Welcome back for part two of our player grades round table. Be sure to check out Colin’s write-up for a full breakdown of the grades if you haven’t already.
Question for Colin: You gave Marian Gaborik a B while his overall average was a C+. What about his game did you like? Do you expect to see him back next season?
For me, it hinged a lot on expectations. I wasn’t expecting anything at all from Gaborik, who’s been on a steep downhill for the past few seasons. He was able to step into a bottom six role and played competent hockey, which although may not be all that much, was definitely superior to almost everybody else who the Sens were playing on their bottom two lines. Some of his numbers on L.A. were surprisingly positive, especially when looking at how he impacted the shot quality on the defensive side. The results weren’t as good for Ottawa, although it was in a sample size that’s half the size.
Looking at his contract, he’s almost definitely Dorion’s #1 contender for a buyout. I think he’d still be useful on the roster, although given his contract and the rest of the Sens’ financial outlook, it would make sense to buy him out. Also to be considered is whether his roster spot can be replaced, and with Chlapik and White in the fold, it shouldn’t be an issue. I think the Sens management ultimately decides to pull the trigger on a buyout.
Question for Spencer: You gave the management group a D, much lower than their C- average. What about their performance did you particularly disapprove of? Do you see the Duchene trade as a win?
The management group received a C- across the board but I gave them a D. It’s possible that I was the only one who thought about the AHL team, given my role here, because I’d say Dorion did a fine, C- level job with the NHL squad but Randy Lee would have been given something lower than an F if I could. Weighting and averaging them out, the management team overall got a D for me. From giving Boucher his toys last July, to attempting to hitch Bobby Ryan to an Erik Karlsson deal, to considering trading Erik Karlsson at all, to spending so much time trying to trade Erik Karlsson that there wasn’t time to trade a guy like Zack Smith, there weren’t a lot of positives for Dorion this season. As for Randy Lee, I just need to point to the standings, his AHL free agent signings and the players he signed to tryouts throughout the season to show that he failed this organization this season. I do think, at the end of the day, the Duchene trade is a slight positive for the team. Ottawa got the most skilled player in the deal, and that’s what’s most important for a team that’s lacked that high end skill outside of Karlsson. Do I think they paid a bit too much losing a first, Bowers, Turris and throwing in another pick so someone would take Hammond’s salary? Yeah, probably a bit. But Duchene’s skillset is worth it for me.
For everyone: Despite the team’s struggles defending, four defensemen earned B+ grades or better (Chabot, Karlsson, Wolanin, Wideman). Does this give you hope for the group for next year? Do you believe that with different deployment this team could defend more credibly?
Trevor: This was actually one of my 6 positives to take from this season, as I think that group of four really has some potential, plus if they can luck their way into getting Rasmus Dahlin (or one of the other top defense prospects), all of a sudden their defense might not be so bad. I also think Freddy Claesson can bounce back as he and Chris Wideman proved to be a great third pairing. I’m still not going to love a defense corps that employs Cody Ceci on the second pairing, but at least the rest of the group has potential to be competent.
Spencer: I think the Senators have the makings of a great blueline if deployed properly. Individually, you’ve got Karlsson, Chabot, Wideman and Wolanin, all fantastic puck movers. Borowiecki did a good job in his role this year, Claesson had a down year but we know he can be better. The problem is you’ve got Ceci, a player who’s been mentioned as “the backup plan” for a #1 D man if Karlsson moves on, receiving the 2nd worst grade. If deployed properly, this group could defend credibly. So I guess we’ll just wait and see who’s around next year.
Ross: The first issue here is that these guys didn’t play most of the year. If Dion Phaneuf had been in these rankings, we probably would’ve given him a low grade, and he was the third-most-used defenceman most of his time here. Wideman played only 16 games, some of them at forward, and Christian Wolanin played only 10 games. Them getting high grades didn’t really matter since they hardly played. I think this team does have hope for next year if the d-corps is deployed correctly. That means management needs to make good decisions (re-sign Wideman, don’t handcuff yourself with a huge Ceci contract), and the coaching staff need to make good decisions (don’t make Ceci a shutdown guy, give Erik Karlsson a partner who’s not Johnny Oduya). I think this team’s d-corps is capable of being good next year, but I don’t have a tonne of faith in the people actually making decisions to ice a good defensive lineup.
Beata: Yes, absolutely. Defense has been a massive weak spot for the Sens for about as long as I can remember, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see so many young, talented defensemen on the team all of a sudden. I am worried that they look so good right now because of small sample sizes and bad quality of competition, and that the Sens will mess up their development eventually, but at the moment I’m quite pleased with what the Sens have on defense. I really hope we get to see more of these guys next season.
Ary: ...Maybe? What’s scary about this proposition is that there’s a chance three of these players don’t make the opening night roster. Karlsson could be traded, Wolanin could be in Belleville, and Wideman could be signed as an undervalued free agent by another team. If they’re all in Ottawa and playing regular minutes, I think they have the looks of a modern NHL blueline. Chabot and Karlsson are bonafide top-four players, Wolanin has the potential to be, and I’d be interested in seeing Wideman in that role over Ceci just to see how he handles it. If not, Wolanin - Wideman could be a solid third-pair, and as always, the team is left trying to find solid complementary defencemen to play on the second unit.
Colin: The Sens have the ability to come back strong next season. Besides the strong core of forwards in Duchene, Stone and Hoffman, there’s a handful of defencemen who could all make a positive impact. That being said, there’s just as many players who are hampering the team’s chances at winning, and when the coach is choosing to play them 20+ minutes a night (as was the case with Ceci and occasionally Harpur), it’s going to produce some poor results. That, combined with the already mentioned injuries, produced a gaping hole on the blue line this season. There’s an opportunity here to shape one of the league’s best defence corps -- after all, we have Erik Karlsson! There might need to be some radical changes in the decision making processes in order for that to happen.
nkb: It’s hard to be super optimistic about next season when Erik Karlsson’s future remains so deeply in doubt, but this is definitely the best I’ve felt about the potential on the blue line in quite some time. That being said, there’s a good chance the Sens start the season with all of Harpur, Borowiecki and Ceci playing major minutes so maybe things won’t go as well as I might hope.
For nkb: Just how awesome is Mark Stone, anyways?
nkb: This is the kind of gratuitous question you get to throw in at the end when you’re the editor, so I will take this opportunity to sing Stone’s praises yet again. He really did have a truly remarkable season. Stone somehow finished with a positive shot and expected goal differential, a positive goal differential, and he scored over a point a game on a team that finished second last in the entire NHL. It was already a career year for Stone in many ways, but if he hadn’t gotten hurt it had a chance to be a truly special season.