Ottawa Senators: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

ottawa senators
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The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Ottawa Senators.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 23-28-5 (51 points); sixth place in North Division
• Postseason: Missed playoffs. Drafted Tyler Boucher with the 10th pick.
• Offensive leaders: Brady Tkachuk (36 points), Connor Brown (21 goals)

• Free Agent AdditionsNick Holden (trade from Golden Knights), Zach Sanford (trade from Blues), Pontus Aberg, Dillon Heatherington, Kole Sherwood, Scott Sabourin
• Free Agent Subtractions: Evgenii Dadonov (traded to Golden Knights), Logan Brown (traded to Blues), Vitaly Abramov (KHL), Marcus Hogberg (SHL), Artem Anisimov, Jonathan Davidsson (Sweden), Micheal Haley, Cody Goloubef, Matthew Peca (Blues), Ryan Dzingel (Coyotes), Derek Stepan (Hurricanes)

Biggest question for Senators

• The rebuild is “done.” Now what?

The time for collecting prospects and developing them for the near-future is over for the Senators. It’s no longer about what’s coming; it’s about what’s here. 

After years of high draft picks and stockpiling talent, general manager Pierre Dorion declared at the start of training camp that the rebuild was “done” and it is time for winning days to return to Canada’s capital.

“This is going to be the fun part. The rebuild is done,” Dorion said. “Now we’re stepping into a different zone I would call it.”

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

There’s plenty for Senators fans to be excited about. Sure, the Brady Tkachuk negotiations are taking much longer than anyone would want, but it’ll get done. Once he’s in camp, he’ll join a lineup loaded with promising and currently productive players all under the age of 24 like Tim Stützle, Shane Pinto, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Thomas Chabot, among others.

Playoffs is not an expectation just yet for this group. It would be nice, but where the Senators are at right now if you’re Dorion you want to see those next steps in development taking place. You want to see the pieces fall into place. 

The rebuild is over. It’s to finally see some progress.

What’s the salary cap situation?

Dorion’s summer was spent keeping key pieces like Drake Batherson, Artem Zub, Victor Mete, and Filip Gustavsson in the fold. Tkachuk still needs an extension, but even after that Dorion will have plenty of room to work with should he need to add.

As Tkachuk waits on a new deal, the Senators are a little over $22 million below the ceiling, per Cap Friendly. There’s more than enough room there to add a piece or two if the “Why not us?” mantra leads to them in the mix for an Atlantic Division playoff spot later in the season.

shane pinto
André Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Breakout Candidate

• Shane Pinto

Their second-round pick in 2019, the 20-year-old center played 12 games with the Senators last season. He recorded seven points in that brief stint, showing promise after a productive NCAA career with North Dakota.

Pinto played all over last season, earning time on both the power play and penalty kill units. The question will be if the Senators feel there’s room for him on the opening night roster, or if he will start in the AHL and be brought in later in the season. He didn’t waste much time getting the 2021-22 season off to a good start:

Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Senators

The kids are all right. The youthful mixture of talent, plus a happily re-signed Tkachuk, results in a 2021-22 Senators team that is competitive and not an easy two points. There is opportunity back in the Atlantic Division take make a run at a Wild Card spot, but it will be reliant on the rebuild actually being “done” and not extended by another year.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Senators

Steps are taken back and not forward, and goaltender Matt Murray does not bounce back from a forgettable first season in Ottawa. He’s on the hook with a $6.25 million cap hit through 2023-24, but Filip Gustavsson is waiting in the wings to take over.

What would really derail a potential season of promise is a prolonged Tkachuk negotiation. Likely the next captain of the franchise, he’s already missed the start of camp and unless progress is made soon, regular season games could be threatened.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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