A favourite pastime of any fan base is checking the status of franchise ‘expats.’
At times it can feel as though a fan’s former fave player is engaging in a very personal form of torture by performing very well with somebody else’s team.
Extreme torture Exhibit A is the player with so much potential, who only realizes it after leaving your team. Today this might be called the Mika Zibanejad Law.
Extreme torture Exhibit B is when your favourite player — yes, you have his jersey and spent $195 on it — either gets traded away or leaves through free agency. Already a star on your team, he continues to star on his new team, perhaps even more brilliantly. Today this might be known as the Mark Stone Law.
Seeing a pattern here?
This is not a masochistic mirage for fans of the beleaguered Ottawa Senators — ex-Sens are killing it early in the 2019-20 NHL season.
There was a point last week at which Stone, Zibanejad, Matt Duchene, Jakob Silfverberg and Mike Hoffman — former Senators all — were leading their respective teams in scoring. Heading into Tuesday’s games, Duchene was a single point behind Ryan Ellis in Nashville Predators scoring.
A sixth former Senators forward, Ryan Dzingel, was not leading the Carolina Hurricanes but still had seven points in nine games, a total that placed him ahead of all Ottawa scorers (the Senators played their 8th game on Monday in Dallas, a 2-1 loss that left them at 1-6-1).
Of course, there’s a good reason for ex-Senators to be thriving: Ottawa got rid of a lot of talent over the past few years, either because it couldn’t or wouldn’t pay a player or because it had advanced into an official rebuilding phase.
Four of the Senators’ top offensive talents were traded away last season alone — Erik Karlsson, Stone, Duchene and Dzingel — which helps explain why the Senators are struggling to score goals this season and continue to juggle lines like acrobats from the Cirque du Soleil.
Here’s a snapshot of five ex-Senators who, like Rocket Richard in the old Grecian Formula commercials, deserve two minutes for looking so good.
The Vegas Golden Knights have been offensive high rollers, suitable for a gambling haven, and Stone has usually been the catalyst. With six goals, seven assists for 13 points, Stone leads all Knights, and all ex-Senators for that matter. Half of Stone’s goals have come on the power play. His 11 takeaways are among the NHL leaders in the category (former Senator Nick Foligno leads with 17).
Stone is getting more opportunities to steal pucks because his line hasn’t had strong possession numbers — Stone is around 48 per cent, down from nearly 57 per cent at 5-on-5 with Vegas after the deadline trade last season. Stone’s shooting percentage is a career-high 20.7 per cent, and likely due for a fall. After 10 games played he is on pace to set career highs in goals, assists and points. His best statistical year was 2018-19 when he had 33 goals and 73 points combined between Ottawa and Las Vegas.
Zibanejad has been a force for the New York Rangers, who haven’t exactly followed his lead. The Rangers and New Jersey Devils have been Metropolitan flops over the first three weeks of the season. The Rangers have also been idle, having played just six games in that span. Zibanejad has 11 points to lead all Blueshirts, including a triumphant return to Ottawa on Oct. 5, where he scored a hat trick, added an assist and won 88 per cent of his faceoffs.
His minutes played are soaring, a shade below 23 minutes per game (22:54), compared to 20:34 last season and 17:04 in his first season with the Rangers, in 2016-17. At 26, Zibanejad, a former first-round pick of the Senators (sixth overall, 2011), is on pace to top his career-high 74 points last season. Rangers observers are calling the July 2016 trade for Zibanejad and a seventh-round pick, in exchange for Derick Brassard and Ottawa’s second second-round 2018 pick, one of New York’s all-time best deals.
Duchene had an adjustment period with the Columbus Blue Jackets, after moving there from Ottawa at the deadline, but he settled in and was a strong playoff performer, producing a point per game in the Jackets’ two-round playoff life. He has had no such adjustment issues with his new team, the Predators, settling in with 10 points in eight games as their No. 2 centre behind Ryan Johansen.
In a strange twist, Duchene is now a linemate of a player he was once traded for — former Senator Kyle Turris, who has shifted over from centre to left wing to be alongside Duchene and Mikael Granlund. Duchene was traded to the Senators in a blockbuster, three-way deal that sent Turris to Nashville in November 2017, a move that signalled the Senators were still in go-for-it mode. Though Duchene’s faceoff numbers are down to 48.6 per cent from his usual 55-per cent range, his possession numbers at even strength are strong (60 per cent-plus).
One of the true gentlemen of the game, Silfverberg is thriving on Anaheim’s most dangerous line, alongside Adam Henrique and Rickard Rakell. Silfverberg has never had more than 24 goals, his output last season, but already has five goals and three assists for eight points in nine games. His shooting percentage is 26.3, which will be difficult to maintain. At 18:13 per game, the hard-working winger hasn’t seen this many minutes since the 2016-17 season, when he averaged 18:29 per game.
Silfverberg was traded by the Senators along with Stefan Noesen and a first-round pick (used for Nick Ritchie) for Bobby Ryan in July 2013. An oddity with Silfverberg — he was once a shootout king, scoring nine times in 13 attempts (69.2 per cent) in 2014-15. His numbers slipped after that, and he doesn’t get called upon as often, failing to score on two attempts last season and 0-for-5 the year before.
Traded to Florida in the summer of 2018 after a bizarre online harassment accusation involving his partner and the wife of Erik Karlsson, Hoffman was relaxed and productive in his first season with the Panthers, and continues to score goals. He has five, with three assists, for eight points in eight games as Florida’s leading scorer. Last season he sniped 36 for Florida, his best output from six NHL seasons.
Hoffman’s ice time is at an all-time high, 18:33 per game, just above his 18:24 with Ottawa in 2017-18. A lot was expected of Florida, a team that has played a lot of close games but has dropped three in overtime. The recent addition of centre Brian Boyle could help stabilize a Panthers club expected to at least threaten for a playoff position in the competitive Eastern Conference. Hoffman won’t be asked to carry the team, but he will be expected to score 30 or more goals.