It’s finally time for us to delve into our thought process behind our player grades for the 2020 End-of-Season Report Cards! We hope you enjoy the first half of our roundtable discussions!
Question for everyone: Mark Borowiecki was a divisive player in these grades, ranging from B+ to D+. How has he met, or failed to meet, your expectations this season?
Shaan: While I don’t think Boro’s production this season is replicable, it’s still a sign that he’s become more of a two-way defenseman than before. His Isolated Impact on HockeyViz isn’t good at 5v5, but it’s still not the worst on the team, and the model also labels him as the team’s best defender on the penalty kill. Overall, he surpassed my expectations and put in a season worthy of a solid B.
Colin: I had Mark Borowiecki graded the lowest as a D+, and part of that ties into my overall pessimism of this past season’s defence corps. They were atrocious defensively from top to bottom - save for Dylan DeMelo - and Borowiecki was no exception. His rates of allowing shots and scoring chances against was one of the highest on the entire team. His uptick in scoring was almost certainly a fluke too, as his shooting percentage was more than triple his previous career average while 100% of his assists were secondary assists.
I don’t want to harp on Boro too much because he’s completely won me over as a role model to other players, to the point where I think he deserves the captaincy. But if we’re looking solely at on-ice results, it’d probably be a good idea to keep him as the 7th or 8th defender. That was my expectation heading into the season and he met it.
Ross: I probably went a little easy on him, considering he was the worst issue on the team in possession stats. But for me, my expectations were extremely low, and watching him become an actual leader, score a few points, and become a huge part of the off-ice presence of the Sens made me give him a B+.
Spencer: When I was writing out my grades, a big part of it had to do with on ice performance but the other things I took into consideration included off-ice actions and the bar set for the player based on my expectations. For Boro, the bar is set pretty low in terms of his on ice play and I thought that he had a great year on the ice for the type of player he is - plus he’s become a fan favourite off the ice so I gave him a B+.
Brandon: Boro exceeded my expectations, as I’m sure he did for many this year, due to a variety of factors. I think he had a better offseason, by his own admission, and playing with Dylan DeMelo for the better part of the year likely helped him try to open up his game a little more. He was more defensively responsible, and his shooting numbers were an outlier to say the least, but I think all in all, Boro is great for a bottom pairing defender.
thedaigle1: First and foremost, Boro has far exceeded expectations in terms of blossoming into a fan favourite and overall great ambassador for hockey in the city. On the ice, I expect him to perform as a bottom-pairing/fringe seventh defender type and he does his job respectably on a really weak team. I love that he worked his magic and pumped his counting stats in his UFA season. Good for him.
N_Dew: I was probably a lot more generous on my ranking for Boro than I usually would because my expectations for him going in were extremely low. While the defence corps as a whole did not impress, you could see some improvement in Boro’s attack game and him getting more involved in the game made him that much more useful. I think many people’s opinion of him was also improved by his demeanour and the fact that he’s growing into a leader both on and off the ice quite nicely. That being said, I don’t expect him to be utilized as much once more of the prospects get their chance.
nkb: I was one of the folks who gave Borowiecki a slightly lower grade, and for me it comes back to the fact that the Sens as a team struggled yet again to generate offence when he was on the ice. Boro had a great year from a personal scoring perspective, but the Sens have never been able to mount much offence when he plays. Part of that is what he’s being asked to do, but part of that is a limited offensive skillset. I think we’ve all come to love Boro the person, but he’s still a fringe NHLer by any performance metric I can find. I think he’d make a great veteran leader for the team next year, but not necessarily as a staple on the third pairing.
Ary: Like the others, I think Borowiecki certainly exceeded my personal expectations for him, and it’s been fun to watch him carve out a niche for himself over the last decade since he was drafted in 2008. He certainly looks better with the puck, especially offensively, and I agree with what folks like Colin and Ross have shared in terms of his other on-ice metrics being rather shaky.
Ultimately, he is who he is — a local favourite, and a sixth or seventh defenseman on a young up-and-coming team. As team quality improves, if Borowiecki works to limit another team’s offence, that would see his rating increase from me!
Question for everyone: Mike Reilly seems to have had a bit of an impact in the 30 games he played in Ottawa this season. What role do you see him playing for the team next year?
Shaan: Reilly’s biggest problem is the Senators’ depth on the left point. I think he’s got the potential to be a serviceable second-pairing defender and power play specialist thanks to his skating and puck control, but he likely won’t be logging those minutes in an Ottawa uniform, here he’s a third-pairing or depth guy.
Colin: As unexpectedly fun as it was to watch Mike Reilly playing loose at the end of the season, the fact that he’s a left shot probably bumps him down to being an extra defender. Chabot, Wolanin and Brännström can all fill a similar role while also providing a more refined skillset, so Reilly might be seeing some time in the press box, unless the Sens decide to try him on his off hand.
Ross: I can’t see him as more than a third-pairing defenseman. He’s not part of the future of this team beyond next year.
Spencer: It feels like he will be a player you will see his role diminish over the course of the season. I thought that he brought some skill in a bit of puck movement to a blue line that lacked it but I’m guessing he will be surpassed quickly. He might start the season as the 5th or 6th defenseman but I’m guessing he spends the second half of the season in the press box or perhaps traded.
Brandon: This one’s tough, because I think Reilly was a good pickup. He’s definitely a serviceable option on the left side, but I don’t like the idea of him taking away minutes from Christian Wolanin and Erik Brannstrom. I don’t truly see a scenario where he finishes 2021 in Ottawa, as a pending free agent and a guy who’s probably reached his ceiling, but I think it really depends on Brannstrom’s year. If he’s ready to make the jump, Reilly doesn’t have much of a place, but if he isn’t, Reilly’s a good placeholder option. We may see him get big minutes to pump his trade value.
thedaigle1: Trade bait. Like Boro, he doesn’t really fit into Ottawa’s defensive depth chart down the left. He has good nerd stats though and he loves to shoot the puck. Dorion could easily move that cap hit if all of Chabot/Wolanin/Brannstrom/Lajoie are healthy.
N_Dew: Mike Reilly will be useful to have on the team but I don’t see him being able to beat the competition for his spot. He will probably be more of an extra for most of the season.
nkb: Reilly was one of the most pleasant surprises of the season to me. I had almost no expectation of them, and he was totally capable. I’m not sure he’s much more than a 5th or 6th defenseman on a good team, but he’s got a bit of offensive upside and he was acquired at basically no cost. He’s got a one-way contract so I expect he’ll be with the team no matter what, and if he has another strong year he might be able to hold onto a spot for a couple more seasons.
Ary: When you look at Reilly’s shot maps, you see the defensive version of Anthony Duclair. High-event hockey all the time, on both ends of the rink. I think there’s definitely space for a player like him next season, especially in a third-pair role where he might be able to feast on other team’s depth, but I’m not expecting him to be around longer than that.
Question for everyone: One player whom the entire staff seemed to be down on was Vladislav Namestnikov, despite his reasonable production this season. What did you not like about his game?
Shaan: Discounting his poor shot metrics, I kind of soured on Namestnikov during the season, as he seemed to take offensive zone penalties more than any other forward on our team. Since he filled a role in the top-nine, he was still a worthwhile pickup, and I’m happy Dorion was at least able to get a fourth-rounder back for him.
Colin: Going back to Evolving-Hockey’s WAR model, only Artem Anisimov provided less value to the Sens roster than Namestnikov amongst forwards. He was practically allergic to getting pucks close to the net, and while he’s been fine defensively in the past, he wasn’t able to contribute much in that facet either. I can already imagine his name being at the top of “most obscure Senators” Twitter threads in only a few years’ time - he was ultimately a placeholder veteran in a lost season.
Ross: His reasonable production really slowed down as the season went on. They traded a 4th, and got a 4th in return, so it’s not like they bought low and sold high. Instead he just took a roster spot that could’ve been used to give more of the AHL prospects auditions throughout the season.
Spencer: I think his reasonable production has more to do with playing more than a player of his skillset should have. He definitely took advantage of his ice time, which you always want to see, if he was never more than a C player to me.
Brandon: I didn’t particularly dislike anything about Namestnikov’s game, honestly. I think it was smart to pick him up early in the season, rather than rush a young winger by forcing them to play NHL minutes. Names was the epitome of solid; little in the way of eye-popping mistakes, but also little in the way of great plays and scoring. I think he’s a highly replaceable guy, which is why I gave him a C+, but it’s hard to knock the year he had.
thedaigle1: Namestnikov is a good case study for the eye test versus nerd stats. He has some scoring touch so you notice him for his production when watching the broadcast. And then you look at the numbers and see a whole different picture. All of his cumulative mediocre play outweighs those handful of sweet goals.
N_Dew: I had high hopes for Vlad to become a long term project but his sudden drop in performance that continued a lot longer that anyone would have liked made him dispensable and forgettable. He lacked consistency but also didn’t do much to earn more ice time after his production dropped. Some players compensate for lack of scoring with other benefits, Vlad just became invisible.
nkb: To be honest, I never developed a particular strong opinion of Namestnikov. Like a lot of the roster, he was probably being asked to do too much when he was cast as a top 6 scorer and that’s where his grades suffered. Expectations are cruel!
Ary: Namestnikov did what he was supposed to do — provide an NHL body, depth scoring, and a pick at the deadline. That meets expectations for me. However, if I’m trying to grade him like I did the other players, I mainly ranked him where I did because of how much the team got filled in when he was on the ice when you looked at shot metrics and expected goals.
Question for Colin and thedaigle1: Chris Tierney received poor grades (C- and D, respectively) compared to the rest of the staff. In what way has his play caused you to be down on him?
Colin: Tierney is one of those players who confuses the heck out of me because he doesn’t really stand out in any major ways. He was pretty average offensively, pretty average defensively (which to his credit was a big improvement on last year), and if we’re talking about a player who we were expecting to be a middle-six centre, this past season to me was a bit of a letdown. I don’t see him being a special teams player down the road, nor do I see him getting top six minutes again with the prospects coming down the tunnel. I just don’t really see how he has a future with the Sens, and given that he’s supposed to be in his prime years it’s a bit disappointing.
thedaigle1: Tierney has become a textbook replacement-level forward. He’s a serviceable depth centre and a contending team could probably use him for a long run of playoff hockey. In Ottawa though Tierney just sort of impedes other, younger centres trying to crack the roster who could probably supply the same or better production with the big club.
Question for Brandon and Shaan: Despite the generally positive reviews for D.J. Smith, you were the only ones to give him the elusive A. How has he earned your confidence in spite of this season’s 30th-place finish?
Shaan: His favour towards Zaitsev was a head-scratcher and stopped me from giving him an A+. That aside, Smith is pretty much everything I wanted to see in Ottawa’s head coach. He’s got the respect of his players, and has put a solid, up-tempo system in place; it shows through the team’s improvement from last season in spite of losing two superstars and another top-six forward in Ryan Dzingel. That’s the main selling point for me, the team was bad, but it should have been a lot worse.
Brandon: I loved the deployment of young players this year. Where I disagree with someone like Spencer is the criticism of playing Nick Paul in the bottom six. On any contending team, that’s going to be Paul’s role, and I thought most of the youngsters were perfectly placed this year. Tkachuk will be leading the charge, Thomas Chabot will be playing huge minutes, and even recognizing a guy like Connor Brown’s importance was huge for me. Between the pipes, letting Marcus Hogberg earn his keep went a long way in my book, too. If I have any gripes, it would be the usage of guys like Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey, but Smith is hamstrung by roster construction in that aspect. Should Chabot have been playing with Dylan DeMelo? Definitely, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s small potatoes.