the possibility remains), saying that without elite players they will struggle to compete with the best-of-the best. This kind of exploration from The Athletic, whether you agree with it or not, is a welcome check against the local myopia. I think the projections are reasonable (assuming the team stays relatively healthy, no one seriously regresses, and Sanderson is as-advertised). What they predict is a welcome improvement and the team should be more fun to watch, but I still wonder how Dorion will navigate his salary cap issues next season (see below).

I made an error when talking about potential salary cap woes: I casually suggested that Debrincat could be retained somewhere near his current salary, but to qualify him the Sens will need nine million (which is significantly more). For those of you who don’t remember the numbers, that would mean 64 million committed to next year without re-signing anyone else (Pinto, Formenton, or half the blueline). I envision some forced deals by Dorion to clear cap space (along with, presumably, either buying out Zaitsev or burying him in the minors). This issue doesn’t impact this season, but is food for thought in the near-future.

There have been no real surprises in training camp for the Sens thus far, other than the injury to Cam Talbot that necessitated a waiver claim of Magnus Hellberg from Seattle (given that Mads Sogaard does not look ready for prime time). Hellberg has very good AHL and European numbers, but the 31-year old only has 5 games of NHL experience. Getting him was a sensible move, as it avoids disrupting plans in Belleville. Outside of goaltending some fans may be disappointed that Lassi Thomson went back to the BSens, but it’s early and I don’t see it as an issue (he’s only 22, younger than JBD and Brannstrom).

Yost took another swing at explaining the scoring increases in the NHL (after a vague attempt back in April). He believes the increase is due to a larger talent gap between teams than previously, making it more difficult for less talented teams to gum up the works and force a low scoring affair. I see no reason to argue with him. Perhaps the decrease in NHL expansion that began with San Jose in 1991 has finally allowed the talent to catch-up, stymieing the mediocrity that’s defined the NHL for over two decades. I want to see another season or two of high production before I start celebrating, however.

I’ve been watching the Hockey Canada situation specific to Ottawa (impacting Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton) for awhile and thought I’d weigh in. I mentioned a long time ago that fans aren’t consistent in what does or does not inspire outrage, but that aside, the current scandal is an illustration of how empty it is when it isn’t followed by tangible action.

Whenever situations like this come up, regardless of their veracity, fans continue to support the team and league regardless. Because of that, no pressure is being applied–it’s just virtue signaling. The NHL and its component parts are a capitalist enterprise that depends on people paying for it, ergo, you need to impact their wallet to foment change (the film industry and streaming services are in the midst of that change right now, paying the price for years of producing unwatchable garbage). It could be argued the real target of the outrage is Hockey Canada, with the NHL is simply suffering as a byproduct of that, but I don’t see that reflected in the coverage (instead there’s a debate about suspending players or whether they should be re-signed, etc). That doesn’t mean we can’t ask the question: are people abandoning the WJC etc? The answer is the same: no, they aren’t.

What’s sad is if the abuse is ever verified (which seems impossible given the settlement), fans still won’t hit the eject button, meaning on the business side there’s no reason to take it seriously outside the optics (clearly the Sens feel no pressure whatsoever). The NHL isn’t unique in this, but it’s exasperating seeing so much outrage from people who refuse to put their money where their mouth is. As for me, I don’t know what happened (a settlement doesn’t confirm or deny guilt). I know what’s been claimed on both sides, but a legal process to determine its veracity has not occurred, so I’m not making assumptions. There is a strong tendency to conflate all situations with what happened at Penn State or Chicago, but they simply are not the same (both in scope and in what’s been proven).

The point of discussing this isn’t to absolve Hockey Canada of culpability, or deflect from how institutions protect their image over individuals–that’s a systemic problem that goes well beyond hockey or sport–but simply to point out how absurd the outrage is when it’s interspersed with theory-crafting line combinations and praising free agent signings. For those of you who have given up season tickets or taken some other direct action in relation to what’s happened, hat’s off to you, as that’s at least consistent.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Sens Sign Tyler Motte

The Sens signed winger Tyler Motte to a one-year deal (1.35; I say ‘winger’ because that’s largely how he’s been used in the NHL). It’s a move that puzzled the fanbase, but the local media applauded it for adding depth. While his cap hit is higher than his prior deal, his actual salary is lower than what he made last season (1.45). Motte is a former 4th-round pick (4-121/13; cf old predictions) is a marginal player who struggles to stay healthy (he hasn’t played a full season since 18-19). Here are his last four seasons (including PPG, TOI, and where he sat among forwards in scoring):

2018-19 Van 74-9-7-16 0.21 TOI 10:49 (10th)
2019-20 Van 34-4-4-8 0.23 TOI 10:28 (13th)
2020-21 Van 24-6-3-9 0.37 TOI 12:30 (9th)
2021-22 Van/NYR 58-7-8-15 0.25 TOI 11:43/10:08 (11th)
Career 269-35-27-62 0.23

The Rangers gave up a 4th-round pick to acquire him and he proved to be an irrelevant acquisition. From the numbers we can see that he’s a fourth-line player whose defensive/penalty-killer reputation comes via Travis Green when he coached Vancouver. The commentary is that he was brought in as insurance for players like Parker Kelly and Mark Kastellic, as well as to apply pressure to Alex Formenton, but the latter makes no sense to me as Motte can’t replace Formenton (completely different players in terms of talent). This kind of bottom-end acquisition is common for Dorion (he traded for Dylan Gambrell after all).

The only analysis I’ve seen of him is via Nichols, who points to Motte having had a career season in terms of his underlying numbers and shrugging his shoulders about whether it’s a fluke or not. What do I think? One good season out of six is an outlier until proven otherwise. I’m unconvinced he’s a necessary addition, however, he’s easy to move or bury, so the acquisition cost is low. Broadly it’s not a bad idea to have security in case prospects aren’t ready or don’t work out, albeit a contract like his can gum up the works if the roster isn’t handled properly.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Sens News & Notes

The positivity continues as the Sens re-signed all but one of their pending RFA’s: diminutive Erik Brannstrom returns on a one-year deal (900k); Mathieu Joseph (see below) chimes in with 4-years at 2.95; and the electric Tim Stutzle signed an eight-year extension at 8.35. The only player currently left on the docket is Alex Formenton. The moves were well received (I don’t count Nichols worrying over Stutzle‘s defensive play, is that’s a by rote concern with offensive players), as the hype train continues. I’m apparently the only voice of caution at the moment, so is there a fly in the ointment with these signings? The one that occurs to me is the salary cap–not for this year, but for the 23-24 season.

The Sens have 61 million committed to 23-24 (minus Formenton). That’s 74% of the cap. If we imagine keeping Debrincat at roughly what he makes now (unlikely, but let’s be generous) and toss in Formenton (let’s ballpark 2.5), that’s 70 million committed (85%) when the team will need new contracts for Shane Pinto, possibly a goaltender, and half their blueline (Zub, Hamonic, Holden, and BrannstromLassi Thomson taking a spot doesn’t change much).

That’s very little cap space to work with, which likely means Dorion will be forced to move someone from the forward group. The Sens are disproportionately committed to their forwards, a gamble that did not produce playoff success last year (as Travis Yost notes, “No team with a below-average top four on defence reached the postseason [last year]“). Even if the Sens move Formenton without taking salary back, they’d still have just 15 million to work with (assuming Debrincat stays near his current salary). The Sens blueline has been awful (cf Nichols), so simply locking-up what’s in place will not suffice [after I posted this Ian Mendes echoed the point].

This scenario is one of the reasons why I brought up the potential cost of overpaying in the deals they’ve signed (I think both Giroux and Norris could have been signed for less). The odds are that at least one of the new deals will turn sour and the Sens will struggle to move the player (Zaitsev is still here, which is the perfect example of how hard it is to get rid of underperforming cap problems). I’ve seen no reflection of this issue either in the press or from fans–some of that is due to it being an issue for next season, but cap management is a key component for success, so it will be interesting to see when it does start getting debated (how the season starts will likely determine it).

Cap aside, I’m happy with the Stutzle deal–I’ve always been in favour of paying for skill and that’s what he brings. While we can’t know how he’ll project out (cf), there are no high end center prospects within the org and they are practically impossible to trade for, so it’s essential to keep him.

Nichols bent over backwards to praise the re-signing of Mathieu Joseph whose brief, meaningless late season numbers undoubtedly impressed Sens’ brass. The reason I’m dismissive of Nichols’ analysis is because he only looked at the numbers in Ottawa–Joseph has played 232 NHL games, so I’d rather see the whole picture for a breakdown. As for the deal itself, I don’t like its length, although Dorion avoided giving him Colin White money. While I don’t expect Joseph to perform like he did at the end of the season, if he truly underperforms (which I’m not saying he will, it’s just a potential) at least his salary is reasonable enough that he can be moved.

Erik Brannstrom is at a turning point in his career (Ary argues that’s not necessarily the case–link below–and while he’s right abstractly, I don’t think the org has patience for him). He’s only 23, but his numbers are underwhelming. When drafted he was compared to Victor Mete (ouch) and Timothy Liljegren (whose curve seems better). He’s undeniably fourth on the chart on the left side at the pro level (behind Chabot, Sanderson, and Holden), so outside of injury or someone playing their off side, it’s hard to know how much he’ll play. I think the Sens had to re-sign him (for depth reasons and to pump up his value), but I doubt much enthusiasm remains for him–I don’t think the coach is a fan.

I mentioned that we’d have to wait for sources outside of Ottawa to see words of caution about the Debrincat trade. That caution has arrived via an article by Sean McIndoe (which is ostensibly about Matthew Tkachuk), where he talks about how rarely trades like this (when the player is resigned long term) work out.

“…the dreaded Shiny New Toy. It’s a category of bad contract that I first proposed in a piece I wrote six years ago. … The scenario is in play when a team acquires a star player in a major trade, usually to great fanfare, and then has to immediately contend with an extension. … That puts the team in a bind. Sure, it’s great that they added a new player, but now they have to keep him. Their fans are excited. The GM is reading media coverage about what a great job he’s done. They may even be selling a few more season tickets. But all that positivity disappears if they let this new star walk away for nothing in a year or so.”

McIndoe then includes a long list of such failures (Seth Jones, Jeff Skinner, Erik Karlsson, Jacob Trouba, Jonathan Drouin, Justin Faulk, Ryan McDonough, Corey Schneider, 2012’s Jordan Staal, Ottawa’s own Bobby Ryan, and 2014’s Jason Spezza). The Sens have not yet signed Debrincat long term, but the expectation from both the fans and media seems to be that they will lock him up long term.

Travis Yost had an interesting look at goaltending performance. In it you can see some warning signs about Cam Talbot (using Goals Saved Above Expected, or GSAE); the newly acquired ‘tender hasn’t been above average in his last five seasons and below it twice. We know the Sens don’t believe in analytics, so this wouldn’t factor into their decision to trade for him, but it’s something to keep in mind for the upcoming season. This doesn’t concern me too much, since Talbot is here as a short-term back-up, but if there are injuries it’s worth keeping in mind. I don’t want the org to have to lean on Sogaard if things go wrong, as the Dane is very young and we’ve seen how pushing young goaltenders can turn out poorly (Lehner, Elliott, Hogberg, etc).

In a minor league deal the Sens added winger Jayce Hawryluk. This is his second tour of duty with the org, as he was a waiver pick-up in 2020. At that time the former 2nd-round pick put up solid season ending numbers (11-2-5-7) which was enough to convince Vancouver to sign him (he proceeded to bomb out completely). He spent this past season with Skelleftea in the SHL, where he was unimpressive (39-8-11-19, finishing 10th in scoring). While Hawryluk isn’t an NHL player, his AHL numbers are adequate (148-27-68-95 0.64). On the surface it’s an unimpressive addition to the BSens, but it’s not an obvious fail like some of last summer’s signings (cf).

This article was written by Peter Levi

Another Summer of Optimism

Put aside the cynicism, forget the past (kill it if you must, right Rian Johnson?), and embrace yet another summer of optimism for your Ottawa Senators! I’m reminded so much of last summer (whose marketing wonk appears to have been largely forgotten in the fanbase), but this time even people like Shawn Simpson are drinking the Koolaid (and in fairness to him, in relative terms the hype has more substance than is typical for the franchise). That’s not to say I don’t understand why people are excited or that I think they shouldn’t be excited, just that I’ve seen this movie before (including under Dorion–summer 2017 comes to mind), and I’ve learned to look for substance before I buy into the hype.

This article is not all doom and gloom (it’s astonishing how many people just skim the opening paragraph or two). There is criticism because that’s a good part of any assessment process, but also because it’s completely absent right now.

I mentioned some time ago that the vocal fanbase, like most fanbases, has no appetite for constructive criticism until after things have started to go off the rails. Remember when Filip Gustavsson was the goaltender of the future (cf)? Yost has given a little caution at the end of his Debrincat article (and about the defensecorps), but we’ll have to wait for someone like Dom Luszczyszyn to get our moment of clarity outside this space.

What is fascinating to me (and why I wrote my last article), is how easily people forget the parallel’s to the Matt Duchene trade in 2017. Then, as now, Dorion believed he was on the hunt for playoff success and made moves to shore up the forward group (giving up valuable picks to do so). In doing so he moved a useful forward who was nearing decline (Turris/Brown) and a failed goaltender he’d overvalued (Hammond/Murray)–sounds familiar, doesn’t it, even if the parallel’s aren’t exact? One difference I didn’t mention in the article is that it was an older Sens team–the 2017 team’s average age was 28 (in Dorion’s mind, peaking after the 2011 rebuild), while the roster at the end of this season was a full two years younger (its rebuild beginning in 2018). The whole point of this exercise is Dorion has tried this before and failed, so caution should be exercised in judging the moves.

How do we assess the various moves? I thought the simplest way was this: 1) Does it improve the team? (I’m not concerned with how much in individual terms, just in relative terms), 2) How impactful is what was sacrificed for the move? Here we’re thinking both about the immediate impact as well as down the line.

I talked at length about Alex Debrincat (link above), but to sum it up: he should be a significant contributor, but we have to keep in mind how much his performance has been enhanced by playing with Patrick Kane (he’s not Warren Young, but plenty of players drop off when removed from their elite partner), that he’s likely a two-year rental (barring being badly overpaid), and that he’s adding where the Sens are already strong (at forward, rather than fixing their blueline).

Buying out Colin White received mostly positive coverage, but this is Dorion spending money to escape yet another error in judgement (something many, including me, foresaw when it happened). There was no reason, other than marketing, to sign White to the ludicrous deal at the time and it illustrated poor judgement in assessing what kind of player he was (a chronic problem for Dorion, as it seems like every season he has to get himself out of a dumb contract he signed). White‘s impact on the lineup wasn’t huge, but I certainly don’t think he hurt the team.

Buying out Del Zotto was another self-own by Dorion, as literally no one outside the org understood why they signed the vet. The buyout was necessary, but spending your way out of trouble is not a sign of astute management. Moving him helps the team (his presence was a distraction), but having put him on the roster in the first place is a fail (that’s money spent that ought to have gone somewhere else).

Trading Matt Murray isn’t a ‘success’ but (again) making up for another Dorion error that cost the team a 3rd in 2023, 7th in 2024, and money (the latter pick won’t haunt them, but a high pick in the third round could, albeit that cost is years away). Let’s keep in mind the team gave up a second-rounder to get him in the first place (Joel Blomqvist)–that’s three picks and money for someone who never helped the team. The unknown of Murray‘s performance (and the picks) could turn this into a loss, but the immediate positive is getting rid of him. The fail is obvious–virtually no one outside the org liked the deal he made for the ‘tender and it failed as badly as was feared.

Picking up Cam Talbot from Minnesota as insurance for Anton Forsberg is a good idea; this is the former’s last season under contract and if Forsberg goes full Andrew Hammond and collapses there’s security from the declining veteran. Giving up Gustavsson is probably the right move, but as a young ‘tender, there’s always a chance he lives up to the hype.

In dumping Filip Gustavsson, the Sens have given up the last meaningful piece from the Mika Zibanejad trade (the ‘tender being the holdover from dealing Derick Brassard the next season). If you look at the assets, moving the future Ranger star has landed the Sens Talbot and failed prospect Luke Loheit–Dorion wins again! We’ve already graded the move for Talbot above, but just wrap your head around Dorion starting with Zibanejad and ending up with an old goaltender and failed prospect in return for one playoff run.

Descending down from the heavens comes Claude Giroux–good local guy and everything like that. At 34, Giroux is still an effective player, although he’s on the downward side of his career. There’s no question he will help the team and the deal is not unreasonable in length, albeit the cost is high. The fact he wanted to sign with Ottawa should have kept the price lower, and again we have to keep in mind he helps where the team needs it least (at forward). I understand how much he helps marketing and ticket sales and I don’t think that’s a consideration to be ignored, but I think this (like the Norris-deal) is paying more than necessary.

Speaking of Josh Norris, the deal seems very reflective of the Brady Tkachuk contract signed in the fall. In each case I think the Sens slightly overpaid (assuming production remains at a good level). The possible downside is if Norris declines (there’s no sign of that, but it can happen) and how much it may effect the cost of re-signing Stutzle.

Dumping Connor Brown for a 2024 2nd-rounder to Washington isn’t a bad return, depending on what they do with the pick (the pick is likely to be mid to late in that round). I’d much rather the team move an asset before letting them walk for free. Brown is a very useful player (most TOI on the team). As for the return, it’s up in the air (I have a suspicion Dorion will package the pick in a trade), but it has the potential to be very good (this kind of deal is always a conundrum for the fans who say picks don’t matter when Ottawa surrenders them, but then trumpet picks when acquired).

Someone will have to explain to me why the Sens think Dylan Gambrell helps the team–numerous people have stated flatly that he’s not an NHL-caliber player.

I’m not a fan of Dillon Heatherington and he got a two-year deal, but that dislike isn’t based on his capabilities in the AHL (I just thought a better addition could be made). There was an initial fear when CapFriendly indicated he was a one-way in the second year, but they’ve since fixed that, so I can live with the contract. The BSens coach is a fan (as are a few in the fanbase). My lack of enthusiasm is because players like him are a dime-a-dozen–big blueliners with limited talent clog up the bluelines in the AHL, ECHL, and Europe. While I think there’s better ways to approach building the team, having him isn’t a problem and he’s someone easily traded should the need arise.

Speaking of big blueliners, the Sens added Rubins Kristians from Toronto’s system. The big Latvian is virtually a clone of Heatherington (AHL career PPG 0.22 vs 0.28; they even play the same side). I love Latvian players (I have fond memories of Kaspars Daugavins and Sergejs Zoltoks), but there ought to be a limit to the number of lugs needed to fasten your wheels. While he’s technically an RFA at the end of his contract, I don’t see a future for him and I’m not sure that he adds much to the BSens–on the flip side, there are worse decisions they could have made.

A few other minor league deals I want to applaud (regardless of how their seasons go): Jacob Lucchini, who was vital to the BSens last year; Rourke Chartier, for the same reason (albeit to a lesser degree); also Scott Sabourin for how he played in the AHL (he seems to thrive under Mann). I’m all about rewarding players who actually impacted the team and are not given absurd deals. All players could regress and in Lucchini/Chartier‘s case that would hurt much more than Sabourin‘s, but signing the deals makes sense based on their performance.

I don’t expect many forward signings for the BSens, considering that Angus Crookshank should be back after missing the entire season, Viktor Lodin is here full-time, Philippe Daoust won’t be loaned back to the Q, and Ridley Greig has arrived. Both Tyler Boucher and Zack Ostapchuk are signed, but I expect them to be returned to junior (it doesn’t seem worth it for them to play third or fourth line minutes). Jakov Novak is going back for a fifth year in the NCAA, so isn’t on the horizon.

It seems like the Sens are leaving Tyler Kleven in the NCAA (which is fine). With the aforementioned pair of blueliners and Leslie on an AHL-deal, I’m not sure any further additions will be made in the AHL. [After writing that, the Sens signed failed former 1st-rounder Jacob Larsson, the former Duck having played his way onto their AHL-squad with unremarkable numbers, 55-2-13-15 0.27–the 25-year old is another lefthand shot (all three prospects on the team, minus Aspirot, are righthand shots: Bernard-Docker, Thompson, and Guenette).]

For goaltending, a veteran will be signed, but whether the team wants to go with Sogaard-Mandolese as the starting tandem isn’t clear to me. Leevi Merilainen is signed, but I expect him to spend another year preparing for the pro game. [After I wrote this the Sens signed vet Antoine Bibeau, the 28-year old former Leaf pick split last year between the AHL and ECHL in Seattle’s system, so poses no threat whatsoever to the prospects, while being capable of filling in as necessary. I like the signing, as both young goaltenders need to play regularly.]

I read that the Sens let Eric Engstrand‘s rights expire [apparently confirmed]–if that’s true it’s odd and I wonder if that’s on the player as much as the org. If correct he’d be the third European power forward the org has drafted who has failed to turn out for them. Speaking of those players, 2016 pick Markus Nurmi signed with Nashville and it will be interesting to see how the 24-year old does (the Sens clearly didn’t see a future for him).

Assessing the Team

How does the team compares to what it was when the season ended? Let’s take a look (I like to organize by age; I’ve included how they arrived on the roster, how many years remain on their contract, their prior season, their career average, and where they are in their career (RS=re-signed; the number in brackets is their career PPG; green are new to the lineup), and declining or improving if evident (this trend needn’t be catastrophic, just to be noted):

Forwards
Claude Giroux, C/RW, 34, FA, 3 yrs, 75-21-44-65 0.86 (0.91) declining
Austin Watson, W, 30, T-Nsh (4-124/21, Jack Matier), 1 yr, 67-10-6-16 0.23 (0.25)
Mathieu Joseph, C/W, 25, T-TB (Nick Paul trade), RFA, 69-12-18-30 0.43 (0.35)
Dylan Gambrell, C, 25, T-SJ/RS (7-204/22, Adam Zlnka), 1 yr, 63-3-4-7 0.11 (0.17) AHL-player
Alex Debrincat, W, 24, T-Chi (1-7/22, Kevin Korchinski, 2-39/22, Paul Ludwinski, 3/24), 1 yr, 82-41-37-78 0.95 (0.83)
Drake Batherson, RW, 24, 4-121/17, 5 yrs, 46-17-27-44 0.95 (0.67) improving
Mark Kastelic, C, 23, 5-125/19, 1 yr, 16-2-2-4 0.25 (AHL)
Josh Norris, C, 23, T-SJ/RS (Karlsson deal), 8 yrs, 66-35-20-55 0.83 (0.72) improving
Parker Kelly, C/LW, 23, FA/RS, 2 yrs, 41-7-5-12 0.29 (0.31)
Brady Tkachuk, LW/C, 22, 1-4/18, 6 yrs, 79-30-37-67 0.84 (0.69) improving
Alex Formenton, LW, 22, 2-47/17, RFA, 79-18-14-32 0.40 (0.36)
Shane Pinto, C, 21, 2-32/19, 1 yr, 5-0-1-1 0.20 (0.47) improving
Tim Stutzle, C/LW, 20, 1-3/20 (Karlsson trade), 1 yr, 79-22-36-58 0.73 (0.66) improving
Delete
Tyler Ennis, C/W, 32, FA, 57-8-16-24 0.42 (0.49) declining
Connor Brown, RW, 28, T-Wsh (2/24), 1 yr, 64-10-29-39 0.60 (0.49)
Chris Tierney, C, 28, FA (Flo), 1 yr, 70-6-12-18 0.25 (0.40) declining
Adam Gaudette, C, FA (Tor), 1 yr, 50-4-8-12 0.24 (0.32) AHL-player

We could argue that maybe Tkachuk has hit his normal production, but as this past season marked a significant improvement, I think there’s an equal argument to be made that he can still improve. We also need to keep in mind, for all the numbers, that the NHL had an unprecedented bump in scoring which could easily regress to boring levels. Most of the group is young (other than Giroux), and valueless players like Watson and Gambrell can be moved or buried at minimal cost–which is to say, there’s nothing barring younger players from being added to the mix. I’m unsure if Formenton has another gear or if we’ve reached his peak–he was never projected to be a top-scorer and his numbers are quite comfortable for his role.

The deletions don’t include 62 ineffective games from Sanford or a solid 59 from Paul. The only missing player who will be missed and has difficult minutes to replace is Brown.

Prospects who may crack the lineup include Greig, Crookshank, and Sokolov, but I think it’s unlikely to start the season as there’s limited ice time available so that dominating in the AHL makes more sense. We’ll get to the prospect pool later.

Defense
Nick Holden, DL, 35, T-VGK (Dadonov trade), 1 yr, 76-5-14-19 0.25 (0.28)
Travis Hamonic, DR, 31, T-Van (3-80/22, Elias Pettersson), 1 yr, 43-4-6-10 0.23 (0.29)
Nikita Zaitsev, DR, 30, T-Tor (Ceci trade), 2 yrs, 62-2-9-11 0.17 (0.26) declining
Artyom Zub, DR, 26, FA/RS, 1 yr, 81-6-16-22 0.27 (0.28)
Thomas Chabot, DL, 25, 1-18/15, 6 yrs, 59-7-31-38 0.64 (0.60)
Erik Brannstrom, DL, 22, T-VGK (Stone trade), RFA, 53-0-14-14 0.26 (0.27)
Jake Sanderson, DL, 20, 1-5/20, 2 yrs, NCAA 23-8-18-26 improving
Delete
Michael Del Zotto, DL, 32, Buyout (Flo), 1 yr, 26-3-10-13 0.50 (0.36)
Victor Mete, DL, 24, FA (Tor), 1 yr, 37-0-7-7 0.18 (0.18) AHL-player

Zaitsev isn’t a useful player on a bad contract (ala White), instead he’s a terrible player on a bad contract and the Sens are either going to have to buy him out or be forced to package something useful to get rid of him. The team isn’t committed to either of the other older defenseman, which means moving them (or moving on) is easy to do if they struggle or there’s younger players who deserve to play.

Goaltenders
Cam Talbot, GL, 35, T-Min (Gustavsson trade), 1 yr, .911 (.915) declining
Anton Forsberg, GL, 29, Waivers-WPG/RS, 3 yrs, .917 (.909)
Delete
Matt Murray, GL, 28, T-Tor (bag of magic beans), 2 yrs, .906 (.911) declining
Filip Gustavsson, GL, T-Min (Talbot trade), 1 yr, .892 (.905)

I’m deeply suspicious of Forsberg‘s year as I’ve seen this movie before (Hammond among others), so having the option of Talbot to take over is a good one, although I think when you look at the latter’s numbers there are hints that he struggles behind teams that aren’t strong defensively (which is a description that suits the current Sens). Regardless, I think he’s a solid addition and helps shore up the crease and prevents prospects from being rushed.

Summary

There is no doubt that the Sens are a better team now than when they ended the season. In my estimation they’ve only lost one useful player (Brown) and added three (Giroux, Debrincat, and TalbotSanderson too if you count top-prospects). Their top-six is solidified and they can arguably handle one or two injuries to that group in the short-term from within. The team’s goaltending has also improved, albeit with question marks attached. What arguably isn’t much improved is their blueline, which was terrible last season and, for the moment, dependent largely on internal progression. Will Zaitsev still be here? Is Sanderson ready for prime time? The depth can’t handle serious injuries, even if a prospect or two can handle limited minutes in the NHL.

Is this a playoff team? I sincerely doubt it, but if it is, the core players have to remain healthy. That said, there’s less need for prospects to perform than previously (outside the blueline), with most of the core locked in to avoid Dorion fittering away another Zibanejad for nothing. It’s certainly a more competitive and (possibly) entertaining team.

Should fans be optimistic? Sure, I just think expectations need to be tempered.

Prospect Pool

I’m including this as an ending because there’s a great deal of uncertainty in terms of where players are at and (therefore) what impact they can have. Most of the time they are not ready for the NHL, so keep that in mind. I’m going to go over the signed prospects who are going to be playing pro hockey. They are in order of age (this is not a player-by-player assessment, as I did that recently, here and here; keep in mind I have Kastelic on the NHL-roster above, a situation that’s not set in stone):
Forwards
Viktor Lodin, C/LW, 23, 4-94/19, 1 yr, SHL 44-12-15-27 0.61
Angus Crookshank, LW, 23, 5-126/18, 2 yrs, injured (0.84)
Cole Reinhardt, LW, 22, 6-181/20 (Wideman trade), 2 yrs,* 70-15-15-30 0.43 (0.41)
Yegor Sokolov, W, 22, 2-61/20 (Stone trade), 1 yr, 64-19-31-50 0.78 (0.76)
Philippe Daoust, C/LW, 20, 6-158/20 (Hoffman trade), 3 yrs, QMJHL 38-24-23-47 1.23
Ridley Greig, LW, 19, 1-28/20 (Pageau trade), 3 yrs, WHL 39-26-37-63 1.61
Roby Jarventie, LW, 19, 2-33/20, 2 yrs, 70-11-22-33 0.49

Defense
Jonathan Aspirot, DL, 23, FA, 1 yr, 45-5-13-18 0.41 (0.40)
Jacob Bernard-Docker, DR, 22, 1-26/18 (K’Andre Miller trade), 1yr, 58-2-7-9 0.16
Lassi Thomson, DR, 21, 1-19/19 (Duchene trade), 2 yrs,* 44-10-16-26 0.59 (0.49)
Maxence Guenette, DR, 21, 7-187/19, 48-6-13-19 0.40

Goaltenders
Kevin Mandolese, GL, 21, 6-157/18, 1 yr, .901 (.896)
Mads Sogaard, GL, 21, 2-37/19 (Jamieson Rees/Anttoni Honka trade), 2 yrs, .908 (.910)

*Both players have played two years in the AHL, but CapFriendly has them with two years left on their contracts–this is probably in error, although it might be due to Covid-related exemptions

Several of the forwards (Lodin, Crookshank, and Greig) seem like they could slot in below the top-six and be useful at the NHL-level, which isn’t to say it will happen or should happen, just that I don’t think they can only succeed in a scoring role. Other prospects, like Sokolov and Jarventie, should only ascend if they can have that top-end opportunity. The odd man out to me in the forward group is Reinhardt–I just don’t know what he’s supposed to do for you.

On the blueline, other than Thomson, I don’t think anyone is ready for time with the big club. This is a make-or-break year for JBD and if he busts that’s a sad end to the deal Dorion made to get him (K’Andre Miller looks like a good player). The org has brought in a lot of defensive protection for this group, but if they fail to produce the BSens will struggle with their transition game.

For goaltenders, this is a make-or-break year for Mandolese; I prefer the org not pressure or rush Sogaard and leave him in Belleville unless he’s having a breakout season (the org has a bad habit of rushing young goaltenders).

That wraps it up for me. All thoughts/comments are welcome. I am hopeful for the team going forward, but more cautious than the rest of the fanbase.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Debrinked: Offering Perspective and Caution

The big news from the draft for the Sens was bundling picks for Chicago winger Alex DeBrincat— understandably the fanbase is skweeeing about it (here’s a typical example). I’m not here simply to offer a negative take, but I do think there’s important context and deeper analysis to perform (for instance, the aforementioned post includes this incorrect assumption: “It’s very unlikely any of the three picks they gave up will turn into anyone as good as [him]“). We’ll explore why that conviction is far from clear below.

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard about the trade was, assuming team finances are unchanged, that the 24-year old is a rental, albeit of the two-year variety. Debrincat is a fantastic comparison to another big move from the Pierre Dorion, namely trading for Matt Duchene in 2017 (Nichols almost hits upon this, but not quite). At the time, just like now, Dorion thought he was on the cusp of playoff success, so let’s go back to the halcyon days of 2017, look at that trade, and see how it compares.

This was a threeway trade between Ottawa, Nashville, and Colorado (which the Avalanche won going away); that aside, we’ll concern ourselves only with the elements that apply to Ottawa.
Sens gave up (1 player, 3 assets):
Kyle Turris (Nsh) – 172-29-67-96 (0.55) over three seasons, which was below his Ottawa average (0.67); the Sens wisely got out of the Turris-business before his play collapsed and they avoided paying him the absurd salary Nashville handed out–moving him at this time was a good idea
Andrew Hammond (Col) – The Sens ill-advisedly rewarded him with a one-way contract and dumping him became necessary (Anderson-Condon was the tandem that season); the Avalanche buried him in the minors and let him walk at the end of the season
Shane Bowers (Col) – A first-round pick (!) that I thought was terrible at the time and, as Colorado discovered, I was not wrong (his AHL numbers with them: 117-23-22-45 0.38); the Sens picking him was a waste (a Mann pick, incidentally), but knowing to get rid of him was the correct move
2019 1st-round pick (Bowen Byram, Col) – Dorion dumped the first-round pick thinking he was managing a playoff team–instead the Avalanche got a lottery pick the Sens needed; Byram has won a Cup already (his NHL numbers through parts of two seasons: 49-5-17-19 0.38)
2019 3rd-round pick (Matthew Stienburg, Col) – The third-rounder is still plying his trade in the NCAA and doing well, but whether he’ll pan out is up in the air (it’s statistically unlikely)
Sens acquired (1 player):
Matt Duchene – 118-50-57-107 (0.90) over parts of two seasons as the Sens bottomed out to become one of the worst teams in the NHL; he was flipped to Columbus (a trade we’ll get into below); Duchene played very well, producing above his career average (0.76), but that production was wasted because Dorion misunderstood how good his roster was

What you can say about this trade is that, in terms of the established assets, Dorion did well (moving on from Turris, Bowers, and Hammond, and getting in on Duchene at peak performance). What Dorion failed at was assessing his own team and thus surrendering an asset he’d dearly love to have back. Dorion also struggled when forced to move Duchene, so let’s briefly look at that.
Sens gave up (2 players):
Matt Duchene – Finished out the season with the Blue Jackets (23-4-8-12), but walked and signed with Nashville afterwards (so he was a pure rental)
Julius Bergman – Previously acquired in the Mike Hoffman deal, the Sens jettisoned him after just part of one-season in the AHL (he finished out the year and then went back to Europe)
Sens acquired (3 players):
Vitaly Abramov – The prospect received a lot of fanfare, but suited up for just 5 NHL games over three seasons before returning to Russia
Jonathan Davidsson – A signing Columbus clearly regretted, the Sens brought him over for one season where he accomplished nothing in the AHL (30-2-3-5) and returned to Europe
2019 1st-round pick (Lassi Thomson) – Is on the right trajectory, although it’s too early to say if he’ll become an important NHL regular or not

Dorion again made the correct decision to dump Duchene when he did (as well as moving an asset he didn’t want in Bergman), and Davidsson was simply part of the price to be paid for the trade, but the team failed hard in gauging Abramov’s potential. Given that Columbus retained none of the assets in what was a playoff-push trade, the Sens win the exchange if Thomson turns into even a marginal NHL-regular, however, big picture we’d all rather have Byram than Thomson, which means Dorion loses the entire Duchene cycle–not just because of the final assets, but because Duchene’s time with Ottawa was wasted. His performance, while good individually, did nothing for the team.

With that lengthy preamble aside, let’s see what Dorion has learned. The pint-sized Debrincat (368-160-147-307 0.83) was a 2nd-rounder in 2016 who has flourished with the largely non-competitive Hawks since he debuted. He’s young, hasn’t had notable injury concerns, is signed and an RFA for the following season–he’s expensive, but in theory there’s two seasons for the budget-conscious Sens to get out of him. What did they give up?
2022 1st-round pick (Kevin Korchinski)
2022 2nd-round pick (Paul Ludwinski)
2024 3rd-round pick

A top-ten pick is nothing to sneeze at and the 2nd is very early, meaning the odds of Ludwinski also turning out are (relatively) high–the 3rd-round pick is much more of a crapshoot. Let’s take a look at players picked in those positions over 2012-20 (those in italics either failed or were marginal players; those undetermined have their current league/circumstance noted):
7th overall: Matt Dumba, Darnell Nurse, Haydn Fleury, Ivan Provorov, Clayton Keller, Lias Andersson, Quinn Hughes, Dylan Cozens
39th overall: Lukas Sutter, Laurent Dauphin, Vitek Vanecek, A. J. Greer, Alex Debrincat, Jason Robertson, Olof Lindbom, Jackson LaCombe (NCAA)

I appreciate the irony of Debrincat being a 39th pick. That aside, 75% of the time the 7th-pick has become a significant asset; on the other side, two cases remain undecided (Vanecek and LaCombe), so of what’s left it’s 33% (which is still quite high). Let’s also keep in mind that the best later pick was made by Chicago, the team Dorion just traded with. In the long term, it’s unlikely the Sens win this trade (to do so Chicago needs to fail), so this trade isn’t for the long term.

With Debrincat, just like Duchene five years ago, this deal requires the Sens to win now. We understood that urgency when Melnyk was in charge, but he’s no longer with us, so where is the pressure coming from? My theory is Dorion knows he’s on very thin ice–this could be his last year as GM and, if that’s the case, he wants to go for broke. Are the 2022-23 Senators better than the 2017-18 Senators? It’s easy to say yes in hindsight, but the latter were coming off almost making the Stanley Cup finals, so I don’t think it’s that simple. Let’s briefly compare the two (I’m going to note the season they had prior and then the current season; bold is improved, italics is not):

Top-six forwards
Mark Stone (1.06/1.05)
Mike Hoffman (0.82/0.68)
Matt Duchene (0.53/0.72)
Ryan Dzingel (0.39/0.52)
Derick Brassard (0.48/0.65)
Bobby Ryan (0.40/0.53)
Top-four blueline
Erik Karlsson (0.92/0.87)
Thomas Chabot (junior/0.39)
Cody Ceci (0.21/0.23)
Dion Phaneuf (0.37/0.30)
Starting ‘tender
Craig Anderson (.923/.898)
Significant Roster Losses
Marc Methot

The Sens were slightly better offensively in the 17-18 season, but their goaltending collapsed and that had hidden deficiencies on defense. Dorion’s inability to read the tea leaves in terms of the blueline and goaltending sent the team crashing down into its lengthy rebuild.

Top-six forwards
Alex Debrincat (0.95)
Brady Tkachuk (0.84)
Tim Stutzle (0.73)
Josh Norris (0.83)
Drake Batherson (0.95)
Shane Pinto (injured)
Top-four blueline
Thomas Chabot (0.64)
Artyom Zub (0.27)
Jake Sanderson (NCAA)
Erik Brannstrom (0.26)-Lassi Thomson (AHL)
Starting ‘tender
Anders Forsberg (.917)
Significant Roster Losses
None

The Sens suffered a ton of key injuries this past season and are leaning heavily on younger players. There’s no depth to replace key losses, such that it’s impossible for success if there are any significant health issues (this also applies to individual regression or struggles). Goaltending, just like in 17-18, is a huge question mark, as Forsberg is a career backup and there’s only uncertainty behind him.

We also can’t help but repeat what Nichols and others have found by digging through the numbers: how much playing with Patrick Kane has helped boost Debrincat‘s numbers–and it does no good to say, well, if he’s not as advertised, the Sens aren’t committed, because they’ve already surrendered significant assets to get him that can’t be replaced. Debrincat must work out or this trade is a disaster.

Also, as others have pointed out, Debrincat helps the team in the way it needs least: on offense. While it’s safe to say the top-six without him is hardly dominant, scoring wasn’t the primary issue for the team this past season. Not only that, but by surrendering two top-40 picks, the Sens are delaying the addition of new top talent in net or on the blueline. Do I think Jake Sanderson will be a good NHL player? I do, but how long is he going to be playing with Chabot and Zub? It’s also unclear if the Sens have a proper #4 to complete the picture (along with zero capacity to make-up for injuries on the blueline). The net is a mess and clearly Dorion is praying for the continued evolution of Mads Sogaard, but he’s only 21 (shades of Murray waiting for Robin Lehner or Dorion relying on Marcus Hogberg). The echoes to 2017 and the Duchene trade are ringing louder and louder.

At the end of the day, I hope the Debrincat addition is all people hope it will be (I do love offense, lest we forget), but Pierre Dorion has a magical talent for losing trades, so I’m going to remain cautious until we’re well into the coming season.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Sens Prospects Review

Let me begin by making it clear what prospects I’m looking at: those not already in the system (so not already in Ottawa or Belleville). I make this distinction because I think the data available for the latter is so different that they occupy different categories of analysis. It’s also important to recognize that most of these players will never be significant NHLers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun looking and assessing. Speaking of which, I do not have access to the minute data that scouts do (or those willing to pay for it, ala Ary etc), nor have I seen most of these players play this season, so I’m purely analyzing from pre-existing scouting reports and statistical comparisons (both immediate and in relative terms).

I like to divide players by age, since that makes comparing where they are in the development curve easier (keeping in mind goaltenders almost always take longer to pan out), so the players below are in order of oldest to youngest. I’m going to link my thoughts on the players when they were drafted (and you can see where I was right or wrong interpreting scouting data). For the most current season I’ve included (in brackets) how they performed on their team in relative scoring (forwards vs forwards and defensemen vs defensemen).

Jakov Novak, LW/C, Oct 98, 6’3, 7-188/18
2017-18 NAHL 56-32-41-73 1.30
2018-19 NCAA 37-7-8-15 0.40
2019-20 NCAA 35-16-14-30 0.85
2020-21 NCAA 15-7-10-17 1.13
2021-22 NCAA 39-8-9-17 0.43 (6th)

Novak switched from Bentley to Northeastern in his final season and saw his steady increase of progression halt as he played behind other drafted players. Because of the league he was drafted from, there was precious little scouting information about him when drafted, but he compares to another Sens pick (pre-Mann) Todd Burgess (2016), who came from the same league. Burgess was never signed and spent most of this season playing with Manitoba in the AHL (35-7-6-13). The two players aren’t clones, as offensively Novak has better career NCAA numbers (0.63 vs. 0.49), Burgess spent an extra year in college, and so on. Will/should the Sens sign Novak? It’s hard to say–looking at the stats isn’t enough given his change in schools and it’s less clear to me what role the Sens envision for him–his size is in his favour. As a fan I’d like to see him perform better than sixth on his team in scoring, but that’s not the be-all, end-all for all prospects.

Viktor Lodin, C/LW, June 99, 6’2, 4-94/19 (signed)
2018-19 SHL 41-1-4-5 0.12
2019-20 SHL 22-0-4-4 0.18
2020-21 Allsven 47-14-26-40 0.85
2021-22 SHL 44-12-15-27 0.61 (3rd)

Son of long time Swedish defenseman Hans, Lodin was an off-the-board pick I couldn’t find much information on at the time. What little I could find made me think he was yet another grinder, but that impression was false (such that my reaction, link above, was off). At least at the minor pro level, Lodin is a point producer. The Sens signed him after the 20-21 season, but loaned him to Timra and that seems to have been beneficial to him. His minor pro sample size is small (ten games), but it seems like he can play at that level. Can he be an NHL regular? I think that’s up in the air and I suspect he has to make space for himself in the bottom six and be a specialist like an Erik Condra or Peter Schaefer (which is to say, provide some offensive punch in a depth role).

Jonny Tychonick, DL, Mar 00, 6’0, 2-48/18
2017-18 BCHL 48-9-38-47 0.97
2018-19 NCAA 28-0-4-4 0.14
2019-20 NCAA 24-4-7-11 0.45
2020-21 NCAA 23-3-5-8 0.34
2021-22 NCAA 24-2-6-8 0.33 (4th)

The offensive defensemen the Sens picked in the 2018 draft has not been able to maintain that production at the college level (you’d like to see is an arc that steadily increases). The org is unlikely to leave a high pick unsigned, but the expectations of what kind of pro he’ll be has to have changed and Tychonick will need to be a good defender to carry forward his pro career (if we’re looking for an Ottawa prospect comparable it would be a borderline player like Max Lajoie–similar size and okay but not great offensive numbers).

Eric Engstrand, LW, May 00, 6’4, 5-155/20
2019-20 SuperElit 37-23-35-58 1.56
2020-21 SHL 45-1-4-5 0.11
2021-22 SHL 41-7-3-10 0.24 (12th)

Already re-signed by Malmo for the next two seasons, Engstrand won’t be in an arena near you any time soon. An overage pick in the mold of a Filip Ahl (2015) and Markus Nurmi (2016)–a big, physical European winger–he’s the second youngest on the roster and his progression is in the right direction. I believe the way it works with Swedish draft picks is you have 4-years to sign them, so the org can be patient and watch how his play evolves. Incidentally, speaking of Nurmi, I think there’s a chance he could make it as a depth NHLer (albeit the Sens no longer have his rights), perhaps ala Marcus Sorensen who the Sens never signed but spent five years with San Jose.

Luke Loheit, RW, Jul 00, 6’1, 7-194/18
2017-18 USHS 24-12-18-30 1.25
2018-19 BCHL 43-8-16-24 0.55
2019-20 NCAA 33-5-1-6 0.18
2020-21 NCAA 28-3-2-5 0.17
2021-22 NCAA 34-2-4-6 0.17 (11th)

Always intended to be a long term college prospect, I think my analysis at the time he was drafted is spot on. He has one more NCAA season to show his mettle, but at this point it’s difficult to imagine anything will change. This is a player who can only become a pro through great defensive play and/or being an agitator, but from what we can see the skillset just isn’t high enough for that to ever happen.

Philippe Daoust, C/LW, Nov 01, 6’0, 6-158/20 (signed)
2019-20 QMJHL 58-7-22-29 0.50
2020-21 QMJHL 21-6-22-28 1.33
2021-22 QMJHL 38-24-23-47 1.23 (3rd via ppg)

I like gambling on skill and while Daoust isn’t going to be a world beater, he was able to put in some time in Belleville (15-games) and has solid QMJHL numbers. What’s his ceiling? Probably not high, but he should help the BSens and could be a top-nine player (the hope for a pick like this is always another Pageau (2011), but getting players of that caliber late rarely pans out).

Tyler Kleven, DL, Jan 02, 6’4, 2-44/20
2019-20 USDP 45-2-10-12 0.26
2020-21 NCAA 22-5-2-7 0.31
2021-22 NCAA 38-7-3-10 0.26 (4th)

His goal to assist ratio for a defenseman is bizarre; he was Sanderson’s teammate on a team stacked with draft picks (9 in total). How good is he? I think that’s very much up in the air–the Sens tend to get blinded by size and so the question remains if he can fulfill their plans for him. With that said, in theory he has another two seasons in the NCAA to develop, so there’s no rush to judgement on him.

Jake Sanderson, DL, Jul 02, 6’2, 1-5/20 (signed)
2019-20 USDP 47-7-22-29 0.61
2020-21 NCAA 22-2-13-15 0.68
2021-22 NCAA 23-8-18-26 1.13 (1st)

Son of NHLer Geoff, his production curve is exactly what you want to see from a high pick and while it doesn’t guarantee greatness at the NHL level, it is nice to see a Sens top pick perform as expected. There’s always less to say about a player who is properly on the curve, so at this stage we just have to wait and see–is he ready for prime time in the NHL, or will he need (like Chabot) to spend some time in the AHL? I’m perfectly fine if he needs that seasoning–there’s no reason to rush.

Ridley Greig, LW, Aug 02, 6’0, 1-28/20 (signed)
2019-20 WHL 56-26-34-60 0.93
2020-21 WHL 21-10-22-32 1.52
2021-22 WHL 39-26-37-63 1.61 (1st by ppg)

Son of marginal NHLer Mark, like Sanderson above, he has the curve you want in a prospect. How will his agitating game translate at the NHL level? I have no idea, but that edge means if his production doesn’t translate there is another role for him. I’m not sure if he’s ready at the NHL-level (Sens marketing in the summer will tell you he is, but that doesn’t mean much). He’s definitely capable of helping in the AHL and I’ll be interested to see what the Sens do with him. Just like Sanderson above, I’m happy with a patient approach.

Leevi Merilainen, GL, Aug 02, 6’3, 3-71/20
2019-20 U20 .908
2020-21 U20 .934
2021-22 OHL .891

An off the wall pick from Finland, he crossed the pond to play in the OHL this season where he was middle of the pack among goaltenders (which is completely fine). The Sens amateur scouting for goaltenders has been pretty good–not great, perhaps, but in finding players who can play pro hockey. Goalies can take forever to develop and the Sens can be impatient, but there’s no rush with him at this point.

Ben Roger, DR, Nov 02, 6’4, 2-49/21
2020-21 did not play
2021-22 OHL 55-1-12-13 0.23 (5th)

The mystery is: can he be more than a big body (ala Ben Harpur, who could not stay in Nashville’s lineup this year)? There’s plenty of time to find out and I don’t think we’re close to answering that– his size will give him time to prove himself with the org, but I’m generally pessimistic about players who don’t produce at the junior level, so I need to see that before thinking he can make it.

Tyler Boucher, RW, Jan 03, 6’1, 1-10/21
2020-21 USDP 14-9-5-14 1.00
2021-22 OHL 24-7-7-14 0.58 (4th by ppg)

Son of former NHL goalie Brian, he bailed from Boston U mid-season to join the OHL, where he did not produce like a top-pick (keeping in mind the 67s were a low scoring team). I was underwhelmed by the selection when it was made and I’m still pessimistic about it, but there’s time for Boucher to prove me wrong.

Carson Latimer, RW, Jan 03, 6’1, 4-123/21
2020-21 WHL 22-5-11-16 0.72
2021-22 WHL 62-18-22-40 0.64 (5th)

When drafted his main claim to fame was he is fast; the questions was if he was anything else and that remains unanswered at this stage. I think he’s entering the make-or-break stage as a prospect and he needs to break out offensively or be dominant as a PK/specialist to move forward.

Zack Ostapchuk, LW, May 03, 6’3, 2-39/21 (signed)
2020-21 WHL 22-7-9-16 0.72
2021-22 WHL 60-26-17-43 0.71 (3rd)

Enjoying a great playoff and I’m always happy when the org gambles on skill. How good can he be? I think that’s up in the air–we need to see more before we can truly gauge that (given that his production didn’t jump expectations should be tempered). The brass are satisfied, so when it’s time we’ll at least see him at the AHL-level.

Chandler Romeo, DL, Jul 03, 6’5, 7-202/21
2020-21 did not play
2021-22 OHL 67-2-16-18 0.26 (4th)

Normally I’d complain about picking a player purely due to size, but the seventh round is the place to swing for the fences–will Romeo pan out? Probably not, but I won’t be too critical if not. At his age there’s plenty of time to let him marinate and develop.

Oliver Johansson, CL, Jul 03, 6’0, 3-74/21
2020-21 Allsven 5-0-3-3
2021-22 J20 33-19-22-41 (1st by ppg)

An excellent skater who is still finding his way in the junior leagues in Sweden; there’s plenty of time to wait and see if Johansson can turn the corner to be good enough to cross the pond, but this season doesn’t change my opinion of him one way or another. I’d expect at least another couple of years in Sweden (barring a breakout), where he tests himself in the Allsvenskan/SHL.

Final Thoughts

There’s less to tease out with the prospects from the most recent draft, but a year of development does add to the body of evidence we have for them. Most of these prospects, as mentioned at the top, won’t make it and the expectations of most are modest–they are depth players. That’s not inherently a flaw so long as a few could be something more. Let’s categorize them for convenience:

Top-six F/top-four D/starting ‘tender (or better)
Jake Sanderson
Ridley Greig

Top-nine F/top-six D/back-up
Viktor Lodin
Jonny Tychonick
Philippe Daoust
Tyler Kleven
Leevi Merilainen
Tyler Boucher
Zack Ostapchuk
Oliver Johansson

Fourth-liner/6-7 D/minor starter
Jakov Novak
Eric Engstrand
Ben Roger
Carson Latimer
Chandler Romeo

No Future
Luke Loheit

I’m curious what lessons, if any, the Sens scouting staff has learned from the last few years, where a very skilled Tampa has won and only teams with deep talent pools have made it to the conference finals this year. I’d like to think at least some awareness of that has seeped into the org–Mann seems aware that speed is important enough to invest in, at least. I don’t know how myopic Dorion is–we have to remember that coming into the 2021-22 season he thought Ottawa would compete for a playoff spot, so will he spend a lot of capital for some perceived final piece to get them over the hump? That’s a fear I have, as Dorion’s pro deals are generally disasters. Time will tell. Regardless, I’m happy to hear thoughts or corrections in the comments and I’m looking forward to the draft.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Reviewing the Performance of the BSens Roster

Back in August I took a look at the BSens lineup and with the regular season over it’s time to look back and reflect. The players below are organized by age, followed by points-per-game in their previous season, their career average ppg in brackets, and then this season after the dash. Those in red are either no longer with the team or missed the season due to injury, while those in green were added after the original article.

Veterans – Forwards

Andrew Agozzino 0.77 (0.77) – 0.65
The now 31-year old vet played in most of the team’s 72-games; his drop in production is perhaps a sign that he’s in decline, but it’s still a solid season and he was a worthwhile acquisition.

Scott Sabourin 0.33 (0.25) – 0.43
In terms of points-per-game this was a career year for the veteran (just a nudge over his 0.37 rookie campaign); he also had the most fights since the 2016-17 season (granted, he had just one less in 18-19). For Trent Mann he’s been a regular contributor and performed better than I expected.

Tyrell Goulbourne 0.11 (0.20) – traded CGY Mar.21 0.06
One of the puzzling off-season acquisitions–how many ‘tough’ fourth-liner veterans can an AHL team afford? It took the org quite some time to offload him–he only played in 9 games (in which he had no points).

Pontus Aberg 0.38 (0.68) – released Dec.5 0.65
This is one of the weirder situations (I couldn’t find any comments about acrimony, so the parting was presumably mutually agreeable); the Swede’s numbers are within his averages, but he returned to Timra after just 17-games with Belleville.

Logan Shaw 0.62 (0.49) – 0.66
My prediction that Shaw wouldn’t see much time in Ottawa was wrong (17 games), but otherwise he continued the production he demonstrated last season and managed to stay healthy for the first time in three years.

Jake Lucchini 0.21 (0.31) – trade MTL Oct.12 – 0.71
I’m often critical of the trades the org makes, but this was an inspired move, as acquiring him from Laval cost the team nothing and paid huge dividends (leading the team in scoring). The NCAA grad had failed to find his footing with either Pittsburgh or Montreal, but with Belleville, outside a rough 8-game streak mid-season (8-0-1-1), his production remained excellent. Full credit to those behind the acquisition.

Clark Bishop 0.62 (0.31) – 0.34
Managed to get back to his career average at the end of the season, but I still have no idea why the Sens signed the AHL fourth-liner to a two-way contract (presumably they thought his brief spike in production last year was meaningful; mercifully they are off the hook after this season).

Rourke Chartier 0.36 (0.55) – PTO Oct.4 – 0.76
Another inspired pick-up, even though he’s been limited to 33-games (Chartier has only played a full AHL season once in his 5-year career). Like Lucchini above, he had a cold spell (in February, 7-0-0-0), but otherwise contributed regularly when healthy.

Kole Sherwood 0.38 (0.38) – traded NSH Nov.30 0.25
Much like Goulbourne above, I have no idea what the point of signing him was and the BSens seemed to realize their error fairly early, as Sherwood was gone after 13-games.

Chris Wilkie 0.59 – trade CHI Nov.13 – 0.54
A solid pick-up whose production fell off as the season progressed (7-0-1-1).

Zach Senyshyn 0.72 (0.45) – trade BOS Mar.21 – 0.51
An asset I doubt the Sens were interested in, but acquired as part of the process of getting rid of Josh Brown. Senyshyn has been awful with Belleville (16-0-3-3) and I suspect isn’t a lock for regular play in the playoffs (nor will he be around next year).

Cedric Pare 0.59 – PTO Oct.3 – 0.24
Clearly the Sens were expecting more from Pare, who suffered from horrendous cold spells (18-1-1 to end the season). Whatever hope the former Boston pick might have had to carve a niche for himself has failed.

Matthew Wedman 0.23 (ECHL) – PTO Oct.2 – 0.24
An Atlanta Gladiator signee (and former Florida pick) who was invited to camp and, despite horrendous skating, carved a niche for himself playing on the fourth line–he’s not part of the future in Belleville.

This is primary area of roster change. Coming into the season, Sens brass had eagerly added grinders to the roster who underperformed and were thankfully moved. The injury to Crookshank (below), as well as Aberg returning to Sweden, is part of the reason why so many players were added (both would have been penciled in as top-six forwards). Of those additions, the most significant was Lucchini (it’s difficult to imagine the roster making the playoffs without him), and to a lesser extent Chartier (keeping in mind he only played 33 games). It wasn’t all wins for the org, as both Pare and Senyshyn performed below expectations. Beyond additions, most of the performances were within expected parameters, albeit clearly the Sens did not think Bishop would regress to the mean.

Veterans – Defensemen

Zac Leslie 0.33 (0.35) – 0.42
A full season from the veteran saw a modest improvement on his typical production; he was an adequate addition.

Colby Williams 0.37 (0.26) – 0.16
The ‘truculent’ blueliner saw his production completely crash after a career year with the BSens (some of the drop would be due to usage, but that change alone wouldn’t explain over a 50% drop).

Dillon Heatherington 0.17 (0.28) – 0.29
I didn’t think much of the addition, given his limitations, but he is what he is and produced at that rate (only playing 45-games).

Broadly there’s nothing to get excited about here, as Leslie slightly overachieving is more than balanced by Williams underachieving. There’s an excellent chance none of these players are back next season.

Prospects – Forwards

Mark Kastelic 0.32 – 0.44
Ottawa journalists and the org are big fans; he saw a solid statistical bump and his 5-fights are second only to Sabourin’s; I think he’s overvalued, but growth is growth.

Viktor Lodin 0.85 (Allsvenskan) – 0.80
I was not overly impressed when he was drafted in 2019–lacking scouting reports, his numbers did not stand out; however, the Sens let him get plenty of seasoning in Sweden and it seems to have paid off in AHL-terms, with Lodin playing a key role in the playoff run.

Angus Crookshank 0.84 – injured
What an unfortunate turn of events for Crookshank, who was poised for a huge season in the AHL and missed it all with an injury.

Parker Kelly 0.54 (0.37) – 0.42
Another player the Sens are very high on; he played only 33-games in Belleville as he bounced back and forth between it and Ottawa; his numbers shrank, but some of that is usage.

Cole Reinhardt 0.36 – 0.43
As in my preview, I have no idea what sort of player he’s meant to be. The modest increase in production suggests he’s not going to be a producer, but he also isn’t much of a grinder, so what is he?

Yegor Sokolov 0.71 – 0.78
I think fans expected a breakout from the affable Russian, but the modest increase isn’t a disappointment. Sokolov isn’t a dynamic player and his skating still needs work, so there’s nothing wrong with spending another season in Belleville.

Roby Jarventie 0.52 (Liiga) – 0.47
The 19-year old slowed considerably at the end of the season (11-0-1-1), which isn’t surprising given the length of the season, his age, and a change in usage during the playoff push. I think it’s been a good year for him and there’s plenty of time left for growth.

For the forward prospects there were no surprises other than Lodin being better than expected.

Prospects – Defense

Jonathan Aspirot 0.41 – 0.38
I’m still not sure why the Sens signed him to an ELC, as there’s no room for him in the NHL (now or in the future). With that said, he echoed his production from last season (playing a little over half the season, 47-games).

Jacob Bernard-Docker 0.66 (NCAA) – 0.16
Fans and the org expected a lot more from the high pick, but he was not ready. That doesn’t mean his season is a disappointment, just that it’s unlikely he’ll be a contributor for the Sens next year.

Lassi Thomson 0.37 – 0.59
This is excellent growth from Thomson who, in terms of points-per-game, lead the blueline; I don’t think there’s anything left for him to prove at this level and I’d expect him to be with Ottawa next season.

Maxence Guenette 0.61 (QMJHL) – 0.40
A solid season from the rookie who carved a path into a clogged blueline. It’s too early to guess his trajectory at this stage, although as I pointed out in my preview, there are similarities to Max Lajoie.

The things that jump out most are Thomson taking a significant step forward and Bernard-Docker not being ready for prime time (the latter was part of the discussion for the blueline during the summer). The evolution of Thomson will make buying out Zaitsev easier, since they play the same side.

Prospects – Goaltenders

Filip Gustavsson .910 (.894) – .915 (11-6-1)
Coming into the season, Gustavsson was supposed to challenge for the back-up spot in Ottawa or be the default starter in Belleville–neither of those things occurred, as he struggled in the NHL and fell behind Sogaard in the AHL. I’ve long held that Gustavasson has always been inconsistent–brilliant in small doses, but over time his numbers regress.

Kevin Mandolese .888 – .901 (9-5-0)
Came into the season as the third-wheel in Belleville and that hasn’t changed; in limited action his numbers saw some improvement (including in the ECHL, .916).

Mads Sogaard .917 – .908 (19-14-1)
The big Dane surpassed Gustavsson as the starter for the team (and, seemingly, on the depth chart with the brass), although there’s no need to rush him into the NHL next season.

For the goaltenders there’s no real surprises here–I correctly predicted that Mandolese would spend time in the ECHL, Gustavsson‘s erratic play would continue, and that Sogaard‘s development would be positive.

Team Performance

I didn’t spend a ton of time on projecting the team in my summer assessment, but I will go over what I did bring up (primarily offense in comparison to the rest of the league). Andrew Poturalski lead the league in scoring again, with T. J. Tynan also repeating as the ppg leader (1.58 vs 1.30 last season); within the BSens division rookie J. J. Peterka was the leader in total points (10th overall), but behind ppg champ and teammate Jack Quinn (1.36, 3rd overall). The top-scoring blueliner was Jordan Gross (who also lead ppg 1.07), while the tops in the division was Toronto’s Joseph Duszak (2nd, who also lead in ppg 0.85, 4th). In both cases, the BSens top performer (and we’re ignoring Del Zotto’s brief appearance) was well down the list. As for the team, which struggled offensively last season (2.9 goals per game), they saw only a slight increase (3.04), remaining second worst in their division and 17th overall. Their goals against improved vastly (13th vs 26th) and is largely the reason why they made the playoffs (that can be put down to better goaltending and defensive play overall).

Final Thoughts

To sum up, I think the org created its own problems prior to the start of the season with questionable signings, however, unlike the NHL side of the operation, it was able to right the ship enough to make progress (not all the moves worked out, but enough did). In terms of the prospects, there was broad improvement, albeit no standout (Thomson comes close; Lodin simply didn’t play enough to be judged). It sounds like a broken record, but pro scouting remains a giant weakness in the org (the acquisition of Lucchini and Chartier clearly leaned on prior amateur scouting).

[May 11th update: Spencer has put out his own grades for the BSens, but unfortunately there’s nothing in depth provided for the grades, so there’s no information I can use to tweak my own opinions. The only significant variance, perhaps, is how much weight he gives Heatherington‘s impact on the team.]

This article was written by Peter Levi

Pierre Dorion’s Recent Trades and Other Thoughts

If my memory is correct, be it a trade or the draft, Pierre Dorion’s response to fan backlash about a roster move is don’t judge me now…and if the move remains a disaster, hey, let’s not talk about the past, let’s move forward. I’m not suggesting all his moves have failed, but that on the pro side there are a lot of issues. Given that I discussed the trade deadline last time, let’s talk about Dorion’s overall moves post-draft to now, keeping in mind what the Sens are trying to accomplish long-term (becoming playoff contenders):

Evgeni Dadonov for Nick Holden and a 3rd (Van) ~ 3rd (Van) for Travis Hamonic
Largely a money move, but the Russian has been better with Vegas (0.55) than he was with the Sens (0.36). As for Ottawa, Holden is a solid, bottom pairing defender, but the soon-to-be 35-year old isn’t part of the future, so what does having him for a couple of seasons actually do for your roster? Dorion used the 3rd-round pick to add a money dump from Vancouver (Hamonic). The veteran blueliner has one more year left on his deal which, much like Holden, begs the question, how does this build your team for the future? The Sens won’t be in contention next year, so where this take you? Unless Hamonic is retained and remains an important piece or is moved for something better, Dorion loses out on both deals.

Logan Brown and a conditional 4th (retained) for Zach Sanford ~ Sanford for a 5th (Win)
The former first-rounder wanted out and the Sens opted for a rental while risking a pick to move him; fortunately, the Blues voided the condition, but ultimately Dorion gave up Brown for a 5th-round pick, something unlikely to yield anything for the future. That’s terrible management of the asset that was Brown (who had much more value a year or two ago).

7th (SJ) for Dylan Gambrell
I have no idea why the Sens wanted the player, who isn’t an NHLer, or why they gave up an asset (even if it is a 7th) for him.

Kole Sherwood for a bag of magic beans (Nsh)
When he was signed I had no idea why (as has long been the case for the BSens, their signings are often baffling). I won’t give Dorion credit for figuring out that it was a bad idea, as he should have known that beforehand, but we can be thankful Nashville took him.

Nick Paul for Mathieu Joseph and a 2024 4th (TB)
This isn’t a bad trade, as long as Joseph‘s garbage time production doesn’t go to Dorion’s head–Paul wasn’t staying, so it was important to move him, and a pick in 2024 is probably better given how late TB’s picks will be this year and next. How good Joseph actually is remains to be seen (and he has to be resigned), but this is the best move on this list.

Josh Brown and a conditional 7th (retained) for Zach Senyshyn and a 5th (Bos)
A player the Sens needed to dump (lest we forget, Dorion gave up a 4th to acquire him), but they picked-up a terrible prospect in Senyshyn in return, so what the Sens have really done is get two unremarkable NHL seasons from a depth blueliner and a 5th rather than keep a 4th in 2020.

Bag of magic beans (Ott) for Michael McNiven (Cgy)
The Sens did Calgary a favour acquiring the dead asset (who got him from Montreal for their own bag of magic beans), and he’s been awful with Belleville in limited appearances. Acquiring him cost the team nothing, so it’s an irrelevant move for assessment.

Assessment: we have to hold final judgement on Dadanov/Hamonic, but the odds strongly lean one way more than the other. We have four clear fails and an irrelevant pickup from Calgary, leaving just the Joseph acquisition as a wait-and-see. There are no definitive wins here, so it’s an 0-4-2 record as it stands. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Sens pro scouting is terrible as are Dorion’s pro deals.

Let’s offer some balance to this, just to be fair, and look at some prospects I thought had potential that the team flipped and haven’t panned out:
Christian Jaros – While the Sens acquired a useless player in return and the 7th they flipped for Gambrell, it does seem like Jaros is not going to be an NHL regular. Now 26, he couldn’t stay in San Jose’s lineup when moved and has seen limited action with New Jersey. Did they maximize the asset? No, but they did make the correct determination on his potential.
Christian Wolanin – Here again the Sens acquired nothing worthwhile for him, but the 27-year old hasn’t been able to establish himself in LA’s lineup.

Just Dorion Things

–Remember those articles about how great Victor Mete was before the start of the season? Not so much
–I have no idea what the logic of keeping Mads Sogaard in the NHL for a couple of weeks was when the BSens are trying to make the playoffs (speaking of that race, shoutout to Viktor Lodin‘s performance for the BSens since coming over from Timra)
–What was the point of trading for Clark Bishop? He’s now patrolling Belleville’s fourth line–it’s one thing if the logic was simply moving Max Lajoie, but re-signing Bishop is another example of poor asset management

Goals Goals Goals

I’ve been surprised by the offensive explosion in the NHL (one of the impediments to popularity for the league), but I’m not the only one. TSN (Yost) offers this:

“One of the key evolutions of the sport in the past two decades or so is a realization that talent and skill at depth positions isn’t just nice to have; it’s of critical importance and what separates genuine Stanley Cup contenders from the rest of the pack. Teams have, over time, hunted the opportunity to displace specialists with more skill.”

This wasn’t a difficult conclusion to arrive at, but be that as it may, I think Yost’s other point (that some teams have separated themselves out significantly in terms of talent, thus having more skilled depth) is probably the most relevant factor. NHL brass have spent decades suppressing scoring, so I’m curious to see how long the trend lasts, but it’s a good trend for the sport and we can hope that it will continue.

Boring Playoff Races

The NHL hasn’t expanded playoff spots since it was a 21-team league, such that for many there are no meaningful games to play for months. This season has lacked dramatics in the playoff race, illustrating just how badly the NHL is in dire need for something to make the long regular season worth investing in. I’m all for expanding the playoffs in general (as in, more teams make it), but if that’s off the table, giving the 50% who are not participating something else on the line to keep fans interested. Every major sport outside of baseball does it better than the NHL right now, so it’s high time for the league to figure this out.

I got stuck listening to TSN 1200 recently and was forcibly reminded of how dull Chris Stevenson is–if the man has a thirty-second opinion it’s going to take him fifteen minutes to spit it out and not be worth the listening regardless. I realize radio is for old people, but outside of Shawn Simpson it feels like the program director has given up. I’ve complained about media coverage of Ottawa since I started writing about the team, but throughout most of that time there were shows on the radio that were worth listening too. Is legacy coverage simply in its death throes, or are we at a pivot point where the need to attract listeners creates changes? Not surprisingly you can get more interesting coverage on Youtube and elsewhere.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Thoughts Post-Deadline and Post-Melnyk

I started writing this a week ago after the trade deadline, but the news of Eugene Melnyk’s unexpected passing has pushed me to complete it. My only interest in commenting on him here is wondering what this means for the future–will the family take over the team, or will the NHL manage as it seeks a new owner? I think even if the team remains in the family, Pierre Dorion’s days as GM are nearing an end–whatever one thinks of Dorion, a new person will want to inject ‘their guy’ in charge of the operation. Time will tell, but if I was going to guess Dorion will manage the draft and off-season, but 2022-23 will be his last as Ottawa’s GM.

Here are my scattered thoughts on the Sens with another season down the drain. Let’s state the obvious: this team was always going to sit near the bottom of the league (cf and cf). And now, trade deadline stuff:
—I’m happy the team got rid of Josh Brown. As per usual they overpaid for him in the first place and he failed to pan out, but at least they moved him.
—I’m also happy with moving Nick Paul, if for different reasons. He’s always been a nice enough support player, but the team needed him to do too much and, at 27, he is what he is (I’d rather have him off the books to make space for someone else).
—Is the ‘someone else’ Mathieu Joesph? I have my doubts, but it’s less of a risk and commitment (RFA) should they keep him (and at least they got a pick with him, even if it will be a 4th in 2024).
—Getting rid of Zach Sanford also made sense–an unimpressive veteran they weren’t going to keep.
—I don’t think much of Zach Senyshyn or Michael McNiven, but there’s no commitment to either and I assume they will be out the door at the end of the season.
—The big move is overpaying for Travis Hamonic. This is a classic Pierre Dorion trade–pick up a declining, gritty veteran that no one else wants. What I think this means is they’ve realized they have to move or buy out Nikita Zaitsev and I suspect that’s truly who Hamonic is replacing. In that sense, he is both cheaper and an improvement, but whether Melnyk’s successor will eat the former’s salary remains to be seen. I think the Pierre’s are also realizing Jacob Bernard-Docker won’t be ready next year and that Lassi Thomson (if he’s ready) will have to be protected stepping in.
—What does re-signing Anton Forsberg mean (and three years)? Either that they are giving up on Matt Murray (a very expensive idea, but sensible), or more likely Filip Gustavsson. Gus, who has slipped back to his expected erratic performance, I think has been put on the funeral pyre for the more reliable Mads Sogaard and the team will simply wait out Murray‘s contract for him.

To move beyond the trade deadline, the continued inability to assess talent remains front and center. Let’s note that Victor Mete hasn’t performed as advertised and Michael Del Zotto is a problem they seem unable to figure out. Adding marginal players like Gaudette and Gambrel, scrambling to get rid of Colin White (someone I predicted would cause them issues years ago), being unable to move Chris Tierney–it’s the flailing of a man in Pierre Dorion who thinks he knows what he’s doing, but spends most of his time trying to put out the fires he started. Who could have guessed these moves wouldn’t turn out? As it happens, virtually everyone. Speaking of Dorion….

Let’s quickly review his asset management post-2021 draft. We’ll start with draft pick management:
Picks-in:
2022 3rd Vancouver (Dadonov trade, subsequently moved back to Vancouver in the Hamonic trade)
2022 5th Boston (Josh Brown trade)
2022 5th Winnipeg (Zack Sanford trade)
2024 4th Tampa (Nick Paul trade)
Picks-out:
2022 3rd Vancouver (Hamonic trade)
2022 4th Ottawa (Logan Brown trade)
2022 7th San Jose (Gambrell trade)

The net result is the Sens gave up higher assets than they received (3rd, 4th, and a 7th vs a future 4th and two 5ths).

Bodies in/out:
In:
Nick Holden (Vegas)
Zack Sanford (St. Louis–subsequently traded to Winnipeg)
Adam Gaudette (Chicago–waivers)
Dylan Gambrell (San Jose)
Travis Hamonic (Vancouver)
Mathieu Joseph (Tampa)
Out:
Evgeni Dadonov (Vegas)
Logan Brown (St. Louis)
Kole Sherwood (Nashville)
Nick Paul (Tampa)
Josh Brown (Boston)
Zack Sanford (Winnipeg)

The Sanford rental is a failure and the Sens ultimately turned Logan Brown into a 5th-round pick (not good asset management for your former first-rounder). Josh Brown and Kole Sherwood were problems they imposed on themselves, although collectively getting a 5th for them is probably the best one could do. What really stands out is how marginal all the assets involved here are–with the exception of the outgoing Dadonov, these are all bottom-nine forwards and depth defensemen (although admittedly the Pierre’s likely believe Hamonic is a top-four).

There’s nothing in terms of players or picks that are going to solve Ottawa’s problems going forward, meaning an entire season’s worth of work hasn’t changed the Sens dependence on the draft. Instead, all of these moves are fires Dorion is trying to put out–Dadonov’s salary, Logan Brown wants out, Sherwood didn’t pan out, Paul can’t be resigned, Josh Brown didn’t pan out, and Sanford won’t resign. There’s nothing here that’s a straight hockey trade to improve the team. None of this is a surprise to those of us who have followed Dorion over the years, but maybe (just maybe) the fanbase has finally caught on.

I have thoughts on how Belleville has performed as well as the various prospects in the system, but I’d rather get this out now and wait for the AHL season to end before doing that. Any thoughts, corrections, and comments are welcome.

This article was written by Peter Levi