2020-21 record 23-28-5, 51 points
6th in the Scotia NHL North Division
Missed the postseason for the fourth-straight year
Additions: F Pontus Åberg, F Andrew Agozzino, F Scott Sabourin, F Kole Sherwood, D Michael Del Zotto, D Dillon Heatherington, D Nick Holden (acquired from VGK)
Subtractions: F Vitaly Abramov (KHL), F Michael Amadio (signed with TOR), F Artem Anisimov (signed to a PTO with COL), F J.C. Beaudin (signed with Laval Rocket, AHL), F Evgenii Dadonov (traded to VGK), F Jonathan Davidsson (HockeyAllsvenskan), F Ryan Dzingel (signed with ARI), F Jack Kopacka (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Zachary Magwood (ICEHL), F Matthew Peca (signed with STL), F Derek Stepan (signed with CAR), D Olle Alsing (KHL), D Mikael Wikstrand (SHL), G Joey Daccord (expansion, SEA), G Marcus Högberg (SHL)
Still Unsigned: F Logan Brown (RFA), F Micheal Haley, F Brady Tkachuk (RFA), D Brandon Fortunato, D Cody Goloubef, D Erik Gudbranson
Re-signed: F Drake Batherson, F Clark Bishop, D Victor Mete, D Artem Zub, G Anton Forsberg, G Filip Gustavsson
Offseason Analysis: Ottawa announced a multi-year extension on Tuesday for their General Manager, Pierre Dorion, that runs through the 2024-25 season and Dorion proudly exclaimed that “[t]he rebuild is done”.
Well, we’ll see.
It’s not hard to admit there’s a lot to like about the Senators’ roster. Drake Batherson is coming off of a career-year so far with 17-17–34 totals in 56 games last season and signed a six-year extension worth $4.975 million per season, which will eat up a couple of years of potential unrestricted free agency.
I cannot emphasize enough how good of a contract Batherson’s team-friendly deal is, considering he is only 23-years-old and playing first line minutes.
It was also his first full season, technically, but 34 points in 56 games is a 50 point pace in a full 82-game schedule. That’s some solid production from a first year player.
Brady Tkachuk led the Sens in scoring last season with 17-19–36 totals in 56 games and is currently an unsigned restricted free agent, while Connor Brown and Josh Norris each tallied 35 points in 56 games to round out the top-three in team scoring.
Ottawa took their time to construct a younger roster over the last few years by a combination of high draft picks and trading for quality prospects and now might see the fruits of their labor begin to blossom.
Tim Stützle left many in the crowd and press box awestruck by his spin moves, skillful hands and 12-17–29 totals in 53 games last season after being drafted 3rd overall in the 2020 NHL Draft.
Signing Tkachuk to a bridge deal, at least, is of the utmost priority for the Sens to keep their band of youth infused with experience together and striving for more this season, despite Ottawa’s roster being made up of an average age of 26.3.
Had their been an 82-game schedule in 2020-21, it’s not hard to see that the Senators’ late season surge might have put them into playoff contention with the special “top four teams per division qualify for the playoffs” playoff format for last season.
Can Ottawa make it back to the playoffs in 2022? It’s possible, but they’ll also be facing a lot more teams than just the six other Canadian teams they faced through 56 games last season.
How will the Senators stack up against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion and fellow Atlantic Division rival, Tampa Bay Lightning, for instance?
The Sens should improve, but they’re best bet might be playing spoiler with a side of forward progress.
Michael Del Zotto’s re-emergence as a solid bottom-pairing defender in the league brings experience and stability to the blue line of a team that had a minus-33 goal differential last season.
Del Zotto had four goals and nine assists (13 points) in 53 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and was a plus-five rating.
Along with the acquisition of Nick Holden in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Evgenii Dadonov that also brought a 2022 3rd round pick to Ottawa, Del Zotto and Holden bring over 1,200 NHL games of experience to the Sens defense as a pair of low-risk, high-reward moves (though, again, not as your surefire first pairing superstars).
As a bonus in the acquisition of Holden from the Golden Knights, Dorion rid himself of Dadonov’s $5.000 million cap hit through 2022-23 and his continuing decline from 70 points in 82 games with the Florida Panthers in 2018-19, to 47 points in 69 games with Florida in 2019-20, to a dismal 20 points in 55 games with the Senators last season.
At the end of the day, the Sens are building towards something.
They should be more competitive, but they can’t quite win a Cup just yet. They could make the playoffs, but they shouldn’t make it out of the First Round.
Alternatively, they could miss and land another lottery pick.
Regardless, an important question remains in the crease– can Matt Murray rebound from his 10-13-1 record in 27 games last season– as well as his 3.38 goals-against average, .893 save percentage and two shutouts in that span– or will Filip Gustavsson emerge as the expected “goaltender of the future” in Ottawa?
Gustavsson went 5-1-2 in nine games with a team-best 2.16 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in that span. He also had a 5-7-1 record in 13 games with the Belleville Senators (AHL) last season.
It might be throwing him into the fire, but if it’ll help keep Ottawa’s overall goals against down, then a little healthy competition for the starting job can’t hurt anyone.
Offseason Grade: B-
Dorion’s extension for Batherson could be praised as one of the best contracts in the league in the next couple of seasons for its value. That said, getting a deal done with Tkachuk is paramount for Ottawa’s young, developing, chemistry.
The Senators didn’t snatch any big names via free agency or trades, so they didn’t “win” the market in that sense this offseason, but they quietly went about patching some needs.
Now it’s a matter of whether or not things will pan out as the Sens look to improve off of last season’s late surge and gain momentum towards being a competitive playoff team with the end goal of opening a Stanley Cup window while their younger players are only just entering their prime.
If anything, Dorion deserves credit for not tearing things apart or making matters worse this offseason and that alone can get you an above average grade– stay the course and be a spoiler at worst or a competitor at best.