Welcome, friends. Here are Five Thoughts I had this week:
A Resolution that Wasn’t:
To almost no one’s surprise, the deadline for Group 2 Free Agents to sign passed yesterday at 5 p.m without Alex Formenton and the Ottawa Senators agreeing to a new contract. Throughout the summer and the start of this season, there was not one single, solitary report about the team and the player actually negotiating. Readers will recall that towards the end of last year’s Brady Tkachuk saga there were all sorts of rumoured offers from both sides floating around. That’s what happens in the NHL at the end of a tense negotiation when there is actual dialogue between the two parties. A player going unsigned past the twenty game mark without a single peep about who might have been asking for what is unheard of.
After Pierre Dorion’s season opening availability at the start of training camp, Formenton’s free agency was barely discussed at all. Formenton himself hasn’t been heard from, and his agent hasn’t responded to any of the many requests for comment (as everyone who has written about the situation has been careful to highlight). To say the experience has been frustrating for many fans would be an understatement: GMs are not always totally truthful when talking to the media (shocker, I know!) but it’s rare to have such an obvious factor just sitting there undiscussed.
In that sense, nothing has been resolved; Formenton’s not eligible to play in the NHL this year, but his long-term future with the team is totally up in the air. The much bigger question remains unanswered. I’m not totally sure what I was expecting to feel as that deadline came and went but it’s just left me feeling empty. I guess we’re just back to waiting.
Shane Pinto in Transition:
In last week’s edition of Five Thoughts, I said that one of the problems plaguing the Sens so far this year was Pinto’s relative struggles at 5v5. With Josh Norris out for such an extended period of time, Pinto is being asked to take on a much bigger role and the results haven’t always been great. That being said, his goal on Wednesday night against the New York Rangers was a great example of just how terrifying he can be in transition with a head of steam. I mean, just look at this:
To my eye, Pinto’s struggled at times to make decisions with the puck in a timely fashion, especially on the cycle, but man, give him the space to get a few of those powerful strides in and he’s virtually unstoppable. The Sens would do well to try to figure out some more ways to get him carrying the puck through the middle with speed like that more often because it’s a real weapon.
Zaitsev’s Back...Sort Of
The other big piece of Sens news yesterday was that the team had recalled Nikita Zaitsev from the AHL. To say Zaitsev had become something of a lightning rod for criticism before he was sent down would be an understatement, and by all accounts hasn’t exactly been lighting the AHL on fire since being sent down. I would describe the general reaction to the recall as “upset incredulity.” If you found yourself in the camp of trying desperately to find the words to express your dissatisfaction, fear not:
Zaitsev call up to Ottawa is purely for depth, and likely only for the weekend.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) December 1, 2022
With Lassi Thomson re-assigned to Belleville, and the Sens playing back-to-back on Friday and Saturday, there’s something to notion of having Zaitsev be the seventh defenseman. We can de-activate the Code Red, for now.
Seattle Hockey Analytics Conference
The Seattle Kraken have one of the league’s most highly-regarded analytics’ department; this is a fact. How much of their red-hot 15-5-3 you want to attribute to their influence is up to you, but one thing that they, along with the great Alison Lukan, have their fingerprints all over is this weekend’s Seattle Hockey Analytics Conference. I’ve had the pleasure of attending similar events in Ottawa and Rochester over the years, and the sheer volume of insight, and new ideas has sometime been overwhelming. The organizers are promising a livestream of the day’s events, but unfortunately as of this writing a link was unavailable. Still, you can find a list of the presentation topics here and I’ll try to post a link to the stream somewhere once it becomes available.
Personally, I’m perhaps most interested by Chace McCallum’s research into biases in NHL drafting. Developing a model for evaluating drafting has long been a bugaboo of the analytics community, and it feels like an area ripe for major advances.
The Determined Leadership of Claude Giroux:
When the Sens signed Claude Giroux, there were plenty of reasons to be excited: a premier star was bringing his talents to the nation’s capital, after all. And while his scoring production has more than lived up to expectations, one thing that I’ve really come to appreciate upon repeated viewings of Giroux is just how determined he is to lead by example. I can’t imagine a better leadership complement to Brady Tkachuk, either; having a respected vet like Giroux busting his butt out there every night must make Tkachuk’s life a lost easier.
Often when coaches are talking about a team’s culture, they are only saying so much of worth but it is also the case that culture matters. Having your best players give it their absolute best effort matters. It won’t make bad teams good, but it can make the difference just enough of the time to push a marginal team over the edge. Right now the Sens are way down in a hole, but if they somehow do manage to fight all the way back out, some of it will be because Giroux didn’t ever let them quit.