Over the next few days I'll hand out grades to each player for his work over the course of the entire season. Today, we'll start with the forwards.
Stephane Da Costa
- Other than bizarrely beating out Mika Zibanejad for a roster spot heading into the season opener, Da Costa didn't really have much of an NHL-season. He logged twelve games, picking up four points in the process. He's spent most of the season down with AHL Binghamton, and his contract expires at the end of the season (RFA).
- The organization still holds high expectations for the Manitoba kid, and though I still think his sluggish skating is a bit of an issue, it's clearly improved enough to warrant a regular NHL-shift. His call-up late in the year had some dazzling moments, especially off of the puck. I never realized how good he was at harassing puck-handlers -- perhaps something he picked up down with Binghamton head coach Luke Richardson.
- One of Ottawa's two best forwards all season long, and simply stolen off of the free agent market after being woefully undervalued and misused by Randy Carlyle in Toronto. Finished with 55-points in 79-games, and held the best Corsi% rating at 54.1%. Driving possession to that effect not only has a positive effect on the offensive end, but is a driving force behind limiting the goals against column in a big way. Not surprisingly, his line -- Ottawa's best all year -- never conceded much. Probably earns a straight 'A' if he wasn't such a regular contributor to Ottawa's penalty problem.
- A player who should have been traded for well before this year's NHL trade deadline. Hemsky was dying a slow hockey death in Edmonton before being rescued by a better Ottawa team that injected some life (and scoring!) into his game. There's a good chance Hemsky will parlay his run with Ottawa into a bigger and better deal with a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and good for him. For all of the wasted years he put in with Edmonton, he deserves it. As for his limited play in Ottawa? Him and Jason Spezza tore things up in the stretch run, though the team could never do enough to climb back into the playoff picture.
Grade (pro-rated): A-
- He was shockingly bad this year. Bryan Murray's made some savvy moves in his career, but it was fairly clear at the time of the extension and incredibly clear now that betting on "power forward" Colin Greening was a pretty big miscalculation. Greening's only respectable NHL-season came when he was riding the coattails of a white-hot Jason Spezza in 2011-2012. Eventually, the percentages fell apart, and Greening was victimized as a guy who couldn't keep play moving north. He was part of Ottawa's "checking line" that was far and away the worst defensive trio in the defensive zone, which is sort of incredible, considering the competition they had on this team. The opposition scored 62% of the time when Greening was on the ice at fives. All you really need to know here.
- Took some lumps for the team's poor penalty kill, one of the main reasons why he was extended. However, after a brutal, brutal first month of the season (very likely sandbagged by teammates), his underlying numbers skyrocketed
. A lot of people want him replaced by a prospect or player with more scoring touch, and it's something I can perhaps get behind. The question is, who is going to do Condra's job better than Condra? There's a reason why Ottawa's never out-possessed at even-strength when he's on the ice at EV, and there's a reason why teams basically never score goals when Condra's on the ice at EV. So, sure, you can
replace him. But, to me, you have a weapon here in a guy who controls play and makes basically nothing in terms of salary. So, no, it's not the guy I'm looking to move out of his role in the off-season.
- Just a fantastic, fantastic hockey player on one of the best contracts
in the National Hockey League. It's not talked about often, but I wonder how much Jason Spezza's absence in the lineup last year really spurred Kyle Turris' development. After a really strong 2011-2012 season, he was thrown to the wolves routinely on the top-line, with Ottawa having no other choice. And, he did rather well. This year, he looked every bit the part of a first-line center. What he may not have in first-line center sense when it comes to offensive production, he makes up for in being one of the team's best defensive forwards. Again, it's all about margins. And, if you're not going to just drill team's in the scoring department, you better be able to show that you can shut a lot of the other team's top-guys down. When Kyle Turris was on the ice at EV, Ottawa scored 62.5% of the time. Team best, and fifteenth-best league-wide.
- A tale of two seasons, really. The first half of the year was so dreadful, I think it's eventually going to run him out of the city in the off-season despite a pretty fantastic second-leg of the season. Spezza was getting crushed in this space and just about everywhere else for his line's nightmarish defensive zone play. I'm not particularly sure if that ever improved, but Spezza elevated his game in a big way around January, and the scoring spiked wildly upon Ales Hemsky's arrival. It's unfortunate he's being scapegoated by the organization and coaching staff for the team's collective disappointing campaign, and I basically don't have any time for the people who wax poetic about him being wrongly awarded the captaincy -- mostly because that's not a contributing factor to why Ottawa missed the playoffs. What I do have time for are people who think his defensive issues maybe out-weigh his offensive brilliance, and reasonable arguments in support of a trade this summer as opposed to (a) offering him a guy with a brutal injury history a poisonous long-term contract; or (b) seeing him walk at the end of 2014-2015 with no return.
- The story behind Mike Hoffman is that, despite blazing, otherworldly speed, his game may not translate well to the NHL-level. In the limited minutes I saw him play this year with Ottawa, I just can't believe this organization won't find a place for him on the roster next year. That speed is an absolute gamechanger, and the underlying numbers we have suggest he could sort of terrorize bottom-six competition with ease. I mean, you don't end up on this by fluke (look at the names!):
- Very disappointing return season after last year's percentage-fueled run through the regular season and playoffs. I'm skeptical he deserves much blame for this. 30% of JG Pageau's shifts were played with Matt Kassian; 30% of his shifts were played with Colin Greening; 65% of his shifts were played with Erik Condra, who despite his general even-strength brilliance, isn't much of a scorer. And let's not kid ourselves -- a lot of the disappointment with Pageau from the coaching staff had a very "uh, why aren't you scoring?" feel to it. I want to see more of him because I think he's a good one, but this year sort of sucked for him in Ottawa.
- One of the organization's oddest decisions in a year of them was opting to demote Mika Zibanejad at the start of the year. It was perplexing because, well, he's far and away their most NHL-ready prospect, and it's not particularly close. He's a player that finally started seeing his positive possession play parlayed into point-scoring, which is always a great sign. And, to me, he's following the Kyle Turris development curve
that we saw Ottawa's other center grow through just a year or so ago. Great player, with (again!) very impressive numbers in an under-21 season. Needs a bigger role next year. Too good to be playing just fourteen minutes a night.
- The bad news: Though he did post a 0.48 PPG run this year, I was sort of wrong in that his off-season knee treatment would return a bounce-back year for the Czech veteran. The good news: If Ottawa's really considering extending him (I'm guessing they may, especially if Spezza's traded and Hemsky walks), they can look at his 82-game season and find some comfort in a guy who may have tentatively sidelined his knee issues. Michalek's not a top-line winger anymore, and along with Spezza, the duo were really just crushed whenever they were in the defensive zone. But, much like Spezza, he looked like a different guy when Ales Hemsky was triggering things.
- You can more or less cut and paste the second-half of Colin Greening's paragraph here. Bad team-relative possession numbers. Constantly in the penalty box, and in the rare event he didn't commit Ottawa's minor, he's incapable of killing penalties. Always out-scored by the opposition. A key contributor to this legendary play
. I'm sure his teammates like him and all, but he's just woefully ineffective. I should note that some of my objections to Neil really aren't his fault -- he's tapped on the shoulder and jumps over the boards. It was maddening to watch him pick up more ice-time over stretches of games than actual, plus-plus players. The thirteen minutes he logged a night were way, way too much, and Paul MacLean should know that. Considering he's never used at 4v5 for obvious reasons, the vast majority of that thirteen-minute number is coming at even-strength. Just inexplicable, but not Neil's fault.
- Ryan was just terrorizing defenses in the first half or so of the season, but faded quickly and emphatically. We learned towards the end of the year that Ryan was playing through a brutally painful sports hernia, so I think it's fairly easy to see how/why his point-production sort of fell apart. I think Ryan's defensive game -- regardless of the injury -- needs to be cleaned up a bit, but I'm rather certain that a healthy Ryan would've continued to produce at or near the levels he was firing at to start the season. Even with the injury, 48-in-70 ain't a bad season -- and I get the sense in a big way that he's Ottawa's primary concern when it comes to player retention. They'll likely do what it takes to keep him around.
- I'm at a crossroads with Zack Smith. Paul MacLean adores his game. And, I kind of see it. I also sympathize with a guy who played massive chunks of even-strength time with human anchors Colin Greening and Chris Neil. The other side of that coin is that Smith was, just like Neil and Greening, defeated with vigor by the opposition every game of the season. If you're going to roll with Smith -- it's something I can get behind, if that's the case -- you really have to consider purging his linemates and giving him something much more effective in terms of a potential checking role. To me, a player like Mike Hoffman (assuming the top-six is already filled out) can temporarily fill that void. You need to find a way to give quality hockey players some ice, especially in the forward department, where Ottawa has plenty of talent. If Smith's the center you'll lean on in pivotal moments, at least surround him with other guys who are capable. That said, I don't think Smith had a great year either -- way too many penalties, the team's worst individual shot differential, and a 0.26 PPG average.
- The exit interview stuff on Kassian was fascinating. The way Murray worded it about his future, it sure sounded like there was a bit of a falling out between coaches/management and their enforcer. "He's not in our plans, we aren't in his plans." Either way, good on the team to (hopefully!) move away from the designated fist-fighter who can't play a regular shift filling up an important roster spot.