Have Things Changed?

We have bonafide good news with the Jakob Chychrun trade. As someone who loves picks, the Sens did give up a lot abstractly (the eleven herbs and spices: likely a 2023 1st, Washington’s 2nd in 2024, and Ottawa’s 2nd in 2026), but less than experts expected. For a team that desperately needs depth in all areas and possibly a starting goaltender, their draft cupboard is bare, especially this year. That being said, Chychrun is an excellent asset on a good contract (two more full seasons at excellent value) so he’s not just an acquisition for this year (like DeBrinkcat could be) and he addresses one of the teams major concerns: the D. By some miracle he’s not another aging, lumbering blueliner of the type that Ottawa brass has been in love with for the last 25-years. Chychrun knows what a puck is and can even pass it to other players, so I like this move and while there’s always a chance for failure, thumbs-up to a GM who has been generally awful over his term. This deal has received universal praise (from the analytics and eye-test crowd), so Dorion deserves his due.

We have to re-visit my concerns when the Sens picked up DeBrinkcat: specifically fears that his production in Chicago was largely a byproduct of playing with Patrick Kane. While his pace is lower than with Chicago (the last two seasons he was 1.07 and 0.95 ppg, whereas this season he’s 0.86), there’s been no collapse or sign that he was something other than a contributing top-six player. Other concerns remain, but at least on the production side he’s been as-advertized.

We get a much more typical move when it comes to Nikita Zaitsev. I raised the Sens upcoming cap situation in September and it seems as though Dorion realized the only way to avoid the cost of buying him out was to trade him. However, a 2nd-round pick (2023) is a steep price (the 4th in 2026 I can live with). Am I glad Zaitsev is gone? Yes. But I think a better deal should have been made…last season (there was no reason to keep and devalue him into this year).

When the Sens signed Motte I had no idea what the point of it was. Apparently after most of the season Dorion didn’t either, as he jettisoned the depth forward to the Rangers for a cheaper depth forward (Julien Gauthier) and a late pick (7th or 6th, depending). Signing the forward wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but seemed pointless for the Sens at this stage so I’m glad they moved on and have the option of walking away from Gauthier (perhaps he can replace the why-the-hell-did-they-retain-him Gambrell). We could get into a discussion about whether Parker Kelly is an actual NHL-player and so on, but by and large fourth-liners don’t matter much until you’re an actual Cup contender.

As the season progressed we hit the point where the media started asking the basic questions I had during the off-season. It had gone beyond coaching to roster construction, particularly the paper thin blueline and uncertain goaltending coming into focus. Given the deals above–jettisoning the useless Zaitsev and acquiring an excellent blueliner in Chychrun–helps change that narrative, as when healthy the Sens finally have a solid top-four. The bottom-six pairing is a mess and while the org likes JBD I have doubts and think Thomson is better, but neither seem to be ready right now. We can also quibble with Dorion’s bottom-six, but the trades, at least the Chychrun deal, are going to change the conversation for Dorion.

Dorion aside, the team remains fun to watch and I’m enjoying the fight to make the playoffs (actually making it isn’t my concern for this season).

What a disaster this season has been for the BSens. Plagued by injuries and the utter failure of free agents brought in to shore up their weak blueline. Despite all their problems, the team has been able to score, but they can’t defend and that’s despite stocking up the team with big, lumbering defenders. Firing the coach is simply deflecting blame, although assuredly Mann had impute on the kind of players they brought in. Here’s how things stand (the separation is division/conference):

Belleville Senators 22-26-5 7th/15th GF 4th/4th GA 5th/15th PP 5th/8th PK 5th/12th PIM 2nd/2nd
I’ve marked players who missed significant time with injuries in red, with their age in brackets along with their career average where applicable or else their prior season if in the AHL; those performing above expectations would be in green, but none are

Jake Lucchini (27) 42-14-26-40 0.95 [NHL 11-1-0-1 0.10] avg 0.57
Coming off an AHL-contract last season with the BSens; originally undrafted but signed by Pittsburgh
Egor Sokolov (22) 53-16-29-45 0.84 avg 0.79
Drafted 2-61/20 via the Mark Stone trade; this is the final year of his ELC
Ridly Greig (20) 30-12-12-24 0.80 [NHL 11-1-3-4 0.36] WHL
Drafted 1-28/20 via the Jean-Gabriel Pageau trade; this is his rookie season
Philippe Daoust (21) 9-2-5-7 0.77 0.33
Drafted 6-158/20 via the Mike Hoffman trade; this is his rookie season
Rourke Chartier (26) 28-14-6-20 0.71 [NHL 6-0-0-0] avg 0.60
Coming off an AHL-contract last season with the BSens; originally a San Jose pick (5-149/14)
Roby Jarventie (20) 21-8-6-14 0.66 0.47
Drafted 2-33/20; this is his sophomore season
Scott Sabourin (30) 46-16-13-29 0.63 avg 0.31
Brought back by the Sens after an injury-plagued season in Toronto; has a high-end AHL salary; undrafted, originally signed by LA
Angus Crookshank (23) 52-19-13-32 0.62 0.84
Drafted 5-126/18; technically his rookie season, as he missed the last due to injury
Cole Cassels (27) 45-6-22-28 0.62 avg 0.35
Signed to an AHL-deal, having played for the BSens in 20-21; yes, he’s the son of Andrew; originally drafted by Vancouver (3-85/13)
Viktor Lodin (23) 28-6-9-15 0.53 0.80
Drafted 4-94/19; this is his rookie season
Brennan Saulnier (29) 30-6-9-15 0.50 0.14
Acquired in an AHL-deal from Laval for a bag of peanuts (aka, future considerations); undrafted
Cole Reinhardt (23) 53-8-17-25 0.47 avg 0.43
Drafted 6-181/20 via the Chris Wideman trade; while it’s his third season, because of the Covid shutdown he has one year left on his ELC
Jayce Hawrlyuk (27) 18-3-5-8 0.44 avg 0.62
FA signing in the summer; originally a Florida pick (2-32/14)
Matthew Boucher (25) 37-4-8-12 0.32 ECHL
Signed to a PTO early in the season; undrafted
Jarid Lukosevicius (28) 39-6-6-12 0.31 avg 0.28
Signed to a PTO early in the season; undrafted
Matthew Wedman (23) 24-1-5-6 0.25 0.24
Signed an extension to his AHL-contract from last season

Lassi Thomson (22) 37-3-20-23 0.62 [NHL 2-0-0-0] 0.59
Drafted 1-19/19 via the Duchene trade; this is his sophomore season
Maxence Guenette (21) 53-2-24-26 0.49 0.39
Drafted 7-187/19; this is his sophomore season
Jonathan Aspirot (23) 24-4-6-10 0.41 avg 0.40
Signed an ELC after one season on an AHL-contract; undrafted
Jacob Larsson (25) 37-2-8-10 0.27 [NHL 7-0-0-0] avg 0.29
Signed as an FA after failing out of Anaheim; he spent five seasons with the Ducks
Dillon Heatherington (27) 42-3-5-8 0.19 [NHL 3-0-0-0] avg 0.27
Coming off a one-year deal after a stint in the KHL, Dorion signed him to two; originally picked by Columbus 2-50/13
Kristians Rubins (25) 40-2-4-6 0.15 avg 0.20
Signed as a FA after failing out of Toronto; undrafted, the Leafs signed him
Jacob Bernard-Docker (22) 27-1-2-3 0.11 [NHL 13-0-1-1 0.07] 0.15
Drafted 1-20/18 via the Brassard trade; this is his sophomore season
Xavier Bernard (23) 17-0-1-1 0.05 0.09
Signed an extension to his AHL-contract from last season; originally drafted by New Jersey (4-110/18)

Mads Sogaard (22) .898 3.30 6-9-2 [NHL .919 2.65 3-0-1] .908
Drafted 2-37/19 as part of a pick-swap with the Rangers; this is his sophomore season
Antoine Bibeau (28) .894 3.43 9-8-1 .905
Signed as a FA; originally drafted by Toronto (6-172/13)
Kevin Mandolese (22) .882 3.49 5-7-2 [NHL .938 2.46 1-0-0] .901
Drafted 6-157/18, this is the final year of his ELC

It’s been an unfortunate season for Lodin, who has been repeatedly hurt and is unlikely to remain with the org because of it. I remain baffled at the hype surrounding Bernard-Docker, whose inability to move the puck at this level imposes severe limits on what he can do at the next. The mystery of why Aspirot was given an ELC remains (his AHL-season is fine, but he’s shown no sign of improvement in the four years he’s spent with the org). As I’d feared (link above) Rubins has been a lumbering, weaker version of Heatherington; the defensecorps in general has been a nightmare, even if it had remained healthy–Thomson is the one bright spot, but the org is obsessed with JBD. Finally healthy, Crookshank could not maintain the torrid pace he set when he first turned pro and that puts expectations of what he might be at a much more reasonable level (a more talented Max McCormick, perhaps). I’m as baffled by the Hawryluk signing now as when it was made–injuries aside, what does he bring to the team that it needs? The goaltending, unprotected by its lumbering blueline, has struggled and I suspect Mandolese has played his way out of the organization (Leevi Merilainen has had a good season in Finland).

A bit of trivia, but I find it funny that two former BSens are at or near the top of the AHL scoring pile: Michael Carcone, who had a terrible 2019-20 year with the BSens, leads the league, while Logan Shaw, who underperformed in his two seasons with Belleville (2020-22), is having a career year with Toronto.

Speaking of trivia, how are the two big European prospects the Sens gave up on doing? Markus Nurmi (with Nashville) has put up an unremarkable season for a 24-year old (48-12-12-24 to this point), so letting him go seems to have been the correct decision. Eric Engstrand is still in Sweden and the 22-year old is having a miserable year in the SHL (35-0-5-5). Thus far, no mistakes ala Marcus Sorensen (2010), besides having drafted them in the first place.

This article was written by Peter Levi