Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.
28-43-11, 67 pts. (8th Atlantic Division; 15th Eastern Conference)
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Disaster: a person, act, or thing that is a failure. See also: the 2017-18 Ottawa Senators.
It’s hard to imagine another team and another set of fans who had a worse year than the Senators.
Sure, the Buffalo Sabres were the worst team, but they got compensated with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and, thus, Rasmus Dahlin. They’ve also had a pretty good summer and are looking improved.
The Senators took Brady Tkachuk with the fourth overall pick, and he’s stated that he’s making the jump to the pro game this season, but he’s hardly an immediate fix for a team that appears only headed in the wrong direction still. And the Senators have done little to make their team better and stand to lose dearly in the future if this season ends in shambles.
So how did a team that was a goal away from the Stanley Cup Final a year earlier turn into an unmitigated disaster? Well, let’s delve into the calamity of misfortunes.
Last season’s Senators were a team that could hardly score, a defense that could hardly stop other teams from scoring and goaltending that could hardly stop pucks from hitting the back of the net — though it’s hard to blame Craig Anderson for the last one given the hell he and his wife, Nicholle, have been through over the past 18 months.
By comparison, the 2016-17 Senators didn’t score all that much, but there were in the top 10 for fewest goals against and Ottawa had a .915 team save percentage and not the .895 they endured last season. Their power play and penalty kill also went in the wrong direction.
They also didn’t get hit hard by a European road trip. The Sens won both games across the pond in early November but came home and proceeded to drop the next seven straight.
Away from the rink, things were just as shaky.
In November, Dorion pulled the trigger on a three-team trade that brought Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche — finally. Duchene proceeded to flatline for the next seven games, where he was held pointless. Duchene would end up finding his groove, ending the season with 23 goals and 26 assists in a Senators sweater, but the lack of production didn’t help during their November slide.
Owner Eugene Melnyk made headlines a month later. In an apparent attempt to sabotage the spectacle of an outdoor game in his own backyard, the unpopular owner threatened to move the Senators if “disaster strikes” on the even of Ottawa’s game against the Montreal Canadiens at Lansdowne Park last December.
He later recanted on his comments, but it was another slap in the face for a devout fanbase that has endured some trying times recently.
There was also this. And this meant that the Senators also lost Mike Hoffman, forced to deal their 52-point man for Mikkel Boedker.
And then there’s the Erik Karlsson saga.
When will he be traded? What will be the return? Will the Senators be able to shed Bobby Ryan‘s contract as a part of the deal?
Losing Karlsson — and there’s no way around this — will be a massive blow to the team if it happens. And while there will be a nice haul coming back for him, replacing a two-time Norris winner is nigh impossible.
And on a team already starved for production, it’s Karlsson’s offensive output is where they’d miss him the most. He was tied for the team lead in points with 62. The Sens could enter the season without their highest and third highest point producers as Hoffman was already shipped out.
Even more frightening for Ottawa is that Karlsson, Duchene and Mark Stone are all set to become unrestricted free agents at years’ end. If the Dorion can steady the ship before then, the Senators could be without the core of their team by this time next season.
It would appear that Stone is waiting to see, too. He only signed for one-year, as opposed to committing his future to the team. He’s getting $7.35 million and can get the hell out of Dodge if things get worse in the coming season. Duchene, for what it’s worth, is open to an extension.
Dorion has a massive task on his hands. He’s losing leverage on Karlsson’s return with each passing day, assuming they deal him. He also has the other two aforementioned key names to be signed, a goaltending situation to figure out if Anderson doesn’t return to 2016-17 form, and pivotal decision on Tkachuk forthcoming.
That’s a near-impossible laundry list of things to do (and do right) in one season with so much riding on it.
Times are tough in Ottawa, and things need to work out soon to avoid further disappointment.
• Brady Tkachuk, LW, 18, Boston University (NCAA) – 2018 first-round pick
The Senators made Tkachuk the fourth-overall pick this past year and could have him in a team sweater this fall. Tkachuk posted eight goals and 31 points in 40 games at BU last season and impressed with three goals and nine points with Team USA at the world juniors. He’s a big boy, likes to use his physicality and plays at both ends of the ice. He will certainly make the Senators better, but the Senators need to send him to the Ontario Hockey League, where London Knights own his rights, or at the very least to the American Hockey League so he can get some seasoning. Rushing him is a mistake.
• Logan Brown, C, 20, Windsor Spitfires/Kitchener Rangers (OHL) – 2016 first-round pick
The man is big, real big — six-foot-six big. Got four games in with the Senators last season, notching an assist, and had 48 points in 32 games split between two teams in the Ontario Hockey League after a mid-season trade. Played for Team USA at the world juniors where he had an assist in three games. Interesting tidbit: Tkachuk and Brown played with each other as kids. You’d like to see Brown get in some time in the AHL, but given the situation in Ottawa, there’s a chance you see Brown in Senators red this season.
• Christian Wolanin, D, 23, University of North Dakota (NCAA) – 2015 fourth-round pick
Wolanin might not be as high as a couple other forward prospects on the team, but on a team needing defensemen, Wolanin stands out after a breakout season in North Dakota. There, he doubled his previous goal mark with 12 and added 23 assists for 35 points in 40 games to lead the Fighting Hawks in points. Wolanin also got 10 games with the Sens, scoring his first NHL goal and adding two assists. He’s headed to Ottawa this year after signing an entry-level deal in March. Expect to see him this season in the NHL.
The NHL’s off-season is under way and with free agency beginning July 1 there will be plenty of action this summer. Check back here for all of the trades and signings that teams will be making in hopes of improving their chances at winning the 2018-19 Stanley Cup.
• Anthony Peluso gets a one-year, $650,000 contract with the Flames. (Link)
• Dustin Tokarski signs a one-year, $650,000 deal with the Rangers. (Link)
• Hunter Shinkaruk inks a one-year, $650,000 contract after being traded to the Canadiens. (Link)
• Kerby Rychel goes the other way in the Shinkaruk trade and agrees to a one-year, $725,000 contract with the Flames. (Link)
• Noah Dobson signs his three-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders. (Link)
• Matt Read joins the Wild on a two-way deal. One-year, $650,000. (Link)
• David Rittich, Calgary Flames agree to one-year, $800,000 contract. (Link)
• Dan Hamhuis returns to the Predators with a two-year, $2.5 million deal. (Link)
• Troy Stetcher and the Canucks agree to a two-year, $4.65 million extension. (Link)
• The Edmonton Oilers sign their 2018 first-round pick Evan Bouchard to an entry-level deal. (Link)
• Philip Danult re-signs with the Canadiens. Thee years, $9.249 million. (Link)
• The Blackhawks send the contract of Marian Hossa’s contract, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle and a 2019 third-rounder to the Coyotes for Marcus Kruger, Jordan Maletta, Andrew Campbell, MacKenzie Entwistle’s rights and a 2019 fifth-rounder. (Link)
• Alex Lyon re-signs in Philadelphia. Two years, $1.5 million. (Link)
• Oscar Dansk re-signs with the Vegas Golden Knights. Two years, $1.35 million total. (Link)
• The Dallas Stars re-sign Jason Dickinson to a one-year, $875,000 contract. (Link)
• The Buffalo Sabres send Ryan O'Reilly to the St. Louis Blues for a 2019 first-rounder, 2021 second-rounder, forwards Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, and Vladimir Sobotka. The Blues also pick up O’Reilly’s $7.5 million signing bonus. (Link)
• After two seasons in the KHL, Val Nichushkin returns to Dallas with a two-year, $5.9 million deal. (Link)
• The Bruins, Sabres Stars find backups with Jaroslav Halak (two years, $5.5 million) headed to Boston, Anton Khudobin (two years, $5 million) on his way to Dallas and Carter Hutton (three years, $8.25 million) going to Buffalo.
• Winnipeg Jets clear valuable cap space by shipping Steve Mason to Montreal Canadiens. (Link)
• Capitals name Todd Reirden as Barry Trotz’s replacement. (Link)
• Carolina Hurricanes re-sign Valentin Zykov with two-year, $1.35 million contract. (Link)
• Penguins hand one-year, $650,000 deal to J.S. Dea. (Link)
• Penguins re-sign Riley Sheahan to $2.1 million, 1-year deal. (Link)
• Ottawa Senators buy out final year Alex Burrows’s contract. (Link)
• Sam Morin gets three-year, $2.1 million extension from Philadelphia Flyers. (Link)
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• It’s time for coaches to get a little more creative with their 3-on-3 overtime lineups. [TSN]
• Early days still, but the 2019 Hart Trophy race looks pretty wide open. [Yahoo]
• The Calgary Flames send Hunter Shinkaruk to the Montreal Canadiens for Kerby Rychel. [Flames Nation]
• The CWHL’s Boston Blades are moving to Worcester and getting a new logo. [The Ice Garden]
• A youth lacrosse team tried to use the Vancouver Canucks’ alternate logo on their jerseys but were told by the NHL team to cut it out. [Sports Logos]
• Where will the goals come from for the Carolina Hurricanes? [Canes Edge]
• Finally, goalies have hands, too, as HC Sibir’s Alexei Krasikov demonstrated:
Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.
Three questions to ponder for the New York Rangers during the 2018-19 season.
1. Does Henrik Lundqvist have a miracle in him?
Because that is probably what it will take for the Rangers to get back to the playoffs.
This is not a particularly strong roster — at least on paper — and is lacking in established, impact players all over the lineup. It’s not a terrible roster, it’s not a worst team in the league kind of roster, but it’s also probably not one that is strong enough to make up enough ground in the playoff race, especially in a division as strong as the Metropolitan Division.
If you’re a Rangers fan holding out hope for the playoffs, the biggest hope is that Lundqvist, in his age 36 season, can put the team on his back one more time and carry it to a level beyond any reasonable expectation. He has done it before, but it is probably asking quite a bit for him to do it again, especially as he has started to show some signs of slowing down over the past two years where his save percentage has dipped to .912 overall. Just for comparisons sake, his save percentage was .920 or better for eight consecutive seasons prior to the past two.
Even though it has not resulted in a championship, Lundqvist has been the face of the Rangers franchise for his entire career and its most important player. He has consistently given the team everything he has had and been one of the best players in the world. If the Rangers are going to make another run with him before his career runs out he is going to have to put together a herculean effort to make it happen.
2. What kind of coach will David Quinn be?
Alain Vigneault has had his share of success in the NHL, including with the New York Rangers.
But it became clear last season that it was time for a new voice and a new direction, especially as the team embarks on a rebuild of the roster. It is now a team that should be focusing on development and youth, something that probably was not going to happen in another season under Vigneault, a coach whose preference seems to be more with experienced and veteran players.
Replacing him will be first-year NHL coach David Quinn as he becomes the latest to make the jump from the NCAA ranks to the NHL (he will be joined this season by Jim Montgomery who is going from University of Denver to the Dallas Stars).
He is one of just five coaches to ever go from the NCAA to their first job in the NHL, a list that includes Montgomery, Dave Hakstol, Bob Johnson, and Ned Harkness.
Quinn comes highly regarded, especially when it comes to working with younger players, but as a rookie coach with no NHL coaching experience there is a lot of mystery as to what type of coach he will be.
With a roster that could have its share of younger talent his reputation as a talent developer will be put to the test.
That leads us to the third question facing the Rangers this season.
3. Which young players will take a big step forward?
From a big picture outlook, the success or failure of this Rangers’ season probably shouldn’t be measured by how many games the team wins or loses.
They are probably not going to be contenders for anything. They are probably going to be a bad team. They are probably going to miss the playoffs and trade more established players before the season ends.
The important thing to watch for this season is whether or not any young players take a big step forward and establish themselves as long-term building blocks.
Even though this is a “rebuilding” team there is still a pretty significant veteran presence here, especially on the blue line and in net. But after all of the draft picks they have had in recent years, and all of the trades they made last year, there is also a pretty big collection of young players that could also get an opportunity, from the young players they acquired in the Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trades (Brett Howden, Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek), to their recent first-round draft picks (Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson), to still developing NHLers like Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei, and Neal Pionk.
A couple of them taking a big step forward in their development would be a nice positive for what is almost certain to be another year outside of the playoffs.