Sens News & Notes

I haven’t posted in awhile, but unlike previous years I have been watching occasionally (both the NHL and AHL). Win or lose the org is more entertaining to watch. Prior to the season’s open I’d started writing about D. J. Smith and I wanted to continue on with those thoughts since they are so relevant right now. Let me quote myself from prior to the season:

I was glad to see people talking about D. J. Smith’s poor starts & how he makes his gravy when the team is already irrelevant. I say this not because of a specific animosity towards Smith, but because it’s a reality that ought to be discussed and kept an eye on (is he the victim of circumstances, or is there an underlying problem–this season will make that clear).

And, indeed, as the season progressed there isn’t a noticeable difference in results between this year and last (4-8-1). The team has scored more, but otherwise they are statistically very similar to last season. Dressing Zaitsev was bad enough that he was put on waivers, but this is something Smith shouldn’t have needed to experiment with to know. However, one bad blueliner isn’t enough (we also can’t know how much pressure Dorion put on Smith to attempt to use the overpriced veteran).

I raised the alarm about this possibility in the summer, but the rest of the fan sites and local media were silent–pumped up by various signings and re-signings. I was hardly a lone voice in the wilderness however, as outside the marketplace caution was raised and the poor start has barely impacted impressions at The Atlantic for the team (as Shayna Goldman says, “Trendy picks from preseason like the Senators have dropped off, too, because their defense is still awful“), as their various odds have shifted only a little (pre-season/now):
Finish last place: 0% > 8.3%
Playoff Team: 25.6% > 2.8%
Stanley Cup Contender: 15% > 0%
First Coach Fired: 17.9% > 19.4%

The most interesting category relates to D. J. Smith, whose assumed future for The Atlantic‘s staff has barely been impacted by yet another horrific start.

There’s a lot to unpack about the early season, from losing Josh Norris to Artem Zub‘s being irreplaceable (going back to the lack of defensive depth in the org) to Anton Forsberg‘s struggles to carry the team. All roads, however, point to the blueline and that’s as much on Pierre Dorion as it is on D. J. Smith. Dorion could have got out of the Zaitsev business this off season or last, but he remains like a pustule on the buttocks of the org. That said, I’m not intending on a deep dive into the numbers, since I think the big picture problems are so obvious we don’t have to wade into the weeds to figure it out.

The Derick Brassard signing has proven largely meaningless, although at least the org understood he’s simply a fill-in. My question is whether his depth (at forward) was really worth an NHL contract, but it’s not an impactful enough choice to get excited about.

On the AHL side of things the BSens have been plagued with injuries making them hard to judge. The three most notable things to me are: 1) Cole Reinhardt might be on the verge of breaking out at this level (11-2-6-8, 3rd on the team), something I would not have predicted going into the season, 2) Jacob Larsson‘s acquisition has been a train wreck thus far, 3) the goaltending cannot save the team from its weak blueline (echoing the NHL team; and let me re-emphasize a point I made in July, that the BSens went all-in on big, defensive blueliners–maybe a few more puckmovers, eh Dorion?). We might have expected more production from Angus Crookshank and Ridley Greig, but as it turns out they did need some games to re-adjust (both coming off injuries and for the latter it’s his rookie season). The team’s middling record (4-6-1) matches their special teams and their primary problem is they give up a ton of goals (the most per-game in the conference) and are scoring less than expected (middle of the pack in the conference).

As a fan I want both iterations of the org to turn it around (I don’t think the sale of the team is much of a distraction). However, I think Smith is going to be a sacrifice to save Dorion from a fate he created for himself and there’s a decent chance he’ll continue to sail along until new ownership or the off-season arrives. Time will tell!

This article was written by Peter Levi

Advertisement

Sens News & Notes

We had a much needed outsiders preview of the team from Dom Luszczyszyn and Shana Goldman at The Athletic. Let’s sum up their sentiments:

The Senators still aren’t a bonafide playoff team with a projected 88-point finish. That’s well short of the projected 95 points for the eighth-best team in the East and explains the team’s 27 percent chance of making it. That’s still a strong step to make, but perhaps a slightly disappointing one for some Senators fans who might have hoped the team’s new additions would be enough for a wild-card spot. … At the very bottom of the lineup, however, there’s a lot to be desired on that fourth line. … Defense is still a weakness, especially on the right. If there aren’t any major systematic tweaks to change that, it may leave Sanderson a bit exposed — so this could be a sink or swim experience in his first NHL stint. Ottawa is putting a lot of faith into him being able to swim. If he sinks – the team will struggle to take as big a step as expected by many. Including the model.

The writers question whether any of Ottawa’s top-six are truly elite (going through the numbers to demonstrate they have not established that yet, while admitting the possibility remains), saying that without elite players they will struggle to compete with the best-of-the best. This kind of exploration from The Athletic, whether you agree with it or not, is a welcome check against the local myopia. I think the projections are reasonable (assuming the team stays relatively healthy, no one seriously regresses, and Sanderson is as-advertised). What they predict is a welcome improvement and the team should be more fun to watch, but I still wonder how Dorion will navigate his salary cap issues next season (see below).

I made an error when talking about potential salary cap woes: I casually suggested that Debrincat could be retained somewhere near his current salary, but to qualify him the Sens will need nine million (which is significantly more). For those of you who don’t remember the numbers, that would mean 64 million committed to next year without re-signing anyone else (Pinto, Formenton, or half the blueline). I envision some forced deals by Dorion to clear cap space (along with, presumably, either buying out Zaitsev or burying him in the minors). This issue doesn’t impact this season, but is food for thought in the near-future.

There have been no real surprises in training camp for the Sens thus far, other than the injury to Cam Talbot that necessitated a waiver claim of Magnus Hellberg from Seattle (given that Mads Sogaard does not look ready for prime time). Hellberg has very good AHL and European numbers, but the 31-year old only has 5 games of NHL experience. Getting him was a sensible move, as it avoids disrupting plans in Belleville. Outside of goaltending some fans may be disappointed that Lassi Thomson went back to the BSens, but it’s early and I don’t see it as an issue (he’s only 22, younger than JBD and Brannstrom).

Yost took another swing at explaining the scoring increases in the NHL (after a vague attempt back in April). He believes the increase is due to a larger talent gap between teams than previously, making it more difficult for less talented teams to gum up the works and force a low scoring affair. I see no reason to argue with him. Perhaps the decrease in NHL expansion that began with San Jose in 1991 has finally allowed the talent to catch-up, stymieing the mediocrity that’s defined the NHL for over two decades. I want to see another season or two of high production before I start celebrating, however.

I’ve been watching the Hockey Canada situation specific to Ottawa (impacting Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton) for awhile and thought I’d weigh in. I mentioned a long time ago that fans aren’t consistent in what does or does not inspire outrage, but that aside, the current scandal is an illustration of how empty it is when it isn’t followed by tangible action.

Whenever situations like this come up, regardless of their veracity, fans continue to support the team and league regardless. Because of that, no pressure is being applied–it’s just virtue signaling. The NHL and its component parts are a capitalist enterprise that depends on people paying for it, ergo, you need to impact their wallet to foment change (the film industry and streaming services are in the midst of that change right now, paying the price for years of producing unwatchable garbage). It could be argued the real target of the outrage is Hockey Canada, with the NHL is simply suffering as a byproduct of that, but I don’t see that reflected in the coverage (instead there’s a debate about suspending players or whether they should be re-signed, etc). That doesn’t mean we can’t ask the question: are people abandoning the WJC etc? The answer is the same: no, they aren’t.

What’s sad is if the abuse is ever verified (which seems impossible given the settlement), fans still won’t hit the eject button, meaning on the business side there’s no reason to take it seriously outside the optics (clearly the Sens feel no pressure whatsoever). The NHL isn’t unique in this, but it’s exasperating seeing so much outrage from people who refuse to put their money where their mouth is. As for me, I don’t know what happened (a settlement doesn’t confirm or deny guilt). I know what’s been claimed on both sides, but a legal process to determine its veracity has not occurred, so I’m not making assumptions. There is a strong tendency to conflate all situations with what happened at Penn State or Chicago, but they simply are not the same (both in scope and in what’s been proven).

The point of discussing this isn’t to absolve Hockey Canada of culpability, or deflect from how institutions protect their image over individuals–that’s a systemic problem that goes well beyond hockey or sport–but simply to point out how absurd the outrage is when it’s interspersed with theory-crafting line combinations and praising free agent signings. For those of you who have given up season tickets or taken some other direct action in relation to what’s happened, hat’s off to you, as that’s at least consistent.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Sens Sign Tyler Motte

The Sens signed winger Tyler Motte to a one-year deal (1.35; I say ‘winger’ because that’s largely how he’s been used in the NHL). It’s a move that puzzled the fanbase, but the local media applauded it for adding depth. While his cap hit is higher than his prior deal, his actual salary is lower than what he made last season (1.45). Motte is a former 4th-round pick (4-121/13; cf old predictions) is a marginal player who struggles to stay healthy (he hasn’t played a full season since 18-19). Here are his last four seasons (including PPG, TOI, and where he sat among forwards in scoring):

2018-19 Van 74-9-7-16 0.21 TOI 10:49 (10th)
2019-20 Van 34-4-4-8 0.23 TOI 10:28 (13th)
2020-21 Van 24-6-3-9 0.37 TOI 12:30 (9th)
2021-22 Van/NYR 58-7-8-15 0.25 TOI 11:43/10:08 (11th)
Career 269-35-27-62 0.23

The Rangers gave up a 4th-round pick to acquire him and he proved to be an irrelevant acquisition. From the numbers we can see that he’s a fourth-line player whose defensive/penalty-killer reputation comes via Travis Green when he coached Vancouver. The commentary is that he was brought in as insurance for players like Parker Kelly and Mark Kastellic, as well as to apply pressure to Alex Formenton, but the latter makes no sense to me as Motte can’t replace Formenton (completely different players in terms of talent). This kind of bottom-end acquisition is common for Dorion (he traded for Dylan Gambrell after all).

The only analysis I’ve seen of him is via Nichols, who points to Motte having had a career season in terms of his underlying numbers and shrugging his shoulders about whether it’s a fluke or not. What do I think? One good season out of six is an outlier until proven otherwise. I’m unconvinced he’s a necessary addition, however, he’s easy to move or bury, so the acquisition cost is low. Broadly it’s not a bad idea to have security in case prospects aren’t ready or don’t work out, albeit a contract like his can gum up the works if the roster isn’t handled properly.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Sens News & Notes

The positivity continues as the Sens re-signed all but one of their pending RFA’s: diminutive Erik Brannstrom returns on a one-year deal (900k); Mathieu Joseph (see below) chimes in with 4-years at 2.95; and the electric Tim Stutzle signed an eight-year extension at 8.35. The only player currently left on the docket is Alex Formenton. The moves were well received (I don’t count Nichols worrying over Stutzle‘s defensive play, is that’s a by rote concern with offensive players), as the hype train continues. I’m apparently the only voice of caution at the moment, so is there a fly in the ointment with these signings? The one that occurs to me is the salary cap–not for this year, but for the 23-24 season.

The Sens have 61 million committed to 23-24 (minus Formenton). That’s 74% of the cap. If we imagine keeping Debrincat at roughly what he makes now (unlikely, but let’s be generous) and toss in Formenton (let’s ballpark 2.5), that’s 70 million committed (85%) when the team will need new contracts for Shane Pinto, possibly a goaltender, and half their blueline (Zub, Hamonic, Holden, and BrannstromLassi Thomson taking a spot doesn’t change much).

That’s very little cap space to work with, which likely means Dorion will be forced to move someone from the forward group. The Sens are disproportionately committed to their forwards, a gamble that did not produce playoff success last year (as Travis Yost notes, “No team with a below-average top four on defence reached the postseason [last year]“). Even if the Sens move Formenton without taking salary back, they’d still have just 15 million to work with (assuming Debrincat stays near his current salary). The Sens blueline has been awful (cf Nichols), so simply locking-up what’s in place will not suffice [after I posted this Ian Mendes echoed the point].

This scenario is one of the reasons why I brought up the potential cost of overpaying in the deals they’ve signed (I think both Giroux and Norris could have been signed for less). The odds are that at least one of the new deals will turn sour and the Sens will struggle to move the player (Zaitsev is still here, which is the perfect example of how hard it is to get rid of underperforming cap problems). I’ve seen no reflection of this issue either in the press or from fans–some of that is due to it being an issue for next season, but cap management is a key component for success, so it will be interesting to see when it does start getting debated (how the season starts will likely determine it).

Cap aside, I’m happy with the Stutzle deal–I’ve always been in favour of paying for skill and that’s what he brings. While we can’t know how he’ll project out (cf), there are no high end center prospects within the org and they are practically impossible to trade for, so it’s essential to keep him.

Nichols bent over backwards to praise the re-signing of Mathieu Joseph whose brief, meaningless late season numbers undoubtedly impressed Sens’ brass. The reason I’m dismissive of Nichols’ analysis is because he only looked at the numbers in Ottawa–Joseph has played 232 NHL games, so I’d rather see the whole picture for a breakdown. As for the deal itself, I don’t like its length, although Dorion avoided giving him Colin White money. While I don’t expect Joseph to perform like he did at the end of the season, if he truly underperforms (which I’m not saying he will, it’s just a potential) at least his salary is reasonable enough that he can be moved.

Erik Brannstrom is at a turning point in his career (Ary argues that’s not necessarily the case–link below–and while he’s right abstractly, I don’t think the org has patience for him). He’s only 23, but his numbers are underwhelming. When drafted he was compared to Victor Mete (ouch) and Timothy Liljegren (whose curve seems better). He’s undeniably fourth on the chart on the left side at the pro level (behind Chabot, Sanderson, and Holden), so outside of injury or someone playing their off side, it’s hard to know how much he’ll play. I think the Sens had to re-sign him (for depth reasons and to pump up his value), but I doubt much enthusiasm remains for him–I don’t think the coach is a fan.

I mentioned that we’d have to wait for sources outside of Ottawa to see words of caution about the Debrincat trade. That caution has arrived via an article by Sean McIndoe (which is ostensibly about Matthew Tkachuk), where he talks about how rarely trades like this (when the player is resigned long term) work out.

“…the dreaded Shiny New Toy. It’s a category of bad contract that I first proposed in a piece I wrote six years ago. … The scenario is in play when a team acquires a star player in a major trade, usually to great fanfare, and then has to immediately contend with an extension. … That puts the team in a bind. Sure, it’s great that they added a new player, but now they have to keep him. Their fans are excited. The GM is reading media coverage about what a great job he’s done. They may even be selling a few more season tickets. But all that positivity disappears if they let this new star walk away for nothing in a year or so.”

McIndoe then includes a long list of such failures (Seth Jones, Jeff Skinner, Erik Karlsson, Jacob Trouba, Jonathan Drouin, Justin Faulk, Ryan McDonough, Corey Schneider, 2012’s Jordan Staal, Ottawa’s own Bobby Ryan, and 2014’s Jason Spezza). The Sens have not yet signed Debrincat long term, but the expectation from both the fans and media seems to be that they will lock him up long term.

Travis Yost had an interesting look at goaltending performance. In it you can see some warning signs about Cam Talbot (using Goals Saved Above Expected, or GSAE); the newly acquired ‘tender hasn’t been above average in his last five seasons and below it twice. We know the Sens don’t believe in analytics, so this wouldn’t factor into their decision to trade for him, but it’s something to keep in mind for the upcoming season. This doesn’t concern me too much, since Talbot is here as a short-term back-up, but if there are injuries it’s worth keeping in mind. I don’t want the org to have to lean on Sogaard if things go wrong, as the Dane is very young and we’ve seen how pushing young goaltenders can turn out poorly (Lehner, Elliott, Hogberg, etc).

In a minor league deal the Sens added winger Jayce Hawryluk. This is his second tour of duty with the org, as he was a waiver pick-up in 2020. At that time the former 2nd-round pick put up solid season ending numbers (11-2-5-7) which was enough to convince Vancouver to sign him (he proceeded to bomb out completely). He spent this past season with Skelleftea in the SHL, where he was unimpressive (39-8-11-19, finishing 10th in scoring). While Hawryluk isn’t an NHL player, his AHL numbers are adequate (148-27-68-95 0.64). On the surface it’s an unimpressive addition to the BSens, but it’s not an obvious fail like some of last summer’s signings (cf).

This article was written by Peter Levi

Sens News & Notes

What Is The Defense In Hockey?

Despite my lack of posts I have been working on various things (some of which I’ll fold into digests like this)–I want to update my article on hockey’s popularity from three years ago and when I finish that it will be its own thing. I still intend to give a (very belated) preview for Belleville, but I’m unsure when that will appear. That out of the way, I wanted to catch-up on a few things, some of which are from the distant past at this point:
-In terms of player performances, most of what we’ve seen this season is as expected–Stutzle will eventually score, so his goalless streak doesn’t concern me; Ennis‘ initial hot streak has cooled down, but he’s been a useful addition thus far; Paul and Formenton have deflated hype and performed as expected; Sanford has been underwhelming and I’m not sure what his issue is
-I think the Sens slightly overpaid Tkachuk, but getting that deal done is ultimately a good thing and as long as he doesn’t unexpectedly crash and burn in the next 3 years it’s worth it even with a decline at the end of the contract
-I thought sending Brannstrom to the minors to start the season dynamited D. J. Smith’s declaration that the best players play; I’m glad he’s back, although expectations need to be kept in check
-I’m not sure why, other than for financial reasons, Gustavsson was returned to Belleville–why not play him until he regresses to the mean (if he does)? While the BSens need help between the pipes, surely the Sens need it more [Turns out it’s a roster-limit issue]
-Playing at a .318 pace through eleven games reveals just how silly it was for Pierre Dorion to declare that the rebuild over; I always thought that was for marketing reasons, but by creating the expectation we’re now seeing the awkward conversations about how realistic it is to have said that. I expect the team to have a better record by the end of the year, but the result isn’t a huge surprise to me
-Travis Yost has a short piece praising Zub (nothing new to Sens fans I think, but some numbers to back-up what they see)
-Nichols goes over the horror of the Sens D and poses the question (without answering) if coaching is part of the problem–given how weak that D-core is, I’m willing to give Smith a pass to some extent (I think the order from on-high, ie Melnyk, that one-way contracts play, has added a caveat to ‘the best players play’ moto)
-I’ve enjoyed Shawn Simpson making fun of the Del Zotto signing–I suspect he knows who is responsible (McGuire?) and, given that he’s not wrong, it has to rankle the Sens’ brass
-Remember four years ago when the Sens had Pius Suter at their rookie/main camp? He’s having a solid sophomore season in Detroit and you have to wonder why the Sens didn’t take the plunge at the time and invest in him
-A story I missed was Anders Nilsson alleging the Sens hid a concussion he suffered; there’s been no follow-up to this so it’s difficult to say much more about it (if true it’s obviously terrible)

Secondary Jersey Logo - Belleville Senators

What’s been the story of the 4-6-0 BSens? Lack of scoring, struggling D-corps, goaltending inconsistency, and injuries. While the org made an inspired pick-up to land current leading scorer Jake Lucchini from the Leafs, they’ve seen a parade of ECHL filler accomplishing nothing while veteran signings have been underwhelming (Agozzino has underproduced and Aberg‘s production is buffed by some meaningless second assists on empty net goals). In my earlier preview I was concerned by the limp veteran signings and thus far that’s largely been borne out (albeit Clark Bishop has been injured and Logan Shaw is in Ottawa). It’s worth emphasizing that injuries have meant a lot of roster juggling and I think the team is better than their current record.

As for the most exciting prospects, the young blueliners have been a mixed bag thus far–you expect more from both Brannstrom and Bernard-Docker (Thomson, in limited action, has been on-point), although in fairness to them you have to have someone to pass the puck too. On the forward side Sokolov had a slow start (pointless in 5 games) before heating up; Jarventie also started slowly (1 point in 4 games) before performing as expected–as a rookie, the latter adjustment is completely understandable. All these players should continue to get better, so it’s the core around them that’s could be the stumbling block. As for the goaltenders, both Sogaard and Mandolese have been erratic, but as young ‘tenders this is not unexpected–given the team in front of them, they have to be excellent or else things fall apart.

Blackhawks scandal: Cheveldayoff apologizes to Kyle Beach | CTV News

I followed the Blackhawks/Brad Aldrich scandal and Chicago’s actions (or, largely, inaction) does not surprise me (I still vividly remember the Penn State sex abuse scandal from ten years ago). I do think this is a tipping point for the NHL and that we’re unlikely to see something similar occur again–that doesn’t mean scandals from the past won’t come to light, however. Whether Kevin Cheveldayoff should have resigned or not seems to be the one lingering issue. With so little to go on, there’s blame to lay on Cheveldayoff for not after the fact pursuing the matter (when it became clear that the Hawks’ promise to look into it was false), but I think it’s clear the actions (or in-actions) taken by the org cannot be laid at his doorstep. What the proper move is considering that, I’m not sure, although it seems like on his own Cheveldayoff would not have acted like Stan Bowman et al, so the NHL not punishing him is something I can live with.

NHL 22 - This is Breakthrough Hockey - EA SPORTS

I haven’t written about an EA NHL game in a long time (2018?). I’ve never played them consistently and, for me, what’s most enjoyable is Franchise Mode (formerly called GM Mode). I decided to jump back into the pond this year and I do have some thoughts. Keep in mind I’m playing on a PS4 and that the experience, particularly on PC, is likely different.

The gameplay itself seems slightly better. NHL 20, which I’d experimented with recently (I did not play it when it came out–I got a free copy of it awhile ago), doesn’t feel that different from its prior iterations. NHL 22 seems to have made a small step to feel more like how hockey is played. One specific change I appreciate is that you aren’t locked against the boards as easily as in the past, allowing you to skirt them more effectively.

The drafts continue to be unrealistic, although investing in better scouts does seem to lead to better results (albeit the process of gathering good scouts is tedious since quality scouts get released on the market in a slow dribble). There’s really no other way to get accurate scouting beforehand and allowing the game to sim the scouting for you is less reliable than controlling it yourself (which makes sense in a way, but is a laborious process). While scouting will tell you a player’s attributes at the time, it has an indirect relation to their future potential, such that the potential itself is the only factor that really matters (so it’s the only thing to bother looking into).

Other issues that have carried over: the number of prospects for the draft magically shrinks as soon as the IRL players are gone, emptying some regions completely (the Allsvenskan and the Rest of the World). There’s also a very weird situation where a player drafted will be immediately released to become a free agent by AI teams–I have no idea why this is the case since unsigned players don’t count against the limit. The special trade deadline feature seems pointless, as AI teams continue to offer horrendous trades while rejecting perfectly valid ones. I also have no idea why there’s no option to stop the AI from adjusting your trade parameters.

A broader issue are the limitations in searching for players. Let’s say I want to sign a free agent and I’m looking for a depth player who is both physical and can skate–you can’t search for both–it’s one category with very minimal filters. For most gamers this is fine as they chase a Stanley Cup and are looking for established players (who cares about the AHL team or future?), but for me it’s a constant irritation until my rebuild (how I always start) truly gets going.

The player editor remains a joke, with the only meaningful option being beard or no beard. I have no idea why this is the case–presumably it’s a technical issue, but if so, I’d rather it was completely removed or at least renamed (call it a Facial Hair Editor).

An improvement is that when you see what a player wants for a contract he actually seems to mean it, whereas previously you’d offer that amount and have it rejected (which was pointlessly irritating).

This is a rambling set of observations, I realize, rather than a review. At the end of the day I don’t think the game has changed much–if you enjoyed prior iterations, this will please you, but if you didn’t EA hasn’t done enough to change your mind. Hockey is probably too small a market to ever get proper investment, so that all we’ll see are tweaks and few (if any) of those will impact the narrow way I like to play the game. EA’s focus is most certainly on microtransactions and other forms of monetization, so the sorts of changes I’d love to see aren’t likely.

This article is written by Peter Levi

Sens News & Notes

pierre dorion

I was thinking of updating my old article about Pierre Dorion’s trade track record, but it turns out CapFriendly conveniently already tracks that. Looking through his moves since my exploration in 2018, my impression is largely the same: Dorion does reasonably well when dumping players for assets, but his efforts to acquire talent to help the team win is awful (ie the amateur scouting is pretty good, while the pro scouting is not, which is nothing new for the org). Where my tracking cuts off in that article was prior to the summer trades of 2018, and it’s hard not to be slapped in the face with how much acquiring Matt Duchene cost versus how little they’ve received in moving him (it’s already down to Lassi Thomson for Duchene), or how there’s no hope of equal value from the Mark Stone trade (even if Erik Brannstrom and Egor Sokolov achieve their potential), or cluelessly acquiring Derek Stepan, and on and on. There are also baffling decisions like giving up a pick for Josh Brown‘s signing rights–a player who won’t be in the NHL in a few years. Ultimately, all Dorion has to do is make his owner happy, but as a fan I don’t know how there can be any trust left in him from the fanbase at this point (apparently there still is).

full image

Speaking of bad deals, Travis Yost has a good article looking at why defensemen who don’t perform well get rewarded with contracts/ice time. Yost’s basic argument is that reputation plays a big role in how this happens, and I would add that size and physicality also matters.

Colin White (b.1997) Hockey Stats and Profile at hockeydb.com

While I think a buyout for Colin White was inevitable (due to how they work for a player his age), his shoulder injury makes that decision even simpler. I, along with others at the time, thought the contract he was given was ridiculous and that it serves as an example of how much Dorion struggles to project pro talent (I seem to be one of the few who understood how limited White‘s abilities were–we can see Nichols and Dom Luszczyszyn both fumbling with their estimations at the time–an impression I gained by watching him in the AHL , cf). With that said, he’s still a useful NHL player and it will be interesting to see how much impact his absence has.

Where the Sens Stand with McGuire's 7-Player Model - Silver Seven

I won’t dwell on this much, but I came across a good (and succinct) video about Pierre McGuire and his past as a coach. For some fans there’s not much new here–McGuire is an old school guy who, when given an opportunity, was unable to thrive in his era. I don’t think he has much (if any) useful insight to offer the org, but I also don’t think his involvement is going to cause additional damage (Dorion is quite capable of that on his own).

This article is written by Peter Levi

Senators News & Notes

Brady Tkachuk Hockey Stats and Profile at hockeydb.com

The Sens roster is pairing down, but without Brady Tkachuk signed I fully expect the Sens to keep extra bodies to be cap-compliant in case the negotiations drag on into the regular season. Logan Shaw, Andrew Agozzino, and Parker Kelly should be sent down sooner than later. I don’t expect Tyler Ennis to be signed, but the club will likely keep Scott Sabourin on the roster until the Tkachuk situation is sorted out (he plus Filip Gustavsson gets you to the cap as things stand without Brady). Once that happens I’d imagine both get sent down. D. J. Smith keeps talking about how the best players will play, but I don’t think the ego of Pierre Dorion could handle sitting newly minted FA-signee Del Zotto. It does seem, however, that Smith has yielded to the obvious in putting Pinto as the second-line pivot (as opposed to shoehorning in Tierney or the always disappointing Colin White).

As for who was sent down there were no surprises. From my point-of-view Lassi Thomson did the most to make his case that he’s taken a step forward–he was assertive with the puck and his defensive work was solid. On the flip side, a number of players were utterly invisible (FA signees Aberg and Goulbourne, for instance). I will have to revise my hypothetical AHL lineup given injuries and because Pinto is not being sent down, which I’ll do when I preview Belleville’s season (the top two offensive forwards are gone as it stands).

Mark Kastelic - The Athletic

Pre-season is basically meaningless, but watching Mark Kastelic play for the first time I came away unimpressed. I don’t see the hockey sense necessary to be a full-time NHL player–when he has the puck he seems to have no idea what to do with it. Maybe he just had a poor performance in pre-season games, so I don’t want to draw firm conclusions, but in terms of showing what he can do I don’t see future fourth-line potential. I bring this up because Shawn Simpson (among others) have imagined him in that position for this season, so I have to think that’s a projection based on his performance at practice and his reputation as opposed to the pre-season games. Regardless, sending him back to Belleville was the correct decision. Speaking of Simpson, he had praise for Kole Sherwood and I have no idea why (Simmer loves hitting, so it may be as simple as that)–he’s another player who doesn’t seem to understand why the puck is on the ice (cf). He’s on waivers, but I can’t imagine him being claimed.

Secondary Jersey Logo - Belleville Senators

The Bsens training camp roster is out and I wanted to look at the names I haven’t looked at yet (the bulk of the signed ECHL Atlanta roster is via the link as is the one remaining Ottawa invitee serving as the fourth goalie):
Defense
Randy Gazzola, 28, DR, ECHL 0.71 (ECHL 0.72)
It’s not often a 6’3 righthanded blueliner with offensive skills goes undrafted, but clearly there are enough deficiencies in Gazzola’s game that no one was willing to take a chance on him. He went through the QMJHL (0.79) then five years in Canadian University hockey (0.78) before spending his first pro season in tier-2 Italy followed by an ECHL season last year. He’s already signed with the Toledo Walleye, so he’s hoping to impress the brass for call-ups (offensively he’s a better option than anything currently in Atlanta).
Matt Murphy, 26, DL, ECHL 0.39 (ECHL 0.39)
The undrafted QMJHLer (0.52) spent four years playing Canadian University hockey (0.54) before having a cup of coffee in the Slovakian league when he turned pro–completing that season in ECHL Fort Wayne (earning a brief call-up to AHL Chicago). He would be hoping for an AHL contract, but it’s more likely that talent-starved Atlanta is his destination.
Vincent Sevigny, 20-21, DL, QMJHL 0.73 (QMJHL 0.37)
The undrafted QMJHLer on an ATO will likely be returned to Victoriaville once the BSens roster fills out (I’m not clear what other option he has, since an AHL-contract seems very unlikely).

Forwards
Rourke Chartier, 25-26, AHL 0.31 (AHL 0.55)
WHLer was a fifth-round pick by San Jose and he’s the only man in this group who has both never played in the ECHL and had a cup of coffee in the NHL (13 games in 2018-19); he spent last year with the Marlies and needs a contract–I don’t know if there’s a specific need for him on the roster, but he can certainly play at this level (perhaps the injury to Crookshank is his opportunity).
Andrew Sturtz, 27, ECHL 0.84 (ECHL 0.77)
This is a familiar name, as the undersized NCAA grad (0.94) was an Ottawa FA signing out of college back in 2018 when the org still did that routinely (looking for the next…Jesse Winchester?–none of them have ever turned out; brief comments by me about him are here). The Sens later packaged him with a pick to acquire Mike Reilly, who was then flipped to Boston for a 3rd in 2022. That aside, he’s a familiar face to the brass, can play at the AHL-level to some degree (0.31), and could certainly help out Atlanta (which is likely where he’s bound if he’s signed).
Alexis D’Aoust, 25-26, Slovakia 0.44 (AHL 0.33)
The undrafted former QMJHLer (0.81) has put up good numbers in the ECHL (0.87) and spent time in the AHL (0.33) in every pro season; he already has a contract with Trois-Rivieres, so would be looking to land himself an AHL-deal (or make a good enough impression for a call-up).
Cedric Pare, 22-23, ECHL 0.60 (ECHL 0.60)
QMJHLer (0.73) was a sixth-rounder back in 2017, but the Bruins elected not to sign him and he had a mediocre rookie season in the ECHL last season. It’s difficult to imagine him forcing his way into an AHL-contract, but Atlanta could use more talent up front.
Kameron Kielly, 24-25, ECHL 0.50 (ECHL 0.50)
Undrafted QMJHLer (0.66) went on to play three seasons of Canadian University hockey (1.41) before turning pro last year. He inexplicably bounced through three ECHL teams which hints at drama, but he certainly has enough talent for that league (his most likely destination if he isn’t cut completely).
Philippe Daoust, 19-20, QMJHL 1.33 (QMJHL 0.72)
I’m not entirely sure what the Sens sixth-rounder is doing in camp–he’s unsigned, but I thought he was required to go back to the Q this season–maybe he’s old enough to play in the AHL at this stage, although the roster looks too stuffed to accommodate him.

This article is written by Peter Levi

Senators News & Notes

Logan Brown Stats and News | NHL.com

My previous post went up just hours before Logan Brown was traded to St. Louis for Zach Sanford (you can read Nichols’ breakdown here; he goes over Sanford‘s numbers and concludes he’s a solid addition who offers options on the left side for the bottom-six). Put aside the return for a second and think about the departing prospect. To me, Brown is a boom or bust player. He is either going to blossom in St. Louis to the point where Sens fans bemoan the move, or else he’s going to crash and burn and the deal will be lost in the shuffle. One funny thing to note about Brown‘s draft year is the old axiom of ignoring smaller players seems to have returned to the NHL–all the good players who dropped were undersized.

Image

While I don’t think the Sens will do this, I do like Shawn Simpson‘s early ideas for a lineup:
Tkachuk-Norris-Batherson
Stutzle-Pinto-C. Brown
Formenton-Tierney-Paul
Sanford-White-Watson
Chabot-Zub
Mete-Zaitsev
Holden-Brannstrom
The top-six likely isn’t different than anyone else’s, but there’s definitely a unique slant to everything else beyond the top-pairing. I think there’s no chance this is what happens on opening night, as I don’t believe the org would be comfortable with two smaller blueliners and sitting FA signee Del Zotto and coach-favourite Josh Brown. I think the blueline as presented is about the best one can do with the collection of low-ceiling veterans and ‘tweener prospects that fill out the bottom four positions.

Don Cherry's Firing Was Overdue—but the Problems He Represented Remain -  The Ringer

There’s not much reason to discuss pre-season games, but I will point out that the limp, pathetic effort the Sens offered in their 4-0 loss to Toronto featured a roster filled with truculent, ‘good in the corners’ players: Bishop (now hurt), C. Brown, J. Brown, Goulbourne, Paul, Sabourin, Sanford, and Sherwood. I didn’t see the game, but the sentiment is that beyond Parker Kelly no one put in a good effort. Yes, half of these players are AHL-bound, but all of them were either signed as free agents or extended after the season–as marginal players, where’s the energy they are supposed to bring to the lineup? Food for thought.

Atlanta Gladiators

More Atlanta Gladiator signings:
Anthony Florentino – The righthanded blueliner was a 5th-rounder for Buffalo in 2013; his play in the ECHL has been so unremarkable that he’s struggled to stay in it
Gabe Guertler – Undrafted former OHLer went through the Canadian University system and spent last year playing in the SPHL (the ECHL’s feeder league)
Like most of the Atlanta signings, there seems no likelihood these players would be called-up by the BSens. I have a hard time understanding some of the signings, but perhaps these are largely depth signings rather than top regulars.

This article is written by Peter Levi

Senators News & Notes

Superspreader events': Experts worry hockey arenas a toxic formula for  COVID-19

I watched the two rookie games between Ottawa and Montreal, as well as the inter-squad scrimmage today. Neither event is particularly meaningful, so I won’t offer a full breakdown, although the former is more competitive (as Angus Crookshank can attest–he’ll miss more than half the season after getting hurt). Performances in these things rarely mean anything, but I was happy with what I saw from Roby Jarventie offensively (particularly in the second game against Montreal). Otherwise nothing struck me as surprising.

33 Most Savage AF Sports Fan Signs Ever - Funny Gallery

Dom Luszczyszyn’s season preview for Ottawa dropped for The Athletic and I think it is spot-on (his predictions last season performed very well, particularly with the Sens; the basic ideas echoed, in brief, by Travis Yost). Dom thinks it’s most likely that the Sens will be in the bottom-10 of the league (but not bottom-5), held back by poor goaltending, a shallow defencecorps, and an intriguing but thin forward mix. His player analysis broadly fits my own, although I’d quibble with Batherson‘s (see below). I want to include a couple of comments about specific players since they run contrary to the chatter one gets from the local media:
Zaitsev – “Zaitsev’s biggest issue is that he can’t move the puck. At all. Not a single defender had a worse zone exit rate than Zaitsev’s 11 percent meaning there were a lot of pucks off the glass when he was on the ice. In the offensive zone, he tends to just chuck pucks at the net rather than make a play and he is genuinely where offence goes to die.
Josh Brown – “I guess someone has to babysit the incapable [Josh Brown]
Zaitsev and Del Zotto as a shutdown pair – “one of the worst ideas for a shutdown pair in recent memory
Tkachuk – “He’s a frustrating power forward who hasn’t been able to bury nearly as many chances as he’s expected to. There’s a dispute between public and private data over how valuable his chances actually are, but at the end of the day you still have a player who led all players in shots-per-60 last season who finished 100th in goals-per-60. That’s not good enough.
Batherson – “He was a mess in 2019-20 at both ends of the ice and even in last year’s improvement only jumped up to 1.43 points-per-60 at five-on-five. That’s third line calibre and it doesn’t feel like he can be a future top line player.
White – “it’ll be hard to succeed with Nick Paul and Austin Watson on either side of him

My quibble with Batherson is the sample size, but Dom is following where the analytics are pointing. The comments about the defense and Watson aren’t new outside the Ottawa bubble, but inside the community Paul has been highly praised and here we see dismissal–it’s worth noting.

The Sens Panel: Sens ownership speculation - YouTube

Besides the two year break I took from this blog, I hadn’t paid much attention to the NHL going back much further (for many reasons, as I’ve gone over before). To that end I’d largely stopped listening to TSN 1200 and reading the local coverage (which I found broadly vapid, predictable, and awash with platitudes and repetition). Coming back to it, other than Shawn Simpson (and Ian Mendes, but The Athletic isn’t local), the radio and print coverage is unchanged. These are people terrified of analytics, serving up the same sets of tired opinions. The fan sites aren’t much better (that includes Youtube channels), and even the legendary Nichols has largely retired out of analysis (Travis Yost was always too good to be limited to Sens coverage–check out his archive here). It’s a funny thing to see that local hockey coverage would have fit in the vapid, platitude-filled days I remember from the 1980s. Some of that entropy undoubtedly comes from the org itself–the fount of access–since neither management nor ownership understand modern analysis of the game, but it’s more than a little puzzling that none of the fan sites has tried to separate themselves in their coverage (excluding The Silver Seven‘s prospect material from Ary and Colin). In a way I get it, as those graduating from fan sites to traditional media have been are among the most bland content producers imaginable.

Speaking of the local scene though–there’s a beef between Shawn Simpson and one of the local hacks? Is it really Garrioch? I’m so out of the loop, but bless Simpson for wanting to move beyond it.

Finally, a little pat on the back to myself for having included a broken link to my Twitter on this blog since I returned–you’d think I would have checked it, but no, I didn’t.

This article is written by Peter Levi

Senators News & Notes

Best Hockey Smiles: Bobby Clarke - YouTube

One thing that’s been clear about the org since Trent Mann was promoted in 2017 is, above and beyond seeking certainty over potential, looking for character and truculence. We can (and I do) make fun of the latter–something I associate with Brian Burke and an approach that failed him after its solitary success with Anaheim in 2007 (a team largely built by his predecessors, Al Coates and Bryan Murray). Putting aside its efficacy, what I do think drafting and trading for players like this does is appeal to the fanbase–not casual fans (who are interested in wins and scoring)–but the hardcore. In a strong hockey market, focusing on these fans is a bit like MMO’s targeting whales–the big spenders, the people who commit. To that end, I think it’s a good economic strategy. The concern that remains is production–they can agitate, they can hit, but can they score? It remains an open question.

Jake Sanderson Hockey Stats and Profile at hockeydb.com

When you go against the grain there’s always resistance. I’ve briefly discussed the high opinion (shared by the org) of Jake Sanderson and I think my comments have been misunderstood by some. I compared him to players like Lassi Thomson and Jacob Bernard-Docker, not because I think they are literally the same kind of player, but in reference to the potential they were given by scouts when drafted (there’s rarely universal agreement and you can see the opposite opinion here, but I mean the consensus of what I’ve seen). All three prospects had worries about their offensive upside and were slotted as top-four blueliners–that’s all I meant by the comparison. This isn’t my opinion of the player (I’ve haven’t seen any of them play), but a reflection of worries held by scouts–that doesn’t make them right, it’s simply food for thought. Does Sanderson have more potential than the other two? I would hope so, because he was picked far higher in the draft (meaning his talent is considered better), but that wasn’t the point. I’d like nothing better than the guy to be a hall of fame defenseman for Ottawa, but the org habitually over praises their prospects (Jared Cowen comes to mind–someone we now know was riding the coattails of Jared Spurgeon), so I take a wait-and-see approach.

While it’s clear the Sens want to move Logan Brown (something that may prove impossible), more and more I wonder if the same fate awaits Erik Brannstrom. There’s no chance at that they want Brannstrom and Mete in the lineup at the same time, so either the former is intended for the BSens or will get traded (perhaps in an effort to fill one of Pierre McGuire’s 7-man formula).

Speaking of the BSens, one of the fascinating things about the upcoming season is how much the team’s success will depend on their record against just four teams. While almost 70% of their season is played within their division, most of that will be taken up by Laval and Toronto (each 12 games), and Syracuse and Rochester (8 games each). That’s 40 of 72 games (55%). When it comes time to preview the BSens, I’ll take a look at what’s expected for those teams as well.

Scoring in the NHL has started to increase the last four years [based, it seems, on coaching more than anything else], which is an obvious good thing after remaining stagnant for seven (an unprecedented length of time in the NHL to lack variation). This small change comes long after other major leagues took steps to ensure their own games became more entertaining. With that said, it remains below where it needs to be, still lagging behind all historical eras save the primordial pre-Original Six (specifically 23-24 to 40-41). The ten highest scoring games in NHL history are within a twenty-year period (1977-1996), with nine of them ten in the first half of that; the most points recorded in a season stretch from the 70-71 to 95-96, again clustering from the late 70s into the early 90s. This isn’t to say the NHL needs to consistently hit the highs of that era, but a league where major records can’t be challenged has no chance of breaking through the static of the other high profile sports they compete with (outside the homerun chases in the 90s, the MLB has been sliding towards oblivion for decades, cf). Where is the sweet spot for hockey? It’s hard to say, but let’s look at the numbers:
Original Six (42-43 to 66-67) 2.93
Expansion (68-69 to 78-79) 2.96 (+0.03)
1980s to Pre-Lockout (79-80 to 93-94) 3.71 (+0.75)
Dead Puck Era (94-95 to 03-04) 2.76 (-0.95)
Post Lockout Era (05-06 to present) 2.85 (+0.09)
The first era was long enough that it has its own internal structure, with higher scoring both at the beginning and end, with a ten-year long Dead Puck Era of its own (from 48-49 to 57-58). The actual high point is 1981-82 (not for the league however, as 43-44 holds that record for the eras we’re sampling). The most popular time for hockey was during the 70s and 80s and, despite continual expansion, the NHLs unwillingness to open the game up has lead to it sinking back down into a regional phenomena heavily impacted by winning. With only 50% of teams playoff bound (unlike the 66% in the Original Six or 76% of the 1980s), soft fanbases quickly checkout when their team is going nowhere–there are just so many other options for their entertainment dollars. I’m happy that the NHL is finally trending in the right direction, but entropy is a powerful force and I feel like a renewed slide towards low scoring affairs could be just around the corner.

HFBoards (@hfboards_) | Twitter

I’m surprised HFBoards is still around. A website from an Internet era of two decades earlier, many of the same people post on it and I suppose that fits the older demographic associated with sports. The boards are something that made an impact on me back when I started writing about hockey (for The Hockey Herald in 2007), although I rarely visited the site once I started writing here.

Atlanta Gladiators - Wikipedia

Another Atlanta signing, as goaltender Chris Nell has been signed. The 27-year old NCAA grad failed out of the Rangers organization as an FA-signing and has put up poor numbers in the ECHL.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)