No time to waste. Thoughts. Five of them. Now!
Freddy Claesson on the First Pairing
Oh, what a difference a year makes.
You could make the argument that Freddy Claesson is a top-six defender on this team. You could make the argument that he is a top-four defender on this team. Hell, many people won't disagree you if you say he is a top-three defender on this team.
And now 80 games into the 2016-17 campaign, it's looking like Claesson is the best partner for Erik Karlsson on the top pairing.
Though Marc Methot's defensive expertise isn't something easily replaced, Claesson's presence in the breakout, neutral zone transition and offensive end surpasses Methot's abilities with the puck. While Methot is dead last on the Senators at even strength with 5.62 individual Corsi per 60 minutes, Claesson's rating of 9.15 is a much needed improvement.
Karlsson has needed an offensive upgrade beside him on the blue line for a couple seasons now and Claesson brings that.
Perhaps the defense corps is better suited with Methot on the second pairing alongside Cody Ceci. Ceci has forever struggled with Dion Phaneuf, but whenever he is paired with Methot - usually after a power play when Karlsson and Phaneuf have been on for a minute each - the two seem to be able to keep their heads above water. Ceci, who has, by far, the worst possession numbers on the team's backend, could definitely use someone who makes up for his shortcomings in the D zone.
Not a lot people believed Pierre Dorion when he said Ben Harpur has turned into a defenseman worthy of the NHL.
To me and to the whole organization and our management group, the biggest improvement in any player in Binghamton this year has been Ben Harpur. I think he’s gone from someone that, at times, was in and out of the lineup last year to becoming a regular contributor to becoming one of the best all-around defensemen in the American League." - Pierre Dorion. TSN 1200. April 2, 2017.
Skepticism ran wild when the 22-year-old was called up as the Senators ran into injury trouble along their blue line. And fans had reason to be dubious after Harpur's stint with the big club last season.
He simply looked out of place. The 6-foot-6 defenseman lacked quickness and agility in his stride and was far from a confident puck handler.
But after observing his last three games with the Senators, maybe Dorion's comments aren't so far fetched, after all.
With less-than-sheltered minutes the past four days, Harpur has shown he can more than handle big league opponents, which is even more impressive when taking into consideration what time of year it is. He pulls no punches in the defensive zone and seems rather competent offensively. It's not exactly time to call him a full-time NHLer, but there's been some obvious improvement since we last saw him in December.
Pending Free Agents
The list of pending unrestricted free agents on the Senators is as follows: Mike Condon, Tom Pyatt, Tommy Wingels, Chris Neil, Chris Kelly and Viktor Stalberg.
Of those players, Stalberg is the only one that sticks out as a must-sign when the offseason rolls around. The 31-year-old looks anything but 31 and has proven to be a better trade deadline acquisition than Alex Burrows. Stalberg could be a valuable addition to the bottom six next year. And he shouldn't be very difficult to sign. The Gothenburg, Sweden native isn't exactly having an offensively dominant season and maybe the likes of fellow countrymen Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson could aid in the contractual department.
In the middle of the sign-or-set-free pie chart are Condon and Pyatt. While both have had positive impacts on the team during their first season with the club, both are replaceable. Going into contract negotiations, set the bar low and stay firm. Pyatt's chemistry alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Condon's solid run with Craig Anderson out should not warrant them both contracts above $1.2 million.
And finally, while it may be the end of the line for Kelly and Neil's respective careers - although, with Neil's respectable conditioning and grit factor, don't put it past him signing with another club - Wingels hasn't shown much to garner a one-way contract.
The organization should make room for players like Ryan Dzingel and Colin White to have full-time spots on the third line in 2018.
Healthy Forward Corps in the Postseason
Knowing that Zack Smith should be ready next week, and assuming - knock on wood - that no other injuries occur over the weekend, the Senators should have a completely healthy forward corps just in time for the playoffs.
That's all good and well, but maximizing the talent, speed and experience on all four lines is going to be key.
Optimum lines, up for discussion:
Zack Smith - Derick Brassard - Mark Stone
Mike Hoffman - Kyle Turris - Ryan Dzingel
Alex Burrows - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Clarke MacArthur
Viktor Stalberg - Colin White - Bobby Ryan
Extras: Tom Pyatt, Chris Neil, Chris Kelly, Chris DiDomenico, Tommy Wingels
Senators Playoff Preview Video
Here's a project I've been working on for a while. More to come, as I'm going to be making playoff opening and closing montages for the team's postseason.