With the 2018-19 NHL season nearing a close, and the Ottawa Senators all but guaranteed to finish last and hand a player who probably won't be as fun to watch as Brady Tkachuk to the Colorado Avalanche, the focus has now completely shifted to deciding which players will be back next season, as well as preparing for the upcoming draft. The roster will be assembled with the main focus of developing the young players and winning as many games as possible. Today we'll take a look at the forwards who I think should be on the team next season, as well as guys who should be moved.
First off, let's list the players we have under contract for the 2020 season on 1-way deals: Bobby Ryan, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Chris Tierney, and Mikkel Boedker. We have two RFA's who should both be on the team next season; Anthony Duclair and Colin White. As for the guys on 2-way deals, along with the unstoppable Brady Tkachuk, Rudolfs Balcers has established himself as an NHL player, with solid 200-foot play, and 5 goals and 12 points in 33 games. He's got the inside track for a spot on the big club next season, and I'll throw in Max Veronneau for his NCAA experience and decent play, and Drake Batherson for his AHL dominance, as guys who are very likely to make the team.
We have a total of 11 forwards, and while it would be easy to add someone like Logan Brown and Alex Formenton to fill out the roster, we ought to increase the level of competition in training camp by limiting the available spots on the roster. Enter the Big Three UFAs: Oscar Lindberg (8 points in 16 GP), Brian Gibbons (12 points in 16 GP) and Magnus Paajarvi (9 points in last 16 GP). All three have been pleasant surprises and are currently fighting for NHL jobs next season. There are many arguments for signing them, as well as many for letting them walk, however it would be a good idea to bring Paajarvi and Gibbons back for another season, Paajarvi because it will guarantee at least 4 wins next year against a certain "cup contender". Aside from being a Leaf killer, he plays a nice 2-way game, is only 27, and is probably only looking for a low-risk 1-year deal.
Gibbons is a more interesting case because of his older age, but NHL production isn't an anomaly for him; he had 26 points in 59 games with New Jersey in the 2017-18 season. It would be a 1-year deal at a low cost; another low-risk deal. If he can produce at a reasonable rate, say, 25 points in 60 games, he would be an affordable piece at the trade deadline for a team looking for a little extra depth up front. Getting a pick for him would add another layer to the Jason Spezza trade tree (Spezza -> Chiasson -> Sieloff -> Gibbons), and all it takes is one swing for the fences to make that trade a win for Ottawa.
Now, with 13 forwards, you may think the roster is bloated, and you'd be right. See, we have an elephant in the room, and his name is Mikel Boedker. On the surface, his production (33 points in 69 games) is decent third-line production, and for a team like the Senators, his contract is not an issue. But I think I speak for most people when I say that he's been the most frustrating player to watch on this team. I've seen him flub so many opportunities and make so many fundamental mistakes, and he can't produce much offence at all without a player of Matt Duchene's caliber carrying him. His play of late has been so underwhelming that Marc Crawford has made him a healthy scratch. As far as our other veterans go, Tierney and Ryan can pass, and Pageau and Smith can kill penalties. Boedker is not particularly great at anything, and from what I've seen, he has nothing to offer the young players, he's just taking up a roster spot at this point. Pierre Dorion should do everything he can to move him at the upcoming draft. If the Sens retain salary, they should fetch a 3rd rounder in return, which I would honestly be thrilled with, given Pierre's drafting record. Rant over.
With 12 forwards on the main roster, here are the forward lines:
Tkachuk - Tierney - Batherson
Duclair - White - Veronneau
Balcers - Pageau - Ryan
Gibbons - Smith - Paajarvi
With these lines, there will be a great deal of competition for roster spots; Brown, Chlapik, Formenton and others can crack the main roster and bring one of the fourth line guys down to the 13th spot, or send Balcers and/or Veronneau down to the minors.
In the next post, I'll cover defence and goaltending, in the meantime, let me know in the comments if you agree with these lines, or if there are any improvements that can realistically be made under our current ownership. Thanks for reading!