Whatever happens from here out until the start of the season, it shouldn’t change the fact that Pierre Dorion has had a successful offseason: acquiring Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux, as well as bolstering the goaltending, and taking care of some of the more problematic contracts on the team, has given the organization new life.
That said, the Ottawa Senators are still one major piece away from being a favorite to make the playoffs — that elusive Top-4 defenseman.
Most of the seemingly available options via trade and free agency have been exhausted. John Klingberg was available for $7M on a one-way deal, but that contract would’ve put Ottawa closer to the cap than they’d probably like with some RFAs still unsigned. With his five-year term and back-loaded contract, John Marino might not have been an ideal option either. Mackenzie Weegar would’ve been perfect on the right side, but in retrospect it seems that Florida wasn’t going to move him for any sort of package the Senators could’ve offered, seeing as he was traded for Matthew Tkachuk.
Jakob Chychrun is the hot topic right now — despite being a left-shot, he would be a fantastic upgrade to the blue line, at a bargain cap hit of $4.6M for the next three years. Even then, there are a lot of factors around making that kind of deal. I can’t imagine Arizona is as desperate to move Chychrun as Chicago was to move Alex DeBrincat, and the price would be steep, especially considering adding a defenseman would most definitely coincide with the departure of another, potentially Nikita Zaitsev, whose contract carrying a cap hit of $4.5M for two years, would require a sweetener to move.
Ultimately, adding a right-shot defenseman was always going to be more difficult than shoring up the offense, and there’s a chance the group the Sens currently have will be what we see on opening night. Not ideal, but perhaps not as disastrous as we’d expect considering the other improvements to the roster. The goal should be finding a viable option to play with Thomas Chabot, assuming 2020 5th overall pick Jake Sanderson plays with the ever-reliable Artem Zub on the second pair.
In terms of internal options, I’d look at Lassi Thomson as the most suitable candidate. In 44 games with Belleville last season, the 19th pick of the 2019 NHL Draft tallied 10 goals and 16 assists, and also chipped in 5 assists in 16 NHL games.
Those 16 games were divided into two stints, separated by ample playing time in Belleville. In his first 11 NHL games, the team was outscored by a 16-5 margin and controlled just 43.73% of 5-on-5 shot attempts with Thomson on the ice. (NaturalStatTrick) In his last five, these metrics improve to 60.69%, and a 6-2 goal differential in favour of Ottawa.
His partner during that latter stint? Thomas Chabot.
With 9 points in 58 AHL contests this past season, Jacob Bernard-Docker doesn’t have the same offensive punch as Thomson, but the 2018 1st-rounder has earned the trust of Belleville head coach Troy Mann as a shutdown defender and has a 90-minute sample of strong play alongside Chabot, in which the two posted a 54.65 CF% at 5-on-5 in 8 NHL games this year.
I’m not suggesting that either is a shoo-in to be a legit NHL defenseman this season, but having multiple options is always beneficial, and in this case, the team only needs one to pan out. They didn’t draft them in the first round for no reason, why not give them a longer look this year?
And if it’s evident the team still needs to add, there’s always the opportunity for a trade during the season, particularly in the days leading up to the trade deadline. Even if Ottawa isn’t in a playoff spot at that point, the offseason moves, a full year of Shane Pinto and Matthew Joseph, a step forward for Tim Stützle, and the (hopeful) lack of a COVID-19 outbreak should bring them close at the very least. From there, options such as Nick Jensen (WSH), Scott Mayfield (NYI), and — yes, John Klingberg (ANA) could be on the move if those teams aren’t competitive.
It’s no secret that the team’s biggest hole is on the blue line, but how desperate should the team be to fill that hole externally? Does it make sense to be patient here, after aggressively going out and improving other areas? Could one of Lassi Thomson or Jacob Bernard-Docker rise up to the challenge? Let us know what you think!