In “not so breaking news” the Ottawa Senators are set to miss the postseason for the 5th consecutive year. As of this writing, Boston needs only 4 more points, and Washington 7 for the Sens to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
One could make the argument there’s little reason to watch this team down the stretch (an argument bolstered by Tuesday night’s 3-0 stinker against the Islanders), but as Sens fans are well aware of by now, we’re gluttons for punishment and will likely tune in anyways.
Currently sitting 29th place in the league, with a 3-7 record in their last 10 games, it’s unlikely fans will be treated to many elite level displays of hockey through the teams final 19 games. That being said, there are a few storylines that bear monitoring for those brave enough to tune in on a nightly basis. Subplots which will affect not only this year, but what might happen in 2022-23 and beyond.
The first of which is what the club will do with top prospect Jake Sanderson. The former 5th overall draft pick in 2020 is currently dealing with an injury suffered in North Dakota’s 2-1 win over Colorado College. In typical hockey fashion, the team is keeping the exact nature of the injury tight to vest, but it’s widely expected he’ll miss the team’s NCHC playoffs. He's considered week to week.
The real question becomes (if he returns to health this season) what Ottawa plans to do with him once his collegiate season comes to an end. Do they sign him and send him to Belleville for a playoff run? Do they ease him into the Sens roster for an NHL sample platter? Or do they simply shut him down for the year following a season where the defenseman dealt with a myriad of injuries?
All are viable options, making it a situation worth monitoring, especially for those who need a reminder of how brighter days are indeed ahead on the Ottawa blue line.
Another storyline to keep an eye on is how far Ottawa ultimately falls in the standings. At one point it appeared as though hockey fans could write “Montreal Canadiens” in permanent marker for the distinction of finishing last overall in the league. Now all of a sudden, the Habs are 5pts behind Ottawa and look like a completely different team under new head coach Martin St. Louis.
While Arizona and Seattle will do their darndest to try to bottom out for a top draft selection as well, it’s evident that securing the best odds at the #1 overall pick is definitely still in play for the Sens. Most fans would agree, at this point they’d happily trade on ice growth for percentage points on draft lottery night, but if the team is going to continue to pile up losses, at least there’s a silver lining to the misery.
Which brings us to the next subplot to keep an eye on, 2022 NHL Entry Draft prospects. In what was once a slam dunk case for Shane Wright being taken 1st overall, there’s suddenly room for debate about who gets top billing in this crop of players. Most scouts agree that despite Wright’s “down year” (77pts in 52 games with Kingston), he likely still gets the nod at number 1, but Sens fans should also familiarize themselves with names like Logan Cooley, Jack Hughes, Conor Geekie, Matthew Savoie, Juraj Slafkovski and Brad Lambert amongst others.
There’s also the very real possibility that if the ping pong balls don’t go Ottawa’s way on Draft Lottery night, that the Sens could actively shop their 1st rounder for a bonafide NHL contributor. While prospects are nice, would the addition of Clayton Keller, Jakob Chychrun, or Matthew Tkachuk make more of an impact on this team’s ability to compete for a playoff spot in 2022-23? Highly likely.
With several teams needing to offload premium players due to salary cap constraints this offseason, Ottawa could be in a position to make waves before the draft. Dorion said at his presser on Monday not to judge this team based on its current roster, but based on who they have in the lineup on opening night next year. If the Sens don’t land a top 3 pick on Draft Night, there’s a very good chance that 1st rounder could get dangled for an NHL ready body.
Then there’s what to watch in terms of the Sens on ice performance as they enter the home stretch of the season. Tim Stutzle seems to have finally earned the trust of DJ Smith, and is being deployed in a variety of ways. Not only has he completely turned his game around since switching to Center (throwing out last night’s dud where no one on the Sens seemed to show up offensively, the 20 year old had 14pts in his last 17 games), but he’s also now seeing some minutes on the team’s penalty kill as well.
Having a longer leash with the coaching staff will hopefully allow Timmy to get more comfortable on the ice, allowing his game to flourish and set the stage for a monster 2022-23 campaign. If ever there was a time to let the kids make mistakes, it’s this final stretch of 19 games for Ottawa.
Then you’ve got the deal that nearly broke Sens Twitter in the Travis Hamonic trade. We’ve already heard from the Sens front office that they view Hamonic not just as a rental piece, but as someone they can build around on the blue line for years to come. Take from that what you will, but fans should reserve judgement until we see him on the ice for a few games.
You’d like to think that a change of scenery may do wonders for Hamonic, but the initial reports out of Vancouver don’t exactly paint a rosy picture of what he was like chemistry wise with the Canucks.
On the flip side of things, the Sens friendship tour continues as well as the club swapped out a known commodity for another player with a personal connection to Ottawa. Tkachuk has Norris, Batherson has Sokolov, and now Chabot has Joseph.
The speedy winger is familiar with Chabot from their time together with the Saint John Sea Dogs in the QMJHL. While he was eased into action last night, it would be interesting to see where he settles in the lineup down the stretch. Could he finally be the missing element from Stutzle’s ever changing cast of linemates? The Sens front office certainly hopes so.
Overall the rebuild isn’t on schedule. These are supposed to be the years of “unparalleled success” at this point, not another trip to the NHL Draft Lottery. However, there’s still reasons for optimism as this year winds down and the offseason begins.
Dorion didn’t want to be judged on this year’s roster, but rather who dons the Senators logo on opening night next year. Which is fine, but you best believe that fans will hold him to that timeline.
If Ottawa stumbles out of the gates next year, Dorion may not be the only one getting sent their pink slips to kick off 2022-23.
By Kyle Skinner | Sens Nation Hockey