After Shaan let you know how we graded the Sens forwards yesterday, we turn our attention to the defence and goaltenders.
Unlike last season, which saw 15 different defencemen spend time at the NHL level, this year’s Senators squad is down to a more reasonable 11. We’ve graded nine of them below, leaving out Max Lajoie and Christian Jaros due to limited viewings.
There’s some stability in net as well, with Anderson, Nilsson, and Marcus Hogberg splitting the time in lieu of a veteran signing like Mike Condon or Mike McKenna in years past.
This is the second in a week-long series that will focus on the coaching and management side tomorrow, followed by a roundtable where the staff discuss our grades. We’ll then reveal how you have voted at the end of the week; if you haven’t already, you can find more information at the end of this article.
Let’s dive in!
Mark Borowiecki (Staff Grade: B-)
- 46 GP, 5G, 11A, 43.51 CF%, 48.53 xGF%/
BoroCop picked his contract year to have a breakout season in terms of his counting statistics, and he’s stayed relatively healthy to boot. He’s also a poster boy for D.J. Smith’s first-year trend: a team that gets caved in shots-wise, but looks okay in terms of shot quality. Boro, like everyone else, looked fantastic in all metrics while playing with Dylan DeMelo, but struggled while his partner was out for a month.
Erik Brännström (Staff Grade: B-)
- 31GP, 0G, 4A, 48.30 CF%, 50.33 xGF%/
Pierre Dorion wanted Brännström to get ~20 games at some point this season. An injury to Christian Wolanin at the start and then a slew of injuries in December increased that total a bit more. It’s been a season of expectation-setting for the 20-year-old Swede, who’s been plagued with being the “primary return for Mark Stone” that Rudolfs Balcers and co. do not have to deal with because the Sens received many more assets in exchange for Erik Karlsson. On the ice, Brännström has looked defensively solid, focusing on not making a mistake rather than showing off the offensive capabilities that we saw flashes of at the NHL level, and even more of at the AHL level, where he’s a point-per-game player.
Thomas Chabot (Staff Grade: B+)
- 48GP, 4G, 23A, 48.53 CF%, 50.12 xGF%/
The engine of the team, Chabot had 39 points at this point last year but the circumstances were much different. He’s one of the team’s only dangerous offensive talents, and due to his efficient skating stride and relative health, he’s among the T-10 players in terms of ice-time this season. He has the talent to be mentioned alongside Miro Heiskanen, Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar and company as a Norris contender, but will likely have to wait a while for some offensive stars alongside him (and a new powerplay coach).
Dylan DeMelo (Staff Grade: A)
- 38GP, 0G, 7A, 52.42 CF%, 57.05 xGF%/
The reverse Cody Ceci, DeMelo’s looked great alongside any other Sens defender and improves all of their underlying metrics. Case in point, Mike Reilly didn’t look like an NHL player with Montréal, but leads the team in CF% and xGF% upon being traded to Ottawa, where he’s mainly suited up with DeMelo on the team’s third-pair. Calm and collected, with a strong neutral zone presence — he does what Ron Hainsey’s supposed to do.
Andreas Englund (Staff Grade: D)
- 12GP, 0G, 2A, 45.50 CF%, 46.10 xGF%/
Englund got some ice time due to injuries, and looked more offensively engaged than I’ve seen him in the past. He’s likely in his last season in North America, as he doesn’t look like a regular depth NHLer, and the team may want to make room for prospects in Belleville.
Cody Goloubef (Staff Grade: D)
- 18GP, 0G, 1A, 43.29 CF%, 43.79 xGF%/
He hasn’t looked like an NHLer in the limited time he’s seen, and that’s because he isn’t. Goloubef plays his role admirably, filling in whenever he’s needed, and adds depth along the right-side where the Sens are thin until Bernard-Docker and Thomson arrive.
Ron Hainsey (Staff Grade: C-)
- 41GP, 1G, 7A, 45.33 CF%, 46.90 xGF%/
Has Hainsey done what he’s supposed to do? If that’s play minutes on a team that needed a stopgap? Yes. If that’s “calm down the defence”, then my answer is no. Regardless, Hainsey seems prime to be a candidate to play another month in a Sens uniform before he goes for another Stanley Cup for a team in need of a versatile depth defender who can fill in on the penalty kill.
Mike Reilly (Staff Grade: B-)
- 7GP, 0G, 2A, 53.28 CF%, 57.96 xGF%/
Reilly has another year on his deal, but is playing like a guy who knows he has to shine if he wants his NHL career to continue. He’s underlying metrics in the seven-game sample we have lead the Sens, but that’s alongside DeMelo. It’d be good to see him with some other partners first to try to tease out how much impact he’s really having in D.J. Smith’s system.
Nikita Zaitsev (Staff Grade: D+)
- 35GP, 0G, 8A, 41.73 CF%, 43.79 xGF%/
I’d put some of Chabot’s early season struggles squarely on the shoulders of Nikita Zaitsev, who looks better than Ceci in the defensive zone without the puck, but appears to be more inept with the puck. I thought that some of his offensive flair from his rookie year would re-appear in Toronto, as both D.J. Smith and Pierre Dorion hinted that he’d be given more of an offensive role, but I haven’t seen much of that all season. It’ll be fascinating to see if the Sens keep him under contract for the four years he has remaining, with the more effective DeMelo deserving of minutes, Christian Jaros in the pipeline, and Bernard-Docker and Thomson both ready at some point over the course of that contract.
Craig Anderson (Staff Grade: C-)
- 22GP, 6-12-1, 0.897 sv%, -7.00 GSAA/
Anderson is likely going to finish his Ottawa Senators career as the best goaltender in franchise history, and deservedly so. He’s manned the pipes for the better parts of a decade for a team that had the reputation of being a goalie graveyard previously. While he’s had some down years before, this really seems like it’s it for Andy; the only question is whether a team would like to acquire him as a veteran backup (Vegas?) to see if any playoff magic remains.
Marcus Hogberg (Staff Grade: B)
- 11GP, 2-2-5, 0.907 sv%, -0.36 GSAA/
He’s on a one-way contract next year, and for good reason. The 25-year-old Swede has showcased some of the skill that made him a top SHL goaltender earlier in his career, and while he’s had some bad games, he’s also had a few where he’s been the difference maker to get the Sens a point. As his season has gone on, he’s looked a lot calmer in the net and more sure of himself when choosing a particular angle to challenge a shooter. I wonder how much more of him we’ll see this year.
Anders Nilsson (Staff Grade: B)
- 20GP, 9-9-2, 0.908 sv%, -0.55 GSAA/
Until his injury, the Nilsson - Anderson tandem was providing some stable goaltending that kept their teams in games. Playing behind this roster without getting blown out is a feat, especially when you’re facing 33+ shots a night on average, but Nilsson’s appeared up to the task. A concussion is hard to come back from, so we’ll see when he begins training again, but from the way we’ve voted, we’re comfortable having him in a similar tandem with Hogberg next year.
Now, it’s your turn! Since we’re going to show the reader voting results this Friday, we’re going to have you guys grade all of the Ottawa Senators in the same poll, not just the forwards. The poll is available here and will close Thursday morning. While you’re at it, feel free to tell us what you think of our grades in the comments! Thanks for reading!