Today’s installment of the year end player grades is part one of a round-table discussion centered on some questions that arose as we were debating our grades. Tomorrow we’ll release part 2, along with a full breakdown of the staff’s ballots.
To the entire staff: Was there any player whose grade surprised you? Anyone that finished higher than you might have expected? Anyone that was lower?
Trevor: If I looked at everything correctly, none of my grades were two or more rankings away from the average, so the biggest difference would have been a C+ for me and a B- for the overall or something like that. So the short answer is, no there weren’t any surprises for me because of how close they aligned with mine.
Spencer: The only player grade that surprised me, and not because it’s different than mine, is Christian Wolanin. Pleasantly surprised, I might add. It seems the team here all agrees that he had a great first stint in the NHL, ranking only behind Chabot and Karlsson for defensemen. Otherwise, my player grades were the same or just slightly lower than the team average here.
Ross: No. I think the grades mostly made sense. There were some reader grades that surprised me, but when you average the opinions of dozens of people, both the best and the worst performers move towards the middle. I think overall things went how I expected.
Beata: Like the others, I wasn’t particularly surprised about any of the grades. They were all pretty close to what I have the players.
Ary: I’ll be boring and say that I agree with everyone else! It’s strange to have us all aligned -- usually we differ on a couple of players. Like Spencer, I’m a bit surprised to see that others thought so highly of Wolanin.
Colin: I was a full grade below on Fredrik Claesson, which was a bit surprising. I’ve pumped his tires in the past to play with Karlsson, and I still think they’d be decent partners given the right tactics. Maybe he was following his coaches’ orders or something else, but Claesson to me seemed like a big liability this season. Besides that, I think we were all pretty close together in our voting.
nkb: Most of the grades handed out were about what I was expecting, but I will say that the rest of the staff (and the readers!) were much higher on Mark Borowiecki than I. My C- grade was a full two letters below the next closest staff, and some even had him as high as a B. I’ll cop to the fact that Boro doesn’t play a style of game that I particularly enjoy, so take my opinion for what it’s worth, but I also suspect folks got a bit carried away with his strong play to start the season. By the end of the year, the Sens were badly underwater shots and goals-wise when he was on the ice, and he took more penalties than he drew. With so much uncertainty surrounding the roster going into next season, one of the things that does seem certain is that Boro will have a spot on the blue line. I’m hoping we see more of his play from the first few months of the year because he certainly did look better than in years past for a while to start the year.
For Ary: You gave Bobby Ryan a B. Did he meet your expectations for this year? Were you willing to cut him some slack because of the injuries?
Both! I came into the year expecting around 45 points from Bobby this year, and if he was healthy, I think he would’ve achieved that. He rebounded a bit from last season’s trying year, and still played a tonne when the team was still “in it” with one good hand. It’s difficult to say that Ryan deserves a long term contract approaching $7M per year, but every team has a bad contract, and given the Sens cap situation, I’m okay with Bobby being Ottawa’s financial faux pas. That said, nothing could make me more angry than if he’s included in a Karlsson trade to shed salary.
For everyone: Only Craig Anderson finished with a failing grade. How do you account for that, given the season that the Sens had? Were there equal amounts of blame to go around or do you think the team would have fared much better with quality goaltending?
Trevor: Ottawa’s extremely reliant on Craig Anderson being well above average, and they couldn’t afford for him to fall into mediocrity. The thing is, he wasn’t just average or bad, he was horrendous. He may not have been that much worse than Mike Condon, but he’s arguably the most important player on the team; we (mostly) know what to expect from Erik Karlsson, but we don’t always with Anderson due to his age. There might have been some equally bad performances on this team, but the Senators needed Anderson to be great and he was the exact opposite.
Spencer: While Anderson is the only one to receive a failing grade on the season for the team, he’s not the only player I gave a failing grade to. I also assigned F’s to Burrows, Harpur and Ceci. I didn’t feel any of them successfully played the roles they were expected to play. Burrows is a veteran, you expect him to be cool, calm and collected on the ice and I found, more often than not, he opted to dump the puck or fail to complete a pass rather than make a play expected of a veteran. Harpur was in over his head any time he was on the ice with NHL players. Ceci was leaned on heavily by the coaching staff to play an important role and got torched all season.
Ross: The biggest reason is that for someone to get an F, you need more than half the voters to give them an F, and nothing else higher than a D-. When you’re averaging grades, and only the lowest grade is a failure, you’re going to have trouble failing anybody. Maybe if we gave marks out of 10, we’d have a lot of players getting less than a 5. That being said, I think goaltending was a huge problem this year. The lack of reliability of the goalies meant that Ottawa had almost no chance to win a lot of games this year. How many times did the Sens give up the first goal in the first three minutes, often on the first shot? Anderson is the starter, and was expected to start maybe 60 games this year. The fact that he gave the team league-worst goaltending was a big reason the season fell apart.
Beata: I think goaltending was the most obvious issue this season. I don’t think it was the only issue by any means, but it’s the one area you can point to and say “yes, this was objectively bad and this team would have fared much better if this had been improved.” Goaltenders also generally have a much bigger impact on the outcome of games than do skaters so when they fail, as Anderson did, the team really feels it. A lot of players massively under-performed, but it’s only really a problem when they all underperform. Also, in the case of most of the players, you can kind of make excuses for them by pointing to things they can’t control, such as linemates or deployment. Anderson, on the other hand, wasn’t really screwed over by the coach, and judging by his save percentage, you can’t really deflect the blame onto the team in front of him. He was just bad.
Ary: Well if we followed my votes, there would’ve been a couple other players with failing grades too. I do think that a majority of this season’s swing in performance has to be chalked up to goaltending -- even a league-average .915 from Anderson would’ve gone a long way in quelling some concerns. That being said, there were systemic differences this year. The team’s shot metrics were never great under Boucher, but they were bottom-five worthy this year. Like the previous 10 seasons of Ottawa Senators hockey, evaluating defencemen appears to be an achilles heel. Thank god they lucked into Erik Karlsson, and I’m hoping that they continue to stay on his good side.
Colin: If Craig Anderson played league average goaltending this season, the Sens’ goal differential would’ve gone from -70 (30th) to -50 (29th). 20 goals is a lot of impact for one player, so his poor play was definitely a major reason for their demise. That said, it wouldn’t have brought them anywhere close to playoff contention, as there was plenty of blame to go around to Guy Boucher, the defence corps, forwards in dry spells, etc. Lots went wrong, and although Anderson may be one of, if not the biggest part of that, he’s far from alone in deserving blame.
nkb: I’ll echo what most of the staff is already saying here: lots of things went wrong this year, but Anderson’s subpar performance was the most harmful. The tricky part for the Sens is that goaltending might also be the most difficult problem to solve for next season. If Craig Anderson were in his early 30’s, it would be tempting to write this season off as an aberration. Andy’s going to be 37 when next season starts — this might just be who he is now. If that’s the case, almost no amount of improvement up and down the line-up will help.
Join us tomorrow for part 2 of the round-table, where we’ll answer a few more of our own pressing questions and share the staff’s complete ballots. In the meanwhile, if you have any questions you want to have answered you can post them in the comments and we’ll select a couple of the best ones to be part of tomorrow’s edition.