With the Ottawa Senators 2022-23 season now well and truly behind us, it's time to hand out our end of season report cards. Following our usual format, we go through the forwards today, the defense and goalies tomorrow, and the coaching staff and management on Thursday.
Let us know how you graded the forward group in the comments below!
Alex DeBrincat : B (Readers: B)
DeBrincat was one of the most hotly debated players among Sens fans and media this past season. Acquired in the off-season by Pierre Dorion via a stunning trade, the general expectation was that DeBrincat would score goals... a lot of them. So while 27 goals and 66 points would be a lot for most players, that counted as something of a disappointing total for DeBrincat. He was a menace on the power play but his 5v5 contribution left a bit to be desired (though there were some mitigating factors that we'll discuss below). Every analysis of DeBrincat's season goes something like: "he was good, but he wasn't great, and we were expecting great." Thus both the staff and the readers felt he deserved a "B", which seems eminently fair to me. He was one of the Sens' best players, but if they want play-off hockey next year, he might have to be better than he was this season.
Brady Tkachuk: A (Readers: A)
Tkachuk has gradually improved every year that's been in the NHL, and this past season his scoring took the big jump that we'd all been hoping for – the captain started out the season on a hot streak, and though his pace cooled a bit as the season wore on, he finished with over a point a game for the first time in his career. He played a vital role on the Sens' top unit alongside Claude Giroux and Tim Stützle, a line that was among the best in the entire league. His leadership was top notch, and you could not fault him for effort. The only thing keeping him from an A+ was the relative weakness of his defensive game. All in all, it was a very strong season for the captain.
Claude Giroux: A+ (Readers: A+)
What else is there to say about Giroux at this point? Even his biggest boosters at the time of the signing would have never suggested he would set a career high in goals with 35. He may be half a step slower than in his prime, but everything else about his game seems to be in top gear, and his fit beside Tkachuk and Stützle was virtually perfect. Add in all of the leadership and off-ice stuff and both the staff and the readers were in agreement there was basically nothing else you could hope for from Giroux.
Derrick Brassard: B (Readers: B+)
Brassard was one of the feel-good stories of the Sens' season. He came into camp on a PTO, played about as well as you could expect from someone in his situation, earned a contract, and then just generally brought a lot of good energy to the team. His on-ice numbers won't blow you away, but he was a helpful contributor in the bottom six; something that couldn't always be said about a lot of the other players in those roles. It was a real bummer to see his season end the way it did, an injury that might impact his ability to return to form next season, but you can't call his performance anything but a success.
Drake Batherson: B- (Readers: B-)
If Brassard was one of the feel-good stories, Batherson was at least a moderately feel-bad story. The off-ice issue of his potential involvement in the 2018 Team Canada sexual assault scandal remains an open question, he will not be allowed to participate the World Championships, and we still have no idea of when (if?) there will be some sort of closure. Until something changes in that regard there isn't much else to say, but you can't write about Batherson's season without mentioning it.
As for on-ice play, Batherson scored at a reasonable rate but like DeBrincat his 5v5 production was lacking and the Sens got absolutely shelled by goals; the Sens were a shocking -21 in 5v5 goals when #19 was on the ice. Some of that was bad luck, but no one would accuse Batherson of being a defensive savant either.
The readers and staff were in agreement: Batherson's season left something to be desired.
Julien Gauthier: C+ (Readers: C+)
Acquired in exchange for Tyler Motte, it's not hard to see why so many scouts have been high on Gauthier over the years: he's 6'4, skates like the wind, and has a decent shot to boot. Alas, being 6'4, skating fast and being able to shoot the puck are all useful skills, but they do not necessarily make a good NHL player. Gauthier showed flashes during his time in Ottawa, but he also went long stretches of being completely invisible. Gauthier's going to be 26 by the start of next season so I don't have much reason to believe there's any big jump coming, either. He was better than some of the other bottom six options, but it's also hard not to come away from his season wanting a bit more.
Mathieu Joseph: C- (Readers: C)
When Dorion traded Nick Paul for Mathieu Joseph last year, there was a hope that he might have struck gold: Joseph exploded for twelve points in eleven games in his time in Ottawa last season, and the Sens promptly handed him a four year, $11.8M contract for his troubles. So while it was unreasonable to expect Joseph to produce at a point-a-game pace playing on the third line, the expectation was that he would be a meaningful contributor to a rather thin bottom six. Alas, Joseph's 18 points in 56 games was a nearly perfect match for his prior two seasons in Tampa Bay when he was on the Bolts' fourth trio. The Sens don't need Joseph to be a point-a-game player to be a useful contributor, but if he's only as good as he was this season, then that would qualify as something of a disappointment.
Patrick Brown: C- (Readers: C+)
The Sens had a fair number of guys who were just kind of there for a minute in their bottom six this year, and Brown was definitely one of them. His acquisition at the trade deadline was one of the stranger move of Dorion's career, it left most of us just wondering "why?" Brown wasn't expensive to acquire, but besides being a warm body I don't particularly see the case for him.
Ridly Greig: B (Readers: B)
Greig showed a lot of promise in his stints in the NHL this past season. His speed, tenacity, and skill have all been as advertised. Most impressively perhaps, Greig seemed perfectly capable of being a meaningful contributor on the team's top two lines when called upon. He did not look out of place skating along side Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux. The only thing that I can envision keeping him out of the line-up going forward is injuries. It was a good first showing for Greig, and it's hard not to be excited about what's to come next.
Shane Pinto: B (Readers: B+)
This past season being Pinto's "official" rookie season feels strange considering he made his NHL debut in 2021, and that he will be 23 before the end of the calendar year. It's not really fair to say that Pinto is a prospect any longer, but it also feels as if there is still some room for growth in his game. At the start of the campaign, Pinto was penciled in as the third line centre, but he was thrust into top six duty when Josh Norris suffered a shoulder injury that essentially kept him out for the duration of the season. Pinto was at times overwhelmed in the new role, but he also showed flashes of the type of player the Sens are hoping he can become: a reliable defensive presence with the ability to chip in 25 goals and drive play along the way. Whether Pinto can deliver depth scoring from the third line next season might be the difference between qualifying for the post-season or not.
Tim Stutzle: A+ (Readers: A+)
When the Sens traded Erik Karlsson, there was no reason to believe that the San Jose Sharks would be sending them the third overall pick in exchange– but what an incredible blessing that bit of luck has turned out to be. Stützle was impressive, if raw, as a 19-year old rookie, started to look the part of a star in the making in 2021-22, and in 2022-23 ascended to a whole other level. Stützle was the team's best player, and in my estimation it wasn't particularly close, showing off a nearly complete all-around game. His 90 points jump off the page, but he was also a difference-maker defensively, and an all-around game-breaker. Even if this was his ceiling, Sens fans would be delighted, but if there's yet another gear the young German can hit? Look out.
His A+ from the staff, and the readers, is well-deserved.
Tyler Motte: D- (Readers: C)
He was on the team, he's not on the team anymore, he was a giant "meh" in his time with the Sens. I don't know, I just find it hard to summon much insight when it comes to Motte. I guess there was a brief, baffling, time when he was on the power play? He was the definition of a dude. The staff thought he was more disappointing than the readers, but maybe we just had higher hopes to start the year.
Austin Watson: D (Readers: B-), Parker Kelly: D (Readers: C), Mark Kastelic: C- (Readers: B-), Dylan Gambrell: D+ (Readers: C)
I wanted to address these four players together because they're the four for whom there is the biggest gap between staff and reader grades. They also spent a lot of time together, and these things are related.
I do not think it is controversial to suggest that one of the Sens' biggest weaknesses this season was a lack of forward depth, and that the performance of the fourth line was a particularly visible manifestation of the issue. It follows, then, that the players who most often played on the fourth line would see their performance reflected by weak grades. The staff certainly thought so. Interestingly enough, readers by and large didn't agree.
I cannot claim to know what every reader was thinking when they submitted their ballots but I will venture a guess that when considering each of the above players individually, it isn't a stretch to say that they each fulfilled "their role". If you graded Mark Kastelic, for example, based solely on an expectation that he win face-offs (check), hit lots of people (check), and just generally be very large (super check) then, yeah, he did those things. A B- grade, as the readers gave him, makes sense in that narrow context.
Though I can appreciate the logic in that type of argument, I am ultimately unconvinced: there is more to being a good hockey player than checking a series of boxes. The Kastelic-Watson-Kelly line was particularly poor, even if all three were playing their roles to the best of their abilities. At some point, the overall performance has to come into play. If the bottom half of the Sens' forward line-up had actually delivered even mediocre results, perhaps today we'd be talking about their first round match-up.
Dorion's done a commendable job of building the top of the Sens' line-up, but if he returns most of the players from his bottom six, then it will be hard to expect too much of a different outcome from this season.