By Sylvain Godin | OSJ Staff
Well, we are now well beyond a third of the way through the NHL 2019-2020 season and the Ottawa Senators are surprising a lot of pundits and teams with their tenacity and style of play. With a resounding win against Boston, an overtime loss against Montreal, and an overtime win over Columbus, they are showing that when they follow Coach DJ Smith’s plan, they can keep up with any team in the league.
The news has been a bit light in regards to the Senators so I think it’s time we hand out report cards before the holidays. This is completely opinion-based so there will certainly be critics, but that’s the fun in these kinds of exercises. At each position, I will take one player I see as achieving; one that I think needs to step up; then give the overall group a grade.
A+: Jean Gabriel Pageau
If you honestly thought I was going to give this grade to anyone else right now, you're silly and haven’t been watching the tear that Pageau’s been on. With a team-leading 24 points (16 goals and 8 assists), Pageau dominated the month of November. For the month, he placed himself in the conversation of players such as Connor McDavid and David Pastrnak; lofty names, for sure! What is most telling: On a team that is losing more than winning, Pageau rocks a plus/minus of +20; second in the whole league behind only Ryan Graves of Colorado.
While time will tell what kind of player Pageau will turn into, he is solidifying his position as a great center that a lot of teams would love to have on their third line; a player who can also slide on to the second line with no issues. He will be a very curious point of interest for this rebuilding Senators team. I personally think, unlike some, he could fetch a first-round pick. Pageau only makes 3.4 mil this year and, by the trade deadline, the bulk of this would have already been paid. He carries a lower cap hit of $3.1 mil which another team could fit easily by shipping someone back to Ottawa with the first-round pick. While I’m not keen on adding players to the roster, an expiring contract would be acceptable and we do have some cap space.
If Pageau continues his play, he is looking at a career year of 35+ goals and 20+ assist for a 60-point year. That’s not bad at all for a $3.1 mil cap player! Or, the Senators can go the alternative route and sign Pageau to an extension as well and have his veteran presence here for people to grow with. Role guys like Pageau are a team’s dream and this guy could give you a ton of benefits; more so if you can sign him once you trade for him. For all this work he’s done so far, he gets an A+
D: Colin White
Coming off a brand new six-year contract extension that kicks in next year, you would think White would be a steady force on the team. However, White has 7 points in 26 games (2 goals, 5 assists), and a -6 at this point. Furthermore, it feels like he may not remain as a center much longer with how things are going; rumblings are that he may be shifted to the wing. That will be how he will survive staying in the league. I thought he'd challenge for the 2-3 spot at C. This may still happen if Pageau gets moved, but I personally expected a lot more out of the player.
Honourable mentions: Brady Tkachuk (B+), Anthony Duclair (A),
B+: Thomas Chabot
Chabot is having, yet again, a great offensive season. He's leading all defensemen on the team at 21 points, but what worries me a bit is his defensive game. While he has always mentioned that he must work on this part of his game, things like his overtime gaffe during the Montreal game is more common this season, which could very well raise a flag.
This feels like Erik Karlsson 2.0, where you marvel at the sheer acumen, but sometimes shake your head at the decisions he makes when defending. While his scoring is exactly where you'd expect it, I would have thought, by this point, there would have been more of a leap forward defensively. He’s been a minus player his whole career and you would expect improvement during his third year as a pro.
Also, the eight-year contract extension creates higher expectations. This may sound like I’m pooh-poohing the player; but, no, I’m a huge Chabot fan. I think he’s going to do Erik Karlsson-esque things for Ottawa. But I don’t need the Erik Karlsson-esque defense he showed in his first few years here.
C+: Mark Borowiecki
Surprised? I am too. Borocop is having a pretty good year with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) and could add some sandpaper to a team that could use a good 5-7 defenceman. He isn’t a defensively liability either on a team that is losing, sporting a +2. His career average is in the negative, but he had his worst negatives last year on a team that was just, frankly, horrid. He is also just one point shy of his career-best 11 points in a season.
While beloved by Ottawa fans, I think this will be the last year for Borocop in Ottawa. We will need to start making room for our budding defensemen in the AHL. So far, due to the fact he's improved his offence while still carrying a fair amount of hits (127 hits so far in 32 games), I give him a C+. You still get the same thing you always did with Boro and that’s why he’s not higher.
D-: Erik Brannstrom
I’d be remiss if I did not touch upon this player. Safe to say, Brannstrom’s foray into the NHL has not gone smoothly at all. At times lost on the ice and unsure where to be, his statistics show: In 23 games, he has two assists for a whole two points and a -7; becoming more and more of a liability. Currently, the game is just too fast for him and it’s going to take some seasoning in the AHL to get to speed. The biggest problem Brannstrom will have is that he will forever be labelled as ‘the’ piece the Sens took back for Mark Stone; a player beloved by the Senators' fanbase.
For now, Brannstrom barely gets a passing grade, simply because it’s his first year and he’s expected to struggle while he learns the system and learns what is expected of him. So, he gets a ‘pass’, but barely.
Honourable Mentions: Dylan DeMelo (B-), Nikita Zaitsev (C)
C: Anders Nilsson
We might as well start with the goaltender who’s not injured and, at this point, a lot of people would presume to be the number 1 in Ottawa. Nilsson has had a pretty decent start, with an 9-8-2 record, a 3.02 GAA and a save percentage of 0.913; which is the better of the two goalies. One thing to note: Nilsson seems to get a lot more shots thrown at him (507 through 18 games versus 384 in 16 for Craig Anderson). Perhaps the Sens play a bit more loosey-goosey with Nilsson in net. But the fact of the matter is that, on a team that is rebuilding, Nilsson has been able to keep the Senators afloat. While his numbers won’t win him any award considerations, he’s about average compared to the rest of the league - so, for now, it’ll do. I personally think Nilsson is not the answer for the long haul, but a good option during the rebuild while the kids in the AHL continue to develop. At some point, I would sooner give the reigns to a younger player.
C-: Craig Anderson
Anderson is nearing the end of the line and honestly, it’s hard to expect much out of him but here we are. He’s been injury-prone this year, currently on IR as of this writing, and his lines are no better than Nilsson at 3.01 in GAA and 0.901 in SV; he’s letting in far more goals per average. I would like to see him get shipped out sooner rather than later and allow one of the kids to back up Nilsson. Anderson’s time as a number one has ended and it’s time to say goodbye to the player.
Honourable Mention: Hogberg - only because I love seeing a 1.82 GAA and a 0.925. (And, no, it’s totally not skewed because he’s only got two games under his belt!)
Senators grade: C-
The Senators get a passing grade, but they still need a lot of work. Defensively, it’s starting to get better and I like how Smith is using this team. It's fast and hard-nosed and a team like that should compete daily. Offensively, though, the team needs help and the power play is simply atrocious.
But you can see an identity-forming and it’s making for a great, fun team to watch.