Here is your look into my brain on this Friday, as terrifying as that may be!
Patience is a Virtue
One of the many interesting aspects of this NHL season we, the fans, will need to quickly get used to is a lack of preseason games. We’ve become accustomed to tuning in, watching prospects slot in throughout the lineup and using that information to create our own line combinations for opening night, inevitably getting frustrated by one or two selections which differ from our own perspectives.
Coming into a season that’s been long advertised as one where prospects will begin to take the next step, it was always going to be tough to gauge this year’s opening line-up. When you have players like Drake Batherson, Erik Brannstrom, Josh Norris, Logan Brown and many more all knocking on the door for just a few spots, you’re bound to see some, maybe most, of these players not suit up on opening night. After all, why would Pierre Dorion have brought in players like Erik Gudbranson, Austin Watson and Josh Brown if not to have them play — especially early on.
This year, we’ll have to deal with this while also having very little, if any, knowledge of how Dorion, DJ Smith and the rest of the coaching staff will be making these decisions. Many of the line-up choices will come from some combination of Smith’s preconceived notions about his players and how they perform in practices and scrimmages. For some players, Smith will have next to no NHL-calibre viewings to base his decisions off.
If you’re like me and you’re dying to see how some of Belleville’s high flying stars will perform at the next level, I invite you to join me in practicing extra patience this season. I wouldn’t expect the opening lineup to look anything like the lineup in game 20. That’s true for every season! But, with no preseason, no development camp and a rushed training camp, all after what feels like years away from the rink, it’s going to be especially true for 2021.
Is it Worth it?
Yesterday, it was reported that the NHL is exploring an idea that would see all seven Canadian teams play out of the United States.
Sources: The NHL could move games involving Canadian teams to the United States in 2021 if its unable to reach agreement with provincial health authorities.https://t.co/bcdciuQBZs— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 17, 2020
From the fan perspective, the impact here would be next to nothing. As of right now, and likely throughout the entire season, we won’t be able to go to the Canadian Tire Centre and cheer Brady and the boys on in person. We’ll be watching from the comfort of our homes whether Ottawa is playing in Ottawa or in, oh I don’t know, Grand Forks, North Dakota.
From the player perspective, however, this seems wild. Possibly insane. With the complications of crossing the border, you’d be asking the players and staff of all seven Canadian teams to leave home for an undetermined period of time and feel like they’re on the road long term - maybe for the entire season. Even if they figure out a unique new “home town” for each team and set up lodging with the comforts of home, they’re still essentially on a 56 game road trip. This would be a long term bubble but only for some teams.
From a health perspective, if the league can’t get protocol in place that Provincial health organizations will approve then you really can’t, with good conscience, move forward with a season at all, can you? I mean, you can. Because money. But, you know what I mean.
Things are progressing and, as stated in the post above, this plan would only go through if the league and the respective governments can’t come to an agreement. The league isn’t at this point but it’s still a bit disquieting to even hear reported out.
The Belle of the Ball
Last week, Eugene Melnyk and Belleville Mayor Mitch Panciuk announced some great news for hockey fans in Belleville. The BSens’ stay in Belleville has been extended through to 2027. On top of that, the City of Belleville has agreed to provide additional financial support to the team in dealing with the lack of revenue over the past ten months (and beyond).
This news shouldn’t come as a big surprise. After all, the Senators have benefited greatly from having their AHL team just down the road. Further, at the beginning of the pandemic, it was revealed that Melnyk would be paying the salaries of all arena staff for the duration of the season and the first round of the playoffs, as the team was expected to at least make it that far. It’s clear that Melnyk and the Senators value their new relationship with the City of Belleville, and are thrilled to keep this team in tact for at least seven more years.
Since moving to Belleville, the Senators’ AHL club has done nothing but improve. In its inaugural season, the BSens put together a weak campaign, with a 29-42-2-3 record for a sixth place finish in the North Division. With the injection of players like Drake Batherson and Logan Brown, the sophomore Sens drastically improved, seeing its first winning record (39-31-3-5) but falling just one point short of a playoff berth. This past season, we saw one of the best teams the Senators have ever seen from their AHL affiliate, only to get heartbreakingly robbed of an opportunity to go all the way. With this move, we’ll get to continue to see the team grow its youth movement for years to come.
Dorion jumped onto TSN 1200 to talk hockey yesterday. During a time when information travels fast and fans are desperate for discourse, Sens fans around the internet did what we usually do: we read way, way too deeply into things.
All things considered, Dorion’s media appearance was pretty mellow. He didn’t provide much of a valuable update on things like how rosters will shake out or which prospects have an inside track - because he can’t! Imagine a GM jumping on the radio and flat out saying a certain player is going to win a spot? That would be wild. Instead, he said what every professional hockey manager says. He expects there to be a big battle for spots and the player who brings the heat will get a spot in the kitchen.
Dorion was also asked if there were any other players, via trade or free agency, they might be eyeing to bring into camp. To which he responded:
Dorion says "the team we have right now is the team we're going to see at training camp." #Sens— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) December 17, 2020
This quote from the Sun’s Bruce Garrioch spun into questioning whether or not Tim Stuetzle will sign a contract with the Senators or spend this next season in Germany, playing with Adler Mannheim. The context of this quote, however, is about adding players to the organization. While he doesn’t (yet) have a contract, Stuetzle is part of the organization. When Dorion says what he said above, he isn’t thinking of Stuetzle as a player he’d be “adding” to the team they’re going to see at training camp.
This whole confusion caused Garrioch to clarify the matter just hours later.
Don't get the confusion, Fully expect No. 3 pick Tim Stuetzle to join #Sens after world juniors. Though GM Pierre Dorion said roster is set my belief is that includes Stuetzle. Germany could be done by Jan. 2 so he will have to self-isolate for seven days before joining Ottawa.— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) December 17, 2020
We (myself included!) just have to remember that context is key. While Stuetzle’s contract status with the Ottawa Senators is up in the air, nothing about Dorion’s segment yesterday provided any kind of clarity one way or the other, no matter how badly we want that clarity.
You Can’t Spell Points without S. Pinto
Yes, I’m using this joke again. That’s how good it is.
I mentioned on Twitter earlier in December an interesting fact about Shane Pinto’s hockey career to date.
Pinto has never repeated a year at the same level - and he's been successful with each leap. He was already good in his first NCAA season, we might be in for a treat when we see what he can do at a level where he was already able to find success as a rookie. #Sens https://t.co/2Ck9MzAC7Y pic.twitter.com/7OqKyWRUpE— Spencer Blake (@spencerdjblake) December 8, 2020
While we’re very early into an odd, bubble season for the University of North Dakota Fighting
Sens Hawks, I wanted to take a quick look at how Pinto’s performing to date, given the expectations that he’d improve upon his play from his rookie season.
As a rookie, Pinto contributed 0.70 primary points and 0.48 even strength primary points per game across a 33 game campaign - this was good enough for fourth as an NCAA player following their draft year. The only players in this group to best Pinto in these categories were players selected ahead of him like Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras and Alex Newhook while Pinto’s production was ahead of players like Bobby Brink and 2019 fifth overall pick Alex Turcotte.
So, I took a quick look at Pinto’s production through eight games - small sample size alert! - to see how he’s comparing so far. As a sophomore, and the now top line centre for UND, Pinto has seen a rise in both the aforementioned stats. So far, he’s posted 0.88 primary points and 0.625 even strength primary points per game. His faceoff performance has also improved from 61% last season to 67% and running this year. This confirms what we already know: Shane Pinto keeps getting better and better.
The question becomes, what’s his ceiling?