One of Ottawa Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion’s best acquisitions during the 2020-21 season was picking up defenseman Victor Mete off waivers. Mete was waived by the Montréal Canadiens after appearing in 185 games across four seasons but spent most of this season in the press box. The Senators brought in Mete after they had shipped out several veteran defensemen around the trade deadline, including Braydon Coburn, Mike Reilly, and Erik Gudbranson. In Ottawa, he has been given more ice time, responsibility and has received accolades from his new coach. It’s another small sample in a shortened season, but his play should earn him a new contract with the Sens.
Senators Restricted Free Agents
The Senators have a couple of key contracts expiring at the end of the season. Two pillars of the team’s future, Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson will be restricted free agents (RFA) and Dorion’s primary concern this offseason. Other pending RFAs include break-out defenseman Artem Zub and Mete. Ryan Dzingel is a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) and will be a difficult decision, considering the dollar value or term he might expect as a more experienced player. It’s tough to see a player who enjoys playing for the Senators left out of the mix, but unless he’s willing to take a discount or shorter term, he might not be on the roster in 2021-22.
Zub has earned a spot on the roster and should be offered an extension, if not a multi-year deal, that gives him a chance to grow with the team. He’s solidified his place on the right side of the second pairing and could develop into a top-pairing defenseman to play with Thomas Chabot. With just under $8.5 million in projected cap space available at the end of this season, two-thirds of this could be eaten up between Tkachuk’s new deal and Batherson’s contract. The Senators should prioritize bringing back Zub and Mete, who could both fit in the picture on $1 million (or just under) deals, but this could squeeze out Dzingel. With a stagnant cap, it would be more beneficial to have the two younger defensemen on more team-friendly deals in this case.
Mete’s Increased Ice Time
When Chabot went down with an upper-body injury on Monday against the Winnipeg Jets, head coach D.J. Smith turned to Mete as the experienced member of the defensive group on the left side, even after only nine games with the club. He’s a quick and confident player in the defensive zone and has become a reliable member of a team that’s thriving in a pressureless end to the season (they are 7-1-1 in their last nine games). He’s already scored for the Senators, something he’s not known for, but it’s his ice time that tells the real story of Mete’s role going forward.
In his first appearance with the Senators, Mete was eased onto the team on the third pairing with 9:43 of playing time. Five games later, he had nearly doubled his TOI, playing 17:55 in a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks when Mete finished the game a plus-1. Chabot left the May 3 game early, and Mete finished with a season-high 23:46 TOI. He topped it by two seconds in an impressive 5-1 win over his former team on May 5.
It’s not just his time on the ice that’s been impressive, it’s how Mete has spent that time. At 5-foot-9, he isn’t the biggest defenseman on the team, but he understands his size and uses his quickness to close passing lanes and minimize the gap between on-rushing players into the offensive zone. For what it’s worth, he’s a plus-3 since joining the Senators, only registering a minus-1 in his second game on April 14 against the Jets.
Eight games later, against the same opponent, Mete played six minutes on the penalty kill, the most of any Senators defenseman, and helped shut down the Jets’ power play, allowing one shot in six power plays. In the commanding win against the Canadiens, Mete also received more time on the power play and quietly led the team with six blocked shots.
Mete hasn’t taken his time with the Senators lightly. At 22 years old, he fits in well on a young team whose players all want a chance to prove themselves, and that’s exactly what he’s been doing since he arrived. He knows Alex Formenton, who he played with on the London Knights in the OHL, and there’s a sense of comfort in being given regular minutes in consecutive games. He has shown that he deserves a contract offer from Dorion.
The Senators have found a quick and flexible defenseman who can help the team move forward. He will likely be offered a one-year “prove yourself over a full season” deal, but if Mete can continue his impressive play, he could earn a longer extension with the Senators after next season and be part of the team’s future.
Sports and music writer, covering the Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. Lecturer at King’s University College. Loves a good day at the outdoor rink.