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:
- Ottawa’s 2020 1st?
- Ottawa’s 2021 1st?
- 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.”
I don’t have a rebuttal to that.
Have a good day.