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.
[Under Pressure: Pierre Dorion | Breakthrough: Thomas Chabot | Three Questions]
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.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck