Cody Ceci has received a lot of unearned grace from the Ottawa Senators. Part of it is due to the great story of having a player who grew up in Orleans and played in the OHL for the 67s joining the big squad. It’s led to some adorable pictures. Part of it is likely that he was a 15th-overall pick, and first-round picks always get way more leeway than most prospects to show their worth. He definitely got a longer look because of the incredible goal to start his NHL career. However, he has hurt the team on defence for basically the entirety of his NHL career, and yet he keeps getting more responsibility and more votes of confidence from management. It is only going to continue to hurt the team.
Ceci has been an awful possession player since coming into the NHL. Across his full NHL seasons, he’s only gotten worse. He had 48.9% of the 5v5 shot attempts in 2014-15, 44.6% in 2015-16, and only 45.7% last season. The players who played at least 10 games last year and were worse? Tom Pyatt, Chris Kelly, Curtis Lazar. Not the best company to be keeping. He’s known for having offensive talent, but he finished last season with 17 points in 79 games, tied with Chris Wideman and well behind his partner Dion Phaneuf (30 points). In the 19 games of Ottawa’s surprise playoff run, he scored one assist and finished as a -7. I realize +/- isn’t a great stat to use, but it gives an idea of just how much of a liability he was on the ice. I also think that just watching Ceci shows that he’s uncomfortable out there. His most common defensive play is to just throw it off the boards and hope it gets out. His gap control defending the rush is poor. He’s slow to make decisions with the puck. He can’t clear the front of the net. And yet, somehow he keeps getting more and more minutes. He was second on the team last year during the season with 23:12 per game. In the playoffs, that rose to 23:26. Despite being a liability nearly every time he steps on the ice, he’s getting more chances to play.
Ignoring all of this though, I think management has done more to hurt the team by keeping Ceci around. It started with letting Patrick Wiercioch go. The Ceci-Wiercioch pairing was a disaster outside of a 22-game stretch, and the Sens decided to just let PW go. To be fair, Wiercioch went on to flame out on a terrible Avalanche team, so maybe he was overvalued. However, I think the Sens made a mistake in deciding Ceci wasn’t part of the problem at all. They even went out and acquired Dion Phaneuf in part to have a veteran partner to play with Ceci.
The Sens have risked letting a couple other good young players go in part because of Ceci’s guaranteed spot in the lineup. Chris Wideman was the AHL defenceman of the year in 2014-15, but he became a UFA that summer because the Sens hadn’t found a chance for him to play in the NHL to that point. For some reason he still signed with the Sens that summer (on a two-way deal!), but the Sens’ desire to play Ceci all the time almost led to losing him for nothing. Fredrik Claesson got his first taste of NHL hockey in 2015-16, in his fourth AHL season before his first callup. There were rumours he was going to go back to Sweden without an NHL contract last season, and yet he stuck around on a two-way deal. He played 33 regular season games, and managed his way into 14 playoff games, in part because of Ottawa’s insistence on always playing Ceci. I think both Wideman and Claesson have shown themselves to be better defencemen at both ends of the ice than Ceci, but Ceci’s spot is nearly untouchable.
However, the biggest problem came over this past summer when Ottawa lost Marc Methot in the expansion draft. Phaneuf refused to waive his NMC (which was his right), and Dorion couldn’t find a trade he liked for either Methot or Ceci. I could understand choosing Ceci over the unproven and older Wiercioch, Claesson, or Wideman, but at this point we know Methot is the better defenceman. He’s a stalwart on the PK, and has been a reliable partner for Erik Karlsson. I reject the notion that he’s the only good partner for Karlsson on the Sens, but he’s at least a good defenceman.
Pan from Sens Callups made an interesting case for perceived value. Basically, he argued the Sens should keep Ceci because his trade value was still higher than Methot’s (though he also argued for doing a 4-4-1 system to keep both). The problem is that potential value if it’s realized. Ottawa traded Jared Cowen as a salary dump, when just a year earlier teams were reportedly offering first-round picks for him. I’d hate for the Sens to hold onto Ceci until he’s just a salary dump as well. Now that they’ve let a legitimately good defenceman go for the sake of keeping Ceci’s value, they’d better do something with it. Either he needs to turn into a reliable second-pairing guy, or he needs to be traded for something useful before his value is shot.
Letting go of Methot shows that the Sens have really committed to Cody Ceci. He needs to do something soon to justify management’s faith in him, or he will be yet another recent example of the team overvaluing its own drafted prospects until they have almost no value.