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End-of-Season Report Cards: Defense

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We share ours and the readers’ grades for the blue line

New York Islanders v Ottawa Senators Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Today brings us to Part II of our End-of-Season Report Cards. We revealed the staff and the readers’ grades for the forwards on Monday, so today we’ll dive into the performance of the teams’ defenders. Who improved their mid-season grades? Who disappointed down the stretch? Who did the readers and staff most vehemently disagree about?

Mark Borowiecki (Grade: C+, Previous: B-, Readers: B)

  • Stat line: 53 GP, 7G, 11A, 43.92 CF%, 48.48 xGF%

Borowiecki unfortunately only played seven more games after our mid-season check-in, owing to a high ankle sprain suffered against the Arizona Coyotes. Nonetheless, 2019-20 stands as by far his most prolific from a scoring perspective; that should bode well for the pending UFA in his hunt for a long-term contract. The Sens once again struggled to generate offense when he was on the ice, but his defensive conscience and his emergence as a character guy in the room were pleasant surprises.

Thomas Chabot (Grade: A-, Previous: B+, Readers: A-)

  • Stat line: 71 GP, 6G, 33A, 50.49 CF%, 51.66 xGF%

In many ways, Chabot was the Ottawa Senators this season. The star rearguard played nearly 500 minutes more at 5v5 than the next closest Senator. It is very unpleasant to think where they might have ended up without him delivering such a high level of play in such a large quantity of minutes; to post the shot metrics that he did while playing on a team that was so often badly out-chanced is a truly impressive feat. A slight downturn in his personal scoring stats and a few defensive gaffes kept him at A-, but the future remains impossibly bright for the young Hotsam.

Andreas Englund (Grade: D-, Previous: D, Readers: C-)

  • Stat line: 24 GP, 0G, 3A, 46.85 CF%, 42.76 xGF%

There was a team, a few years ago, when Englund was highly touted by Pierre Dorion and his staff. In some ways, it’s easy to see the appeal: Englund is a statuesque 6’4. He looks like a stereotypical pro hockey player. Unfortunately, his on-ice results have never lived up to the expectations that came when he was selected in the 2nd round in 2014. With the Sens’ defense in absolute shambles down the stretch, Englund finally had his opportunity to cement his place in the organizational depth chart but he failed to impress. Now 24 years old, it’s hard to imagine Englund will reach beyond the AHL/NHL bubble.

Ron Hainsey (Grade: D+, Previous: C-, Readers: C+)

  • Stat line: 64 GP, 1G, 11A, 47.25CF%, 47.74 xGF%

This is one of the instances in which the readers, generous graders the lot of you, diverged considerably from the staff. Whereas the writers thought Hainsey was quite poor, the readers were more generous in their appraisal of the veteran’s performance. Certainly the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture, and to my eye Hainsey looked over-matched on several occasions, so I’ll leave this one as a question for the comments: what did folks like about Hainsey’s play this year? Was it the leadership aspect? His dashing good looks? Let us know.

Christian Jaros (Grade: D+, Previous: N/A, Readers: C)

  • Stat line: 13 GP, 0G, 3A, 47.25 CF%, 48.79 xGF%

Like Englund, Jaros once featured prominently in the Sens’ plans for the blue line of the future but it seems possible the 2015 draftee has missed his best opportunity to make the NHL on a full-time basis. The right side of the Sens’ defense group was particularly feeble this season, but Jaros only managed to make it into 13 games. He wasn’t terrible in that time, in particular he showed some flashes of his strong skating ability, but he wasn’t a net positive either. Just a little bit disappointing all around.

Mike Reilly (Grade: B, Previous: B-, Readers: B-)

  • Stat line: 30 GP, 1G, 11A, 51.61 CF%, 52.89 xGF%

Reilly was maybe the most pleasant surprise for the Sens’ defense this year. Acquired for a song, Reilly established himself as a reliable option on the Sens’ 2nd power play unit and showed an ability to jump-start the team’s offense at 5v5; certainly no one would ever accuse him of lacking confidence with the puck on his stick. With another year left on his contract at $1.5M, look for Reilly to figure in the team’s plans for the blue line again next year. If he plays like he did to close out this year, he might even have a place in the team’s long-term plans.

Nikita Zaitsev (Grade: D-, Previous: D+, Readers: C+)

  • State line: 58 GP, 1G, 11A, 44.82 CF%, 45.37 xGF%

Where Hainsey provoked a marked difference of opinion between the staff and the readers, the two evaluations of Zaitsev could not be much further apart — nearly a full 2 letter grades separation! The staff saw Zaitsev as a huge letdown this year, barely an upgrade on Cody Ceci if he was at all. Meanwhile, a C+ from the readers would give the impression he was maybe underwhelming but not all that bad all things considered. For how badly the Sens got hammered in the large amount of minutes he played this season it’s hard for me to see that kind of positive case but if you were one of the ones who liked what they saw in Zaitsev this year we’d love to hear from you in the comments!

So that does it, another year in the books for the Sens’ blue line. There was one star pupil, Chabot, and then a lot of others who could use a bit of work to boost their grades for next year. With the expected turnover, we could be looking at a whole new cohort in 2020-21.