You could say that the 2021-2022 Ottawa Senators have faced more than their fair share of injury woes throughout this ill-fated campaign. It was only fitting, then, that DJ Smith announced Thomas Chabot, the team’s star defender, would miss the remainder of the season with a broken hand. Without their anchor on the blueline, the Sens will hard-pressed in a number of key areas. It’s not difficult to imagine a prolonged period of losing hockey to end this season.
That’s the negative side. Frankly, it’s been hard to see much besides the negative of late. One way I’m trying to stay positive is to remind myself that the reason the Sens are going to miss him so much is because of just how good Chabot is. To that end, this week’s Five Thoughts are dedicated to the star rearguard. Here are five things that I appreciate about him:
His Exceptional Skating
One of the purest joys of being a Sens fan these days is watching Chabot pick up a head of steam as he exits the defensive zone and plans his attack on the other team’s defense. Chabot possesses explosive power that comes from a highly refined stride: he lowers himself into a wide crouch, and there’s nearly zero wasted effort as he pushes and glides. He gives off the appearance of effortlessness, and while it sometimes seems like Chabot is virtually coasting, he’s also blowing by would-be defenders. Chabot’s proficiency as a skater is also accentuated by his incredible ability to read exactly when he should turn on the jets. Sure there are faster skaters, Alex Formenton would certainly finish ahead of Chabot in a timed race, but there are very few players in the NHL who combine Chabot’s game sense with his powerful stride. It’s a wonder anyone can contain him in open ice.
His Daringness and Offensive Creativity
While Chabot’s skating is probably his strongest attribute, his offensive instincts, most especially his ability to create opportunities for his teammates, are a close second. The checking in the NHL can make it challenging to generate offense and the penalty for forcing something that isn’t there is often a scoring chance going back the other way. To get to those prime opportunities it’s sometimes a question of patience, passing up on a decent opportunity to get to an even better chance. Sometimes it’s a question of being able to make a precise pass, or a sharp move to open up a lane that wasn’t there before. Oftentimes it’s a combination of both of those things, and then mixed with the confidence to attempt the play at all. Chabot is daring in that way, and as he has matured as a player he’s demonstrated that he understands what does and doesn’t work. He’ll still attempt the spectacular and fail sometimes, but even his misses are close calls these days. For a team that struggles at times to generate offense, that offensive creativity is a balm.
His Leadership and Mentoring of Sens’ Prospects
Before Brady Tkachuk was finally named the Sens’ first captain this season, debating which of Tkachuk or Chabot deserved to be given the “C” was a favourite parlour game among Sens fans. While you would be hard-pressed to find anyone that’s unhappy with Brady’s performance in the role of designated team leader, it’s simultaneously been a pleasure to watch Chabot’s evolution as a leader in his own right. Almost every young defensive prospect has, sometimes at length, expounded upon just how supportive and helpful Chabot has been to them. Chabot seems to take a great deal of pride in his mentorship of the team’s next generation, be it Erik Brännström, Jacob Bernard-Docker, or Lassi Thomson. It’s a great sign for the team’s future that the current leaders see the up-and-comers as the integral pieces that they are, and are going out of their way to help ensure success.
His Competitive Fire
Maybe this belongs as a sub-header of my above thoughts on Chabot’s leadership, but for all of the losing that this team has done over the last few years it’s somewhat remarkable that Chabot continues to be so relentless every time he steps on the ice. He does more than just talk the talk, he also walks the walk. I’m not normally one to put a lot of stock in reading body language, but it’s clear that he very badly wants to win and is willing to do what is necessary to win. Chabot also never short changes the team on effort; any Sens fan who has followed the team closely over the years is familiar with the sight of Chabot doubled over after an incredible exertion — but ready to go again just seconds later.
His Ability to Carry the Load
One of the (unfortunate) parallels between Chabot and Erik Karlsson is how both were counted upon to carry an otherwise overmatched group of defenders on their shoulders. With all of the aforementioned prospects getting closer to contributing in a meaningful way this period of Chabot needing to do quite so much may hopefully be coming to an end — but until it does, it’s hard to imagine anyone more capable of covering so many deficiencies. Over the last three years, the Ottawa Senators are -74 at 5v5; Chabot, who when healthy plays close to half of the available minutes at 5v5, is -4. When he is on the ice, the Sens have the goal differential of a fringe play-off team. When he’s not, they profile like a true bottom-feeder. If there’s any better encapsulation of just how special a player he really is, I can’t think of one.
Those are just my five items for Chabot appreciation — what are some of yours?