Puck moving defensemen series: Ottawa Senators

The Ottawa Senators made quite the run in the 2016/17 Stanley Cup Playoffs, dropping game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual champs. Erik Karlsson was his usual excellent self during the playoff run – driving possession and offense for his team. Behind Karlsson, however, what does the 2017/18 outlook have in store? We take a look.

***Note: For detailed methodology and other team/player deep-dives, feel free to check out our home page here.

14JUL2017 -- ottawa senators.JPG

Rapid Fire Observations

+ Marc Methot might be a bigger loss than some think. While he’s not known as a puck mover (PMF -1.33), he plays top opponents (highest quality of competition) and is strong defensively (DAM +1.19), indicating he does a good job at suppressing opposing scoring chances.

+ Cody Ceci struggled to drive possession in 2016/17. His PMF of -3.05 was among the worst on the team. That said, Ceci played tough minutes against strong QoC and started more shifts (35%) in the defensive zone than any other Sens’ defender. Still only 23 years old, 2017/18 will be a telling year for Ceci. If he can improve as a puck mover, expect Ceci to solidify himself as a 2nd pairing defenseman. But that’s a big if – as Ceci was below average in that role last season.

+ Dion Phaneuf was OK in 2016/17. While his PMF of -1.70 is below average, he brings some value on the PP and did face solid QoC and start more shifts in the defensive zone. But at a cap hit of $7M per year for the next 4 seasons, the Sens are hoping for better than ‘average 2nd pairing’ 5v5 play from the experienced blue liner.

+ With Methot gone, the Sens could have a couple new faces battle for playing time. Jaros, a 5th round pick who spent the past 2 years in Sweden, is expected to make the jump. Thomas Chabot, the 2015 18th overall pick, is perhaps the Sens’ top prospect and one of the best defense prospects in the league. He dominated for Canada at the world juniors and is expected to play in the NHL next season.

Erik Karlsson: Consistent Dominance

Erik Karlsson stands out as the top Sens defender in 2016/17. He took his game to a whole other level in the playoffs – logging big minutes, driving possession, and helping the team generate scoring chances. That said, despite 71 points in 2016/17, Erik Karlsson had a somewhat “off-year” driving possession as a puck mover.

His PMF of +0.77 in 2016/17 is a solid top-pairing number. But it’s not the elite numbers one would expect. As a result, we did a quick analysis of Karlsson as a puck mover in the past decade:

14JUL2017 -- Erik Karlsson -- v1.JPG

Karlsson’s PMF last year (2015/16) was an astounding +4.84. That is incredible production and efficiency. The 3 years before that: +3.49, +3.21, +2.94. All “elite” numbers. Consider his impact in 2015/16:

Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan, and Mike Hoffman’s possession numbers were 21% higher with Erik Karlsson on the ice. That is serious impact. Erik Karlsson remains one of the league’s most dynamic offensive and best overall defensemen.

Verdict

Expect Erik Karlsson to have another dynamic year in 2017/18. Behind him, there are more questions than answers. Who will step up and face top opponents in the place of Methot? Can Ceci improve in his age 24 season? Will Phaneuf bounce back and justify his $7M cap hit? Will either of Jaros or Chabot step up in their rookie seasons? With a solid top 6 offense in place, the answers to some of these questions will likely dictate whether Ottawa can make another big run in 2017/18.


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