Reviewing the Ottawa Senators’ Protection List
By Ken Hawkins
The expansion draft protection list for the Ottawa Senators was never going to include eye-catching names like Price, Tarasenko, Giordano, or Voracek, but there were some interesting decisions made that are certainly worthy of discussion. For those who haven't seen the team's final protection list, the Senators elected to protect 7 forwards, 3 defence, and 1 goaltender, and included the following players:
F - Tkachuk, Batherson, White, C. Brown, Paul, Watson, L. Brown
D - Chabot, Zaitsev, Mete
G - Gustavsson
Notable Available Players
F - Dadonov, Tierney, Amadio, Bishop, Abramov, Beaudin, Davidsson
D - J. Brown
G - Murray, Forsberg, Daccord, Hogberg
Players like Chabot, Batherson, Tkachuk, and C. Brown were locks, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that every other player had at least some question marks. In particular, a few themes emerged in the Senators’ protection strategy, each of which had a direct consequence in terms of players left available to Seattle.
The $5.0M Line
When TSN discussed their lists of notable players available, they included Murray and Dadonov because of name recognition. The strategy of leaving Murray and Dadonov unprotected suggests Dorion felt that $5.0M+ AAV was enough of a deterrent to effectively offset their chances of being selected, especially given the very average years both players had in 2020/21. However, it’s also clear that they felt that White and Zaitsev were vulnerable in the $4.5M-$5.0M range, even with 3-4yrs of term remaining. The fact that both were protected is a testament to how much both players improved their play over the course of the 2020/21 season. Protecting White as a versatile C/W also made it easier to leave Tierney unprotected, particularly given the 1yr remaining at $3.5M AAV, and $4.2M in actual salary due next year.
Protected: C Colin White, D Nikita Zaitsev
Opportunity Cost: G Matt Murray, W Evgeni Dadonov, C Chris Tierney
Despite being among the worst defensive teams in the NHL last year, few teams had as many eligible goaltenders for the expansion draft as the Ottawa Senators. And while there were many NHL-ready options better than Murray/Hogberg/Forsberg available from other teams, there were relatively few goaltending prospects available on the level of Daccord or Gustavsson. Not unexpectedly, Dorion stayed true to the rebuild principle, and protected the youngest goaltender with the highest development pedigree in Gustavsson, even though he will need a new RFA contract heading into the 2021/22 season.
Protected: G Filip Gustavsson
Opportunity Cost: G Joel Daccord, G Anton Forsberg, G Marcus Hogberg
The $1.5M Line
Any time you’re discussing the strategy of the Ottawa Senators, there’s going to be an important consideration of the financial bottom line. In the case of the expansion draft, it was notable that priority was given to 3 highly affordable depth assets who each made less than $1.5M/yr. This includes Nick Paul, who is arguably among the best value players on the team at $1.35M AAV, Austin Watson, who provides legitimate toughness and PK ability on the 4th line, and Victor Mete, who has clearly benefited from the change of scenery after being claimed off waivers. In terms of numbers, this left out Michael Amadio as an affordable depth C, and Josh Brown as a #6/7 RHD who can provide a physical edge in a limited role. The apparent NHL-readiness of both Shane Pinto and Jacob Bernard-Docker out of the University of North Dakota last year may have also contributed to these decisions.
Protected: W Nick Paul, W Austin Watson, D Victor Mete
Opportunity Cost: D Josh Brown, C Michael Amadio
You really can’t discuss Ottawa Senators prospects these days without eventually coming around to the subject of Logan Brown. While it was unlikely that Dorion would ever have left Brown unprotected, it was far less clear that he wouldn’t have traded him by this point in the process. However, the problem remains that Brown just happens to be exactly the kind of prospect the team is in need of most... a highly-skilled natural C, who can handle a top-2 scoring line role, and generate reliable offense. It's also notable that the majority of his development issues have been about injuries and work ethic, as opposed to a lack of production, or perceived limitations. Brown will only get so many more opportunities to prove that he can be part of the team’s core, but the Senators have shown that they were willing to protect him ahead of other eligible minor-league prospects, and give him the chance to make 2021/22 his break-out year.
Protected: C Logan Brown
Opportunity Cost: C J.C. Beaudin, W Vitali Abramov, W Jonathan Davidsson
Personally, I think there are 5 players that will hold the majority of Seattle’s interest, with the following estimated probability of being the player they eventually select...
50% - Chris Tierney (C)
25% - Joel Daccord (G)
10% - Evgeni Dadonov (W)
5% - Michael Amadio (C)
5% - Josh Brown (D)
While I’m generally in agreement with the protection choices that Dorion has made, it feels like the Senators missed an opportunity to better manipulate the expansion draft process to their advantage. They’ve openly stated an interest in bolstering their roster with a couple of veteran additions, and had the protection space to add at least one more established D-man to the roster when most teams absolutely couldn’t. Looking at the list of D-men that Seattle will be able to pick from (including Giordano, Dunn, Zadorov, Miller, Bean, DeMelo, Fleury, Butcher, Dillon), it really feels like something could have been worked out to substantially improve their team heading into next season.
Seattle will make their expansion draft selections on Wednesday, July 21 at 8pmEST/5pmPST.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments below.