Under Pressure: Can Marc Methot rebound from an off year?

Finishing the Under Pressure series, a look at Methot's first two years in the capital, and expectations for his third season.

Marc Methot joined the Ottawa Senators on July 1, 2012 in a straight-up trade that sent Nick Foligno to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Little was known about Methot in Ottawa at the time of the trade other than the fact that he had played for Team Canada at the World Hockey Championships in both 2011 and 2012. The 2012 appearance was notable given that he had missed the 36 games from February 9th until the end of the regular season in 2012. Having seen Filip Kuba head to the Panthers via free agency, Methot looked like the most likely candidate to end up as Erik Karlsson's partner, since Jared Cowen was likely too young, Chris Phillips was likely too old, and the Sens' only UFA acquisition on defense was stop-gap Mike Lundin.

Methot's first season in Ottawa was the lockout-shortened 2013 season, one in which the team suffered significant injuries. Jason Spezza only played the first five games before succumbing to back injuries. On the backend, Cowen injured his hip in the AHL, missing all but the final seven games of the season. Karlsson missed 31 games with a lacerated Achilles tendon. Suddenly, Methot was a big name on a blue-line that also featured Sergei Gonchar, rookies Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba, pseudo-rookie Andre Benoit, and the aforementioned Phillips and Lundin.

Methot's first season impressed many Sens fans, as he averaged 22:13 per game, put up positive Corsi numbers, and had more offensive zone finishes than starts. He also managed 11 points in 47 games, though very little offense was expected of him as a primarily defensive defenseman. As a player who grew up in Ottawa, he gained fan favour for being a local boy, and for relishing the opportunity to play at home.

Methot's second season was seen as far more of a disappointment. He put up lower Corsi numbers, finished fewer shifts in the offensive zone than he started, and played 30 seconds less per game. His pairing with Karlsson was not as concrete as many had hoped, and he was even scratched for a few games after recovering from the flu. Methot claimed he was ready to play, but Coach Paul MacLean decided to leave him out of the roster.

In my opinion, Methot has been a victim of skewed perception. His first season, this team had low expectations that were further tempered by injuries, and they made the playoffs. Methot reaped the benefits of people being pleasantly surprised. Ottawa's goaltending was off the charts, with Craig Anderson setting a new regular season record for save percentage among goalies having played at least 10 games. His second season, the team performed far worse than expected. The goaltending dropped to levels below league average. Wiercioch and Cowen failed to hold down the second pairing. A team that was picked to be a strong candidate in the East missed the playoffs. And just like Methot had received undue praise for the team's success in 2013, he received undue blame in 2013-14.

Looking at the stats, Methot's Corsi relative was positive in 2013-14, while it was quite negative in 2012-13. Methot's raw possession stats may have been worse in 2013-14, but his drop wasn't nearly as pronounced as that of his teammates. His offensive zone start-finish differential was negative, but was better than both Karlsson and Wiercioch. Most of the advanced stats suggest that his two years in the capital have been extremely similar. Even his traditional stats show the same similarity between seasons. His time-on-ice per game dropped by merely 2.2%, and his +/- dropped from 2 to 0. He set career highs in goals, points, goals-per-game, and points-per-game this past season.

Admittedly, I find the headline to be a bit of a misleading question. As far as I can tell, Methot's two seasons in Ottawa have been very similar. Especially after looking into the stats, I'm at a loss as to why people's opinions of his two seasons are so different. We should all be able to predict what he will provide this coming season: 22 minutes per night, 0.25 points-per-game, respectable possession stats.

What remains to be seen is how people will perceive Methot's play this upcoming year. Expectations for the Senators are low again, and this means that if they surprise, Methot's play will likely be praised, and if the Senators have a bad year, his play will be criticized. Methot is far from being a game-breaker, so cannot create success for this team on his own. Ultimately, I believe the performance of the team as a whole will affect his case in the court of public opinion.

Will Methot rebound from an off year? As Daniel Alfredsson would say, "Probably not." His stats in Ottawa seem to show him as a fairly consistent defender. It would be unreasonable to expect significant improvement (or for that matter, decline) from last year. Will the Senators rebound from an off season? How Methot will fare hinges on the answer to this question.

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