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:
*Victor Mete doesn’t technically have a contract for next season although the Senators retain his rights for the time being
Of the players profiled in this series so far, only Victor Mete split time between two NHL teams and that, along with the usual small sample size of a shortened season, requires us to interpret his results somewhat conditionally. Like Erik Brännström and Josh Brown, his numbers could look a little extreme and, as we saw, DJ Smith re-arranged his defensive pairings quite frequently with so much turnover in Ottawa throughout the season. With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at Mete’s numbers after 14 games as a Senator (exactly half of his 2021 season).
By the Numbers
As I stated above, Mete played 14 of his 28 games this season for the Sens and racked up one goal and one assist with Ottawa. As we’ll discuss at length here, Mete’s value goes beyond goals and assists, and to appreciate his value, you have to look a little more closely at the details of his game. In 2021 Mete averaged under 0.2 points per game (staying true to his career pace) with his one goal coming against Vancouver on April 28th:
Among the caveats to keep in mind when looking at Mete’s numbers, coach Smith paired Mete predominantly with Nikita Zaitsev at five-on-five on the top pair and paired Mete with Josh Brown on the penalty kill, and as readers at this site know, neither Zaitsev nor Brown really thrive when it comes to fancy stats. With that in mind, Mete still had the lowest corsi against, fenwick against, and expected goals against per 60 on the penalty kill of any of Ottawa’s defenders. On the the powerplay Mete had a higher expected goals-for per 60 than even Brännström and Thomas Chabot. At five-on-five, Mete had the best expected goals percentage of any of Ottawa’s regular defenders (again, sample size noted).
Mete also plays a fairly clean defensive game as he draws almost as many penalties as he takes (45% drawn to taken ratio) and only went to the box once as a Senator. I also like to see that Mete has lowered his giveaways per 60 in each of his NHL seasons while increasing his takeaways per 60. And for those questioning whether Mete can adapt to Ottawa’s more physical style of defence, Mete has thrown more hits per 60 in each of his NHL seasons, so he has started learning how to use his increasing strength to his advantage with age.
When looking at the transition from the fancy stats darling of Montreal to the routine basement-dwellers in Ottawa, Mete naturally suffered in terms of five-on-five corsi numbers (defensive partners noted) but Mete did keep his expected goals percentage at five-on-five above 50 in Ottawa and improved by this metric compared to his 2021 numbers in Montreal. I should also note that along with the rest of the Senators after the trade deadline, Mete rode a bit of a PDO bubble (elevated on-ice save- and shooting-percentages) so we should expect some regression, alongside the rest of Ottawa’s skaters, when the 2021-22 season commences (just not as bad as early 2021 we hope!).
Story of the Season
While a lot of Senators fans had some familiarity with Mete as a division rival, no one really hyped Mete the way stat-heads did for the past couple of seasons. Mete has always had pretty strong fancy stats, even as a very young defender in the NHL, and every time we heard rumours about a strained relationship between the player and the Montreal front office, the proverbial vultures circled around because it felt as though some NHL team had an opportunity to get a solid NHL defender on the cheap. Even months later, colour me shocked that the Habs couldn’t broker a trade involving Mete.
Just to get everyone totally up to speed, Montreal selected Mete in the fourth round (100th overall) of the 2016 entry draft. The diminutive defender (listed at 5’9”) played in London with the OHL Knights for two more seasons and then graduated to the NHL at the age of 20 (rather young for a defender) playing just seven AHL games in his career. This early start to his NHL career no doubt affected his development and Mete has long had to attempt to shut down much larger, more experienced opposition, and this makes his strong on-ice numbers that much more impressive. Despite those surprising results, Mete always seemed like the odd skater out in Montreal and the Habs waived him on April 11th.
Ottawa, having traded Christian Wolanin on March 29th, and Mike Reilly and Braydon Coburn at the April 11th trade deadline, claimed Mete as they now had an open slot behind Chabot (whom the team would ultimately shut down due to injury) and Brännström. Because of Chabot’s injury and coach Smith’s reluctance to play Brännström or Olle Alsing in high-leverage situations, Mete played big minutes in his last five games on the top pair with Zaitsev, and got more powerplay time in Ottawa down the stretch than he had had since his rookie season in Montreal. He also enjoyed the most penalty kill time he’s had in his career thus far. In a further display of confidence, DJ Smith deployed Mete with the highest defensive start percentage of the young defender’s NHL tenure. While circumstances certainly factored into this deployment, it bodes well that Mete still had decent on-ice results given such a heavy workload.
Up until recently, Mete had a relatively clear path slotting in behind Chabot and Brännström down the left side of Ottawa’s defensive depth chart with Jake Sanderson threatening that security some time in 2022-23. With the recent acquisitions of Michael Del Zotto and Nick Holden, however, a lot of fans have struggled to make sense of Ottawa’s depth chart. Jonathan Tychonick, Tyler Kleven, and Chandler Romeo won’t compete for that third spot on Ottawa’s left side defensively any time soon. With Sanderson still a year away, I personally like Mete as Ottawa’s second or third LD competing with Brännström and behind Chabot.
As noted above, Mete will take the team to arbitration this summer as he comes off a one-year one-way contract worth $735,000, and has earned a raise after several years of competent NHL-calibre defense, especially given his age and size. When we talk about the “modern NHL defender” I think of Mete as the archetype along with Seattle’s Vince Dunn. Mete plays a low event brand of hockey. No one will mistake him for Zdeno Chara or Anton Volchenkov and yet he doesn’t produce a tonne of individual offence so he doesn’t fit into that traditional NHL dichotomy of big defenders or offensive defenders. Mete has to skate efficiently, position himself wisely, and use his stick to play a disruptive style of defence because he can’t always physically overpower his opponents. His vision and hockey sense translate well offensively as a good distributor and fifth skater back who can keep the ice tilted in Ottawa’s favour even if it doesn’t often show up in the counting stats.
Long-term, it won’t make or break the Senators to keep Mete in the fold or let him walk because they have so many competing players in the developmental pipeline. It seems preferable, however, to snag a valuable player from a rival off waivers and maintain that leverage. Every team serious about competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs could use a player like Mete who can play in all phases defensively, who doesn’t give up much at the blueline, and who can chip in just enough offensively, especially when you consider his relatively small price-tag, his youth, and his trend of year-over-year improvements.
As always, stats courtesy of naturalstattrick