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Learn from the Leafs: Chabot Doesn't Belong with Zaitsev or Hainsey

September 11, 2019, 9:55 PM ET [23 Comments]
Michael Stuart
Ottawa Senators Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Bruce Garrioch’s SNAPSHOTS piece published yesterday in the Ottawa Sun provides a lot of insight with respect to Senators Head Coach D.J. Smith’s plans for Thomas Chabot this season. Specifically, Smith indicated that Chabot will be paired with newly-acquired Nikita Zaitsev or Ron Hainsey in the early going this year.

While there is certainly room to question that decision on a number of fronts, perhaps most concerning is Smith’s view on the perceived value that skaters like Hainsey and Zaitsev can provide to young players in general. Smith was quoted as follows:

“I know Ron Hainsey did a heck of a job with Morgan Rielly and I would say that Chabot is that kind of player, the way he jumps in the rush. I think Zaitsev has learned from Ronnie in that regard and I think either guy is going to be good for (Chabot).”

A simple look at the data over the last two seasons tells us that Hainsey did the exact opposite of “a heck of a good job” with Rielly. By every possible measure, Rielly was better off without Hainsey than with him. One guy on that pairing was doing the heavy lifting, the shielding, the actual playing of competitive hockey… and it wasn’t Ron Hainsey. The chart below serves to illustrate that point:

There’s no nuanced discussion to be had here. This isn’t one of those cases where, perhaps, the analytics don’t tell the full story; the contrast is too stark. It’s fundamentally necessary that the person in charge of developing the next generation of Senators at the NHL level is able to identify things like this.

Further, it’s not as though Zaitsev provides for much more of a reason for optimism, as evidenced by the significant minutes he played with Jake Gardiner over the last two seasons:

The comment quoted above appears to be a complete miss.

Trading for Zaitsev and signing Hainsey were questionable player personnel decisions at the time, but questionable player personnel decisions happen regularly in today’s NHL. The damage will be done if Chabot, or any other future young Senator (e.g. Erik Brannstrom), is anchored to a Zaitsev or a Hainsey due to some phantom benefit that the coach thinks he has identified. There likely isn’t going to be a benefit there, as the data clearly shows. The leadership component, the ‘good example’ component, the ‘playing the right way’ component, and any of those other intangibles can be picked up in the room, via conversation, or via observation. There isn’t a need to hamper promising on-ice product to get those benefits.

Unless Smith is secretly a member of Team Tank, and understands that tying a Hainsey or a Zaitsev to Chabot is the equivalent of tying bricks to his skates, there’s no rational explanation for the blue line plan heading into the season. Learn from the mistakes that Toronto made. There's no reason for the Senators to go down the exact same path, only to see the exact same results.

As always, thanks for reading.

Michael Stuart was the Tampa Bay Lightning writer for HockeyBuzz from 2012 to 2015, and has been the Ottawa Senators writer since September 2019. Visit his archive to read more or follow him on Twitter.
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