Five Thoughts for a Friday: Eulogy
Let's get ready for a long summer of introspection
Before getting into this week's Five Thoughts, I want to take a moment to sincerely thank each and every one of my colleagues here at the site who put in many hours of hard work behind the scenes to make this new site a reality and keep the dream alive. I cannot emphasize enough how much I appreciate their commitment to this venture. I also want to thank you, the readers, for coming along for the ride. As cliché as it sounds, this site doesn't exist without your continued support. Things looked trepidatious there for a minute. So even if the Ottawa Senators' season didn't go quite as we had all hoped, I can head into the offseason confidently knowing this site has a bright future.
On the 2020 Draft Class
With Tyler Kleven, Egor Sokolov, and Leevi Meriläinen joining Tim Stützle, Jake Sanderson, and Ridly Greig in Ottawa to wind down this season, we've all thought a fair bit about the potential of Ottawa's 2020 entry draft selections en masse. I remember earlier in the season, during a broadcast on TSN1200 (I want to say it was Steve Lloyd but really can't recall) someone mentioning the gold standard set by Dallas and their 2017 draft class of Miro Heiskanen, Jake Oettinger, and Jason Robertson. I would never expose myself with a take suggesting that Ottawa can quite match that haul but the Sens can at least get into that league by my estimation. Let me explain.
While I acknowledge that hockey-reference has never fully gained the acceptance of the analytics scene and I cannot vouch for the veracity of their point share model when stacked up against other WAR models, I really appreciate the convenience of having their point shares integrated into their draft tables so I'll use them to illustrate my thought process here. At the moment, HR has Dallas' triumvirate at 88.5 accumulated points shares six years after the draft. (I should also emphasize here that these accumulations represent more of a parabola than a linear trajectory as some players don't immediately generate dividends out of the draft and we have to observe aging curves.) To illustrate the absurdity of that 88.5 total though, Colorado sit second in 2017 at 40.8 (literally just from Cale Makar).
The big four from the 2018 class (Brady Tkachuk, Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, and Quinn Hughes) each have about 30 point shares accumulated over the past five years. Jack Hughes, representing the 2019 class, has 19 PS to date. Keeping in mind that aforementioned parabola, and the fact that the Sens have twice as many NHLers cooking from the 2020 class than the Stars do from 2017, Ottawa at the moment has about 21 point shares courtesy of their 2020 draftees after three years. Will this amount to anything? I don't know. But I had fun doing the research.
On my AHL-NHL Fallacy
In a recent post I (very) erroneously made a remark about how NHL-level rebuilds should merit a successful season from an AHL squad loaded with top prospects. It turns out this does not actually apply in the AHL anymore (if it ever did). As I write this, the affiliate teams of the lottery-bound Blue Jackets, Ducks, Sharks, Coyotes, and Red Wings all sit outside of the AHL playoff picture (along with the hapless Senators). The Capitals' and Canucks's AHL affiliates have playoff spots locked up with the Blues' farm team also in the hunt but this seems more the exception than the rule (plus these teams find themselves closer to the middle of the NHL pack). Meanwhile, the Bruins', Maple Leafs', Stars', Avalanche's, and Oilers' AHL affiliates all have their tickets punched for the postseasons. So yeah, apparently good organizations just enjoy success from the top-down. Go figure.
On Playing down to your Opponent (question mark)
Coming off an overtime loss to the aforementioned struggling Blue Jackets and the same result against the dominant Hurricanes of Carolina (absolutely zero comment about last night's debacle), I had started to wonder if we needed to hold the Sens accountable for "playing down" to opponents who sit lower in the standings. After all, if you can tie the Hurricanes, you should pencil in a win against the Jackets. (Spoiler alert, the Sens play fine against lesser opponents and just get goalied--often.) As we all know, the Sens have enjoyed (not) a perfect combination of untimely goaltending meltdowns and shooting regression to ensure that they lose as often as possible even when handily outshooting the opposition.
True to form, almost across the board, the Sens exceed their average five-on-five Corsi- and expected goals-for percentages when playing opponents lower in the standings. This statement does, however, come with a couple of caveats you probably saw coming. Randomly, the Blues out-Corsied the Sens in their sparse and forgettable match-ups. The Canucks outscored the Senators at a three-to-one ratio at five-on-five with Ottawa rocking a save percentage of 80. The Sharks held Ottawa to a five-on-five shooting percentage of 5.36. Both of those represent more luck-based results than actual effort though and don't indicate Ottawa playing down so to speak. San Jose and Vancouver both feasted on the powerplay against Ottawa in terms of expected goals.
And then you have goddamn Chicago. Against that cursed franchise, the Sens got badly outscored in terms of actual and expected goals at five-on-five. Ottawa couldn't score a single powerplay goal against Chicago either. Anyway, Ottawa mostly played as well as you would have expected against non-playoff teams, they just really stunk on a few nights and I can't get over that bullshit especially when looking at the standings right now.
On the Luck (or lack thereof) of the Second Line
To satisfy my own curiosity more than anything, as usual, I tried to take a stab at understanding the misfortune that has befallen Ottawa's cursed second line. I've written before about DJ Smith's obstinance in keeping said line together despite their lack of results. And given the individual talent, it really does make zero sense that they should have a negative zillion goal differential. But here we are. So referring to our old friend natural stat trick, I looked at all forwards this season who have played 500+ minutes in all situations and calculated the difference between on-ice, actual and expected goals-for percentage to quantify this luck (or lack) factor. Sure enough, Ottawa's second-liners rank 11th, 22nd, and 38th out of 396 forwards when it comes to actual minus expected goals-for percentage differential.
Unsurprisingly a couple of Ottawa's depth forwards also find themselves in the mix. Mark Kastelic ranks 9th, and Parker Kelly takes the crown among Senators. With his paltry expected goals-for percentage of 34.19 and his even worse actual goals-for percentage of 22.73, Kelly's differential of -11.46 ranks fourth worst among forwards included. Granted, by using all situations, penalty-killers fare worse than power-players but I wanted to paint a bigger picture here. To further illustrate Ottawa's misfortune this season, even a great player like Brady Tkachuk has underperformed his expected goals-for by -7.62. Randomly, Derick Brassard fared the best among Sens outperforming his expected goals-for by 8.91. Take solace knowing that good players can repeat their expected goals rates year over year while actual goals (shooting and save percentages) can, we only hope, regress to the mean. Again, does any of this mean anything? Maybe not, but I need to try to wrap my head around this season and all of its nonsense.
On the Greatness of Jake Sanderson
Before this season, I embarrassingly wrote an article about awards the Sens could win this year (I won't even bother linking it) but before I totally write off this lost season I do want to tip my hat to our beautiful son who probably won't win rookie of the year but still has a very bright future. Sanderson will probably finish the season second (at worst third) among rookie defenders in scoring; first or second in shots; and again neck and neck with Owen Power in rebounds. Most significantly to me, though, I think Sanderson has some serious Lady Byng potential down the road. Among NHL defenders with 600+ all situation minutes this season, Sanderson's 12 PIM have him in the 90th percentile for discipline. Among rookie defenders, Sanderson will easily take the title for most disciplined.
I realize a lot of fans and readers see things the opposite way, wanting gritty players who play on the edge and take penalties. I don't intend to debate on the matter. Every fan watches the game in their own way. And as last night's game demonstrated, the Senators have delivered on their promise of assembling a squad that can and will fight any NHL team on any given night. This comes with its drawbacks though as Ottawa's lack of depth scoring has plagued them all season (while they employ a very rugged bottom-six instead). Having Tkachuk and Alex DeBrincat in the box also means missing some key offensive weapons on the ice. Okay I guess I will try to argue in favour of not taking penalties: Jake Sanderson plays defence at a very high level and does so without leaving his team shorthanded and we should all take note of that. The end.