Has Alex DeBrincat been the fit you envisioned with the Ottawa Senators this season?

The summer of Pierre is in the rear-view and the only talk outside the team of late has been in regards to new ownership.  With exciting times ahead in the Nations Capital, it genuinely feels like the tide has turned on the “miserable Melnyk Era”. With melting snow comes a sudden rush of optimism from a fanbase who hasn’t had the slightest glimpse of playoff hockey in nearly 6  seasons. Sitting just a few points out of the final wildcard position in the suddenly able-bodied Eastern Conference, all focus is on the here and now but for those of you who are interested in reading a chapter ahead, what do the Senators do about Alex DeBrincat? Or better yet, what does Alex DeBrincat do about the Ottawa Senators?

I think the first important aspect to examine is the fit. DeBrincat was originally playing alongside Tim Stützle (really good) and Claude Giroux (also, really good). This line quickly fizzled out for head coach DJ Smith and Josh Norris, Ottawa’s leading goal getter from last season has been out for nearly the entire season with a shoulder injury. This left DeBrincat to nearly fend for himself as Stützle and Brady Tkachuk found undeniable chemistry in Norris’s absence. For a portion of the year DeBrincat and Giroux were the second line’s steady presence and a few rotating centre’s (Shane Pinto and Ridley Greig, among them) got looks with the duo. The truth is disruption was truly the only constant for Debrincat this season. Despite a bit of a carousel of linemates, DeBrincat has been good on the second line. His playmaking abilities have come to light, and DJ Smith often acknowledges that his ability to play 200 ft was a pleasant surprise this season.

While those things are great, DeBrincat was acquired in the off-season for one major reason and that’s his goal scoring ability. Every colour commentator will quickly acknowledge that goal scoring is the single hardest thing to do in the NHL and DeBrincat has a history of making it look casual. With 42 goals last season, the expectations that DeBrincat match his totals (or at least come close) were placed upon him from the earliest onset of the acquisition. From this perspective, DeBrincat has failed miserably, with just 20 goals on the year (63GP) and a 26-goal pace if you weigh it out over a full 82GP. On the surface it looks bad however, he is one of the unluckiest players in the league this season when you look deeper into the shot analytics.

For the sake of simplicity, DeBrincat had a career shooting percentage of 15.7% entering the season and this year, he’s shooting at 9.6%. Quick math will tell you that if Alex DeBrincat was shooting at his career average percentage, he would be sitting at 33 goals now and on a 43-goal pace based on the 208 shots on goal, he has this season. If these were the totals, we wouldn’t be questioning his fit on the team. It’s important to look at these metrics when weighing out his potential impact. Did his shot get worse or is he just unlucky?

The next consideration is contract. It still feels weird to say this but Ottawa MUST be cognizant of spending as they will undoubtedly be a cap team moving forward. With virtually the entire young core, locked up early, it’s easy to see that Sens GM, Pierre Dorion had his sights set on calculated gambles and this could (no, it will) be a saving grace in the future. It seems that for the first time in forever (literally) Ottawa has no bad money on the books. Furthermore, Dorion’s gambles on his young player’s look to be playing out better than expected. DeBrincat is in a different position entirely though. At 25 years-old and having opted for a bridge deal, this is DeBrincat’s opportunity to get paid for both what he can provide and what he’s already demonstrated. This is why comparing him to teammates, Tim Stützle, Josh Norris, and Brady Tkachuk is inaccurate, as all 3 players were locked up long term as opposed to bridged. While he didn’t have a knockout season from a contractual standpoint, he still has a year left to prove he’s the 40 goal scoring machine, he was a season ago. From DeBrincat’s standpoint, he can bet on himself and walk into unrestricted free agency (2024) or he can sign a guaranteed, long term deal in Ottawa (if and when it’s offered to him).

With a $9.0 million dollar qualifier this summer, Ottawa will have to decide quickly if they’re comfortable making DeBrincat the highest paid player on the team, despite not necessarily being the best player on the team. Another thing to consider is at what expense does paying DeBrincat cost? Surely to fit under the cap, as well as leaving money aside for up and comers like Jake Sanderson, Ottawa will have to shed something of significance. Even with a projected increase in cap, the Sens will be walking a financial tight rope very soon.

The counterpoint is also a lengthy discussion. If not DeBrincat than who? Before the acquisition, the Senators seemed to constantly be in the market for a top 6 player. It finally seemed like problem solved, so going back there would be a dry pill to swallow. Marketability and attracting free agents were always a challenge for the small market Ottawa Senators, but has the landscaped changed at all? It does appear league perception is shifting pertaining to Ottawa.

Despite their sudden (potential) attractiveness, it’s impossible to think Ottawa will be able to get a more quality player on the market, via trade or otherwise. They would undoubtedly be opting to downgrade the LW2 position to strengthen their ability to keep their remaining core in tact and add better depth to their bottom 6. It doesn’t seem like the worst thing to consider but giving up the “sure thing” for another gamble is not exactly the direction you’re hoping to travel if the team is trending towards playoff contention.

Looking at this situation from Alex DeBrincat’s perspective, it’s more than a hockey decision. He could love the guys in the room (who doesn’t) the direction of the team, he might even feel like he fits on the team. If however, his wife and young family are struggling with the adjustment to the colder Canadian climate, the miles between themselves and family among other life-related impacts, than everything else is rather moot.

There are frankly so many factors to consider, it’s an interesting topic that will surely heat up as we exit the season and enter the offseason. The importance should be first priority as I think the timing is everything. The Senators must have a good indication of how this is going to play out ahead of the NHL Draft in June. If they hope to recoup assets for DeBrincat, it has to be at the draft. This will allow the Sens to shop for a replacement in free agency/trade market this summer. Worst case scenario would be taking a gamble and losing him for nothing, next season as it’s unlikely they would be willing to sell at next year’s trade deadline.   


By dlee075

Co-Host of the Future Sickos Podcast. Passionate about hockey and the Ottawa Senators.

One thought on “The Big Decision: Alex DeBrincat”
  1. Don’t know how they can afford to keep AD this summer with Stutzle’s contract kicking in and Pinto needing a new contract. Sanderson has one year left on his ELC, and will be looking for Chabot size pay. Norris will be back next year and he can put up 30+ goals plus has an edge which can be a replacement for AD. IMO trade AD in the summer for picks or assets, sign Pinto and keep cap space. This season they lacked goaltending and defensive structure, not scoring. DJ has skilled players playing dump & chase which is not a puck control system for players of this skill set. That also needs to be addressed.

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