The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Ottawa Senators.
Ottawa Senators 2019-20 Rewind
Record: 25-34-12 (62 points); Seventh place in Atlantic Division; 15th place in Eastern Conference
Leading Scorers: Brady Tkachuk (44 points); Jean-Gabriel Pageau (24 goals)
The Senators all-out rebuild continued on during the 2019-20 season with more trades, more roster overhaul, and another finish near the bottom of the league standings. They did, however, show some small improvements in the standings with their .437 points percentage being their highest since the 2016-17 season. With a gutted roster, huge amounts of salary cap space, and a need to reach the salary floor the Senators were one of the busiest teams in the NHL this offseason.
Their top-two goal scorers from a year ago (Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anthony Duclair) are gone, but they brought in a lot of veteran talent to fill out the roster and have some very intriguing young players to watch this season.
Matt Murray (trade), Derek Stepan (trade), Joshua Brown (trade), Erik Gudbranson (trade), Austin Watson (trade), Braydon Coburn (trade), Cedric Paquette (trade), Tim Stuetzel (draft), Alex Galchenyuk (free agency), Evgenii Dadonov (free agency)
Anthony Duclair (free agency), Bobby Ryan (free agency), Ron Hainsey (free agency), Craig Anderson (free agency), Mark Borowiecki (free agency), Anders Nilsson (trade)
3 Most Interesting Ottawa Senators
• Matt Murray. The Senators wanted to find a long-term solution in net and they went all in on Murray, sending a second-round pick and prospect Jon Gruden to the Penguins in exchange for the two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie. They immediately signed him to a four-year, $25 million contract. It is the latter portion of that transaction that is so eye-opening.
In a vacuum there is nothing wrong with trading for Murray. He is in what should be the prime of his career, he has a strong resume, and at times has played like a franchise goalie. The key part of that is “at times.” Consistency and health have been big issues for Murray over the past few years, and his performance has been all over the map. There is still some question as to what goalie the Senators are getting here. That is a big investment to make in a goalie that still carries some question marks. Especially in an offseason marketplace that was overflowing with goalie options.
If it works out, the Senators are set for the next four years.
[MORE: 2021 NHL schedule notes: Stats, oddities, fuel for nasty rivalries]
• Tim Stuetzel. This of course assumes the No. 3 overall pick from the 2020 draft makes the NHL roster. There is every expectation to believe that he will, especially coming off of his performance for Germany at the World Junior tournament where he has been one of the standout players.
Stuetzel was one of three first-round picks for the Senators this year (including one of two top-five selections, joining defenseman Jake Sanderson) and he is the one that is bringing the most excitement and potential, as well as the most likely immediate impact.
For any rebuild to work you need to find a couple of stars at the top of the draft. The Senators have definitely rebuilt their prospect cupboard in a meaningful way over the past couple of years, but they really need someone to emerge as a superstar, cornerstone player. Stuetzel, at this point, is the most likely candidate to do that. Even if he makes the NHL roster this season he will not make that sort of immediate impact, but Senators fans are still probably looking forward to getting a glimpse of their future.
[Related: ProHockeyTalk’s 2020 Free Agent Tracker]
• Thomas Chabot. Chabot is clearly one of the Senators’ cornerstone players. He turns 24 this season and is just starting an eight-year, $64 million contract that makes him a significant part of their present and future. Over the past two years he has become one of the most productive offensive defensemen in the league, sitting among the top-15 in total points and points per game (minimum 50 games played) during that stretch, while also posting strong possession numbers. His defensive game gets criticized a lot, but it is a little better than he gets credit for.
But really, it is the offense that makes him such a big part of the Senators’ lineup.
Even with all of their additions this offseason, and even with the temporary division and alignment and playoff format that gets them away from Tampa Bay and Boston, the playoffs still seem like an extreme long-shot at this point even if everything goes absolutely perfect.
So what should Senators fans hope for this season? Competitive hockey with the important young players taking big steps forward. The roster definitely looks like it should be more competitive on paper, but the player progress is the important thing.
Murray showing that he can be a consistent No. 1 goalie. Chabot and Tkachuk taking the next step to become franchise players. Stuetzle getting a taste of NHL hockey and not looking overwhelmed. And quite honestly, their veterans on expiring contracts (Stepan, Artem Anisimov, Paquette, Galchenyuk, Gudbranson, and Coburn) playing well enough to make them attractive trade targets that they can flip to acquire more long-term prospects or draft picks.
Simply put, it would be a lack of progress. Realistically speaking nobody, not even the most optimistic Senators fan, should be expecting the playoffs or contention this season. The team is not there yet. So another year outside of the playoffs or down the standings should not be a cause for alarm. That is just being realistic.
What would be a cause for alarm is if they do not take any sort of meaningful step forward, both team-wide and individually.
More inconsistency from Murray would be a bad sign, as would a lack of progress or regression from the young players they are counting on to rebuild the franchise into a contender.
Pointsbet – Ottawa Senators Stanley Cup odds
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.