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Ottawa Senators 2021-2022 Season Preview: Coaching & Management

The rebuild is over! Long live the rebuild!

NHL: OCT 04 Preseason - Maple Leafs at Senators Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Unlike the three prior entries in this series which included a few new names and faces, the Senators’ coaching staff and front office this year will look nearly identical to last year’s. Naturally, some fans will love that fact and some will loathe it. As we’ve discussed at length around these parts, it can prove challenging to objectively assess the performance of individuals who have focused for years on stockpiling draft picks and not actually winning hockey games. With that said, general manager Pierre Dorion proclaimed that the fun should commence any time now so he can fault no one but himself for the added pressure for him and his coaching/management staff to perform this season after four years of lottery picks and mediocrity. With that in mind, let’s take a look under the hood.

Head Coach DJ Smith:

Along with newly-acquired goaltending coach Zac Bierk, associate Jack Capuano, and assistants Rob Cookson, Davis Payne, and Martin Raymond, DJ Smith will have his work cut out for him trying to get this roster out of the league basement and towards playoff-type relevance. Even with another year of experience under their collective belts, this largely unchanged squad bears the expectation to carry over the hot streak on which Ottawa Senators ended the 2021 season into something meaningful over 82 games. So how exactly do the Sens intend to make up those ten or so spots in the league standings? Well, we know that the organization has emphasized structural play across tiers and that the coaching staff expect players graduating from Belleville (and to a lesser extent North Dakota) to get to Ottawa with a sense of the Senators’ system and that coupled with the graduation of more of Ottawa’s blue chip prospects should translate into wins in coming seasons.

By the numbers, I would argue that Smith and his crew have exceeded or at least met the expectations we had for this completely dismantled roster the past couple of years. Since taking over, Smith has Ottawa tied for 25th in the combined league standings with 113 points over 127 games played the last two (compressed) seasons. To break that down, Ottawa ranks 26th over that same span with a -82 goal differential in all situations and their PDO ranks 24th so I’d say the numbers so far pan out. How do we parse out those results from the strength of the roster itself? Good question. I have no idea. You can look at the whole and the sum of its parts and still struggle to determine where the coach ends and the players begin but we try anyway. It’s just for fun, friends.

For those who look at special teams as a primary product of coaching, Ottawa’s powerplay ranks 19th with 6.32 expected goals for per 60 under during Smith’s tenure. If that ranking seems generous then look no further than Ottawa’s powerplay shooting percentage of 11.07 which ranks 28th. Meanwhile, Ottawa’s penalty kill has ranked 21st in terms of expected goals against per 60 at 6.81 while opposing teams have shot 14.93% (28th). This adds up to a net goal differential of -32 (+58 on the powerplay and -90 on the penalty kill).

In terms of team discipline, Ottawa spent an average of 5:09 on the powerplay per game and 5:15 on the penalty kill during Smith’s first two partial seasons so that almost washes. At five-on-five where, again you can debate coach effects versus roster strength, Ottawa has ranked 21st in terms of corsi-for percentage 48.40 and 21st in expected goals for percentage 48.92 (surprisingly higher than I had expected). Contrary to my initial expectations of DJ Smith, Ottawa has played a high event style of hockey with their offence buoying that number close to the 50-mark to compensate for some rougher defensive rates. You can see the potential for this team to get to the middle of the pack based on some of those metrics if they can get timely goaltending and convert on more opportunities while tightening up defensively, especially at five-on-five.

General Manager Pierre Dorion:

Okay now stop me if you’ve heard this one before: you can’t fully appreciate the work Pierre Dorion does without considering the unusual financial circumstances under which he operates. Only a few teams work with an internal budget like Ottawa’s so Dorion, along with Pierre McGuire and Peter MacTavish, tend to earn a little extra benefit of the doubt for playing moneypuck (while also maybe not believing in analytics?). Sometimes it looks like this group intends to play by the same rules as the big revenue teams, overspending on role players and veterans and then at other times they pull-off some low-key sabremetrics magic. Both the professional and amateur scouting departments have raised eyebrows in this season over the past few years to say the least.

The Pierres and company stayed the course this past season with another unconventional draft, another deadline sell-off, and another relatively quiet off-season in terms of spending. The good news is that Ottawa didn’t sign another Matt Murray-sized contract or inexplicably spend five draft picks on the trade market to make the team older and not necessarily better. The bad news, they still signed Michael Del Zotto for two years (not nearly as bad as last off-season’s shopping spree). Ottawa also shrewdly signed Tyler Ennis. And speaking of shrewd, when I mention Ottawa going rogue into moneypuck territory, a lot of us still can’t believe Pierre Dorion had the foresight to pick up Anton Forsberg and, to an even greater extent, analytics darling Victor Mete off waivers and subsequently sign both to very fair deals to stay in Ottawa.

Maybe nothing better exemplifies the unique style of Dorion’s group quite like the trades of Logan Brown and Evgeni Dadonov wherein Ottawa shipped off an enigmatic prospect, an enigmatic veteran, and a conditional fourth-round pick for a third-round pick and a couple of veterans who may or may not fit into the depth chart and who will hit the market after this season either way. If you can never quite tell in which direction this ship of fools is heading, you’re not alone. But rest assured, it’s full speed ahead, baby!

Final thoughts:

Go Sens Go.

As always, numbers courtesy of https://www.naturalstattrick.com/