The Binghamton Senators are having a miserable season. With only 15 wins in 38 games, they sit last in the North Division and fourth last in the entire league. This is a team that needs help, most notably at center and on the blue line. Conversely, Ottawa also has a number of younger players who are struggling to develop into NHL caliber players and could use time in the AHL to work on various aspects of their game. So here are three players, all waiver exempt, that Ottawa should send to Binghamton to help the farm team in the short-term, and ultimately help the Senators in the long-term. It is a win-win situation.
Curtis Lazar and the Binghamton Senators
While Lazar has certainly endeared himself to fans in Ottawa over the past 18 months, from making Chris Phillips a get-well card to eating hamburgers off the ice at the Canadian Tire Center, he has frequently struggled on the ice this year. In particular, Lazar has struggled to prevent opposing teams from getting shots on Ottawa’s net and to consistently produce offense. Thanks to work by Micah Blake McCurdy at www.hockeyviz.com we can see Lazar’s puck possession numbers in an easy to read graph. Remembering that black is good and red is bad, look at graph three (found here) and we can see that when Lazar is on the ice, Ottawa struggles to keep the puck out of their zone. This trend is further confirmed when we look at Lazar’s SAT%, which is last among Senators forwards who have played more than 15 games. In other words, his 43.09 SAT% means that when he is on the ice, Ottawa only gets 43% of shot attempts, compared to 57% for their opponents. Finally, if we measure Lazar relative to the rest of the team when he isn’t on the ice, over sixty minutes of five on five Ottawa produces 12 more attempts at net with Lazar on the bench. Certainly a red flag for the young center.
The second issue is Lazar’s offensive production. While never an extremely offensive players – he topped out at 76 points in 58 games in his final junior season with the Edmonton Oil Kings – scouts in his draft year highlighted his two-way game and goal scoring potential. Clearly, when Ottawa took him 17th overall in 2013 they expected him to mature into at least a top six forward and to contribute at both ends of the rink. However, so far in his NHL career Lazar has struggled offensively. Over 107 games in the NHL, Lazar has scored at a rate of 1.07 points per sixty minutes of ice time, which ranks him only above Chris Neil and Zack Smith. Fine numbers for a fourth line player, but presumably not what Senators’ management are expecting long-term.
By sending Lazar down to Binghamton, he will get a chance to be their number one center and produce offensively. Remember, Lazar has never played against men at any level other than the NHL and has largely been deployed in a bottom six role. Consequently, he has never had a chance to develop his offensive game and learn to adapt to the profession game. If he stays in the NHL, Lazar possesses the work rate and hockey IQ to successfully become a productive checking line winger. However, it isn’t clear how he develops into the player Ottawa wants him to be, a Western Canadian Patrice Bergeron. To do that, Lazar needs time playing in the top six and it isn’t clear how that happens in Ottawa. So send him to Binghamton.
Cody Ceci’s name has appeared repeatedly in trade rumors over the past few weeks, most particularly linking him with Tampa Bay. However, Bryan Murray has so far appeared unwilling to discuss trading Ceci, which makes sense given that he is a local boy and possesses the raw talent required in a top-four defenseman in the NHL. However, despite playing top four minutes, Ceci is clearly not ready for the responsibility as of yet. Ceci’s possession numbers are, among defenseman with 20 games played this season, bottom five in the NHL. Among Senators’ defensemen, only public enemy number one Jared Cowen is worse than Ceci. While played very well last year alongside Patrick Wiercioch, this season, Ceci has mirrored the rest of the defense corps – other than Erik Karlsson – in struggling mightily to keep the puck out of Ottawa’s zone.
As a result of his defensive struggles, Ceci has played exceptionally conservative in an attempt to cut out costly mistakes. However, such an approach also prevents Ceci from utilizing his exceptional mobility and vision. Ceci’s strength in junior, as the above video demonstrates, was that he was an offensive defenseman who was good in his own end. Yet, other than flashes last season, Ottawa fans have not seen the offensive aspects of Ceci’s game. While he did play on the power play against LA on the weekend, like Lazar, Ceci will not receive the opportunity to work on his offensive game in the NHL. Especially with Ottawa struggling to defend effectively, the coaching staff is going to continue to insist that Ceci plays conservatively to reduce defensive errors. However, it is only by making mistakes that Ceci will learn. So let him make those mistakes in the AHL as Binghamton’s top blue liner. Plus, with the Chris Wideman and Fredrick Claesson playing well, Ottawa has sufficient cover on the back-end to allow Ceci to ride the bus in Binghamton for a while.
Unlike the other two players on this list, Max McCormick has played very well on the third line. After a strong prospects camp, Ottawa called McCormick up in November and he has stuck with the team. As part of the rotating cast of wingers playing with J.G. Pageau on the third line, McCormick has put up positive possession numbers while starting a majority of his shifts in the defensive zone. However, as per his minor league and college career, he has produced very little offense. The issue with McCormick is that management knows exactly what they have in him, a hard-working, physical, bottom six winger who should provide valuable forward depth for Ottawa in the coming seasons. However, with Clarke MacArthur still out, Ottawa continues to have an opening on the left-wing. Hence, it would make sense to use this vacancy as an opportunity to assess the talent Ottawa has in their farm system. McCormick has played well but it isn’t clear he is the ideal fit on the third line. Pageau has demonstrated some offensive potential and if paired with a skilled forward such as Binghamton Senators’ players Matt Puempel or Ryan Dzingel, the third line may well become much more of an offensive threat.
Sending these three players down will not meaningfully hurt Ottawa’s present roster and in the case of McCormick, could improve the third line. However, particularly with Lazar and Ceci, Binghamton would get a much-needed boost. Furthermore, both players would benefit from the excellent coaching of Luke Richardson. In the long-term a strong and winning farm team is good for the big club. It will also help the development of two of Ottawa’s top prospects so everyone wins except, hopefully, Binghamton’s opponents.