7. Cody Ceci (Reader Rank: 9, Last Year: 5)
It’s a very, very important season for Cody Ceci. While he did get a tidy little raise, it came in the form of a one year arbitrator’s award after he wasn’t able to reach a deal with the Senators on a new contract this summer.
The role he was given last season - leading the team in ice time, playing the 20th most minutes in the league, tough competition - normally bodes well for negotiations when it happens in a contract year, but it didn’t seem to help. While there may have been some talks behind closed doors, there was no word leaking out about any serious negotiations even happening. Not even vague references to “we’re talking with him” - just the qualifying offer, which also served as the Senators submission for arbitration.
So despite being given significant responsibility to carry last season, he finds himself right back in a second contract year in a row. It might have something to do with just how well things went for him with those minutes. He had the second highest rate of 5 on 5 on-ice shot attempts against of the regular Sens D, and the second worst shot share. Results were similar with his penalty kill time, where he more than doubled the ice time of any of the other Ottawa defenders. He was near the worst when looking at scoring chances too, so there isn’t really a quality vs quantity argument to be made.
Contrary to popular belief, he was not given a significantly defensive deployment. He had 241 5 on 5 shifts that started with an offensive zone face-off, and 256 that started with a defensive zone face-off. While that is a slightly defensive deployment, if you want “buried with defensive starts”, your Senators blue liners to look at for 17-18 were Ben Harpur, Johnny Oduya and Mark Borowiecki. For comparison, Erik Karlsson had 249 offensive starts and 246 defensive ones - nearly the same numbers as Ceci.
While the deployment was not heavily skewed, the results were a bit different. When he started a shift in the defensive zone, the Senators allowed shot attempts at a much higher rate than they did with other defenders. The rates typically level out between 20 and 25 seconds into a shift - the Senators blue liners already plateaued higher than the league average, and Ceci leveled out noticeably higher than the rest of the D.
When he started a shift in the offensive zone, he was... okay-ish? Both of the defensive and offensive rates are close to league average. The team saw a noticeable drop compared to the average of the rest of the blue line, but it’s worth remembering how much Erik Karlsson can skew that (far more than with the defensive zone averages).
This brings us to the question of the future, and how things might change this season.
One guaranteed change is his main partner. Last season, that was Dion Phaneuf. Ceci spent 407 minutes of 5 on 5 with Phaneuf - more than 130 minutes more than he spent with any other D. They also happened to be the pairing who had the second worst 5 on 5 CF% in the league, among those who played at least 200 minutes together. His CF% was 6% higher in his 270 minutes when paired with Thomas Chabot, and over 10% (!) higher in his 245 with Boro.
Of course the big question of what could change, not just for Ceci but the entire blue line, is the future of Erik Karlsson. If Karlsson is gone, Ceci might be handed more of the defensive minutes that he was splitting with EK and actually end up buried defensively, or he could get more time out with the top forward lines instead of 446 minutes with Tom Pyatt, or he could get some power play time... It’s impossible to say for certain how that will play out.
One way or another Ceci’s future in Ottawa has never been more in doubt, and it’s in a season where he might end up more important to the team’s blue line than ever before.