Sens Thoughts – Dec 9th, 2016

1. What a fantastic season so far as a Sens fan. No complaints to where the team is right now. It certainly looks like Guy Boucher came as advertised. With success comes pressure though. Currently sitting in 2nd in the Atlantic in mid-December, fans now expect playoffs. Anything less would be considered a failure of a season.

2. If there’s one thing I can complain about Boucher, it’s his attachment to Tom Pyatt. 99% of Sens fans assumed when they announced the signing he would be nothing more than a depth signing to play in the AHL. Boucher had other ideas. He hasn’t scored a goal since October 18th, and since then only has three assists. Not only that, as pointed out by Travis Yost, of all the forwards in the NHL who’ve played 300+ 5v5 minutes, Pyatt has a league worst 39.6 CF%. He’s not an NHL player.

3. Pyatt’s struggles may also explain those of Zack Smith and Jean-Gabriel Pageau who have had him as their linemate on the third line. The Sens are going to need production from Smith and Pageau if they’re to continue having success this season. Luckily it sounds like Clarke MacArthur will potentially be returning in early January. If that’s the case, you have to imagine he’ll start off by sliding in Pyatt’s spot on the third line. That should immediately pay dividends and I’d expect to see the third line become a depth scoring threat that’s been lacking this season.

4. Of course, MacArthur returning will push Pyatt down to the fourth line, where he’ll have to compete with the likes of Chris Neil, Chris Kelly, and Curtis Lazar for spots. You really aren’t expecting much offense of any of those four players when it comes to 5v5. Luckily, most of those players are able to take up penalty killing minutes and have been doing a capable job of it this season. If you’re not getting offence, they damn better be doing defence.

5. Next season will be interesting though. With Smith, Kelly, Pyatt, and Neil all UFAs, the team has a chance to completely revamp their bottom six. Will they? Who knows. The point is that there’s certainly improvements that can be made to the bottom six to help give some scoring support to the to the top six, where most Sens fans will agree, has been superb this season. Personally, I’d like to see a bit more speed added to the bottom six. For some reason, it looks like Pageau is a step slower. I suspect it might be because of his linemates, because he did seem faster when placed in a top six role. Whether MacArthur returns will definitely have a huge effect on how the team deals with the bottom six going forward. Pierre Dorion has already said we’ll likely see Colin White up after his NCAA season is over. How he fares will also have an effect on the bottom six decisions. Maybe he earns himself a spot for next season (and this season?).

5. The emergence of Ryan Dzingel this season was a nice surprise. I always thought he had the potential to be a top six player, but his speed this season and his ability to create his own chances have astounded me. It’s also helped absorb the impact of losing MacArthur in training camp. He’s helped solidify the top six, giving the team two balanced scoring lines. No more worrying about trying to find that top six forward to complete the set!

6. I really do like Ryan, but he has yet to live up the contract he’s signed. Granted, part of his struggles are most likely injury related, but at the same time, he’s not getting any younger. When I have more excitement when Dzingel is on the ice, there’s a problem. According to Sportsnet, Bobby Ryan can be exposed by the Senators in the expansion draft. I think it’s a no brainer to expose him. It creates a win-win situation for the team. If he isn’t picked, the Sens don’t lose any forward of worth (and that includes Lazar). If he is picked, the team keeps all their defencemen, and frees up $7.25 million that was previously locked up until 2021-22. That’s huge when you consider Dion Phaneuf has a contract of $7.00 million until 2020-21.  Having both those contracts on the team makes it hard to be flexible, but having only one is manageable. Of course, the one downside to exposing him, is the personal aspect. Would he take it personally? If so, it could burn bridges between him and the team.

7. One of the biggest surprises to me this season has been Mark Borowiecki. I don’t think there’s been a player on the team that’s had more of a turnaround from last season than him. I no longer find myself watching in horror when he’s on the ice. In fact, many of the times I don’t even notice he’s there (which is a good thing!). He’s rarely going out of the way to make an unnecessary hit that put him way out of position like he did many times last season. Gotta probably credit the coaching staff for the change, whether it was Boucher, or Marc Crawford (who’s in charge of the defence), it’s been a reason that the Sens have found success this season.

8. That being said, the defence is still an issue. With Marc Methot out, the Sens defence has clearly been overwhelmed by the better teams. Unfortunately, Cody Ceci has yet to show much improvement since making the NHL, and has seen his trade value plummet. After watching the team with Methot out, I can’t see a scenario where you expose him in the expansion draft. It has to be Ceci, and if it is him, there’s a good chance he’ll be taken. It will be interesting to see if the team tries moving him, because if they do, the Sens could very well come out ahead in the expansion draft. Once that’s over with, the team will need to see how to improve the defence. The obvious internal option is Thomas Chabot. Will he be ready next year? I still wish they had given him a couple games this season to see where he was at.

9. I found it kind of weird seeing a bunch of Sens fans rag on the decision to start Craig Anderson after the Pittsburgh game. Sure he had a bad game there, and a bad game in his last start against Buffalo. Prior to those games though, he had put up a SV% of .920 or better in 11 of his last 13 starts. That’s unbelievable. No goalie is going to be perfect every night, but if he’s putting up those numbers consistently with the occasional bad game, you’re in a good spot. Until he has a stretch of multiple bad games, I keep on giving him starts whenever he’s available. He’s the starter for a reason.

10. Goaltending is a funny thing though. How quickly Mike Condon took Andrew Hammond’s backup position and ran with it. I am surprised at how well Condon has played, but at the same time not too surprised that Hammond lost his spot. He could get it back, but when he went on his run, we all knew that wasn’t the real Hammond. He was always going to be a stop gap solution for the backup position until the Sens had a better option, and they might have found it. I’ll wait a bit of course, small sample sizes and all. At the end of the day though, if this is the end of Hammond’s NHL career, all I can say is I’m glad he was able to turn that run into a couple million dollars. He went from potentially needing to work a normal day to day job like us, to now having enough money to live a good life with his family when he retires. Good for him, he deserves it.

11. My 11th point of course is going to go to Daniel Alfredsson. How excited are you for the retirement night? Not only are we going to get to see the first jersey retired in modern Senators history, we get to watch a hockey game afterwards with a team that’s holding a playoff position! I’ve heard from my sources that the team will be wearing all the different Senators jerseys that Alfie wore in his career during the warmup, similar to what the Ducks did with Teemu Selanne. That’s certainly going to bring up the jersey debate when we see how nice those early 90s jerseys look.

12. Speaking of jerseys, I’ve heard that next season when the Adidas deal kicks in, teams will only have home and away sets. No third jersey. So bye bye Heritage. I believe the plan is to re-introduce the third jerseys the next season, but a full season without them, that’s gonna suck. And for those hoping that maybe the team will make Heritage jerseys their home and away, it’s not happening pending some miracle. You may have seen the new banners they put up to replace the old ones in the Canadian Tire Centre this year, I’ve heard that was done to coincide with the new jerseys next season. They will be the same as our current home and away set, with some minor differences. My best bet right now is you may notice the Senturion logo on the banners has a shinier gold, I do expect that to be incorporated into the jersey logos next season.

13. With Alfie’s retirement upcoming, the new topic of discussion that’s come up is whether or not to retire Chris Phillips and Chris Neil’s jerseys. Both have played over 1000 games with the team, and only this team, and have been a huge part of the community. Personally, I can’t support retiring their numbers. To me, a jersey retirement has to be held to a super high standard. It should only be done for franchise players. Alfredsson falls under that. Neil and Phillips don’t. I think retiring those two numbers would also diminish retiring Alfredsson’s number. We’ve waited 25 years to see the first number retired by the modern Senators. It would feel cheap to retire two so soon after. I want to see Alfredsson’s 11 hanging for at least a decade if not more, before we retire the only jersey I think deserves it right now, Erik Karlsson.

14. We have to honour Neil and Phillips though. According to Cyril Leeder, the team will be introducing a Ring of Honour in 2017. That fits the bill. Once Neil retires, the Sens can organize a special event to induct those two lifelong Senators at the same time. It’d be great.

15. I was going to talk about Karlsson, but do I really need to? Just give him his third Norris.

16. To those complaining about the in game experience, I think the team has listened. I recently saw a promoted post on my Facebook feed from TKNL, Experience Makers saying they’ve won the contract to do the on-ice show throughout 2017. Sounds like we might finally be making use of those ice projectors that were bought a couple seasons back. I’ve seen them properly used at the Air Canada Centre, and done right, they can put on a pretty good show.

16. To end, let’s just say Karma is great.