Welcome back for the final installment of our reports cards for the 2021-22 Ottawa Senators. In the interest of full transparency, we’re sharing every member of the staff’s grades, and we’ve also a few questions in a roundtable format below.
You can read all three of last week’s write-ups:
|Name:||Spencer||Ross A||Ary M||Beata||Trevor||nkb||Nada||Shaan||Owen||Staff Average:||Readers:|
|Name:||Spencer||Ross A||Ary M||Beata||Trevor||nkb||Nada||Shaan||Owen||Staff Average:||Readers:|
|Michael Del Zotto||C+||B||D||C+||C+||C+||C-||C||D||C||C+|
Question for everyone: The Sens struggled defensively at times, but of the five most-used defenseman (Chabot, Zub, Holden, Zaitsev, Brännström) only Zaitsev had a grade worse than B-. What do you make of the difference between how the individual players were graded and the team’s overall results?
Ross: I disagree that the Sens struggled defensively — at least compared to previous years. They were middle of the pack in PK%, 5v5 shot attempts, and goals against. A couple of other factors to consider include Forsberg’s play down the stretch helping to minimize defensive gaffes. Also, I had low expectations for most defencemen, and only Zaitsev, Josh Brown, and Victor Mete played below those expectations. Most of the group played up to the modest expectations we had coming in.
Spencer: I’m not convinced the Sens struggled defensively as much you’d think when looking at a 26th place team. They struggled mightily before December, which put them in a hole they never quite climbed out of. Individually, everyone not named Zaitsev was strong while Josh Brown also contributed heavily to anything negative on the backend.
Ary: Similar to Ross and Spencer, my grades for the defenders reflected the statistical improvements compared to last year, my (low) expectations of them, and my sense of how much I think Zaitsev, Josh Brown, Mete, and co. tanked others’ performances. The big question when trying to project the team’s overall results next year is Zaitsev’s ongoing status with the team. I’m of the opinion that if Dorion does nothing else, he has to move Zaitsev, especially because there’s no room for both him and Hamonic on the same team unless the Senators want a genuine shot at Connor Bedard.
I expect a marked improvement if Zaitsev is moved, Sanderson is as-expected, and the team doesn’t overplay Travis Hamonic — especially with Erik Brännström’s yo-yo’ing between the AHL and NHL complete. That’s a lot of moving pieces for the team’s decision makers to figure out if they truly want results to change.
Shaan: There was a pretty big gap between the best and worst defenders on the team. Even though players like Hamonic and Brännström had poor expected goal metrics overall, they still found some success with Del Zotto and Zub, respectively. Zaitsev was the weakest of the five regulars, and Brown and Mete were even worse. Holden also wasn’t very good in this regard, but he was able to get 19 points in 76 games, with only 12 penalty minutes.
Trevor: The defense wasn’t as bad as it has been in the past, although they were still 25th in shot attempts against per 60, signaling that there is still a long way to go. Zaitsev is clearly still liked by DJ Smith, which is going to be an issue if he doesn’t get moved in the off-season, as the other four mentioned are at least competent or much better. A lot of the defense was dragged down by Zaitsev and Josh Brown, so I’m curious to see what happens with Jake Sanderson in the mix.
Beata: The fact that we all gave good grades to the defensemen even though the team struggled shows just how poorly that blueline was constructed. Chabot and Zub were great. Holden was better than expected. Brännström took steps forward. The defense as a whole was still bad. But what more could we have expected from this particular group?
Owen: The disconnect occurs with DJ Smith’s decisions when it comes to pairings and implementation. Ottawa has two or three solid defenders, but I find Smith always figures out a way to pair them that gets the least out of each individual.
Nada: The team collectively needed to be better defensively but I wouldn’t say the defense group was horrible outside the usual suspects of Zaitsev, Delly and Brown. There was also a clear difference between Chabot/Zub and the rest of the group so the scores would reflect that. Brännström I feel could be better but it seems we all want him to succeed to we celebrate any improvement. Holden was stable and provided some much needed consistency.
nkb: The common thread among most observers of the team is that there is a more-than-serviceable group that should take the ice next season — particularly if Zaitsev is shipped out and Sanderson is in his place. Certainly that’s what Ottawa’s management are counting on, and if the play-offs are the goal then they need to be right. We’re going to find out very quickly if all this optimism is warranted.
For Spencer: You gave Pierre Dorion a “B” — was there a particular trade, or signing, of his that you would highlight?
Spencer: I don’t think Dorion did anything egregious this year, minus admitting he overpaid for Travis Hamonic because “he didn’t have a fourth to trade so he used a third”. I’m at the point where if Dorion doesn’t do something insanely bad on the pro scouting front, that’s a win for me — so perhaps that coloured my positive grade. The majority of my issues with Dorion occurred prior to this season, and the Mathieu Joseph acquisition has the potential to look real good. So he gets a B from me.
For Ary: You have Nick Holden a “D+” — were you expecting more from the veteran rearguard?
Ary: Let me be clear: I believe Nick Holden is an NHL-calibre defenceman, which is something you couldn’t say about half of the team’s defenders for much of the year, so looking back, this grade does seem harsh. Overall, when looking at on-ice impact, Holden was the team’s “average” and they finished 26th; maybe we just need to expect more as a fanbase. That the team struggled with him on the penalty kill relative to him off it was also a worrying sign. I earnestly love the ‘dad’ energy, though!
For Beata: You gave Parker Kelly an “A” — what did you like so much about his game this season?
Beata: Giving an “A” to a fourth liner who spent a lot of the season in the AHL may have been a bit much, but Parker Kelly exceeded my expectations and excelled in the role he was assigned. He brought energy and a nice scoring touch to the fourth line, and I’m very excited to see where he goes from here.
For everyone: Which player will most improve their grade next year? Which player could potentially fall back the most?
Ross: If Colin White can get and stay healthy, he’ll be the biggest improver. There’s a possibility we could see him on Stützle’s wing in regular rotation. Biggest drop will likely be Mathieu Joseph, who looks really good, but can’t maintain point-per-game pace for a whole season. I expect him at a solid B next season.
Spencer: The improve one is easy for me and it’s Colin White. With his injuries, he didn’t get a chance to answer the questions many fans have about his value relative to his contract. If he can be a solid third liner next year, his grade goes up for me.
Fall, it’s gonna be Anton Forsberg. I know, I know. We all love what he did this year but I can’t help but be worried that it was one good season where he’ll fall back to earth in a few months. Goalies are voodoo and predicting success is hard, so he’s got a great chance of dropping off a cliff, even if it’s just to a B- status.
Ary: I agree with others who have named Colin White. If he’s no longer on the team next year, I’d say Erik Brännström because he’ll hopefully be regularly playing with NHL-calibre players. If he struggles, there’s a chance he might not ever find regular NHL minutes again. I’m also worried about Alex Formenton’s shot impacts and whether Anton Forsberg’s season was a flash in the pan.
Shaan: There’s an opportunity for Lassi Thomson to make the club next year and break out as a second-pair defenseman. Given how his second stint this year was much, much better than his first, and his success in Belleville, he seems to be on the track to do just that, which could potentially bring him into the A-range.
Fall-back candidates are those who had fantastic seasons, such as Joseph (small sample size) and Forsberg (lack of a proven track record) see their grades drop next year, even if they do just fine as a middle-six forward and starting goalie, respectively. I’ll lean towards Forsberg here just because he was fantastic this season, even though I don’t think it’s likely his save percentage falls too much next season.
Trevor: I’ll say Erik Brännström, which is more of a hope, but it’s certainly still possible. He looked much better with Artem Zub, and if he gets consistent playing time and gains confidence, I could see him getting a very high grade.
As for someone falling back, I’ll echo others’ sentiments by saying Anton Forsberg. This was easily his best season with a .917 SV%, and I’ll have to see him repeat his performance for me to be all-in on him as a starter.
Beata: Just to be different, I’ll say either Lassi Thomson or Filip Gustavsson improves the most. Those are two young players who didn’t spend a lot of time in Ottawa this year and will likely get more opportunities to prove themselves next year.
I will agree with everyone else about Anton Forsberg falling back to earth, though. Goalies are just like that.
Owen: I’ll stick to my character and say Colin White has an A+ season next week. Goalies have the most trouble repeating year over year so I worry about someone like Anton Forsberg regressing.
Nada: Improvement: Brännström will probably be the most improved player. We’ve already seen signs of him improving, more confidence and trust from the coach we can see him develop better into his role.
Downgrade: as everyone said, it is most probable that Anton Forsberg will see a decline in his performance.
nkb: It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t pick Brännström for most improved next year. Despite my affinity for his game, I actually only gave him a C+ this season because while some of his performance was related to all that time spent with Josh Brown, his year long numbers were still not very good. I see him as having another gear and if he hits it that would go a long way to solidifying the Sens’ backend.
As for players who could fall back, I’m going to go off the board a bit here and say Josh Norris. At this point he’s demonstrated that he’s a valuable piece up front, but he also derived a huge amount of his value from scoring with the man advantage and there’s a very real possibility that he doesn’t keep shooting 20% because almost no one shoots 20% over any sustained period of time. If Norris instead settles in as a 25 goal, 25 assist second line centre that wouldn’t at all surprise me — but it would be a fall from the “A” he got this year.