30 IN 30 - OTTAWA SENATORS (12th place)
Boring hockey wins games. Well not always, but that's the mindset of Sens coach Guy Boucher. He took over the leagues 19th placed team and turned them into an Eastern Conference Finalist. Okay, so they got some help from the leagues generous divisional playoff structure, but they still managed to take Pittsburgh the brink; an impressive feat. Systems aside, one player that refuses to be boring, Erik Karlsson, continued to show us why he's one of the best defencemen in the game today. No defender, other than Brent Burns, has had such a profuse effect on his team's offensive abilities than him. Plus, if Moneyball has taught us anything about player evaluation it's that hot girlfriend = high confidence. And Karlsson has that under wrap. Unfortunately for Ottawa, hockey isn't a one man game, and expansion could put a dent in their burgeoning young core. Can Sens GM Pierre Dorion weave through the expansion draft minefield unscathed?
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Phaneuf (*NMC)
- Phaneuf (*NMC)
Protection list structure is actually a concern for the Sens. Unlike most teams, Ottawa is spread deep across its forward group, and runs hard into the four defencemen wall. Tricky situations presented by Phaneuf and Methot make the move to protect Cody Ceci that much harder. Good ol' Double-Dion showed his worth come playoff time, but his $7.0M price tag for four more years looks like the more ideal deterrent for a Vegas selection than Methot's $4.9M for two. If only he didn't carry a 'No Movement Clause'.
Up front, management could actually use an ugly contract as a deliberate form of player protection, keeping a higher portion of their team in the process. Bobby Ryan is well and truly overpaid, but his performance this spring showed us the star we wish would come out of hiding more often. Leaving him available is a risk, no matter how calculated it may be. However, the allure of protection list flexibility could be the weight that tips the scale. Vegas would have to have a long-term plan of Ryan in a Golden Knights uniform for his selection to make any kind of sense for them. To explain, few teams have the cap space to take on a player earning $7.25M for the next five years, thus his trade value is dependent upon finding an organization that believes in his ability enough AND has the requisite cap space. More probable than not, Vegas would be on the hook for the remainder of his contract if they selected him. Five years removed from his last 30 goal season, value attached to him as a player has waned. In our opinion, the odds of a McPhee pulling the trigger are low. Leaving him off our Sens protection list is worth the risk, knowing the worst case scenario involves Ottawa waving goodbye to his cap hit for the next five seasons.
Without Ryan on the protection list, Sens GM Piece Dorion will be left with a broader range of expansion options. He could either protect all remaining key forwards under the 7-3-1 model, or protect four key defencemen and his four favourite forwards under the 8-1.
CECI, METHOT, OR BOTH?
It's shocking to see so many hockey experts dismiss the impact of Marc Methot. Seemingly all Senators expansion discussions involve the Sens leaving him unprotected in favour of both Cody Ceci and their young secondary scorers up front. Sure, Erik Karlsson is all-world from the back-end, but Methot has allowed him to roam free for the past three seasons without concern for his partners' defensive prowess. This stay-at-home mindset fits perfectly next to such an offensive threat. Truly the yin to his yang as a player.
On the numbers, Method actually backs up his status as the better D-man over Ceci. His point production is predictably lower, but on-ice goal differential, Corsi (both relative and zone adjusted), and overall impact on primary defensive partner is much better. The WOWY (with or without you) stat we've focused on in our analysis is directed at the player's primary D-partner. Do they play better without the player or see their stats get worse? Methot clearly impacts Karlsson's goal differentials, while Ceci's impact on a player like Dion Phaneuf last season was actually a negative one, as seen by the bumps in Phaneuf's statistical measures when playing apart from him.
Our intention isn't to rag on Cody Ceci, but instead emphasize the fact he's a 23 year-old still rounding out his game in the big leagues. If Methot leaves, the onus would be on a player like him and 2nd-year man, Chris Wideman, to step up and take on heavier minutes. Seems pretty far-fetched to assume this transition will go over smoothly, with both of them playing on the same side as Karlsson (re- right hand shots). So why not stay the course and keep your top four intact? Thomas Chabot could add another X-factor to the back-end, and put them over the top as a well rounded unit. Frankly, if we were building this team, this is the route we'd go, hence our preference for the 8-1 model with both Methot and Ceci protected.
SO YOU'RE JUST GONNA LET VEGAS TAKE A YOUNG FORWARD?
Yeah, yeah, you don't agree with us, but do your best to consider the option and maybe you'll see where we're coming from.
Guy Boucher's boring 1-3-1 forecheck removes the importance of the star forward. It places responsibility on a the forward group to instead work as a unit to create turnovers through a form of baited pressure. Therefore scoring chances are grown out of these turnovers as opposed to pure offensive skill in transitional systems. Defencemen, on the other hand are forced to transition out of their own zone at a higher rate due to the opposition's inability to break through the neutral zone with possession. With this in mind, we believe replacing a forward within the system is an easier task than replacing a defenceman.
Running down the list of forwards, picking the top four (without Ryan) appears pretty straight forward. Hoffman, Turris, Stone, and Brassard have all proven their worth over the years and continue to produce at a consistent rate. Granted, Kyle Turris carries a concerning goal differential (47.6% and 41.9% the last two seasons), but his 53.1% face-off percentage and overall power play contribution counteract this dip. This leaves Vegas with a choice between Ryan Dzingel, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Zack Smith.
All 3 players are serviceable forwards with potentially low-level 2nd line status and provide enough value to draw the Golden Knights away from the Sens defence. Dzingel and Pageau are fresh faced contributors with a knack for scoring big goals, but unfortunately don't do so at a consistent enough rate. Zack Smith, on the other hand, is past his development window at 29 years of age and looks best suited for 3rd line duties, especially with depth at centre in front of him. Each of these players have fallen into the 0.40-0.45 points per game range. Personal attachment aside, this is an easy statistical output to replace. Smith's group high 0.43 Pts/GP, places him 183rd in the league amongst all forwards who have played a minimum of 41 games. That means 182 other centremen and wingers contributed at a higher output, with an additional 26 forwards who sit between Smith at 0.43 and the two youngsters at 0.40.
At $3.25M for the next four years, Zack Smith remains the least appealing option for the Golden Knights, as he's likely seen his best year's behind him. This narrows it down to Ryan Dzingel and J.G. Pageau. As RFAs, Vegas will have to be wary of their current list of player's not under contract, as they are limited to 10 under the expansion rules, but with recognizable NHL-level ability, burning one of these 10 on either player could be a worthwhile move. Both forwards display similar goal based stats, with Dzingel having the advantage in traditional Corsi percentage, and Pageau the edge in our zone adjusted Corsi. Deciding between these two could come down to mere personal preference.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS PICK
Because a decision has to be made, we would select Ryan Dzingel as our Ottawa-based expansion selection. His point totals have already matched Pageau's in half the time with the big club, giving him the edge in scoring potential, on top of his already strong skating ability. Pageau's versatility in an NHL lineup and overall impact in the face-off circle are not to be ignored, but they are unfortunately not enough to sway our judgment away from a potential 20-25 goal man in Dzingel.
The Sens may have let go of Curtis Lazar for cents on the dollar, but allowing a young man the opportunity elsewhere after a pair of frustrating season's in Ottawa, is at the very least a respectful move by Pierre Dorion. Thankfully he has Thomas Chabot and Colin White to fall back in his prospect pipeline or Lazar's departure may have been more damaging in the eyes of the fan base.
Speaking of fan base. Be better Ottawa. Selling out an Eastern Conference Final home game shouldn't be that hard. This is Canada!....well in your case, Kanata.
Next up: San Jose Sharks