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Five Thoughts For Friday: A Tale of Two Wingers

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Also, a prospect update, a trade update, and an all-Canadian division!

NHL: JAN 02 Panthers at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re moving closer and closer towards the return of NHL hockey, whenever that may be, and there’s a lot of speculation regarding how the divisional landscape will look for a 2021 season amidst a global pandemic, in which frequent travel between countries will be impossible. We’re talking about that and much more on this week’s Five Thoughts For Friday!

2020 Prospect Update

A number of Senators prospects are currently playing hockey overseas, including a handful of picks from the most recent draft. Those of you on Twitter are no doubt following @SensProspects, the premium source for stats and highlights on all of your favourite young players in the system. For those of you who aren’t on Twitter, here you go!

Daoust was one of the team’s sixth-round picks in 2020, and as a player in his D+1 season, this is a promising start.

Merilainen’s off to a great start as well, in Finland’s top U20 league, and he was also called up to the men’s team as the backup for a game. He could see some quality development going forward if he’s given a chance to show what he can do at that level.

Looks like Roby’s already “reaching” new heights, am I right? His two-way play was considered a major flaw in his game, so it’s nice to see this disruption of play in the neutral zone leading to the goal.

Battle of Ontario (And Quebec, Manitoba, B.C and Alberta)

As alluded to before, the solution that’s been discussed by the NHL is to realign the league to include a division composed of the seven Canadian teams. It could play out such that Ottawa plays eight games against each fellow Canadian team, for a total of 48 games in a shortened 2021 season, the same length as in 2013. The entertainment value is easy to see; twice the action against the Leafs and Habs, along with watching Connor McDavid and Elias Pettersson four times a season would definitely be alluring to potential season-ticket holders. The downside, of course, is that the Senators are the worst team in Canada. If they were put in a division with the three California teams, along with Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo and Florida, Ottawa would have a modest chance of placing in the top three. Unfortunately, Vancouver and Toronto are far too talented, and I consider Montreal to be an extremely underrated team as well. There’s a chance that teams like Winnipeg and Edmonton fall victim to porous defence as they did last season, and if Ottawa’s youth takes a massive step forward (and if D.J. Smith gives them the ice time), they could finish 5th or 6th in the division. Realistically, we’re in for another season of looking for strong player development and positive stories, as opposed to points in the standings.

Trade Tree Update

Quite a few of the picks that the Senators used at the 2020 NHL Draft were acquired from other teams in exchange for pending UFAs, and now that the mystery surrounding those picks has vanished, we can begin to evaluate the outcome of Pierre’s work with an additional level of clarity. It’s always fun to encounter trade trees with many different components linked together, and the Senators have given us plenty to work with in that regard. First up is the Mark Stone trade, which brought in Erik Brannstrom, as well as the 61st pick in the 2020 Draft from the Vegas Mustard Knights, which was used to select Egor Sokolov, who scored at nearly a goal-a-game pace during his fourth year of junior. As for Ryan Dzingel, the Blue Jackets’ 2020 2nd rounder was part of the package sent to Pittsburgh for Matt Murray. The Senators used the first-rounder from the Pageau trade on Ridly Greig, and used a third-rounder to move the Islanders’ second-rounder up and take Tyler Kleven. Finally, Merilainen joins the Erik Karlsson trade tree as the 70th pick in the 2020 Draft; this pick was acquired from Winnipeg in exchange for Dylan DeMelo. Though I’m forgetting who it was the team took with that San Jose first-rounder...

Whoops!

Speaking of the Dzingel trade, Anthony Duclair still hasn’t found a new home almost two months after the start of Free Agency. He may not have liked the deal the Senators offered him, but holding out for more money might not have been the best decision in this scenario. Other teams have likely taken into account his inconsistent production, weak defensive play, and salary cap limitations, and now the All-Star stands to earn a much lower paycheque than initially projected. Granted, holding on to him during a lost season and not qualifying him was an instance of bad asset management by Ottawa, but nobody’s complaining when they landed a better player in Evgeny Dadonov on a value contract, as well as another reclamation project in Alex Galchenyuk. Duclair did some fantastic things as a Senator both on and off the ice, and I hope he finds success in the NHL, but he’s added to a legacy of players leaving Ottawa in search of greener pastures, and encountering more of the same.

They Actually Signed a Coveted UFA

And speaking of Evgeny Dadonov, it’s still crazy to me that the Senators were able to sign a coveted free agent, when there were still other teams clamouring for his services. It shows that there are good players in this league who are willing to sign in Ottawa if the deal makes sense for them, and also that the organization has at least a bit of money to spend on players like these. That’s somewhat encouraging, since you have to go back to 2013 to find a notable signing by Ottawa prior to Dadonov (Clarke MacArthur). The question will always be, however, whether or not they’ll be able to retain the best of their young talent for the prime of their careers. While I think budgetary constraints will prevent management from building the best possible team, I do think they’ll be able to build a team we can at least consistently cheer for in the playoffs, and make a few good runs at the Cup.