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Silver Nuggets: What to do with Derek Grant?

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Puck protection down low is one thing Derek Grant does very well
Puck protection down low is one thing Derek Grant does very well
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One of the smaller needs that the Senators have going into this offseason is the need to figure out their 4th line centre position for many reasons: salary, roster spots, and opportunity. If the team is going to roll with a similar lineup as they had down the stretch, featuring Kyle Turris, Mika Zibanejad, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau as the top three centres in terms of even-strength ice time, that leaves homegrown tough guy Zack Smith and last year's free agent signee, David Legwand, as the competitors for the final spot. Is there a potential fit for BSens veteran Derek Grant?

The 25 year old Grant had his best all-around season with the BSens this year, with career highs in points per game (0.52), games played (73), and goals (21). A fourth round pick from Ottawa's prolific 2008 class, Grant turned pro early to try and get a head start on some of the other players in Ottawa's system, but has spent the better part of four seasons down in the AHL. Given his age, I figured it's about time for the Senators to determine if Grant is an NHL piece for them moving forward. What I didn't realize before this article, though, is that Grant is a Group VI UFA this year, just like BSens star defenseman, Chris Wideman. Thus, it really is now or never for Grant. Is he worth the shot?

One underrated aspect of Grant's game is his ability to play in all-situations, which comes from strong defensive positioning and an above-average hockey IQ. Since he was drafted, it has been Grant's safe, smart play with the puck and ability to win battles in tight areas (utilizing his 6'3 frame) that made him an intriguing bottom-six option for the Senators. In fact, when he played 20 games in Ottawa during the 2013-14 season, that's exactly what Grant did. He played more minutes on the penalty kill than any forward not named Erik Condra, won a ton of faceoffs, and had a 11.4 Corsi Rel, showcasing his ability to play on the right side of the puck.

However, there are some things working against Grant, too - namely, his lack of offense. I understand that it's hard to compare his offensive numbers to those put up by Shane Prince and Mike Hoffman, for example, given that Grant primarily plays shutdown minutes for Luke Richardson and isn't given the same offensive opportunities. The improvement from year-to-year is also evident, although it is only slight and he's still under 0.5 PPG for his AHL career as a whole. In addition, the average NHL forward is most productive around the ages of 22-26, so Grant being already behind the curve is worrying. Although he wasn't sheltered in terms of offensive zone starts like most young forwards during his 20-game stint, he was only able to put up two points despite playing against weak competition during his very limited 5-on-5 minutes. Some of this is clearly bad luck, as Grant's 1.55 shots/game was better than a good chunk of forwards on the team, and his on-ice shooting % was a paltry 5.75%.

This brings us to the main point, which is that we really haven't seen *enough* of Grant to judge his offensive performance at the NHL level, which is slightly worrying in itself. Since Grant joined the BSens on a full-time basis back in 2011-12, players like Hoffman, Da Costa, Klinkhammer, Daugavins, O'Brien, Puempel, etc. have seen extended NHL time.

There are other factors however, and one big one for the Senators is the difference in salary. If they sign Grant for $800K and manage to ship out Legwand, that's an immediate saving of $2.7M which can go towards Erik Condra or the RFAs. Of course, Grant won't likely be able to put up the 27 points that Legwand put up this year, especially when you consider that his max in the AHL is 38, but if he can put up positive possession numbers in his 4th line minutes and contribute on the PK (which he has in the past), the salary savings may be worth it. A closer comparison is Zack Smith, who is only two years older than Grant. Smith is signed for another two years, and although this year's salary savings would only be $1.2M (keeping the 800K contract for Grant), it's still better than nothing. Although I like Smith, especially his mobility and faceoff prowess, he was terrible to watch this season and I think that the minutes he plays can be easily replaced by Grant without much of an offensive dropoff. Even if you think that Smith's 3 points in 37 games this year was unlucky, he only has a 0.24 PPG in 319 NHL games, and has seen his time on the penalty kill drop year-to-year. From the wonderful @IneffectiveMath, Smith got filled in both shot + goal wise this season as well:

Thus, even if Grant put up half of his career AHL point rate, his NHL point rate would be close to what Smith has done to this point. When you add on Smith's contract and his position on the average NHL forward's production chart I cited earlier, and Grant's penalty killing ability, it's easy to convince yourself that the Senators may be better off with Grant on the NHL roster. Of course, Grant can't be the 4th line C at the NHL level unless BOTH Smith and Legwand or moved (or there's a shift to wing), but the relative savings in terms of salary even if the team were to keep Grant in the press box is better than any alternative option.

What do you think the Senators should do with Derek Grant?

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Sens Links

  • An update on the Eugene Melnyk situation from the Ottawa Citizen. Hoping one of the twelve potential donors end up being a match! [Ottawa Citizen]
  • Of course I'm talking about a forward prospect while all the talk in Sens land lately has been on the goaltenders. The S7 staff predicted what would happen with the Sens goaltending situation, and Ross went into detail on a bunch of potential situations. Then, it was your turn to have a say in grading Anderson and Hammond's performances this season. [Silver Seven - Staff PredictionsGoing through the scenariosYour Say: AndersonYour Say: Hammond]
  • Dave Cameron will be bringing on a new assistant coach, likely to help with managing the team's defensive group. Is that new coach now ex-Avs assistant, Andre Tourigny? Nichols has more. [6th Sens]
  • The folks over at SenShot have profiles on a couple of UFA options for the Senators to consider. Drew Stafford is someone I identified earlier that fits Murray's need for a "big, strong, middle-aged established top-six forward," though perhaps Stafford may sign with the Flyers to play with former coach (and newly-hired) Dave Hakstol. Petry is someone that Ottawa should try their best to sign, but given his strong playoff performance and love for Montreal, I'd bet that he stays there. UFA out of UMinn, Mike Reilly, is a Columbus draft pick but will be using his options in the CBA and elect to become a free agent, forgoing his senior year. Reilly's father has ties with the Minnesota Wild, and the Chicago Blackhawks also have their eyes on the skilled defenseman who had a great World Championships showing for Team USA. [SenShot UFA profiles - StaffordPetryReilly]
  • In AHL news, the league released their division realignment (which had to happen after a number of teams got moved to the newly created Pacific Division). Jeff has more on this, and specifically talks about what it could mean for our friends in Binghamton. [Silver Seven]
  • Chirp goes through some quick notes for draft day, which I know a lot of you have your eyes on already. I'm thankful that the Senators go into the draft with the "best player available" mentality, especially because a) it's weird that some teams draft for current need despite most prospects needing a couple of years before making the team and b) this organization needs high-end skill at both forward and defense. [SensChirp]
  • Trevor looks at the extra second round pick that Ottawa has from the Jason Spezza trade, and goes through a couple of options of players who might be available at that position. The folks over at The Draft Analyst also go through many players ranked 31-60. [SenShotThe Draft Analyst]
  • Alex profiles Vince Dunn, a mobile, offensive defenseman who may be a reach with their first round pick, or may be a steal with the team's second round pick. What do you think? [SenShot]
Other Links
  • Mike Babcock is apparently going to be making a decision on where he'll be coaching very soon. It's likely he stays in Ottawa's division anyway. [TSN]
  • Jonathan Willis has a wonderful piece on a player who's like the opposite of Jared Cowen, and thus a good trade target for Ottawa, Jared Spurgeon. [Oilers Nation]
  • A great piece on draft theory and philosophy by Money Puck, looking at relative risk and reward. [Canucks Army]
  • A non-hockey piece looks at the analytics revolution in soccer, with a lot of good information in here that's easily applicable to hockey. [Sports Illustrated]