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Five Thoughts for Friday

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Thoughts on Tkachuk without Stone, the trade deadline, Anders Nilsson and more!

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Ottawa Senators
He’s kind of like a puppy
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Brady Tkachuk sans Mark Stone

Tkachuk broke out of a long goal-scoring drought on Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche by scoring a very Brady Tkachuk goal: he went hard to the net, found the puck on his stick, and jammed it past Semyon Varlamov from the edge of the crease. It was probably a big relief for the youngster to break the streak, but even when he wasn’t scoring Tkachuk’s had a positive impact. Graeme Nichols had a piece at the Athletic on Thursday highlighting Tkachuk’s strong shot metrics, and it may not surprise you to learn that the Sens regularly out-shoot and out-score their opponents when he’s on the ice at 5v5. This is all good news.

You can probably tell there’s a but coming here. The “but” in this case is the ever-present Mark Stone. Tkachuk has played virtually of his 5v5 minutes this season with Stone — he hasn’t logged more than 6 (!) minutes on any line that doesn’t feature the Sens’ superstar. This isn’t to dismiss Tkachuk’s success, I actually believe his style compliments Stone’s and their partnership is probably mutually beneficial. But it’s also the case that Stone has made lesser players look like stars before. One of the things I’d like to see more of as this season progresses is what Tkachuk can do away from Stone. Asking him to carry a line by himself is probably too much at this stage of his young career, but this season is the time to experiment and test how the youngsters respond to added responsibility.

Anders Nilsson’s solid play

It may have seemed like a bit of a curious trade to some, but Nilsson’s performance in his brief time so far in Ottawa has pretty well vindicated Pierre Dorion’s move to pick up the Swede from Vancouver; the cost was low, and there was potential to add depth to an area of great organizational need. Craig Anderson will be 38 this year, and seems unlikely to be able to shoulder the workload of a full-time starter anymore. There are some promising goalie prospects in Filip Gustavsson, Marcus Hogberg and Joel D’Accord but it’s doubtful that any of them will be ready for another year or two at least. Meanwhile, Mike Condon’s play the last couple of seasons has made it hard to know if he’s an NHL goalie at all. Nilsson was probably running out of chances before he arrived in the nation’s capital, but this situation has been virtually ideal for him as well. At the right price, and for the right (short) term, I think the Sens could do a lot worse than to bring him back to help further bridge the gap between Anderson and the next generation.

Thomas Chabot, the complete package

Let me preface this by saying that I believe Chabot’s defensive contributions this year have been mostly underrated; there’s a common trope in the hockey world to act as if skilled defensemen can’t be good defenders, and conversely that the offensively inept are stout protectors. Chabot didn’t just get good defensively overnight, he’s had a lot going for him in that area for a while now.

All that being said, Chabot’s work on the shift that ended in Ryan Dzingel’s goal on Wednesday is a study in how to play two-way hockey:

One of Chabot’s greatest strengths as a player is his seemingly effortless skating. He doesn’t always look like he’s pumping his legs, but I can assure you that he’s moving tremendously quickly. Breaking up Sven Andrighetto’s breakaway attempt is part anticipation, but even the cleverest of defenders wouldn’t have gotten there without Chabot’s wheels. We often comment on how well Chabot uses his speed and smarts to create offense, but more and more he’s making great defensive plays like this too.

Trade Deadline Burnout

One of the best part of being a sports fan can be following along with all of the trade rumours. The trade deadline in the NHL is so popular that both TSN and Sportsnet dedicate an entire day’s worth of their network’s coverage to insiders sitting around looking mostly bored, waiting to break a deal. It’s also a lot more fun when your team is seeking to improve by adding pieces, not deal away their franchise players. Lately I’ve found that my capacity for enjoying trade rumours has been greatly diminished by the stress of last year’s deadline. Ultimately Erik Karlsson wasn’t traded, but I still remember how tightly I was gripping my desk chair as the clock ticked away those final minutes. This year has the potential to somehow be even more stomach churning with all three of Matt Duchene, Dzingel, and Stone all in danger of being moved. It’s enough to wear you out. So, I’m trying to avoid trade rumours for now in an attempt to keep myself sane.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t get a nervous jolt every time I see a Bob McKenzie tweet featuring the words “Ottawa Senators”.

LeBreton...reborn?

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least briefly touch upon the on-going saga that is the LeBreton flats project. The news that the NCC extended the deadline to save the deal until February 28th can mean any number of things, but I think it’s fair to say that the sudden insertion of the DCDLS group has dramatically changed the outlook. What does DCDLS want in these negotiations? I’m not a real estate expert, and I’m definitely not a lawyer, but I don’t think it’s too much of an assumption to believe they wouldn’t get involved in the process without believing they could become major players in the project. After all, their contention barely a month ago was that the NCC had the obligation to move onto their bid after seemingly rejecting the Rendez-vous proposal. And if they’re going to play a major role in this amalgam — where does that leave the Ottawa Senators? Is this Andre Desmarais way of making Melnyk an offer he can’t refuse? Stay tuned.