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Five Thoughts for a Friday

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Aliu, Boedker, and AHL Rookies

Detroit Red Wings v Ottawa Senators Photo by Matt Zambonin/NHLI via Getty Images

With another week of no hockey in the books, and little in the way concrete news to report, have we ever had a better time to ruminate on all those subjects we often ignore?

On the opportunity for positive change:

First and foremost, we’ve already shared with you, here on S7S, a link to Akim Aliu’s essential essay from Tuesday and I won’t apologize for linking it again. Aliu’s essay is important enough to link over and over. Fundamentally, hockey, along with other sports and society in general need to evolve beyond this fallacy that we have collectively dealt with racial prejudice. The efforts we’ve made really haven’t sufficed. A while back I wrote in a Five Thoughts article that life after the pandemic doesn’t have to mean “back to the old ways” and that we have an opportunity to shape the world as something better than what we left behind in 2019. While the NHL will waste its time on dog and pony show ideas for resuming the 2020 season, they miss out on a real chance to fix some of the serious issues plaguing the sport and our communities.

On the culture of the Ottawa Senators:

With that primary point addressed, I want to explore some of the more nuanced elements of Aliu’s article and how they pertain to our current iteration of the Ottawa Senators. This quote specifically struck me as relevant to our team:

There is a power structure in place to turn bright, loving kids into something they were not born to be. You think it’s a coincidence that hockey players are all “robotic” in the way they speak and carry themselves? No. They are products of a machine.

Now that’s the good stuff. To Aliu’s point, a player who only knows how to say “get pucks to the net” won’t know how to answer questions about bigotry and hate in hockey. And while fully acknowledging my hometown bias and rose-coloured glasses, I get the impression that the Chabot-Tkachuk Senators might actually have the faculties to give us more to believe in than just someday outscoring the opposition. With all due credit to digital content genius Craig Medaglia, this team oozes with personality. And if Thomas Chabot, Mark Borowiecki, and Anders Nilsson have demonstrated anything with their words and actions in support of the LGBTQ+ community then maybe the players on this roster have the capacity to get vocal about other issues and demonstrate genuine leadership. We have nothing to lose by dreaming, folks.

Colour me among the most skeptical when Pierre Dorion and Co. sold us on a vision of the Brady bunch when the rebuild began. And yet, a couple years in, I have started to wonder if the organization has something going here in drafting and developing players like Colin White, Brady Tkachuk, Logan Brown, and Josh Norris who have connections through the US national program and with the abundance of future Senators coming out of the University of North Dakota. Do bonds matter among players? As a major subscriber to nerd stats, I doubted the plan from day one. In these days, though, with too much time on my hands, I think about it a lot and, if the early results mean anything, Tkachuk, Norris, and UND freshman Shane Pinto have all shattered my expectations so I feel trepidation decrying Dorion’s strategies as snake oil. Ottawa may not have the top-end talents of yesterday like Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, or prime-time Craig Anderson, but they seem determined to mitigate that by creating a system with depth and cohesion—exactly what the 2017 Senators lacked.

On departures:

Assuming Ottawa doesn’t participate in anything resembling the resumption of the 2020 NHL season, Mikkel Boedker will wrap up his Senators tenure with nine goals and 30 assists (almost all at even strength) through 91 games. Considering he averaged about 13 minutes a night, I find it rather impressive that he had almost a point every other game and over a shot-per-game pace (and he had just 6(!) PIM). Alas, most will have a bad aftertaste in their mouth from the Boedker era because of The Trade, and more than anything, I feel bad for Mikkel. I don’t fault players for signing contracts they can’t live up to ($16M over four seasons from the Sharks) and when you become a human salary cap-dump, you often end up playing for a team who can’t do much to pump your stats. It really didn’t help Boedker’s cause that he plays left wing and that, at that position, he would face the most internal competition in the Senators’ depth chart. Between Tkachuk, Anthony Duclair, Rudolfs Balcers, and a handful of other wingers in Belleville, Ottawa never seemed to have a spot for Boedker. To my knowledge, though, Boedker never complained publicly about sitting in the press box or about Dorion overtly attempting to ship Boedker off at the last two deadlines. I hope for his sake that Boedker can get his swagger back in Switzerland and maybe finish up his NHL career on his own terms one day. Regardless, for your professionalism and your bountiful thighs, thank you Mikkel.

On young goaltenders:

This seems like a good opportunity to congratulate Kevin Mandolese on earning this year’s Marc-Andre Fleury Award (thanks I hate it) for goaltender of the year in the QMJHL. As others on the site have mentioned, Kevin’s professional career seemed dubious after posting a sub-90 save percentage in the regular season last year. So I’ll certainly keep that in mind as Mads Sogaard had an underwhelming draft-plus-one season posting a 90.8 for Medicine Hat this year. Joey Daccord didn’t get it together until his junior year in the NCAA. In his draft-plus-one season, Marcus Hogberg fell below 90% in tier-two Allsvenskan before posting a 91.7 in the SHL (Sweden’s top league) the following year. Considering Robin Lehner, Brian Elliott, and Ray Emery all found their relative strides between ages 23 and 25, expect more fluctuation, both towards the good and bad, from all of Ottawa’s young goalies except maybe Hogberg, who at 25, is now likely what he was destined to become. Conversely, Filip Gustavsson came out strong in the first two seasons after Pittsburgh drafted him before regressing in back-to-back seasons with Belleville. And while I’m not saying that the Senators should dangle Gustavsson as part of a bargain with Seattle for the expansion draft—I’m saying exactly that: get Seattle to take Gustavsson.

On Belleville’s brilliant rookies:

In what looked like a season in which Belleville could have made a real run at the Calder Cup, the Senators organization can still take solace in some outstanding individual performances as Spencer has covered at length. With Josh Norris and Alex Formenton earning their rightful places on the AHL’s all-rookie team this year, I figured I would polish off the ol’ crystal ball and tell you who takes the honours next. Next season, 2020-21, if it goes somewhat as planned, seems less likely to produce an outstanding rookie for the Senators organization. Joey Daccord, Erik Brannstrom, and the aforementioned Formenton should continue to keep Belleville very competitive but I wouldn’t expect too much in the way of newcomers. If Lassi Thomson comes across the Atlantic then I imagine most will pick him to break out big time in the AHL. And while I believe Thomson has one of the highest floors among Ottawa’s defensive prospects, and therefore a very good chance at making it professionally, I don’t see the same offensive ceiling that some others do. In 2021-22, however, I’ll go ahead and pencil in Jacob Bernard-Docker for that all-rookie team (assuming he doesn’t jump straight from the NCAA to the NHL). Unless his freshman year was a total mirage, then I would also bet on a huge rookie AHL campaign for Shane Pinto in 2022-23. And the fun doesn’t have to end there. With big drafts ahead in 2020 and 2021, the AHL rookie scoring race will remain of interest to Senators fans for years to come.