Belleville Senators Roster Speculation/Analysis

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It’s still early, but I wanted to take a look at the Belleville roster and speculate on the lineup–feel free to suggest alternatives or point out where I may have gone wrong in my analysis/assumptions.

We’ll start with veteran players on the team, as a block of three were recently signed/re-signed (following earlier signings: Agozzino, Aberg, and Sherwood and Heatherington). This group joins Shaw, who enters the final year of a two-year deal, and Bishop, who signed an early extension. Let’s take a look at what they bring to the team, keeping in mind I’m calling them ‘veterans’ loosely, not the specific sense of AHL rules (so those players who are no longer prospects); those who qualify as AHL veterans are in blue, with the Sens having filled all their available slots; I have their age/s throughout the season noted.

Veterans

Forwards

Andrew Agozzino LW/C, 30-31, San Diego 31-13-14-27 0.77 (AHL career 0.77)
The undrafted OHLer has played over 500 AHL games and his career average is exactly what he posted this past season. He’s only had cups of coffee in the NHL and, barring a rash of injuries, should be with the BSens all season. I think he’s an excellent addition–you need proven scorers on your team to take the pressure off prospects.

Pontus Aberg RW/LW, 28, KHL Traktor 49-10-13-23 0.68 (AHL career 0.68)
The former 2nd-round pick played a full NHL season in 18-19, but wasn’t able to hold a roster spot with Toronto and departed to the KHL. His prior AHL season was more productive than his average (0.80) and, like Agozzino above, he’s someone the BSens can rely on for scoring.

Logan Shaw RW/C, 29, 24-6-9-15 0.62 (AHL career 0.49)
Returning to the BSens for the final year of his contract, the former 3rd-rounder had roughly three full NHL seasons (15-16 to 17-18) before getting transitioned out of the league by Winnipeg. The last two years he’s struggled to stay healthy; at this level he provides second line levels of offense and is unlikely to be recalled to Ottawa.

Kole Sherwood RW, 24-25, Cleveland 9-3-1-4 0.38 (AHL career 0.38)
The undrafted former OHLer failed out of the Columbus system and I’m not sure what he adds to the BSens other than ‘truculence’. His best offensive season in the AHL was his first (18-19) and he’s struggled to stay healthy. This is a bottom-six forward that, besides sandpaper, doesn’t add much (he’s one of three head-scratching yet typical signings by the org).

Clark Bishop CL, 25-26, 8-2-3-5 0.62 (AHL career 0.31)
The former 5th-rounder has had an unremarkable minor league career, but the Sens clearly like him. I assume the appeal is his defensive play, since nothing else stands out. I expect him to center the bottom six.

Scott Sabourin RW, 29, Toronto 6-2-0-2 0.33 (AHL career 0.25)
A player who needs no introduction, the Sens signed him to a two-way deal and we know exactly what his role is.

Tyrell Goulbourne LW/RW, 27-28, Henderson 18-1-1-2 0.11 (AHL career 0.20)
The former 3rd-rounder’s career has been declining the last two seasons and he’s survived by being ‘truculent’ (yes, I will beat that word to death). Assuming he can stay healthy, he’ll plug away on the fourth line as an agitator. [I was doing some research after I posted this and found a video of Goulbourne getting destroyed fighting former Sens prospect Michael Sdao–clearly he’s game to fight, but that’s not his forte]

Defense

Colby Williams DR, 26-27, 27-3-7-10 0.37 (AHL career 0.26)
The former 6th-rounder enjoyed a career year with the BSens (in terms of points-per-game)–I think his career average serves as a better idea of what he’s capable of. His prior minor league seasons were all very similar, except that he’s been injury-prone the last three.

Zac Leslie DL, 27-28, Stockton 30-3-7-10 0.33 (AHL career 0.35)
The former 6th-rounder has settled in as a career AHLer (no cups of coffee in the NHL), putting up solid if unspectacular numbers. He’s someone who can play the powerplay, but you wouldn’t want him to run it.

Dillon Heatherington DL, 26, KHL Barys 41-2-5-7 0.17 (AHL career 0.28)
Like Aberg above, the former 2nd-rounder dipped his toes in the KHL before returning to the minors. Always billed as a safe, stay-at-home blueliner, his limitations have meant that he’s only played 5 NHL games (despite his pedigree and size). He’s a good fit for a partner on the right side who wants to gamble.

Veteran Summary

The forwards add offensive depth and sandpaper, but the blueline is seemingly focused on defensive reliability and veteran savvy. While I think several of these signings are in line with typical Pierre Dorion flailings (cf), a few also make sense, which is a marked improvement. With that out of the way, let’s look at younger players.

Prospects

Forwards

Angus Crookshank LW, 22, 19-5-11-16 0.84 (NCAA career 0.70)
The 5th-round pick left the NCAA early and had an excellent, albeit short, rookie season. He will be leaned on to continue that production, but with Agozzino there to take some of the pressure off.

Yegor Sokolov RW/LW, 21, 35-15-10-25 0.71 (QMJHL career 1.04)
A good rookie season for the 2nd-round pick, who will looked at to improve on his offensive pruduction (with Aberg being his support in that respect); I think he’s more likely to be called-up than Crookshank (due to size/experience).

Logan Brown CL, 23-24, 13-2-7-9 0.69 (AHL career 0.84)
The former 1st-round pick is an unsigned RFA and it’s unclear whether the Sens wish to keep him or not. As a 6’6 playmaking center, I think it’s crazy for Ottawa to give up on him, but as someone picked by Bob Lowes instead of Trent Mann, I’m not sure they feel attached to him. It’s also not clear that they’d put him back in Belleville if they kept him–I think it unlikely (what does he really have to prove at this level?), but I’m including him since it remains a possibility.

Shane Pinto CR, 20-21, NHL Ottawa 12-1-6-7 0.58 (NCAA career 0.98)
The 2nd-rounder turned pro after his sophomore season and despite good production in his short debut, I think it’s possible he’ll play significant time in the AHL–the Sens could opt to take the pressure off and let him develop in Belleville (ala Josh Norris). If so he’ll get top minutes as the first or second-line center.

Parker Kelly CL/RW, 22, 33-10-8-18 0.54 (WHL career 0.69)
The WHL FA signee had a much better sophomore season after an underwhelming rookie year. Given the lineup, he looks like a third line winger who will do some penalty killing and perhaps second unit powerplay time.

Cole Reinhardt LW, 21-22, 33-6-6-12 0.36 (WHL career 0.56)
I’m not sure what to make of the 6th-rounder, but scoring does not seem like it’s on the menu, so I’d expect him to circulate on the bottom lines.

Mark Kastelic CR/RW, 22, 31-4-6-10 0.32 (WHL career 0.73)
The 5th-rounder, an imagined Zack Smith clone, had a middling rookie year (Smith’s rookie year was 0.61). Like the previous two prospects, I expect him to eat up minutes on the bottom lines.

Roby Jarventie LW, 19, Liiga Ilves 48-14-11-25 0.52 (U20 career 0.73)
The 2nd-round Finnish forward played briefly with Belleville at the end of the season and, while his contract can slide, it seems like he’ll return to the BSens (he’s not on Ilves’ roster for the upcoming season). It’s difficult to project his production, but he showed skill in his limited window.

Defense

Jonathan Aspirot DL, 22, 27-7-6-13 0.41 (QMJHL career 0.39)
An undrafted blueliner whose signing I was not a fan of, but he’s somehow maintained his junior production at the AHL level (in an admittedly small sample size). The pressure to produce will be abated by the addition of Leslie and Bernard-Docker.

Lassi Thomson DR, 21, 35-1-12-13 0.37 (Liiga career 0.26)
The first-rounder had a solid season for someone considered unspectacular offensively; while the pressure will be on to take his game to another level, the addition of Bernard-Docker adds depth on his side.

Jacob Bernard-Docker DR, 21, NCAA North Dakota 27-3-15-18 0.66 (NCAA career 0.63)
The first-rounder left college early at the end of last year, but given the logjam on the blueline in the NHL, I think he’s going to spend part or all of his rookie season in Belleville. He projects out like Thomson, although it’s unclear who has the better skill set.

Maxence Guenette DR, 20, QMJHL Val d’Or 36-5-17-22 0.61 (QMJHL career 0.47)
I’m not sure if the 7th-rounder can go back to the Q (cf), but given how crowded the BSens are on the right side, sending him back seems like the better choice. His numbers remind me of Max Lajoie’s, who I liked, although Guenette’s ceiling is probably not as high. Barring injuries or a roster move, it’s difficult to envision him as anything other than a depth defenseman.

Goaltenders

Filip Gustavsson GL, 23, .933/.910 (AHL career .894)
The former 2nd-round pick had his best pro season to date, but with two goalies ahead of him in Ottawa, it seems likely that he’ll return to Belleville (presumably as the starter).

Mads Sogaard GL, 20-21, .917 (WHL career .915)
The huge 2nd-round Dane did well in limited action and will either back-up Gustavsson or take the role of starter.

Kevin Mandolese GL, 20, .888 (QMJHL career .900)
The rookie struggled at the pro level and could see time in ECHL Atlanta to avoid sitting in the pressbox behind the other two. Because the Sens have three signed goaltending prospects, it’s unlikely they’ll add an AHL goaltender.

Prospect Summary

At the NHL level, Pinto, Formenton, and Brannstrom can hypothetically come down (as can Norris and Stutzle, but I consider that impossible). Barring a roster change, only Pinto seems possible (thus his inclusion above). The blueline is so clogged at the NHL-level everyone in the minors is locked in. Otherwise there’s a fairly even mix of skill and grind in the forward group, with the blueliners slightly more generally skilled (albeit with lower offensive ceilings).

Hypothetical Lineup

Centers: Pinto, Shaw, Kastelic, Bishop
Leftwing: Agozzino, Crookshank, Jarventie, Reinhardt, Goulbourne
Rightwing: Aberg, Sokolov, Kelly, Sherwood, Sabourin
Left-D: Aspirot, Leslie, Heatherington
Right-D: Thomsom, Bernard-Docker, Williams, Guenette

Agozzino-Pinto-Aberg
Crookshank-Shaw-Sokolov
Jarventie-Bishop-Kelly
Reinhardt-Kastelic-Sherwood
Extras: Sabourin, Goulbourne

Aspirot-Thomson
Leslie-Bernard-Docker
Heatherington-Williams
Extra: Guenette

There are only three natural centers in the group (Pinto, Kastelic, and Bishop), so looking at the various wingers who play center I’m guessing Shaw is moved to make room for the rightwing prospects who need the ice time. I’m guessing Aberg will play the right side given that he’s righthanded and wasn’t brought in to sit on the third line. If Pinto isn’t here than either Agozzino shifts to center or Bishop slides up (despite his lack of talent) and Kelly moves over. Otherwise I think there will be at least one veteran player on each of the top-three lines. The blueline combos are much less certain, but are placed roughly in terms of assumed talent–it’s likely there will be juggling to see who works best with whom (cf).

In Context

It’s worth remembering that last season was a bizarre one in the AHL. Belleville played 35-games against just 4 teams because of the pandemic. A reduced travel schedule and repeated opponents impacts numbers, but we don’t know to what extent. Within their division they were the lowest scoring team (102 goals or 2.9 per game, which is a long way down from their 3.71 pace the previous season). The top-scorer in the AHL (Andrew Poturalski) played more games than the other top scorers (the top point-per-game player was veteran T. J. Tynan at 1.30–yes, the same Tynan Columbus drafted via the Nikita Filatov trade), but the leader within Belleville’s division was Manitoba’s Nathan Todd with 32 points; the top ppg was Toronto’s Kale Kossila at 1.04 (passim). For an easier visual snapshot, here’s how the BSens compare to their divisional top scorers (minimum 17 games played–half a season–those on the BSens or signed for this season are in bold):

Forwards
1. Kossila (Tor) 28-7-22-29 1.04
2. Agostino (Tor) 22-9-13-22 1.00
3. Todd (Man) 36-12-20-32 0.89
4. Poehling (Lav) 28-11-14-25 0.89
5. Gustafsson (Man) 22-7-12-19 0.86
6. Crookshank 19-5-11-16 0.84
7. Belzile (Lav) 17-4-10-14 0.82
8. Perfetti (Man) 32-9-17-26 0.81
9. Agozzino (San Diego) 31-13-14-27 0.77
10. Robertson (Tor) 21-5-11-16 0.76
11. Dauphin (Lav) 21-5-11-16 0.76
12. Ruzicka (Sto) 28-11-10-21 0.75
13. Blandisi (Lav) 28-10-11-21 0.75
14. Veilleux (Lav) 26-14-5-19 0.73
15. Sokolov 35-15-10-25 0.71
16. Weal (Lav) 34-7-17-24 0.71
17. Phillips (Sto) 30-8-13-21 0.70
18. Teasdale (Lav) 26-8-10-18 0.69
19. Aberg (KHL) 49-10-13-23 0.68
20. Gaudet (Tor) 34-11-12-23 0.68
21. Shaw 24-6-9-15 0.62
22. Gawdin (Sto) 22-4-9-13 0.59
23. Malott (Man) 34-14-6-20 0.59
24. Ylonen (Lav) 29-9-8-17 0.59

The drop off in offense from Belleville’s forward group is obvious and the acquisitions should help solve that to some degree (although Ottawa did not push for the best of the best in terms of AHL-scorers).

Defense
1. Petrovic-D (Sto) 17-2-10-12 0.70
2. Mackey-D (Sto) 27-3-13-16 0.59
3. Heinola-D (Man) 19-4-7-11 0.58
4. Kivihalme-D (Tor) 20-6-5-11 0.55
5. Lilegren-D (Tor) 21-2-9-11 0.52
6. Leskinen-D (Lav) 33-1-16-17 0.51
7. Olofsson-D (Lav) 24-1-11-12 0.50
8. Duszak-D (Tor) 25-4-8-12 0.48
9. Kovacevic-D (Man) 29-2-12-14 0.48
10. Chisholm-D (Man) 28-2-11-13 0.46
11. Brook-D (Lav) 33-2-13-15 0.45
12. Rosen-D (Tor) 30-5-8-13 0.43
13. Aspirot-D 27-7-6-13 0.41

The offensive weakness of the BSens blueline (a systemic issue that goes back six years–the last elite producer was Chris Wideman in 2014-15) is obvious. The org has made a limited effort to shore up this deficit, but are leaning almost entirely on prospects for additional production.

Final Thoughts

Looking through this, and at the Sens lineup, it seems like a move on the blueline has to be coming soon (I can’t see Ottawa keeping 8 defensemen). If everything lines up in Belleville as I’ve guessed above, success is heavily dependent on the prospects. Scoring should at least slightly improve, although I have concerns over how well the blueline can move the puck (which impacts what forwards can do with it). On paper the goaltending looks solid, but we have very small sample sizes for two of the prospects and Gustavsson has been all over the place in the AHL–it’s probably fine. I think for fans I think there’s reasons to watch and be excited, albeit I don’t know how much that will translate into wins and losses. Anyway, as I said above, please chime in with your own thoughts–I did not watch this past season, so there may be some nuances I’ve missed and I like hearing other opinions regardless.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Retrospective: Looking Back at the 2019 Assessment of the Sens Farm System

I’ve been away from the Sens and hockey for a couple of years (funnily enough, the last thing I wrote was a profile of Scott Sabourin). I never wrote about why I did, but there were two reasons: 1) unhappiness with management/the organization (something that hasn’t changed), 2) The NHL’s unwillingness to open the game up–I grew up in the 1980s and while the game is ‘better’ now, the excitement of that high scoring era is not matched (the peak, for me, is the ’87 Canada Cup finals). The NBA and the NFL have (at different speeds) realized that what fans want most is scoring, but the NHL remains far behind making that adjustment. The clutch and grab era may be dead, but despite all the speed of the modern NHL, scoring struggles continue.

So what’s prompted me to write now? No specific reason, although I’ve been thinking about it for awhile. The last couple of years of my Sens coverage was focused on prospects and I think to learn and judge analysis requires reflection. I wanted to see just how well I did in assessing Ottawa’s farm system back in 2019. I tackled it in reference to rankings from The Athletic‘s Pronman and I’ll reflect on both his and my comments. To make this visually easier, those whose development was predicted correctly are in green and those not in red, and where it’s unclear, as it frequently is, I’ve left it as-is. My bias: I value offense over defense, since the former is rare and the latter can be learned.

3. Alex Formenton (2-47/17)
Had an excellent first season in Belleville (0.86ppg), with a solid debut in Ottawa (0.30).
Pronman (& scouts) were uncertain about his skill level at the highest level, with the thinking being he’d be a third line center who could kill penalties. My issue with him was simply how early he was picked given that limited upside, but it’s still too early to judge his ceiling.

5. Josh Norris (Acquired from San Jose in the Erik Karlsson trade)
An excellent rookie season in Belleville (1.09), and an impressive NHL rookie season (0.62).
My fear was that Norris had been buoyed by talented teammates and fall to third-line production without, but it seems like that’s a concern we can wave away at this stage. This was both Pronman and the scouts contention as well, but clearly the Sens saw more in him than most and thus far they have been right. I still think there’s some suggestion that his numbers are boosted by his linemates (both in Belleville and Ottawa), but not in the sense that he’s drag on them (so he’s more like Dan Quinn than Warren Young, to make a reference maybe 5% of you will get).

8. Jakob Bernard-Docker (1-26/18)
Continued to do well in the NCAA (0.78 and 0.66) and made his brief debut.
Scouts and Pronman saw him as a safe, two-way, top-four defensemen. My quibble with him was (again) when he was picked given his upside (the Sens have drafted an abundance of players within that category). We really don’t know what he is yet, but his NCAA numbers imply modest pro production.

11. Filip Chlapik (2-48/15)
Equaled his production (0.60) at the AHL level while not offering much in limited time in half an NHL season. Unhappiness this past season saw the Sens let him go and he played the end of the year in the Finnish league.
There were a lot of questions when he was drafted and Pronman was not impressed, but broadly speaking his offensive side never did quite meet expectations (my concern that his QMJHL production had been boosted by Daniel Sprong seems correct), while he was better defensively than advertised. I always hoped he would develop more.

12. Parker Kelly (WHL FA 2017)
An unremarkable rookie season (0.28) saw necessary improvement this past one (0.55).
Pronman hoped for offensive skills that weren’t evident at the time and while we’ve seen improvement it’s still up in the air what kind of ceiling he has. I’m not sure that you need to sign a defensive forward with speed to an ELC, but he’s not a bust yet so there’s time to see a return on investment (he seems like a poor man’s Formenton).

13. Max Veronneau (NCAA FA 2019)
An awful AHL rookie season (0.30) saw him traded and he’s now playing in the SHL.
Pronman didn’t see NHL potential in him and while I agreed, I had different reasons for doing so. We were both right in the end, as he couldn’t even dominate at the AHL level, so this was a wasted FA-signing. In general the Sens have an extremely poor track record of FA signings out of the NCAA (cf).

14. Jonathan Davidsson (Acquired in the Matt Duchene trade to Columbus)
Unimpressive partial rookie season (0.27) followed by a worse start this past season leading to being loaned back to tier-2 Sweden.
Pronman, while not effusive, wasn’t as down on him as I was, and in this case I was absolutely correct. Davidsson just doesn’t have NHL (or, seemingly, AHL) talent.

16. Shane Pinto (2-32/19)
Good sophomore season in the NCAA (1.14) with an impressive NHL debut.
Pronman was extremely negative about him while scouts were divided; I worried the Sens were won over by his size (think of Gabriel Gagne and others), but thus far it seems as though Ottawa was on the right track.

17. Filip Gustavsson (Acquired in the Derick Brassard trade involving Pittsburgh and Vegas)
Echoed his atrocious rookie season (.889), but was much better this past season in limited action in both leagues.
Pronman was concerned he was in bust territory, while I thought his struggles were fine at the time. It seems like he’s rounding into form, although the small sample size from this past season is something we have to take with a grain of salt.

18. Kevin Mandolese (6-157/18)
Marked improvement (.895 to .925), while looking rough around the edges in his rookie season in the AHL (.888).
Pronman was very negative about him and scouts opinions were mixed. Goalies are extremely difficult to gauge and for a late pick if he doesn’t pan out it’s not that big a deal (I don’t mind the risk).

19. Jon Gruden (4-95/18)
After struggling in the NCAA he had a solid season in the OHL, but was traded to Pittsburgh where he had an okay AHL debut (0.43).
Pronman and I shared the opinion that he wasn’t an NHL player, so why bother picking him? I have no idea why the Sens signed him, but at least they were able to dump him on Pittsburgh soon after.

21. Luke Loheit (7-194/18)
Put up back-to-back horrendous seasons in the NCAA (0.18 and 0.17)–not picked as a scorer, but these are abysmal numbers regardless.
Virtually no one ranked him and it’s difficult to find positive opinions about him (Pronman included)–the Sens could easily have let him sail through the draft and signed him as an FA if warranted.

Depth: Markus Nurmi (6-163/16)
Showing steady improvement in Finland (0.49 and 0.78).
The Sens have sat on Nurmi for a long time, whom they clearly saw as raw material that might develop one day. Pronman was not impressed, but Nurmi is getting to the point where the Sens might sign him. His numbers in Finland aren’t overwhelming and at best he’s a depth player, but that potential remains (he’s only 23).

Not discussed:
1. Drake Batherson (4-121/17) – One of my favourite players; superb AHL numbers turned into strong NHL numbers (0.60)
2. Erik Brannstrom (Acquired in the Mark Stone trade) – Has been great in the AHL; starting to round into NHL form (0.43)
4. Logan Brown (1-11/16) – Excellent AHL numbers haven’t yet earned him a full NHL spot
6. Lassi Thomson (1-19/19) – Decent season in Finland before a solid AHL debut (0.37); this is yet another top-four with limited upside prospect
7. Mads Sogaard (2-37/19) – Tread water in 2019-20, but was solid in limited rookie action in the AHL
9. Vitaly Abramov (Acquired in the Matt Duchene trade) – Has been a good AHL player (0.80 and 0.82), but ought to be a dominant one [After I posted this I saw that he’d signed in the KHL–so ends his tenure with Ottawa]
10. Joey Daccord (7-199/15) – Had a strong rookie season, but struggled as a sophomore; claimed by Seattle
15. Marcus Hogberg (3-78/13) – Had a strong 2019-20, but faltered as an NHL goaltender (.876) and the Sens have moved on (he’s signed in the SHL)

As Pronman said nothing about them, I can’t comment on his opinion. As for me, if you draft for skill it will pay off as it has with Batherson. I don’t have strong opinions on Brannstrom, but I like Brown. Thomson, it’s agreed, lacks high end skill, but let’s hope there’s more upside than predicted. I liked the Sogaard pick. At 23 Abramov needs to establish himself at the NHL-level. I liked Daccord, but the Sens really didn’t have room for him (the same for Hogberg).

Not making the cut:
Todd Burgess (4-103/16) – Middle of the road NCAA numbers saw him unsigned; the Manitoba Moose picked him up; excluding him counts as a win for Pronman
Angus Crookshank (5-126/18) – His 2019-20 season was roughly equal to his prior, but he improved this past year (0.90) and had an excellent AHL debut (0.84); excluding him counts against Pronman
Jakov Novak (7-188/18) – NCAA numbers improved (0.85 and 1.13), he’s switched schools for his final college season; excluding him counts against Pronman
Viktor Lodin (4-94/19) – Took a step back in 2019-20 (spending only half the time in the SHL), then was kept in tier-2 where he put up his best numbers (for whatever that’s worth); on loan to the SHL for the upcoming season
Mark Kastelic (5-125/19) – Matched his prior year in the WHL and then had an adequate debut given expectations (0.32)
Maxence Guenette (7-187/19) – His final two QMJHL seasons were about equal in terms or production (0.61 in the last), which isn’t all that impressive

The only Pronman angle above is that he left them out. The Sens letting Burgess walk makes sense, as he never broke out in the NCAA. I liked the Crookshank selection (again, going for skill). Novak represents the same risk taken with Burgess–both were high scoring NAHL players–but with better results (how well that translates remains to be seen). Kastellic always seemed liked an AHL player not worth drafting and I don’t see Zack Smith in him (which is what I think they were angling for). I was unimpressed by Lodin’s talent when drafted and despite finally putting up numbers in tier-2 this still seems like a wasted pick to me.

In reference to my prospect rankings (posted about a month after the article here), I stand by my goaltender comments (irrespective of changes). On defense the jury is out on whether I was too high on Christian Wolanin (who I saw as a top-four blueliner), but I was spot-on with Olle Alsing (who crashed and burned) and Andreas England (thankfully gone). As for forwards it’s a bit more of a mixed bag, as I undersold Josh Norris and Shane Pinto, but I’m very happy with my Max Veronneau, Michael Carcone (anyone remember him?), Andrew Sturtz, John Gruden, and Luke Loheit assessments. As for those outside the list, one can quibble with my Nick Paul assessment, but I was spot on about Jack Rodewald, too conservative about Brady Tkachuck, and not ready to give up on the potential of the departed Max Lajoie or Christian Jaros. My assessment of the various AHL-signings was all on-point other than, perhaps, Jonathan Aspirot.

Any thoughts or comments are welcome. I have been out of the rotation for awhile, so there could be nuances I’m missing.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Belleville 4, Utica 3

The BSens won an entertaining game against Utica on Saturday. Mercifully Mike Blunden was out of the lineup, although Kleinendorst’s newest man-crush Eric Selleck continues to play more than makes any sense. It was a great game for Filip Chlapik who extended his point streak to four-games and enjoyed his first ever three-point effort (amusingly, Kleinendorst rewarded Ciampini with extra TOI throughout the first two periods when he was simply benefiting from being on Chlapik’s line). The Czech rookie now leads the team in scoring (second in points-per-game behind Sexton).

Boxscore
Shots: 30-39
PP: 0-3
PK: 4-5
Scoring chances: 9
Key saves: 7
The Goals
1. Chlapik on a breakaway
2. Ciampini on a spin-around shot off Chlapik’s feed
3. Utica – right after their PP expires a blocked shot is banged in
4. Utica PP – Taylor beat shortside with a high backhander
5. Rodewald off a nice feed from Lajoie
6. Chlapik on an empty-net
7. Utica – Taylor over commits to the initial shot and is down and out for the rebound off the blocked shot

Notable plays:  Murray hits the crossbar on a breakaway (second); Chlapik and White both choose to pass instead of scoring on the empty-netter and Sexton just misses high (third).

As mentioned above Blunden missed the game and the team continues to thrive without him (10-10-3 versus 14-26-2). The org is completely oblivious to this kind of thing however and when he returns to the lineup he’ll play just as much as he always has.

One change Kleinendorst did make, however, was loading up his first line by adding Chlapik to Sexton-White. This happened in the third period and marks the first time he’s put them all together outside the powerplay all season.

Streaks of note:
-Werek has now gone twenty games without a point
-The second unit PP also hit the twenty game mark in terms of futility

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

Binghamton_Senators_svg

While Ottawa added no players to its NHL roster on the first day of free agency, they did add a lot to the AHL lineup, so let’s take a look (I’m ignoring the RFA’s they signed, just the FA’s):
-re-signed Michael Kostka (50-5-24-29); the 30-year old defenseman was serviceable last season (keeping his partner, ECHL defenseman Guillaume Lepine, afloat); he’s not a true #1 or #2 blueliner at this level, but for a team this thin on the blueline he’s a needed asset
-re-signed Phil Varone (65-19-36-55); he’s averaged 0.84 points-per-game over the last three seasons in the AHL, which makes him a top-20/25 scorer in the league, so he fills a definite need
-signed Chad Nehring (76-22-26-48) via Hartford; the 29-year old enjoyed a career year, leading the moribund Wolf Pack in scoring; it’s very strange for a player this old to peak like this; I’m not sure what need is being filled here (the org could have just kept Pat Cannone and had the exact same thing), particularly as he isn’t a big, bruising player (5’11 with minimal PIMs)
-signed Mike Blunden (49-21-17-38) via Syracuse; this is much more the kind of signing I expect from the org; the 6’4 29-year old’s AHL stats are solid and he’s coming off a good year (0.77 vs his career 0.54; I think his three year average of 0.64 is more around what we can expect)

I was asked where Binghamton stands in terms of veteran contracts and for those unfamiliar with the AHL’s rules, let’s take a brief look:

Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a game, at least 13 must be qualified as “development players.” Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season. (source and source)

It’s important to note that ECHL games do not count towards veteran status.  A team can ice at most 6 veteran players, not including goalies, with their status determined by games played (rather than age).  Here’s a look at signed players who fit this definition:
-Zach Stortini (700+ AHL/NHL games)
-Tom Pyatt (600+ AHL/NHL/NLA games)
-Michael Kostka (500+ AHL/NHL games)
-Mike Blunden (500+ AHL/NHL games)
-Phil Varone (370 AHL/NHL games)
This leaves the BSens with one veteran spot left, but it must fit the sub-320 mark (Chad Nehring has only 129 AHL games counting against him, so the rule doesn’t apply)

prospects

Development Camp is not a great place to assess players, particularly when it comes to scrimmages (posted up on the Sens website for those who missed it), but a couple of thoughts:
-watching Matt O’Connor give up a weak goal short side (c.16:50 into the period, or c.8:35 into the video) felt like deja vu for the season that was (the 6’5 ‘tender also was beat high by Nick Paul, but saved by the crossbar, he then gave up a soft 5-hole goal from the blueline); it’s such a sharp contrast to better prospects (I remember the year Brian Elliott didn’t give up a goal in the final day of 3-on-3 competition)
-looking at Marcus Hogberg it’s tough to think we’ll have to wait another season before we see him across the Atlantic (he looked great in the 5-on-5 and fantastic at 3-on-3, maintaining a shutout for himself)
-as you’d expect Francis Perron stood out offensively (Brown and Dahlen as well)
-funny (in a sad way) that Ben Harpur struggled to defend even this level of competition (granted he did make a nice pass to start a tic-tac-toe scoring play for the second white goal)

A bit of a tangential but related note, Chris Carlisle is in camp, but as far as I know has not been re-signed by the Sens.

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Roy MacGregor doesn’t pull any punches:

While there has been much to criticize in HNIC – the panelists playing ministicks far and away the most foolish – the plummeting viewership is not something to be blamed entirely on tight suits. Or, for that matter, adding in the unfortunate happenstance of no Canadian team in this year’s postseason. … The game, as it is played these days, is more often unwatchable than enjoyable. There may be no available statistic for those “hard-core” fans – including those who played the NHL game and covered the NHL – who have tuned out, but they are legion.  Why? Because it’s boring.

His conclusion is that the problem is coaching, but I think that’s far off the mark.  The idea that coaches in the 70s and 80s (when hockey was a growing sport) weren’t coaching to win or teaching systems is ridiculous.  What’s changed primarily is: 1) goalie equipment, 2) permissible interference.  The latter in particular is what gave us the Dead Puck Era, but while it’s been cut back we still suffer from absurd goaltending equipment (we’ve heard promises that it will change in the upcoming season, but I’ll believe it when I see it).

Hockey, like any other sport, is ultimately repetitive–99% of the games you watch unfold in very similar ways.  To draw in fans you need some other layer of excitement and what that used to be when I was growing up were players challenging records or milestones–it’s hard to imagine now, but there were legitimate threats to all the records people care about (goals and points) once upon a time.  Since then offensive numbers have regressed and outside the first few months of the 2005-06 season players haven’t come close to challenging anything.  In that absence, there’s nothing to bring fans in other than winning and very few teams win or win consistently.

Chris-Stewart-640x427

Chris Stewart quietly signed in Minnesota and I bring him up simply because I remember all the hype surrounding him in Sensland not long ago (ahem 2014, February (Ottawa Sun and TSN), May (Travis Yost, thankfully arguing against) July (Senshot), October (6th Sens, arguing against it), November (THW), and December (Hockey Insider)).  These are just some of the pieces that came out–a solid year of the organisation (and some of the fanbase) pinning after the former first-round pick in 2014.  So what happened?  The org certainly didn’t consult the analytics, but it became clear that Stewart‘s offensive production was never going to take another step, but the price for him remained high.  He was supposed to be the power forward the Sens needed to make the next step, but thankfully Murray never pulled the trigger on a deal.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

pierre dorion

Pierre Dorion spoke to the media and Nichols provides the transcript, but he had virtually nothing to say–just stating the obvious that the team gives up too many shots and that he likes Shane Prince.

prospects

I don’t find Randy Lee‘s comments about prospects particularly interesting anymore, but they do serve to provide insight in what the organisation (publicly) thinks.  For those interested he talks about Andreas Englund (strong, no puck skills), Marcus Hogberg (he’s good), Filip Ahl (nothing interesting), Colin White (he’s good), and finally about Binghamton call-ups.  What he says about Max McCormick is worth fully digesting:

But then we try to really reward the right guy and that’s why Max McCormick, who we went and saw in St John’s play 2 games and his numbers weren’t great. He had a couple of points and was a -4 but he was the best, most competitive guy out there. He deserved the call-up and I think he did a really good job here. People started to understand that Max McCormick can take that energy and competitiveness and play at the NHL level.

This is pretty stupid–being competitive doesn’t make you an effective hockey player–its required, but it’s right up there with “giving 110%” and all the other useless cliches–every pro tries.  What it does illustrate is the organisation’s obsession with physicality–being “good in the corners” as opposed to actually controlling the play and having good puck skills.  I like McCormick, but he wasn’t the most deserving call-up and the move hasn’t noticeably improved his play in Binghamton.  Lee referencing the plus/minus isn’t a great sign either–no one takes those numbers seriously anymore (at best, a huge variation from your teammates might mean something).

Binghamton_Senators_svg

I had a few things written before Binghamton’s game against Albany but before I get to that I have to say their 4-0 loss is the worst performance in a professional game of hockey I’ve ever seen (before the game Luke Richardson talked about the team having too many passengers–this seems to have been their reaction to that).  Richardson needs to go–being out shot 32-6 and continuing to play his brand of garbage hockey is unacceptable.  Back to my pre-game comments: I’m never sure how many fans realize why teams that take a lot of penalties are bad teams–its not about style of play, it simply reflects that the penalized team never has the puck.  What genius puts Lepine and Tuzzolino together as a pairing?  And why Hobbs on the third line instead of Robinson?  Onto the play-by-play:
1. Harpur pinches, loses the battle, and Ewanyk doesn’t skate hard enough to stop the pass to a wide open Devil in front
-Another Harpur special as, unpressured, he tosses a grenade to Lepine in his own zone and the puck bounces out to center ice to the Devils
Lepine takes a stupid tripping call
Schneider has a 2-on-1 shorthanded but loses the puck without shooting or passing
McCormick takes an unnecessary crosschecking call in the offensive zone
-14 minutes before the BSens had a shot on goal (from outside the blueline)
Stortini passes to the wrong team giving the Devils a 3-on-2
-Nice defensive play by Carlisle lifting the stick of a Devil in front
-Fourth line spends their shift running around in their own zone and when they finally get the puck Ewanyk shoots it over the glass
2. Tuzzolino can’t stop the pass and Claesson has no idea someone is behind him to take it
Harpur, unpressured, throws a backhand pass 15-feet wide of Dzingel forcing a scramble to defend the net
Second
-Brutal turnover by Mullen behind the net gives the Devils a great chance in front
McCormick decides to go for a hit instead of the puck in his own zone leading to a long Devils sequence with three quality scoring chances
3. O’Connor gives up a juicy rebound and Lepine has neither the man nor the puck giving the Devils get a tap-in
4. No one takes the trailing Devil and Ewanyk provides a great screen in front
Dziurzynski takes an unforced delay of game penalty
-Great chance for McCormick as Schneider saucers him the pass on a 2-on-1
Scott Greenham comes in
Lindberg with a bad neutral zone turnover, but the defense bails him out
-For some reason Lepine turns to watch Tuzzolino instead of the puck as Dzingel loses a puck-battle and the Devils have a chance right in front
-Great little deflection by Lindberg to set Stortini up in front on the PP, but his shot is blocked
-Fourth line spends another shift running around in their own end
-Goaltending coach Rick Wamsley was on during the second intermission and he wasn’t impressed by O’Connor‘s performance in the game; he also said the first period of the game was one of the worst he’s ever seen in professional hockey (amen Rick)
Third
Robinson had replaced Hobbs on the third line (the latter did not play in the period–he may have missed the second as well [turns out he’s injured])
Fraser takes a dumb boarding penalty (injuring the Devil player); Richardson put no one in the box to serve the penalty and should have been called for illegal substitution when it expired, but the officials had  mercy
Greenham with a couple of great saves in two different sequences
Nice defensive play by Claesson to break up a rush
Schneider takes a dumb penalty
-15 minutes in and the BSens have 3 shot attempts and none on goal
Carlisle was put back on the blueline for the final five minutes
-Nice little sequence with Puempel and Dzingel both having chances off a rush

This was a truly terrible game–unwatchable and with no silver lining for Binghamton.  O’Connor was subpar (which is better than his normal awful), the team took too many penalties (as usual), the fourth line was abysmal, the ECHL pairing (Lepine-Tuzzolino) was awful, Harpur was awful, Matt Puempel was invisible despite playing with the two best BSens forwards in the game (Dzingel and Schneider), etc.  To me it looked like the team quit after going down 2-0 and nothing Richardson tried changed that.  There’s a multitude of reasons why Richardson needs to go, but losing the room is yet another one.  Can the organisation give up on one of its favourites?  I have my doubts.

EvansvilleIceMenCHL

The IceMen won their second game in a row for the first time this season, beating the Alaska Aces 4-2 behind 38-stops by Cody Reichard.  Before celebrating a turnaround to their season, Evansville was out shot 40-21.  There were a number of lineup changes as Dieude-FauvelLukin, and Zay returned from injury (pushing out StrandbergHimelson, and Anthoine).  A look at the goals:
1. One-timer down low beats Reichard five-hole on the PP
2. MacDonald steals the puck and scores on the backhand high on a wraparound
3. Rumble has his pocket picked behind the net and Reichard is beaten on the wraparound
4. Penny scores on a wrist shot from the top of the circle
5. Moon makes a nice cross-crease pass gives Sims a tap-in
6. Leveille tips in Rumble‘s shot on the PP

The team benefited from two bad goals and survived via great goaltending.  The blueline is still pretty bad (Humphries in particular), but scratching Himelson helps.  Both Zay and Lukin help balance out the offence, although I would have liked Strandberg to stay in the lineup.  Incidentally, Dunn was a healthy scratch again.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

I’ve had this post in the works for a couple of days now, but interesting things keep happening.

Ary M takes a look at the Sens PK struggles and sifting through the numbers points the finger at a general decline from both the defensecorps as a whole along with forwards Milan MichalekCurtis Lazar (no surprise) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (surprising).  I agree with him that switching Lazar‘s usage with Alex Chiasson is a good idea as things stand.

This brings up something I’ve been wondering about for quite some time–is Lazar really earning his NHL spot?  Would he benefit from time in the minors?  I feel like for both he and Cody Ceci were rushed and the organisation can see no evil, hear no evil about them.  The oft trotted out mantra about being patient with prospects seems out the window when it comes to these particular players.

sensnation

Kevin Lee (via my old stomping grounds) picks up the question of whether the Sens blogosphere is being too negative.  Points of interesting:

At the end of the day we’re all Sens fans who want the team to win. From that perspective we should be supporting every player on the team, from the crease outwards. That’s what made the miracle run last season so fun. Winning makes it easy to do that, for both bloggers and fans alike.

I think the first point (support) doesn’t make much sense (only a cult mindlessly supports every aspect of something), but I agree with his latter point–everyone loves winning.

One of the more common responses I see to bloggers is that the team isn’t ready to win yet anyways, just enjoy what we have now, and when the time is right the team will make their moves. Well, when is the winning window?

The only time I get resistance from readers is if I criticise someone who is “good in the corners”, but that aside, Kevin’s point is on target (I think Nichols brought this up last week as well–something that seems likely given Kevin echoing the belief that the prospect cupboard is bare… somehow…sort of…er, moving on).

Personally, I think it’s within the next two to three years.

I don’t agree with this, as I don’t think the roster has a window with the current talent.  For me, what I want to see is the best possible performance given what’s available.  Constantly wanting a Cup win seems more than a little unrealistic to me–winning a championship really boils down to some luck at the draft followed by having an excellent org to build around it, and the Sens have neither the organisation nor the elite talent to do it.

I think this is a major reason why fans are seeing so much negativity in the Sens blogosphere

I disagree with Kevin here: I think the reason for all the criticism is that the blogosphere finally has the information (analytics) necessary to properly criticise what the organisation does.  We are in a rare period where some fans do know better than management and that gets very frustrating when that knowledge is widely disseminated.  It’s worth pointing out that the actual media doesn’t perform its critical role anymore either, leaving a vacuum for the blogosphere to fill.

ROSTER MOVES

Michael Kostka was recalled by the Sens after the injury to Patrick Wiercioch.  Is he the most deserving call-up?  No (Fredrik Claesson has been better), but he’s second on the list and I don’t mind giving preference to a puck-mover.

Speaking of roster moves, Matt Puempel was returned to Binghamton (he played in the loss to Toronto).  Has Dave Cameron finally realised (11 games in) that he may not be NHL ready?  And will this at last give Shane Prince an opportunity?  I also wonder if Luke Richardson’s whining about callups contributed to this decision.

In yet another move Chris Driedger was called up after Binghamton’s game against Toronto.   It seems like Andrew Hammond is coming down on a conditioning stint while Matt O’Connor is simply being returned (presumably Scott Greenham will be sent back to Evansville as a result).  Also returning to Ottawa is an undeserving Colin Greening (see below).

pierre dorion

The Nichols’ ditto-tape machine was back in action transcribing the words of Pierre Dorion and amongst some pretty rather drab patter were comments on Binghamton rookies Nick Paul and Tobias Lindberg:

Nick’s been good, but not great. I think there’s an adjustment when you go to the pros. Nick was such a dominant junior. I thought he was a big part of Canada winning the World Juniors, a big part of North Bay’s success over the last few years that I think there’s an adjustment there. Realizing that you’re going up against 25, 26 and even 30-year olds that are so much stronger. So there’s a bit of an adjustment there. We’ve seen in little sequences or in some good sequences, some flashes of what he can do well offensively and defensively. For a guy who shoots the puck so well, I don’t even think he’s got a goal yet. Luke (Richardson) had to sit out Nick one game just because he had to realize that you have to work at everything here. It’s just the pro game: you have to work at it. With Tobias, he’s been a pleasant surprise. He’s stepped in. He’s probably on our top line and I think, if I’m not mistaken, he sat out one game too. Which is alright. We have no problems with that as far as development and realizing that you have to earn it at whatever level you’re at — whether it’s the American League or the NHL — you have to earn it. His skill set and his skating is good NHL, not just NHL, even very good NHL(-calibre). We think both players will be here. No, we know that both players will be Ottawa Senators. It’s just a process that they have to go through to do their time in the American Hockey League

You don’t need to read between the lines very hard to tell Dorion has no idea why Lindberg sat for a game (as indeed he did again last night), but more importantly, for him to say both that Tobias has very good NHL-calibre skill is remarkable–even more so that the organisation didn’t anticipate it.  I agree with him, incidentally, but it speaks to the multiple blind-spots the org has with skilled players.  Dorion also stated the obvious that Chris Driedger has been much better than Matt O’Connor, but that the latter was recalled largely so he could get some coaching and get his game in order (which makes sense).

I didn’t think I’d see the day that Nichols would start pining for the “good old days”, but he wants ties back in the NHL–ties!  Unless the NHL is going to adopt 3-point wins in regulation (which I deem impossible under Gary Bettman), ties are an abomination.  Give me 3-on-3, give me 2-on-2, give me fans coming out of the stands to play five minutes of beer hockey to determine the winner–anything but the tedium of freaking ties.  Yes it would be better if games were determined 5-on-5, but for good reasons that’s not possible in the regular season and at least 3-on-3 gives us goals (something the NHL doesn’t know how to do otherwise).

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This is old news now, but my puzzlement over Scott Greenham‘s injury status has been cleared up as he is healthy enough to play and could suit up for Binghamton whenever they need him.

Something I haven’t mentioned before but I’ve had in mind since the beginning of the season is that Richardson is trying to follow Paul MacLean’s old third line formula when he used to trot out Zack Smith-Chris Neil-Colin Greening–a “tough” checking line, albeit one that failed miserably–Richardson uses Greening-Dziurzynski-Stortini.  The latter works a bit better in the AHL, but a better player than Stortini would help it quite a bit (McCormick would be ideal).

I watched Binghamton’s 3-0 win over the red-hot Wilkes-Barre Penguins on Friday.  As nice as the score looks, the BSens were outplayed and out shot (finishing 31-41) and benefited from a pair of bad goals given up by Pens goaltender Matt Murray (the third goal was into an empty net).  Here’s a fairly lengthy blow-by-blow:
-a nice Mark Fraser moment: the first line creates pressure and he shoots a one-timer over the net with no traffic in front (Murray grabbed it anyway)
1. Kostka (PP) shoots through Murray with a shot between the wickets from the point
-the following shift Stortini turns it over creating an icing call and on the subsequent play Dziurzynski is forced to take a holding call as the third line runs around in its own end
Hobbs was guilty of a brutal turnover on the PK leading to a 3-on-1, but the Pens missed a wide open net
Mullen turnover, but he blocks the shot on the play
-a stupid boarding penalty from Ewanyk
-beautiful pass by Lindberg springs McCormick who can’t cash in on a breakaway
Lepine throws away a PP-opportunity by pointlessly punching Uher after the whistle and giving the Pens a PP
Fraser watches his check in front bang away at the puck
-Inexplicably the Sens put no one in the box for Lepine, leading to shorthanded play after the PP was over
2. Schneider floats a puck in from the point (looked like it hit the Pens defenseman)
-pretty soft hooking call on Paul
Second
Fraser did his second “watch-and-pray” trick, this time on the PK in front of the net
Schneider had a great chance in the slot
Harpur appears on the PP?  Don’t get that one–not something he did much in the OHL; Stortini returns too, although his teammates never gave him the puck (for obvious reasons)
-great save by Driedger after the powerplay
-with Lepine ejected for the aforementioned punching we got to see the nightmarish defensive pairing of Fraser-Harpur
Dzingel shot a rolling puck over the net with it wide open, getting hurt subsequently when O’Dell hit him with a slapshot; Mullen blocked a shot with his chest not long after and looked hurt, but both continued to play
3. Claesson loses his check and Stortini is caught watching the play as the lead is cut into via a nice pass from behind the net
Third
-inexplicably Greening replaced Lindberg on the PP (the Swede had one shift in the period)
-a good shift by the first line draws a penalty and then draw another on the PP for a 5-on-3 which accomplishes nothing
Greening wastes a 2-on-1 with Robinson with an ill-advised shot
-some frantic action via the fourth line in front with a couple of scoring chances
-third line gives up a 2-on-1 forcing Mullen to take a hooking penalty; Robinson is called on the kill leading to a 5-on-3 against
Dziurzynski pots the empty-netter

It was a strong effort from Driedger, but if the BSens hadn’t gotten lucky this game would have gone down the road of most this season.  There was no reason to sit Lindberg, but with the talented Swede Richardson doesn’t see reason (see below).

Luke-Richardson

Richardson’s cluelessness continued as he scratched Lindberg against Toronto (replacing him in the roster with Puempel).  Apparently giving ice time to players like Danny Hobbs trumps the best prospect on the team (it reminds me of when he’d trot out the now retired Brad Mills while scratching Ryan Dzingel last season).  With Kostka recalled Carlisle returned to the lineup.  The BSens paraded to the penalty box for the 6-4 loss; here’s a look at the goals:
1. Fraser gets a soft call for pushing too hard (a reputation call I think) and on the ensuing PP McCormick gets a little out of position leaving Kapanen open in the slot
2. Greening floats a wrist shot towards the net that deflects in off the D
3. Schneider steals the puck behind the net and throws it out to O’Dell who makes no mistake in the slot
4. Lepine doesn’t take the man, his stick, or the shot, so Driedger is beaten off a rebound
5. Puempel makes a terrible pass to Mullen who was speeding through the neutral zone–it results in a 2-on-1 against and Toronto makes no mistake
6. Greening loses the battle along the boards and then loses his check who is wide open for a cross ice pass
7. Claesson throws the puck into a crowd on the PP and it goes in
8. Paul gets a delay of game for the puck going over the glass and just after the PP ends (but before he can get into the play) Greening covers no one and the player right behind him scores
9. With Driedger pulled Schneider scores on a backhand in the slot
10. Empty-netter

The score was flattering to the BSens who spent a lot of the game chasing the puck.  It’s a little horrifying watching players like Lepine try to make passes–throwing wobbly grenades up the middle of the ice.  Greening was by far the worst player on the ice so gets rewarded with an NHL call-up (!).  Without Lindberg in the lineup what little possession the BSens can manage was hurt and that’s evident both in the slant in play and the all the penalties taken.
EvansvilleIceMenCHL

Bad news on the Christoffer Bengtsberg front as his injury is described as “week to week”, meaning the IceMen were initially at the mercy of Keegan Asmundsen.

Evansville lost 6-4 to Orlando, as the Asmundsen/Carlson goaltending combination failed for the second game in a row (the latter getting the start).  The goals:
1. A weak backhand somehow beats Carlson
2. MacDonald scores from behind the net as his pass bounces in off the goaltender
3. Carlson is beat off the ensuing faceoff with a bad angle shot top-shelf
4. Carlson is beat on a soft wrist shot high that he simply misses; he’s pulled after the goal
5. Fawcett creates a turnover behind the net and Leveille beats the goaltender high to the short side
6. Dunn converts a great pass from Penny shooting from the slot
7. Fawcett shoots through a screen to give the IceMen the lead
8. Trebish gets a pretty soft slashing call and on the PK after Dunn took an idiotic unsportsmenlike call, leading to a 5-on-3 and just as it ended Orlando bangs in a rebound
9. Trebish falls leading to a 2-on-1 and Asmundsen is beaten five-hole
10. On the ensuing faceoff Asmundsen is beaten off a tip in front

Fawcett has been really improving and that’s boosted Leveille‘s production; MacDonald has also been heating up.  For BSens interests Rutkowski has been fine, but his production has slipped, while Penny has been solid, but on the third line he’s not going to score much.

On Saturday Evansville finally put up another win, beating Kalamazoo 3-2 behind the goaltending of Cody Reichard (called up from I don’t know where–I can’t find him listed, so it’s possible he wasn’t playing anywhere this season).  Dunn did not dress for this game–I’m not sure if he was a healthy scratch or not (when I find out I’ll put it here).  The goals:
1. On the PP Kalamazoo was able to bang in a rebound on a scramble in front
2. Nice 3-on-1 passing play ends with Penny scoring
3. MacDonald is allowed to walk in from the blueline and scores five-hole
4. On the PP Leveille bangs in Fawcett‘s rebound
5. Trebish doesn’t see the player behind him who cashes in on a rebound

Given Reichard‘s performance I assume he’ll start the next game unless Bengtsberg is healthy–while Asmundsen was a little better in the previous game, he doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.  In terms of BSens related results, Alex Guptill finally hit the scoresheet–he has decent speed, but not much in the way of hands.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

jared cowen

The delight that is Jared Cowen continues–he’s like the gift that keeps on giving.  We know that Bryan Murray (and, one assumes, Dave Cameron) gives Cody Ceci and Mark Borowiecki a free pass on their play (which has been awful), but Murray has publicly criticised both the Man-Bun and Patrick Wiercioch.  When asked about it today, the two players had very different responses.  First, let’s go to the professionalism of Wiercioch:

I think that’s fair. I think my play last year probably raised the expectations of what everyone would expect from me on a daily basis. And that’s the level I’m trying to achieve and that’s what I’m working towards. … I think Dave [Cameron] and I have a terrific relationship. He’s understanding of my situation in Ottawa and what I’ve gone through and I think he’s been up front and honest. I think that communication is something that we’ve lacked here in years past. With him, there’s an open-door policy where you are watching video clips and even the negative ones, they are there to make you a better player and a better teammate

Now let us experience the wit and wisdom that is Jared Cowen:

I don’t hear it [Murray’s criticism]. I don’t pay attention to that stuff because it doesn’t really matter. I think you could say the same thing about a lot of guys, so I don’t take it too personal. It’s hard to play when you’re thinking about getting pulled out of the lineup and all that kind of extra junk. I haven’t missed a game yet so it’s not like it’s been bothering me, so I haven’t had to think about sitting out. So hopefully, this is a one-and-done thing.

It’s not surprising to hear how clueless Cowen is, but if somehow Murray hasn’t figured out what who this guy is yet he should by now.  It’s time to pull the trigger on a deal–a pick, an asset, virtually anything.  Hit the eject button and move on–there’s nothing worthwhile to be gained by trotting this guy out night in and night out.

STATS

One of the funny things that’s been going on the last couple of months is the criticism by the analytics community of NHL.com’s numbers.  Pucky Daddy recaps this and what really stands out to me is Chris Foster (of NHL.com)’s repeated assertion that:

We’re not in competition. We’re not trying to take traffic away from other sites or shut down other sites. We want to be part of the conversation as well. And we have a big voice

Really?  The official site of the NHL, the league’s own site, isn’t trying to compete?  It just wants to be another blog?  Millions of dollars spent to share the limelight with War on Ice–that’s what Gary Bettman approved?  It doesn’t sound like their press release in:

The new NHL stats platform goes beyond data to offer insights that will help avid fans go deeper and help casual fans understand the game better. There are also unlimited storytelling opportunities as we provide our fans with a personalized and interactive experience.

The league wanted the broadest possible audience as well as to be the place to go for serious stats honks, so Foster’s assertion is more than a little ridiculous.  Clearly he’s trotting out some face-saving rhetoric after being caught with innumerable errors which, while fixable, required Travis Yost and others from the analytics community to notice (Yost puts the blame on SAP and not the NHL, incidentally).  I’m glad it’s being fixed, but I find the obfuscation amusing.

Binghamton_Senators_svg

An embattled Luke Richardson (who I think should be fired–my post on that isn’t finished yet) trotted out a very lame excuse for his team’s poor performance:

We had a combination of some call ups, some injuries and a suspension and it just seemed to put us in a funk. That’s not an excuse

If it’s not an excuse, why bring it up?  It certainly sounds like justification and it gives his players a way out–we’re not struggling, we’re just missing some key pieces and feeling a little down.  It’s absurd.  While the roster Richardson has will never light the world on fire, a lot of the blame for how its performed lies on his shoulders–player decisions in terms of who plays where and who sits have made no sense whatsoever.  That said, I think there’s plenty of rope for Richardson to remain throughout the season even at this pace.

EvansvilleIceMenCHL

Evansville got blasted Wednesday night, losing 6-2 to Alaska as Deegan Asmundsen continues to struggle in net (the Aces were coming in on an eight game losing streak).  A look at the goals:
1. Humphries launches a grenade up the boards that gets turned over and Asmundsen is beaten on a mini-break (five-hole)
2. Goal off a deflection from the point via a faceoff win
3. Asmundsen is scored on from behind the goal line as the puck is deflected in off himself
4. A wrist shot from the top of the circle (faceoff win) simply goes over Asmundsen‘s shoulder and he’s pulled
5. Off a faceoff scramble Carlson is beat on a rebound in tight
6. Fawcett bangs in Leveille‘s deflected pass on a broken play in front
7. Fawcett tips in a point shot
8. Lazy coverage in front by Brisebois leaves Traversa with a wide open net after Carlson over commits to a shot and winds up out of his crease

Evansville is a bad team, but one whose model is quite similar to Binghamton and Ottawa’s–great goaltending (when healthy) permits a lineup with limited talent to compete.  The main difference is the IceMen don’t have any dominating offensive players–it looks like they got fleeced by trading Zarbo for Moon and their blueline remains something of a nightmare.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

My promised update to my Draft Success article has been posted.  It’s long, but for those interested in the draft there’s plenty of food for thought (beyond the success percentages I also touch on organizational success).  I also updated my article on undrafted European success stories.

havlat

Nichols goes through the pros and cons of having Martin Havlat on the roster (given that the Sens are apparently offering him a PTO for training camp).  I also wouldn’t mind seeing him here–assuming he’s healthy enough to perform and it means the elimination of some of the roster’s dead weight.

Free_Agent_logo_2

Before I looked into it, I thought the organisation might be starting to pull away a little from signing NCAA (and other) free agents to ELC’s (in terms of volume).  Early on in Murray’s tenure it made sense to sign free agents as there wasn’t much coming up through the system, but the organisation has continued to do so long after the cupboard was full.  Looking at the data however, my surmise doesn’t appear to hold much water:
2007: Derek Smith, Tyler Donati (OHL)
2008: Jesse Winchester
2009: Geoff Kinrade, Craig Schira (WHL)
2010: Bobby Butler, David Dziurzynski (BCHL)
2011: Stephane Da Costa, Pat Cannone, Wacey Hamilton (WHL)
2012: Cole Schneider
2013: Andrew Hammond, Buddy Robinson, Ludwig Karlsson, Troy Rutkowski (WHL)
2014: Garrett Thompson
2015: Matt O’Connor
I don’t think it’s a surprise that none of the players signed out of junior (5) have panned out (although it does happen).  The NCAA players have been a mixed bag, although whatever method the Sens use to select them seems to have flamed out badly last year with Garrett Thompson (he and Karlsson are by far the worst coming from that route).  All the college players (excepting the aforementioned) have been useful to the organisation (largely as AHL-talent), although several have been over hyped and none ever became important pieces in the NHL (the jury is still out on some, of course).  Of those now departed I could see Stephane Da Costa getting another shot in the NHL (he’s dominated the KHL), but it wouldn’t be with Ottawa.

EvansvilleIceMenCHL

Evansville added three more players to its roster:
-goaltender Brandon Komm returns (4-10-3 3.28 .903); while his stats don’t look remarkable, they were the best of anyone between the pipes for the team last season–the signing makes me wonder just how firm Christoffer Bengtsberg‘s roster slot is given that Scott Greenham or Chris Driedger will also be in Evansville
J. P. Labardo (ECHL 54-10-7-17); the former OHLer played with Gwinnett last season (his rookie season), but as his numbers are unremarkable I’m not sure what to make of him
Stephen Pierog (OHL 68-13-27-40); again his numbers aren’t that exciting, so presumably he’s providing depth
This means 12 players (so far) are on the pre-season roster (so that doesn’t include the various AHL-contracted players likely to be sent down).  Incidentally, Evansville’s FHL affiliate is the newly minted Berlin River Drivers (based in New Hampshire)–as far as I can tell they had no lower league affiliate last season (drawing players from various SPHL and FHL teams); at the moment the River Drivers are one of only two FHL teams with an affiliation (Dayton is the other), although being affiliated doesn’t seem that common for leagues at this level (I could only find one in the SPHL (Louisana)).  Incidentally, in looking into the FHL it doesn’t seem to have the depth or security of the SPHL, albeit I’m don’t think that’s hugely important to either Evansville or the Sens organisation.

kleinendorst

Readers may remember that I was very high on Kurt Kleinendorst after Binghamton’s Calder Cup run in 2011; unfortunately for Kurt, he’s yet another in a long line of examples that coaching makes little difference in team performance, as since leaving Bingo he’s flamed out in the NCAA and Iowa in the AHL.  It doesn’t mean he isn’t a good coach, but it does mean he can’t magically turn bad teams into good teams.

Masculinity

Andrew over at WTYKY (formerly of The Silver Seven) has an important piece on masculinity and the nasty side of hockey culture.  I can’t cut his piece down into quotable snippets, but I highly recommend it (particularly emphasizing his call to take sports media to task for its complicity).

erik karlsson

Conor Tompkins goes through the stats to illustrate the increasing contribution of defencemen to offense since the dead puck era.  In something of the same vein, Justin Bourne tries to figure out which blueliners get the puck through to the net most effectively, but admits he’s hampered by a lack of good data–what he has raises as many questions as it answers (no one is going to mistake Roman Polak or Jay Bouwmeester as offensive juggernauts)–I laud his attempt however.

corey pronman

I’m beating a dead horse, but I’ll make it brief.  Craig Smith tells us:

Pronman is worth the $

Why?  He makes lists, but so does my 7-year old niece–give me a good reason (yes Smith is a colleague so he has no choice, but my question is to the blogosphere at large).  Nichols is…look, you can’t force an addict to change, you just have to be there when they are ready (he should read his own comments about Pronman from two years ago).  Using someone else’s opinion to justify your own is making an appeal to authority–that’s only valid if there’s a reason to believe the authority you are appealing too.  Anyway, moving on.

ryan wagman

Having done this for as long as I have you’d think I wouldn’t be surprised anymore, but Ryan Wagman over at Hockey Prospectus broke new ground for me.  I mentioned his prospect list for the Sens in my last post and specifically wondered why he included Ben Harpur in it (which wasn’t the main thrust of what I was talking about, but it’s what he gravitated too).  Wagman hit the Twitter machine (he doesn’t follow me, so presumably Googles his own name) to let me know that:

my Harpur placement had far more to it than his size. You can find a full report on him on the site

I was puzzled by this response (follow the link for some commentary on the addiction of some NHL exec’s with size), for obvious reasons, and gave him some friendly advice:

You should link or include the information; nothing I’ve seen in scouting reports is encouraging–just size size size

Nothing Wagman says in the piece referenced suggests anything more than size (nor do the scouting reports when he was drafted two years ago):

his physical gifts are immense but he is currently held back by inconsistent decision making

The latter is far more important than the former, as are his (unmentioned) unremarkable numbers in the CHL–as Wagman knows full well players do not magically produce more when they turn pro, so Harpur‘s only hope as a prospect is being a safe, defensive blueliner–to do so he needs to make good decisions.  What was his response?

Google: Wagman Harpur

That’s not my (or anyone else’s) prerogative.  It’s incumbent on him to justify his own narrative and analysis in the piece.  If he has a unique scouting perspective on Harpur he needs to justify it.  Anyway, that’s more than enough on the guy.

My hope is that I’ll have time to update a few other popular articles of mine; regardless, it’s worth remembering we aren’t that far away from much meatier Sens news so we have that to look forward too.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

Luke-Richardson

Luke Richardson weighed in on Binghamton (briefly) and thought last season’s debacle was due to a lack of experience, which is an odd conclusion if you look at their roster (which had an abundance of veterans).  It’s such a pat answer I wonder if it’s really what Richardson believes (the best spin I can put on it is that his best players were younger).  He also suggested there might be player movement (a trade) to make room for Chris Wideman in Ottawa (which struck me as speculation, but a welcome thought); otherwise he just had some generalities about Matt O’Connor and Shane Prince.  My two cents on Binghamton’s problems, btw, is that coaching was part of the problem (playing usage in particular), with too much reliance on older players who weren’t delivering.

corey pronman

Superstar to the blogosphere Corey Pronman (sigh) has posted his latest organisational prospect rankings (why the normally discerning Nichols accepts Pronman’s pronouncements so readily is difficult to surmise, but I’d guess it’s the platform he’s given).  For those unfamiliar with these exercises, grades are assigned on the supposed quality of the prospect pool (as long as you don’t ask for details, everybody’s happy).  I might give this approach more credit if there was any reason to believe Pronman (or anyone else) had a track record of predictive success with these assessments, but really, grades are given and then everyone forgets about them–predictions are not being held to the fire, which is odd in an era of analytics.  Let me give just one example of Pronman‘s acumen (his list from 2011):
1. David Rundblad, Defense
2. Mika Zibanejad, Left Wing
3. Nikita Filatov, Right Wing
4. Stephane Da Costa, Center
5. Jared Cowen, Defense
6. Jakob Silfverberg, Right Wing
7. Patrick Wiercioch, Defense
8. Derek Grant, Left Wing
9. Matt Puempel, Left Wing
10. Robin Lehner, Goaltender
Keep in mind guys like Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Chris Wideman were in the organisation at this point, so RIP prognostication or an eye for talent (I could go on about this, but you get the point).  Yes, Pronman is better than the guy on the street corner for prospect info, but let’s not go overboard with his opinions.  Anyway, I’ve talked about Pronman before so let’s go back to what Nichols does with this:

The problem with Ottawa’s depth of prospects is that while many of them safely project to be NHLers, there simply is not a lot of room for them at the parent level right now.

I assume Nichols’ point here is that he wants the deadwood removed from the roster to provide that space, but that still doesn’t make having this depth of prospects a problem.  They are useful assets–always a good thing.  Then we have:

The problem therein, is that while the system does have depth at every position, it lacks projectable impact players. Although it’s entirely possible for a prospect to exceed projections and develop into a front line player, it seems unlikely.

And what is an impact player in his opinion?  The default assumption is that it refers to a top-six forward or top-four defenseman, but if that’s what he means he’s simply wrong–there’s no question that at least a couple of the current prospects have that ability (I’m sure Nichols would agree; certainly the organisation thinks they have a future #1 goaltender in O’Connor–and that’s not just blowing smoke up the ass of the public, they traded Robin Lehner to make room for him).  What I think he’s actually referring too is elite talent, a top-line or top-pairing player, which is an entirely different question and (to me) missing the point.  Very few prospects are ever at that level and they certainly spend almost no time within systems because they “graduate” from these lists in a hurry.  While I applaud Nichols for cautioning fans against getting too excited about hidden gems and the organisation pumping the tires of prospects, he’s over the top when bemoaning the lack of “impact players” in the system.  We’d all like elite players rattling around in the minors, but it really doesn’t work that way (I’d recommend checking out my draft success article, which I’ll have to update with last season in mind).  Anyway, I still love you Nichols, I just want you to apply that critical thinking of yours to Pronman a bit more critically rather than using him as a hatchet against whoever you’re having prospect arguments with.

lists-image

Hockey Prospectus (Ryan Wagman) has its own top-ten list and Callum Fraser can celebrate as they inexplicably have Ben Harpur as a Sleeper (it’s amazing how simply being big will impact opinion, “his physical gifts are immense but he is currently held back by inconsistent decision making“–I find the latter more than a little worrying).  That said, his list has no visible criteria behind it and from the information available I haven’t the slightest idea what separates the players on it.  For those of you who share the addiction to size, please read this.

travisyost

Time to cleanse the palate with the inestimable Travis Yost.  Recently he’s looked at what impacts shooting percentage and come to the preliminary conclusion that talented centers have at least some impact (previously analytics guys thought the percentage was always gravitated to the average).  On a TSN podcast he offered the opinion that NHL goalies are overpaid (starts around 9:00).  He also looked at Lou Lamoriello’s draft success with the Devils and I wish he’d examined their success after the lockout.

List making is so arbitrary for prospects I’m tempted to make one myself, although I’d be looking to apply metrics of some kind to it.  Speaking of lists, I’ll need to remember to update some of my stuff on here–feel free to offer some friendly reminders.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

December 25th

Best wishes to everyone–I hope you’ve enjoyed a safe and happy holiday.