Five Thoughts: Missing Out on Fiala, Trying for DeBrincat, Hockey Ops and More!

Let’s get down to some thinking, shall we?

Welcome to a Canada Day edition of Five Thoughts for Friday:

On Missing Out

It’s no secret that the Ottawa Senators are in need of an injection of skill up front — the team finished 26th in scoring last year, and while they had to deal with injuries to a few key contributors, it’s difficult to look at next year’s projected roster as it currently stands and have much confidence that the necessary offensive output will be there.

So when the Los Angeles Kings won the Kevin Fiala sweepstakes on Wednesday, it came as a real disappointment: the Sens were reportedly very much in the mix, and the price that the Los Angeles Kings paid to get him was by no means prohibitive. In the parlance of Sens picks/players, the 7th overall pick from this year’s draft and Lassi Thomson would have been at least as good (if not better) than what L.A traded away.

Maybe the Sens got some intel that Fiala wouldn’t sign in Ottawa, maybe Minnesota really, really like Brock Faber. There hasn’t been much reporting from the Ottawa side of things just yet, but it would be real bummer if the Sens weren’t willing to pay either the dollars or the trade capital to bring in the star winger. This one feels like a real missed opportunity.

On Future Possibilities

The good news is that Fiala is not the only player rumoured to be available on the trade market this off-season. With Chicago seemingly entering a full rebuild, star winger Alex DeBrincat could reportedly be had for the right price. DeBrincat is an absolute dynamo offensively, but if Sens fans were feeling queasy over the money required to sign Fiala then they should know that the Chicago winger’s actual salary this coming season is $9M. That means that when he becomes an RFA at the end of next year, he’ll be in line for a big money deal starting in 2023-24.

If Ottawa wants to go the cheaper route, it appears Jesse Puljujärvi is once again on the outs with the Edmonton Oilers. I’m on the record as saying that I think Puljujärvi would be a great get for the Sens, in spite of Mark Spector’s weird, seemingly personal campaign against him, but Puljujärvi’s also not the solution to the Sens’ scoring woes all by himself.

Either way, there are still options available for immediate improvement; now it’s up to Pierre Dorion and co. to find the right fit.

On Hockey Ops

When Peter MacTavish left the organization a couple of weeks ago, the Sens were really down to a bare bones operation. On Thursday, the team promoted Trent Mann to Assistant GM and hired Ryan Bowness to the same title. Mann’s been a valuable part of the organization for years and it should come as no surprised to see his dedication and hard work rewarded. Kudos to the Sens for retaining him. I have no strong opinion on Bowness one way or another, but it’s a good sign that Dorion was able to fill the seat vacated by MacTavish in such short order — especially with the Entry Draft just a week away.

At the same time, it behooves the Sens to get more bodies, and to get them hired ASAP. Ottawa’s been running one of the smallest front offices for years, and, especially on the pro scouting side of things, it’s not hard to see how some of their poorer decisions were likely influenced by a simple lack of resources. This is not an original thought, but the organization should also think long and hard about investing in a proper analytics department. This year’s Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche, the consensus best team in the league, has an analytics group that’s almost as big as Ottawa’s entire front office! Let’s get those job ads up on LinkedIn!

On the Quality of the Play-offs

For my money, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche played the best hockey I’ve seen in the Stanley Cup Finals in the last 25 years. Yes, there was a distinct lack of tension in two of the six games, but even Colorado’s historic Game 2 thrashing of the Lightning featured the sport being played at its absolute apex. The speed and skill on display was a treat to behold. The 2015 finals between Chicago and Tampa, as well as the 2009 Finals rematch between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, were also incredible representations of the game but there was something just a bit different about this year’s edition. As a neutral fan, it was all I could ask for. I’ve never felt better about the overall quality of the product that the NHL is putting on the ice.

It made me excited for NHL hockey to return in the fall — now let’s just hope it’s not too long before the Sens are the ones flying around the ice in the Finals.

On Progress

Lastly, the Washington Capitals made NHL history yesterday when they promoted Emily Engel-Natzke to Video Co-ordinator. Engel-Natzke is the first woman to be hired as a full-time coach in the league’s history. She had spent the prior two season as the Video Co-Ordinator for the franchise’s AHL team in Hershey. While I do not want to rain on Engel-Natzke’s parade, it is still jarring to think that she is literally the first woman to be hired as a full-time coach. Sometimes it seems as if the ranks of NHL coaches is the smallest of old boy clubs out there. Ignoring the hockey acumen of half the world’s population is an awfully good way to ensure it stays insular. If the Capitals have figured out that they don’t need to limit themselves to just Hockey Men, then that qualifies as revolutionary thinking these days. Maybe in a few years it won’t be quite so remarkable.

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