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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.
29-47-6, 64 points (eighth in the Atlantic Division, 16th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify
Ryan Callahan (LTIR)
Last season was an eventful one for the Senators organization. Not only did they finish last in their division, conference and the entire league, they also traded away their best forward, Mark Stone, and their franchise defenseman, Erik Karlsson. That’s rough.
Despite the fact that they traded Karlsson in September, the team got off to a decent start. They weren’t lighting the league on fire, but they had a respectable firsts two months of the season. Things turned after they dropped a pair of games to the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 4 and 6. In the 10 games following those two losses, the Sens came away with just two victories.
Things ended up getting so bad for Ottawa that they finished in the basement of the NHL. The second-to-last team in the league was the Los Angeles Kings and they finished seven points ahead of the Senators. That’s a significant gap. The big issue, was that the Sens didn’t have their own first-round draft pick because they traded it the Colorado Avalanche for Matt Duchene.
Everyone in the NHL knows that the biggest issue right now is the owner. Eugene Melnyk doesn’t appear to be interested in spending the money to keep his star players in the fold and the fact that he’s turning off the fan base in the process isn’t helping either. Whether or not he’s capable of surrounding his team with the tools to succeed remains to be seen.
[MORE: Three Questions | Under Pressure | X-factor]
The Sens have a lot of good young prospects, but they’re in the middle of a rebuild that should take quite some time. Former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith was hired to be the head coach this off-season and it’ll be up to him to get this group of youngsters ready to perform on the ice.
“Now it’s about trying to push kids to realize their potential,” Smith said, per NHL.com. “There is nothing more satisfying than to watch a guy push himself past the limit and become better than even he thought he could be. It’s in most kids; you just have to find a way to get it out of them. It’s something I really enjoy.
“We’re in a division (Atlantic) with some of the best offenses in the League — the Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s going to take time, but we’ll learn to get better together. We’re only going to get better by learning to play against teams like that.”
Cutting the goals against will be one of Smith’s biggest challenges. The Sens were the only team in the league that allowed more than 300 goals (302) last season.
Building this team from the ground up isn’t going to be easy and it’s going to take time, but Smith has to get them to take a positive step or two this season.
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Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.