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Report: Senators Met with Benoit Pouliot Today

“We need four forwards right now. That’s not including Jason. I was hoping that Jason would give us one but we need a couple of other forwards. We need two left wingers, we need a centre if Jason’s not here. There are a couple of spots open on the hockey club.” ~ Senators general manager Bryan Murray speaking on day two of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Two days after revealing that the Senators needed to sign two left wingers in free agency, the Ottawa Citizen‘s Wayne Scanlan alerted fans off to the fact that the Senators were swooning impending unrestricted free agent Benoit Pouliot.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsScanlan also had a bevy of information pertaining to Pouliot’s local ties, so if you haven’t already (and really, why the hell wouldn’t you be?), give @HockeyScanner‘s recent tweets pertaining to Pouliot a look.

Like last year’s David Clarkson appearance in Ottawa during the pre-July 1st negotiation period, just because the Senators met with Pouliot in town today, it simply represents some level of mutual interest.

One website is alleging that with all cash and term being equal, Pouliot would prefer to sign with the Senators, but I can’t attest to the site’s credibility. Until he signs on the dotted line, I don’t want to get my hopes up.

The NY Post‘s Larry Brooks reported last Friday that “it is believed that Pouliot, who has worked on five consecutive one-year contracts for five different teams after his initial three-year entry-level deal, will receive multiple offers for at least $9 million over three years — if not more.

Incidentally, that’s the same amount of coin that the Senators were reportedly offering Milan Michalek and Ales Hemsky before the two elected to test free agency.

Having a choice, Pouliot’s a preferable alternative to a Milan Michalek at this stage of their careers, but I suppose the possibility exists that the Senators could elect to sign both players.

Pouliot’s an intriguing target.

He has only averaged more than 15 minutes of ice time per game once in his eight-year NHL career, but in his limited ice time, he has tended to be an effective but unheralded player.

Much of this can be attributed to the fact that he has only scored more than ten goals four times in his NHL career while only boasting a regular season high of 17 goals.

For someone who was selected as the fourth overall pick by the Minnesota Wild at the 2005 NHL Draft, more production was always expected from someone with his pedigree – which perhaps helps explain why he will likely join his fifth team in five seasons when he signs with a new team on July 1st.

Within the analytics community however, Pouliot’s a darling.

Using HockeyAnalysis‘ statistics from captured data from the beginning of 2007/08 season through last season, Pouliot has averaged 0.906 goals per 20 minutes of even strength ice time to only 0.647 goals allowed per 20 minutes of even strength  (five-on-five) ice time. In other words, when Pouliot was on the ice at even strength during this block of time, his team scored 58.3 percent of the goals (GF%).

It’s not his linemates having an effect on him either, Pouliot’s offensive contributions deserve to be recognized.

Looking at the past three years worth of data, of players who played 1250 minutes or more of total ice time, Pouliot’s averaged 2.02 points per 60 minutes of even strength (five-on-five) ice time – good enough to be tied for the 52nd highest mark in the NHL during this span.

Not only is he productive relative to his time on the ice, he and his linemates own the puck. Using the same data capturing everything since the start of the 2007/08 season, when Pouliot is on the ice at even strength (five-on-five), his team creates more shot opportunities (shots, blocked shots, missed shots). Looking at the Corsi For Percentage, a proxy for puck possession that tracks the number of these shot opportunities relative to the opposition, Pouliot’s teams generated 52.5-percent of these opportunities (CF%) with him on the ice.

Looking at his With or Without You numbers for the linemates who played most frequently with him during this time span, the majority of them had worse CF% and GF% when they played away from Pouliot – which leads me to believe that he’s responsible or capable of consistently making players around him better.

In a perfect world, Pouliot could be a perfect third line player on a contending team, but with a fiscally conscious team like the Senators, it’s likely that they will give him more minutes than he’s enjoyed in recent seasons. In fact, in his past four seasons, he has not averaged more than 13:26 of ice time per game.

Assuming the Senators trade Jason Spezza, the Senators have a Corsi machine in Mika Zibanejad set to take over the second line center spot, so for the statistically inclined hockey nerd kingdom, the possibility of playing a Pouliot with a Zibanejad, gets the heart fluttering.

At the very least, a Pouliot signing would add depth and offers someone that fans should expect to contribute in his ice time. There’s always the added intrigue of what Pouliot could do with more ice time, but at least he represents a viable option in a shitty free agent class.

If it means the organization avoids having to bring back Milan Michalek and keeps Colin Greening from one of the top two lines, even better.