Sports are a “what have you done for me lately?” business, and hockey is no exception.
There are always going to be players that are on the periphery of becoming NHL regulars, as well as players that have something to prove in the upcoming season. For many players that fit that description this season, 2017-18 could be make it or break it. Last year, I wrote an article saying that it was make or break time for Matt Puempel, Curtis Lazar, Matt O’Connor, Cody Ceci, and Fredrik Claesson.
This year, one of the same players is actually on this list, and three new names appear. The first two are NHL regulars but have their contracts expiring next summer. The following two are in the AHL and need to make a jump forward or else they risk falling further down the depth chart.
They all have varying circumstances and don’t fit into one category, but they all need to have good seasons in the Senators organization.
Yes, Ceci appears on this list once again. Although he had another bad season, it seems like Guy Boucher trusts him and the front office wants to keep him around. That’s extremely frustrating considering all the evidence to show that he has been nowhere near as good as people want him to be, but the good news is that his contract is expiring next summer.
Or, if you’re cynical, that could be bad news.
If Ceci fails to improve on his overall play, then I’m hopeful that they’ll try to move him in a trade, or at least come to their senses and not give him a big contract. If he actually plays well though, then he could be looking at a pay raise.
“Break” for Ceci wouldn’t be as bad as it would be for other names on this list, but he could cost himself quite a bit of money. When Pierre Dorion signed Ceci to a two-year deal last summer, the belief was that this was a bridge deal to prove himself as a legitimate second pairing defenseman. Perhaps they have already made up their mind on that, but I would think he still has to show that he can be an asset to this team in 2017-18.
He needs to prove why he’s worthy of more than a bridge contract, and I fear that it won’t take much convincing. But if he truly improves, then I’ll be happy to re-sign him.
Wideman is one of my favourite players on the team, and if you’ve read anything written by me in the past 8 months, that should be no surprise. And while I wholeheartedly believe he is a more than capable 2nd/3rd pairing defenseman, I’m not 100% sure the Senators will keep him long term.
He is a UFA next summer, and the blueline is already looking a bit crowded. The right side is more open than the left, but if they have Erik Karlsson and Cody Ceci there, they may not want to give Wideman term and money to play on the third pairing.
My belief is that no matter how well he plays this season, he’ll be gone due to budget restraints. However, I’m hoping that he can make his case for the Senators to keep him by having an even better season than last year.
He’ll almost certainly be playing in the NHL if it isn’t in Ottawa, but if he wants to stay here, he needs to build on his sophomore season and play better down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Paul may seem young to some fans, but he’s already 22. Not every player makes it into the league by that point, but Paul has to show that he’s ready for the NHL and that the AHL is too easy.
He began last season in Binghamton extremely poorly, although with a strong finish, he ended up with 37 points in 72 games. That was actually fourth on the team in points, as the B-Sens were inept at scoring. If Paul continues to play like he did at the end of the season and score more points, then he will most likely be one of the first few call-ups when injuries arise.
However, with another disappointing campaign like he had in 2015-16, he could quickly be by-passed by other prospects in the system. The Senators depth is better than it was two seasons ago, and Paul will have to earn a spot on the team if he wants to make it. He doesn’t necessarily have to become an NHL regular by the end of the season, but he has to at least make it look like he can step into the lineup with no drop-off in production.
Otherwise he could begin the path to becoming a forgotten prospect.
Driedger is in a similar spot to Matt O’Connor from last year. Driedger is a year younger than O’Connor was, but 23 isn’t exactly that young for a goalie who has yet to play consistently well in the AHL.
As I have mentioned many times this summer, Marcus Hogberg is knocking on the door, and he’s dangerously close to passing Driedger. If he gets out-played, then his hopes to become a starter (or even a backup) on the Senators will begin to fade out.
He is an RFA at the end of the season, so he still might be retained even if he has another sub-par year. However, this is the year he has to play well if he wants to get to the NHL and stay there. Even if he can get back to his .912 SV% from 2015-16, that might be good enough.
Driedger just needs a solid season or he risks falling in the depth chart, or worse: not getting tendered a qualifying offer.
Are there any other players you think will have a make it or break it season in 2017-18?