Question: In our piece on the special teams, we asked if the Sens could crack the top half of the league on either the Penalty Kill or the Power Play. The staff was unanimous in its belief that neither the PK nor the PP would be any kind of respectable and most had them towards the very bottom of the league. The Sens weren’t much good short-handed this year, they finished the season ranked 23rd with a 79.2% success rate, but their work with the man-advantage was one of the bright spots on the year; the team finished the season ranked 13th with a 20.3% conversion rate. To what would you attribute this unexpected success? Do you think they have the personnel to maintain this into next year?
Ross: I think the PP actually benefited from the loss of Karlsson and Hoffman. Last year’s plan was get Karlsson the puck, so he can get it to Hoffman, who one-times it. Teams saw that, defended it, and it never worked. Losing an elite playmaker and a top-flight scorer forced the staff to get creative, and Ottawa really worked on quick puck movement and getting bodies to the net. You know, things that make every good powerplay successful. So yes, I think they have most of the personnel to make it work next year, and stay in the top half of the league, especially with likely a new coaching staff coming in.
Spencer: A lot of what Ross said covers my answer, especially re: the loss of Karlsson and Hoffman. I do think they have the personnel to continue the PP success they had this year, especially considering some of that success came from players who are still growing into their full potential (hi Tommy C). Add in some of the offensive minded prospects we’re likely to see promoted to the NHL next season and a new coaching staff, hopefully focused on giving those young players all the opportunities in the world, and we should see a similar or maybe even better powerplay next year.
Brandon: I don’t think anyone was surprised at the abysmal state of the Senators’ special teams. A lot of that can be attributed to coaching, as the systems of Marty Raymond and Guy Boucher were often horrendous in both ends of the ice. As far as the powerplay goes, all credit should go to the personnel that made it work. It was a powerplay that was seemingly easy to defend, that stupid drop pass gives me nightmares, but the guys on the unit made it work. You can throw the likes of Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Thomas Chabot in any system, and they’ll make you look like a genius. Even post-trade deadline, Chabot led the charge with the likes of Brady Tkachuk, and Anthony Duclair. As far as next year goes, I think it’s reasonable to expect improvement. The Senators will have young talent like Drake Batherson joining the pro roster, and hopefully a coaching staff that will improve on the special teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ottawa improves in that aspect, even if it’s only marginal.
Ary: I’m in agreement with the others on the powerplay. I’m a big believer that coaching has a significant impact on special teams success, whereas roster talent is going to drive performance at 5-on-5 (and thus, long-term). It’s clear that Boucher, and then Crawford (using the same system), really worked on the powerplay this year, giving the team ample time through training camp and practices to iron out their game plan, and they put it to good use for most of the season. It’ll be interesting to see how Brannstrom is used if he’s up in the NHL next year, as he’s generally been a PP1 kind-of-player but the 4F1D set-up won’t allow for him to get that time over Thomas Chabot.
The prospects coming up, namely Logan Brown and Drake Batherson, were excellent on Belleville’s powerplay this year, and will add two valuable pieces who can make plays with more time and space. Brown has a really deceptive shot, and can have great vision off the half-walls. Meanwhile, Batherson has played both the point and a net-front role, and we know from his Team Canada time how excellent his hand-eye coordination is. With proper coaching in place and a willingness to let the young players showcase their skills, I can see this powerplay improving.
Dewie: I was surprised about the power play doing so well specifically with the departure of Karlsson and Hoffman but as others mentioned it may have helped the team get more creative. I think a large part of the success was mostly the younger talent willing to try new things without getting too fancy. Driving to the net, shooting more and not just relying on the pass back to Karlsson technique.
I think the team can still do a decent job next season pending the new coach but the core base of Chabot, Tkachuk and White should be a good bunch to build PP success around. I’m expecting a few more rookies to hit the big club next season and if they’re allowed to be creative, it should be fun. Again, coaching choice is very important here.
nkb: There seems to be a general consensus that the coaching staff made a genuinely positive impact on the power-play this year and that seems mostly right to me. I do worry a bit about the talent drain since a big part of the season’s overall success was built on the back of a unit that featured Stone and Duchene. Tkachuk and Chabot are great building blocks, but top shelf skill is still absolutely required. I’m expecting a slight regression, but there’s no reason they need to go back to the absolute disaster they were in seasons past.
Question: Poor Bobby Ryan and his ever-injured self was the topic of our next set of predictions. The question was whether he would eclipse the 60 game mark, and the staff was fairly evenly split as to his ability to stay healthy. Ryan ended up playing a nearly complete season at 78 games; do you think his health troubles are a thing of the past? And more importantly, if he remains healthy can he contribute next year?
Ross: His health troubles are definitely not a thing of the past. He still had struggles with hand injuries this year, even if they didn’t keep him out for lots of games. We’ve still got 3 years of Bobby, and I think he will miss time with injuries. Even if he doesn’t, I think we’re still looking at a 40-point player like this season.
Spencer: I don’t know why I’m responding to this when Ross is just reading my mind. Bobby has crossed over to the “forever plagued by injuries” side of life and I don’t see that magically fixing things. I don’t think his health issues are a thing of the past but I do think he can still contribute at the NHL level - albeit far below what his salary states he should. In a full season, he’s probably still a 0.5 PPG player and I think he’ll see plenty of powerplay time with some very skilled youngsters coming up this season.
Brandon: Ross nailed it. I speak from experience when I say, the more injuries you accumulate, the harder they are to recover from. Factor that into a 32 year-old body that just doesn’t perform as well as it did in its 20’s, and things don’t bode well for BFR. He’ll still likely be a solid contributor through the middle-six, likely in spurts, but it’s not reasonable to think that this is the beginning of a remarkable turnaround for Bobby Ryan.
Ary: I was pleasantly surprised by Ryan’s solid year, but it is clear that he’s basically lost his wrist shot. His 15 goals is the most since 2015-16 (22), so he’s learned other ways to score, and I think he’ll embrace being a veteran leader on a team that needs his experience on the right-side. Like Brandon, I expect him to play middle-six minutes and on one of the powerplay units, and I agree that 40 points seems like decent production given everything. I’m glad that we’ve accepted that there’s no point in talking about his contract, because there’s really no use in rehashing it, and the $7.25M will likely help the team cap-wise over the next three seasons.
Dewie: I still worry every time Ryan is hit. While it’s great that he played almost a full season, the string of injuries didn’t help his already average play. I think he’s going to get outplayed by the younger guys in terms of minutes (pending a smart coach) and assuming he stays healthy I expect some production from him probably still within the 35-40 points. His issue has always been consistency and I don’t expect that to improve this season. I really hope he finds something to keep him going for the next 3 years but I don’t have my hopes up. It kind of feels like he’s an injury or two away from retirement.
Ross: I have a hard time seeing Ryan retiring when he’s making $7.25M a year. And I think there will still be a market for him after this contract is up as a cheap veteran (~$2M) if he wants it. Worst case, I guess he could get the Chris Phillips treatment of “We swear he’s rehabbing and going to play again”
Dewie: The only way a retirement scenario happens would be if an injury just makes it impossible for him to play and I’m probably wrong but would Melnyk pay him $7.25 to rehab? Assuming he survives the 3 years, agreed for the right price, someone may find him serviceable just hoping it’s not Ottawa. Also how hard can we bribe Seattle to pick him up?
Ross: If Vegas is any indication, Seattle will pick him up for the low cost of a 1st-rounder and a future 40-goal scorer, like the Clarkson contract.
Dewie: I’m curious to see what approach Seattle takes but if Ryan has a decent season, maybe something could be worked out? Not keeping my hopes up but Ryan makes me nervous injury and consistency-wise and it would be ideal to find an exit for him before it REALLY becomes impossible.
Ross: I actually think 3 years isn’t that long, especially with the Sens likely struggling to hit the cap floor the next 2 years. I think that agrees with what others said earlier, that you ignore the cap hit and take him for what he is, since they’d have to pay that money to someone anyway. He’ll be off the books hopefully before any of these prospects need their biggest contracts.
Ary: Right. Chabot, White, Tkachuk can all be re-signed to long-term deals (if the team decides to go that route) before Ryan’s contract is over, but Batherson, Brannstrom and co. will just be either just finishing up their ELCs or one year into their second deal. They should be fine, especially with contracts like Smith coming off the book.
nkb: It’s impossible to imagine Ryan living up to that albatross of a contract, so let’s set that aside for now. I’m actually going to disagree with the rest of the staff a bit here. I think Ryan’s injury woes could be at least partially behind him because to my eyes, part of the reason he stayed healthier this year is that he altered the way he played. Ryan wasn’t as reckless with this drives to the net and he was generally content to play more to the outside than in the past. Given his injury history, that’s totally understandable; he’s worth more playing than injured. Will he ever play 82 games again? That seems unlikely, but I wouldn’t be too shocked by 70-75 again next year.