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Silver Nuggets: Thoughts on Goaltenders, Management, Prospects, and more

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The former Sens tender played NCAA hockey just like Matt O'Connor, but was acquired in different way by the Senators.
The former Sens tender played NCAA hockey just like Matt O'Connor, but was acquired in different way by the Senators.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Not that much news in Sens land as the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, so I decided to do something a little different with the Nuggets today. Instead of just plain linking the pieces, I'll extract some text from each and write some quick reaction thoughts. As always, I recommend clicking each link if you're interested to read the author(s) full perspective!

Matt O'Connor Signs in Ottawa

Silver Seven (by Jeff Ulmer)

With the organizations working together to provide quality goaltenders, the ex-college free agent must've done his homework as Ray Emery, Brian Elliott, Ben Bishop, Robin Lehner and recently Andrew Hammond have all gone through the ranks of success in the NHL while learning the game in Binghamton over the past 13 seasons of the working relationship between the two cities.

In what could be an awesome one-two punch coming up in-between the pipes for Bingo next season, Driedger will be in the mix as well as the pairing stands to be a huge improvement and should provide a boost in the blue paint over the past season.

You know, before this piece, I didn't really realize Ottawa's success rate with goaltenders. If you include Craig Anderson, Murray and co. have acquired goaltenders from a range of options, including free agent signings (Hammond, O'Connor, Gerber, Auld, Glass, Lawson, Mike Brodeur), drafted (Emery, Elliott, Lehner), and through trade (Leclaire, Anderson, Bishop). The most successful have generally been the ones with traction in the league (trade) or who were highly thought of to be drafted. Other than Hammond, though, O'Connor may have the potential to be a solid free agent signing due to his young age and the timeframe Ottawa has to work with. He may be in Binghamton for the duration of his ELC (2 years) and break in when the wheels fall off Anderson/Hammond or if Lehner is traded.

6th Sens (by Nichols)

Hey, if the Senators could bring in a potential Ben Bishop without it costing them anything but money and one of their 50 allotted professional contract slots, that's great. It's like acquiring him for the cost of a Cory Conacher. It's almost nothing!

Make no mistake, there's no guarantee that O'Connor will develop into an elite goaltender or even an above average NHL backup, what he does offer the Senators is inexpensive depth at such an unpredictable position.

That unpredictability is exactly what the Senators are rolling the dice on. Considering the success once unheralded goaltenders like Cam Talbot and the Senators' own Andrew Hammond have had, the Senators are hoping they have something similar here with O'Connor.

I like Nichols' take here. Goaltenders are truly unpredictable, and the Senators saw that this season with the surprise emergence of Andrew Hammond. Adding another bullet to the chamber increases the Senators odds and looks like a good decision to me. Now, a lot of how we're going to evaluate this move is going to depend on O'Connor himself, and something completely out of his control - which goaltender gets moved out for him and what their subsequent performance is like. If the Senators make the wrong decision here, we may be cursing this signing in a couple years. I'm always down for some Russian Roulette, though.

SenShot (by Trevor Shackles)

Signing O'Connor means the need to draft a goalie is far less, even after another goalie is traded. I'm not going to worry about the goaltending situation right now, because they have four goalies that have some potential. That's a good thing, and they can parlay one of them into a different forward or defenseman. Bryan Murray has said that if Hammond accepts Ottawa's offer, then they will trade one of Anderson or Lehner.

Now with four goalies under contract, things get a bit complicated. But here are essentially the three options for the Senators right now in order of most probable to least

The options Trevor goes through are 1) signing Hammond and trading Lehner, 2) signing Hammond and trading Anderson, and 3) letting Hammond go and keeping Anderson + Lehner in the NHL. In terms of likelihood, I tend to agree with Trevor as Bryan Murray's comments seem to favour Lehner being the odd man out. However, I'd personally thank Hammond for his magic and let him get a backup deal elsewhere, keeping the three most skilled goaltenders in the fold.

For more on why Robin Lehner shouldn't be the goaltender traded, Jack has a great column this week. [SenShot]

Ottawa's Defense

The other big component of the Senators that needs analyzing other than the goaltenders are the defense. Buckle up, because this is going to be a talking point until October whether you like it or not.

6th Sens (by Stefan Wolejszo)

Ceci's contract status and right hand shot practically guarantee him a spot on the second pairing, but has he actually earned his spot in the top four? Last season management talked about how Ceci "stabilized" the defense, meaning that he was able to step into a top four role and play well. With a CF% of 51%, the numbers do support the argument that he had some success as a 19 year old playing in his first NHL season. Yes, he was sheltered to a degree, which would be expected with almost any 19 year old rookie defenceman. The more serious questions about Ceci arise from the drop-off in his play during the 2014-15 season (CF% of 49%), when he appeared to struggle at times and was particularly shell-shocked during the playoffs. Some people in the analytics community even questioned whether he was going to be a top four defenseman in the league. As a way of putting Ceci's numbers in context, I looked at the last 10 seasons and found that 24 defenceman entered into the league as 19 year olds during that time (minimum 20 games played). Ceci's CF% of 51% is 12th in that group, just below Hampus Lindholm and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and just ahead of Nick Leddy and Olli Maata. That is pretty good company. Twenty of the players in that group completed seasons as 20 year olds, and the CF% of 10 of those players increased while the other 10 decreased. In this sense, Ceci's drop-off in play in his second season was not unusual. However, the four comparable players listed above were all in the group who improved their possession numbers in their second season as professionals making it difficult to find a fair comparison to give us an idea of what we could expect from him going forward.

The guest piece by Stefan is wonderful and goes through the Sens pairings by tier. This, on Cody Ceci, is great because it helps put his play in perspective. What he's doing in the NHL as an U21 D is fantastic because generally, U21 D aren't in the league at this point. Although Ceci's play mimicked the Senators for much of the year, he clearly played better with Wiercioch as his partner and I'd be 100% okay with that being the permanent second pair next season.

SenShot (by Trevor Shackles)

Murray always brings up his height, and I'm not sure if he actually sees that as a positive, or if he's trying to build up his value so somebody will take him and his contract. I really hope it's the latter, because if Murray still sees something in Cowen then I don't know how much I trust him and the rest of management. It is true that it's risky trading young players but Cowen is heading into his fifth season and he hasn't shown any improvement since his rookie season.

In fact, I'd argue he's gotten worse. So why bring up his height all the time? It's not just Murray who does this, it's some people in the media that are also wary of trading him just because big defensemen have value. The problem is Cowen isn't even good at being "big." Sure, he can make the occasional big hit, but he always gets beat by quicker players to the puck.

Trevor goes on a rant about Jared Cowen that I agree with wholeheartedly. What good is being "big" if he's not playing big. The occasional hit is fine and lasts as an impact moment in our memory, but when you look at the frequency of these events, you'll find that they're few and far between. It's also curious that when hockey ops brings up size, they often mean it in terms of the physical play and not with other benefits, such as a long reach, or using it to defend the rush. Cowen does both of these things poorly due to bad decision making. How many more chances can we give to the 24 year old?

Off-season Grades

Silver Seven (by Richard McRae)

One place in which I personally struggled in assessing Murray's year was in determining how much value to put on the current impact of his past work and decisions. Do you fault Murray this year on the Smith, Neil, Phillips, Greening and Cowen signings of the past? Do you give him credit for helping draft and sign guys like Turris, Karlsson, Hoffman and Stone who had outstanding years and played way above their pay grade?

Another piece in our series of grades for the Senators organization. Richard looks the coaching staff and GM, where this tidbit comes from. Murray's year is why a grade of C+ exists, in my opinion. Lots of excellent long-term things, such as the proper development of prospects and the emergence of young talent under his watch. Some really poor short-term decisions, such as the amount of "dead" space that exists on the budget-strapped roster, may handicap his ability to keep his precious young talent, though.

SenShot (by Jack Leiper)

There it is.. the Senators' season MVP is Erik Karlsson with the runner up being Mark Stone. Both are up for major NHL awards and each have real possibilities to take home the honour.

Mark Stone's contract is up and Erik Karlsson still has 5 years in Ottawa. For Stone, it will be a summer of hard work and negotiations, here's hoping a contract is worked out soon, preferably long-term.

The folks over at SenShot identified their season MVPs and it's no surprise that the two players the Senators are sending to Vegas for the NHL awards got the bulk of the votes.

Prospects

Silver Seven: On Buddy Robinson (by Jeff Ulmer)

Still though, his talents on the penalty kill and big body could raise some eyes up in Ottawa as he excelled being paired up with another PK specialist in Grant on the first unit. Robinson had numerous shorthanded scoring threats creating center ice turnovers galore which tied him for the club lead with Jean-Gabriel Pageau with three tallies.

But the bottom line is this. The weakness with Buddy's overall game is he's too soft.

Robinson needs to start showing some grit and to begin utilizing his body more often while getting dirty in the corners which is sorely lacking, kinda like what David Dziurzynski does as the best grinder that the team currently offers. I've lost count on how many people that also share the same sentiments in my everyday travels.

When the Senators signed Robinson as a college free agent two years ago, I was excited by his tools. His point totals at Lake Superior State were 'meh' but what's not to like from a 6'5, 225lb player with speed? It looks like his defensive play is great, as he is obviously trusted by Richardson and co. in important special teams minutes. The weakness that Jeff identified worries me though, as it severely limits his offensive zone play if he's not strong on pucks in the corners and is incapable of using his size and speed to protect the puck in open ice. He's always mentioned at training camp as someone who could get a look from the big club, probably because Murray and co. are just like me and seeing what he CAN be. I hope they wait to give him a chance until Buddy actually fulfills our expectations, though.

SenShot: A re-draft of 2010 (by Jack Leiper)

Head down the list a little further and we are introduced to how having a high pick is great, but only if you use it right. With players like Brett Connolly, Dylan McIlrath, Alexander Burmistov, and Jack Campbell absent, the 2010 draft class is a great example as to how high end picks don't always mean high-end success. Whereas players like Mark Stone prove that you can find great talent later on in the draft.

These pieces are always super fun to read, so give it a click if you'd like to see where Mark Stone landed in terms of points among all skaters in the 2010 draft. The Senators only had four picks this year (traded to get Matt Cullen and co. only to lose to Pittsburgh) and it looks like Stone is the only success story.

6th Sens: Mikael Wikstrand may come to North America (by Nichols)

Wikstrand, a left-shooting defenceman that Pierre Dorion referred to last fall as "probably one of best defencemen outside the NHL", had another impressive year in the SHL. In 46 games, he notched five goals and 20 points. In eight Champions Hockey League games, he also added two goals and five assists.

The Senators most skilled defensive prospect, Wikstrand was a force for Frolunda this year. Although his point totals may not show it, he played the most amount of minutes per game for a young Frolunda squad and was one of the rare U22 players to play such a significant role. He plays left-defense at EV, and looks to be a wonderful third pair option over Chris Phillips, Mark Borowiecki, and Jared Cowen. Will there be space, though?

SenShot: Draft Profile - Travis Konecny (by Alex Quevillon)

Konecny is a couple years away from being pro-ready, let alone NHL-ready, and he's a very high-risk-high-reward pick. If he doesn't make slight changes to his game, he won't be nearly as effective in the NHL as he is in the OHL.

But if he's proven anything, he can play a wide variety of systems and fit in everywhere.

The local boy this year is super skilled despite his small stature. SenShot's 67s writer, Alex Quevillon, goes through Konecny's game bit by bit and given that the Senators like to select one local player per draft, they may end up taking TK as their first pick.

SenShot: Draft Profile - Oliver Kylington (by Trevor Shackles)

Ottawa needs a defenseman that is smart and can move the puck, which is exactly what he is. They want to be a team that utilizes their speed, and Kylington can add to that and help their abysmal breakouts with his passes.

Sometimes it is worth taking a player that has fallen in the draft, especially if there isn't totally a reason why he has fallen. Maybe there is something we don't know that teams do, but I think Kylington will become a solid two-way defenseman for whatever team takes him.

If you're like me and rather than Ottawa take a defenseman in the upcoming draft, Oliver Kylington might be your guy. Incredibly skilled with a similar pedigree as Erik Karlsson before his draft year, Kylington's taken a bit of a hit after landing on an SHL team that isn't too kind to giving young players prime roles. Add that onto an injury that kept him out of the U20 Championships, and you get the recipe for a player dropping despite not really playing poorly. I highly doubt he makes it all the way down to Ottawa's second round picks, so he may be an option at 18th overall.

Other

  • Two more news and notes columns that are worth checking out by Nichols, who covers Elliotte Friedman's 30 thoughts, and Chirp, who talks about prospects, O'Connor, etc. [6th SensSensChirp]
  • A great piece on why it's difficult for hockey ops to say they're going to "start from scratch." This mentality can be applied to Bryan Murray's thinking on Jared Cowen. [Driving Play]
  • Justin Bourne on how it's difficult for hard work to beat out talent in the playoffs, even though it sometimes works in the regular season. [The Score]
  • After analysis by BU's research lab, it was found that Steve Montador suffered from CTE before passing. The NHL needs to increase support for players transitioning out of hockey, and actively look for ways to support current players with the trials and tribulations of the current NHL. [ESPN]