Roster Decisions for the Belleville Senators

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[Made a couple of corrections from the initial post–faulty memory came crashing against the rocks of hard facts–thanks to Ary for pointing them out.]

I mentioned previously that I would delve into what I think the BSens should do with their roster along with what I think they will do. For the latter element it’s worth keeping in mind what the org has generally done (which I went through recently; you can also see my review of rookies, prospects, and veterans). One decision is already made (matching what I would have preferred anyway), which is that veteran goaltender Danny Taylor is heading back to the KHL. We are also saved from disastrous first-line duo Max McCormick and Jim O’Brien due to the former’s one-way contract next season (Ben Harpur is also removed from the equation for the same reason, but he was actually good in limited-duty in Belleville).

Signed

Here are the players signed for next season (I’m assuming Thomas ChabotChristian Wolanin, Logan Brown, and Colin White will be on the NHL-roster–I think Filip Chlapik is 50-50 in that respect so he’s included below; rookies for next season are in green; AHL-contracts in italics; players arranged youngest to oldest):

Goaltenders (2)
Filip Gustavsson (SHL)
Marcus Hogberg

Defense (7)
Maxime Lajoie
Kelly Summers (NCAA)
Cody Donaghey
Christian Jaros
Andreas Englund
Macoy Erkamps
Jordan Murray

Forwards (11)
Drake Batherson (QMJHL)
Filip Chlapik
Aaron Luchuk (OHL)
Gabriel Gagne
Francis Perron
Andrew Sturtz (NCAA)
Ryan Scarfo (NCAA)
Jack Rodewald
Boston Leier (CIS)
Ben Sexton
Jim O’Brien

On the bubble:
Filip Ahl (Allsvenskan 29-11-4-15) – hurt his chances of being signed this year with a mediocre season in Sweden (he was unable to stay in Orebro’s lineup in the SHL), so another season to prove himself is expected
Markus Nurmi (Liiga 51-10-11-21) – I’d expect him to stay in Finland given the glut of forwards already in Belleville
We can safely assume unimpressive NCAA grad Shane Eiserman isn’t being signed (when drafted in 2014 the org saw him as another Max McCormick)

Expiring Contracts

RFAs
Nick Paul – despite no real improvement from the previous season his size and his late push towards the end of the year will probably see him re-signed (personally I’d let him walk–or sign & trade)
Nick Moutrey – dumped on the org by Columbus, he’s big but completely useless; they should let him go, but Randy Lee likes his big forwards so there’s a slim chance he’ll be retained

Non-Veteran Status
Patrick Sieloff – a player who peaked back in junior, his physicality has endeared him to the org and I feel like that might keep him around yet again
Daniel Ciampini – a PTO signing that I expect the team to let go–there are far too many forwards in the system to keep him around (which I think is the right decision)
Kyle Flanagan – undersized roleplayer will be let go (a decision I’m fine with)
Erik Burgdoerfer – I expect Captain Turnover to return and take time away from player development yet again–I’d kick him to the curb

Veteran Status
Ville Pokka – because he has veteran status it makes it very unlikely the Sens will put up the money to sign him, despite how badly they need a good puck-mover in Belleville (I also noted on Twitter that the Sens don’t sign European vets)
Max Reinhart – a complete dud all season–imagined as a top-six forward there’s no chance the org retains him to bumble around the bottom-six
Tyler Randell* – as useless as he is, there’s a chance the team hangs onto him for his “toughness”/”leadership”
Ethan Werek – another PTO signing, he didn’t do enough to endear himself and be retained; I wouldn’t keep him either, as to be effective he needs a lot of ice time and I’d rather have that go to prospects
Mike Blunden – absolute garbage both seasons with the org, but he was praised regardless; with that said, I think they’re ready to cut him loose
Eric Selleck – inexplicably traded for (!), but despite Randy Lee’s obsession with pugilists I don’t think they’ll keep him (he can’t skate which, I think, the org is starting to realize is important)
* within the 260+ vet category

Hypothetical Roster (vets in bold, re-signs in blue)

Forwards (14)
Drake Batherson
Filip Chlapik
Aaron Luchuk
Gabriel Gagne
Francis Perron
Nick Paul
Andrew Sturtz
Ryan Scarfo
Jack Rodewald
Boston Leier
Tyler Randell
Ben Sexton
Jim O’Brien
“gritty” veteran (FA)

Defense (9)
Maxime Lajoie
Kelly Summers
Cody Donaghey
Christian Jaros
Andreas Englund
Macoy Erkamps
Patrick Sieloff
Jordan Murray
Erik Burgdoerfer

Goaltenders (3)
Filip Gustavsson
Marcus Hogberg
veteran netminder (FA)

In the inaugural Belleville season the BSens had 29 players signed along with various PTOs trying out. My list has 26, but I don’t think we need to get too hung up on such a high number. We could see a veteran blueliner added as well–neither Erkamps or Donaghey really count as both are likely to spend their seasons buried in the ECHL–but if we do it’ll likely be (yet again) more “grit”.

My version of the roster? I wouldn’t have a three-headed monster in goal; I’d sign a quality ECHL goaltender, but leave the playing time to the prospects. I wouldn’t bring back any of the re-signed players indicated above, but I would try to either keep Pokka or else sign another talented defensemen (to play the left side if it was someone else). At forward I’d go find a couple of talented players to take the pressure off the rookies.

Coaching

I haven’t done a deep dive on rumoured new coach Troy Mann, but given Kleinendorst’s predilections I was curious how prospects had done with him in Hershey and if he shared the org’s obsession with vets. He was the head coach from 2014-15 to this past season, so briefly his record:
2014-15 46-22-8 .658 pugilist Dane Byers remained the captain
2015-16 43-21-12 .645 pugilist Garrett Mitchell was the captain
2016-17 43-22- 11 .638 same captain
2017-18 30-37-9 .454 same captain
Mann had O’Brien and Burgdoerfer previously (along with former BSens Carter Camper and Dustin Gazley). He relied heavily on vets for scoring, although it’s difficult to separate what was made available to him vs who he played. His rewarding of non-players as captain is, however, right up Randy Lee’s alley. The only positive I see, aside from a winning record, is a willingness to play younger goaltenders (although, again, I’m not sure how much choice he was given). Since he’s a fan of Burgdoerfer I think it adds to the odds of his return along with another eternity of playing time. There’s nothing surprising in this–Randy Lee’s understanding of hockey hasn’t changed so he’s going to look for someone who see’s things his way.

With all this said, it’s likely one or two prospects will be shuffled along in pre-draft (or draft) moves, which will also give us a better idea of where someone like Chlapik will wind up.

As for what’s coming up next for me: in terms of what’s planned the draft series is sooner than later (never a cheap process, so any donations or support on patreon is much appreciated). Typically Future Considerations is out first, but I’ll tackle them as they come and finish up with my predictions piece/analysis. I have a couple of other things in the hopper, but without a clear idea of when they will come out. For Marvel fans I have number of articles forthcoming along with a Cyberpunk 2077 update (both of which will appear on their respective blogspot sites–they will be Tweeted out as usual, of course).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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Thoughts on the Senators Handling of its AHL Team (Redux)

With Belleville’s season over (my multi-part review begins here) I decided to update my article from last year looking at how Ottawa has handled its AHL affiliate since the Bryan Murray/Pierre Dorion regime arrived.

Ottawa has struggled to properly support the development side of its organization for quite some time–by that I’m not referring to drafted players or free agent prospects (whose quality rests on the shoulders of amateur scouts), but rather the pieces that are put around them to support development in the AHL environment. I’m not interested in the rhetoric surrounding any of this, just the numbers. With numbers in mind, let’s dive in:

Bryan Murray/Pierre Dorion AHL Seasons
07-08 34-32-14 .513 225 248 missed playoffs
08-09 41-30-9 .569 238 missed playoffs +9pts, +7 GF, -10 GA
09-10 36-35-9 .506 251 260 missed playoffs10pts, +19 GF, +22 GA
10-11 42-30-8 .575 255 221 Calder Cup +11pts, +4 GF, –39 GA
11-12 29-40-7 .428 201 243 missed playoffs27pts, –54 GF, +22 GA
12-13 44-24-8 .632 227 188 first round +31pts, +26 GF, –55 GA
13-14 44-24-8 .632 206 185 first round4pts, –21 GF, –3 GA
14-15 34-34-8 .500 242 258 missed playoffs16pts, +36 GF, +73 GA
15-16 31-38-7 .454 204 241 missed playoffs7pts, –38 GF, –17 GA
16-17 28-44-4 .395 190 266 missed playoffs9pts, –14 GF, +15 GA
17-18 29-42-5 .414 194 266 missed playoffs +3pts, +4 GF, unchanged GA

AHL GM’s (from 07-08 to now)
Tim Murray (07-14)
Left mid-season to become Buffalo’s GM (since fired)
Randy Lee (14-present)
Litters the media with comments about toughness (tide goes in, tide goes out, eh Randy?)

AHL coaches
Cory Clouston (07-08 to 08-09)
Mid-season NHL replacement in Ottawa (Craig Hartsburg!), then failed out of two orgs in the WHL (Brandon and Prince Albert) before winding up in the DEL (Kolner Haie) where he was also fired
Curtis Hunt (09)
Mid-season replacement for Clouston when he went up to Ottawa; wasn’t retained and bounced from Regina (WHL) to Fort McMurray (AJHL) to GMing Prince Albert
Don Nachbaur (09-10)
Came from the WHL and went back subsequently before (this season) becoming an assistant with LA
Kurt Kleinendorst (10-11 to 11-12)
Left after losing the Ottawa job to Paul MacLean
Luke Richardson (12-13 to 15-16)
Left the org when Guy Boucher got the Ottawa job, becoming an assistant for NYI
Kurt Kleinendorst (16-17 to 17-18)
After he left he went to the NCAA (Alabama, fired), AHL (Iowa, fired), then a mid-season DEL replacement (Ingolstadt) before returning to Binghamton

None of the above are good pro coaches and I think you can go beyond that and say all of them are poor–believing the org’s own outdated ideas of playing hockey like it’s the clutch-and-grab 90s and brawling days of the 1970s (ie, the need for a goon and toughness, the importance of size, an over-reliance on veterans, etc)–I often feel like throughout the Ottawa org they are trying to re-create Pat Quinn’s Toronto teams from the early 2000s. Their collective inability to find success at all (or, in Nachbaur’s case, outside of junior hockey) is ample evidence of these failings.

What about management? The best way to assess that is who they added to the roster, so here’s the penultimate list (those acquired by trade are in italics, veteran signings are in bold (five players at 320 AHL, NHL, certain European league games; one player over 260); in brackets next to their numbers are what they did the previous season; grades are based entirely on how well the players fulfilled expectations)

17-18 – 29-42-5 194 266
Jim O’Brien (PTO, AHL-deal, NHL-deal) 60-13-16-29 (53-9-15-24)
Ethan Werek (PTO, AHL-deal) 58-10-15-25 (55-13-14-27)
Max Reinhart 67-11-12-23 (DEL 52-6-17-23)
Ben Sexton 30-10-11-21 (54-19-12-31)
Mike Blunden (2nd year of his deal) 45-6-10-16 (67-14-15-29)
Erik Burgdoerfer 66-5-12-17 (52-1-16-17)
Daniel Ciampini (PTO, AHL-deal) 49-7-9-16 (ECHL 28-12-16-28)
Chris DiDomenico (2nd year of his deal; traded) 25-5-9-14/60-14-24-38 (NLA 48-10-28-38)
Ville Pokka 23-3-8-11/69-7-26-33 (76-6-24-30)
Tyler Randell 57-3-5-8 (59-1-9-10)
Kyle Flanagan (2nd year of his AHL-deal) 17-1-3-4 (68-9-20-29)
Eric Selleck 18-2-2-4/50-5-2-7 (46-5-4-9)
Nick Moutrey 16-2-3-5/38-5-6-11 (61-8-9-17)
Chris Kelly (PTO) 16-0-2-2 (NHL 82-5-7-12)
Danny Taylor .900 3.15 (.931 1.93)
FA’s: C-
Trades: D
Best move: Ben Sexton
Biggest flop: Danny Taylor

There are very comprehensive breakdowns for all of these players (beginning here). Were it not for Pokka the trades would earn an F (Eric Selleck?). It’s important to note just how many regular roster players were not on Randy Lee’s radar–Jim O’Brien, who became Kleinendorst’s number one center, arrived on a PTO; Ethan Werek and Daniel Ciampini, despite both ultimately being used as fourth-liners, each (especially Werek) spent time with significant minutes on top-lines and neither were on the horizon in the summer. The sentimental addition of Chris Kelly was great for him, but he was awful for the team. Other than Ben Sexton, who struggled to stay healthy, none of the additions panned out (they were either average or flopped completely). While for me the middling numbers of Reinhart, Blunden, Burgdoerfer, etc, are no surprise, the org certainly expected more, but Danny Taylor stands out as the biggest flop not because he has the worst numbers, but because he was supposed to be the stud in net–the fail safe for a young blueline–but it took him all the way until January to round into form and even at that stage he was simply average.

16-17 – 28-44-4 190 266
Jason Akeson (re-signed after failed KHL jump) 57-20-31-51 (73-13-39-52)
Phil Varone (re-signed) 65-15-36-51 (65-19-36-55)
Casey Bailey (re-signed) 62-21-16-37 (68-11-28-39)
Mike Blunden 67-14-15-29 (49-21-17-38)
Kyle Flanagan (AHL-deal) 68-9-20-29 (44-6-14-20)
Mike Kostka (re-signed) 46-1-11-12 (traded)
Chad Nehring 50-3-15-18 (76-22-26-48)
Brandon Gormley 17-2-3-5 (39-4-2-6)
Zack Stortini (second year of his deal) 22-2-1-3 (traded)
Guillaume Lepine 54-1-2-3 (re-signed)
Marc Hagel 27-0-3-3 (53-4-15-19)
FA’s: Grade C-
Trades: Grade F
Best move: Akeson
Biggest flop: Nehring

Only the top two had solid seasons (you can read my full review of the season here), with both slightly above their career averages (by 0.06 and 0.02 respectively); all the rest underperformed to varying degrees (some catastrophically), with neither of the “big” FA signings (Nehring and Blunden) coming close to what was expected of them.

15-16 – 31-38-7 204 241
Eric O’Dell 50-18-19-37 (37-14-15-29) (traded)
Mike Kostka 50-5-24-29 (63-5-25-30)
Phil Varone 21-6-17-23 (55-15-29-44)
Jason Akeson 21-5-17-22 (57-23-30-53)
Casey Bailey 30-7-14-21 (NCAA 37-22-18-40)
Zack Stortini 66-8-8-16 (76-13-12-25)
Patrick Mullen (re-signed) 36-1-15-16 (traded)
Ryan Rupert 30-7-6-13 (57-15-12-27)
Guillaume Lepine 69-4-9-13 (38-1-3-4)
Jerome Leduc 22-4-6-10 (76-6-19-25)
Travis Ewanyk 66-5-4-9 (69-3-5-8)
Michael Keranen 21-4-3-7 (70-10-27-37)
Mark Fraser 60-2-5-7 (NHL 34-0-4-4)
Conor Allen 17-1-4-5 (71-11-23-34) (traded)
Nick Tuzzolini (AHL contract but spent the season with the team) 27-1-0-1 (36-1-2-3)
FA’s: D-
Trades: C
Best move: Akeson/Varone
Biggest flop: Stortini

This is an even weaker assemblage of talent (my full season review go here). Kostka and O’Dell (before he was traded), performed as expected, but Stortini and Fraser were expensive busts (both were obviously terrible signings (eg)); Mullen’s production was never replaced when he was moved and various acquisitions completely bombed (Ewanyk, Keranen, and Allen in particular).  Tuzzolini was kept on the roster almost the entire season for perceived “toughness” which served no purpose whatsoever (special thank-you to Randy Lee for his continued inability to understand enforcers are not necessary).

14-15 – 34-34-8 242 258
Carter Camper 75-15-37-52 (60-12-49-51)
Aaron Johnson 73-6-29-35 (75-4-36-40)
Alex Grant (re-signed) 58-6-27-33
Patrick Mullen (re-signed) 54-5-24-29
Brad Mills 34-4-10-14 (28-8-6-14)
FA’s: C
Trades: N/A
Best move: Johnson
Biggest flop: Mills

Subpar year for Carter, while Grant and Mullen both struggled to stay healthy and PED-user Mills was inexplicably given ice time over actual prospects (my full review here).

13-14 – 44-24-8 206 185
Patrick Mullen 20-1-11-12 (69-13-28-41)
Alex Grant 19-2-8-10 (46-4-16-20)
Tyler Eckford (second year of his deal) 32-0-4-4
Nathan Lawson (re-signed) 3.05 .908
FA’s: F
Trades: B+
Best move: Mullen/Grant
Biggest flop: Eckford

Both vets who started the year were terrible (Eckford) to below average (Lawson); deadline acquisitions were good, but nothing could overcome Richardson’s incompetence as a coach (my full review here).

12-13 – 44-24-8 227 188
Hugh Jessiman 68-10-19-29 (67-27-17-44)
Andre Benoit 34-9-16-25 (KHL 53-5-12-17)
Brett Ledba 32-3-15-18 (NHL 30-1-3-4)
Tyler Eckford 59-7-6-13 (75-10-15-25)
Nathan Lawson 2.19 .938 (2.57 .914)
FA’s: C
Trades: B
Best move: Benoit
Biggest flop: Eckford

Benoit and Lawson were good signings for this season, but Jessiman and Eckford were awful and while Ledba was a decent acquisition, “veteran savvy” didn’t do anything for the team in the playoffs when it mattered.  My full review is here.

11-12 – 29-40-7 201 243
Corey Locke (second year of his deal) 38-10-31-41
Rob Klinkhammer 35-12-33-35 (76-17-29-46)
Mark Parrish 51-15-15-30 (56-17-34-51)
Tim Conboy 53-2-9-11 (70-0-12-12)
Josh Godfrey (AHL contract) 38-2-6-8 (ECHL 49-15-12-27)
Mike Bartlett 58-3-4-7 (72-8-10-18)
Francis Lessard (re-signed) 43-1-1-2
Shaun Heshka
10-0-1-1 (Austria 50-6-18-24) (traded)
Lee Sweatt DNP (41-5-9-14) (retired after getting his signing bonus)
Mike McKenna 2.98 .918 (3.61 .886)
FA’s (Sweatt not included): D
Trades: A
Best move: Klinkhammer
Biggest flop: Heshka/Sweatt

Klinkhammer was an inspired acquisition and Locke performed as expected, but otherwise this is a complete mess (as is reflected in the team’s results–my full review here).

10-11 – 42-30-8 255 221
Corey Locke 69-21-65-86 (76-31-54-85)
Ryan Keller (re-signed) 71-32-19-51
Andre Benoit 73-11-44-55 (78-6-30-36)
Ryan Potulny 13-3-5-8 (NHL 64-15-17-32)
David Hale (demoted from Ottawa) 36-2-4-6
Francis Lessard 36-2-1-3 (61-2-2-4)
Barry Brust (AHL deal) 2.53 .925 (2.46 .908)
Mike Brodeur (re-signed) 2.96 .903
FA’s (Hale not included): B
Trades: A
Best move: Potulny (lead the team in playoff scoring)
Biggest flop: Lessard

The Calder Cup season!  I wasn’t blogging regularly at the time, so there’s no retrospective review to link, but the only questionable things here were the signing of Lessard and retaining of Brodeur.

09-10 – 36-35-9 251 260
Martin St. Pierre 77-24-48-72 (61-15-51-66)
Ryan Keller 72-34-34-68 (Liiga 54-21-34-55)
Denis Hamel (re-signed) 73-22-29-51
Jonathan Cheechoo (demoted from Ottawa) 25-8-6-14
Drew Bannister (D) 57-4-10-14 (DEL 34-2-15-17)
Paul Baier (D) 62-2-8-10 (62-3-8-11)
Jeremy Yablonski (re-signed) 27-1-0-1
Chris Holt (G) (AHL deal) 2.95 .905 (1.73 .931)
Andy Chiodo (G) 3.28 .901 (KHL 3.66 .866)
Mike Brodeur (G) 3.06 .899 (2.45 .920)
FA’s (Cheechoo not included): D+
Trades: N/A
Best move: Keller
Biggest flop: Chiodo/Brodeur

Forwards performed as expected (although retaining Yablonski was pointless), but the defense choices were obviously terrible before the season began; signing Chiodo was puzzling and Brodeur underperformed.

08-09 – 41-30-9 232 238
Greg Mauldin (re-signed) 80-24-27-51
Denis Hamel (re-signed) 63-25-25-50
Marc Cavosie 64-10-13-23 (ECHL 41-12-18-30)
Matt Carkner (D) (re-signed) 67-3-18-21
Drew Fata (D) 68-7-9-16 (71-3-11-14)
Brendan Bell (D) 15-6-9-15 (69-7-24-31)
Chaz Johnson 48-1-5-6 (ECHL 60-23-24-2-47)
Jeremy Yablonski (re-signed) 64-1-2-3
Geoff Waugh (D) (re-signed) 27-0-2-2
FA’s: C-
Trades: C
Best move: Mauldin
Biggest flop: Yablonski

Bell’s acquisition would have been great if he’d stayed on the roster; as-is retaining Yablonski and Waugh were obviously bad decisions, acquiring Fata was pointless, and neither Johnson nor Cavosie added anything meaningful to the roster.

07-08 – 34-32-14 225 248
Denis Hamel 67-32-23-55 (NHL 53-5-3-8)
Lawrence Nycholat (D) 77-12-37-49 (29-3-25-28)
Niko Dimitrakos 64-20-20-40 (62-19-23-42)
Justin Mapletoft 78-18-22-40 (DEL 10-2-3-5)
Greg Mauldin 71-15-18-33 (Allsvenskan 32-6-10-16)
Matt Carkner (D) 67-10-15-25 (75-6-24-30)
Matt Kinch (D) 73-9-16-25 (DEL 51-4-20-24)
Jeremy Yablonski 76-3-10-13 (ECHL 41-3-3-6)
Geoff Waugh (D) 71-3-3-6 (ECHL 56-1-12-13)
Greg Amadio (D) 50-0-2-2 (previous season 58-3-5-8)
FA’s: B-
Trades: N/A
Best move: Nycholat
Biggest flop: Amadio

Tim Murray’s first stab at the gutted Muckler system, most of the decisions were solid, albeit none performed above expectations; Yablonski, Waugh, and Amadio stand out as head-scratching decisions.

Conclusions

Going through all this let’s briefly break it down by GM:
Tim Murray
FA’s: B-, C-, D+, B, D, C, F, C (avg C-)
Trades: n/a, C, n/a, A, A, B, B+, n/a (avg B+)
Randy Lee
FA’s: D-, C-, C- (avg D+)
Trades: C, F, D (avg D)

The first thing I want to point out: every season the team has signed at least one enforcer. Yes, the role that’s been dead since the 04-05 lockout is one the team continues to spend money on. With that out of the way, onto more general points.

Both men struggled to sign appropriate free agents in the off-season, Murray has a better track record of adding useful pieces during the season (and better results–three of his last four seasons had the team in the playoffs), something Lee hasn’t replicated (he continues to add the same kinds of players he does in the off-season). I’ve long thought the Sens pro scouting was poor and there is evidence of that here–while good players have been signed, it seems largely a matter of chance with the org going back to familiar faces (or attempting too) over and over again (Benoit’s two tours of duty, Akeson’s return, the failed attempt to bring back Mullen, retaining Brodeur, bringing back Kleinendorst, etc). What bothers me are the obvious poor decisions–terrible players signed because of “character”. No GM is going to have a perfect track record, but the BSens are particularly awful in setting themselves up for success. While you want to credit Murray for the Calder Cup, you have to call it a fluke given the results of all his other seasons and Lee has been worse.

This attachment to toughness is something Tim Murray may have overcome (his Rochester teams didn’t always have a pugilist), but Randy Lee won’t get with the program. Beyond the fisticuffs there’s also the endless praise for veterans with extremely limited talent (Burgdoerfer, Blunden, and on and on). The obsession with “character” over skill is the Achilles Heel I don’t think we’ll ever see the org overcome until new faces are in place.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)