Five Thoughts For Friday

Today's thoughts paint a picture of a bright present and brighter future.

There's still a mountain to climb, but the Ottawa Senators fulfilled their assignment yesterday to stay alive in the playoff race. Whether you're clinging to hope for this season or looking ahead to next season, it's a good time to be a Sens fan.

No Pain, No Gain for Shane

One has to wonder where the Sens would be in the standings if they had access to Josh Norris' lethal shot for most of the season, as opposed to just eight games. Somewhat related to this is the performance of Shane Pinto this season – specifically, how he's fared as a 2C compared to as a 3C. The following table shows some of the more prominent lines on which he's been featured, along with NaturalStatTrick's 5-on-5 Goals and Expected Goals per 60 minutes:

Line Combination Minutes Goals/60 xGoals/60
DeBrincat - Pinto - Batherson 423 1.98 2.64
DeBrincat - Pinto - Giroux 102 1.76 2.67
Motte - Pinto - Joseph 98 3.05 2.3
Brassard - Pinto - Batherson 50 4.75 2.67

As always, beware of small sample sizes. That said, the results point to Pinto, regardless of who he plays with, consistently generating scoring chances at what NaturalStatTrick considers to be an average rate. Note the discrepancy between the Goals/60 in what you would describe as his second line vs. third line deployments, though. The finishing numbers improve when he's in a third-line role, which could potentially speak to him having an easier time converting on opportunities against easier competition.

Provided Josh Norris is healthy and able to return to action, the prospect of Pinto providing a complementary scoring punch from the bottom six should have fans salivating.

Trigger Happy Hamonic

After the obvious choices (Stützle, Giroux, etc.), Travis Hamonic of all people has been one of my favourite players to watch this season. It's not necessarily by way of particularly outstanding play on any given occasion, it's more so that stuff just keeps happening to him. We've seen him become an unwilling dental patient of Thomas Chabot's, he's known to honour teammate Alex DeBrincat by morphing into an actual feline, and he's even adopted Erik Brännström as his own personal attack dog. Seriously, just watch him sick the good boy on poor old Zach Bogosian here:

There's a healthy debate to be had regarding his play this year, but he's had his best offensive season since 2015-16, with 21 points in 74 games, including his first-career two-goal game and a couple of slick primary assists in back-to-back games.

According to Ian Mendes' latest for The Athletic (paywall), Hamonic has expressed a desire to stay in Ottawa, as the city and organization have provided him with a fresh start both on and off the ice. The team could use a capable third-pair/depth veteran for next season, and, provided his injury last night isn't more than a temporary setback, I'd love to see a deal get done provided it makes sense within the team's cap structure.

Prospect Wars

With a top-six of Thomas Chabot, Jake Sanderson, Jakob Chychrun, Artem Zub, Erik Brännström, and Travis Hamonic currently projected for next season, there will be a spot open for one of the team's defense prospects.

Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson have spent multiple seasons developing in Belleville, but could they have been leapfrogged by Tyler Kleven? Despite his younger age and being a left shot, of which the Sens have plenty already, Pierre Dorion has spoken highly of the 2020 2nd-round pick's unique combination of skating, shooting and physical style of defense, and had a strong NHL debut overall, with his first career point.

The dark horse in this conversation is right-shot Maxence Guenette, with whom you're absolutely familiar if you've read the weekly prospects coverage by Owen, Spencer and me. The 7th-round pick from 2019 has been one of Belleville's more productive blueliners over the past two years, while being very disciplined in the process.

Any of those 4 could end up on Ottawa's main roster next season. JBD and Thomson will need to clear waivers to play in the AHL at that point, but the Senators will also need to put that aside and promote the prospect that gives them the best chance to win going forward. Development time is over; now it's winning time.

Prospect Wars 2: Electric Boogaloo

With a clear(ish) picture of the team's defense corps for next season, attention shifts to the bottom-six forwards, which have been the team's collective Achilles' heel this season. Of those who've played in most of the team's games, it's hard to find a bright spot outside of 35-year-old Derick Brassard, who has 23 points in 61 games this season (and even poor Brassard seems to have suffered an unpleasant fate last night). Mathieu Joseph hasn't been able to produce in a third-line role consistently, but having Shane Pinto back in his rightful spot could turn things around.

There are always quality depth players available in free agency, but seeing as the Senators will be a cap team for the first time since...Redden vs Chara? Has it really been that long? Anyway, cap constraints may force Ottawa to look to their prospect pool to fill out the bottom-six, which isn't a bad idea. If Ridly Greig can stay healthy, he could see his strong season in Belleville translate to a third-line role, while Angus Crookshank and Egor Sokolov could round out a serviceable fourth line with Brassard or Mark Kastelic. With everything else falling into place, it would be mistake to roll out the exact same third and fourth lines next year. Dorion's got his marching orders.

Tip of the Cap to You, Pierre!

Over the last few seasons, Pierre Dorion has set the Sens up for long-term success with the moves he's made. He's negotiated long-term deals with nearly every member of the core, and has cleaned up his mistakes with (mostly) minimal damage.

DeBrincat's $9M qualifying offer could make his upcoming contract negotiation a tad complicated, and they'll likely need to sign Pinto and Brännström to one-year deals to stay under the cap ceiling – the Sens have around $14.3M in cap space to sign those three, along with some fourth-liners and perhaps Hamonic. But that's okay, because not only is the cap projected to rise significantly after 2023-24, there's dead money coming off the books – Matt Murray, Michael Del Zotto, and Bobby Ryan to be specific.

Of course, any contending team will need to integrate fresh talent through drafting and development to keep their window open for as long as possible. But by having so many key players locked in for the forseeable future, Dorion is charging towards these hurdles with a ton of momentum, and he can see them from a mile away. Everything is setting up nicely, now it's time to execute.

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