Ottawa Senators 2020-21 NHL season preview

Ottawa Senators preview
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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.

Additions

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)

Subtractions

Anthony Duclair (free agency), Bobby Ryan (free agency), Ron Hainsey (free agency), Craig Anderson (free agency), Mark Borowiecki (free agency), Anders Nilsson (trade)

Ottawa Senators Thomas Chabot
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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.

Best-Case Scenario

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.

Worst-Case Scenario

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

Pointsbet Stanley Cup odds: Senators +15000. (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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    FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

    General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

    The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    “I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

    Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

    The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

    “It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

    “We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

    Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

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    Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

    For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

    “I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

    The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

    That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

    “We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

    It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

    A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

    “It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

    NEW COACHES

    The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

    “Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

    The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

    CAMP TRYOUTS

    Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

    The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

    “They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

    EARLY START

    Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

    “We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

    Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

    And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

    “I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

    Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

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    CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

    He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

    And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

    “The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

    With that, Barkov was sold.

    And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

    “We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

    Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

    He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

    “The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

    As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

    “I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

    BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

    Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

    He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

    “I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

    CAMP ROSTER

    Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

    Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

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    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

    Terms of the deal were not released.

    The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

    Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

    Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.