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Senators Going All-In On 2017-18

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2016-17 is shaping up to be a bridge year before some high-end prospects arrive. 2017-18 could be the year Ottawa looks to realistically challenge for the Stanley Cup for the first time in a long time.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

For almost a decade, Senators fans have wondered when the team is going to take that next step forward and become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. It's a massive knock against management that has been unable to create a team that is able of winning at least a round or two in the playoffs.

So far this off-season Ottawa has signed Chris Kelly to be their fourth line centre, and it looks like they won't be very active anywhere else mainly due to the budget. If the roster they have right now is what the opening day roster is, they won't be any better than a wildcard team, and I'm confident in saying that. I talked about their lack of depth on Tuesday, and it's one reason why they won't be a contending team in the Eastern Conference next year unless some additions are made.

However, with today's post there is some optimism. It's interesting because I wrote this article before Tuesday's went up, and I didn't know there would be such a backlash on my "negativity." Well, my last two posts will show a bit of a juxtaposition, as it's a bit more hopeful today.

While I'm very disappointed that the roster hasn't gone over a makeover (so far), I think it's pretty clear what they are doing with the team. I think they are going to see if they can somehow sneak in the playoffs in typical Ottawa fashion, and then try to legitimately go for it in 2017-18.

Think about it. Thomas Chabot seems likely to make the team this fall, and even if he doesn't, he's a lock to make it in 2017. You'd think by that time, there's a very good chance he's already one of Ottawa's better defenders on the team. He'll still be a cheap player on his entry-level contract who may play his way up to the first pairing with Erik Karlsson.

I'm not entirely sold on Cody Ceci as a second pairing player just yet, but if he shows a greater ability to limit scoring chances against, then all of a sudden their top-four does look quite good. But for the upcoming season, there still may be some growing pains on the back-end as Chabot and Ceci continue to get better.

The forward group for Ottawa looks good in the top-six, but it lacks depth. Jean-Gabriel Pageau will be a great 3rd line centre, but beyond that there are a lot of questions. Zack Smith may be able to hold down a spot on the 3rd line, but he may also regress hard next season. Curtis Lazar and Ryan Dzingel look to be getting full-time jobs at the moment, and if you compare that to some of the leagues best, it just doesn't match up.

It's not as if Ottawa's roster is terrible heading into 2016-17, it's that they're a bubble team as is, and a year from now they may be better equipped to go for it. First of all, like I mentioned before, Chabot and Ceci should continue to improve and Chabot especially could take a big leap from his rookie season to his sophomore year.

Secondly, Colin White should have a legitimate chance to make the team, and if he puts up a season better or just as good as last years, he could be an NHL contributor right away a la Dylan Larkin. Not only would Ottawa have White potentially in the lineup, there's also their other first round centre Logan Brown. They may not have room for him, but if he dominates in the OHL and impresses in camp, it's conceivable that both White and Brown could make the team a year from now.

Not only that, if White and Brown are knocking on the door for an NHL spot, someone like Mika Zibanejad may be expendable, which would be a huge trade chip for a bigger piece. It would be quite the risk, but there may be a scenario in which they have five top-9 centres on the team. That would be a great problem to have, as a need on defense could be addressed via trade.

Chabot, White, and Brown could certainly be on the team next fall, but there are a few others that have potential to play in the NHL. Someone like Francis Perron could make an impact as soon as this season, because if continues to score points, he'll give the Senators a big boost on left-wing at least by 2017-18. Other prospects like Andreas Englund, Nick Paul, and Gabriel Gagne are close to getting a full-time chance in Ottawa, but they are by no means locks. However, players like Chabot, White, Brown, and even Perron could realistically be helping the team in 2017-18. That means they will all be cheap and it may be the first year in a long time that the Senators can really go for it.

I doubt the team will be able to spend over budget a year from now, but they may not necessarily need to if they are smart with their money. Of course all of this is riding on most of these prospects panning out, but it's not as if these are all lottery tickets that have slim chances of becoming something. Their top three prospects are highly regarded around the league, and they could be NHL ready very soon.

It seems odd to me that they seem to be content with the team as is, but I can see where the front office is going with this. I don't necessarily like essentially punting this season (since it will basically be the same team that missed the playoffs), but I can understand having lots of faith in young top prospects. I am quite excited for the next wave of rookies, and 2017-18 could be a really fun Senators team. It better work out though, because the only way the team can get better is organically through the draft.

Let's have some fun and say the roster in 2017 is this:

MacArthur-Turris-Stone

Hoffman-White-Ryan

Perron-Brown-Gagne

Smith-Pageau-Paul

Chabot-Karlsson

Phaneuf-Ceci

Wideman-Spurgeon*

*Traded in a trade involving Zibanejad

That looks like a very solid lineup to me, but of course it all relies on Chabot, White, Brown, and Perron becoming good players. It's unlikely all four of them become what we want them to be, but I think Ottawa will get at least two of them on their roster. It's also unlikely that that's what the lineup will actually look like since there is only one external body, but I wanted to show that this could be a good team in a year if everything breaks right.

I truly believe 2017-18 will be a good year for the team because there should be multiple holes being filled. If they miss the playoffs again this season, then standing pat will be unacceptable a year from now, and there will be an actual effort to create the next great Senators team. One year seems like a long time from now, but I can see it coming. It'll be there sooner than you think.