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Silver Seven Mailbag, Part 2: This Season

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It's the second of three installments of our summer mailbag

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

After talking about the Sens' most recent moves in yesterday's mailbag, today we move on to talk about the upcoming season. Remember to tell us you agree or disagree in the comments!

With Dave Cameron signing with the Flames, can the Flames just pay him $1 and the Sens have to pay the remainder, or is there some rule saying what percent the Sens still have to pay of his salary? Submitted anonymously

My understanding of how these contracts work is that Cameron makes his head coach salary, and the Senators pay his old salary minus what the Flames are paying him. Garrioch reported his old salary was worth $1.6M ($800k per season). In theory, the Flames could just pay him $1, but Cameron would have to agree to a contract like that. He probably wouldn't, because a) that sets his future worth at $1/year, b) he's in the last year of his contract with the Sens, but he could have signed a multi-year option with the Flames, and c) hockey teams still have to follow labour laws such as minimum wage. Some quick looking around unverifiable internet sites quotes assistant coach salaries as slightly less than $100k about five years ago, and averaging around $200k recently. The Mike Babcock contract in Toronto increased coach salaries around the league, and this likely helped to bring up assistant coach salaries as well. According to Elliotte Friedman, one guy turned down a $450k offer to be an assistant coach for the coming season. I doubt Cameron when that high, but having NHL head coach experience probably helped his cause. My guess is that the Sens are on the hook for his salary minus about $200k. -RA

I love to see qualified people come up with trade possibilities so, can you please come up with three key player that the sens should go for in a trade and what it would take to get them? Submitted anonymously

First off, I hardly count as qualified, but I'm still happy to try my hand at this. One player I think the Sens should go after is Nail Yakupov. Reportedly his asking price is very low, about a 3rd-round pick, so if the Sens could get him for a depth player like Buddy Robinson plus a late pick, I think they should be all over that. It would be like the Nikita Filatov trade: low risk, high reward.

The Sens are going to need help on defence, especially if Marc Methot turns in another disappointing year, and as such I think Cam Fowler would be the best guy to go after. The asking price is going to be lower than other possibilities like Kevin Shattenkirk, and at only 24, Fowler could be helpful for a while. That might be harder to swing, but the Ducks are going to run into troubles with an expansion draft, especially with Kevin Bieksa holding an NMC. I'd think the Ducks would want two out of a roster player, a prospect, and a pick in exchange. Does Curtis Lazar have enough perceived potential to grab Fowler as the centrepiece? I'd hope so, and try to trade Lazar and a 2nd with a prospect, possibly Matt Puempel. If that doesn't grab Fowler, you also try going after Simon Despres. The Ducks are going to have to lose a young defenceman for nothing, and Ottawa is well-positioned to claim one.

There are also potential shoot-for-the-moon trades out there, and despite the rumours being rescinded, it seems the Oilers could still trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins because of the emergence of Leon Draisaitl playing under Connor McDavid. If you're Ottawa, you try to take advantage of Edmonton's perceived mismanagement. I'd try to build a trade around Methot, seeing the Oilers' need for d-men. Would Methot + Nick Paul get it done? Maybe with a pick? In the Hall-for-Larsson world, anything is possible. In that case, Mika Zibanejad (or possibly Kyle Turris?) would become expendable, and could be used as part of another trade. As much as I love Z-bad, you can't say no to getting RNH from incompetent management.

Keep in mind these are all possible trades, not trades that have actually been rumoured anywhere. Estimating potential trades is not really my thing, but it was fine to try my hand at it a bit. -RA

Is Frederik Claesson a driver of possession? His possession stats weren't amazing in the small sample of NHL games he played last year, but I'm wondering if anyone knows from his AHL play whether he is a mobile defenseman with good passes and strong zone exits. Submitted by Matt.

Claesson is a really interesting player, in that this is really his last shot to become a full-time NHLer and he’ll require waivers to go to Binghamton despite his two-way contract. Claesson’s possession metrics are skewed by the fact that he played most of his minutes with the dynamo lovingly known as Erik Karlsson, which is good (woo offense!) but also bad (big jump between top-pair AHL minutes and top-pair NHL minutes). Don’t be fooled: Claesson’s ceiling is definitely that of a third-pair NHL defender, and his main competition will be beating out Mark Borowiecki for a full-time spot next to Chris Wideman. Can he do that? I’d argue that he’s been the better defender all along but lost out potentially due to his Not Being From Ottawa-ness. They’re eerily similar players in their style of game (defensive defender, penalty killer, tougher competition, HITS), and I don’t think you can expect offense from either: Claesson’s AHL PPG is 0.25 to Borowiecki’s 0.24 and they generally take the same number of individual shots per game. Two pros in favour of the Swede, though: Claesson’s hockey IQ may be more developed due to his development path (playing against men in Sweden vs. Borowiecki’s NCAA route) and he’s three years younger, which means a lot. -AM

Based on the likely personnel we have and their past coaching habits, what can we expect in terms of how they will use the players at their disposal? Submitted by Be_Rad

My Golden Lineup/depth chart:
Hoffman-Zibanejad-Hudler/Versteeg/Vrbata
MacArthur-Turris-Ryan
Smith-Pageau-Stone
Dzingel-Lazar-Neil
Puempel-Paul-Perron
Methot-Karlsson
Ceci-Phaneuf
Wideman-Gryba
Borowiecki-Claesson

What do you think? Is this good enough for the playoffs? Do you think Ottawa has a shot at the playoffs with the current roster next year?
Submitted by KanataKing

Well, do you see the Sens bring a bottom 5 team this season? I do. Our division is very very tough, as Buffalo, Toronto, Florida, Detroit drastically improved their squads this season, and Tampa Bay is a power house themselves, while we are sitting here going thru Hoffman and Ceci, and signing a bunch of depth. Submitted by @Shots_Sam

(Editor's note: Ary decided to group these three questions together)

First, to user KanataKing, I wish the team signed a free agent right-winger who could play up and down the lineup akin to the trio of players that you suggested (Hudler, Versteeg, Vrbata). However, it’s looking increasingly likely that the team will roll out something like:

MacArthur – Turris – Ryan
Hoffman – Zibanejad – Stone
Smith – Pageau – Lazar
Puempel/Dzingel/Paul – Kelly – Neil
Methot – Karlsson
Phaneuf – Ceci
Borowiecki/Claesson – Wideman

Kostka

It also looks like they’re done on defence and I don’t think they’ll bring Eric Gryba back, despite him being a potential PK option. Why? To get to Be_rad’s question, I think they’ll be fine with a "fully healthy" Methot, Phaneuf, Borowiecki/Claesson, and Ceci as the four D on PK, with Erik Karlsson filling in his usual ~30-45 seconds if needed. I am excited about Boucher’s powerplay units. I think he’ll run a 4F, 1D unit as is becoming the norm in the league, with Hoffman and Zibanejad both capable of playing point with Karlsson (and Phaneuf, Ceci, Wideman filling in if need be). This would leave the forward spots open for MacArthur, Turris, Stone, Ryan, and (potentially) Zack Smith.

In terms of how these units will be used at even-strength, I think a lot depends on the actual trios. If they’re as we suggested above, I expect the Zibanejad group to get more offensive zone starts, with Turris + Pageau being trusted with defensive starts. In his last coaching stop in Tampa, Boucher was pretty divisive on his EVTOI splits, with Stamkos/St Louis getting around 17 minutes, Lecavalier getting around 14 minutes, Thompson getting around 12 minutes, and L4 getting around 9-10 minutes. He may have changed his ways a bit, but it may be okay to speculate based on his past usage for now.

Now, to finally answer @ShotSams question, is this team a bottom-five team? You can answer this in a bunch of ways. First, it’s worth noting that the team wasn’t bottom-five in the CONFERENCE last year, despite all of the suckage. Sure, the Leafs and Sabres may have improved, but the Bruins (sans Eriksson) and Red Wings (who didn’t add a top defender yet) have stagnated or even declined in my opinion. As you’ve stated, it’s not like Ottawa did much this offseason in terms of personnel additions – a lot of (needed) AHL depth – but the team is betting that a better coaching staff can at least propel them to being a bubble team. I’d say that this is still a bad position if you’re a fan of the Ottawa Senators – I want them to be a contender or at least try exciting things like the Lightning or Panthers – but I still don’t think they’re bad enough to be a bottom-five team. Everyone just knock on wood/pray that Erik Karlsson doesn’t get injured, because Mark Borowiecki in the top-four can change a lot of things. -AM

Does anybody on this site actually believe that promoting Dorion was anything than Murray trying to save face after gutting a contender down to a non playoff team? Hey the guy you gave a break won't call you out on all your extremely poor hockey decisions. Submitted anonymously

I'm still willing to give Dorion a year or two to see how he operates, because it's not as if he's going to be a clone of Bryan Murray. We've already seen him be a bit different in that it seems like he's more willing to look into advanced stats (although how much, we do not know).

I do agree though that Murray needed to save face, because to the general public, he's seen as one of the best GMs around the league. Having him be "replaced" and not fired keeps his reputation in tact, although it's a bit unfair to Dorion because he has done some great work for the Senators. Dorion has quite the eye for young talent, but it remains to be seen if he can build an entire team. I wished they had gone after a different voice outside of the organization, but I'm not going to act as if Dorion is going to be completely inept. -TS

Are the Sens going to retire #11 this year? Submitted anonymously

Very hard to know. Nobody's talking about it. But considering he retired a year and a half ago, I'd say the time is right to retire his jersey. The only reason I can think of that the team wouldn't retire it is because they're waiting for the 25th anniversary, 2017-18, to pull out the pomp and circumstance. If I were a betting man, I'd say yes, they will retire his jersey this season. He's back with the team for another year, his family's moved back to Ottawa, and the Sens are about to have another player hit 1000 games played in a Sens jersey (Chris Neil). -RA

Do you think Lazar was rushed and should spend some time in the AHL considering he would get a lot more opportunities there? Can he be more than a bottom 6 player? Submitted by @jfernandes514

Is it possible that Colin White and Thomas Chabot are over-hyped, similar to Lazar? Is the organization trying to boost the value of its players? Submitted by @jfernandes514

The Sens brought back veteran Chris Kelly on Thursday, which makes me wonder: where will Curtis Lazar be starting the 16-17 season? Binghamton? Kelly may have been brought in to replace Lazar in the line-up, while he tries to find his scoring ability in Bingo. Would this be the right move? Submitted by @ShotsSams

A: There was something of a theme to many questions in this week’s mailbag: trepidation about young Curtis Lazar. We decided to group these questions together into one big question for ease of reading.

In the now three years since he was first drafted, Lazar has gone from franchise saviour to afterthought. His less than impressive play has led many to ask variants of the questions above: was Lazar rushed? Can he re-discover his touch by spending some time in Bingo where he’d assume more of a scoring role? Is he a plain old bust?

In order: it seems possible, maybe but unlikely, not really but context is important.

If the first two answers seem vague, that’s because player development is a complex process that’s in many ways still today more art than science. What works like a charm for one player can sometimes be anathema for another. Below is a list of all of the players taken in the same spot, 17th overall, as Curtis Lazar for every year since the 04-05 lockout season:

Name

Team

Year

GP

G

A

PTS

NHL Debut

Kyle Connor

Jets

2015

0

0

0

0

N/A

Travis Sanheim

Flyers

2014

0

0

0

0

N/A

Curtis Lazar

Sens

2013

143

12

23

35

’14-15

Thomas Hertl

Sharks

2012

200

49

53

102

’13-14

Nathan Beaulieu

Canadiens

2011

151

3

29

32

’12-13

Joey Hishon

Avalanche

2010

13

1

1

2

’13-14

David Rundblad

Blues

2009

113

4

21

25

’11-12

Jake Gardiner

Ducks

2008

325

28

92

120

’11-12

Alexei Cherepanov

Rangers

2007

0

0

0

0

N/A

Trevor Lewis

Kings

2006

424

35

54

89

’08-09

Martin Hanzal

Coyotes

2005

557

101

186

287

’07-08

Excluding the last two drafts where it’s probably still too early to judge, we’re left with nine players that range from complete flop (Joey Hishon) to important, but not franchise altering-players (Hertl, Hanzal and Gardiner). This wide range of outcomes is important to frame expectations: regardless of what the Senators organization was trumpeting at the time of Lazar’s drafting, the reality is that teams are not very likely to find franchise-altering players by the time you get all the way down to 17th overall. In this sense, by getting a competent NHL skater the Sens have done O.K. Whether Lazar might have already turned into a 40 point scorer by now if he’d played an extra season in the minors is something of an unknowable question. Hanzal and Gardiner were held back for developmental reasons, but Hertl made the Sharks in his second season after being drafted (just like Lazar) and it hasn’t seemed to hurt him one bit. There are examples of each approach to development both working and failing – Curtis Lazar might have turned out to be exactly who he is today after a season in Binghamton; he might have even been worse! We can never quite know.

Questions of context and expectations aside then, what’s the next best step for Lazar? More importantly, though, if the Senators were convinced that time in Binghamton might be helpful to his development would the NHL club be able to afford to send him down? Certainly Chris Kelly’s signing gives the Sens a bit more depth in their bottom six, but they remain awfully thin at the bottom. Unless Guy Boucher wants to play one of Dzingel, Paul or Puempel on their off-wing, Chris Neil is the obvious choice to be the third-line right winger – a situation the coaching staff will almost certainly want to avoid. Lazar’s scoring production has been a bit of a disappointment, but he’s a capable NHL skater and he’s shown more than any of the other names listed above. Ottawa is in the business of trying to make the play-offs every year, so unless they can sign at least one more cheap, depth forward to take Lazar’s spot it’s difficult to envisage him starting the season anywhere but the NHL.

Ultimately, Lazar’s still only 21 so some of the hand-wringing may yet be a bit premature. As of today, however, Sens fans and management would do well to re-adjust their expectations of him: he’s a mostly capable bottom 6 NHL winger and given how thin the depth chart is at right wing, that’s where he’s likely to stay in the near-term future. -NKB