With the Sens recent three game winning streak, I can’t imagine a better time to give the team a review of the first quarter of the season. They finish game 24 with a 7-16-1 record and sit tied for 7th in the Atlantic division, tied for 15th in the conference and tied for 30th in the league overall. I understand the season is 82 games, so they are slightly more than 25% home.
However, they played 3 of those games with a seriously depleted roster.
Had I written this last week, it would have been hard to provide a balanced assessment. There was so much toxic energy surrounding the team and everyone around it that even the nerves of the local sports radio hosts were getting frayed.
Now, with a streak of merely three games, a lot of negative energy that surrounded the team has found its way into the rear-view mirror. Now’s the time to hand out a report card and see whose parents need to meet the teacher.
PIERRE DORION C
I know this might seem lenient for a GM who, for the second consecutive summer, has failed improve his team in the off season. I am also of the belief that the situation he has been selling to free agents has been less than attractive, given their ownership and lack of leadership.
Does this excuse the Michael Del Zotto contract? No. However, he can’t repeatedly pay for the Brown acquisition. That was last year. He did give DJ Smith a three-year extension based on a less than stellar record in his first two years. I might have liked a "show me" year extension before doing anything longer term.
He got Dadonov off the books, parted ways with Logan Brown and got a legitimate NHLer in return, signed Drake Batherson to a great value, long term deal AND he signed the team’s cornerstone leader to a seven-year deal and put a C on his sweater. Give props when they are due.
The Tkachuk contract will attract free agents and I will be looking for more from Dorion next summer. If he delivers Sanderson at the end of his collegiate season, I might even upgrade him to a B.
DJ SMITH C-
I would be the first to say that some of Smith’s player evaluations mystify me. However, the first thing I look at when I evaluate the coach is if I feel the players are playing for him. I see that much and with all that has been thrown his way, I think he deserves credit for that.
COVID-19 decimating as much as half of your roster and losing two of your top three centers to long term injury may not be acceptable excuses for some. In the world I live in, they are valid mitigating factors.
That said, if their record at game 41 is a mirror of what it is today, that grade will go down.
BRADY TKACHUK (C) A-
I have swooned over this player a long time but my bullish opinion of him needs to give way to reason. I expected him to struggle having missed training camp. He really hasn’t. He is clipping along at nearly a point per game, is as disruptive to the opposition as ever and he creates accountability for the other team the Senators haven’t had since Chris Neil retired.
I don’t give him an A because, believe it or not, I thought he had too much to say about Brendan Lemieux. I don’t blame him for getting into the referee’s face or for being upset. However, his post-game rant was about 200 words too long. Less is more when dealing with the media.
THOMAS CHABOT (A) A-
Strangely enough, in a season where Chabot has yet to score and has only 11 points in 23 games, I find him to be playing his best all around hockey as a Senator. I am seeing his skating on display in all three zones which is something that even Erik Karlsson couldn’t boast. He can defend the best in the game and plays all situations. Amazingly, he is a +3 on a 30th place team where he routinely plays half the game. The points will come. When they do, he will get an A.
NICK PAUL (A) B-
His stats line isn’t sexy with only 4 points in 23 games. However, Nick Paul isn’t good enough to generate points without support. Many in Sens Nation have dreamed of him being a center or a top six forward. I give him this rating because I know what he is. He is a third line player at best on a weak team and fourth line player on a contending team. His forecheck is effective and he has tried to backfill at center in a pinch. As things normalize, I expect the points to come but he is what he is. I would try to extend him soon given pending UFA status.
CONNOR BROWN (A) B
After representing Canada along with Paul at the World Hockey Championships last spring with distinction, I had greater expectations of Brown this season. However, he is on pace for exactly what he had in the shortened season last season. I am looking for more of that short-handed penalty killing presence from last year. For the quarter poll, he get a covid-19 mulligan. I will downgrade if it’s the same results at game 41.
NIKITA ZAITSEV (A) C-
It’s becoming clear that Zaitsev can be effective when insulated. However, when he isn’t playing with Thomas Chabot, it gets ugly quickly. I had no expectations of him offensively, so his 1 point to date doesn’t concern me. His inability to stabilize his own zone does. He gets some covid-19 relief too but I fear he will be downgraded at 41.
DRAKE BATHERSON A
Don’t think me crazy but I think Batherson’s contract could offer the same value per capita as the deal Nathan Mackinnon is going to come out of in 2023. With an AAV of less than $5 million per and clipping at over a point per game on a 30th place team is all the proof I need. They’ve got a stud on their hands. He is the best pure finisher on the team and has a real edge to his game too.
JOSH NORRIS B+
If slow and steady wins the race, then Norris is trending to be exactly what I hoped. He is on pace to surpass last year’s scoring totals despite the depleted lineup and lack of stability. He wins half of his face offs and doesn’t appear to have a weakness to exploit. give him this rating because this is what I expected. He didn’t exceed. He is right where I hoped. This is a projected #1 or #2 center. This needs to be his minimum acceptable performance. Extend him ASAP before he gets even better. Dorion should be having these talks with him already. The Sens need to buy up some UFA years and get this kid on the long-term plan.
TIM STUTZLE B-
Stutzle’s offensive numbers don’t reflect the effort. He has been impacted by the Covid-19 and injury bug as much as anyone. A sophomore 19-year-old needs stability. I don’t believe his struggles are because he was playing wing instead of center. He was drafted as a winger. He played wing for Germany in the WJHC and for his German club team. I don’t want to be pig-headed and rule out the move to center. Let’s see if he can handle the defensive responsibilities. I think he would fill the net with the right center. He is a shooter. Centers are pass first players typically. The Rocket Richard award has been in existence since 1999 and has only been won by a center seven times.
For now, I like the effort and the points will come but this is a results business, so the ranking is what it is.
TYLER ENNIS C
I won’t waste a lot of ink here as Ennis isn’t likely to last the year, but he has been what I thought he would be. He is a serviceable player who can still generate some offence. If he doesn’t move at the trade deadline, he won’t resign. If Brady Tkachuk had signed prior to the season starting, I am not convinced Ennis would be here, but the Sens had to get to the salary floor.
CHRIS TIERNEY C
For the money Tierney is making ($4.2M), he needs to produce offensively for anyone to feel good about him being around. He is in the last year of his deal and I don’t dislike him as much as some. I expect he could move at the deadline provided the Senators eat a good chunk of his remaining salary. I believe there is a market for this player, but he needs insulation now to generate offence.
ZACH SANFORD C
At only 6 points in 23 games, it’s hard to feel good about the $2 million he is making. However, he was acquired in the middle of training camp and his first 10 games felt like a dress rehearsal. I see him starting to come around, but he would need to pick up the slack significantly for the team to want to resign him. He can play and he is physical. If the numbers don’t improve, the rating at the mid-season mark will be lower to be sure.
ALEX FORMENTON C
In his last year of entry level, Formenton continues to find his way. You can’t overlook his speed and the chances it creates. His finish is not what his speed is, but I feel like he is trending in the right direction. That said, if he has 5 points in the next 20 games, I would be surprised if he isn’t in Belleville at some point. He is effective and I would extend him to be sure. However, he is still figuring things out and the team needs more from him on offence to be successful. The rest of the forward group hasn’t played enough games to be rated.
ARTEM ZUB A
He is becoming what Marc Methot was to Erik Karlsson as far as Thomas Chabot is concerned. He can stabilize the defensive zone and let Chabot do what he needs to do to be successful. He is not without offensive ability, and he is a +4 on a 30th place team. At $1.75 million this year, he is great value for the money Even at $3.25 million next year, he is a steal. Once he is in the extension window, he needs to become Dorion’s priority for a longer-term deal. If he goes to free agency, he is gone.
NICK HOLDEN C-
At 34 years old, Holden came in as part of the Dadonov trade. He isn’t a part of the long-term plan, but he can still play in the right situations. His offence isn’t an issue. However, a -7 in 17 games can’t be overlooked. A veteran player with 530 games in the league should be able to provide stability. I don’t see a lot of that.
VICTOR METE D
It looked as though the Senators stole one on the waiver wire last year. He has mobility, but his inability to defend has led to a -12 in just 16 games. He doesn’t have an offensive upside to make up for the defensive woes. He needs the right partner to be successful and Nikita Zaitsev and Josh Brown aren’t it. I fear for the future with this player.
JOSH BROWN/MICHAEL DEL ZOTTO D-
Both players have played a combined 23 games and -14. Del Zotto has 6 points in 10 games which mitigates some of his issues. It also makes his -9 even more hard to swallow. I rate them a D- because I had no expectations of either. Brown struggled badly last year as well and Del Zotto’s best years are behind him.
The remaining defensemen have not played enough games to get an evaluation.
MATT MURRAY D-
I know most would give him an F. However, he has only had six starts and he has had health issues. The word I am hearing is that he has lingering issues from COVID-19, and was playing regardless, when the Senators brief halt to their season ended. He gets a COVID mulligan, and let’s see if he figures his game out after a stint in Belleville.
ANTON FORSBERG C-
He would have gotten the same rating as Murray had he not gone on this mini three game win streak. Up until then, it had not been pretty. He is someone I could see garnering some interest at the deadline if he continues to play at the level he is at. He is a UFA after this season and not likely to be back and everyone needs goaltending.
FILIP GUSTAVSSON B
I know people have been enamoured with his play this year and he hasn’t disappointed. When Forsberg was struggling along with Murray, Gus The Bus seemed like their only option. His 10 starts have had great games and some rough ones. He is not ready to be a starter yet, but he could be with a little more seasoning in Belleville as a starter. That is where he should be as soon as Murray can return.
If you look at everything from afar, this team probably isn't as bad as it might seem. Would any of you trade places with Vancouver or Montreal right now? I didn’t think so. I didn’t see the Senators as a playoff team on opening night and I certainly don’t today either. Enjoy this little run they are on right now. Have no illusions, reality will set in eventually. They are destined for the lottery again. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s a deep one.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey