Now that the Ottawa Senators have put themselves in a legitimate position to challenge for a playoff spot, it’s time to look at who might stand in the way by doing an analysis of the teams that might put a damper on the party starting within the division.
I begin this analysis by conceding that the Senators’ playoff hopes lie in getting one of the two Eastern Conference wildcard spots. You are free to disagree, however, I don’t see anyone moving the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and yes, the dreaded Blue Team, out of the top three in the Atlantic. There is a chance that they will change spots over last year. Given that third place was 110 points, I am skeptical to think that the Senators can surpass last season by 37.
For those who don’t recognize the acronym, S.W.O.T. is Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Leading up to the season, let’s have some fun and assess the other contenders for the wildcard spots.
First up is the Steve Yzerman-led Detroit Red Wings.
Yzerman’s fingerprints were all over Tampa Bay's last two Stanley Cups, and he has quietly been moving the chess pieces around to execute his plan.
Hired Derek Lalonde as Head Coach to replace Jeff Blashill
Signed C Andrew Copp to 5 year $25 million free agent deal
Signed D Ben Chiarot to a 4 year $19 million free agent deal
Traded for and signed G Ville Husso to a 3 year extension worth $14.25 million
Signed RW David Perron to a two year $9.5 million free agent deal
Signed LW Dominik Kubalik to a two year $5 million free agent deal
Signed D Olli Maata to a one year $2.5 million free agent deal
Remaining cap space: $8,171,111.00
Here is the Roster for the Red Wings heading into training camp.
Left Wing Center Right Wing
Tyler Bertuzzi Dylan Larkin David Perron
Lucas Raymond Andrew Copp Filip Zadina
Jakob Vrana Michael Rasmussen Oskar Sundqvist
Dominik Kubalik Pius Suter Adam Erne
*Robby Fabbri (Inj – ACL Tear March 2022)
Left Defense Right Defense
Ben Chiarot Moritz Seider
Olli Maata Filip Hronek
Jordan Oesterle Gustav Lindstrom
Jake Walman/Simon Edvinsson Mark Pysyk
Yzerman’s off season suggests that he is looking to get into the fight now rather than waiting on prospects to develop. Here is the S.W.O.T.
The moves by Yzerman have certainly given his team a ton of playoff experience with the additions of Chiarot and Perron. Their core is fast and decent size upfront and even moreso on defense.
I like their top four defensemen more than I do the Senators. If Jake Sanderson lives up to the literary praise and promise, then I might shift that somewhat. Yzerman landed the one piece that Dorion has yet to and that’s top four defenseman. In fact, he landed two, though Maata has been a bit of a journeyman.
Their goaltending is on par with the Senators. Cam Talbot brings more experience to the table than either Husso or Nedeljkovic. That said, he also has much more past than future. Yzerman acquiring the rights to Husso prior to free agency for a third-round pick and extend him for three year was pure Yzerman thinking. Anton Forsberg has a bit more regular season experience than either of the Wings goalies, but both Husso and Nedeljkovic have playoff experience which he does not. We are only talking about this season, however, and I would rate the crease a wash.
Though they have depth down the middle, I would think Dylan Larkin would make a better second line center than first. Upfront they have potential for firepower while the Senators have a much more proven offensive group, and this is particularly evident on the right side. Filip Zadina has yet to hit stride which makes Brady Tkachuk fans like myself happy.
The Wings will be looking for the likes of Lucas Raymond and Michael Rassmussen to take the next steps in their development the way the Senators will be looking for Tim Stutzle and Shane Pinto to take the next steps in theirs.
I don’t see the quick strike offence upfront that it will take to be successful in the Atlantic.
With nearly $8.2 million in unused cap space, Yzerman has flexibility to make a move to help him get to the next level and take on some salary doing it. The $4.2 million in dead cap won’t play into this season. The Senators are also in an enviable position with $7.1 million in unused cap. Similarly, the Senators are carrying nearly $1 million more in dead cap. Again, not a huge disadvantage for this season.
Right now, the Red Wings aren’t trying to dig their way out of a Nikita Zaitsev type of contract. They will be able to dress their best to start opening night. The Senators may have to send someone on a two-way contract like Lassi Thomson or Jacob Bernard-Dokker to Belleville despite being potential top six defensemen.
Derek Lalonde is a rookie NHL head coach. He comes with some pedigree as he was an assistant coach in Tampa Bay for their back-to-back championships and run to the cup final last year. Under the tutelage of Jon Cooper, he must be, in Yzerman’s estimation, ready to take that next step and lead the Red Wings over the playoff hump for the first time since 2016.
Yes, they have been on the outside looking in longer than the Senators. DJ Smith may never have coached in the playoffs. However, he has three years of experience as an NHL Head Coach and is far more familiar with his group than Lalonde is with his.
The loss of Robby Fabbri, who tore his ACL in March 2022, is going to hurt them a bit down the middle. They did well to replace him with Andrew Copp, and if he returns to play (likely in 2023), then he could make them a threat down the stretch. That said, the Red Wings fate could be decided by the time he is game ready.
On the whole, when I think of the Detroit Red Wings, I think of the Ottawa Senators. Both teams clearly want to be in the playoffs next season. However, I think both teams hope to make it rather than expect to make it. Both GMs had solid off seasons and have room in the kitty to do a little more if they think it will get them to the dance.
I have harped a lot about the Seven Player Profile which has proven to mean a lot in the playoffs. Over the course of an 82-game season, having a clear #1 & 2 all star center, proven power forward, two-way shutdown/role player, #1 all-star offensive defenseman and all-star shutdown defenseman and a proven #1 goalie can go a long way to getting you to the playoffs.
To my mind, neither team has identified all those pieces clearly. That said, many teams who made the playoffs last year had incomplete profiles, so all is not lost. It simply means that the teams that have one like the Panthers and Lightning are, barring injury, going to suck up those top spots in the division and, like it or not, the buds are closer to checking those boxes as well.
I think both teams will be in the hunt for a playoff spot approaching the trade deadline. Much like the Senators, the Red Wings ability to get to the playoffs like rests in the unknowns which, to me are their coach and their lack of proven firepower upfront. For the Senators, it rests in their unproven second pair defense and DJ Smith’s ability to mesh all the new players right out of the gate.
At the end of the day, I like the Senators and their clear leadership with Brady Tkachuk and a lethal two-unit power play to push ahead of the Red Wings though I do view the Red Wings as a legitimate threat to steal a wildcard spot.
With four games between the two teams this year, for the first time in several years, those will be legitimate swing points in the race for the playoffs. Regardless of the outcome, it feels great to say that.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey
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