Mid-Season Report Cards Roundtable: Part 2

The conclusion of our discussion!

Following Thursday’s discussion, here is Part Two of our discussion surrounding the Sens’ mid-season grades!

Question for everyone: Artem Anisimov has received...less than favourable reviews from everyone. Why is that? Considering that he’s on pace for roughly 20 goals in 64 games.

Ross: Not really sure, to be honest. Probably a combination of the fact that he’s been injured a bunch, that 45.8% share of the 5v5 shot attempts (via Natural Stat Trick) is the worst among Sens centres other than J.C. Beaudin, and that with another year left on his contract, we’re bitter than he likely won’t be tradeable this deadline.

thedaigle1: This is a really good question. All of Anisimov’s circumstances are beyond his control really. I guess I would say that lack of expectations manifested into a biased rating. At worst, in Ottawa, he’s a cap hit with a pulse. At best, he’s a mid-round pick. Now I feel bad and I just want him to go somewhere where he’ll matter.

Colin: Not that I ever expected him to be anything more, but alluding to the results Ross stated, he’s just been a guy. He’s been closer to awful than outstanding, and while he’s on pace for 17 goals, that same pace would only have him scoring 23 points. Injuries didn’t help, but he’s only here because the Sens have no better option.

Spencer: His stats have been good for what he is but he seems to just be there and not much more to me. Perhaps we were too harsh on Anisimov in the grading. It’s tough when you’re a centre on a team with no top centres. People expect you to be more than you are. If we had better expectations, we’d likely grade him a bit higher because, for who he is, he’s doing fine.

N_Dew: I am a bit biased since I was a huge fan of Zack Smith and maybe place higher than achievable expectations on Anisimov. I just honestly don’t see him being that much better than Smith or much of the younger players we can bring up. Just like Ennis, he hasn’t given me reason to be impressed or to be memorable.

Shaan: Anisimov hasn’t been bad, it’s just that despite his goals, I’ve noticed many other players more (Ennis, C.Brown, Tierney, etc) than him. If he can maintain his goal-scoring pace, I’ll gladly bump up my grade.

NKB: Anisimov’s one of those players that always leaves you wanting more. He’s huge, he’s a decent skater, and he’s got pretty decent hands. He seems like he should be a good bet to be a solid top 6 contributor. It feels like he’ll always score a bit worse in these types of exercises than is fair because of those expectation. To me, he’s been a perfectly fine bottom six centre who’s potted a couple more goals than I expected.

Ary: Point production is one thing, but being a positive play driver is another. Anisimov has been solid in the goal department, and occasionally flirts with some nice vision, but looks lost against faster opposition. He’s here to help the team meet the cap floor this year and next.

Brandon: I mean, he’s definitely an improvement over Zack Smith, I think people are just annoyed about the contract and his age. I wasn’t particularly generous with my grade of Anisimov either, but he’s been fine, and will function as a good placeholder for a Brown, Norris, or even a Beaudin.

Question for everyone: Nikita Zaitsev’s grades were all over the map, ranging from a B- to an F. What has everyone liked, or hated, about him so far?

Ross: He’s putting up awful numbers on defence. His 41.7% share of the 5v5 shot attempts is the worst on the Sens among defencemen, and 7th-worst among all defencemen with 20+ games. He may look more confident than Ceci, but he is statistically the worst defensive performer on a team that hasn’t been great defensively.

thedaigle1: He’s a poster child for the eye-test versus fancy stats discussion. He seems fine when you watch him play. And then you look at the numbers in utter disbelief.

Colin: Agreed with the previous responses. He’s somehow managed to fall below my expectations, and given he was a replacement for Cody Ceci, the expectations were super low. It’s not his fault he’s being played way too much by D.J. Smith in a defensive role that doesn’t suit him, but his small mistakes have added to form a mountain.

Spencer: What I’ve hated about Zaitsev so far has been his overall play. What I’ve liked is that he’s not a complete liability like the guy he was traded for. He’s just... mostly a liability.

N_Dew: What I like is that he’s not Cody Ceci. His weakest point is probably the length of his contract but I have to say he has been better than I expected when the trade happened. That being said, on a young team that needs support, Nikita has fallen short. When he has good games, he’s great and shows that he can be creative and smart, the problem is yet again consistency. I think I’m not as harsh as other on Zaitsev because I personally feel he’s handling his load a lot better than Ceci had.

Shaan: The trade with the Leafs over the summer was made to acquire a forward looking for a bigger role, and upgrade the defence, in exchange for taking on a bad contract. It’s been successful so far. Zaitsev is an upgrade on Cody Ceci (the Leafs are currently out of a playoff spot!!!), and no amount of analytics are going to tell me otherwise.

NKB: I have to admit, when the Sens finally traded Cody Ceci I was looking forward to no longer having such a polarizing defender on the team but lo and behold: Nikita Zaitsev is here to claim the mantle. Zaitsev is the opposite of Ceci in that he rarely makes glaring mistakes and he’s generally in sound position. Those are the positives. He’s also the opposite of Ceci in that he’s lead-footed and slick skaters have walked right around him on several occasions this year. Zaitsev struggles to consistently make breakout passes, he often just bangs the puck off the glass. His shot metrics are really, truly, awful — even for the Sens. If he was playing 15 minutes a night on the third pairing, I could think of worse things. But his being counted on to play a major role on the right side is a non-trivial part of this season’s defensive struggles.

Ary: As others have mentioned, I think Zaitsev is a poor player in a different way than Ceci. He treats the puck like a grenade, and I’m disappointed that whatever offensive skills he displayed in the KHL (and in his rookie season with Toronto) has not been replicated despite playing alongside a better partner in Thomas Chabot. Where he really struggles is with zone exits, as he often just chips the puck to safety — relinquishing possession.

Brandon: I think everyone else pretty much nailed it, but I’ll open myself up to criticism here, and out myself as the giver of the B-. Zaitsev, in my opinion, makes a lot of little errors that sometimes add up to a disaster, but he’s hardly the holding-my-breath-every-shift nightmare that Cody Ceci was. I consider that an improvement. I also think a good two-way defenceman as his partner could steady his game a lot, but time will tell.

Question for Colin and thedaigle1: You guys were the only ones to give Connor Brown a grade below outside of the B range, with a C+ and a C, respectively. What has left you lukewarm on him?

thedaigle1: Apparently I don’t grade very generously. Brown definitely has stretches when he looks like a second like winger and would probably merit a B. When you look at the big picture though, he has much longer stretches of play when he looks more like a depth guy. Nothing wrong with a C. Every team needs them.

Colin: I have a feeling thedaigle1 and I are looking at a lot of the same stats. Brown’s been one of Ottawa’s most inconsistent players this season - for every game where he’s been defensively responsible while adding an assist, there’s another two games where he just can’t find his stride. Ideally he should be playing in the bottom six.

Question for Ary and NKB: You guys were a little harder on Marcus Hogberg than everyone else, giving him a B- and a C+, respectively. What concerns do you have about his game that keep you from being higher on the young goaltender?

NKB: I find it difficult to form a strong opinion about a goalie until I’ve seen a fairly large body of work for them, so my C+ grade was more reflective of my not quite being sure about Hogberg than any major negative feelings. Hogberg’s been perfectly respectable in his 11 games with Ottawa but a .907 SV% isn’t ground-breaking stuff. For what it’s worth, Evolving Hockey has him at almost exactly 0 for GSAx (Goals Saved Above Expected). That about matches my eye test. If he keeps this up for the rest of the year, I’ll likely bump up his end of year grade.

Ary: I ranked Hogberg in comparison to Nilsson and Anderson, and felt like he was in the middle of the two. He’s going to gain consistency as he builds experience, but hasn’t displayed that yet — having some games where he gives up 4, and others where he keeps his team in it. His performance right before the break was the best I’ve ever seen him at this level, and I hope he gets a shot to continue in February.

Question for everyone: Before the season, I don’t think anyone would have thought Thomas Chabot would be sitting at a B+ at this point. While that’s still solid, how has Chabot failed to live up to your expectations, if at all, and how can he improve?

Ross: A big part of it is outside his hands — his usage has been too much. In a rebuild season, D.J. Smith shouldn’t be playing his best player 30+ min, even if the alternatives are bad. The next part is also not his fault — he’s been paired too much with Zaitsev, who’s having an awful season. I guess Chabot isn’t putting up world-beating numbers, and a lot of it has to do with the number of minutes he’s playing, and the lack of quality he gets to play with. Now that we know he’s capable of being excellent, I’m not gonna give him an A for being very good. I’m hoping he gets more time with DeMelo down the stretch, to turn this B+ into an A-.

thedaigle1: I think the obvious answer is that his partners have dragged him down. Moreso than that though, he just doesn’t have as much talent around him period. This team is paper thin and they have a whole new coaching staff bringing in a new system. I’m not worried about Chabot. We knew the team would struggle, like you said, and as Chabot gets more comfortable with the new playbook and as more skilled players come up from Belleville, Chabot’s numbers will line up with our perceptions of him and his potential.

Colin: B+ is about what I expected for Chabot this season. He’s still Ottawa’s best defenceman by a mile, but he’s not going to be electric for every game. Having Zaitsev stapled to his side certainly hasn’t helped.

Spencer: It’s difficult because I think if Chabot was on a good team, he would have taken that next step to defensive stardom that we all want to see from him. The problem is when you’re the only blueliner in the top 4 who would be on a top 4 on a contender, you don’t have much to help you. He’s kind of on an island by himself, so clearly he wasn’t going to live up to the star expectations we had of him. To me, this is just a case of unrealistic expectations given his lack of quality teammates.

N_Dew: I wouldn’t use the word “failed” but the expectations for Chabot are higher than everyone else and maybe unfairly so considering how much he carries the team. Chabot is still the best player on the team but there have been times that he seemed overwhelmed but it’s a season where nothing is stable and Chabot has had to shoulder on a lot. While I just said Zaitsev isn’t an absolute disaster, he in no way should be Chabot’s partner as he’s anchoring him down more times than helping. I wouldn’t be worried too much about Chabot.

Shaan: Chabot signed an eight-year extension over the summer worth $64 million. That’s a lot to live up to, and while his point totals have been solid, they’re not outstanding. Chabot has rounded out his game pretty well this season, and as the Senators continue to draft and develop top-six forwards, we’ll see his production increase.

NKB: Chabot’s being asked to do a lot for the Sens, I might even suggest too much, so I don’t want to nitpick too badly but I think it’s fair to wonder about the lack of improvement in his defensive game. Chabot’s a game changer for the offense, but his defensive profiling is fairly middling. He’ll be 23 next week so we shouldn’t exactly be in a rush to declare him a finished product but he’s also not 18 anymore.

Ary: I feel bad for Chabot because I don’t think it’s necessarily a him problem. It’s more to do with the lack of quality players around him, and a poor powerplay structure put in place by Davis Payne and co. In an ideal world, Chabot’s playing around ~23-24 minutes a night, like a Seth Jones-type player, and with a complementary partner like Dylan DeMelo that allows him to jump into the rush offensively, and exit the zone cleanly defensively.

Brandon: It’s all in his supporting cast, really. Chabot needs a steady partner coughDeMelocough, and a few more offensive-minded players around him. He reminds me a lot of a young Erik Karlsson, in that he looks like a guy who’s trying to win games all by himself. Getting some teammates that can take the pressure off of him, as well as Chabot maturing himself, will see his performances improve.

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