It has been one hell of a long time since I have posted anything here.
Over the better part of the last two hockey seasons, my writing has appeared exclusively over at The Athletic Ottawa hub.
To those of you who have subscribed and supported The Athletic while continuing to follow my writing there, a sincere thank you. Between the content that colleagues like Hailey Salvian and Chris Stevenson pump out regularly covering the Sens in addition to the overwhelming amount of coverage dedicated to hockey or any of the other major sports, there is a lot of value in getting a subscription.
So why am I back blowing the dust off of this ol’ corner of the interwebs?
Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, freelance writing — which I do — has essentially been slowed. Without live sports to cover, there are simply fewer pieces of the pie to tackle and because of it, fewer freelance pieces are getting published. That’s not to say that submitted freelance work can’t get published, it’s just that there is a higher bar in place for writers to clear.
That bar does not exist here.
I want to keep producing content and I sure as hell don’t want to risk shrinking my prospective audience because of this virus, so without further ado, let’s dive right into this…
Artyom Zub Verbally Commits to the Senators
According to Hailey Salvian’s latest, impending KHL free agent defenceman Artyom Zub is rumoured to have verbally committed to the Ottawa Senators.
Earlier reports indicated that the Senators were one of two finalists for the right-shooting defenceman’s services, but it never really felt out of reach that Zub would go elsewhere.
With the team’s lack of experienced depth coupled with their willingness to move Dylan DeMelo near this year’s trade deadline, it seemed obvious that the team had some measured confidence in their ability to add some experienced depth to the right side of the blue line.
Zub established a new career high in goals and points this year with St. Petersburg SKA tallying 13 goals and 22 points in 57 KHL games. Although Zub is more renowned for his defensive capabilities, the spike in offence can be attributed to him doubling his shot output from the previous season while enjoying an unsustainable swing in his shooting percentage.
If there is a concern, it lies in the Senators investing in a player coming off a career season.
Out of fairness to a player I have never seen play professionally, I definitely do not want to get hung up too much on player comparisons, but I can understand why there is some trepidation from fans who see Zub be compared to Nikita Zaitsev.
Like Zub, Zaitsev is another right-shot, defence-first player and although Zaitsev may be a competent defender, his limitations regaining the puck and transitioning it efficiently puts a limit on his overall value. In other words, it does not matter how good a defender may be when they simply spend a disproportionate time within their own end defending and trying to disrupt the offensive cycle.
For Zub to become an effective NHL player, he has to be able to move the puck. If he can do it better than Zaitsev while providing a some defensive aptitude, there’s no question that he should be able to help the Senators.
If he can’t, it is only going to fuel the sentiment that the Senators simply should have retained DeMelo — a player whose numbers suggest that he can help make the players around him better. At the very least, DeMelo should offer Senators fans an easy measuring stick to evaluate Zub’s performance against. And if there is anything working in Zub’s favour already, it’s that he should come in at a lower salary than DeMelo.
Perhaps Zub’s addition will be met with apathy since he ultimately will likely wind up being a placeholder until some of the Senators’ defensive prospects like Lassi Thomson or Jacob Bernard-Docker are ready. He’s simply a transitional player who has to eat some minutes while better days lie ahead for the blue line and the organization’s future.
Hopefully in the interim, he won’t be a player that the Senators over-commit to or have drag down the play or stall the development of its talented left defencemen.
The 2020 NHL Draft
This could arguably be the most important draft for the Senators since the team was gifted a top-10 selection in the 2005 NHL Draft thanks to the special lottery that was used to determine the order of picks because a lockout wiped out the previous season.
The stakes are massive for an organization hoping that an influx of young and inexpensive talent can help mitigate the perceptions of its owner. Distrust and a lack of confidence in Eugene Melnyk are dogging this franchise’s ticket sales, but if the Senators can put a young and exciting product on the ice, they have to be hoping that this community will respond by holding its nose and ponying up for tickets.
With two top-10 picks assured and the possibility of the Islanders missing the postseason and returning the Senators another high pick, the magnitude of this year’s draft cannot be understated.
In recent years, the organization has been rather risk averse. Aside from North American players, the team prefers to draft Europeans out of the Swedish leagues or from the CHL where there are more regular viewing opportunities for its amateur scouting staff.
With an additional six picks spread out across the second and third rounds and it is this rare mix of quantity and quality that can afford Pierre Dorion the flexibility to roll the dice on riskier high-upside plays and hopefully that happens.
The Senators already have one of the deepest systems in the league and with a strong draft, their blend of talent and depth could set the organization up well for the next decade — especially if it lands the elite talent that it desperately needs.
Knowing that, it’s fitting that a viral pandemic has helped wipe out the rest of the 2020 season and any other opportunity to view draft eligible players down the stretch.
It is nothing to be too concerned with, but in such an important year, you would hate to see this absence of games negatively impact the staff’s assessments.
They’re coming. If there are any guests you want to hear from, leave a message in the comments.