Sens News & Notes

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

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

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

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

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

This article was written by Peter Levi


Sens Prospects Turning Pro Next Season

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

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

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

Pro Candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was written by Peter Levi

Belleville Senators 2022-23 Season in Review

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

Basic Stats

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was written by Peter Levi

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

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

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

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

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

This article was written by Peter Levi

Lucky Number Kleven

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

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

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

This article was written by Peter Levi

Playoff Chances, DeBrincat, and Belleville Changes

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

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

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

This article was written by Peter Levi

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

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

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):

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
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.

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
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.

Cam Talbot, GL, 35, T-Min (Gustavsson trade), 1 yr, .911 (.915) declining
Anton Forsberg, GL, 29, Waivers-WPG/RS, 3 yrs, .917 (.909)
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.


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):
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

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

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