For a fifth straight season, the Ottawa Senators missed the playoffs, and did so quite badly. Their winning percentage was actually a little worse than it was last season. In fairness, it was a Murphy’s-Law-on-steroids kind of year, where anything that could go wrong did go wrong…and often more than once. That includes some of their own decision making, while the rest was simply bad luck.
But there’s nothing they can do about any of it now. You can’t change the past. You can’t erase the way COVID monkeyed with the Senators schedule. You can’t go back and take away all the injuries to key players. You can’t unload players you stubbornly hung on to when it was clear they couldn’t get the job done.
Trite as it sounds, all you can really do is chalk it up as another learning experience. So today, FACES examines the 5 things we learned about the Ottawa Senators this season.
Ottawa’s Pro Scouting Staff CAN Have Nice Things
Let’s be clear. Every team’s pro scouting staff has hits and strikeouts. It just seems like Ottawa’s group has struggled with their batting average for a long time. For example, the long-gone Bobby Ryan remains one of the team’s top paid forwards. But there have been a number of big hits over the past couple years through some nice trades, signings, and waiver claims.
Last year, they managed to convince Vegas to take on underachieving forward Evgenii Dadonov and the $10 million left on his deal. That alone was impressive. But they also identified Nick Holden as a defenceman who could help them. And did he ever. Holden was beloved in the room this year, providing leadership and steady minutes. He was the Sens’ King Clancy Trophy nominee and earned an invitation to play for Canada at the World Championship in Finland. Magnificent work.
When they couldn’t reach an agreement with pending free agent forward Nick Paul at the deadline, they starting making calls and somehow turned Paul into Mathieu Joseph. Joseph is a fast, exciting two-way player who scored 12 points in 11 games for the Senators. He’s two years younger than Paul, and as an RFA, still under club control. Beautiful.
Pro scouting also landed other names in recent years like Artem Zub, Connor Brown, Austin Watson, and Anton Forsberg. And that brings us to another thing we learned…
Anton Forsberg is Far More Than a Band-Aid Solution
What a story. In March 2021, the Sens had a medley of injuries in goal and they needed a decent NHL goalie just to tide them over. So they grabbed Anton Forsberg off waivers. At the time, the only thing truly notable about Forsberg was that he appeared to be the NHL’s all-time leader…in being claimed off waivers. The guy had probably been involved in more NHL transactions than games.
The Sens had begun last season with newcomer Matt Murray and backup Marcus Hogberg. Even though both were disappointments, it was Filip Gustavsson people got excited about as the goalie of the future. Maybe even Joey Daccord. But Daccord left in the Seattle expansion draft, Hogberg returned to Sweden, Gustavsson struggled and Murray, their $6 million dollar man, was just a hot mess. All Murray’s done in two years is battle injury and inconsistency.
Forsberg stepped into the void and blew all of them away this season. The Sens actually had a winning record when Forsberg played (22-17-4) and that saying something. He was rewarded with a new contract and this fall, he deserves a chance to compete for the number one job.
Tim Stutzle is Definitely, Absolutely a Centre
The injuries to centres Shane Pinto, Josh Norris and Colin White finaly forced the Senators to try Stutzle at centre this season. Stutzle is still learning and improving his defensive zone coverage and faceoffs. However, since making the move, no one can deny the surge in Stutzle’s offence and confidence. His puck handling skill is off the charts…at both ends of the ice.
In March, Stutzle had 13 points in 14 games. In April, 18 points in 14 games. He’s been absolutely electric, showing exactly why he was so highly rated in the 2020 NHL draft. He’s never going back to the wing. Ever.
They Still Need to Two Proven NHL Defencemen
This feels like something that should have been learned before this season but it hasn’t been addressed. Of course, it’s easier said than done. Many analysts feel like the Sens could use another top 6 forward but that shouldn’t even be on their radar until they fix the blue line. The Sens likely won’t find solutions in free agency or the waiver wire. It’s time to sacrifice picks and/or prospects and trade for a legitimate top talent on the blue line. For example, Vegas is in cap hell. Take a run at Shea Theodore who’s got a reasonable contract and doesn’t have a no move clause yet.
At the moment, the Sens have two top 4 defenceman in Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub. Yes, everyone is excited about Jake Sanderson but it’s asking a lot to just assume he can be an impact guy in his first season this fall. Brannstrom may one day get there but that day isn’t today. Everyone else – Holden, Del Zotto, Hamonic and Zaitsev – are ideally bottom pairing defencemen. This is their top priority and has to be addressed.
The Sens Can Contend Someday with the Existing Group of Forwards
Obviously, the sky’s the limit for the youthful core of Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson and Tim Stutzle. They all took huge steps forward offensively this season and all are capable of more. Now add in a healthy Shane Pinto, incoming junior star Ridly Grieg, then supplement with good secondary scoring from Mathieu Joseph, Connor Brown and Alex Formenton, that’s going to be an excellent group very soon. Only Brown is in his prime. Everyone else can be expected to get even better.
Sure, if GM Pierre Dorion can lure in a free agent forward who’s a legit top 6 option right now, you have to look at that. But it’s not something they’ve ever had success doing and it’s certainly not something the Senators should give up current assets for in a trade. It should be treated as their lowest priority.
So there it is, students. Five things we learned about the Ottawa Senators this season. Note that there may be a quiz on this. Class dismissed.