It’s a very special time of the year, and today’s Five Thoughts For Friday are, well, the same kind as usual. Even so, NHL hockey is coming back, and that’s cause for celebration!
Taking a Step Forward
Now that we’re so close to the start of Ottawa’s training camp, excitement throughout the fanbase has skyrocketed as many are speculating on what the team’s opening night lineup will look like. Not merely which players make the team out of camp, but rather, the progress they’ve made since last season. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of hope with respect to making the playoffs this year, and I’m not suggesting their chances are great. However, if enough guys take a step forward, they’re going to be a lot more competitive than last season. With Brady Tkachuk and Evgeni Dadonov as locks for top-six spots, the team will be looking for breakout seasons from the group of Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, Logan Brown, Tim Stuetzle, Vitaly Abramov, Rudolfs Balcers, and Alex Formenton, as well as bounce-back seasons from Colin White and Alex Galchenyuk. With so many question marks surrounding this team, it’s not out of the question that four of these guys end up contributing in a big way this season.
The Season Series
I’m a huge fan of how the schedule has been set up for the upcoming season. These clusters of games being played against the same team are reminiscent of the season series’ in Major League Baseball. In particular, the Brady vs. Matthew series taking place between Feb. 25th and Mar. 7th feels like a chapter in a compelling story, and it’s bound to be wildly entertaining given what we’ve seen in the past two seasons. It’d be neat to see something like this take place during future seasons in which the divisions are returned to normal. Even if it’s just hosting a division rival back-to-back in a two-game mini-series, that would reduce travel time for teams, if you’re the Senators you absolutely don’t want to travel to Florida more than once.
According to TSN 1200’s Shawn Simpson, the Senators have had discussions with the Arizona Coyotes regarding veteran forward Derek Stepan. The 30-year-old center has had back-to-back underwhelming seasons with the Coyotes but he topped 50 points in each of his four seasons prior to that. Furthermore, he’ll only cost $2 million this season, as he received a $3 million signing bonus in July.
At this point, I’d hold off on making a deal here. Ottawa already has White, Chris Tierney, and Artem Anisimov down the middle, as well as Brown and Norris both fighting for an NHL job. In the case of neither being NHL ready (which I think is unlikely) or if injuries plague the team during the season, I could see the rationale in acquiring Stepan. With an inflated cap hit of $6.5 million expiring after the 2021 season, he’d likely cost no more than what the team gave up for guys like Erik Gudbranson and Vladislav Namestnikov, and if he performs well enough, he could be flipped to another team whilst retaining salary for a better deal.
Defense Partner for Chabot
Speaking of Erik Gudbranson, it seems we now know who Thomas Chabot’s partner on defense will be, at least for the start of the season:
#sens Head Coach DJ Smith says he is looking to try Erik Gudbranson as Thomas Chabot’s D-partner to start.— Brent Wallace (@tsn_wally) December 22, 2020
It should be noted that Gudbranson had some minor success with Anaheim last season; his pairing with Cam Fowler posted a 5v5 Corsi For % of 52.08 and a 5v5 Expected Goals For % of 50.22. (per NaturalStatTrick) However, looking at his individual impact and accounting for his other teammates, he consistently hurts his team’s ability to create and prevent scoring chances. (per HockeyViz)
My gut feeling is that this pairing won’t work out very well for the Senators. If I’m right, I hope D.J. Smith switches things up pairs Chabot with Josh Brown. His isolated numbers are much better than Gudbranson’s, and he’s just as physical.
Another option in this spot would be Artem Zub, who seems to have made a good first impression on his teammates. He could very well be the best option available on the right point at the moment.
Small Trades Make Big Waves
There have been many insignificant trades throughout the history of the NHL, but occasionally, such a deal may end up having a bigger impact on a franchise than expected. Here are a few Sens examples:
- The 2019 trade deadline Marked the end of the Stone era in Ottawa, but the nation’s capital was fortunate enough to watch the best two-way winger in the NHL for as long as it did. Not only was he the product of brilliant scouting by the Senators, but the 2010 6th round selection they used on him wasn’t originally theirs. It was actually acquired over a year prior, from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Alexander Auld, their number-one goalie at the time.
- Ales Hemsky will always be known in Ottawa for scoring one of the most beautiful goals in franchise history:
That aside, the goal with this trade was to make the playoffs in 2014, and the team failed to do so, and the deal ended up doing nothing more than hurting Ottawa’s draft position. Except...their first-round pick that year belonged to the Anaheim Ducks as part of the Bobby Ryan trade. With that pick, the Ducks took Nick Ritchie, who’s a good NHL player today, 10th overall. Had Ottawa not acquired Hemsky, who scored 17 points in 20 games, that pick could have been 9th overall (Nik Ehlers) or 8th overall (William Nylander). Now that could’ve been really, really bad.
What can we learn from these trades? Nothing at all, I just thought you all would get a kick out of it. Happy Holidays!