With the results of the voting revealed, we put a few questions to the staff to get some insight into what each of them was thinking when they cast their votes. As it turns, there’s still lots to say about the 2016-17 Ottawa Senators! The result is a two part series, with part two running tomorrow.
A question for everyone: Who was the most pleasant surprise? Who was the biggest disappointment?
Ross: The most pleasant surprise for me was Ryan Dzingel. I wasn't sure if he'd make the big club, and in the end he played 81 games plus a bunch in the playoffs. My biggest disappointment was probably Andrew Hammond - he couldn't stay healthy, and even when he was healthy, he didn't look very good. I thought he could be a reliable NHL backup, and I feel like I was very wrong.
Trevor: The biggest surprise for me has to be Fredrik Claesson. One year ago, it seemed like he was on the verge of going back to Sweden, and he was pretty much a 7th D option at best. Now though, I see him as someone who can comfortably play on any pairing. I'll be really sad if Las Vegas takes him in the expansion draft. As for biggest disappointment, I'll say Andrew Hammond as well; if only because not many players had such an unpredictable season. I do hope he finds a job next year though, whether that's in Ottawa or elsewhere.
Colin: There are plenty of fantastic candidates for biggest surprise, although for me it has to be Clarke MacArthur. After he went down in training camp I was really dubious that he'd return, let alone serve as a productive top-six forward. As for biggest disappointment, I'm surprised it isn't unanimously Curtis Lazar. I wasn't expecting a whole lot from him this season; maybe he could be a serviceable fourth liner. But one secondary assist in 33 games? That's next level disappointment. Best of luck to him in Calgary.
Beata: The most pleasant surprise, for me, was Clarke MacArthur. When he went down in training camp I thought that was the end of his career, and I certainly didn't expect him to contribute as much as he did when he actually returned. Maybe I'd just forgotten how good he was, but I was really impressed with his performance in the games he played. Let's hope he stays healthy. As for the biggest disappointment, I'm also going with Andrew Hammond. I was certain he'd turn out to be a decent backup goalie, but he totally blew his chance and now it's looking like he might have played his last game in Ottawa.
Ary: I agree with the Clarke MacArthur + Freddie Claesson camp! To be different, I'll also point out that Chris Wideman had a solid season. Last season, he looked weak and I didn't think he'd be able to translate his AHL-award winning performance to the NHL level, but this year he showed that he could be a play-driver in third-pair minutes — an area of need on this team. Although many can counter with an argument centering around "Chris Wideman is very replaceable", the Sens terrible track record of identifying defensive talent makes me happy to see an internal option, even if he faded down the stretch.
Biggest disappointment: I agree with those who said Andrew Hammond. I definitely feel for the man and his horrible injury troubles. Again, to be different, I'll say Cody Ceci. This year was make or break for me in terms of whether he can be a contributor at the NHL level. Although he's still young, he now has 284 games of NHL experience and he took a step back in almost every way compared to last year's 10 goal, 16 assist performance. I can only buy the "young player will improve" argument for so long, especially when the Sens have been burned by it before. Finding a competent second-pair RD to drive play for ~20-22 minutes a night is extremely important if the Sens want to contend next year.
Callum: During the regular season the biggest surprised had to be Mike Condon. I am not one of those who believe the team should jump at the opportunity to re-sign him, but Condon proved he is a capable NHL backup and he kept the team afloat at times. After a trip through waivers and a trade for a late-round draft pick, I'd say he more than exceeded expectations.
As for the postseason, the unanimous answer would be Bobby Ryan. The guy turned into Ottawa's best forward over night. It was incredible.
nkb: My most pleasant surprise was Claesson for all of the reasons Trevor outlined above. Last year at this time, I wasn’t convinced Freddy even belonged in the NHL. Today, I see a bright future in the Sens organization.
As for the biggest disappointment, I’ve got to go with Cody Ceci. I’ve never been a big fan of Ceci’s, but there’s no denying that a lot of the tools are there for him to be good NHL defenseman. I had really hoped against hope that this was going to be the year for him. I didn’t see it.
A question for nkb: You gave Mark Borowiecki a D when the group average was C+ and the readers voted him a B-. What did you see from Boro that you didn't like?
nkb: I imagine that some of this has to do with how each of us (and the readers!) approached the process of grading players. Relative to what we might expect from Borowiecki, this wasn’t a particularly bad year and he did get off to a good start. If I were judging players purely in that sense, I could see myself giving Boro a grade as high as B-. That being said, by the end of the season most of his shot metrics were in rapid decline and his pinches seemed more frequently ill-advised. Frankly, he did little this season to convince me he was an NHL-calibre defenseman. My thoughts on Borowiecki are essentially the same as they ever were: if he’s your 7th defenseman and he plays 10-15 games as an injury replacement you’re fine, but if he’s an integral piece of the puzzle his pairing is going to struggle to stay afloat. All this to say: I can’t see myself giving a player a grade better than D if I don’t think they really belong in the NHL.
A question for Callum, Ross and Beata: You three gave Guy Boucher an A+ grade, what specifically about his performance this year made you think he was deserving of the top grade?
Ross: I gave Guy Boucher an A+ because he crafted a system to fit his team's strengths and it worked like a charm. He adapted against each team in the playoffs, and pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champions to overtime in a Game 7. I think talent-wise, the Sens have one elite talent (Erik Karlsson), a few good ones (Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris), and then a lot of players who aren't special. I think the second-most special thing about the team this year (after Karlsson, obviously) was the coaching.
Beata: It's no secret that I was not a fan of the way Dave Cameron had his team play last season, and I think Boucher was the biggest reason why Ottawa improved so dramatically this year. In my eyes, Boucher took a decent team that was being weighed down by their total lack of structure, and taught them to play an effective defensive system that utilized their strengths. He got the most he possibly could out of this team, and that earns him an A+.
Callum: This team was a borderline playoff team on paper at the beginning of the regular season. In fact, they were nowhere near the postseason on nearly every critic's list. And slowly, but surely, they improved each month until, when fully healthy for the first time in two years, they came alive in the playoffs. Boucher's defense-first approach was the reason why this team succeeded. I think he realized that the team wasn't built to out-2015-16-Dallas-Stars other teams and that if he could minimize the shots against, the offense would be able to pick its spots, led by the best defenseman in the world and a few all-star calibre forwards. It's going to be interesting to see how he adapts to changes made by management this summer.
Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow, where we’ll also reveal the full ballot for each of the writers.