Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Senators Draft Legacy

Pavol Demitra

Occasionally I like to geek out on stats, in particular career stats for the Ottawa Senators. In a sense, we’re all somewhat lucky to watch a franchise in its early stages (although at 20 years old, the Senators have already moved out of Mom’s and are failing college right now), simply because we get to see players achieve all kinds of firsts for the organization, such as seeing Daniel Alfredsson being the first to play 1000 games in a Senators uniform with Chris Phillips gearing up to be the second.

Modern fans of the Habs, Leafs and other original six teams don’t get to do that. They learn about team legends through books or from an older uncle who gets blind drunk and blabs on endlessly about how much better the game was when he was a kid. Fans of the Senators get to see their team grow up before their eyes. We take players like Alfie and Phillips for granted right now but one day they’ll be the all-time standard to which other Senators will have to live up to, the same way that Red Wings players have to live up to Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio and Gordie Howe.

And as another rookie camp rolls around, there’s going to be a whole new batch of freshmen who may one day become cornerstones of this team. But for now, they’ll be the ones collecting the pucks after practice while the established vets are untying their skates and coming up with stupid nicknames for the new guys.

The Senators seemingly drafted well this past summer with the plethora of first and second round picks they had after dealing away half the team at the deadline. A lot of those players will play important roles for the Senators in the future while some will play important roles for other teams after trades or free agency, and some will simply fade from the NHL scene quicker than Petr Schastlivy (if they’re lucky - many picks don’t see a single game).

In a roundabout way this got me wondering how good the Senators have really drafted since their first try in 1992, not just taking into account how many games they played in Ottawa, but in the NHL in general. Games played in the NHL seems to me the most important stat you can find when you’re trying to quantify someone’s career. It puts defenseman and forwards on an even playing field and really, longevity is what it’s all about (but Bobby Orr may disagree with that).

Best Senators Draft Choices Based on NHL Games Played (500 games minimum)

1. Daniel Alfredsson – 1056 GP (1994 6th round)

2. Radek Bonk – 969 GP (1994 1st round)

3. Chris Phillips – 945 GP (1996 1st round)

4. Marian Hossa – 897 GP (1997 1st round)

5. Alexei Yashin – 850 GP (1992 1st round)

6. Pavol Demitra – 847 GP (1993 9th round)

7. Mike Fisher – 702 GP (1998 2nd round)

8. Sami Salo – 692 GP (1996 9th round)

9. Chris Neil – 659 GP (1998 6th round)

10. Martin Havlat – 621 GP (1999 1st round)

11. Bryan Berard – 619 GP (1995 1st round)

12. Alexandre Daigle – 616 GP (1993 1st round)

13. Andreas Dackell – 613 GP (1996 6th round)

14. Antoine Vermette – 540 GP (2000 2nd round)

15. Jason Spezza – 526 GP (2001 1st round)

16. Stan Neckar – 510 GP (1994 2nd round)

Now obviously this is not a completely reliable way to assess draft picks – Jason Spezza will end up being a much better draft pick than Andreas Dackell when all is said and done – but it gives you a good idea of the kind of legacy old scouting departments have left behind in Ottawa (particularly under the leadership of Marshall Johnston and John Ferguson). As you know, scouts don’t necessarily think in terms of how many games a player will wear a Senators uniform. It’s always about whether or not a kid will one day play in the NHL. Players move according to whim on the general managers part. Scouts are hired to find NHL players period.

And it looks like the Senators have done fairly well in that department. They’ve drafted a few legitimate stars like Alfredsson, Hossa, Spezza and, yes, Yashin. They’ve found their share of late round steals such as 9th rounder Pavol Demitra (pictured above, who as you all know, passed away today in that tragic crash in Russia along with ex-Sen Karel Rachunek, who played 371 games in the NHL and was drafted by Ottawa in the 9th round in 1997, another great pick.) Sami Salo is another 9th rounder and he’s still playing a big role in Vancouver despite mind boggling injuries that have plagued him since his days frightening goalies in Kanata.

Even Alexandre Daigle has a good showing here because 616 games is nothing to balk at, even though he’s widely regarded as a first overall bust. But the kid had a decent career if you take the notoriety out of the equation and now he’s got an NHL pension. You could do worse.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list is Radek Bonk who quietly had a very good run in the NHL as a second-line centre in the first part and as a checking line centre towards the end with Nashville and Montreal. As of last season he was still playing professionally in the Czech Republic.

With Bonk seemingly out of the NHL for good now, it looks like only two more players (after Alfie) drafted by Ottawa are a lock to play at least 1000 NHL games and that’s Phillips and Hossa. Fisher might play another 300 games but he’s highly prone to injury. Neil and Havlat have a shot if they can both stay healthy and relevant while Spezza will almost certainly make the milestone later in his career.

Perhaps Neil and Spezza will be numbers 3 and 4 to do it all in a Sens uniform.

It could happen.


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Anonymous said...

I bet that the player that ends up eventually topping that list is Andrej Meszaros.

Out of all the guys drafted in the 2004 draft class, only Ovechkin (475) has played more games than Meszaros (460).

Add to that, that he is a durable player and he won the award for the Flyers best defenseman last year. The guy is just hitting his stride and is going to get better. That will ensure his longevity.

Anonymous said...

It's a nice look back but I find myself shrugging my shoulders for the most part...none of the players we have drafted have been able to get it done here (winning the Cup). I'll really glom onto a player when he lifts the chalice or wins a slew of individual awards like an Ovechkin.

Until then, I'll keep going to games and loving from afar, wondering what if...what if he were better, what if he skated harder, what if he backchecked quicker, what if he had that drive...I know I'm not alone here as love has always been held back for this franchise, there's always been a little caution in admitting you're a Senators fan in some circles, maybe some insecurity.

Say what you want about those franchises in the article, a lot of them saw their team win a Cup.
I'd do anything to see that here in Ottawa, but I have a feeling we'll have to wait for the next 10-15 years to pass so that we get players that are "all in" instead of "in for the skills" (such as Karlsson, for example).


Anonymous said...

Oh, I wouldn't pooh-pooh Dacks either...there's something to be said for a player that "gets it" out of the box (Dackell, Bonk, Alfredsson, Hossa, etc) rather than one that takes a long time to get there (Spezza, Karlsson looks like one of "those guys", the skill guys that think skill alone will take them there).

I'd take a team full of Dackell, Alfredsson, Bonk, Fisher...would be excessively hard to play against and mistake-free for the most part, wearing you down until they win.