The conclusion of the 2019-20 NHL season continues to be shrouded in doubt, amidst these trying circumstances. However, we don’t want to jump the gun and roll out our end-of-season report cards before the season continues out of nowhere, and Nikita Zaitsev makes all of us look bad by going a point-per-game to close out the season.
Still, with all of the recent quality content about the past and future, the present has been somewhat left behind. Specifically, the players who really don’t get talked about enough. I get that the most exciting players in the organization are Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, and #TheKidsAreAlright, and during a season filled with losses, a lot of the excitement comes out of Belleville and the big individual performances we see from the kids with the big club.
However, today I want to recognize the players who haven’t been as flashy or dominant, but nonetheless have bought into D.J. Smith’s system and mentality, and have contributed towards making the season more enjoyable than if they weren't there. I’m going to throw two names out there, and then I'm asking all of you to give a shout-out in the comments to a Senator who you feel has flown under the radar this season, and needs to be recognized.
You probably would not have guessed that in 30 games, Mike Reilly has amassed 1 goal and 11 assists. The 26-year-old defensemen was acquired earlier this season from the Montreal Canadiens for Andrew Sturtz and a 2021 5th round pick in response to a slew of injuries on the back end, as well as Erik Brannstrom being sent to the minors. He’s brought real value to the team’s blue line in the form of his offensive ability:
I've really liked Mike Reilly the last few games. Great skater, had a number of scoring chances last game. And a really nice heads up pass here to White.— Hailey Salvian (@hailey_salvian) January 18, 2020
He seems to be playng the offensive role he likes here with the #Sens pic.twitter.com/enl9iQ38aL
Reilly’s also been very solid on the power play. Through NaturalStatTrick.com, and sorting defensemen by TOI...
...we find that Reilly performs very well in terms of Corsi, Fenwick and Shots on Goal compared to most defensemen who have played similar and larger minutes. Under contract for next season, he’ll find himself in a battle for ice-time, with Chabot, Christian Wolanin, Brannstrom and Mark Borowiecki (pending a new contract), but he remains a reliable option on the back end in case of injuries, which is exactly what the team needs if they really want to compete for a playoff spot.
Next is another defensemen, and one who’s received a lot of flack from fans this season. Though I think when we take a step back and look at the season as a whole, Ron Hainsey really hasn’t been all that bad. People are quick to jump on him whenever he makes a poor defensive play, but I’ve seen every one of our regular defensemen, except for Dylan DeMelo, make even more mistakes this year. He hasn’t dragged down Chabot the same way Zaitsev has (Chabot-Hainsey has a 5v5 CF% of 49.32), his pairing with Brannstrom during the first half of the season was competent, and he somehow has a plus-10 rating.
None of this is meant to advocate for bringing him back for another year, but Hainsey was brought into the organization to fill a certain role, one which I felt he did well. His job was to be a mentor and a leader for the defence, particularly Brannstrom, and as someone who was familiar with Smith’s coaching before the season, could help others adjust to the new system. That’s something I can appreciate.
While the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators were a losing team this year, the players bought into a more exciting play style and a hard-working mentality. They were bad, but they should’ve been a lot worse given the sheer lack of talent throughout the roster. They fought hard and made numerous games close. Several of our players would definitely be welcome on a good team, albeit not as a top-six forward or top-four defensemen. Many of these guys will be gone when the Senators begin their run of unparalleled success, which is why I wanted to acknowledge their collective effort this season. Let us know in the comments who you feel was an underrated Senator this season, and why!