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Faces Friday Sens Roundtable

It’s been a rollercoaster season for the Ottawa Senators with some highlights, low points and everything in between. There’s been COVID-19 outbreaks, injuries and no significant progress in the standings, but positives like long-term extensions to Drake Batherson and Brady Tkachuk, and steps forward in development from Batherson, Formenton, Norris and Brannstrom. 

We collected a group of writers, media members, and bloggers to discuss the Sens season, how the team can improve, and ways to get more fans excited about the future of this young squad. 

Our Sens Roundtable consists of: 

Sylvain St-Laurent, Writer at LeDroit

Beata Elliott, Writer at Silver Seven Sens 

Derek Lee, Co-host Future Sickos Podcast 

Eric Doty, Bonk’s Mullet

Michaela Schreiter, Host of She’s Got Game

Ross Levitan,Co-Host of Locked On Senators

Steve Lloyd, Host at TSN 1200

 

What has been the highlight and lowest point of the Sens season?

Bonk’s Mullet: The highlight has been the off-ice vibes. From Brady doing the Frank the Tank celebration for the CTC crowd after his captaincy announcement to the budding friendship between Tim Stützle and his little neighbours, to the “safety first” bike-helmet-and-sunglasses combo handed out after each win, it’s a fun team to follow—as long as you ignore the scoreboard.

For me, the lowest point of the season was the 8-5 loss to the Coyotes. You could cut the team some slack after losing to Florida and Tampa, but getting shelled for 4 straight goals twice in one game against the second-last-place team made us all realize just how far the rebuild is from over.

Michaela: The highlight for me was the very beginning of the season when the Senators re-signed Brady Tkachuk right before opening night. His appearance at the first home game of the season was amazing theatre. I became instantly excited for the season and the future of this team. 

I fear mentioning the lowest point because the season isn’t over yet, but I think we might be in the lowest point right now. March has brought some really difficult times for Sens fans, including two losses to the Arizona Coyotes (nearing the bottom of league standings) and a season-ending injury to Thomas Chabot. From here on out, Sens fans can only watch the draft lottery standings and hope for some luck when the selections are made.

Sylvain: The highlight came early, in mid-October, when Brady Tkachuk signed his new contract. During training camp, fans were legitimately concerned that another negotiation with a star player was stalling. When this gifted young player with unique talents chose to sign, he agreed to spend seven of the best years of his career in town. It gave hope to a fragile fan base that things really could get better.

The lowest point just happened on March 16th, when D.J. Smith admitted that Matt Murray might not play again this year. The Senators cannot afford to make mistakes when they hand out big contracts. They gambled big on a goalie that had injury problems in Pittsburgh. Right now, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to pay off. Goaltending is such an important position in hockey. At this point, we cannot say for sure that one of the goalies currently with the organization can lead the team to a championship in the future.

Beata: The low point is easy, even in a bad season. I was at that December 1st loss to Vancouver, and I couldn’t believe I’d gone all the way out to Kanata to watch it. It was legitimately difficult to watch the team so obviously demoralized, and it was frustrating as a fan because it really felt like they’d fallen victim to a lot of bad luck at the start of the season, but that didn’t matter because they’d dug themselves into such a big hole. 

The highlight was probably the mini-run that came after that loss, especially the 8-2 win over Florida. It was so satisfying to see the Tkachuk-Norris-Batherson line really click, and young players like Stützle and Thomson find their game. The wins weren’t all pretty, but you could tell the players were having fun, and that made it fun to watch.

Derek: Sens’d’Em! The completely unexpected, standalone team performance against the world-beating Florida Panthers on December 14th takes the cake for me. With a final tally of 8-2, the Sens, Sens’d the Panthers something good. You have to go all the way back to March of 2012 (8-4 vs the Penguins) to find the last time the Sens scored 8 goals in one game. 

What the Dell was that? A fringe NHL goaltender on a bad team decides on a whim to clothesline Ottawa’s best player right before his first NHL ALL-STAR appearance. Drake Batherson was the straw that stirred the drink for the Sens offence this season. Coming off of a fresh, 6-year contract that looks like grand larceny for Ottawa, Batherson was posting career-best numbers with 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points in just 31 games played this year. Aaron Dell, who was subsequently suspended by the NHL and sent down to Rochester of the American League, took an uncalled for run at Batherson. Aaron Dell has yet to reach out to Batherson regarding the incident. Perhaps a testament to his true character. Dell happens to be a repeat offender in this case.

Steve: The highlight of the season so far has to be the 3-2 win in Carolina on December 2nd. The team had hit a low point the night before with a 6-2 loss at home to Vancouver. A game that had some whispering the Q word (quit). After arriving in the wee hours in Raleigh, the team put in a hard effort against a rested, superior opponent and rode Anton Forsberg’s 47 saves to a 3-2 win. 

The low point? The night before. It was U-G-L-Y. There was a reason why the Q word was mentioned afterwards.

Ross: Being in attendance for the home opener is easily the highlight of this Ottawa Senators season for me. The vibes were already amazing; watching a game live for the first time in a year-and-a-half and then Brady Tkachuk signing that long-term contract in the hours leading up to puck-drop made the day already a success.  So to finish it off by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs at home, with “Beat. The. Traffic.” chants ringing through the CTC as the blue-and-white portion of the crowd emptied out…yeah, that was a good day. 

The lowest point of the season was probably the 5-1 loss in Chicago at the beginning of November.  It was Chicago’s first win of the season after losing nine straight games and ultimately began a horrific month for the Senators where they only earned one win in twelve games.

 

What would you do to take the Sens to the next level?

Beata: Looking at this team’s prospect pool, I see a lot of middle-six forwards and second or third pairing defenseman – Jake Sanderson being the one exception, of course. I’d like to see them package a few of those prospects and some of their picks to bring in established top-six forwards. They need at least one winger to play on the second line with Stützle, so I’d like to see them go after someone like Boeser or Fiala – then move Formenton and/or Connor Brown down to the third line to play with Pinto.

On defence, I have a lot of hope for Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson, Jake Sanderson, and Erik Brännström, but that’s a lot of very young, very unproven players. I’d feel much more confident going into next season if management brought in an established top-four, right-handed defenseman. 

Steve: With the caveat of goaltending being the obvious wildcard, to take this team to the next level, I would cash in some prospect and draft capital and acquire a scoring winger and a top-four D (Easier said than done).

Derek: The next step was supposed to have taken place this season. To take the next step, Dorion must address the failures that remain. For starters, the team needs to improve their ability to assess talent on the pro scouting side. Not just externally but internally as well. DJ Smith has referred to one of the worst defensemen in the league, Nikita Zaitsev as an “elite defender.” Every analytical chart under the sun disagrees with that sentiment. 

Secondly, a true, top 6 forward could propel the team towards competitiveness. I’m optimistic that the Senators were reportedly kicking tires on a player like Kevin Fiala. This is the type of player that Ottawa desperately needs to add to their core. I think we’ve arrived at the stage where I’m offering up the 2022 1st round pick to get better quickly. 

Defensively they will likely be looking at more of a complimentary right-shot defenseman. Ideally, a big, physical, mobile D-man who can log minutes next to Chabot or Sanderson exists. I can see them targeting a player like Josh Manson (UFA) in the offseason if the right price/term works for both sides. I like the pieces they have in Thomson and JBD, but I believe one of them has to be dealt to expedite things. 

Bonk’s Mullet: Assuming spending to the salary cap is out of the question, I would consider drafting at least one player whose dad didn’t play in the NHL.

Ross: At some point, there has to be a significant move to bring in a legitimate Top-6 forward and Top-4 defenseman, if not two.  As Pierre Dorion recently said, these types of players don’t grow on trees, but it’s an absolute necessity for the team to get to a place where they’re even just competing for a playoff spot.  With the uncertainty around Matt Murray, they might still need a starting goalie as well! I’m a huge fan of the young talent that the Senators have acquired, but pro scouting needs to do a much better job at identifying veteran NHLers that can help bring the best out of these developing young stars.

Sylvain: D.J. Smith has taken some heat lately for keeping stay-at-home defensemen Nikita Zaitsev and Josh Brown in his lineup. I don’t think his staff gets enough credit for their work developing young talent. Pretty much every talented prospect on the team seems on his way to reaching his full potential. If you take away the delicate goaltending situation, I actually like Pierre Dorion’s plan to add a quality top-4 defenseman and a true top-6 forward to his lineup heading into next season. 

Michaela: Depth is a major concern for this team, especially on the blue line. Putting aside the Thomas Chabot injury, there just isn’t enough skill at defence outside of Chabot. While there are many defensive prospects for Sens fans to get excited about, including Sanderson, JBD and Thomson, no one should expect those young players to come in and make a difference right away if they do not have support around them. They need time and space to develop at the NHL level. I would like to see the Sens bring in those supporting pieces, as in quality, serviceable NHL defencemen, who can help these young players develop.

 

How can the team attract more fans?

Michaela: I think it’s important to meet fans where they are. We are (hopefully) coming out of a two-year-long pandemic in which people were forced to stay home whenever possible. While many are ready and willing to get back into the rink right away, not everyone is comfortable. For those who want to come to games, it’s important that the Sens organization creates a fun (and safe) atmosphere that motivates people to get out of the house and into the rink. If we could all agree to make sweatpants acceptable attire for public events, that might help!

For those who aren’t comfortable watching games in-person yet, the Sens have an opportunity to engage fans in the community, whether through their broadcasts, selling merchandise or player appearances in the area. The generation who grew up after the Senators came to town, and therefore has known only this team, is now at the age where they are bringing their kids to games (wow, I feel old now). I think there is lots of potential for this team to build on that loyalty and engage fans now, especially with so many young players in the organization.

Steve: The best way to attract more paying fans is the same in every sport. Just win, baby. – Al Davis™️. Or, at the very least, be competitive throughout the season to at least portray the prospect of winning. 5 years of missing the postseason by a long shot doesn’t cut it.

Bonk’s Mullet: Ignoring obvious answers like “win,” “stop losing franchise players,” and “build a state-of-the-art arena downtown like you got us all hyped about and then abandoned,” I guess better transit options would be nice.

Beata: It would be really nice if the team tried to appeal to people outside of the traditional hockey market. This year’s team is a lot of fun, and a lot of people are catching on to that. I’ve convinced a few of my university friends who previously knew nothing about hockey to pay attention to the Sens just by telling them about how Tkachuk, Norris and Stützle used to live together and all the players are best friends. But many people don’t get the chance to discover hockey because the team doesn’t reach out to them and doesn’t make them feel welcome once they’ve developed an interest.

Sylvain: I could talk about this for hours. Acknowledging publicly that there is a problem would be a good first step. Something was broken in December 2017, and I don’t believe the proper steps were taken to fix the relationship between the club and the community. I’ve often said that the Senators are a major league organization in a minor league market. I believe this to be both a gift and a curse. When they compete with other organizations and entertainment in town, they have to do everything better. Their game day experience has to be years ahead of everyone else. Their social media presence and marketing department have to shine. Their community outreach programs must be very active. Of course, you would expect the French Canadian writer to complain about the lack of presence on the other side of the river. I’ve done that a lot over the years, to be frank. It’s kind of a given.

Ross: Ah, the age-old question.  It’s easy to say that fans want to root for a winner and that a successful on-ice product would make a world of difference.  There is proof in numbers, too, when Ottawa was near the top of NHL cities in attendance from 2005 to about 2015.  But beyond that, a downtown arena and a renewed trust between the organization and its fan base are crucial for any sustained improvement in that regard. How can they do that? I’m not sure. What I do know is that Sens fans are extremely passionate, but many feel alienated by team ownership and, by extension, management.

Derek: Attracting fans has been difficult in this market. Whether it’s the rebuild, the pandemic or a lack of trust from the top of the organization, fan support has been deteriorating. In a perfect world, the new downtown arena would be well underway, and the team would have a new owner with the backing of Sens alumni Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Phillips. I’ll credit the organization on a successful rebrand in the real world. The uniforms were a great place to start, and they didn’t disappoint in helping the team look easy on the eyes. The young core is built of personable, fun and easy to cheer for individuals, making them very marketable as a team. The “breakaway” content and bicycle helmet videos are moving in the right direction. 

 

Which prospect not named Jake Sanderson are you most excited about?

Derek: Outside of Jake Sanderson, the drop in prospect quality for Ottawa is quite dramatic, and that’s more a testament to how good Sanderson is. 2020, 28th overall pick, Ridly Greig is the easy answer for me. He plays the game on the edge (he’s already suspended when he starts his NHL career), but he’s no slouch offensively. 63 points in 39GP with his Brandon Wheat Kings this season, Greig brings a big game in a small package. He’s a fearless competitor and undoubtedly fits the Sens philosophy “hard to play against.” I could feasibly see Greig making the roster out of camp next season. I don’t think he’s far off the pro game with the brand of hockey he plays. 

Steve: Mads Søgaard is the prospect not named Jake Sanderson Sens fans should be most excited about. The goaltending situation in Ottawa is a crapshoot right now. The 6’7 Søgaard could very well be the long-term answer for the most important position on any hockey team.

Bonk’s Mullet: This Del Zotto kid in the AHL with 27 points in 26 games played seems promising. Or Jacob Bernard-Docker.   

Beata: I’m excited about Egor Sokolov, just because he’s such a fun personality. I’m really rooting for him to make it in the NHL.

Sylvain: I’m warming up to Ridly Greig. At first, I didn’t think the Sens needed a third first-round pick in the 2020 draft. I was disappointed that management let Jean-Gabriel Pageau leave. My disappointment grew deeper when that pick wasn’t packaged in a trade that would have allowed the Sens to move up and draft another Gatineau product in Hendrix Lapierre. But Greig has had great production in the WHL as a 19-year-old, and he didn’t have to change his DNA to get more points. It’s early, I know, but he looks like the real deal. That will teach me to doubt Pierre Dorion and Trent Mann’s scouting abilities.

Michaela: I’m really excited about Jacob Bernard-Docker. While his offensive numbers are pretty good (60 points in 95 games during his time with the University of North Dakota), his defensive abilities are what I’m looking forward to seeing at the NHL level. His positioning and general awareness of the game as it unfolds is so good, and he often effortlessly makes challenging plays look easy because he is in the right spot. That is the kind of defensive support this team will need in the coming years as this young core continues to develop. 

Ross: So many options here, and we’re lucky to have had a lot of Sens prospects on Locked On Senators – so maybe there’s a bit of personal bias here.  But as someone who loves the underdog story, I’ll say Jake Sanderson’s teammate with the #NoDakSens, Tyler Kleven.  The way certain people, draft experts…if you will, spoke down about him around the time Ottawa selected him was tough to see. Some called him a “Do Not Draft” or a “single variable defender,” so seeing him excel through his first two seasons with North Dakota has been awesome.  He’s a real throwback type player who brings physicality every shift and might even have a layer of untapped offensive potential.

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