Troubling Feeling Behind Prince Debacle
Shane Prince's time spent with the Ottawa Senators' organization was ruined by one year of poor player evaluation.
In the grand scheme of things, Shane Prince's departure from the nation's capital isn't going to have a huge impact on the Senators moving forward.
Prince is likely going to pan out as a third-to-fourth line player, with the possibility of an accelerated development into a top-six role.
So, Ottawa gives up a quality prospect and a 7th round pick for a 3rd round pick during this year's NHL Draft in late June. It's not the end of the world, most people understand that.
But there is a problem. That much is clear.
"He wasn’t playing much here. He deserved to play. He’s a good guy. He worked hard in practice. He did all the things, but we felt that there were a couple of people in line that could take that job and the coaching staff appeared to like more. So we felt to be fair to us and to be fair to Shane, it was the right thing to do." - Bryan Murray.
Speaking at his media availability a couple hours after the trade deadline on Monday, Bryan Murray somewhat distanced himself from the controversy. It's a well-known fact that Dave Cameron has nearly full autonomy on the roster he's been given. It's even been said in the past that the Senators' head coach is the hand that rocks the cradle when it comes to AHL call-ups.
Knowing this, how could you blame Murray for the botched utilization of a promising prospect?
Well, you could hold him responsible for giving the coach such power and not stepping in when things were getting a bit too unsettling, but let's focus on the one with the whiteboard and whistle for now.
If there's one thing you can take away from the handling of Prince during his time in Ottawa, it's that no one outside the organization has any clue as to how the coaching staff evaluates their players. And maybe even the coaches, themselves, don't have a specific structure for performance evaluation.
What we know is evidently that Cameron and company didn't feel Prince executed well enough to be in the lineup on a regular basis.
Let's examine that. The following are arguments against easily thrown out the window.
"He was given enough opportunity."
Not only was Prince the outright leader on the healthy scratch count, but when he was actually inserted into a game he played an average of 10:37, which is good enough for 23rd on the team. And for a player whose best attributes are obviously puck-handling and offensive awareness, he wasn't given any chance to become an asset for a struggling power play, averaging 13 seconds (count 'em) on the man advantage. Yet Curtis Lazar and Alex Chiasson play over a minute on the power play every night.
Oh, and he played 195 even strength minutes with Chris Neil. That might be worth mentioning.
"Where's this so called offensive touch?"
Prince actually put up phenomenal time-relative offensive numbers. He ranked first on the team in even strength assists per 60 minutes played and also third in even strength points per 60. Again, all while playing a great deal of time with Neil. He also ranked third - only behind Mike Hoffman and Max McCormick - for individual even strength shot generation.
Notice how all these numbers have to be even strength to prove a point? Maybe that has something to do with the whole "13 seconds of power play time per game" thing.
"He didn't have a big enough impact on the team when he played."
There were eight players with a minimum of 100 minutes played (to be fair and exclude small sample sizes) with Prince. Every single one of them had better Corsi, Fenwick and shots-for numbers with than without him. Every single one.
The only statistical argument you can conjure up - and good God, it's downright horrible - is that with only 12 points, Prince didn't produce. This completely ignores any kind of usage - games played, time on ice and situational utilization - but for the hell of it, let's let that slide. Nonetheless, Prince still had more points than Neil, Chiasson and the combination of Max McCormick, Matt Puempel and Dave Dziurzynski (the three of them have a total of 49 games played, compared to Prince's 42).
That was this season alone. But when you dive deeper into his past, it becomes even more mysterious as to why the 23-year-old wasn't valued more.
Historically, the Senators have made it clear that they pride themselves on drafting well and developing prospects with the help of their AHL affiliate.
To their absolute credit, it seems like they did a heck of a job with Prince from the very start.
After he had a magnificent season with the Ottawa 67's in the OHL, carting 88 points in 59 games during his draft year, the Senators nabbed Prince 61st overall in 2011. He would go on the next season to better his career high with a 90-point year.
The Rochester native then played three seasons with the Binghamton Senators in the AHL. Last year, during his final stint in Upstate New York, Prince finished sixth in league scoring with 65 points in 72 games as a 22-year-old. He had already been deemed a promising prospect years before, but the Senators now had proof he could play more than efficiently at the professional level.
Ottawa scouted, picked and developed Prince to the best of their abilities, and the result was certainly an NHL-calibre player.
But when it comes down to player evaluation at the top-level (or any level, for that matter), it only matters what exactly the people that are examining you value.
In this case, Cameron's pro-safe, effort-praising style of coaching and managing is what failed a young, encouraging prospect. Though not as dramatic as some might describe, Prince is a risk-reward type player. But if you're not already a bonafide top-six forward, you better dump-and-chase to Cameron's desire or else you won't play.
So, it didn't work out. Now, the hometown boy gets to return home and play near his family and old friends, while the Senators have improved one of their draft picks this summer.
There will be many people counting him out very quickly at his new stomping grounds in Brooklyn - and it looks like they've gone ahead and painted him in a negative light after his debut in Vancouver last night.
What Prince does with the Islanders in the next couple weeks is almost completely irrelevant as to how he should be assessed. He'll be new to everything; the linemates, the coaches, the facilities, the atmosphere and the overall feeling of playing for a different team in the NHL.
The Islanders need to do what the Senators wouldn't and give it time. Let him settle in; give him an actual opportunity. Because every time Prince has been given one, he's succeeded, despite his previous coach's opinion.
He simply wasn't given a fair shake during his short-lived career in the capital.
"Well, like always, (we wanted him to) just become a regular player (on) an offensive line. He never seemed to find that role. It appeared that he was fourth line here always. A couple of games only he got moved up, and that was his doing. That's nobody else's doing, but the player and he was here because we didn't want to put him on waivers and lose him." - Bryan Murray. The6thSens.com.
A few days ago, Neil signed a $1.5 million, one-year contract extension that likely brings him to the end of his tenure in Ottawa, at least as a player. This season, there are a large number of people that are quite pleased with the 36-year-old's play.
Yes, this thought is going somewhere.
The contract itself has little to do with Shane Prince, if we're being completely honest. Neil would've garnered another contract regardless of how he faired in the 2015-16 season. With Daniel Alfredsson long gone and Chris Phillips unable to even practice, he's the last one left from the glory days. There are many that feel he still has a positive impact on and off the ice.
But what you can acknowledge Prince for is the resurrection of Neil's career for one more season under the false notion that the long-time assistant captain can provide the team with something much more statistically enthralling than simply the handful of intangibles he's brought the past several years.
And thus ends a slightly significant, under-appreciated era.
Goodnight, sweet Prince.