Who should the Sens target in free agency?

In the 2015–16 season, the Ottawa Senators ranked 29th in powerplay goals allowed (61) and penalty kill percentage (75.8%).

Systems implemented next year by Guy Boucher, the new Sens coach, and his staff should help improve the penalty kill. But if they want to bring in a new player to help, who should they target? How can we assess aptitude on the penalty kill? Would they want someone who can chip in on the other end of the rink as well?

The following graph charts penalty killing ability based on the player’s Fenwick against per 60 minutes (FA60). This stat gauges how many unblocked shots against (shots, missed shots, and goals) a player is on the ice for. Of players who have regularly killed penalties (>150 PK mins) since 2013–14, the league average FA60 was 64.89 unblocked shots against per 60 minutes. This graph also charts each player’s point production based on how many primary points (goals and first assists) a player scores per 60 minutes of ice time:

As you can see, the chart is split into four quadrants. Those in the bottom-right are the unrestricted free agents who are best at suppressing shots on the PK (lower FA60), while still being more productive offensively than the league average. The players in or bordering this quadrant include:

  • Loui Eriksson
  • Lee Stempniak
  • Ryan Carter
  • Colton Sceviour
  • David Backes
  • Frans Nielsen
  • Matt Cullen
  • Darren Helm
  • Shawn Horcoff
  • Michael Grabner
  • Dominic Moore

One concern with this list is that it doesn’t factor in the effect of playing with good penalty-killing teammates. For example, does Loui Eriksson benefit from playing on the PK with Bergeron, Krejci, or Marchand? Let’s take a look at each player’s FA60 compared against their relative FA60, which is adjusted for their linemates:

In the above chart, the best quadrant to be in is the bottom-left: it means the player has good shot suppression stats, and a better relative FA60, meaning they’re not being propped up by their teammates. Of the 11 players listed above, only the following 6 are in or bordering the best quadrant of this chart as well:

  • Loui Eriksson
  • Lee Stempniak
  • Ryan Carter
  • Colton Sceviour
  • Shawn Horcoff
  • Frans Nielsen

The five who were left off this list have lower-than-league-average shorthanded shot suppression stats when you factor in their stats relative to their teammates.

Because cost and age are always an issue, let’s take a look at each player’s 2015–16 cap hit and their age, as well as time on ice values:

TOI_SH is total 4v5 shorthanded time on ice. 2015–16 TOI stats are for all-situations. P160, iCF60, and CF% are for 5v5 only

And here’s a usage chart, which shows what percentage of a player’s shifts start in the offensive zone, as well as the quality of the competition they face:

With the above figures in mind, lets take a deeper look at each player:

Colton Sceviour

Sceviour is the youngest of the bunch, having just completed his second full season with the Dallas Stars. He wasn’t used in a top-six role, but he wasn’t sheltered, either. He was effective when he was on the ice, scoring 11 goals and 12 assists. He turned 27 in April and could be an effective player going forward. His iCF60, which measures how much he personally contributes to offence, is the best of the 6 players.

Ryan Carter

Ryan Carter appeared in 60 games this year, and had the lowest TOI/GP at 11:11. In his small sample size, he scored 7 goals and 5 assists. He has never scored more than 15 points in a season. Carter’s scoring and CF% stats are likely deflated by the fact that he was used in a defensive role by the Wild — only 29.5% of his non-neutral zone shifts started in the offensive zone. However, considering his past usage and point production, it doesn’t appear that Carter would help the Sens at both ends of the rink. If they’d prefer to fill the gap with a veteran with penalty-killing experience, Carter would be an inexpensive option.

Shawn Horcoff

Horcoff’s age (he turns 38 in September) is a concern when approaching free agents. However, he could be another option for an inexpensive, low-scoring, seldom-used defensive player on the fourth line and the penalty kill. He hasn’t been able to score more than 15 goals in a season since the 2008–09 season, so expecting high future point production would not be wise.

Frans Nielsen

Nielsen boasts strong possession stats. He generates a lot offensively, and he produces points. He’s an all-around effective player who also wins 50% of his faceoffs. The 32-year-old plays against quality competition and still manages to score and be effective defensively. If the Sens would like to sign a centre who can kill penalties, he’s the best option available. However, with Turris, Zibanejad, and Pageau working the middle of the ice in Ottawa, it’s unlikely that Pierre Dorion would pursue another centre.

Lee Stempniak

Stempniak is coming off a great season, having set ten-year highs with 19 goals and 32 assists. He’ll be looking for a pay raise this year, and he deserves one. The 33-year-old has posted some of the best shot suppression stats on the penalty kill over the past three years, and his newfound scoring touch would make him a good fit on almost any team’s second line. Of the 192 forwards who have spent more than 150 minutes on the penalty kill since 2013–14, Stempniak’s shot suppression numbers rank 17th, better than 91% of players.

Loui Eriksson

All the graphs and figures we’ve looked at present Loui Eriksson, who turns 31 in July, as elite. His point production and 5v5 possession numbers are the best of the group and well above league average, he plays almost 20 minutes each night, and his ability on the penalty kill is better than 86% of forwards. He managed to have the best 4v5 relative FA60 on a Bruins team that also employed Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron, who are all known for their defensive abilities. Loui drives play, makes his teammates better, and kills penalties. Only three of 2015–16’s top 30 scorers are available as UFAs: Stamkos, Okposo, and Eriksson. Coming off the first 30-goal season of his career, he’ll likely be looking for a significant raise from last year’s $4.25M cap hit.

If the Sens want to sign one of the two best players available who can kill penalties effectively while still producing top-six points, they need to offer a contract to Loui Eriksson or Lee Stempniak. Problem is, every other team could use these players on their roster too.


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