Five Thoughts For Friday

Nine more years of the süperstar. Life is good.

As we get closer and closer to the start of the 2022-23 NHL season, the excitement continues to build within the fanbase, as a number of exciting developments were recently announced by the Ottawa Senators, headlined by another member of the talented young core committing to the team and city for the long-term.

On Tim Stützle’s (really good) contract:

Just when we thought the Summer of Pierre was over — he checked another major item off the list. Tim Stützle, Ottawa’s 3rd-overall pick from the 2020 NHL Entry Draft was signed on Wednesday to an eight-year extension worth $8.35M/year. Beginning in the 2023-24 season, he’ll become the highest-paid player on the team (in terms of AAV), a fact that’s easy to justify when you consider how young players have been transcending to stardom earlier in their careers. The Senators are betting on a significant improvement from Stützle on his 58 points in 79 games last season and with the additions of Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux, the sky is the limit.

We’ve already seen a great deal of positive development from Stützle on the defensive side of things — according to NaturalStatTrick, his expected goals share relative to his team improved from 4.43% below to 1.78 above, across his two seasons. To put it bluntly, he went from being one of the worst forwards in the league by that metric to one of the best on his team. This year, the goal will be to continue to build strength and take advantage of better linemates to create more opportunities in the offensive zone at 5-on-5. It’s hard to imagine at this point, a situation in which Pierre Dorion is looking like anything but a mad genius for negotiating this deal.

On upcoming negotiations with Alex DeBrincat

Speaking of DeBrincat, the recently acquired two-time 40-goal scorer will need a new contract next summer as well. By all accounts, the city and organization have made a strong first impression, but I think his decision to commit long-term will depend on whether or not the Sens will be in the mix for a playoff spot around February.

If he’s keen on sticking around, the important thing to note for DeBrincat is his impending qualifying offer of $9M. It’s entirely possible to negotiate an extension at a lower cap hit, but the smart thing for the player here would be to wait things out. In an arbitration scenario, the $9M qualifying offer is the lowest the team can file, and a long-term deal would most definitely clock in at higher than that.

If we project a cap hit of $9.5M, that’s a raise of $3.1M from his current deal. Travis Hamonic’s $3M cap hit comes off the books at that point, with a player on an entry-level deal likely ready to take his spot. That leaves the team with just over $12M in cap space to negotiate new deals for Shane Pinto, Artem Zub, Erik Brännström, and perhaps Alex Formenton depending on the ongoing negotiations. The year after that, over $5M of dead money along with Nikita Zaitsev’s $4.5M cap hit come off the books, so it’s reassuring to know the team should be able to tackle any approaching challenges created by the salary cap.

On a cost-effective bottom-six

One aspect of team-building that’s enabled the organization to sign all of these budding stars to long-term deals, has been a much more measured approach to constructing their bottom six. Here’s what Ottawa’s group looks like now, according to CapFriendly:

  • Mathieu Joseph: 2.95M
  • Austin Watson: 1.5M
  • Alex Formenton: 1.5M (estimated on a one-year deal)
  • Parker Kelly: 0.762M
  • Dylan Gambrell: 0.950M
  • Shane Pinto: 0.925M/

Joseph stands out as the only player making third-line money, and there’s a strong indication that he could grow into something more.

I don’t really mind how much they spent on their depth players throughout the rebuild when the goal was to bolster talent through draft picks of high quality and quantity, but it’s worthwhile to compare the current group to what they had in 2017-18, a year in which the team was hoping to contend for a Cup:

  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau: 3.1M
  • Zack Smith: 3.25M
  • Alex Burrows: 2.5M
  • Nate Thompson: 1.65M
  • Tom Pyatt: 1.1M
  • Gabriel Dumont: 0.650M /

Despite prime Pageau being worth every penny and then some, the difference in efficiency is night and day. Not only does the current group absolutely demolish that from 2018, but they also cost a mere $8.6M, as opposed to $12.25M (back when the cap was lower, too!).

The improvement in pro scouting helps a lot, but the key here is the amateur scouting department. Identifying players such as Parker Kelly, Angus Crookshank, Mark Kastelic, Viktor Lodin, Cole Reinhardt, and more, ensure that depth roles will be filled on the cheap for years to come. And it’s all in the service of one of the most dynamic top-six groups the NHL currently has to offer.

On getting the band back together

Another thing that’s great to see as part of the franchise’s turnaround, has been its relationship with its alumni. They started out by bringing in Wade Redden as a development coach in July, joining Shean Donovan and Jesse Winchester. And at the recent start-of-season event, the organization announced that they not only promoted Chris Neil to the role of vice-president of business and community development, but they also brought Chris Phillips back as vice-president of business operations.

Who knows if Daniel Alfredsson will return in some capacity, but the fact that the team actively campaigned for his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame earlier in the offseason is a very promising sign.

As things improve on the ice, it’s also important to have these iconic former players as active members of the team — something to connect the older and younger fans together as the club begins an exciting new chapter this year.

On Nick Holden and Travis Hamonic

As far as the team defense goes, Dorion has indicated that, of six regular spots, four of them will be occupied by Thomas Chabot, Artem Zub, Nick Holden, and Travis Hamonic. We know Chabot and Zub will be the top pair, and a good one at that. As for the other two, both have seen mixed results as depth defenders in a Sens uniform, and will likely partner up with younger players such as Jake Sanderson, Erik Brännström, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and Lassi Thomson throughout the year. A big question going into the season is how Hamonic and Holden will fare on the second and third pairs — will they be able to perform at a level such that they’ll be able to ease that transition into the NHL? Holden struggled throughout the season in terms of expected goals, but he did have a 5-on-5 goal differential of 16-13 when paired with Zub. That warrants a second look to me, as in, was he lucky, or are the chances he’s allowing not as dangerous as the data model says they are?

As for Hamonic, his best partnership was in a third-pairing role with Michael Del Zotto, in which the two posted a 5v5 xGF share of 52.47% (the team’s best regular pairing) and a 10-5 goal differential. How would he look next to top defense prospect Jake Sanderson? Definitely not the ideal partner, but he could do a lot worse. I’m not suggesting the defense corps will be playoff-caliber — it’s without a doubt the team’s weakest point. That said, if the right guys take a step forward, I don’t think it will be as big a detriment as some are saying.

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