The Case for Us Not Being Totally Boned

I’m going to try something on for size, here: optimism. I won’t go over all of the ways in which this is not an intuitive or realistic stance to take. You know them. But as I shift from Actually Watching Games to the hockey equivalent of playing Settlers of Catan, I can’t help but feel like there’s some hope that we can successfully bargain for some wheat. Not enough hope to buy a hockey ticket, of course. But reason to keep talking about the Ottawa Senators online.

Here’s what I’ve got. Do with it what you will:

The Moment Karlsson Was Gone, a Rebuild Was the Right Call

Ottawa was uniquely dependent on Erik Karlsson to drive their entire system. He played in all situations, he played half the game, he made every player on the team better, and outside of Mark Stone was the only player on the team who could hold his own against the best competition in the league. Ottawa without Erik Karlsson simply wasn’t Ottawa. They were barely an NHL team.

Ottawa wasn’t very good in Karlsson’s last season with the team, finishing second last. One could reasonably argue that the moment he was gone – ignoring how much of a cluster-fuck it is to let a player like that go under any circumstances – the team had to rebuild. A team so dependent on Erik Karlsson, even with Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Thomas Chabot, and Mike Hoffman, wasn’t going anywhere without him.

Yes, having Mark Stone to build around is also a good option. I’m just saying that if you squint and look sideways, in a way Dorion is giving the We Should Have Gone Full Rebuild in 2011 crowd what they’ve always wanted.

Ottawa Started Their Rebuild With a Respectable Base of Prospects

Before the great sell-off began with Karlsson, Ottawa had an intriguing mix of players: long-shots with high ceilings, tools-y players that projected as depth, and a ton of wild cards. But for a team that hadn’t drafted anywhere near the top five since taking Mika Zibanejad sixth overall in 2011, Ottawa could do much worse than Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton, Filip Chlapik, Christian Wolanin and Filip Gustavsson, to say nothing of stealth players on the farm like Maxime Lajoie.

In what’s become a bit of a habit, Ottawa made the most out of late round picks and their trade of Brassard to form a decent baseline of prospects. They added Brady Tkachuk to that baseline last year. That’s not one of the better prospect pipelines in the league – there’s a conspicuous lack of blue-chippers outside of Chabot and Tkachuk – but being in the middle-third of prospect systems without very high picks is not so bad given the circumstances.

They added to that baseline with the trades to come. While the only blue-chip prospect Ottawa got back in the trades of Karlsson, Stone, Duchene, Dzingel, and Hoffman was Erik Brannstrom, they also added to their intriguing mix: Rudolph Balcers, Josh Norris, Vitaly Abramov, and Johan Davidsson.

Three blue-chippers and a whole lot of upside isn’t a bad place to start one’s build.

The Only Thing Ottawa is Good at is Drafting, and They Have a Ton of Picks

I mostly agree with the notion that the only way to get true needle-movers, meaning players that significantly improve your chances of competing for a Cup, is to capitalize on other team’s mistakes or dire circumstances (as Vegas just did with us and Mark Stone) or to draft them. In the absence of very high draft picks, teams, especially teams whose strength is drafting, should get as many chances at drafting super-secret future needle-movers as possible.

As Dellow wrote about over on The Athletic, Ottawa has a near-historic number of picks over the next three years:

Ottawa’s currently sitting on 15 picks in the first three rounds over the next three years, with a possibility of getting up to 17 as things stand. The final draft of the Original 21 era took place in 1990. There have been 757 potential three-year windows for teams since then. Only one team – the 2000-02 Devils – went to the podium more than 17 times in the first three rounds in a three year period since the demise of the Original 21.

There’s potential for the Senators to add to their haul, too, by trading Cody Ceci and Mikkel Boedker at the draft. And then there are reliable depth players like Chris Tierney and J-G Pageau. None of these players will produce a high pick, but they might give Ottawa more shots at the carnival game.

While many of the teams with that number or near that number of picks were only able to produce a few NHLers, many of those years took place pre-salary cap, when there wasn’t as much emphasis on drafting and development as a key to success, and when analytics weren’t nearly as accessible to scouts and GMs. The teams that did have that many draft picks more recently produced a larger cohort of NHL players.

Some of those picks might turn out to be pretty good, too. Obviously, Ottawa’s own picks will be pretty high, so there’s potential to add another blue-chipper or two to Ottawa’s emerging core. If Columbus re-signs Duchene and Panarin and Bobrovsky walk in the off-season, they could be on the outside looking in playing in the Metropolitan. If the Sharks re-sign Karlsson, Ottawa receives their 2021 2nd rounder, and if they make the Cup Final this year that turns into a 1st. A lot would have to go right and then suddenly wrong for the Sharks, but they have one of the older lineups in the league and play in the ultra-competitive Pacific, with much younger teams. In addition to Ottawa’s 1sts, there’s a scenario where the Jackets’ and Sharks’ 1st end up being pretty high value.

I mean, let that sink in:

Blue chippers

  • Chabot
  • Tkachuk
  • Brannstrom
  • Ottawa’s 2020 1st?
  • Ottawa’s 2021 1st?

Upside

  • White
  • Batherson
  • Brown
  • Formenton
  • Chlapik
  • Wolanin
  • Gustavsson
  • Balcers
  • Abramov

Who knows?

  • Norris
  • Davidsson
  • Paul
  • Lajoie
  • Everyone else on the Belleville Senators
  • At least 13 other picks, some of them 1st rounders and a whole lotta 2nds

We’re Probably Still Boned

I know the obvious response to all of this is: “So what if we have potentially good players? If Melnyk owns this team and we don’t have a new arena, there’s no money to re-sign them.”

That’s true!

I don’t have a rebuttal to that.

Have a good day.

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3 thoughts on “The Case for Us Not Being Totally Boned

  1. After the shock and uncontrollable weeping finally ended I, too, began to see the bright side to this armageddon on ice. The team with EK wasn’t good enough…it just wasn’t. Yes, we had the Cinderella run in 2017 but, know what, a lot of that was luck. Not saying the lads didn’t play their guts out and will their way to some awe inspiring wins, but they also ran into a very depleted Bruins and a Rangers squad that was on its last legs as a playoff team.
    The fact is, time flies when you’re bumbling around tossing out immoveable contracts to the Zack Smith’s of the world and clinging to the illusion of potential that sticks to Ceci like a fart in a coffin, and the Sens pretty much painted themselves into a corner. They had become a classic bubble team – not quite good enough to be a legitimate threat, not nearly bad enough to draft difference makers; added to which they have a cash-strapped owner and a dubious ability to evaluate either pro-level players or pro-level coaches. By the time they got that mess straightened out Karlsson would have been early-30’s. My personal suspicion is that Karlsson took Melnyk at his word one of the first hundred or so times he promised to spend to the cap when the time was right. Well the time was right in 2017 and he didn’t. EK had a blinding epiphany and realized he was not going to win a cup in Ottawa…ever.
    After that, Dorion, to his credit, realized – as this admirable column says from the outset – that a full rebuild (a proper rebuild) was the only way to go. Considering the only thing he had going for him was the fact that Eugene’s popularity couldn’t actually sink any lower I think that was a gutsy move.
    Next year will be horrific…as in expansion era Senators horrific. I can’t see how any team could even hope to be as bad as we’ll be. That doesn’t guarantee us Alex Lafreniere but it does (I believe) guarantee we’ll draft no worse than 4th in what is supposed to be the best draft in 20 years. Any one of the top 5 picks is projected as a franchise altering prospect, and that can’t be bad, right?
    Plus, I understood that the San Jose 2020 1st rounder was the higher of either their own or the pick they got from Florida in the Hoffman deal. Is that right? Either way, the Sharks, good as they are, are due for a sharp decline…especially if EK opts not to resign. Same goes for Columbus… a decent run in the playoffs could convince Duchene to re-sign even if Panarin and Bob walk (granted it’s not likely, but it could happen). In which case there’s another lottery pick just waiting to happen.
    Yes, it sucks to be a Sens fan these days, but when I look at Chabot and Brannstrom and Wolanin and Jaros and JBD and Lajoie, and then at Tkachuk and Brown and White and Batherson and all those picks to come I feel a lot better than I have at any point since the Leafs gave in to their innate Leaf-ness and signed Tavares to 11 million for 7 years 🙂 Good luck with that cap their fellas!
    This thing is going to turn around much faster than people think.
    Go Sens Go

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