This season several Ottawa Senators could be considered for NHL awards for performance on the ice. As important as they are, this article does not discuss awards for personal qualities like the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy.
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I predict there will be more trophies awarded to individual Senators as the team moves from rebuild mode to being a top-tier club over the next few seasons. As other teams do (except, seemingly, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres) the Senators cycle through low and high points and it is during the latter that members of the squad are most likely to be considered for NHL trophies and sometimes win them.
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A case in point is Daniel Alfredsson who won the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year in the 1995-96 season. That season marked the beginning of an eight-year period during which the Senators went from a laughing stock to a Stanley Cup favourite. It was also during this time that Jacques Martin, the longest-tenured coach in franchise history, won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
Erik Karlsson was awarded the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s top defenceman in 2012 and 2015. In 2013, Paul MacLean won the Jack Adams Award. This was an era when the Senators were again a formidable team. They came within a game of making their second appearance in a Stanley Cup Final in 2017.
Over franchise history, there have not been many NHL awards given to Senators for their performance on the ice. Without a consistently strong team behind them, it is tough for a player, no matter how skilled they are, to rack up the statistics needed to be considered for an award. Not only that, but playing in a small market like Ottawa makes it even harder to garner the attention of the various judging panels who choose award winners.
As the Senators once again cycle toward another peak period, here are the members of the club who I think could contend for an award this year.
Shane Pinto – The Calder Trophy
The 6-foot-2, 192-pound centre taken by the Senators in the 2019 draft made his NHL debut in April, notching seven points over 12 games. That exceeded expectations, but should have come as no surprise with the glitzy resume he wrote for himself playing in the NCAA’s National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC).
Lacing up for the University of North Dakota last season, he won the NCHC’s Player of the Year Award, Forward of the Year Award, and if that wasn’t enough, the Defensive Forward of the Year Award. That topped off his previous season when he earned the Rookie of the Year Award.
Pinto is clearly ready for a spot at centre ice with the Senators. The only question is where he slots. Many fans want to see him anchoring the second line in between Connor Brown and Tim Stutzle. That would be a very potent line and give him the support he needs to contend for the Calder. If nothing else, that line would also treat fans to barn-burner hockey every time it steps on the ice.
Pinto will face stiff competition for the Calder. This season’s rookie class is considered very strong, boasting the likes of the Montreal Canadiens’ Cole Caulfield, Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim Ducks and Moritz Seider with the Detroit Red Wings. Still, he’s the best bet Ottawa has had for a rookie of the year award in 25 years.
Thomas Chabot – The Norris Trophy
Chabot is a long-shot for the Norris this year—that’s beyond dispute—but hear me out. As the Senators improve, I predict it won’t be long before members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) who select the Norris winner start to discuss Chabot as a contender.
Chabot’s points production is well down the list of the NHL’s top defenders. He racked up 31 points last season—far below the 47 tallied by the New York Rangers’ Adam Fox—2020-21’s winner. Yet it only stands to reason that his points production will improve as the Senators get better and he carries less of the load on the team’s back end. Not only that, but as the team’s blue line improves, he will be free to focus on offense and that is the part of his game that truly shines.
Pundits agree that Chabot’s defensive numbers are mediocre. However, that’s to be expected given his average time on the ice of 26:17—the second highest in the NHL. The 24-year-old was relied on heavily in every situation, especially against other teams’ top lines. He is expected to see less ice time this season and that is sure to improve his results.
The odds of Chabot winning the Norris this season are long. Nonetheless, I would wager that he will be in the mix for the award in the next few seasons as he comes into the peak of his career and the Senators become a legitimate Cup contender.
Connor Brown – The Frank J. Selke Trophy
This year, Brown came in at 17th in voting by the PHWA for the Selke Trophy—awarded (in the quaint language of the NHL) “to the forward best to excel in the defensive aspects of the game.” He should have placed much higher.
Takeaways are a weighty measure of how well a forward plays defensively and on that count the 27-year-old notched 56 of them—just behind Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights who ranked third in voting for the prize with 58. Award winner Aleksander Barkov registered just 39. What’s more, Brown tallied 30 blocked shots, putting him in the same realm as Barkov who tallied 37.
Brown’s average time on the ice while shorthanded was 2:55 per game—fourth highest in the NHL this year and almost double that of Barkov. Despite that, he managed to score 21 goals—more than any other Senator. Five of them were short-handed, putting him atop the NHL and ahead of Selke runner-up Patrice Bergeron in that category.
The PHWA clearly favours centremen for the Selke because of their additional duties down low in the defensive zone. That puts Brown at a disadvantage, but the preference for centremen (it has gone to one every year in the last 10) may be changing. Mark Stone plays right wing.
Barkov had Brown out-classed on the score board last season, notching 58 points as compared to Brown’s 35. Yet as the Senators mature and bring more offensive firepower to the rink, Brown should be able to climb the scoring ladder to lessen that criticism.
Playing in a small market like Ottawa doesn’t make it easy for Brown to get the attention he is due as a Selke candidate. However, that could change this year as he and the Senators build on the torrid pace they set late last season. He and the Senators will be harder to ignore.
NHL Awards for the Ottawa Senators
Winning an NHL award is a stretch for all but the most elite players in the league. Pinto, Brown and especially Chabot face long odds of winning awards in their category. Even so, my big, bold prediction for this and the next few seasons is that more than one member of the Senators will vie for an NHL award.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney