It's always difficult to come up with Five Thoughts when there's absolutely nothing of interest to talk about regarding the Ottawa Senators. After all, nothing strange, dramatic or out of left field happens to this club.
Spooky season may have come to an end this week with the passing of Halloween but, for Sens fans, nothing - and I mean nothing - is spookier than the month of November.
It's well documented that the Ottawa Senators have had a rough go in the month of November. Frankly, they've started slow, overall, in October and November for as long as this rebuild has been going on. It hasn't mattered who's on the ice or how good (or bad) the roster is, the Sens have made an eternal enemy out of the month of November.
In 2022-23, the club went 4-9-1 in November. This didn't eliminate them from playoff contention, necessarily, but also... it kind of did. They dug themselves a hole from which they were unable to escape. After all, last season the Sens were a mere 6 points behind Florida for that final Wild Card spot. A record of 7-6-1, which isn't particularly spectacular, in the month of November would have seen them tie Florida with 92 points.
Looking back, 4-9-1 in November 2022 was a smashing success relative to the 1-10-1 effort Ottawa put together in 2021. That particular November stung far less. After all, Ottawa finished the year 27 points out of a playoff spot, so the only way November could've got them closer was if they went 12-0-0, and even then they'd have been 3 points shy of the final Wild Card spot. But it still speaks to Ottawa's ability to get the job done in the month of November.
We could continue going further back but the further we go from today, the more unrecognizable the rosters look and it's not overly fair to say the team DJ Smith was working with in 2020 is remotely close to the one he's had since the start of 2021-22 where many of the core pieces started to fall into place.
So what is my thought here for Five Thoughts? It's pretty simple.
"Holy $#%^, this can't happen again, right?"
On Finding Optimism in Ottawa's Start
DJ Smith was quoted as being seemingly fine with the Senators start, which took Sens Twitter by storm. Unfortunately for Smith, the full quote, which wasn't shared by TSN 1200, was actually much better than what everyone ran with.
At the end of the day, the Senators roll into November with a 0.500 record. At one point, they were 3-1-0 but wound up with a 4-4-0 record through their first eight games. This record has them sitting in a pack of teams that are outside of the playoff picture. The good (and obvious) news is we're only eight games in. A simple two game winning streak could see them technically leap into a playoff spot. There's optimistic note number one: it's early and there are a lot of teams within just a few points of one another. The separation has yet to happen. There's still time.
Like, a lot of time.
The next piece of optimism comes from /pushes up glasses/ the spreadsheets. An interesting piece of head to head information is that the Senators are playing quite well specifically in division. To date, the team has played three of their eight games within the Atlantic Division. While the Sens hold a 1-2-0 record against Tampa Bay, Detroit and Buffalo, they've been rather dominant in-division in 5v5 play. Smith's team has a 58.14 CF% through those three games with a 56.38 xGF% to go along with that. What this tells me is that the Senators played really well in the games which have mattered the most. This just didn't translate to the game sheet. If they continue to play at this level at even strength against Divisional opponents, they're more likely than not to come out of it with a winning record.
Finally, within the division, there are a ton of areas where the Senators are performing well relative to their competition.
- Goal Differential: 3rd
- Power Play Success: 3rd
- Penalty Kill Success: 3rd
- Goals For/Game Played: 2nd
- Penalties Drawn/60: 1st (in the league, not just division)
There are good things happening for the Senators that haven't translated to wins. I know it's hard, after the years of sadness we've endured, to trust the process but if you look at the numbers, this fanbase might be wise to do just that.
On the Dadonov Situation
I'm happy I started writing this on Wednesday, as I've deleted multiple iterations of this thought. Some rational, some wildly irrational, many enraged thoughts. But, now that the dust has settled, here's where I stand with it.
The Ottawa Senators absolutely deserved punishment for what happened in that trade call with the Vegas Golden Knights. There was an important detail that was left out, leading to a scenario where two NHL teams had to revoke a trade. That's embarrassing for everyone.
But... this ruling is psychotic. To hand down this level of punishment, 18 months after the fact, for something this insignificant is wild. As far as I can tell, the Golden Knights were embarrassed, filled their diapers to the brim and they wanted a pound of flesh. Essentially, George McPhee's ego is about as soft as the contents of those diapers.
My issue is they asked for a pound of flesh, the NHL gave them an entire body.
Seriously, a first round pick? After zero (and I mean zero) on-ice repercussions for the Blackhawks not only covering up sexual assault for a decade but enabling the perpetrator to keep doing it all while ruining the promising career of one of their own players? Then you rescind a first round pick for this?!
A punishment was deserved, but the severity is asinine.
The part that bothers me more than anything else is this is the second time in the matter of a week where the Senators have had the book, nay, the library thrown at them for something and the league has basically said "this is our ruling, we won't tell you what actually happened or how we got to 41 games/a first round pick, just trust us."
You have to feel for Michael Andlauer here who is understandably frustrated by everything that has transpired between the Pinto and Dadonov situations in the past week.
Luckily for the Senators, they have three years to choose from and don't have to make a decision until after the draft lottery for one of those years. They can kick this can down the road until they're a major player in the playoff picture, essentially giving up a pick in the 20s instead of the teens. I imagine that's just what they'll do, given they haven't used a first round pick in a while. It would be odd for them to give up one of their two 2024 selections instead of using both to restock the cupboards a bit.
On Stützle's Start
I've seen an odd number of people suggesting that Tim Stützle has had a slow start to the season. I say odd number of people not because it's the talk of the town but because I've seen it from literally anyone and it makes little to no sense to me.
Right now, Stützle is pacing 102.5 points in an 82 game season. Pretty good, no?
Right now, Stützle is third on the Senators in his corsi differential with 53.93 CF%. Seems decent.
Right now, Stützle is 45.9% in the faceoff dot which is the best he's done in his career as a centre, and a noted improvement for one of the few areas for which he gets negative comments. Further, at even strength, he has a 49% win percentage in the dot.
Right now, Stützle is drawing more penalties than he's taking. Despite an obvious effort by officials in a few games letting blatant infractions slide against Stützle, he's still putting his team on the powerplay more than the penalty kill.
I think this boils down to something very simple. The small but vocal group of Sens fans who claim Stützle's started slow are either not watching or, more likely, had absurd expectations for the 21 year old pivot. In the eight games the German centre has played, he's recorded at least one point in seven of them. He's fine, he's good, he's great.
Everybody with Stützle concerns can relax.
On the General Manager Vacancy
I'm not going to pretend I know the candidate pool across the NHL for the role of General Manager. When the news broke that Pierre Dorion was, indeed, no longer a member of Ottawa's front office, some folks jumped to toss names out there. One of them was Mathieu Darche. This is a name that I, frankly, know because I've heard it but I know nothing about him. Had you asked me for an immediate answer to "what team does he work for?" I think I would've got it right... but I wouldn't have bet money on it.
What I can say with absolute certainly, though, is I have strong opinions of what the Ottawa Senators should not do to fill this vacancy. This one feels simple for me. People tend to look for experience in high ranking roles like General Manager, but the problem is I don't want to see someone get the job just because they've been one before. What if they've served as a GM but... kind of sucked at it? There's a reason they're no longer in that position and, in some cases, there's a reason they haven't been in that position for a few years now despite multiple openings across the league.
Yeah, I'm talking about you Peter Chiarelli.
It would be devastating if Andlauer and Staios touted "Best In Class" and then went out and hired the guy who couldn't get Connor McDavid a reasonable set of linemates. It would be catastrophic to bring in the guy who genuinely believed Taylor Hall was worth Adam Larsson and nothing more. It would be disastrous to fill your vacant GM role with the person who signed Mikko Koskinen to a three year, $13.5M deal after fewer than 100, mediocre starts in the league.
Some folks have said things like "well, yeah, Edmonton didn't go well but he did great things in Boston!" Yeah, I could have run a half marathon back in 2012 but I have done absolutely nothing in the past 5 years to indicate that I'm still capable of that. In fact, my actions in the last 5 years have multiple examples of why running a half marathon is probably never going to happen for me.
From what I understand about Darche, he's the kind of profile I'm hopeful the Senators will look at. Working in the league for a top tier organization like Tampa Bay, knows what he's doing, has yet to be a General Manager but could step into the role and do it well. With someone like Steve Staios at the helm, you don't need the veteran experience. Staios is the veteran experience. You need someone who knows how to work the league, manage the cap and help this roster take the next step.
So, please, Michael and Steve. Do not go down the route of the Dinosaur GM Carousel™.
The Senators need more and the fans deserve better.