The main return from the Mark Stone trade has done his part but it’s time for both sides to move on.
One of the most controversial topics among Ottawa Senators fans has been the future of defenceman Erik Brannstrom.
Prior to the lower-body injury that caused him to miss two weeks of action, Brannstrom had settled into a rhythm on the Senators’ backend. Playing most of the season alongside veteran Nick Holden, they created some chemistry together.
In 189 minutes of ice time together this season, they posted a 51.6% xGoals, which is solid for a third-pairing. However, expected goals and actual goals are two different things. Erik Brannstrom has yet to score a goal this season and has two total points (assists) in 32 games played this year.
While that is a moderately worrisome statistic, Brannstrom has been decent in all three zones of the ice. He started 59.5% of his shifts in the offensive zone and contributed a 56.5% Corsi% which means he is pushing the pace of play in the right direction for his team.
His lack of production has not been highlighted by most commentators because he passes the analytical and eye-test, and rightfully so. I don’t have any problem with Brannstrom not having more than two points this year, per se. However, it poses questions regarding his future in Ottawa.
Erik Brannstrom is a left-handed defenceman who can also play the right side if needed. His play this year has been good, not great and I’m not fully convinced he is a core piece for the future of this team.
Brannstrom had seen his ice-time rise year over year from 2020-2022. While there were certainly periods of time through the past few seasons where he was buried by head coach D.J. Smith, he also definitely received ample opportunity. In the 2021-22 season, he played nearly 20 minutes per night on the second-pairing and failed to score a single goal all season. He finished with 14 assists.
And nobody is saying that Brannstrom isn’t a good player, the question, however, remains whether he is a good fit on this team. The Senators seem to be in a great position to finally profit from the ill-fated Mark Stone trade.
With the emergence of Jake Sanderson as the team’s go-to man behind Thomas Chabot on the left side, there isn’t much room left over for Brannstrom. That was bad enough for him. Now, with Jacob Bernard-Docker becoming an NHL regular on the right side, the squeeze is on for Erik Brannstrom.
During the January 1st matchup between the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres the Sens ran with these defence pairings:
Thomas Chabot-Artem Zub
Jake Sanderson-Travis Hamonic
Nick Holden-Jacob Bernard-Docker
In my mind, the bottom pairing proved that a fully-healthy Senators team doesn’t need Brannstrom to be successful. Other teams around the NHL might want him more than the Senators do.
He doesn’t have the offensive ceiling that he had in 2019 but Brannstrom is still a player with decent value around the league.
We have seen some flashes of brilliance from him, an end-to-end rush here, a shot off the post there. Despite that, it’s increasingly unlikely he’ll ever reach his full potential in a Senators uniform. No matter what he does, he will always be stuck on the third-pairing and with no power play time.
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Coupled with his lack of offensive production, he’s also never been a very sound defensive player either. This season is a revelation because Brannstrom doesn’t get pummelled in his own zone as he used to, but make no mistake he isn’t a defensive rock either. This style of play works well for a player like him, but it doesn’t work for what the Senators need on the backend.
Not all of that is his fault, after all, it’s never easy for a 5’9 defenceman to defend against NHL forwards often a half foot taller and 30 lbs bigger than him.
I believe it’s time for the Senators to move on from Erik Brannstrom and get the best possible return for him. A good time to trade him would either be at the trade deadline or in the offseason, as he will be an RFA then.
If he can be a piece in a trade for the long-coveted top-four RHD they need, that would be the ideal situation.