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Five Thoughts for Friday

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Thoughts on LeBreton Flats, Erik Karlsson’s Norris snub and more!

Ottawa Senators v Columbus Blue Jackets
Our Swedish Prince.

You know what time it is. Five thoughts. Go!

Learning from Vegas

Just as everybody saw coming (and by everybody I mean nobody), Tuesday night saw the Vegas Golden Knights sweep the Los Angeles Kings in their first ever playoff series. The Kings may not have been the toughest team in the world to handle, but for a team that was only supposed to be made up of third-liners and mid-tier defencemen, it’s pretty darn impressive. A lot of luck is definitely tied in (just look at William Karlsson’s shooting percentage), but a big part of their success has been their ability to exploit inefficiencies from other teams by scooping up their undervalued and under-utilized players. Look at Nate Schmidt from Washington, for example, who was their seventh most used defenceman last season despite strong underlying numbers. Now he’s manning the top pairing in Sin City.

In a business where almost every decision has implications of millions of dollars, every team should be taking this page out of Vegas’ book, including the Senators. Who are some players that could be deserving of more ice time, or some players that Ottawa should be keeping their eyes on?

The player that immediately comes to mind for me is Chris Wideman, whose stat line is as rosy as they come. Obviously there’s a risk involved going forward as he’s fresh off a season-ending injury, although it’s hard to ignore how he started the season. In his sixteen games, he was played a mere 8:49 per game at 5v5, including some time moved up to forward. His six points in that span were enough to keep him in first place throughout the season in points/60 amongst defencemen, although it goes beyond that (after all, his five assists were all secondary assists). His 51.64% Corsi% is second on the team behind Christian Wolanin, while his expected goals% cracked in at 55.31%. It’s worth acknowledging that he was very sheltered in his deployment, although considering what he’s been able to do in those situations, it could be worth giving him a bigger role.

As for looking around the league, here’s a handful of names to think about, whether it be for a trade or in free agency: Ondrej Kase (ANA), Frank Vatrano (FLA), Dominik Simon (PIT), Andreas Athanasiou (DET), Erik Gustafsson (CHI), Tim Heed (SJS), Christian Djoos (WSH). All players with underlying numbers greater than what their usage may suggest.

Projecting Rookies

With most of the Sens’ prospects out of action save for a couple in the long run of the CHL tournaments, it’s time to start looking at who might be able to help out with next season’s roster. The 2017-18 Sens saw a fair amount of rookie infusion, especially down the stretch when playoffs became out of the question. Thomas Chabot was able to help out on the first pairing, while Ben Harpur, Filip Chlapik and Colin White also logged 20+ games.

NHL.com analyst and hockey stats wizard Rob Vollman recently updated his translation factors, which take points-per-game rates from various leagues, and converts them into a points-per-game rate in the NHL.

To comprehend this a bit better, one AHL point is equivalent to roughly 0.486 points in the NHL, for example. The smaller the league’s number, the easier it is to rack up big point totals.

A disclaimer needs to be made that these are far from perfect, with major factors such as age not accounted for. But using this data, we can bring the Sens prospects onto an even playing field, to possibly drum up some expectations heading forward.

The following chart shows translated points-per-game for all eligible Sens prospects, multiplied to fit into a full 82 game NHL season.

A few things stand out:

  • Luchuk led the OHL in points this season as a 21-year-old. It’s an incredible accomplishment, although his older age likely means a 45-point season isn’t in store just yet.
  • Also be wary of Filip Ahl, who appears low as the only sample included are his 15 SHL games, where he had a single point in extremely minimal usage.
  • Brown and Batherson, meanwhile, could be effective forwards next season.
  • Same goes for Christian Wolanin on defence, who played fantastic in his ten NHL games at the end of the season.

AHL Overhaul

Keeping on the topic of prospects, as packed as their cupboard has been in the last few years, there’s been a bit a clog in the prospect pipeline. The B-Sens, whether that ‘B’ stands for Binghamton or Belleville, have only won a single playoff game since 2014, when Randy Lee first took over as their general manager.

Binghamton/Belleville’s struggles have been well-documented, from slews of veteran signings that didn’t pan out, to poor roster management, to overcrowding the goalie crease. And now that they’ve been basement dwellers for three straight seasons, it’s reached the point where it’s mind-bending that nothing significant has been done at the top level.

The decision to keep Randy Lee in the fold seems to be banking on two things: loyalty/familiarity (he’s been with the organization since 1995), and financial reasons — a Sens trademark. Seeing the Montreal Canadiens fire their AHL coach was a good first step for them in turning their own disastrous AHL franchise around, and the Sens should be following suit.

Karlsson 4 Norris

The nominees were announced yesterday for the Norris trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s top defenceman in the regular season. Up for contention are Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban and likely winner Victor Hedman, who has been the storyline to win since the beginning of the season. This is Karlsson’s first time being outside the top three since 2014, which is disappointing, yet expected. Even though this may have been considered a “down year” for Karlsson, the statistics paint a bit of a different story.

Compared to the three nominees, Karlsson had:

  • A much higher rate of points per minute (and per game)
  • A higher Corsi rate relative to his teammates
  • A larger share of his team’s time on ice
  • More blocked shots per game
  • A superior penalty differential

I’m not making the argument that Karlsson should be in the top three for the Norris race, after all, players like Seth Jones and Dougie Hamilton were probably even bigger snubs considering their monstrous seasons. But seeing who ended up reaching the top of the ballots, it grinds the gears a bit to see Karlsson absent.

Yet, many members of the PHWA see his dreaded -25, and no matter how much +/- has been disproven as an effective stat at assessing talent, it continues to ripple throughout the mainstream media. Dom Luszczyszyn of the Athletic recently made a model to predict Norris winners (paywall), and found that it’s one of the two main deciding factors in choosing the Norris winner, with points being the other. It also doesn’t help that Karlsson had some of the worst goaltending help in the league this season, with his dFSv% (difference between real and expected Fenwick save percentage) clocking in at -1.99, 10th worst amongst players with 500+ minutes.

All that to say, count me excited for when the PHWA removes the curtain of anonymity on the ballots following this year’s awards.

What’s Up With LeBreton?

Finally, the biggest news of the last couple days has been on the potentially stagnant relationship between Eugene Melnyk and the LeBreton Flats project. The development plan remains on schedule which is still in the negotiating stages, although with Melnyk’s comments from the NHL 100 Classic, and some recent questioning from Ottawa mayor Jim Watson, the Sens’ owner may not see the project as essential to the Senators.

Why this has become a storyline is beyond me. When RendezVous LeBreton (Melnyk’s group) won the bid to negotiate with the NCC, this should’ve marked a point of turnaround for the franchise. With attendance still struggling to catch back up to previous years, moving the arena to downtown would do a lot to boost back those numbers. It’d be more centralized, transit access would be much easier and it’d be surrounded by hubs of restaurants and other activities. This should be a slam dunk for Melnyk, yet the grip seems to be coming a bit loose.

Should Melnyk end up backing out, a whole bunch of new possibilities would come about. The NCC would likely switch over to negotiating with DCDLS, setting the project back by years. It would also likely bring Melnyk’s ownership of the team under pressure, as the DCDLS bid also included an arena, but with no ownership of the Sens.

It’s a sticky process, and it’s baffling that we’ve even reached this point of discussion, as modest as it is. Although with Melnyk’s reputation, it could go anywhere from here.