Five Thoughts For Friday

On a revamped Top-6, Cam Talbot, Dorion upping his trading game, and more!

The Ottawa Senators’ monumental offseason continued yesterday. Ian Mendes hinted at some good news in the afternoon, which turned out to be yet another fantastic move by Pierre Dorion:

Oh, and he also signed Josh Norris to an 8x8. Anyways, here are your Five Thoughts for Friday:

How to Win a Trade

Dorion’s overall trading record has drastically improved over the course of the last few weeks, and the biggest reason is that the team is beginning to position themselves to win deals before they’re made. Their acquisition of Alex DeBrincat, for the price of the 7th overall pick, along with a 2nd and 3rd, was an instant win because Dorion knew Chicago was looking to move into the Top-10; they had traded their own pick along with a former Top-10 pick, and another Top-10 pick for Seth Jones.

The subsequent Matt Murray deal is rightfully being labeled as a win for Ottawa as well because the Toronto Maple Leafs were looking for a starting goalie, and options like Jack Campbell and Darcy Kuemper were out of their price range.

As for Connor Brown, the team didn’t get that great of a return for a winger who put up 21 goals in 56 games in 2020-21, but the Senators still have some moves to make regarding their defense corps (moving out Nikita Zaitsev and adding a Top-4 RHD in his place), and acquiring a draft pick for Brown while shedding $4M from the payroll could be necessary steps toward that goal. In this case, Washington was able to take advantage and add a solid middle-six option for a decent price.

Targeting gullible and/or desperate clubs is half the battle when it comes to winning trades in the NHL. Look at what the Carolina Hurricanes just did. Max Pacioretty acquired for absolutely nothing because when it comes to managing the salary cap, Kelly McCrimmon makes Kyle Dubas look like Julien BriseBois in comparison. It’s great to see Dorion making these kinds of deals, and being on the right side of things this offseason.

NHL GMs are Volatile

To add to my previous thought about Dorion, the turnaround we’ve seen from him has been incredible. Who knows if future deals will have us singing his praises, but it’s definitely an indicator that NHL GMs are extremely volatile.

Chicago and Philadelphia are the biggest punching bags in the league right now, but even the league’s top executives can make ill-advised moves. Take Florida Panthers’ GM Bill Zito for example, who recently replaced Jack Adams runner-up Andrew Brunette with Paul Maurice. Maurice has spent the last several years coaching a defensively inept Winnipeg Jets squad.  It’s hard to square that circle when the Panthers’ lax defensive zone play is what led to their ouster in the playoffs.

I don’t think Dorion is a brand-new GM. He, like every GM in the league, will make his fair share of bad moves until the end of his tenure. However, this offseason has injected the fanbase with an unprecedented level of optimism, because he’s shown that he’s finally acquiring good players in an honest attempt to turn the Senators into a contender.

What Can We Expect From Cam Talbot?

Compared to the major Giroux and DeBrincat acquisitions, the acquisition of Cam Talbot from the Minnesota Wild is more of an under-the-radar move to shore up the goaltending. At first glance, it’s a safe bet to give Ottawa a bit of a safety net in case Anton Forsberg is the real deal, but there are things to be aware of when a goalie switches clubs — especially in this case.

The Wild were a solid team last year and excelled in two areas in particular: finishing on scoring chances and scoring chance suppression, the latter of which implies that their goalies had a lot of support from skaters. Using NaturalStatTrick’s record of goals against, as well as expected goals against for goalies, we can subtract the first value from the second to calculate a new value called Goals Saved Above Expected. We can also adjust for sample size by dividing this value by the number of games played. Of 74 goalies who played at least 10 games last year, Talbot ranks 55th with -0.208. That is, over the course of one game, he allowed 0.208 more goals than what was expected based on the quality of shots he faced. This amounts to roughly 10 goals over 49 games.

This is barely an upgrade over Filip Gustavsson, ranking 57th with -0.214, and comfortably below Forsberg ranking 27th with +0.042. Ultimately, Talbot’s raw save percentage has been fairly consistent over his career, so if Ottawa can improve their defense, he should be able to function as a capable backup this season at the very least. But his situation could be a good lesson in looking beyond raw SV% when analyzing a goalie’s performance.

Best Top-Six Ever?

I wrote a piece before the 2020 NHL Draft predicting that in a couple of years, Ottawa’s forward corps would be worthy of a Cup contender. The scenario I outlined saw the team use both of their lottery picks on forwards (Quinton Byfield and Lucas Raymond), Drake Batherson and Josh Norris panning out, and Anthony Duclair sticking around. Despite the latter not coming to pass, and the 5th-overall pick being used on defenseman Jake Sanderson (not that I’m complaining), the offseason has given the forward corps a major boost.

So, let’s review Ottawa’s top-six for a minute. Brady Tkachuk, who had 67 points in 79 games this year, Drake Batherson (44 in 46), Josh Norris (55 in 66, including 35 goals), 20-year-old Tim Stutzle (58 in 79), Claude Giroux (65 in 75), and Alex DeBrincat (78 in 82, including 41 goals). That’s probably the best top-six the Sens have had since...ever? I doubt the Pizza Line will ever be topped, but you’ve got the potential here for two lines that could reasonably be an NHL first line, which is a rare but on indeed.

Don’t Ignore the Third Line

It doesn’t stop there, however, because even with the departure of Brown, that third line is looking pretty interesting. You’ve got Alex Formenton on the left wing, who despite some lackluster transitional numbers last year, put up 18 goals and 14 assists in 79 games while being a pest on the penalty kill, with plenty of room for improvement at just 22 years old. Mathieu Joseph, acquired for Nick Paul in what could end up being the most even trade in NHL history, has 12 points in 11 games with Ottawa so far and is a strong two-way driver of play who can complement players like Tkachuk and Norris. Last but not least, is Shane Pinto, who despite a pair of shoulder injuries, will be slotted into a much more suitable role as opposed to last year. He is, after all, still the same player who finished second in Hobey Baker voting in his sophomore year with UND.

A couple of weeks ago, a breakout season from at least one of these three would’ve been necessary to compete for a playoff spot, and now, it’s icing on the cake. This is going to be a fantastic third line.

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