The Ottawa Senators are an experiment in pure, unadulterated chaos.
There was little doubt last season that the Senators were a lock for last place, even in the incredibly weak North Division. And in the first half of the season, they lived up to those expectations by losing 21 of their first 30 games.
But suddenly down the stretch, DJ Smith’s crew began to play some of their best hockey in years. The Sens went 14-8-4 in their final 26 games, using that time to almost singlehandedly deny the Calgary Flames a playoff berth and leapfrog the Vancouver Canucks for sixth in the North. It’s still only second to last, but talk about an improvement!
Throw in the constant presence of Eugene Melnyk, and the Senators’ big off-season decision to hire Pierre McGuire as their new senior vice president of player development and it’s fair to not know what to expect from this franchise anymore. All we know for sure is there’ll be plenty of headlines, many complaints about traveling down the Trans Canada Highway to the Canadian Tire Centre, and sickos galore.
Where we left off
The Senators took a few major steps with their young forward core in 2021. Brady Tkachuk and Connor Brown led the Sens in scoring for the second straight season, with 36 and 35 points respectively. But this time a plethora of young guns stepped up to match them: Josh Norris and Drake Batherson each hit the 30 point plateau, and 2020 third-overall pick Tim Stützle followed up a great World Juniors Championship performance with 29 points in 53 games and a ninth-place finish in Calder Trophy voting.
The defense and goaltending were where Ottawa continued to struggle. The Senators were a turnstile in their own end, finishing with the league’s fourth-most goals allowed (189) and fourth-worst save percentage (.895). Outside of Thomas Chabot’s scoring output, Ottawa’s blue line still has a long way to go.
In goal, the Senators went through a string of bad luck and rough outings. Matt Murray’s first season of his new four-year, $25 million contract was marred by injuries and an .893 save percentage. Ottawa was forced to roll out a revolving door of replacements in Marcus Hogberg, Joey Daccord, Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson, with varying results.
2021 NHL Draft
Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has had a lot of high draft picks to work with over the last few years, including adding both Tim Stützle and Jake Sanderson in the top five last year. With the tenth-overall pick in this year’s draft, Ottawa took left winger Tyler Boucher from the United States Development Program.
Boucher is committed to joining Boston University in 2021-22, after scoring 19 points in 19 games with various USDP teams last season. The native of Scottsdale, Arizona is known for his mixture of offensive prowess and high physicality, both features that the Senators have made a priority in their roster choices over the past few years.
After drafting Boucher Ottawa made five more choices in 2021, including two in the second round.
- Tyler Boucher, F (10th overall)
- Zack Ostapchuk, F (39th overall)
- Benjamin Roger, D (49th overall)
- Oliver Johansson, F (74th overall)
- Carson Latimer, F (123rd overall)
- Chandler Romeo, D (202nd overall)
The 2021-22 Senators will take on a younger look than last season’s roster. The club lost Joey Daccord to the Kraken in the Seattle Expansion Draft, Evgenii Dadonov was shipped off to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for defensemen Nick Holden in July, and a number of depth players were shipped out prior to April’s trade deadline in order to make room for younger talent like Shane Pinto and Alex Formenton.
Here’s how Daily Faceoff sees the line-up shaking out:
Brady Tkachuk — Josh Norris — Drake Batherson
Tim Stützle — Shane Pinto — Connor Brown
Nick Paul — Logan Brown — Colin White
Alex Formenton — Chris Tierney — Austin Watson
Thomas Chabot — Nikita Zaitsev
Nick Holden — Artem Zub
Victor Mete — Erik Brannstrom
What can we expect in 2021?
With the Senators returning to the more top-heavy Atlantic Division, the odds on Ottawa being able to clear the playoff hurdle is even smaller. Restricted free agents Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson have yet to be signed to new deals, but even once they do it’s hard to imagine Ottawa taking another leap forward when their biggest off-season addition was 34-year-old Nick Holden.
If Ottawa stands any chance at a wild card spot, they’ll need a healthy Matt Murray to assert himself as the starter he once was in Pittsburgh, or have one of their backup options, like the recently signed Filip Gustavsson, make a case for more ice time. If D.J. Smith’s defense is able to find the success they had in the late stages of the year while eliminating chances in their own end, it could lead to a few crucial extra points.
The San Jose Sharks and Senators will play each other twice this season. They’ll meet on October 21 during the Sharks' first road trip of the season, then back at the SAP Center on November 24.