Silver Nuggets: Improving the bottom pair via free agency

In our last Nuggets, we identified some personnel problems ailing the current Senators roster and asked you which area you thought was most pressing for Pierre Dorion and co. to address this offseason. 33% of you indicated that a "good" bottom pair was most important.

With a cool 45% 5-on-5 CF% and a -4.74% CF% relative, Mark Borowiecki was in the bottom third of all defenders this season. Likely not NHL quality skill-wise but LAUDED for his intangibles, can the team afford to play Borowiecki as a regular defenseman every night? We constantly hear the "it's only 12 minutes" or "He's only making $1.1M" arguments, but exploring efficiencies for a cheap, puck-moving defender on the bottom-pair can really give Ottawa the advantage that they need to succeed on a small budget. Setting up the team to win at every possible level is the job of Dorion and co. and it's becoming hard to argue that they're doing that with a poor bottom-pair.

The internal options don't look too promising. I went in on Mark Borowiecki above, but his frequent pairmate, Chris Wideman, struggled at moving the puck up the ice as well this season (-2.42 CF% Rel), perhaps because his strengths lie in his skating and shot rather than his passing ability. However, the team re-signed Wideman to a cheap 2-year, one-way deal in the offseason, partly because the Sens have no current depth on the right side and Wideman was a draft pick who toiled away in the AHL before being named the league's top defender just last season.

The other internal option, Fredrik Claesson, has been Binghamton's best defender for quite some time but likely caps out as a 6th defender. He played a lot of penalty kill minutes under Luke Richardson, but the unit struggled as a whole the last two years. Crucially, both Wideman and Claesson lack the "bonafide NHL experience" that the Sens seem to be seeking for this role.

Who might be available in free agency? Let's take a quick look, based on the list of general UFA defensemen (not including Group VI free agents) provided by General Fanager, sorting for those who played at least 10 NHL games this past season. Most statistics were pulled from Corsica.Hockey, with time-on-ice per game pulled from Hockey Analysis.

Any player highlighted with a shade of green "fits" the mold of a third-pair defender, or primarily played third-pair minutes this past season. The darker green shade are players the "fit" what Ottawa is looking for: a middle-aged defender with NHL experience ("veteran") who primarily plays on the third-pair and spent >1.0 minutes/game on the penalty kill, an area that the team needs to improve. I've included the three internal candidates to play third-pair minutes in red below, so you can see how their numbers stack up compared to the rest of the competition. Remember, Fredrik Claesson is an RFA, and also spent most of his minutes with Erik Karlsson this season, which inflates his numbers and ice-time (17.47/gm).

Let me start with some qualifiers: this data is purely meant to be descriptive not prescriptive -- I'm not trying to make any judgment on how these players would do in a Sens jersey next season. Merely, I'm just trying to showcase the free agent options by looking at their performance from this past season on a surface level. I didn't even try to get into team effects here, such as quality of competition/teammates or how the team did overall.

From Jack Han:

Essentially, when you look at a player's track record through the lens of advanced statistics, you can come to the conclusion that there are only three types of players:

Those who drive play all the time (and who makes most teammates better);
Those who drive play with the right linemates, and;
Those who do not drive play, and who tend to drag most teammates down.

Although it'd be fantastic to get a third-pair defender who can fit into category number one, most are in categories two and three. The key is to NOT be in category three. Thus, the first column that I want to point out is CF% Rel. Was the puck moving up the ice when this player was on the ice? How did they fare relative to their teammates? These are the questions that this measure helps us illuminate. Of the dark green and red candidates, all are significantly in the negative except for four: David Schlemko, Korbinian Holzer, Mike Weber, and Freddie Claesson. I wonder if there's a connection between defensemen perceived as "defensive defenders", thus given lots of PKTOI, and an inability to move the puck, as measured by Corsi. In any case, it shows that a team can get a leg up on their competition by having a third-pair who can move the puck up the ice, just like how we've been seeing that possession-driving third and fourth lines make the difference for cup contending teams.

Schlemko, Holzer, and Weber do have their differences, despite relatively similar even-strength production (P/60). Of note, we can tease out their team effects when looking at their CF60 + CA60 -- Schlemko is low event, befitting his low event New Jersey Devils, while Holzer shows very well, but was on a fantastic Anaheim Ducks team. Mike Weber seems like a decent blend here -- when he's on the ice, his team seems to produce shots at the same rate as Mark Borowiecki, but is tremendously better at preventing shots against (CA60). Given that his 44 games spans across two teams: the basement dwelling Sabres and the President's Trophy winner Capitals, it's evident that he's a well-liked option, despite not playing much in April for the Caps as they begin their Stanley Cup hunt.

Do YOU have a preference for a UFA signing to improve the bottom-pair? Let us know in the comments!


Sens Links

  • The BSens dismal season finally came to an end over the weekend. The fans were treated to two 4-2 wins to end the season on a positive note. [Silver Seven - v. Hershey, v. Utica]
  • Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to save Luke Richardson, as the Senators announced that their former player wouldn't be back behind the bench for a fifth season. [Silver Seven, 6th Sens, Eye on the Sens, Ottawa Citizen]
  • Jeff recaps the BSens year with his 4th quarter grades and his Bingo Bites column. [Silver Seven - 4Q grades, Bingo Bites]
  • Luke, Chet, and the WTYKY gang had a roundtable discussion about the recent stretch of coach firings that's well worth your time (it'll make you laugh, too) [WTYKY]
  • In an interview on TSN1200, Richardson stated that the Senators didn't consider him for the vacant head coaching position. If they aren't considering someone who's homegrown like they have in the past, who ARE they considering? A report today indicated that they interviewed former Wild bench boss Mike Yeo on the weekend. [Silver Seven, 6th Sens, SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
  • Even though Dorion and co. might not be considering your opinion, we wanted to know who your preferred candidate was! [Silver Seven - Weekly Question]
  • We may know the LeBreton Flats decision by next Thursday. [Silver Seven, 6th Sens, Ottawa Citizen]
  • Want to discuss some non-coaching things? Chirp has you covered with updates on the RFAs this year! [SensChirp]
  • Nichols has a column on the fallout from Eugene Melnyk's comments last week. [6th Sens]
  • Trevor revisited his mid-season predictions. How did you do? [Silver Seven]
  • If you want to be sad, read this piece on ex-Sens who are currently in the playoffs. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • Three things to listen to for some end-of-Nuggets audio! Nichols was on Advanced Chats and talked about the Sens coaching changes in addition to emphasizing the importance of capitalizing on market inefficiencies. Nichols was also on Episode 3 of the Battle of Ontario podcast (co-hosted by our very own Callum Fraser) with Sean McIndoe (Down goes Brown). Lastly, listen to Michaela and Shalia break down recent Sens happenings with a level-headed tone. It's needed when talking about whether these sweeping management changes will actually lead to a positive on-ice impact. [6th Sens, Silver Seven, TSN1200]

Other Links

  • Arik Parnass has been doing some fantastic work evaluating special teams this season. Here's a read that I'd forward to Sens management on assessing team powerplay performance. [NHL Special Teams Project]
  • Remember, Ottawa still has a shot at winning the lottery, which doesn't JUST include a chance for the first overall pick, but also the second and third picks. Chances are, picks 2 + 3 are going to be spent on two Finnish forwards. Learn more about them here! [The Leafs Nation]
  • A good read from Chris Hine on Jonathan Toews and the 'mental' part of the game. Toews has had a rough season so it was interesting to hear about all of the different routines he does in a given day. [The Chicago Times]
  • How much would Steven Stamkos be worth on a 7-year deal? Here's a fantastic breakdown. [Original Six Analytics]
  • Nicklas Hjalmarsson is the type of 'modern shutdown defender' that most NHL teams are after. What makes him so effective? [Sportsnet]
  • PROSPECT UPDATE: Drake Caggiula. [TSN]
  • Want to know how Mike Yeo felt when he was fired? Now you can! [The Star Tribune]

Do you think the Sens should look to improve the bottom pair via free agency?

Yes - go for Schlemko, Weber, Holzer62
Yes - go for it (say who in the comments)27
No - I like the internal options39
No - There are no good options22

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