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Five Thoughts for Friday: 1C Battle, Paul’s Status, LeBreton Back in Play

Thoughts on Ottawa’s future 1C battle, Nick Paul’s impending free agency, LeBreton being an option again, and more!

NHL: NOV 14 Flames at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first Five Thoughts in March as we can finally begin to feel Spring coming!...At least maybe I can here in Vancouver.

Norris vs. Stützle

When Josh Norris, Shane Pinto, and Colin White were all injured, DJ Smith was essentially forced to move Tim Stützle to centre with no other options. As has happened a few times now, a forced decision has ended up working out quite well. Stützle looks even more dynamic at centre and will ultimately be a more impactful player if he sticks there. Norris finally came back from injury last night as he centred Brady Tkachuk and Zach Sanford, and Stützle was between Alex Formenton and Connor Brown.

For now, Norris has a better track record and can handle top opponent lines, so I like this setup where Stützle gets insulated a little bit. However, in the long run this could be an interesting battle for the number one centre spot. Ultimately you have to assume Stützle gets it as he seems primed to be a 70+ point player, but then again, Norris is on pace for 40 goals in a full season. It’s the best problem to have, as both seem like great options to be first-line players, and realistically, a lot of Cup-winning teams have two first-line centres anyway.

Russian Players

First of all, I know others at Silver Seven and across the internet have shared similar sentiments, but I just have to say again how sick I feel about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. My heart goes out to all Ukrainians and we really are seeing the worst of humanity right now. Obviously hockey is so much less significant than lives being lost, but some things are affected by this in the hockey world.

I have to wonder what Russian hockey players in North America are thinking right now because I’m sure most, if not all, of them don’t support this war. Being Russian isn’t a crime. But they must be getting some hate from a small minority of people because of this fringe belief that all Russians need to be banned from things. The Ottawa Senators have Artem Zub, Nikita Zaitsev, and Egor Sokolov in their organization, and I just hope that they are getting the proper support and safety that they need. Furthermore, I hope that the players are being good teammates for them as well.

They shouldn’t have to be spokesmen for their country either, because if they speak out against Vladimir Putin they risk endangering themselves or their family, but if they don’t speak out then they will be labelled cowards or enablers. It’s such a delicate and tricky situation, and although hockey players shouldn’t be near the top of the list for people we need to worry about, it angers me that they have to be put in this situation.

Time to Worry with Paul?

17 days remain until the trade deadline, and Nick Paul is still without a contract. He’s nowhere near the same calibre as some of Ottawa’s previous UFAs who had public negotiations, so it’s not as if he can’t be re-signed before free agency begins. However, the sooner he gets to the open market, the less likely it appears that he’ll come back.

On the bright side, Bruce Garrioch reported on February 23rd that Paul feels confident a deal will get done. Here’s what he had to say:

“There’s still a lot of time. I haven’t really looked into it too much and my agent just said, ‘I’ll deal with it and you play hockey.’ As it gets closer we’ll talk, but I’m not really sure what’s going on. I’ve expressed that Ottawa is a good spot but, like I said, we’ll just see what happens with my agent.”

So I’m sure Paul wants to stay, as most players do when it is time to re-sign in Ottawa. However, they still need to agree on a fair price. Garrioch said that a 3-year deal is being discussed, which I think would be perfect. I don’t think Paul can credibly ask for over $3M considering he’s never even been on pace for 30 points, and I wouldn’t really want to pay more than $2.5M. If he’s asking for well over that, then I don’t mind dealing him for a 2nd round pick or something along those lines.

But I find it hard to believe that a deal can’t get done because he’s such a likeable guy to root for and it’s not as if he’s a superstar with lots of leverage. The Senators have a poor track record with retaining pending UFAs, and the closer we get to the deadline, the less confident I am that the Senators will actually keep Paul.

Discipline

Something I’ve noticed this year that is slightly anecdotal is that Ottawa has a tendency to lose their cool during certain games, usually when they’re losing. They’re a tough team and can hold their own, so they’re not afraid to get into fights and skirmishes. I love the intensity and the fact that they care, but I think they also need to pick their spots better and have more discipline at times.

Right now they’re tied for 2nd in penalties per 60 (4.35) and are 3rd in fighting majors with 25 (behind Anaheim and Nashville). Now, some of those fights are staged ones and not ones that come out of frustration, but (and this is where the anecdotal part comes in), it seems like they go looking for scrums sometimes. Guys like Brady Tkachuk, Alex Formenton, Austin Watson, and Josh Brown are some of the biggest offenders here, as I’d like to see them pick their spots better.

Now, don’t get me wrong: there absolutely is a time and place for sticking up for your teammates and trying to breathe some life into your team. But it’s never a good thing to be so high on the leaderboard in penalties taken because that’s just ultimately hurting your team. You can be tough to play against but also clean. The good news is that they’re also very good at drawing penalties, which speaks to their pest-like abilities. They’re 3rd in drawn penalties per 60 at 4.25, but that only puts them at an overall differential of -0.09, which is 22nd. Part of their toughness leads to drawn penalties, but if they can get better at not crossing the line and staying out of the box, it’ll make their special teams a much higher chance to succeed.

I love the heart, but let’s pick the spots better.

LeBreton...Back on?

Yipee! Our favourite topic right?!

I genuinely despise writing about LeBreton Flats and a potential new arena, but it’s hard to ignore the latest news, which...isn’t technically news yet. The deadline for the NCC’s “expression of interest” at LeBreton was on February 28th, but the successful bidders may not be officially announced until April. So in the meantime, Anthony LeBlanc and whoever else is involved (or not involved) in the process is not at liberty to discuss anything:

On December 2nd, Eugene Melnyk changed his tune regarding LeBreton and said that he was considering the site again despite previously saying he had moved on from the area:

It’s actually looking quite well for the Senators right now, as there is clearly an appetite for an arena on this land. Whether or not Melnyk can actually be the one to get it done this time (considering we were going through this exact same thing six years ago...) is another story. But for now, I’m feeling optimistic about an arena that’s much closer to downtown. Things are back at step 1, but they have to start somewhere.