The Ottawa Senators limped into the 60 game mark having lost eight of their last ten games. Since the last report, the overall record has been a pedestrian 7-12-1. Things were continuing to trend upward until a tough road trip, followed by a couple of tough losses at home that reminded Sens Nation exactly how close the Senators AREN’T. In particular, the trip through Florida made the Senators look like the Washington Federals playing the Harlem Globetrotters.
No one new has been added to the fold, save for Colin White, and this will surely change between now and March 21st. I am as curious as all of you.
For now, let’s see whose performance may have contributed to these recent struggles.
GM PIERRE DORION C+ (No Change)
I know Dorion is under a lot of scrutiny right now. However, I am going to reserve judgment on him until March 22nd. I have opinions based on what he should and shouldn’t do that I expressed in a previous article.
Nick Paul, Zach Sanford, Anton Forsberg and possibly Tyler Ennis could all be gone by Monday or some could remain in the fold.
Sens Nation should give up on any Josh Norris and Alex Formenton extensions until the off season. Norris may even trickle into the start of next season.
If Dorion gets good return on the players mentioned above and gets Jake Sanderson into the lineup when his collegiate season ends, that will be a job well done in my books. Same holds true if Nick Paul stays at the right contract term and AAV.
For now, it’s wait and see. It is also noteworthy that Pierre McGuire spoke publicly this past week!
DJ SMITH C- (Down from C)
Though I downgrade him from his previous ranking, I don’t know that I can condemn him with the lineup he has at his disposal. Are the Senators a better team than their record indicates? I believe they are, but I blame Covid-19 and injuries to key players for their record as much as I do anything.
His affinity for certain players is puzzling at times but he has to support the players in the room and defend them to the press or he loses the room anyway.
For now, the Senators are C- team and I rate their coach the same.
BRADY TKACHUK A (Up from A-)
Tkachuk continues to be a catalyst who constantly tries to make something happen. What I love most is that he has already clearly had his fill of losing. It was hard not to see the look on his face after the Arizona loss. He knew there was no excuse for losing that game. With a captain like that, this can be fixed. It’s for that reason I bump him up to an A.
THOMAS CHABOT A (No Change)
Chabot is so clearly the best defenseman on the team that you notice him as much when he isn’t in the game as when he is on the ice controlling the pace. It is frightening how much less threatening the Senators are to score a goal when he isn’t on the ice. In particular, the penalty kill unit becomes more likely to score than the power play unit if he is injured or on the bench.
NICK PAUL (A) B (Down from B+)
Perhaps the trade deadline and lack of extension or knowing where he will be playing is weighing on Paul, but he has levelled off in his play. His production in goals is ahead of last season.
However, he is behind the pace for points and his +/- is an impossible to miss -18. I hate to say it, but if there is someone out there willing to pay him $3 million per then we need to trade him. I like him and want him to stay. However, he is replaceable. I don’t think he will ever be a 20 goal/40 point guy which he would need to be to justify that kind of scratch. No more than $2.75 million AAV on a 4-5 year deal with more front loaded salary wise.
CONNOR BROWN B (No change)
Brown has already matched his point total for last season having played 10 fewer games. This is despite having only nine goals. Given the chances he generates for himself, he should be in the Rocket Richard race. He is a very tenacious and effective penalty killer and I like him being a part of the future.
Hearing rumours of being scouted for possible trade options with Minnesota. His value would be higher with the potential of two playoff runs. Tough call as I am satisfied with his performance. I expected more given his world championship performance, but he isn’t the problem. That much is certain.
NIKITA ZAITSEV (A) C- (No Change)
This is a very one-dimensional player who is slated to be with the Senators for another two years beyond this one. He plays more than he should, and his weaknesses get exposed for it. I agree with him being in the lineup so that Lassi Thomson and Jacob-Bernard-Dokker can develop properly in the AHL. I can’t see myself saying that next season. He could be the most expensive 6th or 7th defenseman in the league next year.
DRAKE BATHERSON A (No Change)
No games played.
JOSH NORRIS A- (No Change)
He missed more than half the review period. When he’s been in, he’s been on. Him on the right-side wall and Batherson on the left-side wall on the power play is a salivating thought for the future. I am okay with saying he is a legit 1B center if not a 1A. Eight-year extension please. 😊
TIM STUTZLE B+ (No Change)
He continues to trend in the right direction. His speed helps create openings for him. He goes to the traffic, has a great release, and can distribute the puck. He isn’t great on the faceoff at 39% and his +/- is now a team worst -22. I have no problem with him playing center the remainder of the season as an experiment. However, I won’t be able to give him a rating like Josh Norris until he can be trusted in his own zone. I have not given up on him being a winger.
TYLER ENNIS C (Down from C+)
Ennis landed back in the press box lately and his lack of production has all but assured that he won’t get moved at the deadline. I am alright with that as someone has to play from March 22nd to April 29th. The Senators don’t need anymore 6th or 7th round picks which is surely all he would generate in the way of interest. Ennis can be effective on a better team which holds on to the possibility of a trade. Playing in Ottawa with injuries to key players forces him to play in situations he shouldn’t, and he gets seen for what he is.
CHRIS TIERNEY. C- (No Change)
There is nothing I can say about this player that isn’t plainly obvious to everyone. Tierney missed a string of games since the last review due to injury. However, the decline on this player since he arrived in the Karlsson trade has been remarkable. I don’t see a market for him at the deadline even now that he is back to playing. He will play out the string and go UFA.
ZACH SANFORD. C+ (Up from C)
Though the offensive numbers continue to trickle, I have liked Sanford’s game of late. He and Nick Paul have nearly identical offensive numbers, but I would rate Sanford the better player when he is playing to his capabilities. He is more dynamic in the offensive zone whereas Paul is more of a north/south player. I would choose Paul to stay given the age difference, but I can see Sanford fetching as high as a 2nd round pick from a contender looking for Cup run experience. Maybe St. Louis will want him back or Boston being that he is from Massachusetts.
ALEX FORMENTON B (No Change)
His production has slowed somewhat but all signs pointing in the right direction for this player. His speed continues to create chances and turnovers on the forecheck. He is big, fast and physical. This has been a successful first full season in the league so far.
ARTEM ZUB A+ (Up from A)
He continues to provide stability in a defensive zone full of chaos and mayhem. I am even seeing greater puck possession skills in the offensive zone. With 18 pts and +3 rating on a bottom tier team, it’s hard to imagine him getting any less than $5 million per on the open market after next season. He needs to be priority #1 for Dorion to extend on July 1st.
COLIN WHITE C (No Previous Ranking)
White appears to have returned to be exactly the player I remembered him to be. He started off quickly enough but has returned to being a point every other game player after 10 games. The next 22 games are about evaluating this asset. I don’t know why everyone is in such a hurry to buy players out when the Senators are not even close to being a cap team. He has three years left after this one. Stutzle as a winger or a center is still a matter for debate. Patience is the key here.
AUSTIN WATSON. C- (No Change)
His story is compelling being three years sober. His willingness to block a shot with any part of his body is hard not to notice. His teammates clearly love playing with him. He takes all comers for fights though he loses most. His topless tattoo filled intermission interviews are epic. All that aside, we are talking about a player with five points in 45 games and a -9 rating. I was stunned to discover that Watson went 18th overall in his draft year in 2010. We will have the pleasure of his company next season as well. I want to cheer for him, but he is simply not an NHL player. He can do everything except what the Senators need him to do.
PARKER KELLY. C (No previous rating)
Kelly is half the price of Austin Watson yet twice as effective. There are better players playing in Belleville right now, but I agree with him being with Senators while others are developed. He is on one way money next season, but he won’t cost much. Kelly’s work ethic sets him apart more than his skill. He has good hockey IQ and clearly DJ Smith has a soft spot in his heart for him. Like it or not, budget teams like the Senators need players like this.
NICK HOLDEN B (No Change)
Holden continues to be a solidifying influence on the back end. He has even shown some offensive upside. Dorion did well to extend him for another season. The danger becomes if he plays too high in the lineup. On the Senators, he is top four. While the team’s struggles aren’t his fault, if he is in your top four, you are likely not a strong team. If Sanderson joins the fold and Thomson comes up next season, Holden can fall back to a five or six role on the team and be very effective.
VICTOR METE D+ (No Change)
Mete has become the 7th defenseman on a weak defensive team. That’s not a great omen. The team’s struggles of late have nothing to do with him. He hasn’t played. Hard to see him ever being more than a 7th defenseman on this team. In only 31 games, he has an inauspicious -15 rating. He can’t play for a weak team. He can be effective on a puck possession team which the Sens are not. He also can’t take the puck from anyone.
JOSH BROWN D+ (No Change)
He continues to be a regular in the lineup and he continues to be exposed for his lack of mobility. His play isn’t awful, but it isn’t going to improve or get results either. If you could combine his frame with Mete’s mobility, you would have something.
ADAM GAUDETTE C+ (Down from B)
Gaudette is a streaky player who can be effective but doesn’t do so on a regular basis. I understand now why he got waived by the Blackhawks. Consistency appears to the issue here. This is a depth player in an organization. He isn’t someone you build around. He is playing for a qualifying offer at the end of the season and right now I would say it’s 50/50. He can play in the NHL. I just don’t think you can win with guys like this in the NHL.
DYLAN GAMBRELL C- (Down from a C)
Another player I want to cheer for but can’t get excited about. The motor works but just doesn’t have any offensive upside. The Senators already have Austin Watson at similar production making $1.5 million AAV. They don’t need another.
ERIK BRANNSTROM C+ (No Change)
At his age, you don’t want to give up on this player. He can play at the NHL level, but he can’t defend at the NHL level. Neither could Erik Karlsson but he could do other things that Brannstrom can’t. With the puck on his stick, Brannstrom is an effective player. Without it, he takes penalties when defending because he is physically overwhelmed. He has yet to play his 100th game in the league and I predict he will be winning Salming awards for the best defenseman in the Swedish Hockey League before he plays his 200th.
MATT MURRAY C- (No Change)
I know Murray’s last start was awful against Arizona. However, up until that start, he was playing some good hockey as his nearly 91% save percentage would indicate. His play doesn’t concern me. It’s his inability to remain healthy. I find him being sent to the IR for some very innocuous contact. If there is an issue with concussions that the team isn’t advertising, that might explain it, but it must have been pre-existing as none of the instances I have seen should have led to a concussion. I fear for long-term IR with this player.
ANTON FORSBERG B+ (Up From C)
No doubt he has distinguished himself in the crease of late. Of course, it only took one start against the Blackhawks to have Twitter turn on him. That’s a discussion for another day. Right now, he is the best goalie on the team without question. Is he the best long-term option? I would question that. However, with Murray on the shelf with no ETA, it’s hard to justify trading the one goalie you have that is getting results of any kind. I don’t envy Pierre Dorion here.
If anything has become apparent over the last 20 games, it’s that last year’s improved play down the stretch in the All-Canadian division was clearly Fool’s Gold. The Senators were shielded from a lot of great teams. This year’s team has shown signs of being able to hang with the big boys (St. Louis and Vegas games). It has also looked horribly overwhelmed at times (Tampa and Florida games). The future is still bright. The present, however, is bleak.
The next 22 games will likely be at least as tough as we could potentially be trading some capable players and backfilling with less than capable players. What’s another Top 10 Draft Pick?
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey