Five Thoughts: Mann, Hamilton & Offseason Moves
On this lovely Friday morning, I have some thoughts on Troy Mann, Dougie Hamilton and some other offseason moves the Ottawa Senators should - or should not - be considering.
It’s Friday again. Somehow this keeps happening.
Over the past week, we heard some news and updates on a few members of the Sens coaching staff, while rumours and fantasies surrounding players like Dougie Hamilton, Sean Monahan and Josh Manson continued to swirl around the Twittersphere.
Thus, I give you, my completely accurate and infallible five thoughts for this Friday.
On Troy Mann
Chris Stevenson reported on Wednesday morning that Troy Mann’s contract is up at the end of the month. The good news is it sounds like the two teams are working to get a deal done and progress is being made. Losing Mann would be a massive blow to the Sens organization and there’s an argument to be made that having him leave the organization would be a bigger blow than anyone else, even the NHL head coach, except for, perhaps, his draft genius of a brother.
Mann has been the bench boss in Belleville for three seasons now, joining the club after Kurt Kleinendorst coached the team in its inaugural campaign. Under Mann, the BSens have a 93-67-14, including a heartbreaking 38-20-5 record which saw them win the North Division in a season cut short by COVID-19. Going back to his days with the Hershey Bears, where he also had an outstanding, winning record, it’s clear that Mann is able to get the most out of his players every season. Maintaining a winning culture in Belleville is, of course, incredibly important for the development of the prospects coming through the system.
More important than wins, though, it’s clear that Mann is the right person to be held responsible for the development of Ottawa’s prospects. Unlike many coaches that have come before him, Mann genuinely gives ice time to the players who earn it, regardless of how many games they’ve played in the league. Look no further than his first season as coach where rookies Logan Brown and Drake Batherson were two of the three players who made up a dominant top line. The following year, the players who led the BSens to top spot in the North Division were Josh Norris, Alex Formenton, Erik Brännström, Rudolfs Balcers, Batherson and Brown. All of Belleville’s top players have been young prospects and those prospects have been given that opportunity despite their short professional resumes. I also don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that Nick Paul has risen to where he is today after multiple seasons playing with Mann.
I think Mann is destined to take over in Ottawa at some point, he may even be ready for that position today, but it’s in Ottawa’s best interest to put an offer in front of him that he can’t refuse because having a coach of his calibre continue to mold the future of this franchise while being ready to step in, should a coaching change be required in the NHL, is going to be a bigger difference maker in the long term than where they draft or who they trade for.
On Jack Capuano
Speaking of coaching-related news, it was reported that the Senators did not grant permission to the Buffalo Sabres to interview Sens Assistant Coach Jack Capuano for Buffalo’s Head Coach vacancy and, of course, Twitter went wild. I’ll start by saying I shouldn’t be surprised but I still was a bit surprised with how much people seemed to care about an Assistant Coach in the organization. It is the offseason, though, and every big or small piece of news is going to get examined thoroughly.
I definitely see both sides to it. As fans, we don’t know much about Capuano’s involvement or contributions to the team. It’s very possible that he is an incredibly valuable member of this coaching staff and his efforts are something the Sens very much covet, so they don’t want to let him walk. On the other side, I don’t like the idea of any organization blocking someone from pursuing a role they’re interested in, particularly one that would be a step up from what they’re doing now. I know the Sens, legally, have every right to block Capuano and, honestly, it’s probably not the first time Capuano has had this experience working in professional hockey. I’m sure it happens often and is rarely reported on.
At the end of the day, it’s hard for us to know what goes on behind the scenes or understand what goes into a decision like this. We can only hope that Capuano is happy in Ottawa, enjoys his role and continues to work hard to make the Sens the best team they can be in the meantime.
There’s a carousel of open coaching gigs every year, I’m sure this wasn’t Capuano’s last chance at getting back into that role - although, I would’ve liked to see him get the opportunity to interview nonetheless.
On Dougie Hamilton
The other day, Beata wrote an open letter to Dougie Hamilton on why he should come to Ottawa and if he reads that and decides on any other team, we can confirm that Hamilton is just not a good person. Ok, that’s going too far. I just really enjoyed the piece.
Hamilton appears to be the talk of the town for Sens fans across most platforms and, of course, why shouldn’t he be? Hamilton has been one of the leagues top right handed defenders for multiple seasons and, at 27, he still has some good fuel left in the tank to continue to be a top pairing player for most, maybe all, of his next contract.
I’ve seen palatable arguments on both sides on whether or not the Sens should be going hard after Hamilton. On one side, this is a team that’s known for not being capable of spending to the cap and this is a player who is likely to command more money than Thomas Chabot on his next deal. Meaning, if Ottawa can land Hamilton, the immediate question becomes what they do with their young players. They’ll have to lock up Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson and then, before we know it, Tim Stützle and Jake Sanderson will need new contracts. The good news on that front is, as these players need to get paid, other contracts will either be off the books or will be in their final years, making trades or buyouts easier. Players like Nikita Zaitsev ($4.5M), Evgeni Dadonov ($5M), Matt Murray ($6.25M) and Connor Brown ($3.6M) will either be off the books completely or in their final year by the time Stützle and Sanderson need a top up.
Personally, I’m in the camp that believes if Ottawa is going to make any type of move this summer, it should be go big or go home. You can ask if now is the right time in the rebuild to spend big on a player like Hamilton. Perhaps it is too early. But, for me, if not now... then when? At some point the Sens need to take that next step. Waiting for your next prospect to be ready or waiting for the “right time” to go all in presents a big risk for me - you might literally always be waiting. If you want to capitalize on players like Stützle, Shane Pinto, Josh Norris and Jake Sanderson being on their ELCs, why not start now by finally fixing the right side of the blueline by adding Hamilton.
This is, of course, if Hamilton wants to come here. After all, he’s 27 and in search of a Stanley Cup. Does he see the up and coming Ottawa Senators as the best place to potentially play the rest of his career? Or is he going to look at a team who’s already a playoff contender and go that direction. It’ll be fun to watch.
I’m holding onto that small, tiny hope that Hamilton picks Ottawa. A Chabot-Hamilton pairing would be a refreshingly wonderful top pairing for this Sens team.
On Making Trades
This offseason is a big one, arguably bigger than last year. The Sens finished the season incredibly strong, showing signs they might be entering the next phase of the rebuild. When it comes to acquisitions heading into training camp, I’ve already made my position pretty clear earlier in this piece. If you’re not going to make a big splash, it might be best to make no splash at all.
Over the last few weeks, the fantastic Ian Mendes has virtually penned multiple pieces on potential trade opportunities to improve this roster today. He’s talked a bit about Claude Giroux, mentioned both Josh Manson and Adam Henrique, circled around Sean Monahan and even answered a mailbag questions about Nazem Kadri. Couple that with Hamilton being tweeted about every five minutes and there are lots of conversations happening out there amongst fans and media alike.
When I say if you’re not going to make a big splash, don’t make one at all, what I mean is, if you’re going after any of the players Mendes has written about, or a free agent the calibre of Hamilton, then I’m all ears. I don’t think, for a second, the team that ended last season with a 9-2-1 record in their final 12 games is the team we can expect to see next year. Afterall, that pace would leave the Sens with a 62-13-7 record over an 82 game season.
My big point here is, outside of the big ticket players, I’m not convinced the assets required to bring in second tier acquisitions are worth the cost relative to their impact on the roster. Particularly compared to who Ottawa has internally to play those minutes. If you’re going to bring in a defender who isn’t going to be much better than Nikita Zaitsev or Josh Brown, just give the minutes to Jacob Bernard-Docker. If you can’t bring in a Monahan or Kadri to play down the middle, Pinto should be getting those minutes. Because, for me, if you’re just going to bring in a stop-gap player who’s not going to make the roster better than it would be with Pinto, JBD or a number of other prospects playing those minutes, then it’s a waste of assets that could and should be used to make a bigger splash.
The Sens have plenty of young players capable of playing bottom six or bottom pairing minutes just as well as most of the players who will actually be available on the trade market this summer. Unless you’re bringing in someone who’s going to truly take things to the next level, my strategy would be to hold onto those assets and see where the team is at when the trade deadline rolls around. You might want to save those prospects and picks for a big move then, rather than spending them on a player no better than a handful of Ottawa’s prospects are today.
On the Expansion Draft
This topic has been, and will continue to be, beaten with a stick but yesterday a few folks at The Athletic posted their seventh version (yes, seventh version) of an expansion mock draft. The team runs through each franchise, assumes who they’ll protect, then identifies a likely target for Seattle.
For Ottawa, they see Seattle taking Chris Tierney (x2) or Anton Forsberg. As Sens fans have been wondering and, in some cases, complaining that there’s a risk they’ll lose one of Filip Gustavsson or Joey Daccord, this is a welcomed version of this mock draft. At the end of the day, the Sens are in a fantastic position - similar to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the Vegas expansion draft - in that almost all of their key pieces are exempt from the expansion draft, leaving plenty of spaces to protect those important players who are eligible. A great example of this is that the Sens have to choose between Nikita Zaitsev and Josh Brown as their third defender to protect - neither of whom would be a big loss, should they be selected.
This brings me to my main thought on the expansion draft. The Sens should, under no circumstances, make a deal with Seattle to get them to take any particular player. The worst case scenario is that Seattle does end up grabbing an up and coming goalie like Gustavsson but, in the greater picture, having Daccord, Mads Søgaard, Kevin Mandolese and newly signed Leevi Meilainen in the system, you can probably afford to lose Gustavsson - even if he may very well be the most likely to be a star goalie. Realistically, Ottawa should be protecting Gustavsson and then the worst case scenario is even better for the team.
The best case scenario is they do end up taking a guy like Zaitsev or Tierney for free, further opening up some cap and roster flexibility for Ottawa’s cupboard of prospects.
I’ve seen a few suggestions that they should entice Seattle to take someone like Zaitsev or even Matt Murray (both for financial reasons) but we all saw what’s happened with Vegas. They got given gift after gift and have now built a team that’s one of the best in the league over the course of three seasons. Teams traded them first round picks and the players they selected helped them add both Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty to their already solid roster since expansion.
While the Kraken have a better logo and jerseys (there, I said it), there’s no need to also give them the opportunity to build a better team like clubs did for Vegas.