Part 3/3 of the mailbag is here! Thank you again to everyone who submitted their questions, and apologies if we were not able to get to yours! If you missed parts 1 and 2, be sure to check those out as well.
Today’s questions are just the best of the rest, with no particular theme. Here they are:
Please explain the coloured blob charts you are using in the player year in review pieces. —OttawaWendy
To answer this question, I went to the man himself and here’s what Micah McCurdy told me when I asked him your question. I’ve lightly edited his answer for clarity:
“The charts represent the player’s impact on shot rates, for and against, after taking account of all factors outside of a player’s control [e.g linemates, competition, coaching]. Red is more, blue is less, and the shots are weighted by xG to account for quality.”
To add my personal interpretation, I think of the charts as Micah’s model’s best attempt at measuring a player’s impact on the game while they are on the ice. He’s not telling us how a player gets to their results, but he is making a real attempt to control for a lot of the variables that we know confound direct comparisons such as deployment, teammates, competition, etc. In a sense, he’s trying to help us measure players more objectively and effectively. —nkb
The Sens power play got better over the season but still wasn’t very fearsome. What do they need, more skilled players or different strategy/deployment? —Bext
Using the metrics recorded on Evolving-Hockey, the Senators were 28th in goals scored (GF/60), 21st in shots (SF/60), 26th in unblocked shot attempts (FF/60), 29th in shot attempts (CF/60), and 23rd in expected goals (xGF/60). Even after the trade deadline, the only meaningful improvements in the team’s metrics came on shots (18th) and expected goals (17th) — in part because the powerplay personnel really didn’t change outside of Erik Brännström becoming a mainstay on the second unit.
Let’s talk strategy first. Using Micah Blake McCurdy’s shot maps, you can see Ottawa’s clear set-up on the powerplay indicated by the blobs in yellow/orange, which is where the bulk of the unit’s shots came from. There’s the top of the umbrella with Chabot and Brännström, a player on the right half-wall (Norris, Batherson), Brady Tkachuk set-up on the right side of the net as a left-handed shot, and Stützle closing in on the left circle. More needs to be done to generate both shot attempts and chances from dangerous areas of the ice. Ideally, the player on the right half-wall will be able to get in tighter to pound definite scoring opportunities in on net, and the team will have some threat in the bumper position in the middle of the ice — where Evgenii Dadonov was supposed to be successful.
Personnel-wise, the second unit is what let the Senators down, and where they should look to make changes. While they all played <100 minutes, none of Wolanin, Paul, Dzingel, Anisimov, or Stepan were effective contributors. The team will need more from Colin White, Connor Brown, and Dadonov — all players with a history of powerplay success at the collegiate level (White), international level (Brown this year with Team Canada), or in the NHL (Dadonov). Those three, plus whoever the team brings in as a second-line centre — or Logan Brown/Shane Pinto — and the aforementioned Brännström should be the players called on for backup duty. The team’s first unit will go as far as their stars will take them, so expect Tkachuk, Batherson, Norris, Stützle, and Chabot to get very familiar with each other. A big improvement from Stützle, something well within the realm of possibility, could give this squad a mid-tier powerplay next season. —Ary M
We always talk about the Sens having tons of cap room. How long will this be true? What is a reasonable projection for when the Sens will start to have limited cap room as youngsters are re-signed to second contracts? —Aaron
This summer, the Senators have to re-sign Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, and Victor Mete. It’s difficult to pin down what Tkachuk and Batherson will be making, but let’s say they combine for around $12M. Mete shouldn’t cost too much, so maybe we’re looking at $13.5M added, which gives them under $15M in cap space. Nick Paul, Josh Norris, Alex Formenton, and Erik Brännström need to be re-signed in 2022, although I don’t think they’ll be breaking the bank.
The summer after (2023) is when Connor Brown, Tim Stützle, Shane Pinto, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and Artem Zub are due for new contracts, so that could be the beginning of some tighter spending. Then again, Evgenii Dadonov will be off the books by then, plus Matt Murray and Nikita Zaitsev will be in their final years. Nevertheless, 2023 is probably the point where they really need to spend wisely on external acquisitions because they’ll have to be paying a lot of their young players much more. —Trevor Shackles
Has Eugene Melnyk made 100s of millions off the raging stock market over the past 2 years, and is quietly willing to invest in the team now, in a way he never has before? —Charlie Diggs
In the infamous words of Daniel Alfredsson, ‘probably not’. —Ross A
Who will be captain of the Ottawa Senators? —Anonymous
Ah, the great debate. The Senators have been waiting for the right player to come along before they stitch a C onto any jerseys, following the departure of Erik Karlsson many moons ago. There have been a number of players thrown out there but only two really make sense and you can put your money on one of Brady Tkachuk or Thomas Chabot being that guy.
When his contract is signed, sealed and delivered, expect the Senators to call a press conference to announce the contract and captaincy for Brady Tkachuk. While Chabot plays important minutes and is a leader on this team, no player is able to drag his teammates into battle like Tkachuk. He does everything for this team, he’s the new baby-face of the franchise, and there isn’t a better option as far as I’m concerned. —Spencer Blake
Do you think the Sens will be able to fill the stands this year? (on-ice product is better, but lingering Covid fears, Melnyck is still owner, rink is no better and no better located ...) —Bext
I think fans have become more lenient about attending games in spite of the Melnyk displeasure. A lot of people missed the luxury of being able to attend games after the past season. It’s understandable that there will be an adjustment period at first with COVID anxiety and just getting a general vibe of how the team is doing the first few weeks but I expect much higher attendance this upcoming season, especially if Tkachuk is extended 3+ years and is made Captain, confidence will be at an all-time high. —Nada Alg
What position in the draft do the Sens need the most?—GerGer
I don’t think there’s one correct answer because the truth of the matter is that they still need to fill multiple holes. I’d say that left wing and left-shot defense are clearly their deepest parts on the roster, plus they have a plethora of goalies and they’re inherently difficult to predict. I like Drake Batherson and Connor Brown on the right side (plus Egor Sokolov in Belleville), but I think they could really use a dynamic star above them.
I also like Josh Norris, Shane Pinto, Colin White, and several of their centre prospects, but again, it might be necessary at some point to get a player with a higher ceiling. Then amongst the right-shot defensemen, Artem Zub is solid, Jacob Bernard-Docker shows promise, and Lassi Thomson could turn into an NHL player, but I’m not sure if any of them profile as future first-pairing defensemen. So right-shot defense could also be an area of need, especially if JBD and/or Thomson don’t turn out like we hope they do.
The short is answer is centre, right wing, and right defense all need reinforcements.