Our end-of-season report cards continue today with our assessment of the defense and goaltending.
We knew going into this season that it was going to be a pretty rough year on defense, with a lot of uncertainty in net. Injuries to Thomas Chabot and to many, many goaltenders only added to the uncertainty, but they did allow for a few young players to step in and impress us.
As Trevor explained in yesterday’s piece on the forwards, these grades are for the whole season, not just the second half. You can compare them to the midseason grades to see which players improved their grades in the second half and which didn’t, though. You’ll also see some new faces, as there were obviously a few players who only joined the team in the second half.
I’ll also reiterate that these grades are an average based on the votes of 10 staff members. There were no specific guidelines when it came to grading the players, but in general, we all took into consideration the player’s contribution to the team, the role they were asked to play, and how they performed relative to expectations. C+ is average; anything higher is above average and anything lower is below average. There was quite a lot of variance in how each writer voted, so please reserve your personal insults until the individual votes are released.
Jacob Bernard-Docker: B (Halfway: N/A)
- 5 GP, 0G, 0A, 43.64 CF%, 34.33 xGF%
JBD was a late addition to the team, and while he did not get on the scoresheet in any of his 5 games, it’s not exactly fair to measure his performance based on those stats. He didn’t look out of place in an NHL lineup, and got a few opportunities to show off his skills. For that reason, he gets a solid B. We haven’t seen enough of him to give him an A, but he certainly did what was expected of him in his 5 games. He will certainly get more chances to prove himself in the future.
Erik Brännström: B (Halfway: B)
- 30 GP, 2G, 11A, 50.41 CF%, 45.20 xGF%
Brännström gets the same grade he did in the first half. He didn’t exactly have the breakout season a lot of us were hoping for, and he’s always going to be the guy who was traded for Mark Stone, but he was still one of the better defensemen on the team. His powerplay contributions were especially noteworthy.
Josh Brown: D+ (Halfway: D-)
- 26 GP, 0G, 1A, 42.14 CF%, 46.29 xGF%
Brown improves ever so slightly on his grade from the first half, but that isn’t saying much. He was most noticeable when making defensive gaffes and only registered one assist all season. While he did pick things up a bit in the second half, it was overall a disappointing year for a player many of us expected a lot more from.
Thomas Chabot: B (Halfway: B)
- 49 GP, 6G, 25A, 48.86 CF%, 47.79 xGF%
Chabot also gets the same grade he did in the first half, even though his offensive stats dipped a bit toward the end of the season. As expected, Chabot led the team in assists and ice time as well as high danger scoring chances and many other stats, though it did become clear that he cannot play the same role that Erik Karlsson once did. Just as Karlsson was throughout so much of his time in Ottawa, Chabot was often overworked and saddled with defense partners who just couldn’t keep up with him. He also had to end his season early due to injuries. Chabot’s offensive output is extremely valuable to the team, but he does need to work on those defensive gaffes. Thankfully, though, he’s still young, and there’s good reason to hope that he’ll have more support on defense in future seasons.
Braydon Coburn: D- (Halfway: F)
- 16 GP, 0G, 2A, 45.23 CF%, 46.22 xGF%
Coburn only played 5 games in the second half of the season after being relegated to an injury replacement role and then being traded to the Islanders. I don’t think anyone really missed him.
Victor Mete: B+ (Halfway: N/A)
- 14 GP, 1G, 1A, 46.91 CF%, 52.25 xGF%
I don’t understand why the Habs let this guy go for free. Mete joined the team pretty late in the season after being claimed off waivers, and did exactly what we all hoped he would. The young defenseman has proven himself to be skilled with the puck and competent in his own zone.
Mike Reilly: A- (Halfway: B)
- 40 GP, 1G, 19A, 52.19 CF%, 51.33 xGF%
Reilly didn’t have the best start to the season, but he did improve later on, and his grade reflects that. He isn’t a superstar, but he’s proven himself to be competent at both ends of the ice, and it sounds like he’s been doing well in Boston since the trade that sent him there on April 12th.
Nikita Zaitsev: C (Halfway: C)
- 55 GP, 4G, 13A, 46.55 CF%, 47.64 xGF%
Zaitsev’s grade also stays the same as it was at the halfway mark. He spent much of this season playing beside Thomas Chabot, and did not look fully up to the task. He wasn’t terrible, though, and in a slightly diminished role he might be better able to contribute. He also served as a translator for the next guy on this list, which is certainly a valuable contribution.
Artem Zub: A- (Halfway: A)
- 47 GP, 3G, 11A, 48.65 CF%, 47.73 xGF%
Ah, Zub. How to sum up the season this guy had? He captured the hearts of sens fans almost as quickly as Tim Stützle did, and now on any given day you might log on to Twitter to find people ritualistically chanting his name for no apparent reason. The air of mystery surrounding him and the charming fact that he didn’t speak a word of English at the beginning of the season made him an instant fan favourite, but beyond that, he’s also really good at hockey. His underlying numbers dipped a little bit in the second half of the season - hence the corresponding dip in his grade - but he’s still the Sens’ best player in the defensive zone, with quite a lot of offensive flair. We’re all thrilled to have him locked up for another 2 years.
Anton Forsberg: B (Halfway: N/A)
- 8 GP, 3-4-1, .909 SV%
Forsberg stepped in when injuries tore through the Sens’ goaltending lineup, and put up perfectly respectable numbers. 38 saves certainly isn’t bad for your NHL debut, and of course we got a few nice saves like this one:
Filip Gustavsson: A (Halfway: N/A)
- 9 GP, 5-1-2, 0.933 SV%
Through 9 games, Gustavsson recorded the best numbers of any Sens goaltender this season. Dorion apparently called him the team’s best goaltender this season, and I’m inclined to agree. It is, of course, still early to make any big pronouncements about his future with the team, but this was a very solid season for the young netminder.
Marcus Högberg: D- (Halfway: D+)
- 14, 4-7-0, .876 SV%
This was a thoroughly disappointing season for Högberg, who was expected to be a consistent backup and instead ranged from “passable” to “unable to stop a beach ball.” Outside of the occasional good game, he was consistently outperformed by younger and less experienced goaltenders. How much of this was caused by bad coaching and defense at the beginning of the season? We won’t know until 2021-22, but let’s hope that was the reason.
Matt Murray: D (Halfway: D+)
- 27, 10-13-1, .893 SV%
Despite recording the sens’ only two shutouts of the season, Murray, like Hogberg, had a very disappointing year overall. He was wildly inconsistent, and certainly didn’t look like a solid starting goaltender. Again, let’s hope the change in goaltending coach and the overall improvement of the team in front of him makes a difference.
Overall, most of the final grades were pretty close to the grades players received at the halfway mark. One thing that should give us hope for the future is that all the new guys scored pretty high - on defense, JBD got a B and Mete got a B+, while both new goaltenders got Bs. Plus, the defenseman with the lowest grade has already been traded. The most concerning thing, I think, is the goaltending. Both Högberg and Murray had awful years, and the Sens currently pinning a lot of hope on a bunch of mostly unproven netminders.
How would you grade the defensemen and goalies?