Ottawa Senators Report Cards: Shane Pinto

Shane Pinto had a strange season due to a 41-game suspension but came back better than ever

Ottawa Senators Report Cards: Shane Pinto
Photo by Mariah Hewines / Unsplash

Reader Grade: B+, Staff Grade: A-

After the Ottawa Senators signed Vladimir Tarasenko last July, people kept asking the same question: how will they be able to re-sign Shane Pinto? Pinto was an RFA at the time, and the budget squeeze was real. It seemed like one of Mathieu Joseph, Erik Brännström, or Dominik Kubalik would have to be traded in order to fit Pinto under the cap. The crunch worked out in a totally unexpected way.

It was announced on October 26th that Pinto was suspended 41 games by the NHL in relation to sports gambling. We know now that Pinto was not gambling on hockey, but he was letting friends use his account to place bets, which isn't nearly as bad but also a bit reckless on his part. He took responsibility for his actions, and it's all in the past now. Although it was a big blow missing him for the first half of the season, it was a bit of a blessing because Ottawa was then able to use their leverage of "hey you screwed us with this suspension" to get him to sign a 1-year deal for the minimum of $775k. And because of that, the Senators never had to trade anybody to fit under the cap.

The moral of the story: Pinto using gambling apps was good, actually.

Wait, what?

Once Pinto came back, it was obvious how much the team benefitted from having him. Ottawa went 16-24-1 in the first half and 21-17-3 in the second, the difference between a 66-point team and a 90-point one. It's impossible to say that's all because of Pinto, but it's clear that he was a difference-maker. In those 41 games, he netted 9 goals and 18 assists, putting him on pace for 54 points in 82 games. That's not star calibre, but he had 35 points in his only other full season, so that's quite a step up. His production jumped to the second-line level we’d all been hoping for.

If we look under the hood, you can see he was doing most things well. Amongst Senators skaters, he was tied for fourth in CF% at 53.45% (behind just Brady Tkachuk, Boris Katchouk, and Claude Giroux) and first in xGF% at 56.44%. He played most of his time with Tkachuk and Batherson (272 minutes with both), and the three of them had a 50 GF% and 54.91 xGF%, so he was more than capable of playing in the top-six and a bit unlucky.

Pinto was "only" on pace for 18 goals yet was on pace for 33.12 expected goals as he had 16.56 expected goals in his half-season. He was creating a ton of chances but had just an 8.18 SH%, much lower than the previous season's 12.7%. If he had shot 12.7%, Pinto would have had 14 goals, which is on pace for 28 in a full season. Furthermore, he was 22nd in the entire NHL in expected goals per 60 at 1.34, a good sign that he's doing the right things except for the final touches.

It didn't help that he wasn't getting all the bounces with his linemates as well, as he ranked 209th in 5v5 goals per 60 with him on the ice but was 30th in 5v5 expected goals per 60. That overall lack of finish contributes to a lower WAR percentile on JFresh's model, which looks worrisome at first. However, the offensive and defensive attributes have improved, and if he simply regresses to the finisher he has been before, that WAR number will be much higher:

Evolving Hockey graded his season decently well, as he had 4.8 Goals Above Replacement, good for 11th on the team. He looks even better on a per 60 rate though, as he was 6th in GAR/60. His best category ranking was even-strength defense, which correlates well with the eye test too. He was 2nd on the team in even-strength defense, behind just Katchouk.

Beyond the stats that make him look good, he was such a breath of fresh air when he came back from his suspension. He always seems to have a smile on his face and it's clear that he's very well-liked in the dressing room. That's not a good enough reason on its own to keep a guy around, but it's a nice bonus when you're trying to prioritize good people and good leaders. Just look at how happy he is when he scored this phenomenal overtime winner and tell me he doesn't love playing for Ottawa:

Pinto is an RFA this off-season yet again, and it'll be fascinating to see what contract he gets. Bruce Garrioch thinks both sides want to get a 5 or 6-year deal done, and Pinto is rumoured to be asking for around $5M, with Ottawa not that close to that number. Although he probably could be worth that money in 2024-25, it'd be nice to get a cheaper contract after all the huge raises they've had to give out the last few seasons. I hope they'll be able to keep him for more than a few seasons because at this point, he's their second-best centre ahead of Josh Norris. He showed he can handle a larger role going from 15:59 to 18:09 of ice time, and I think he can take another step forward next season as well.

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