It’s a strange sight when Erik Karlsson isn’t leading the Senators in time on ice, and yet twice in the recent California road trip that’s been the case. Against the Anaheim Ducks Cody Ceci’s 28:38 were over five minutes more than Erik Karlsson’s 23:20 TOI. Against the San Jose Sharks, it was closer, Ceci edging Karlsson by just seven seconds. Only against the Kings was Ceci second to Karlsson in TOI, playing 1:51 less than the 25-year-old Swede.
Guy Boucher Is Overusing Cody Ceci
It’s a pattern that has emerged throughout the month of December. Ceci played more than Karlsson against the Philadephia Flyers to start the month, and was the third most used blueliner in Pittsburgh, second most in Florida.
In his fourth season with the Sens it was expected that Ceci would take on a top four role. As a 15th overall pick he was drafted to be a top pairing defenseman; an understudy to Erik Karlsson. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, and instead of a solid top four defender, Ceci has stagnated. Over the course of his career the Senators have consistently seen a larger share of shot attempts with him on the bench, than on the ice. This season is no different. Among the Sens regular defenders Ceci has the second-worst share of even-strength shot-attempts relative to his team (CF% rel), at -1.1%. Only Mark Borowiecki’s -2.33% is worse. Those numbers aren’t the end of the world when they describe your third pairing, or seventh defender. When they apply to the second-most used blue-liner, it’s a concern.
Cody Ceci has shown he has the raw skills, and the tools, to become a decent defender in the NHL but he’s not there yet. If rushing him into the NHL showed anything, it should be that playing against tougher competition than he can handle isn’t the answer for his development. Ceci needs minutes against weaker competition. That leaves a hole in the lineup. One that should be filled by Chris Wideman.
Chris Wideman is the most consistent Senator
Wideman has actually been the most consistent Senator on the backend this season. His 6.39 CF% rel is far and away the best on the team, and his seven points are good for third among Sens defenders.
One of the biggest critiques in Wideman’s game is that he isn’t solid defensively. It’s certainly not his strong suit, but it’s not something he’s struggled with this season. Wideman actually has allowed the lowest even-strength shot-attempts against per 60 minutes (CA/60) on the team. His 54.18 CA/60 is significantly stronger than Ceci’s 60.2CA/60. On the other side of things, Wideman has shown he is a much stronger offensive contributor. He leads the team in even-strength shot-attempts for per 60 minutes (CF/60) with 59.49 CF/60. Ceci is third-last at 53.33 CF/60. In terms of wins above replacement, Wideman offers more than Ceci in just about every facet of the game.
WAR Spider Chart : CHRIS.WIDEMAN – CODY.CECI pic.twitter.com/3RSamlyasY
So why then is Ceci being given top pairing minutes, while Wideman plays the fewest minutes of all the regular blue-liners? Many would guess is it’s his inexperience. Guy Boucher has shown time and time again that he is hesitant to use young players. Thomas Chabot averaged just 7:09 TOI when he was with the team, Andreas Englund just 9:57. In the recent game against the Kings, Boucher relied mainly on his top four. Borowiecki and Wideman played ten minutes and twelve minutes less than Karlsson (1st in TOI against Los Angeles), and five and seven minutes less than Dion Phaneuf (4th in TOI against the Kings). Ceci has 234 games of NHL experience, Wideman has just 88. Though he is four years Ceci’s senior, Boucher still views him as green; Eddie Shore Award winner or not.
What happens if the Sens make the switches
If the Sens were to make the switch, what could fans expect? Well it depends how Boucher pairs his defenders. Marc Methot and Ceci have been a strong pairing in limited minutes, as has the Phaneuf-Wideman duo. In fact Wideman-Phaneuf have posted the strongest shot attempt numbers of all Sens pairings this season. In 162 minutes (which is shockingly the third most common pairing, but that’s a topic for another day) the pairing allows a team low 51.82 even-strength shot-attempts against per 60 minutes. They also drive a team high 51.72% of even-strength shot-attempts (CF%) when they’re on the ice. For comparison Phaneuf-Ceci generated the second lowest percentage of even-strength shot-attempts at just 47.12%.
The obvious problem with this is that you’re either left playing Borowiecki with Karlsson or Ceci with Borowiecki, which has been an unmitigated disaster. In 86 minutes together they’ve controlled just 41.01% of even-strength shot–attempts. Among pairings with at least 50 minutes together, that’s 12th worst in the league. Assuming that isn’t an option that leaves Karlsson-Borowiecki. Here’s the thing, it’s not as bad as you think.
From 2014-15 to 2016-17 Karlsson and Methot have played 2008.02 minutes together. In that time frame they have posted a 56.2 CF/60, a 55.1 CA/60 and a 50.5 CF%. In 413.66 minutes Karlsson-Borwiecki put out a 57.0 CF/60, 55.12 CA/60, and 50.84 CF%. Does this mean you could plug Borowiecki into the top line and expect play to continue like normal? Probably not. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to cover for Karlsson’s occasional mistakes in the same way Methot could, but it does appear a safer solution than Ceci-Borowiecki.
What if nothing changes?
Can Cody Ceci become the defenceman he is being used as? That remains to be seen. If you gauge it on his NHL body of work, it would lean towards no, but this is where the eye test and the statistics differ. It’s plain to see he has the tools to become a top four defenseman. Ray Ferraro discussed how he has a keen sense of timing when joining in on the rush, but was clear to point out where his game is lacking as well. Unless Ceci takes significant steps to improve these facets of his game, it’s unlikely he ever blossoms into the player management dreamt of when they drafted him.
Ultimately, this is a situation where Senators management needs to take Boucher aside and question his ice-time allotment. Wideman has been one of the Senators best defensemen this season, and until they start using him that way, the blue line will continue to struggle.
Stats courtesy from Corsica.Hockey