The talk at the beginning of every new year is always about resolutions, wishes, hopes and dreams. 2017 signalling itself as different from 2016 gives people hope that this year will be better than the last. There is one thing that most of us have as we move onto a different calendar: hope.
There is some hope regarding the Ottawa Senators, and because of that I wanted to give five wishes that I hope will come true in 2017.
Finish 2nd in the Atlantic Division
After years of finishing in a wildcard spot (or the equivalent of one) or just outside the playoff picture, how nice would it be for Ottawa to get home-ice advantage in the first round? They have not had home-ice since 2007, which is remarkably poor.
It’s not as if this is some pipe dream, either. The Metropolitan Division is clearly the leagues best this year, but the Atlantic is wide open. Ottawa is already in 2nd right now, although it’s going to be a long fought battle until the end. The Florida Panthers are 6th, yet they sit only four points back of the Senators with one extra game played.
It looks like five teams will be battling for two playoff spots, and if Ottawa is able to get that second seed, that will be a huge achievement. Settling for a wildcard should not be good enough anymore, as this team needs to make some progress.
Trade for a Defenseman
This is something that I have wanted for a long time, and I still see Ottawa’s current six blueliners as not good enough. Bryan Murray did trade for Dion Phaneuf last year, although he hasn’t really made the kind of impact they had hoped. He has been an obvious upgrade over Jared Cowen, but he isn’t some stud defenseman anymore.
In a perfect world, Thomas Chabot would be able to fill this role effective immediately. Instead, we have to wait until next year to see him, and in the meantime somebody needs to help this lineup. Ottawa’s third pairing has been much better than last season, but their second pairing is nowhere near as good as other contenders are.
Sure, the Senators are 9th in goals allowed so far, but they’re still allowing the 6th most shot attempts against per 60 at 57.9. If this team wants to go anywhere, they need at least one acquisition, even if it is for a cheap, mobile, bottom-pairing defenseman.
Re-Make the Bottom Six
What Pierre Dorion does in the summer is really going to shape how I view him as a GM. We don’t really know what he is like, mainly because he’s only made a handful of moves. He has an interesting option in the off-season though, as he has a chance to completely revamp the third and fourth lines:
The Sens have opportunity to reshape their Bottom 6 next season as Neil/Kelly/Smith/Pyatt all UFA's. Doubt they let all go though.— Tyler Ray (@DefenseMinister) January 1, 2017
I feel like this is going to be Chris Neil’s final season, as the Senators felt compelled to get him to 1000 games. Chris Kelly has clearly not been good enough, and I would be pretty surprised if he is brought back. Tom Pyatt is an interesting case, because he’s Guy Boucher’s “guy.”
Along with Kelly, he’s been a huge anchor in the bottom-six, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Boucher convinces Dorion to keep him for another season. Zack Smith is perfectly fine in a 3rd/4th line role, but if he ends up asking for upwards of $3M, then Ottawa should walk away from that.
The point being, I could see three of those four players not being with the team next season. Dorion will have to fill those holes, and I hope he goes for a more modern and skilled bottom-six. Colin White should be a lock to make the team, and putting him as the third line centre or third line right-winger is a huge addition.
Along with White, Ottawa has Curtis Lazar, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and maybe Clarke MacArthur if he gets back to full health. There are also lots of other depth options like Francis Perron, Nick Paul, Jason Akeson, Casey Bailey, Phil Varone, and others, although it’s unlikely they would be on the opening night roster.
There will probably be two holes to fill if we include White as a lock, and cheap options should not be hard to find in free agency. Dorion could also go the trade route, and he will have many options to re-make a group of players that has usually been sub-par in Ottawa.
Have Colin White/Thomas Chabot Contribute
As I just mentioned, Colin White should be on the team next year, and I can’t see why Thomas Chabot wouldn’t be either. Ottawa has about an average farm system, but that’s due to these two being blue-chip prospects.
This is a team that is suddenly in a win-now mode, and if these two prospects don’t pan out, or at least aren’t good in their first season, then Ottawa may not be any better than they are in 2016-17.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of these two players. White can be an important link from the top-six to the bottom-six so that the scoring can be spread more evenly throughout the lineup. Jean-Gabriel Pageau is a fine third line centre, but if he gets pushed to the fourth line, then all of a sudden Ottawa has four very good centremen (albeit, with no star centres).
Chabot can hopefully become a second star defenseman to go along with Erik Karlsson, as the team has never had that. In the best case scenario, Chabot can play second pairing minutes, and he could actually help solidify the top-4.
White and Chabot don’t need to be Calder candidates, but I hope they are able to make Ottawa a much deeper team by the end of 2017 and heading into 2018.
Have a plan for Cody Ceci
There are clearly lots of teams around the league that like Cody Ceci as a player, as we saw with the Jonathan Drouin rumours last Spring. However, it seems as if Ottawa is the highest on Ceci, which isn’t a good thing.
Take this with a grain of salt, but here’s what Travis Yost had to say about potential deals for Ceci over the summer:
No Senators fan wants to know what Cody Ceci could've returned this summer. Multiple deals were available. https://t.co/JKEsfuL68x— Travis Yost (@travisyost) December 1, 2016
Scoring comp? Oshie. Kreider. Parise. Of that ilk, or around. https://t.co/aPGJ0PtZCp— Travis Yost (@travisyost) December 1, 2016
The Senators love Ceci, and I’m not exactly sure why. He has been just as bad, if not worse this season, and I hope at least somebody in the organization has recognized that. The sad thing is, his stock is dropping day by day.
I would love to see a plan for Ceci for the rest of the season/year. He simply is not a second pairing defenseman right now, so he should not be treated like one. They like the idea of him, and they have tried for the longest time to awkwardly plug him in this spot, but he has not lived up to the expectations. If they think he is not going to get better, then they should look to trade him so someone like Marc Methot is not lost in the expansion draft.
If they do believe in him, then at least don’t play him on the second pairing. Chris Wideman is probably better suited for the third pairing, but he has been miles better than Ceci this season, and is more deserving of that extra ice time.
I would love for the team to at least recognize that his career-to-date has not been great. There is nothing wrong with admitting that he has to get better, because the team frequently does that with other players like Mike Hoffman, Thomas Chabot, etc.
Essentially, I just don’t want to have a Jared Cowen 2.0 where Ottawa is the last team to realize that he is not good. Perhaps he gets better at some point here, but he has not shown me much in his career.
Those are my wishes for 2017! I know not all of them will come true, but I’m optimistic at least two of them will. What are your wishes for the calendar year?