Welcome to another NHL Season Preview! In this edition, we take a look at the Ottawa Senators. Last season was yet another rough year for the Ottawa Senators as they only had 51 points finishing with a 23-28-5 record. However, in the weak North Division, they finished eight points out of a playoff spot. But nonetheless, they did not make it to the playoffs once again.
In the draft, the Senators caused quite the buzz drafting Tyler Boucher with the tenth overall pick when he wasn’t projected to go until at least the second round. The Senators had six picks in the 2021 draft, including Boucher. Along with Boucher, the Senators drafted Zack Ostapchuk, Ben Roger, Oliver Johansson, Carson Latimer, and Chandler Romeo.
This offseason was one that was focused on re-signing their restricted free agents. Drake Batherson, after his great junior year, got rewarded with a six-year contract worth just over $29 million. They also re-signed Filip Gustavsson. Logan Brown was also re-signed but was later traded, along with a conditional fourth-round pick, to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Zach Sanford. Speaking of trades the Senators traded Evgenii Dadonov to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a third-round pick and defenseman Nick Holden.
However, the biggest restricted free agent is left unsigned still, that being Brady Tkachuk. And as the days, weeks, and potentially months go by, Senators fans have to be getting nervous seeing that Tkachuk still has not signed. Not to mention they also lost Vitaly Abramov to the KHL. As far as unrestricted free agents, it was mostly depth moves for general manager Pierre Dorion, picking up veterans Michael Del Zotto and Tyler Ennis.
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If Tkachuk ends up not being re-signed for a while, the Senators could be in trouble. While he led the team in points last season with 36, there are players who weren’t very far behind. For example, Connor Brown and Josh Norris both had 35 points, and Batherson had 34. Thomas Chabot, one of the best offensive defensemen in the league had 31 points this past season. The Senators have the firepower, but that’s with Tkachuk in the lineup. Of course, all eyes will once again be on Tim Stutzle who had 29 points in 54 games. Keep an eye on him to step up if Tkachuk isn’t re-signed for a while. Also, keep an eye on Alex Formenton as he could be elevated in the lineup due to Tkachuk’s absence.
Aside from the offensive side, Chabot leads the way for what is an interesting defensive core, to say the least. Ottawa has a mix of veterans, like Nikita Zaitsev and Del Zotto, to young players ready to make their mark, like Erik Brannstrom and Artem Zub. Keep an eye on those two young guns as they continue to develop. The Senators have a very offensive-heavy defense, but the signing of Del Zotto will be a good boost to help them develop some more defensive tendencies. Not to mention Zaitsev was one of the leaders in blocked shots per game last year averaging two a game.
In the crease, Matt Murray will once again take the starter mantle with Anton Forsberg as his backup. In order for Ottawa to succeed, Murray simply has to be better than he was last year. It was a rough first year for him in Ottawa posting career lows in save percentage at .893 and GAA with a 3.38. Not to mention it was his first losing record. Forsberg shouldn’t represent a challenge to his job, but keep watch on Murray to see how he can bounce back in his first normal season in Ottawa. He’ll carry the workload in the net, but Murray has to have a much better season in order for Ottawa to have a good season.
For this section, let’s assume that Brady Tkachuk isn’t signed in the near future. In that scenario, there’s a lot of players who could be considered for this section. But for now, let’s focus on a couple of players who may have something to prove. Here are the key players for the Ottawa Senators.
With or without Tkachuk, Batherson is going to have eyes on him after making some noise last season. In 56 games last season, he scored 34 points. Keep in mind this was technically his third year in the league, so he has been a part of one normal season. However, this will be the first season that he will be a major part of the Senators lineup. He will certainly be a big part of the offense no matter what.
Look who’s back. Murray will absolutely be one of the key pieces in the Senators’ machine. As previously mentioned, Murray set career lows in his first season in Canada’s capital. He will certainly be looking to impress this year and will be able to have a larger sample size to do it with. Senators fans will certainly be hoping to see the Murray of old this season because this team will need him to be at his best.
Biggest Question Facing the Senators
The biggest question facing the Senators is something that has been addressed time and time again. When, or will, Tkachuk re-sign with the Ottawa Senators? The true answer is that it’s unknown at this point. According to Elliotte Friedman in his latest 32 thoughts article, the Senators want to lock Tkachuk up long-term, while Tkachuk is looking for a bridge deal. If this sounds familiar, it’s because these were the reports in the Kirill Kaprizov saga in Minnesota. As far as off-ice storylines, this is a spicy one to kick the season off.
With the Senators being back in the Atlantic Division, making the playoffs will be quite a bit harder, and this team just isn’t ready to make the playoffs yet. There are teams that are worse than the Senators, but there are still a few teams that are ahead of them in that division. Ottawa will have to wait yet another year for a playoff birth and could finish sixth in the division. Regardless, Senators fans will be hoping some of their young players will progress this season.
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