Tuesday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers is an important one.
Not in the sense that it represents an opportunity for the Senators to end their eight-game losing streak. Playing one more NHL game means that uber-prospect Tim Stützle will have the first year of his three-year entry-level contract burn off his deal.
On the heels of Stützle’s world juniors performance and with the manner in which he scored his first NHL goal, it feels odd just two weeks later to be considering the possibility that the Senators may decide that it is in their best interests to prevent Stützle from playing in another NHL game this season.
Under normal circumstances, the Senators would have more time to weigh their decision. Thanks to the wrinkles of this abbreviated 56-game season, the threshold for burning the first-year of an entry-level contract has moved from 10 games to seven.
In Stützle’s six games, he has averaged 13:29 of ice time per game. Of the Senators’ forwards, only fourth line players and spare pieces like Austin Watson, Alex Galchenyuk, Artem Anisimov, Cedric Paquette, Micheal Haley and Filip Chlapik have averaged less. Stützle is playing some special teams minutes. He is averaging over two minutes a game while playing on the team’s second power play unit.
Stützle’s usage so far is consistent with the plan that was laid out for him. The organization wanted to insulate him by having him on the left wing where there is less defensive responsibility.
The results have not been great so far. Stützle has only scored two goals without adding any assists, but his impact on the ice has been rather insignificant.
With Stützle on the ice at five-on-five per NaturalStatTrick.com, the Senators have only generated 47.41 percent of the shots (CF%), 41.56 percent of the shots on goal (SF%)m 12.50 percent of the goals (GF%), 29.49 percent of the expected goals (xGF%) and 38.57 percent of the scoring chances (SCF%).
Of all the players in the league who have played more than 60 minutes at five-on-five, Stützle has the lowest expected goals for rate in the entire NHL.
It's very early but Tim Stützle is on an island by himself in terms of on-ice scoring chances… in a bad way. pic.twitter.com/cPzXpigUMY
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) January 30, 2021
There are some explanations for Stützle’s play. He missed a game last week to deal with a nagging injury that he suffered during the world juniors. The constant line juggling probably has not helped either. Worst of all, after Chris Tierney, the two teammates that he has shared the ice with the most are Josh Brown and Braydon Coburn.
From a shot suppression standpoint, the Coburn-Brown pairing is the worst in the league. Of the pairings who have spent 40 or more five-on-five minutes together, the opposition has generated 71.6 of the total shots (CF%) when these two are on the ice.
The Coburn-Brown pairing is obviously the extreme on Ottawa’s blue line, but there is no question that the Senators simply spend way too much time in their own end defending. It does not matter how big or physical your defence is if you cannot skate quickly, win battles and effectively transition the puck to your supporting forwards.
Adjusting to North America as a teenager is not easy, let alone trying to figure out the nuances of self-improvement at hockey’s highest level.
So what should the Senators do? Should they burn the first year of Stützle’s ELC and bring him one-year closer to unrestricted free agency and arbitration?
The benefits in pushing back these mechanisms by a year could potentially be outweighed by the possibility that it may be better for the Senators to have Stützle sign his second contract earlier. The cost savings in having Stützle sign that second contract at 20 or 21 years of age as opposed to when he’s further along in his development at 22 or 23 years old could be significant.
And maybe that does not sound like a particularly big deal now, but we don’t know the implications of Eugene Melnyk’s finances. It is one thing to promise to spend to the cap ceiling at an event designed to drum up corporate sponsorship support. It is another entirely to back those words up with action. If the Senators continue to be a small market team, the cost savings on Stützle could be used to supplement the team’s young core.
Giving Daccord a Start?
In the aftermath of last night’s loss, head coach D.J. Smith was asked about the possibility of turning to Joey Daccord to start a game and help bring some stability to the goaltending position.
Smith did not rule out the possibility of giving Daccord a look, but it would not be an ideal situation to put the prospect in.
Looking at the team’s five-on-five rate stats at NaturalStatTrick.com, the goaltenders have played behind one of the worst defensive teams in the league. The Senators are routinely outshot, outchanced and outscored by the opposition.
The Senators would be well-served to get a save once in a while — especially early in the game so that the team does not have to play behind the eight-ball.
Maybe Daccord could step in and provide a boost, but we’re also talking about a player who played his last game on February 26, 2020. Even though he is a relatively older prospect (24 years old) who probably does not need to have his development be sheltered like some of Ottawa’s positional prospects, it is an unfair situation to just throw the player into.
At the very least, the Senators should experience some regression at the goaltending position. According to Evolving-Hockey.com the Senators currently have the league’s worst five-on-five save percentage at 87.049. If that mark holds up across the full season, it would be the lowest recorded team save percentage since hockey analytic websites began capturing data at the start of the 2007-08 season.
If the goaltending continues to flounder, there will be other opportunities down the road this season once the AHL resumes games and Daccord gets his feet wet. Throwing him behind this line of defence right now with the Senators struggling, just seems like an unnecessary risk.
As an aside, it is interesting to hear Smith kick around the idea of introducing Daccord to the mix when he has been hesitant to integrate players like Artyom Zub and Colin White into the lineup. Like with Daccord, there should be similar discourse for considering bringing Logan Brown, Erik Brannstrom or even an Alex Formenton into the mix.