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Thursday Think Tank: Zaitsev to be Overused?

July 11, 2019, 2:22 AM ET [21 Comments]
Trevor Shackles
Ottawa Senators Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
You can follow me on Twitter @ShackTS

The newest Think Tank during a week that was much less busy than the previous one:

Zaitsev’s role

Because of DJ Smith’s history with Nikita Zaistev, I have a feeling that he will end up being a similar player to Cody Ceci---one who is not actually sound defensively but gets praised for his defensive zone work and gets tons of tough assignments. Smith’s quote about him here has me very worried:

Zaitsev is not and will never be a shutdown defensemen, yet Smith is portraying him as one. It’s not as if Ottawa has tons of other options better than him on the right side besides Dylan DeMelo, but I still don’t think Zaitsev should be treated as some core piece to this team. Get used to him playing a lot because he could be here for a long time.

Defense in a good spot

Speaking of team defense, their defense corps looks much better and is more complete than their group of forwards right now and in the future. Sean Tierney created a lineup for the Senators that could be used in 2019-20 and had them pegged as an 82-point team in a perfect world:

That lineup won’t be the exact one used throughout the season, as Tyler Ennis wasn’t included, plus it’s unlikely that Josh Norris is playing all the time and Zack Smith and Mark Borowiecki are out of the lineup. Nevertheless, this paints a not-so-bleak picture for the Senators, especially in regards to their defense. We already knew that Thomas Chabot and Dylan DeMelo were a great pairing, so that’s a valuable first combo.

It’s probably wishful thinking having Christian Wolanin and Erik Brannstrom playing at the same time for the majority of the season just because in this scenario, Borowiecki and Jaros are not playing, but the Senators could potentially have four solid defensemen in Chabot, DeMelo, Wolanin, and Brannstrom. Zaitsev and Hainsey will not be great, but even with them in the mix, the defensive WAR is almost double that of the Senators forwards.

I feel like it won’t end up being that big of a difference in reality, but Ottawa still has JBD, Lassi Thomson, Max Lajoie, Johnny Tychonick, and others coming up in the pipeline in order to supplement this group. Ottawa’s defense is in a good spot.

Not weaponizing the cap

The Senators sit just under $1M under the salary cap floor but they need to re-sign RFA Colin White over the summer. He will probably be receiving at least $2M on his next deal (I’m expecting around $2.5M), meaning they will be comfortably over the cap floor. Only the Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche have more cap space available right now, but they both have multiple big RFA’s to re-sign, so by the end of the summer, Ottawa will have the lowest cap hit in the league, which is no surprise.

Could they still trade for a bad contract in order to receive another asset such as a young player or a draft pick? Of course, it’s not as if they have no space to bring somebody in, and they would essentially be buying a player or pick just for money. But that’s the issue here---there is no chance that Eugene Melnyk is going to let his team spend money on a player who is not going to actually contribute to the team even if it means they receive an additional asset.

Ottawa isn’t currently being forced to spend more than they currently are, so why would he spend more? It’s infuriating seeing the Carolina Hurricanes get a free 1st round pick for Patrick Marleau and it was hardly any skin off their nose. The Senators could do the exact same thing for a player like David Clarkson, but they aren’t in a situation where they need to take on a bad contract. Therefore, I can’t see any situation where they weaponize their cap space, which is incredibly disheartening for a rebuilding team when there should be money to spend.

Worst contract so far?

NHL free agency is now a week and a half in, with most of the big names off the board. Unrestricted free agency is one of the worst ways to acquire quality players because they are usually way too expensive, although that doesn’t mean all signings are not worth it. Almost all bigger deals are overpays, and sometimes that is with the benefit of hindsight, but it is usually easy to tell right away.

Some of the more egregious contracts I’ve seen so far have been Tyler Myers ($6M/5 years), Brandon Tanev ($3.5M/6 years), Sergei Bobrovsky ($10M/7 years), and Ben Chiarot ($3.5M/3 years). I feel like there haven’t been as many bad contracts as in years past, although I don’t know if that is because teams are smarter or just because of how the market played out.

Who would you say was the worst free agent signing thus far in 2019?
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