Sports

Sens’ Camp Roundup: Can D.J. Smith Truly Serve Up Enough Power Play Time to Keep Everyone Happy?

In football, it’s not uncommon to see a running back make a big play and then skip back to the huddle, gesturing as if he’s a starving man finally getting a meal, devouring it with an imaginary bowl and spoon. It was popularized by Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys, and it’s meant as a message to his coaching staff and quarterback that if you keep “feeding me” the ball, good things will happen.

The Ottawa Senators have plenty of excellent forwards this season, and while the “feed me” gesture is mostly a football thing, head coach D.J. Smith has a ton of guys who expect to be fed big power play minutes. And it’s going to be a major challenge to keep everyone happy and full.

Out of the gate this season, one Ottawa power unit will be Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Tim Stutzle and Thomas Chabot. The other unit (don’t call them the second unit) features newcomers Alex DeBrincat, Claude Giroux and defenceman Jake Sanderson with rookie Shane Pinto and a fifth man still to be determined. Mathieu Joseph would be a good guess.

Every team has two main power play units. But they’re rarely fed the same amount of ice time. In a two minute power play, the top unit will dine on as much as 75% of the power play and leave the scraps to the second unit.

But it sounds like Smith isn’t going to name a number one unit.

 

“Who’s to say whose power play is going to be better?” Smith pondered. “Giroux’s as good a power play guy as there is. Pinto is not a proven commodity but plays that pop spot like a (Patrice Bergeron). And then you have DeBrincat over there. You know, Boston’s power play, we talk about how good it’s been. So (DeBrincat) is kind of where Pastrnak is.

“I see an opportunity where both units can be dangerous. I’ve said before where the St. Louis Blues were second in the National Hockey League on the power play with sharing their units. We’re in a situation where I think it’s the right thing to do.”

One of the units will still get the majority of the ice time on any given power play, but the starting unit will constantly change, sometimes based on rotation, sometimes based on the unit that’s playing better, and sometimes the unit that’s better rested. For example, if the Josh Norris line is out there five on five for 60 seconds and a penalty is called on the opponent, Smith might opt for the better rested unit for the ensuing power-play.

Of course, every player will publicly say they’ll do whatever it takes for the team. But if you want big offensive stats, you generally need big power play time. Take newcomer Alex DeBrincat, for example. If you take away his bountiful power play time in Chicago last season, he’s suddenly a player with 27 goals and 50 points. Those are good numbers but certainly not as eye-catching as the 41 goals and 78 points he actually scored.

DeBrincat is publicly saying all the right things.

 

“There are times during the year where power plays go in droughts,” DeBrincat said. “(It’s nice) to have two good ones that can pick up the slack or whatever it may be. It’s a friendly competition and we obviously want to be the ones going out there. Everyone wants to play. It’s definitely a good problem to have.”

But it should be noted this is a contract year for DeBrincat. As an RFA at season’s end, he’s still under club control for one more year after this. And if Sens’ GM Pierre Dorion wants him to fall in love with the Senators, and sign something more than a one-year contract next summer, DeBrincat needs to be happy and fed here. He can’t possibly be fond of the idea that he’s the team’s best goal scorer and he’ll frequently be asked to take a seat while another line starts off a power play.

Like DeBrincat, Jonathan Huberdeau was traded north over the summer with one year left on his deal. Huberdeau immediately signed an eight-year extension with Calgary. DeBrincat is in no such hurry in Ottawa. He’s open to it, but isn’t ready. Understandably, he wants to see what it’s like to play for the Ottawa Senators.

While he’s obviously miles away from deciding anything, the current power play plan probably won’t be one in his plus column.

By Steve Warne 

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