The 2017-18 season has not been kind to the Ottawa Senators. The last two wins have been nice, and perhaps it is the beginning of a streak, but the overall results have been awful. The main reason why is that essentially the entire team has been playing incredibly poorly for the last month, and it’s been hard to be happy with the individual efforts on a night-to-night basis.
I think most people realize that the Senators need more scoring options, but I wanted to go through the lineup and see exactly what it is they need to fill. Do they need a first-line right-winger with Mark Stone already in the lineup? No, but they have some very obvious needs elsewhere.
For simplicity’s sake, I grouped each “line” according to how the forwards would look on the depth chart, since there haven’t really been many consistent lines with Guy Boucher this year.
So let’s go through and take a look at the forwards:
First line: Mike Hoffman-Matt Duchene-Mark Stone
There isn’t really too much to complain about with this top line, although in an ideal world, Duchene is more of a truly elite centre so that he could match up against the Sidney Crosby’s and Connor McDavid’s of the world. He’s still good enough to be a first line centre though, even if he only has a putrid 5 points in 17 games.
We can acknowledge that outside of his first few games which were electric, he has failed to live up to some of the expectations. However, I’m not worried about him yet moving forward. As for Hoffman, his 22 points in 31 games puts him on pace for 58 points, so even though he’s been ineffective in this horrible slump, he’s still a very solid first-line winger.
Since 2015 -16, Hoffman ranks 10th amongst left-wingers in points per game, which is better than most people realize.
Stone is slightly better, ranking tied for 7th amongst right wingers since 2014-15, equal with Phil Kessel and ahead of David Pastrnak. Overall, the quality of their top three forwards is nothing to scoff at, even if their production of late needs to be much better.
Second Line: Ryan Dzingel-Derick Brassard-Bobby Ryan
This is where things begin to get dicey.
I love what Dzingel brings to the team, but he’s better suited as a 3rd-line player that can occasionally fill-in in the top-six. Losing Clarke MacArthur really hurts here, because he put others in their preferred spot. In the past two seasons Dzingel has averaged 32 points over 82 games, which is good, but not great.
His speed is a huge asset and I don’t have a huge issue with him on the second line, but on a cup contending team, he should be on the third line. As for Brassard, he fits in quite well as a second-line centre. Although he’s been somewhat of a disappointment as a Senator, he’s averaged 42 points per season, and that’s not bad at all for someone on the second line.
Considering he had 60 and 58 points in the two respective previous seasons though, it’s fair to expect more from him. If he’s more of a 50-point centre, then him and Duchene are a quality 1-2 punch. But if Duchene continues his downward trend and is a 45 point player with Brassard hovering around 40, then that’s a big problem. We’ll have to re-evaluate at the end of the season to see if the top-two centres are good enough.
Then there’s Bobby Ryan. He was phenomenal in the playoffs, and even looked solid in the first few games of the season before getting hurt again. His 37 points in his last 85 games is nowhere near good enough considering his massive contract.
So realistically, there are two holes in the top-six that need to be filled, because even their two elite wingers aren’t superstars that can cancel out the lack of talent behind them.
Third line: Zack Smith-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Alex Burrows
Last year I had changed my opinion of Smith because he followed up a surprising 25-goal season in 2015-16 with another 30+ point season. But ever since he signed his contract extension near the end of 2016-17, he’s been invisible. He is somehow still on pace for 30 points (in a full season), but he hasn’t looked nearly as effective. I guess on the third line he is fine, but his cap hit of $3.25M is a bit expensive.
Pageau fits his role quite well, as you know he can give you 30-35 points a season. As a third-line centre, that’s all you can ask for. Burrows on the other hand, has added almost nothing to this team.
He has 6 points in 30 games, and most nights you don’t see him do a single thing on the ice. Wasn’t he was supposed to be a pest for the Senators?
Fourth Line: Tom Pyatt-Nate Thompson-Gabriel Dumont
Tom Pyatt is still a polarizing player. He plays safe, and honestly does have some skill, so he looks good when watching him live. But it’s hard to ignore his 44.47 CF% since last year, and he gets the 9th most ice time amongst forwards, so it’s not as if he’s being sheltered on the fourth line all the time.
Thompson and Dumont have also been possession drags, and I don’t think they add anything to move the needle. Thompson can win some faceoffs, but those don’t even correlate well to wins. So this entire line is replaceable, and should be replaced.
After looking at all of this, there seem like too many holes to fill. Some of them don’t necessarily need to be filled, such as getting an elite first line centre. That can be mitigated by having three or four real quality centres, which Ottawa might have, especially if they want to have Colin White playing 4th line centre.
But if this team wants to contend, then at least one top-six forward will be needed, plus a top-9 right winger is essential as well. There isn’t a spot in the lineup where a player is supremely better than the spot he is in (e.g. Evgeni Malkin as a 2C), as most guys are simply “maybe good enough” where they are. Maybe good enough doesn’t win a Stanley Cup though.
Looking at the bare bones though, here is how I see it:
T6 LW-Brassard-T6 RW
Smith-4C (White?)-B6 RW
I see Pyatt, Thompson, Dumont, and Burrows as expendable players that (besides Dumont) are costing more than they should. Colin White can hopefully fill one of the holes in the bottom-six, and perhaps someone like Filip Chlapik can play there as well.
However, that still leaves room in the top-six, which is going to be a lot harder to fix.
Even if you like some of the players that I want lower in the lineup or think that some of the Pyatt/Thompson/Dumont/Burrows group should stay, it is pretty clear that the forwards are very thin at this point, and I’m not surprised at all that Ottawa sits 23rd in goals for per game.
Sadly, it looks to me like they are at least two forward additions away from looking like a legitimately good offensive team that can compete with the likes of Tampa Bay, Toronto, St. Louis, Winnipeg, etc. Whether Ottawa can actually sever ties with some of their dead weight remains to be seen, but they must be cognizant of their needs.