We’ve once again assembled another fine, thoughtful team of Senators’ experts from both traditional and online media to give us their view of the Ottawa Senators and their various storylines. There’s certainly been no shortage of stories this summer – big ones – and that’s the topic we’ll begin with today, with help from our most excellent Faces Friday Sens Roundtable. With links to their excellent work, our contributors this week are:
We’ll also grill them on the six Senator defenceman they would start, if the NHL season started today? And we’ll close by asking about the Senators’ storyline they’re most interested in for the coming season.
Are you all sitting comfortably? Excellent. Then we’ll begin.
What were the three most important Ottawa Senators stories this off-season?
- The Josh Norris signing happening very early so that negotiations didn’t creep into training camp or the early season was a very big story for the Senators.
- The signing of Claude Giroux as an unrestricted free agent really fired up the city. It’s a major signing for the team but also universally applauded by the fan base.
- But I think the most important piece of news was LaBreton Flats. This will change the arc of both the franchise and city. It will obviously outlive the importance of any cluster of player signings. That news potentially will have a profound affect on both the franchise and the city.
- Acquiring Alex Debrincat. NHL teams simply do not acquire 40 goal scorers without giving up a roster player. Pierre Dorion did, and a 24 year old 40 goal scorer at that! It can be argued none of the moves that followed would have happened without this first one. It sent a clear message.
- The Salary Dumps. A second move that allowed other things to happen. Ridding themselves of Colin White’s poor contract and getting out from under Matt Murray’s created cap space on a team, which arguably didn’t really need it now, has positioned the Senators to spend a lot more wisely moving forward. Some of that savings has already been allocated to Claude Giroux and to Josh Norris but there is now still more money for upcoming extensions to Tim Stutzle and, eventually, Jake Sanderson and that long awaited Top 4 D.
- Tunney’s Pasture Announcement. It shows, along with all of the other moves, the ownership group is serious about being, staying and thriving in Ottawa.
- Eugene Melnyk’s passing is the most significant one. The mercurial owner was a polarizing figure for fans, the media, local business owners and politicians. An article in The Athletic weeks after his death, captured the complexities of his stewardship, but now there is a fresh opportunity to move forward and rebuild many of the connections that have been lost over the last two decades.
- Signing Josh Norris to an eight-year, $63.6 million extension ($7.95 AAV) represented a significant commitment to the young centre after he posted a career-best 35 goals. Alongside the additions of Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux, the Senators not only bolstered their top-six to create matchup problems for the opposition, they locked up an important part of the future to ensure that this team’s competitive window is a lengthy one.
- As news of he 2018 World Junior scandal rocked the hockey world, the presence of Alex Formenton and Drake Batherson at that Team Canada gala has left a black cloud lingering over Ottawa’s offseason. Until the NHL’s investigation into the matter concludes and the findings are made public, the status of these two players is unknown.
- Acquiring Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux. Pierre Dorion’s offseason mantra was to add a top six forward. Dorion added two without moving out a player/prospect.
- Signing Josh Norris long-term. Credit to Dorion for getting this done quickly and not making it a training camp distraction. It’s also a friendly one at that – eight years, $7.95 million AAV.
- Shoring up the goaltending. A bit of a surprise, Gustavsson was dealt away. However, he was inconsistent last season. A dependable duo of Cam Talbot/Anton Forsberg combined with the added fire power up front, should result in more wins.
- Alfie to the Hall ranks as the number one story for the Sens in the off season. Just like he did as a player for so many years, Daniel Alfredsson’s enshrinement into the Hockey Hall of Fame casts our city/community, in a magnificent light.
- The second would be the trade for Alex Debrincat. Chicago put him on the trade block for anyone to get. It was Pierre Dorion and the Senators who got him. Huge win for the team. The young man just scores.
- The third key story line this off season, for me at least, was the signing of Josh Norris. He has shown steady, impressive growth each year he’s been a pro. A bonafide number one center in the making.
If the season started today, which 6 defencemen would you start and what would your pairings be?
Having the opportunity to spend a lot of time with head coach DJ Smith, I think I have a pretty good sense on how he would go on this. I think his pairings would likely be:
Chabot – Zub
Sanderson – Hamonic
Holden – Zaitsev.
Chabot and Zub are his two best defencemen and play well together and both can play bigger minutes. Sanderson with Hamonic would give the rookie a stable veteran to help and protect him. A Holden/Zaitsev pairing provides an experienced shutdown pair.
If the season started tonight, I’d still be hoping the Senators still swing two trades to find upgrades on Nikita Zaitsev and Travis Hamonic. If that could not happen, the pairings would be as follows:
Chabot – Holden
Sanderson – Zub
Brannstrom – Hamonic
Having Holden on the top-pairing playing his off-side is not ideal, but I think he’s a more effective alternative to Zaitsev or Hamonic. Pairing the team’s best natural right-shot defenceman in Zub with Sanderson is important, simply to insulate the young rookie during the formative stages of his professional career. The Brannstrom-Hamonic pair allows the Senators to develop Jacob-Bernard Docker and Lassi Thomson a little bit longer in Belleville.
Chabot – Hamonic
Sanderson – Zub
Holden – Zaitsev
The 5-6-7 defenceman are interchangeable.
Chabot – Zub
Sanderson – Hamonic
Holden – Thomson
What Ottawa Senator storyline are you most interested to see play out for the coming season?
Gord Wilson: I have two story lines I’m most looking forward to as this season moves along. The potential of Jake Sanderson is widely speculated. I’m curious to see if he can live up to the hype. I’m also anxious to see how the chemistry develops between Alex DeBrincat and Tim Stutzle – two dynamic players with different skill sets. I think they’ll be worth the watch.
Murray Pam: To me, the Senators’ major storyline this season is all about gaining strides on their divisional opponents. After making bonafide offseason additions, how high can the team climb in the standings? Are the moves enough to earn a playoff berth?
Gregg Kennedy: I’m most interested in seeing how the DJ “OMG, now I have talent” Smith storyline plays out. How does the Senator identity change? Does it change? How will he hand out the minutes this season? How will the power play look? How does his split the starts in net? Most importantly – how do the first 20 games play out???
Graeme Nichols: One of the storylines I’d like to see come to fruition is Dorion locking up key players to extensions like Alex DeBrincat, Artyom Zub and Tim Stützle – especially since the opportunity cost to acquire DeBrincat was relatively significant. Getting him extended is incredibly important. With that said, the most important storyline belongs to the development and performance of Jake Sanderson. So much of this team’s future success is predicated on Sanderson not only playing top-four minutes but thriving in the role. If he can play at a high level soon, it takes a lot of pressure off management to find a solution.
Dean Brown: I think the one storyline I expect (and the one that most interests me), is the Pop Effect. I think this team is ready to pop. There has been steady growth, although not as fast as many would have hoped, but I think that slow climb is over. I think this team is going to be a great deal better, a great deal faster. I would not be surprised at all if they challenged for a playoff spot or won one. I think this team is poised and set up to make the next big step.
Coming from Dean Brown, the guy who’s seen all the good and bad and called every season in their 30-year history, that’s music to the ears of long-suffering Sens fans who can finally see the light at the end of a rebuilt tunnel.
Thanks again to Dean Brown, Gregg Kennedy, Graeme Nichols, Murray Pam and Gord Wilson for sitting in on this edition of our Friday roundtable.
By Steve Warne | Faces Magazine