Over the past two seasons, the Ottawa Senators played so poorly in their first 20 games they pretty much destroyed their playoff hopes. So, naturally, one of their goals for the new season was to get off to a better start.
So far, they’ve accomplished that… but just barely.
Through ten games last season, the Senators went 3-6-1. In their division at the time, only Montreal was worse. Through ten games this season, they’ve gone 4-6. In their division right now, no one is worse. The Sens are the only team in the eight team Atlantic Division that doesn’t have a .500 record (points percentage).
The Sens looked great in the first homestand of the year, winning four in a row. They defeated Boston, Washington, Arizona and Dallas. Since then, they’ve lost four in a row to Minnesota, Florida, Tampa and Vegas.
We asked some of the top names on Sens Twitter – call it our three-star selection – to give their opinion on a few of the top Sens storylines so far. Our esteemed panel includes:
Brandon Piller from Locked on Senators Podcast
Graeme Nichols from “Rome in a Day”
In the early going, what has you most excited as a Senators fan?
Rome in a Day: I am most excited by the play and performance of this team’s rookies. There is a lot to be said by the play and production of the forwards in the top-six, but for me, their performance was anticipated. I expected players like Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson and Claude Giroux to put up points. What I really looked forward to was how well Shane Pinto and Jake Sanderson would integrate into the lineup. It is one thing to log minutes and not look out of place doing so, it is another entirely to play at a high level and demonstrate that you are capable of fulfilling your potential. With both of these players, they have played prominent roles and justified the hype.
Steve on Sens: I think the most exciting part is Jake Sanderson. Coming into the season there were questions about whether he was ready to step in and be a top 4 D. He’s quickly answered those questions and looks poised to be a long term answer on Ottawa’s back end. The most frustrating has been the defensive zone meltdowns. The team has been solid at 5 on 5 but they keep letting big and untimely mistakes cost them games.
Locked on Senators: Through the first ten games as a Sens fan the thing that has excited me the most has to be how good Jake Sanderson has looked. Going from college to the NHL as a defensemen is no easy task, but Sanderson has made it look like a seamless transition. He’s so calm and smooth out there and it seems like DJ Smith can rely upon him in any situation.
On the other side of the coin, what most has you frustrated so far?
Locked on Senators: The thing that has frustrated me the most has been how the defence has left Anton Forsberg out to dry. He gives the team a chance to win every night but a lot of the goals being scored on him are from puck watching D-men or allowing opponents into the slot with too much ease. It’s pretty clear that this D core needs an addition whether it’s internally or from a trade.
Rome in a Day: I have been most frustrated with the porous team defence. The quality of the team’s forwards and production is undermined by the team’s play away from the puck. It would be reductive to hang this exclusively on the state of the blue line, but the holes on the back end and the struggles of Thomas Chabot have not helped. The Senators rely too heavily on him to carry the play and log big minutes, but the team could do itself some favours by getting their forwards to commit to the defensive side of the puck and provide better puck support.
Steve on Sens: The most frustrating has been the defensive zone meltdowns. The team has been solid at 5 on 5 but they keep letting big and untimely mistakes cost them games.
What’s your opinion of D.J. Smith and his future with the team?
Steve on Sens: I don’t know if you can directly fault DJ for the losing record so far. At the same time, I struggle to believe that he’s the guy that will turn this team into a contender. I’d be surprised if he’s around at this time next year.
Locked on Senators: I still have confidence in DJ Smith as the coach of the Ottawa Senators. Although the results haven’t been what this team needs, I still believe the team and the leadership core would run through a brick wall for him. Any time a team makes as many major moves as the Sens did this off-season it will take time for everyone to adjust. There’s plenty of hockey left this season.
Rome in a Day: I think D.J. Smith was the ideal coach for the rebuild. He is a young and inexperienced coach by NHL standards, who was not burdened by the pressures of having to put a winning product on the ice. The players reportedly like him and enjoy playing for him, so having that kind of camaraderie and rapport helps build and reinforce a team dynamic that is so important with a team this young.
As time has gone on however, there are still questions about Smith’s coaching ability. This being Smith’s fourth season with the organization, there are still concerns about this team’s special teams and defensive play. The Senators have consistently struggled in these areas under his watch and in fairness to Smith, most of the struggles during the rebuild can be attributed to coaching a young and inexperienced team and a poor supporting cast. As the young players and that supporting talent have improved, however, the struggles have continued.
At a certain point, it becomes easy to wonder whether Ottawa’s issues are personnel related or whether another coach could get more out of this group. Management made a lot out of the importance of the team getting off to a good start to the season and unfortunately, that has not happened. It is hard to change personnel at this time of year, but it is easy to rally the troops by letting a coach go — especially when Troy Mann is well-regarded down in Belleville and seems like a natural candidate to step in if the struggles continue. Not that Smith’s long-term future looks great anyway. With news that the Senators are officially up for sale, I can see Pierre Dorion and D.J. Smith both being at risk of losing their jobs as new ownership will want to put their own people in place.
Is Thomas Chabot an elite NHL defenceman? Why or why not?
Rome in a Day: Elite” is such a subjective term that gets thrown around pretty liberally as a player descriptor. Elite could be used to describe the very best at their position or in this case, be used to earmark potential Norris Trophy candidates as the league’s best defenceman. For me, I don’t believe Chabot really lands in that exclusive tier of NHL defenceman, but he’s perenially a candidate to play in an All-Star Game or represent Canada internationally. There is a lot of value in that kind of player, so maybe relative to the rest of the league’s defencemen, that could be considered “elite”.
In fairness to Chabot, it is really difficult to look good consistently when you consistently play for one of the league’s worst teams. Chabot is unquestionably overplayed because of the lack of quality depth on the blue line and his impact suffers because of it. If the Senators could ever improve the true talent level of the blue line and insulate Chabot better, maybe there is a chance he could move up to that top tier of NHL defencemen.
Locked on Senators: Thomas Chabot has not been playing like an elite defenceman to start this season off, but I still believe he is an elite defenceman. He is such a smooth skater and we’ve seen him prop up this D core by himself for most of his career. I think for him to get back to an elite defenceman he will need the proper partner, and unfortunately it doesn’t seem like him and Artem Zub are the right fit.
Steve on Sens: This is easily the hardest question. He’s shown that he’s capable of brilliant plays and logs tons of tough minutes usually alongside suboptimal partners. His play this year leaves much to be desired. He hasn’t been elite this year but I think he can figure it out alongside the right partner and in the right system.
Who’s the Sens’ MVP so far?
Steve on Sens: Brady Tkachuk. 6 goals and 9 assists in 15 games speaks for itself. He drags the team into battle and is a joy to watch protect pucks in the offensive zone. He’s one of the best power forwards in the game.
Rome in a Day: Jake Sanderson has been really good in the early going, but to me, nobody’s been more impactful than Brady Tkachuk through the team’s first 10 games. He is also providing the physical and engaging play that has endeared him to fans. The only knock to Tkachuk’s game is that his defensive impact is below average. If he could commit himself to that aspect of his game, we would be talking about Tkachuk being one of the most unique and dominating power forwards in the game.
Locked on Senators: It has to be Brady Tkachuk. He is the captain and face of this franchise for a reason. He is currently leading the team in points with 15 in 10 games which is also good for top ten in points in the entire league. According to Elite Prospects, he is projected to finish the season with 123 points, that sounds good to me. He has been able to score from a distance and play with a physical edge that drags the rest of his teammates into battle with him.
Are you taking the Ryan Reynolds ownership talk seriously?
Locked on Senators: I am taking it seriously. The Ottawa Senators have officially been put up for sale and reports are that Reynolds is apparently “Genuinely interested”. It seems clear that he can’t buy the team outright, but I’m sure it could make a lot of sense to have him as a minority owner. I think Sens fans are trying to will this into existence because it could come with some fun ideas for the franchise so I’m all aboard!
Steve on Sens: The team is officially for sale and Ryan Reynolds appears to have expressed interest. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t take this seriously as part of a larger ownership group.
Rome in a Day: In the modern sports era, I think we have to take Reynolds’ interest in ownership quite seriously. It is not uncommon to see celebrities, athletes and former athletes take interest in joining an ownership group because the return on their investment usually winds up being substantial. With NHL franchise values being considered low relative to their other North American sports peers, it is a relatively affordable way to get into the ownership game. Reynolds does not have the financial worth to become a sole owner, but it would be exciting to see him be part of the mix here in Ottawa. He has the brand, the charisma, and the connections to make himself a valuable asset to this organization.
Thank you to tonight’s 3 star selection.
By Steve Warne