Vladislav Namestnikov

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 New York Rangers

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 New York Rangers.

New York Rangers

Record: 37-28-5 (70 games), seventh in the Metropolitan Division, Out of the playoffs
Leading Scorer Artemi Panarin – 95 points (32 goals and 63 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves:

• Traded Vladislav Namestnikov to the Ottawa Senators for Nick Ebert and a 2021 fourth-round pick
• Acquired Julien Gauthier from the Carolina Hurricanes for Joey Keane
• Traded Future Considerations to the Philadelphia Flyers for J-F Berube
• Acquired a 2020 first-round pick from the Carolina Hurricanes for Brady Skjei

Season Overview:

The Rangers are just a couple of seasons into their rebuilding plan, but they made significant progress throughout the 2019-20 campaign. The season didn’t get off the greatest of starts though. After winning their first two games, they found themselves riding a five-game losing skid.

Things seemed to stabilize as season the progressed. They weren’t spectacular, they weren’t terrible. They just seemed to be a middle of the pack team in the Eastern Conference. But things started to change in February.

A team that seemed destined to miss the playoffs was making a serious push for a Wild Card spot.

The Rangers went on a four-game winning streak between Feb. 9-14. After a home loss to Boston, New York rattled off five consecutive victories. But they eventually cooled off in March, as they dropped five of their final seven games before the pause.

Overall, the Rangers took a step forward in their rebuild. Adding Artemi Panarin in free agency was like adding gasoline to the rebuilding fire. It’s a move that definitely accelerated the process. Also, Mika Zibanejad showed that he could be an elite number one center in the NHL (he had 41 goals and 75 points in just 57 games). The Rangers also decided to re-sign Chris Kreider instead of trading him away as a rental.

Despite trading Brady Skjei to Carolina, they still have a number of quality defensemen on the roster. Tony DeAngelo had a major breakout season, while Adam Fox was a terrific young player in his first professional season.

The Rangers’ biggest positional strength is between the pipes.

Yes, things got awkward this year because they had three different goalies competing for starts (one of them is franchise legend Henrik Lundqvist), but Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin both have very bright futures.

Again, the Rangers weren’t sitting in a playoff spot at the time of the NHL’s pause, but this rebuild is in seemingly very good shape right now.

Highlight of the Season:

There’s a number of Panarin highlights we could’ve gone with here, but Zibanejad’s five-goal performance against the Washington Capitals is impossible to beat.

At the pause, only David Pastrnak, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews and Leon Draisaitl had more goals than Zibanejad.

MORE RANGERS:
Biggest surprises and disappointments so far
Rangers long-term outlook

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

What is the Colorado Avalanche’s 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 Colorado Avalanche.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

It might be the best long-term outlook in the entire NHL. They are young, they are good, and they have a ton of salary cap space to work with. At the top of the lineup is the three-headed forward monster of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. Each player is a star on their own, and when they are put together on a line they form the most dominant offensive trio in the league. All three are signed through the end of next season at a combined salary cap hit of around $20 million. For the production they get out of those three it is an absolute steal against the cap.

MacKinnon is the foundation and still has three more full seasons remaining at $6.3 million per season. It makes him one of the most valuable players in the entire league because he not only gives them MVP, superstar level production to carry the offense, but his contract is so far below market value that it creates additional flexibility under the salary cap.

The same is true with Landeskog who has one year remaining at just a little more than $5.5 million.

Rantanen is the big-money player for now at over $9 million per season for the next five years.

The big question after them was their secondary scoring, but that was addressed over the summer with the additions of Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Valeri Nichushkin. Kadri and Donskoi are both signed long-term, while Nichushkin — very pleasant surprise this season — and Burakovsky will still be  restricted free agents after this season with plenty of salary cap space to work with to re-sign them.

Beyond that, the Avalanche are set on defense with the quartet of Cale Makar, Samuel Girad, Bowen Byram, and Ryan Graves.

Long-Term Needs

While the goaltending duo of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz has been outstanding this season, with both signed through at least next season at a very manageable salary cap number, it might still be the one position that gets a second-look from outsiders as a weakness.

Even that is probably a stretch because it is not really a true weakness right now, and if anything has been one of their biggest strengths this season. But given the contract situation beyond next season for Grubauer, and the fact Francouz is already 29 years old with less than 40 games of NHL action on his resume, it could be something that needs to be addressed over the next year.

A lot of it probably depends on how Grubauer plays when he returns this season and in the playoffs (we are still hoping for the remainder of this season and the playoffs) and through next season.

Long-Term Strengths

The obvious answer here is the top trio of forwards, and especially MacKinnon. Superstar talents are the toughest pieces of a championship team to acquire, and the Avalanche not only have those players, they are still in the prime of their careers — or just entering their prime — and signed long-term for team-friendly salary cap numbers.

What really starts to separate the Avalanche is the makeup of their defense.

Cale Makar looks like he is going to be a star and might have a Norris Trophy in his future. Samuel Girard is a fine No. 2 or 3 on a contending team. Bowen Byram, the No. 4 overall pick from this past year as a result of the Matt Duchene trade, is loaded with potential. Ryan Graves has been a huge development this season and only adds to the strength of that young blue line. Out of that quartet Graves is the only one over the age of 21, and even he is still only 24 years old.

The other big strength is simply the fact they are still swimming in salary cap space, even with the new long-term contracts for Rantanen and Girard (which begins next season). Having a team that is already among the best in the league and still having more salary cap space than almost every other contender is going to give them a significant advantage over their biggest competition, not only when it comes to keeping their secondary players, but also adding to their core.

No team is ever guaranteed a championship, but the Avalanche have everything in place to be a top Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche
Surprises and disappointments

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Looking at the 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche

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 Colorado Avalanche.

Colorado Avalanche

Record: 42-20-8 (70 games), second in the Central Division
Leading Scorer: Nathan MacKinnon 93 points (35 goals and 58 assists)

In-season Roster Moves:

• Acquired Michael Hutchinson from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Calle Rosen.
• Traded a 2021 fourth-round draft pick to the Ottawa Senators for Vladislav Namestnikov.

Season Overview: 

Last season, the Avs were a young team that did some damage in the playoffs when they upset the number one seed, the Calgary Flames, in the opening round of the postseason.This year, there were higher expectations for them.

Despite having to deal with a number of different key injuries, the Avalanche have found a way to stay in the mix for the Central Division crown. That’s impressive when you consider the fact that Gabriel Landeskog missed more than month with a lower-body injury. Also, Mikko Rantanen missed two long stretches (he was on injured reserve at the time of the pause). Nazem Kadri missed 19 games of his own and the list goes on and on.

Of course, most of the heavy lifting offensively was done by MacKinnon, who had accumulated 93 points in just 69 games. His impressive combination of skill and speed are tough to beat. There’s no doubt that he’s in the mix for the Hart Trophy this year.

The emergence of rookie defender Cale Makar has also helped take the Avs to another level this year. The 21-year-old is averaging a shade over 21 minutes of ice time per game and he’s picked up 12 goals and 50 points in 57 contests. Rookie of the year? He was definitely one of the two main contenders for the award.

General manager Joe Sakic also found a way to surround his stars with some solid depth players. Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Valeri Nichushkin, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare have all been nice fits on their new team. The Kadri acquisition also helped solidify things down the middle.

The biggest question mark heading into the season was goaltending. But the duo of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz have held up.

Grubauer, who was expected to be the starter heading into the year, has missed significant time due to injury. In his absence, Francouz has done a really good job, as he owns a 21-7-4 record with a 2.41 goals-against-average and a .923 save percentage.

Whether we see a conclusion to the 2019-20 season or not is almost irrelevant for the Avs. They’re not one of those teams that will fade next season. This is a group with a young nucleus that should compete for quite a while.

Highlight of the Season: 

There were a lot of positive moments for the Avs, but Jan. 2, 2020 has to be right up there with the best of them.

Not only did the Avs beat the defending champion St. Louis Blues, they made a statement. Colorado built up a 3-0 lead, but the score was 3-2 heading into the third frame. That’s when they turned on the afterburners and left the Blues in the dust.

They scored three more times in the third frame and beat St. Louis, 7-3. MacKinnon had four points.

They went on to beat the Blues again less than a month later.

MORE:
• Avs’ biggest surprises, disappointments this season
Long-term outlook

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.