Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Biggest surprises, disappointments for 2019-20 Senators

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Ottawa Senators.

Sharks’ staggering disappointments become big, positive surprises for Senators

The fallout of the Erik Karlsson trade remains hard to believe.

Sure, many of us expected the Sharks to eventually suffer with an aging group starring Karlsson and Brent Burns. But for that to happen in such a dramatic way in 2019-20? Few of us saw that coming.

So, remarkably, the Senators have almost as good of a chance to find the next face of their franchise with the Sharks’ 2020 first-round pick as Ottawa does with its own selection. Pretty mind-blowing stuff.

Senators resist the urge to buy high — so far

There were real fears that the Senators wouldn’t be able to resist the siren call with Jean-Gabriel Pageau‘s explosive contract year.

We see it plenty of times in the NHL. Whether it’s a contender or a team just trying to save face, a GM gets convinced to ignore red flags and sign a cap-clogging contract extension. Luckily, the Senators shook off such self-destructive instincts.

Now, one can wonder how much the Pageau trade has to do with, erm, “budgetary constraints.” But the result is what matters. Instead of possibly paying a good player too much money — one who, at 27, might be in decline by the time the Senators really can compete — Ottawa landed a bushel of quality picks from the Islanders.

Disappointments around the margins by Senators management

Trading away Pageau was a pretty progressive move, but beyond that, I wonder if GM Pierre Dorion left opportunities on the table.

Look, Anthony Duclair ended up being a great story this season, making an All-Star appearance. As someone who believed that Duclair could be a helpful player for some NHL team, it was nice to see that play out.

Frankly, I believe the Senators would have been wiser to try to sell high with a Duclair trade much like they did with Pageau. Sure, savvy teams likely saw through Duclair’s strong offensive numbers and noted that his defensive shortcomings push him closer to neutral …

Senators disappointments surprises GAR
Visualization by Charting Hockey; data via Evolving Hockey

… but someone probably would have coughed up a decent set of assets for a speedy, 24-year-old winger with just a $1.65M cap hit. Right?

Such moves aren’t the end of the world, especially if the Senators don’t go too wild with Duclair’s next contract. Making bigger calls with Karlsson and Pageau move the needle much more.

I do wonder if the Senators missed out on the margins, though, and have for a while.

Selling Tyler Ennis, Vladislav Namestnikov, and to a lesser extent Dylan DeMelo is pretty smart. Most of those assets merely making up for acquiring Namestnikov and Mike Reilly? A little bit curious for a team that’s in an obvious rebuild.

Ottawa’s season wasn’t pretty, but wasn’t the disaster many expected

Yes, the Senators ended up almost where we expected: near the bottom. Maybe credit first-year head coach D.J. Smith for keeping them hungry.

The “could have been worse” theme continues because, unlike some other teams that avoided total humiliation, the Senators didn’t ride on sheer luck. Their goalies were a bit below average, as was their shooting luck. Ottawa’s special teams were putrid, likely the most obvious sign of a glaring lack of talent.

Senators surprises disappointments xG
Visualization by Charting Hockey; data via Evolving Hockey

Falling a bit below average by various metrics? Not so bad.

No doubt about it, you’re grading on a curve when it comes to the Senators. When you adjust your expectations, you’d say Ottawa passed many of its tests. The question is, can the Senators graduate from the more remedial parts of this rebuild, or are these small surprises setting the stage for devastating disappointments?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Looking at the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators.

2019-20 Ottawa Senators

Record: 25-34-12 (62 points in 71 games), second-worst in the East and in the NHL.
Leading Scorer: Brady Tkachuk – 44 points (21 goals and 23 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

Heading into 2019-20, the question wasn’t if the Senators would be good or bad. It was how bad? Would the season be an eternal slog mixed with more groan-worthy headlines regarding owner Eugene Melnyk?

The answers: pretty bad, but maybe could have been worse, and … sure, there were bad Melnyk moments, yet 2019-20 wasn’t as drama-loaded as previous seasons.

Instead of the Senators being the kings of the cellar, the Red Wings were the ones who stunk up the joint quite royally. Sure, Ottawa sits second-worst in both the East and the NHL. They still showed some fight here and there, as the Sharks (63 points in 70 games) and Kings (64 in 70) weren’t that far ahead of the Sens.

Maybe most importantly, they didn’t overreact to, say, Jean-Gabriel Pageau playing over his head. As much as trading Pageau might have stung, Ottawa made the right decision.

With the Senators, you can’t always assume that they’ll make the correct judgments. As a franchise-altering 2020 NHL Draft looms, they’ll need to pair wise choices with lottery luck to make the light at the end of the tunnel shine brighter.

Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Senators

Let’s be honest. It’s probably that the Sharks ended up almost as bad as the Senators.

It’s not yet clear how the 2020 NHL Draft’s lottery will work, but under the old parameters, the Senators hold the second and third-highest odds to land the top pick. Both of those picks have more than one-in-three odds of at least landing in the top three, according to Tankathon.

So, yeah, the biggest highlight or lowlight will probably boil down to whether or not Senators fans see their team’s logo on those prime real estate picks. That doesn’t mean that it’s a disaster if they don’t get the chance to pick Alexis Lafreniere, but the future would look far more promising if they did.

For a more immediate highlight, you won’t beat Bobby Ryan netting a hat trick in his return from dealing with alcohol issues.

MORE ON THE SENATORS:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What is the Islanders’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the New York Islanders.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Islanders will need to lock up a couple of critical restricted free agents this upcoming offseason but have a lot of components signed to long-term extensions.

The acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the NHL Trade Deadline solidified their depth down the middle for years to come. Mathew Barzal has the potential to blossom into an elite centerman while Brock Nelson and Pageau can flip flop between the second and third line. Heart and soul player Casey Cizikas will continue to anchor the fourth line.

New York also has several of its top-nine wingers in place, including Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle and captain Anders Lee.

The newest addition to the core will be goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who is expected to come to the NHL at the start of next season. The Islanders drafted Sorokin in the third round of the 2014 draft and the Russian netminder has spent the past six seasons in the KHL. He has long been considered one of the best goalies not playing in the NHL. Throughout his career with CSKA, he never finished with a save percentage below .929 and is expected to produce at a similar level in North America.

Islanders goalie coach Mitch Korn has helped develop some of the League’s best goaltenders and Sorokin could be next in line.

Long-Term Needs

While the Islanders have a lot of their core signed to long-term contracts, the organization still needs a high-scoring winger to manufacture offense.

The Carolina Hurricanes swept the Islanders in a second-round series during last year’s postseason as they won four straight and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. New York only managed to score five goals in those four games and were unable to solve its offensive deficiencies.

The Islanders play a fundamentally sound defensive system but need someone who can create offense on their own to change the momentum within a game. Barzal has a chance to be that type of game-breaker in today’s NHL but you need more than one player with that skillset.

In addition to their lack of offensive punch, the Islanders lost their defensive structure when Adam Pelech was lost for the season in early January. General manager Lou Lamoriello thought he solved the problem with the addition of Andy Greene from the New Jersey Devils but the Islanders went 2-5-4 in the 11 games he played and finished in a seven-game skid.

Coach Barry Trotz and his staff need to examine why the absence of one player impacted their system as much as it did.

Long-Term Strengths

The impact a coach has on any given team has long been disputed, but the effect Trotz has had on the Islanders is undeniable.

Ever since Trotz inked a five-year contract with the orange and blue, he brought a credibility to the team on the ice. The Islanders became one of the most defensively sound teams in the league and instantly became a playoff contender. With Trotz behind the bench, the Islanders will reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a consistent basis.

Besides strong leadership behind the bench, the Islanders have developed a strong culture inside the locker room. Players play for one another and there is a system of accountability that was lacking before Trotz arrived.

Overall, the Islanders should be in the playoff discussion for years to come with a disciplined structure, strong goaltending and a true difference-maker behind the bench. However, in order to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and not just a team that qualifies for the postseason consistently, they need to add a dynamic forward.

MORE ON THE ISLANDERS:


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Looking at the 2019-20 New York Islanders

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 New York Islanders.

2019-20 New York Islanders

Record: 35-23-10 (80 points in 68 games), positioned sixth in the Metro and ninth in the East. Islanders would rank ahead of Blue Jackets by points percentage (and thus be in the postseason by that metric).
Leading Scorer: Mathew Barzal – 60 points (19 goals and 41 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

The Islanders may very well have been the coldest (relevant) team in the NHL before the pause.

Most obviously, the Islanders found themselves mired in a seven-game losing streak, the worst “active” slump in the league. While the Isles managed to squeeze four points from that skid (0-3-4), that’s still troubling.

When you zoom out, their struggles stretch back further. The Islanders managed only two wins since Feb. 13 (2-7-4), and just six victories since Jan. 11 (6-11-7). Such struggles opened the door for the Rangers and other usurpers to push the Islanders out of the playoffs entirely.

It was quite the fall for an Islanders team that was flirting with at least a round of home-ice advantage during hotter stretches of 2019-20.

But one also cannot deny that the Islanders deserve credit for that hotter stretch. Barry Trotz’s system combines with strong goaltending from Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov to form a team that’s tough to score against.

While the Islanders were slipping quite a bit, and facing a road-heavy stretch that would have seen them play eight of their would-be next 11 games on the road, they also were in position to return to the postseason. Technically, the Blue Jackets (81 points in 70 games) rank ahead of the Islanders, but only by a point, while the Isles hold two games in hand.

Will the Islanders get to prove they can right the ship? Can they justify spending around the trade deadline on J.G. Pageau and Andy Greene?

We may never find out those answers, yet Trotz cemented once again that his defensive schemes can keep his teams competitive. After all, few teams would be too troubled if you told them they’d have a 35-23-10 record through 68 games.

Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Islanders

Islanders fans savor opportunities to roast people who’ve predicted that their team would flop. With that in mind, the earlier parts of 2019-20 served up a decadent buffet.

After a brief stumble out of the gate, the Islanders rattled off a 10-game winning streak from Oct. 12 – Nov. 5.

The Islanders avenged the Penguins ending their 10-game winning streak by beating Pittsburgh twice to extend their point streak to a franchise-record 16 games. The Islanders rumbled to an impressive 16-3-1 record, ascending to the top spot in PHT’s Power Rankings for late November.

If you want an individual highlight, credit Pageau with scoring a goal and getting in a fight to celebrate his Islanders debut. Watch the scrap below:

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lamoriello says Islanders would match Barzal offer sheet

Lamoriello Islanders would match Mathew Barzal offer sheet
Getty Images

If an opportunistic NHL team sends Mathew Barzal an offer sheet, Lou Lamoriello claims that the Islanders would match it.

Lamoriello briefly but authoritatively stated as much in an … often brief and authoritative Q&A with fans on the Islanders website. Here’s his exact answer:

It is our intention to not allow it to get to that point, but should that happen, the answer is yes.

Lamoriello also mentioned that:

  • The Islanders expect intriguing goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin to play in North America next season, and specifically with the Islanders.
  • The team believes Johnny Boychuk and Casey Cizikas would be ready if play resumes.
  • Meanwhile, Lamoriello said Adam Pelech is expected to be ready by (2020-21) training camp.

But, yeah, that Barzal bit is the most interesting. Let’s ruminate on the situation for a moment.

A Barzal bidder could be a threat if Islanders, others face cap crunches

As of this writing, Cap Friendly estimates the Islanders’ would-be cap space for 2020-21 at about $12.62 million. Of course, that estimate would be based on an $81.5M ceiling. Usually, we assume there will be at least a modest increase, and the league pointed to that happening … until the coronavirus pandemic put the season on “pause.”

Now that the league is on pause, there are all sorts of questions. While the biggest ones are about whether the league could hand out the Stanley Cup (and how), financial worries also linger. It sure sounds like it will be difficult to even maintain an $81.5M cap, let alone raise it.

It’s tough to picture a team being cutthroat during such a time, especially in an NHL where credible offer sheets are about as rare as Lamoriello approving of a high jersey number and mustache combination.

But things can change quickly, and if life and sports go back to something approaching normalcy, one could imagine a perfect opportunity for someone to try to poach Barzal with an offer sheet. Generally speaking, such offer sheets are often designed to hurt the team to match thanks to certain structural quirks. (The Flyers front-loaded their offer to try to get Shea Weber, for instance.)

A Barzal offer sheet could hurt maneuverability even if Islanders match

For better or worse, the Islanders have handed out a lot of term to forwards lately.

Anders Lee (29, $7M cap hit through 2025-26), Brock Nelson (28, $6M, 2024-25), Jordan Eberle (29, $5.5M, 2023-24) and Josh Bailey (30, $5M, 2023-24) already represented a pretty substantial group with its fair share of risks. Then Lamoriello added Jean-Gabriel Pageau (27, extended at $5M AAV through 2025-26) to the mix.

The Islanders would do what they need to do to retain Barzal, as Lamoriello said. Even so, a strategic offer sheet could create an especially tight fit.

Such thoughts make you wonder if the Islanders might want to get something done ASAP with Barzal, but back in January, he indicated talks will wait.

“We want to make the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs, take a run at the Stanley Cup, and after that we’ll figure [the contract] out,” Barzal said during All-Star weekend, via NHL.com.

A few weeks ago, Elliotte Friedman surmised that an offer sheet could indeed come for Barzal, and it’s easy to see why.

Barzal is vital to Islanders, compares well to Marner

If you’re a team in need of an impact player, wouldn’t Barzal be worth at least as much as Mitch Marner‘s $10.893M AAV, if not more? After all, Barzal brings all of that speed and production at center.

Compare Barzal and Marner based on multiple season RAPM charts at Evolving Hockey, for example:

With 60 points in 68 games, Barzal leads all Islanders scorers, which puts him on track to top team point production for three straight seasons. While he hasn’t matched that explosive rookie year of 85 points in 2017-18, Barzal’s been able to avoid Barry Trotz’s doghouse.

His value to the Islanders is abundantly clear, and won’t be lost on potential suitors. It would be surprising if anyone snatched Barzal away, but that offer sheet threat could really drive up the price for the Islanders.

Perhaps a team might snare a player away who’s a few rungs lower down the ladder with an offer sheet considering the economic turbulence, though?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.