Senators News & Notes

matt o'connor

I’ve been beavering away at my NHL draft piece for quite some assuming that we wouldn’t get much Sens news until after the Expansion Draft.  How wrong I was.  While all the recent news was expected on some level, it remains significant:
Dion Phaneuf was asked to waive his NMC for the Expansion Draft and refused (this doesn’t mean the Sens couldn’t try to move him, but with his contract, even if they wanted too, good luck)
Erik Karlsson will miss 4 months after undergoing foot surgery (as Nichols points out, this is the second surgery announced after Pierre Dorion told us no one would need surgery)
Chris Neil was told his services are no longer required (in my opinion this is less a management decision and more Guy Boucher letting management know he wasn’t going to play him)
-The Sens did not qualify goaltender Matt O’Connor (something I’ve anticipated repeatedly, most recently here); he becomes the tenth straight NCAA FA dud going back to 2007; this suggests we can expect Chris Driedger and Marcus Hogberg to be the tandem in Belleville
[-late add: Ryan Rupert was also not qualified, which is as I expected]

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Speaking of the draft, Ary M and Colin Cudmore have begun a series of articles looking at what the Sens might do at the draft (this is the first).  The player selection they present is pretty reasonable abstractly, but in detail I have one major problem with most of them: size.  The Sens have tenaciously valued size throughout drafts going back to Bryan Murray and while there have been exceptions they are few and far between.  The pair list 5’10 Aleski Heponiemi, 5’10 Joni Ikonen (I’ve seen him listed at 5’11, incidentally), 5’10 Antoine Morand, 6’1 Jason Robertson, and 5’8 (!) Kailer Yamamoto.  In addition to the size concern, the org has drafted exactly one Finn since 2005, so while it’s not impossible, it does make it more unlikely.

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Larry Brooks penned a piece about NHL labour negotiation, but for me the most interesting part of the article is this:

The NHL will have done that by generating essentially no revenue growth over the past year.

Other than the Vegas expansion fee the NHL has not grown this season at all.  This is not a surprise to me (ie the piece I wrote about the aging fanbase for sports in general), but it’s another indicator that the ultra conservative NHL cannot figure out that for the sport to grow it actually has to take steps to increase scoring.  It also needs a better superstar to promote than Sidney Crosby (has any league has had a less less appealing star than Crosby?–twelve years of heavy marketing and he can’t draw numbers outside of Pittsburgh).

clutch

Stefan Wolejszo writes a long (long) piece trying to see if there’s substance behind defining a clutch player, concluding:

even if you could miraculously isolate one player’s clutchiness based on in-game event data I still think doing so largely misses the point in at least two important ways. First, the “elevating performance” standard is largely a crock. Considering the negative potential impact of pressure on performance I would be thrilled to have players on my team who can simply maintain their usual standard of play when pressure begins to mount. Second, the biggest bang for the buck for hockey teams is probably identifying who chokers are and figuring out interventions that can help those players.

Indeed.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Thoughts on the Senators Handling of its AHL Team

A conversation I was having about the upcoming season for the Belleville Senators got me thinking about roster decisions made by Ottawa under its current apparatus (which is to say, since John Muckler was fired).  No one would argue that Ottawa has struggled to properly support the development side, so I thought I’d go through that looking at both the good and the bad.  This isn’t about drafted players and free agent prospects, rather the pieces that are put around them to support development.

Bryan Murray/Pierre Dorion AHL Seasons
07-08 25-32-23 225 248 missed playoffs
08-09 31-30-19 232 238 missed playoffs +9pts, +7 GF, -10 GA
09-10 32-35-13 251 260 missed playoffs -10pts, +19 GF, +22 GA
10-11 42-30-8 255 221 Calder Cup +11pts, +4 GF, -39 GA
11-12 24-40-12 201 243 missed playoffs -27pts, -54 GF, +22 GA
12-13 38-24-14 227 188 first round +31pts, +26 GF, -55 GA
13-14 42-26-8 206 185 first round -4pts, -21 GF, -3 GA
14-15 24-34-18 242 258 missed playoffs -16pts, +36 GF, +73 GA
15-16 31-38-7 204 241 missed playoffs -7pts, -38 GF, -17 GA
16-17 28-44-4 190 266 missed playoffs -9pts, -14 GF, +15 GA

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

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

None of the above are superior coaches and I think you could argue that Clouston, Hunt, and Richardson are poor ones (while Nachbaur was out of his depth at this level). Kleinendorst has had his own struggles, but he’s at the least competent (and I say that after the BSens got annihilated this season).

Roster Additions (those acquired by trade are in italics, veteran signings are in bold; in brackets next to their numbers are what they did the previous season; grades are based entirely on how well the players fulfilled expectations)
16-17 – 28-44-4 190 266
Jason Akeson (re-signed after failed KHL jump) 57-20-31-51
Phil Varone (re-signed) 65-15-36-51
Casey Bailey (re-signed) 62-21-16-37
Mike Blunden 67-14-15-29 (49-21-17-38)
Mike Kostka (re-signed) 46-1-11-12 (traded)
Chad Nehring 50-3-15-18 (76-22-26-48)
Brandon Gormley 17-2-3-5 (39-4-2-6)
Zack Stortini (second year of his deal) 22-2-1-3 (traded)
Guillaume Lepine 54-1-2-3 (re-signed)
Marc Hagel 27-0-3-3 (53-4-15-19)
FA’s: Grade C-
Trades: Grade F
Best move: Akeson
Biggest flop: Nehring

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

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

This is an even weaker assemblage of talent (my full season review go here). Only the garbage time numbers from late acquisitions (Akeson, Varone, Bailey, and Leduc) exceeded expectations, but as can be seen in the next season the three who were retained regressed to the mean (Leduc had a disastrous season in the Czech league). Kostka and O’Dell (before he was traded), performed as expected, but Stortini and Fraser were expensive busts (both were obviously terrible signings (eg)); Mullen’s production was never replaced when he was moved, and various acquisitions completely bombed (Ewanyk, Keranen, and Allen in particular).  Tuzzolini was kept on the roster almost the entire season for perceived “toughness” which served no purpose whatsoever.

14-15 – 24-34-18 242 258
Carter Camper 75-15-37-52 (60-12-49-51)
Aaron Johnson 73-6-29-35 (75-4-36-40)
Alex Grant (re-signed) 58-6-27-33
Patrick Mullen (re-signed) 54-5-24-29
Brad Mills 34-4-10-14 (28-8-6-14)
FA’s: C
Trades: N/A
Best move: Johnson
Biggest flop: Mills

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

13-14 – 42-26-8 206 185
Patrick Mullen 20-1-11-12 (69-13-28-41)
Alex Grant 19-2-8-10 (46-4-16-20)
Tyler Eckford (second year of his deal) 32-0-4-4
Nathan Lawson (re-signed) 3.05 .908
FA’s: F
Trades: B+
Best move: Mullen/Grant
Biggest flop: Eckford

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

12-13 – 38-24-14 227 188
Hugh Jessiman 68-10-19-29 (67-27-17-44)
Andre Benoit 34-9-16-25 (KHL 53-5-12-17)
Brett Ledba 32-3-15-18 (NHL 30-1-3-4)
Tyler Eckford 59-7-6-13 (75-10-15-25)
Nathan Lawson 2.19 .938 (2.57 .914)
FA’s: C
Trades: B
Best move: Benoit
Biggest flop: Eckford

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

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

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

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

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

09-10 – 32-35-13 251 260
Martin St. Pierre 77-24-48-72 (61-15-51-66)
Ryan Keller 72-34-34-68 (Liiga 54-21-34-55)
Denis Hamel (re-signed) 73-22-29-51
Jonathan Cheechoo (demoted from Ottawa) 25-8-6-14
Drew Bannister (D) 57-4-10-14 (DEL 34-2-15-17)
Paul Baier (D) 62-2-8-10 (62-3-8-11)
Jeremy Yablonski (re-signed) 27-1-0-1
Chris Holt (G) (AHL deal) 2.95 .905 (1.73 .931)
Andy Chiodo (G) 3.28 .901 (KHL 3.66 .866)
Mike Brodeur (G) 3.06 .899 (2.45 .920)
FA’s (Cheechoo not included): D+
Trades: N/A
Best move: Keller
Biggest flop: Chiodo/Brodeur

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

08-09 – 31-30-19 232 238
Greg Mauldin (re-signed) 80-24-27-51
Denis Hamel (re-signed) 63-25-25-50
Marc Cavosie 64-10-13-23 (ECHL 41-12-18-30)
Matt Carkner (D) (re-signed) 67-3-18-21
Drew Fata (D) 68-7-9-16 (71-3-11-14)
Brendan Bell (D) 15-6-9-15 (69-7-24-31)
Chaz Johnson 48-1-5-6 (ECHL 60-23-24-2-47)
Jeremy Yablonski (re-signed) 64-1-2-3
Geoff Waugh (D) (re-signed) 27-0-2-2
FA’s: C-
Trades: C
Best move: Mauldin
Biggest flop: Yablonski

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

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

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

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

While both men struggled to sign appropriate free agents in the off-season, Murray has a much better track record of adding useful pieces during the season.  A problem both share is (or was) the need for an enforcer, “toughness” in the lineup, and the belief that veteran leadership was as important as finding skilled vets.  I’ve long thought the Sens pro scouting was poor and this is evident here–while good players have been signed, it seems largely a matter of chance with the org going back to familiar faces (or attempting too) over and over again (Benoit’s two tours of duty, Akeson’s return, the attempt to bring back Mullen, retaining Brodeur, etc).  What bothers me are the obvious poor decisions–terrible players signed because of “character”.  No GM is going to have a perfect track record, but the BSens are particularly awful in setting themselves up for success. While you want to credit Murray for the Calder Cup, you have to call it a fluke given the results of all his other seasons and Lee has been worse.

This attachment to toughness is something Tim Murray may have overcome, as this season’s Rochester team lacked a pugilist.  It doesn’t appear Randy Lee has learned this lesson–Kleinendorst forced him to move Stortini (by not playing him), but given how often Lee brings up fighting as a positive that clearly continues to matter to him.

What does all of this mean for the 2017-18 Belleville Senators?  If history repeats itself we’ll likely get middling to poor free agents with at least one “character” signing who is of no use whatsoever.  Hopefully Lee can get with the times and do better than expected.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

It’s draft prep time for me which is both enormously fun and an enormous amount of work (there’s also a BSens piece in the pipeline).  That said, there are plenty of Sens things to talk about, so without further ado, here we go.

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I’ve never been a fan of BLT‘s, but BLT offers The Silver Seven‘s primer on the expansion draft (it’s pure information rather than Sens speculation).  Looking at SensChirps article about the same it’s funny/horrifying to see how his polls reflect the org’s backwards thinking so accurately–presumably it’s where the Mark Borowiecki fan club hangs out.

jyrki-jokipakka-2017-43

Speaking of SS7, I want whatever Colin4000 is smoking, as his piece assessing the organisation includes this gem:

Then came the trade deadline, which is what really pushed Dorion into NHL Awards territory. He recognized the Sens’ gaping need for depth, and contrary to the years of Bryan Murray, he went out and got it. Brought into the lineup were Tommy Wingels, Alex Burrows (albeit at a steep price), Viktor Stalberg and Jyrki Jokipakka, who all helped solidify the Sens’ lineup.

I remember those Jokipakka games vividly.  Remember that time he…?  No, wait, there was that other time he…?  Clearly Guy Boucher forgot he was on the roster just like the rest of us.  None of WingelsStalberg, or Burrows achieved anything during the playoffs–the only arguments you’ll get to the contrary is that they were better than the alternatives, which isn’t much of an argument.

One other thing I want to talk about from his article (since I’ve seen versions of it from many others) is this:

It’s easy to remember the poor decisions and criticize

Actually, it’s far easier to praise.  Criticism is difficult to do, which is why good critical content is so hard to find (I’m not sure The Ottawa Sun has ever produced any).  So no, there hasn’t been “too much” criticism of the Sens this year (as the saying goes, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations”–for those curious as to the source of this quote, have fun going down the rabbit-hole).

STATS

Ryan Stimson posted a fascinating document that includes analytics highlights as he proposes a new system for NHL teams to follow (while recognizing the arch-conservative league is unlikely to do so).  Something in particular that stands out to me is Stimson’s emphasis on offense when so many coaches focus on defense (Guy Boucher certainly fits that category).  Another thing that struck me was a Dawson Sprigings piece from the fall where he talked about the benefits of spreading out elite players in the lineup, which is a complimentary but slightly more evolved take on Alex Novet’s that I mentioned back in April.  The idea is that if you have more than one elite player (so this wouldn’t apply to Ottawa), it’s better to spread them out as opposed to having them on the same line (you can see this operating in Pittsburgh, for example).

Speaking of analytics, it was nice to hear Peter Laviolette pays attention to it now. The NHL is an imitative league and if Nashville wins the Cup a few more dinosaurs in management will be forced to listen to reason (not in Ottawa, however).

travisyost

Travis Yost is very excited about the Jake Guentzel‘s playoff run, and while all the signs for him being a productive NHL player are there (good NCAA stats, good AHL stats), it’s worth pointing out that playoff stats, even extraordinary ones, are not necessarily predictors of the future (especially if that player is being supported by a superstar).  The simplest examples are Chris Kontos (1989) and John Druce (1990).  Kontos scored 9 goals in 11 games riding shotgun with Wayne Gretzky in LA; he had one good NHL season with Tampa afterwards before fading away completely. Druce‘s season was with Washington (14 goals in 15 games); his career slipped away more gradually, as he was able to function as a depth player before finally leaving to play in Germany.  I’d take the performance with a grain of salt.

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Two more free agents were signed off my list, as forwards Henrik Haapala (Florida) and former King pick Tomas Hyka (Vegas) were signed.  Also signed (by Chicago) was 26-year old Czech defenseman Jan Rutta.  This brings the total up to twenty (8 forwards, 11 blueliners, 1 goalie), which is approaching the usual NCAA high tide.  In terms of which teams are dipping into the EU pool:
Arizona: 1
Buffalo: 1
Chicago: 2
Detroit: 2
Florida: 1
LA: 1
LV: 2
Montreal: 1
Nashville: 1
NJ: 1
NYR: 1
San Jose: 2
Toronto: 3
Vancouver: 1
That’s 14 of 31 franchises

For comparison, these are the NCAA FA’s signed this season (22): defenseman Neal Pionk (NYR), Alex Iafallo (LA), goaltender Hunter Miska (Ari), goaltender Shane Starrett (Edm), goaltender Angus Redmond (Ana), Mike Vecchione (Phi), defenseman Nick Desimone (San Jose), C. J. Smith (Buf), Justin Kloos (Min), Griffen Molino (Van), Joe Gambardella (Edm), defenseman Michael Kapla (NJ), defenseman Vince Pedrie (NYR), Vinni Lettieri (NYR), John Stevens (NYI), defenseman Josh Healey (Cal), goaltender Chris Nell (NYR), Mitch Hults (Ana), Tim Clifton (SJ), Sam Vigneault (Clb), defenseman Gavin Bayreuther (Dal), and Zach Aston-Reese (Pit).  The list includes 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 4 goaltenders.  By franchise:
Ana: 2
Ari: 1
Buf: 1
Cal: 1
Clb: 1
Dal: 1
Edm: 2
LA: 1
Min: 1
NJ: 1
NYI: 1
NYR: 4
Phi: 1
Pit: 1
SJ: 2
Van: 1
That’s 16 of 31 franchises

Seven teams appear on both lists (Ari, Buf, LA, NJ, NYR, SJ, and Van), meaning that a combined 23 of 31 teams availed themselves of free agents from either source. The teams on the outside looking in include Ottawa, Boston, Carolina, Colorado, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Washington and Winnipeg.  There are, of course, a small number of junior league free agents signed (5): goaltender Matiss Edmunds Kivlenieks out of the USHL (Clb), Dawson Leedahl (NYR), Antoine Waked (Mtl), Giovanni Fiore (Ana), and defenseman Jalen Chatfield (Van) from the CHL, but all of these come from the group of teams that signed FA’s from the usual sources.  The question remains: are the eight teams shooting blanks doing so intentionally or are they simply unable to compete with what the other franchises are offering?  I suspect the latter.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Early Look at the Belleville Senators

belleville sens

With both the expansion and entry draft ahead there’s roster uncertainty ahead for the nascent Belleville Senators, but there’s a lot we do know about the Sens affiliate, so it’s worth going through it.

First, let’s start with some basic AHL information: teams are permitted six “veteran” players (veteran status is determined this way: only five players can have more than a combined 320 AHL, NHL, or European league games under their belt, with the sixth vet at 320 and under; CHL players must turn 20 in that calendar year (as in the first half of the season), or else have played in 4 CHL seasons.

Historically Ottawa’s AHL affiliates have frittered away their veteran contracts with useless “character” players (examples from the last ten years: Zack Stortini (x2), Brad MillsTyler EckfordHugh JessimanMark ParrishFrancis LessardJeremy YablonskiGeoff Waugh, and Greg Amadio), and Pierre Dorion has shown the same tendency in his short tenure (so keep that in mind).  Here’s the list of signed players who can or will play for Belleville next season (broken down by position, rookies in italics, veterans in bold, I’ve given their current age as well):

Goaltenders (1)
Marcus Hogberg (22, 2 year ELC)

Defensemen (8)
Thomas Chabot (20, ELC)
Cody Donaghey (21, 2 year ELC)
Macoy Erkamps (22, 2 more years)
Andreas Englund (21, 2 more years)
Ben Harpur (22, 1 more year)
Christian Jaros (21, ELC)
Maxime Lajoie (19, ELC) – while AHL-eligible he could return to junior
Jordan Murray (24, 2 year AHL contract)

Forwards (9) [Logan Brown is signed but isn’t AHL-eligible]
Mike Blunden (1 more year)
Filip Chlapik (20, ELC)
Chris DiDomenico* (28, 1 year)
Vincent Dunn (21, 1 more year)
Kyle Flanagan (28, 1 more year on his AHL contract)
Gabriel Gagne (20, 2 more years)
Nick Paul (22, 1 more year)
Francis Perron (21, 2 more years)
Colin White (20, 2 more years)
* I’m assuming his time in Italian leagues count

Theoretically the Sens have two other draft picks to make decisions on (both NCAA grads: Chris Leblanc (6-161/13) and Robert Baillargeon (5-136/12)), but at this point it seems unlikely they will be signed (other than, perhaps, the former getting an AHL or ECHL contract).  Among the other draft picks the only conceivable signing (to my mind) would be Filip Ahl (4-109/15), but it’s more likely they’ll let him play another year before making a decision on him.

Here are the RFA and UFA situations from the 2016-17 roster (again, broken down by position):

Goaltenders (3)
Chris Driedger (23, RFA)
Scott Greenham (30, had an AHL contract)
Matt O’Connor (25, RFA)

Defensemen (5)
Chris Carlisle (22, had an AHL contract)
Brandon Gormley (25, UFA)
Guillaume Lepine (30, had an AHL contract)
Chris Rumble (27, had an AHL contract)
Patrick Sieloff (23, RFA)

Forwards (8)
Jason Akeson (27, had an AHL contract)
Casey Bailey (25, UFA)
Marc Hagel (28, UFA)
Alex Krushelnyski (26, had an AHL contract)
Max McCormick (25, UFA)
Chad Nehring (29, UFA)
Jack Rodewald (23, had an AHL contract)
Ryan Rupert (23, RFA)
Phil Varone (26, UFA)

Here are my thoughts by position:

Goaltenders

Signing Marcus Hogberg (3-78/13) signals that one of Matt O’Connor (NCAA FA 2015) or Chris Driedger (3-76/12) is on their way out.  While the difference between the two isn’t large, O’Connor is older and shown little sign of improvement, so I’d guess Driedger will be retained (he’d also be cheaper).  There’s the possibility Andrew Hammond could be buried in the AHL this season, but I doubt Melnyk will tolerate his salary rotting away, so I expect the org to remove him one way or another.  On the ECHL side of things it would be easy to retain Scott Greenham, despite a subpar year, but they could easily sign another ‘tender to replace him.
Expectation: Driedger/Hogberg; ECHL Greenham 50/50

Defensemen

I suspect Chabot (1-18/15) will play in the NHL, but even so it’s a crowded blueline, as such I suspect that Lajoie (5-133/16) will be returned to junior for his final WHL season.  There’s no chance former Arizona first-round pick Gormley (1-13/10) sticks around and we can hope that we’ve seen the last of ECHLer Lepine.  The org could keep Sieloff–he’s an unremarkable defensive defenseman, but decent AHL depth (my guess is no, but the possibility remains). I suspect Carlisle will be retained (both Richardson and Kleinendorst liked him), especially if he’s willing to accept an AHL contract, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rumble walked (he could make good money in Europe).
Expectation: Donaghey, Erkamps, Englund, Harpur, Jaros, Murray, Carlisle, plus a FA signing (a veteran)

Forwards

As large as this group seems, Dunn (5-138/13), assuming he’s not moved, will be buried in the ECHL.  I also believe White (1-21/15) will remain in the NHL, leaving us with seven players signed.  I suspect the org would like to keep Varone, but he may decide to explore his options (I believe Akeson will leave on his own accord, just as he did last season–his return to the team early last season was unplanned).  Of the remaining players the org will fall over itself to re-sign McCormick (6-171/11), with the possibility they’ll give him a one-way deal (something I see as likely).  We could see Rodewald get another AHL-contract and the team might try to keep Bailey, but the rest are gone.
Expectation: Blunden, Chlapik, DiDomenico, Flanagan, Gagne, Paul, Perron, Rodewald, Varone; four or five other players will be signed including at least one veteran

This would make for a very inexperienced roster, particularly on the blueline and in net, but with more talent than the previous season.  What Belleville really needs is scoring and it remains to be seen if DiDomenico can show the touch he had in Europe (he’ll need support regardless).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

karlsson

The miracle run is over for Ottawa and the team has everything to be proud of–a one-legged Erik Karlsson almost willed the roster into a Stanley Cup final.  For some fans the double over time loss to Pittsburgh will bring back memories of 2003 when the Sens lost to New Jersey in seven (it’s the logical parallel–one win away from the Cup, losing 3-2 in both game sevens).  That’s not the feeling for me however, as losing 14 years ago was much more frustrating since I had no doubt whichever team won would beat Anaheim in the final.  Ottawa making the final this year would have been fantastic, but I had no expectation that they would beat a very deep and talented Nashville team (in terms of sentiment for me it was most similar to Ottawa’s seven game loss to Buffalo in 1997).  The 2003 team was young and I knew there would be another opportunity for them to challenge for the Cup–that’s not the case with the current roster.  Next year they will likely be on the bubble just like they have been since 2007 (Nichols outlines their good fortune in the post-season).  There’s a ton of positivity in the blogosphere right now and that’s what winning does–the envelop of good feelings from the fanbase may last well into next season.

bush mission

Pretty sure that’s a picture of Melnyk above.  Anyway, as the eulogies come pouring in (there’s what, five other Sens blogs? We’ll call it a pour anyway), I can’t ignore the organisational issues that exist behind it.  Pierre Dorion and his cronies aren’t likely to have learned much from this experience (except, perhaps, that Guy Boucher won’t always play crappy veterans when it matters), and Eugene Melnyk is still a crazy, cash-strapped owner who can’t keep his mouth shut.  There’s even some reason to be concerned with Boucher himself, who enjoyed a very similar run with Tampa Bay in his initial season (2011) and then couldn’t get the Lightning back into the playoffs.  Let’s briefly look at the various things this year that were significant on the critical side:
Cody Ceci (do I need to say anything else at this point?)
-What was the point of signing Chris Kelly?  He only (barely) played in two playoff games, both of which the Sens lost in double overtime
Tom Pyatt, another head-scratching signing, got annihilated in the playoffs
-Was Derick Brassard really an upgrade over Mika Zibanejad?  He disappeared in the playoffs after the Boston series (3 points in 13 games) and was outperformed by Mika in both the regular and post-season (PPG 0.48 vs 0.66 in the regular, 0.57 vs 0.75 in the playoffs)–I thought the trade sucked when it happened and nothing this year says otherwise
-Losing a year of Colin White‘s ELC in order for him to play 2 regular season games and a couple of shifts in one playoff game was remarkably stupid for a budget team
-Not knowing the call-up rule from the CHL and thus being unable to recall Thomas Chabot when they desperately wanted too is inexcusable for an executive like Dorion who has been in the league forever
-Acquisitions Viktor StalbergAlex Burrows, and Tommy Wingels collectively scored zero goals in the playoff run (when you’re outscored by Oleg Saprykin you’ve got problems)
-the cupboard down in Binghamton was very bare this year; dumping Luke Richardson and replacing him with Kurt Kleinendorst was a positive move, but let’s remember that it wasn’t Dorion’s choice for Richardson to move on, so it’s not like he figured out Luke was clueless

The cup isn’t always half-empty, as there are a lot of things I like on the roster, but it’s difficult to see this org actually improving upon those foundations.  While there will be fans who point to all the gloom & doom for this season and then talk about results, but let’s not forget Colorado’s miracle season in 2013-14 as just one example of how a team can temporarily buck underlying numbers before regressing to the mean the next year.

freeagent

The European free agent signings continue (it feels like a lot more have been signed this year, but I haven’t looked back at the numbers yet): Buffalo signed 24-year old Russian defenseman Viktor Antipin (an overage candidate back in 2013); Vancouver signed 25-year old Swedish defenseman Philip Holm (he was never ranked for the draft); while Columbus signed Latvian netminder Matiss Edmunds Kivlenieks with the 20-year old sailing through the last two drafts (no one had him ranked).

2017_NHL_Entry_Draft_logo

I mentioned Grant McCagg‘s new draft site back in March and his first draft preview product is available to order.  Sadly, from my perspective, he’s only looking at the top 100 picks (with scouting reports on only the top 62), which isn’t much value even for such an inexpensive product (as I mentioned in my draft review last year, there’s general consensus on the top-90 or so players and scouting reports on the first two rounds are widely available through free media).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

Roger-Neilson-White-Flag

There’s a lot to celebrate in the Sens moving on to the third round of the playoffs.  It hasn’t happened in 10 years, it’s been hard fought (both series’ could have gone the other way), and it’s been great watching an elite player like Erik Karlsson drag his team to unexpected heights.  Last night as I was watching Cody Ceci fumble around and enjoying the sight of Chris Neil stapled to the bench, I couldn’t help but temper my enthusiasm with some thoughts about what this run might mean going forward.

Roger Neilson and the 1982 Vancouver Canucks are pictured above.  For those who don’t know, the Canucks went on a miracle run to the Cup in ’82.  What was refreshing then is that people understood it was miraculous–maybe not quite as miraculous as it truly was (the franchise wouldn’t win another round until 10 years later), but there was an understanding that the run did not guarantee the Canucks would see something remotely similar for quite some time.  This level of awareness seems lacking among fans, management, and owners.  Fans feelings aren’t what’s relevant here, my concern is with the latter.  There’s no reason to doubt that Pierre Dorion see’s this run as validation for his various moves and decisions; it also serves as additional fuel for Eugene Melnyk to resist spending more on his team (McKeen‘s-own Craig Smith understands this as he RT’d my sentiments).

There are, of course, differences to what happened 35 years ago and now.  The ’82 Canucks were enormously fortunate in who they faced (the Kings knocked off the Gretzky-era Oilers in the Miracle on Manchester; Chicago knocked out previous Cup finalists Minnesota in the first round, etc)–they didn’t play a team with an above .500 record until the finals.  While the newly installed playoff system is the same as what Vancouver benefited from, the caliber of teams Ottawa has faced is better and the Senators are have a truly elite player in their lineup (you can argue between Richard Brodeur or Thomas Gradin for the Canucks, but none of those players hold a candle to Karlsson).  The difference Karlsson makes cannot be overemphasized (eg), as neither Boston or New York had an answer for him.  In many ways there is no answer for Karlsson, but he can’t play 60 minutes a night and the other 30 or so minutes he’s off are terrifying.  Ottawa’s victories certainly feed into Alex Novet‘s theory about a strong link game (ie, the team with the best player wins), but as I said in my response to that piece I don’t think it’s enough to hang your hat on yet.

I’m not going to predict their next series until we know who they are playing and despite the preceding I’d love nothing better than a run to the Cup for Ottawa–you never know how much longer you’ll have to wait for another one.

[A bit of trivia, incidentally, in looking back at the Canucks run: Sens assistant coach Marc Crawford was on that team; Dallas GM Jim Nill was as well; director of hockey ops Colin Campbell played; Czech national coach (and Pittsburgh coach) Ivan Hlinka was an important player; disastrous Atlanta head coach Curt Fraser played; Gradin is now a long-time Vancouver scout (as is Lars Lindgren).]

freeagent

The expansion Vegas Knights have finally pried KHL star Vadim Shipachyov (50-26-50-76) out of that league and into the NHL (I identified him way back in 2012).  It’s probably two or three years late to get him at his peak (he’s 30 years old), but it’s a worthwhile risk for the franchise.

grit

Grit–what is it good for?  (You might also say toughness, good-in-the-corners, character–whatever you prefer–the same meaning is intended–intangibles related to physicality.)  My long contention is that it’s irrelevant in this era and in a recent piece Stories By Numbers throws up his/her hands:

You go in, collect the data, and you find certain players are more gritty than others but the team already knows that. Now what? You don’t have access to grit scores for players on other teams. You know from existing research that grit is relatively stable and cannot easily be taught. I collect data on psychosocial dynamics for a living and I write reports on my findings as a key part of that process, and I have no idea what value a report on grit scores on a hockey team could possible have beyond satisfying personal interest

There’s a lot more information in the piece and I think it runs into problems by providing a definition for grit that no one would agree (GM’s really do mean a Steve Ott irritant when they discuss it).  While creating a definition is the only way to squeeze something out of it, it’s going to create confusion when the definition created does not match what’s commonly associated with it (what the article really seems to be exploring is perseverance and dedication, which isn’t what anyone would argue against–it’s pretty hard to become a pro athlete without that in spades).  The other issue I have is that only players with superlative talent can get away with a lack of dedication, and those players are so rare as to be statistically meaningless–this isn’t the 1970s when players could afford to be lazy–essentially every NHL player is in great shape and works hard on their game (they literally have no choice if they want to stay in the league).

Despite my disagreement the article is a fantastic and I highly recommend it.

randomness

Our lord and saviour Corey Pronman (in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti) has learned:

from 1990 and 2010, NHL teams were neither consistently good nor bad at drafting. Mostly just luck

It’s an interesting timeframe to assess given that the NHL underwent massive changes in how teams approached the draft (and thereby scouting).  I’m not drawn in by his conclusions since there are demonstrable differences in draft success depending on who is picking (something impossible if it was all luck).  For example, this statement would need to be true comprehensively if approaches weren’t relevant:

Jessop and Weissbock found that 19 of the 30 NHL teams would have fared better using the simplistic algorithm [forwards from the CHL leagues based solely on points in their first draft-eligible season] than by their actual selections

If it’s purely random, then no methodology alters results.  Granting that the general analysis is correct, we might conclude that NHL teams do a poor job understanding who the best scouts and GM’s are.  We see evidence of that in redundant tendencies like the continued preference for size.

Stats Sports Consulting (cited above) posted an interesting piece on scouting back in February and reading it I feel like they could have used more data (although I wholeheartedly empathize with how difficult it is to get hold of).  It’s well worth a read, coming to the conclusion I did years ago that scouting does have added predictive value, but that’s mitigated by the bias of particular teams.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens

Senators News & Notes

Gnomes_plan

In case Sens fans worry that they have the only organisation that still embraces “good in the corners” guys despite contrary evidence, have no fear: the New York Rangers support Ludditism just as wholeheartedly as the Senators as Travis Yost demonstrates:

So goes the story of most rugged ‘defensive defencemen’ as they accumulate mileage on the body – they can’t move the puck or skate well, so they end up spending just about every shift trying to survive in the defensive zone. The Rangers have curiously kept Girardi playing big rotation minutes despite the red flags. Perhaps the Rangers don’t see those flags. Perhaps they feel that despite those issues, he’s still one of the best six options the team has. Perhaps they think he complements Ryan McDonagh’s game, and vice versa.

Much like South Park‘s underpants Gnomes, old school NHL GM’s and coaches operate under the following formula: acquire toughness + ? = profit.  Their hardheaded resistance to see things any other way continues to boggle the mind.

Ryan Lambert wrote a piece that makes some good general points about the Sens attendance (alas, he worships at the cult of Pronman for reasons that remain inexplicable–particularly when we recall Ryan’s comments from a couple of years ago):

you can safely say there’s plenty of evidence the team wants to do little more than than cynically point to the barest of successes and have local media say, “What else do you want from them?” while pocketing a few extra playoff games’ worth of gate and concessions revenues.

This is absolutely the case–the local media does give that message and Melnyk absolutely needs that gate money (it’s hard to believe that Yost’s work is already four years ago).

freeagent

A couple of signings to note: Chicago signed 22-year old European FA David Kampf (52-15-16-31) out of the Czech league; he didn’t make my FA list (or my 2014 draft list), but he was once a reasonably touted prospect (as per Central Scouting).  Also from the Czech league but not making my list is 23-year old Matej Machovksy (2.25 .925), whom Detroit signed (he sailed through the 2011 draft).

travisyost

Travis Yost’s seemingly dead Tumblr account has a piece from this summer that I thought I’d mentioned, but apparently did not.  In it he discusses the NHL’s terrible broadcasts.  Here are the key points for me:

It seems as though every 5-10 minute segment is chock full of cliche after cliche after cliche. I can’t think of the last time I genuinely learned something from a national broadcast … I, obviously, would prefer to be educated than entertained. But if you can give me the latter, no doubt I’m sticking around. The problem is that hasn’t ever been delivered either. … there are frustrating examples of really talented, really smart people being placed in secondary or tertiary roles … The other truly grating things on hockey broadcasts … is when completely junk analysis is passed off.

There’s no doubt that all of this is true.  I actually think Travis is being too kind–hockey broadcasts are worse now because fans understand just how dumb much of the “analysis” is.  I’ve watched more of this year’s playoffs than I have in years and it’s mindnumbing how poor most of the colour work and analysis is.  Most of the opinions offered on broadcasts are carbon copies of what was said thirty years ago–hockey has moved on, but the talking heads have not.  This really boils down to who does the hiring and manages talent on TV, because you could easily have a top-notch broadcast.

masterton

I don’t generally write about NHL awards, but I know many people get excited about them.  I noted that the Sens own Craig Anderson is a top contender for the Masterton Trophy as Alexander P breaks down the odds of who will win what.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens