Rebuilding NHL teams often find themselves in a position where flipping pending free agents is the best course of action, but that rule isn’t universal and doesn’t have to be.
Dylan DeMelo is an unrestricted free agent on July 1, as he wraps up his 2 year, $1.8 million contract, and the Senators should do everything they can to keep him in Ottawa. DeMelo was acquired as somewhat of a throw-in in the Erik Karlsson trade, but has carved a niche in a respectable role for the team.
While the team hasn’t exactly known success since he’s been in Ottawa, that doesn’t impede on the value of his individual performance nor should it.
Sens Right Side on Defense
The Sens only have one right-handed NHL D-man locked into next year, that being Nikita Zaitsev. DeMelo has been a mainstay on the blue line, ranking third in average time on ice (TOI) with 20:06, 2:35 of that coming shorthanded as one of the pillars on the penalty kill.
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As for DeMelo’s advanced stats, his 52.4 Corsi for percentage (CF%) and 6.4 relative Corsi both rank among the best on the Senators for players with a minimum of 20 games played on the season. For a player primarily deployed in a more secure, defensive role, that speaks volumes to his efficiency on this team.
Beyond the NHL level, both Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson are right-handed defensemen with legitimate NHL potential, but it’s just that — potential. They’re still both only 19 years old and thrusting them into the NHL, particularly into a rather important role on a bad team before they can legally drink in the US is a bad idea. Keeping DeMelo diminishes the possibility of being put into a position where young players have to sink or swim and that can only be seen as a positive.
That isn’t to say that a player that can hold the Sens over for a few years while their prospects develop would be difficult to find. However, having one in house and able to be re-signed cheaply has value, especially in Ottawa.
A Natural Fit
The NHL is weird to say the least. There isn’t really one recipe for how to maximize your players’ skillsets, nor is there one proper and right way to build a team. That said, there are some trends that tend to appear across more successful teams, and picking up on those trends is important to stay ahead of the curve.
The presence of an elite, creative offensive D-man like Chabot in Ottawa, permits the Senators to explore more cost-effective ways of surrounding him with talent, which is where DeMelo comes in.
Drew Doughty with Jake Muzzin, Victor Hedman with Anton Stralman, Erik Karlsson with Marc Methot and even Jon Carlson with Michal Kempny. These pairings are all built on the same foundation and the idea of having one elite D-man elevate the play of another good D-man, one who is also able to cover for the other’s more adventurous style of play.
DeMelo and Chabot are a pairing that can accomplish this. The latter’s creative, aggressive and dynamic style of play being paired with the quiet and solid DeMelo brings the best out of both players and allows the Sens to not worry about finding a partner for Chabot.
Simplicity Is Best for Senators
Declaring a defender like DeMelo as a “must keep” is hyperbolic at best, but it is a thought rooted within a sound argument and one the Senators should listen to. It won’t cost a lot of money, nor would it cost any asset or outside resource to keep the player. If you focus on moving him at the deadline, you probably don’t get more than a third-round draft pick for a team that is already picking a minimum of five times in the first two rounds, so why bother?
Instead of flipping him for another lottery ticket, why not keep the 26-year-old who is already acclimated to the organization, the city and the culture DJ Smith has built in his first year as coach? On top of that, the on-ice fit works with Chabot and it buys the Senators enough time to truly understand what right-handed defensemen it has in the system.
DeMelo is quiet and unspectacular on the ice, but sometimes, that’s a good thing. Describing him as a “warm body” is unfair, but even if that’s the role he fills, it isn’t really an issue. Sometimes, rebuilding teams can take the simple yet effective route — re-signing DeMelo is that for this rebuilding Senators outfit.
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I’m a huge hockey fan, been watching since the 2006 playoffs and haven’t exactly looked back since. Just finished my sports media degree and trying to get my career off and running.