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Thomas Chabot: Year in Review

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A look back at the year that was for the Sens’ star defenseman

NHL: APR 28 Canucks at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome back for another installation of our Year in Review feature, where we look back on the season that was for the key members of the Ottawa Senators. As a reminder, we’ve narrowed our scope to players that are currently under contract and that played over ten games last season. Here are all of the prior entries:

Drake Batherson

Erik Brännström

Connor Brown

Josh Brown

This week, we turn our attention to Thomas Chabot.

By the Numbers:

The first thing that you notice when you run through Chatbot’s numbers for this past season is just how heavily DJ Smith relied upon the rearguard. Chabot averaged 26:17 across all situations, a full 3:33 more than the next most used player: his partner, Nikita Zaitsev. Chabot played in virtually every situation. When the team needed a goal, you could bet that Smith would lean heavily on Chabot — sometimes even going so far as double shifting him. But when Ottawa was protecting a one-goal lead in the last minute of the third period, there he was too. Though not strictly deployed as a shut down defender, Chabot played heavy minutes against the other team’s top line every night and he started more shifts in the defensive end than he did in the offensive end.

When Chabot was on the ice at 5v5, the team posted a 48.86 CF% and a 47.79 xGF%; not terrible, but not exactly something to write home about either. Here’s how Micah McCurdy’s model over at Hockeyviz sizes up Chabot as of this writing:

hockeyviz.com

For anyone that’s watched Chabot play hockey for the last couple of years, these results will probably be unsurprising: he’s an elite driver of 5v5 offense, but his defensive results leave a bit to be desired. On the whole, however, the positives far outweigh the negatives and the Sens’ offense last year was absolutely abysmal when he was off the ice:

hockeyviz.com

There’s a reason, after all, that Smith played him as much as he did.

Story of the Season:

If there were two consistent themes to Chabot’s season, it was the hand-wringing over his defensive play and the search for a suitable long-term partner. Indeed, Chabot seemed more mistake-prone this year than in seasons past and some of the errors just felt more lackadaisical. A popular line of thinking was that Chabot was over-worked, but he didn’t play any more minutes this season than last year and with the rare exception it was hard to point to fatigue as a factor in too many of the most glaring turnovers. At the same time, Smith repeatedly defended Chabot against these criticisms and reinforced that there was a reason that he leaned so heavily on the young defender. I tend to agree: the errors were there, they were real, but the tenor of the debate around his overall play dramatically overstated the issue. He still has a tremendously positive impact when he’s on the ice, and unless there’s further slippage there’s no reason to believe he can’t be an elite defenseman given his sizable offensive contributions. Chabot’s defensive shortcomings, such as they are, are the least of the Sens’ concerns.

As for the question of just who should be Chabot’s partner on the top pair, those of you with a good memory might recall that Chabot actually started this season with Erik Gudbranson. By the fifth game of the year, however, he was back to spending the majority of his time with Zaitsev. Artem Zub was maybe the season’s most pleasant surprise, but Smith was hesitant to break the Zub-Reilly duo before the trade deadline and Zub spent most of his time with Erik Brännström after Reilly was dealt. Unless something were to change between now and the start of next year, I’d expect the debate to continue — and that Chabot will still spend the majority of his time alongside Zaitsev.

Speaking of the start of next year, Chabot suffered an upper body injury at the end of the season that forced him to miss the last four games and made him unavailable to play for Canada at the World Hockey Championships. As of this writing, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be fully healthy to start the 2021-2022 season.

Future Outlook:

One of the big storylines entering the 2021 campaign was which one of Chabot or Brady Tkachuk would be named the team’s captain, a spot that has remained vacant since the Sens dealt Erik Karlsson in September 2018. With the season now concluded, the consensus among the talking heads seems to be that Tkachuk is the prohibitive favourite if he would just sign that pesky long-term extension. Meanwhile, Chabot will be entering the second year of an eight year contract with an $8M AAV; even if he doesn’t ultimately assume the captaincy, there’s no doubt that Chabot is one of the two foundational pieces upon which this team’s core is built. Chabot is also still just 24, and should be right smack dab in the prime of his career for the next few years. As the Sens hopefully improve to the point of contention, Chabot ought to be right at the peak of his powers.

For the last three seasons, Chabot’s assumed Erik Karlsson’s old role of carrying a huge load for an otherwise overmatched defensive group. There have been some ups and downs along the way, but on the whole he’s acquitted himself quite well. The hope is that unlike his predecessor’s time in the nation’s capital, the Sens can eventually lighten the burden on their star defender by surrounding Chabot with a better supporting cast. Whether the team eventually achieves those Five Years of Unparalleled Success that we keep hearing about might depend on just that.