Welcome back for the final installment of our regular Report Card feature where we share the full staff ballot, and also answer a few questions as a group.
Here’s how the staff and the readers ranked the team this year:
Question 1: For a team that finished 20th in goal-scoring, the staff seemed to be feeling generous when it came to the forwards with ten players getting at least a B- and four receiving an A- or above. Do you feel the forwards as a whole exceeded your expectations for the season? Do you think they will be able to generate enough goals to make a push for the play-offs next season?
Shaan: It’s hard to say where the team’s young forwards will be next year, but it’s entirely possible that they could all take a big enough step to see the team’s overall production increase considerably. A dedicated offseason for Tim Stützle, in particular, could result in multiple forwards reaching the 20-goal plateau, so I’ll say yes.
Brandon: I think all in all, the core of forwards that finished the season was a good one. Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov didn’t provide much, for varied and obvious reasons, but the play of the youth was really encouraging. Josh Norris, Tim Stützle, and Drake Batherson have shown the makings of legitimate top-line players, while Alex Formenton, Shane Pinto, and even Parker Kelly have made emphatic statements about their bottom six value.
Any understandable regression from Connor Brown will likely be offset by rebound seasons from Evgenii Dadonov and Colin White, to say nothing of improvement from Pinto and Formenton, and prospects like Egor Sokolov who could potentially contribute. I’m confident with the forward group as long as they add another piece or two. Another centre may not hurt, depending on what happens with the Seattle Expansion Draft.
Trevor: I think most of the forwards played within expectations and some were slightly above. Out of the players being graded, the only ones who really disappointed me were Evgenii Dadonov and Chris Tierney. If the Sens another top-9 forward (most likely a centre) and Dadonov bounces back a bit, they could challenge for a playoff spot.
Spencer: For me, these letter grades were partially due to performance overall but primarily relative to my expectations heading into the season. As someone who’s only started to be optimistic about the Sens in the last year, my expectations were pretty low and even players who may not have performed above expectations offensively, hi Nick Paul, delivered solid performances — particularly down the stretch. I do think they’ll be able to generate enough goals to make a push, but perhaps not end up in the playoffs next year.
Beata: 20th in goal scoring is still better than I expected at the beginning of the season! As a whole, yes, the forwards did exceed my expectations. This is an incredibly young, mostly unproven lineup at forward, and a lot of them had career seasons. I couldn’t really expect much more from Norris, Batherson, Connor Brown or Nick Paul, for instance, and almost everyone else had a great year as well. A lot of the young guys were playing against top lines, too, and it isn’t easy for a rookie to thrive in that role. As for the playoffs next season, I think they’re within reach. There’s no reason to think that Norris or Batherson will have a sophomore slump, since they’re already playing difficult minutes. The only young player who’s maybe been a bit sheltered is Stützle, and he’s only going to improve with another year of development. With perhaps another addition at forward and no major injuries, yeah, I could see them generating enough offense to make the playoffs.
Ross: Other people have nailed this one. Expectations were low. A number of inexperienced players played well, and disappointing veterans were removed from the lineup. I think we’ll be tougher on a lot of these young forwards next year because now we know what they’re capable of.
Owen: Players like Drake Batherson and Josh Norris really impressed me with their two-way game, and Nick Paul and Alex Forementon really shined defensively. All of those little improvements garnered better grades from me even if a lot of the other young forwards didn’t score a tonne. I think based on the way Pierre Dorion has built this team and the way DJ Smith coaches, they’ll have to find a way to win with the offensive weapons they currently have (and perhaps a couple other upgrades) so they’ll need tighter defence as a team and more steady goaltending to win based on the rate at which they generate offence long-term.
Ary: Woah, I didn’t realize we were that high on the forwards as a staff. For me, while I still think there’s a ways to go tactically to get the group in a position where they’re regularly generating high-danger chances, and offence isn’t an issue. As others have said, the kids were better than expected, and what’s exciting is that other than the overproduction of Connor Brown, most of the forwards should continue to grow next season. Like Shaan mentioned, I expect Tkachuk, Norris, Batherson, and Stützle to be in the 20-25 goal range, and we’ll wait and see on Brown and Evgenii Dadonov.
I’m nervous about the suggestion from Melnyk (via DJ Smith) that the team needs a “veteran 1C” — that’d be great, but I don’t know who the team could be referring to in this instance and what the acquisition cost would be. Trading some prospect and pick capital to add a centre who is 23-25 might be something I’d consider if they’re locked into a contract for the next 4-5 seasons or about to be (*cough* Sam Reinhart *cough*) because that might be enough to get this team into a spot to challenge for consistent playoff appearances from an offensive perspective.
Nada: With the roster being so young, most were just hoping to see a good effort with flashes of skills. The players set the expectations for next year where a guy like Stützle or Batherson will be expected to produce a lot more. I wouldn’t say we were generous, more like an encouraging bunch with an eye to next year.
nkb: I was the harshest grader of the bunch, but even I was mostly pleased with the performance from many of the young forwards. One of the most exciting things to come out of this season was Tkachuk-Norris-Batherson establishing themselves as a legitimately dangerous trio, and I don’t see any reason the three should regress. I’m not totally convinced there’s enough skill up front to fight for the play-offs next year outside of what was a very weak North Division but there’s a lot of room for growth from many of the key players and that’s very encouraging.
Question 2: Pierre Dorion’s grade made it all the way up to a C from the D+ he was sporting at mid-season. What do you view as his best move of the year?
Shaan: Claiming Victor Mete off of waivers was a move many wanted to see happen, but didn’t expect. Full credit to Dorion for taking advantage of the roster space from the departures of Braydon Coburn and Mike Reilly.
Brandon: If we’re talking the entirety of the season, I’m tempted to say bringing in a solid fourth-liner in Austin Watson, but it has to be the waiver claim of Victor Mete from the Montreal Canadiens. It seems like a bit of a layup, but it’s not a move that the Senators have made, historically speaking. It looks even better long-term with Mike Reilly and Christian Wolanin now gone, and Jake Sanderson at least another year away.
Mete provides some much-needed depth on the left side, and with him being under RFA control, the Senators are in vastly better shape with him on the roster.
Trevor: As others have said, it has to be the Victor Mete claim. It was such an obvious move to make at the time, but I was certain that it wouldn’t happen based on previous non-waiver claims. He seemed to fit in seamlessly, and I’m excited to see if he is a part of their plans.
Spencer: His best move of the year was claiming Victor Mete on waivers. Knowing Ottawa already had one young, small, skilled defender, I was expecting Dorion to pass on him in fear that didn’t fit into the mold of big, tough, character defenders. His second best move was flipping Paquette and Galchenyuk and bringing Dzingel back into the fold.
Beata: Mete, for sure. As others have said, it was kind of a no-brainer move, and I’m not surprised that it worked out, but I’m very happy with that acquisition. Bringing Dzingel back worked out pretty well too, and Dorion got rid of a lot of the dead weight that had been dragging the team down during the first half of the season. I wasn’t super impressed with his moves last offseason, but to his credit he corrected a lot of his mistakes during the season. I can’t find much fault with his record in the second half.
Ross: Ditching deadweight at the deadline. Getting anything back for Gudbranson and Coburn was nice (forgetting that he gave up a slightly better pick for Gudbranson in the first place). Add in getting a return for Reilly, and he reinvented the Sens’ D-corps in a handful of days.
Owen: Does Zub count even if he got that signing done last off-season? In-season, probably Victor Mete.
Ary: I honestly hope Dorion learned his lesson from last offseason. I’ll take the team spinning the “we had to be bad to be good” narrative as a way to save face, and give the GM credit for siphoning Coburn, Paquette, and Erik Gudbrandson off — even if the return wasn’t very great. In particular, I sort-of thought Gudbranson would be the “local, veteran, defensive defenceman” that the team would fall in love with and sink any optimism I had, so that he isn’t part of the team’s long-term future (so far) is a real positive in my books.
Nada: Getting rid of the veterans seems to make sense but I don’t consider this a good move as much as fixing a problem he created and one that really altered the outcome of the season. For me, it was bringing in Artem Zub and Victor Mete that he did well but overall, I was still not very impressed with how Dorion handled this season.
nkb: Mete has to be the answer here considering the cost (zero) and the impact (reliable NHL defender) though the Dzingel trade was obviously a winner, too. Like Nada, I don’t give Dorion much credit for cleaning up a mess that he himself created just a few months before in terms of the overall roster shuffling, but there’s no doubt that the team is in a good position heading into the off-season. If the lesson the organization ultimately takes from this season is that the kids are ready to lead next year, then that will make the bumps along the way a lot more palatable.
Question 3: What letter grade would you give the Sens’ season as an organization and why?
Shaan: This season was pretty fun. We had great fan engagement, strong development, and the bulk of the team’s wins came down the stretch, which is always better than the other way around. There were plenty of bumps along the way; many things could’ve been done to make this year even more fun, but nevertheless I’d say the organization met expectations this year, so they get a B.
Brandon: Are we considering ownership, and various yacht and/or podcast-related shenanigans? For the sake of my mental health, I won’t.
All in all, I think the organization did some great things at all levels this year. I applaud them for embracing the Sens Sickos movement without corporatizing it, and committing to fan engagement while Canadian Tire Centre was forced to remain empty. On the ice, they rebounded after a dreadful start, prioritized the development of their youth, and ended up being a pretty damn good (and fun) team by the year’s end.
There’s plenty of work to do going forward, but it’s hard not to feel positive about the Senators’ overall direction after this season. I’ll give them a B+.
Trevor: There are so many moving parts here from coaching, to management, to the players, to ownership, so it’s not an easy question. I think there are still some serious flaws in their pro scouting that need to be addressed, but the fact that this team is bonding and playing extremely well with their young players bodes well for the future. Fans are excited, although I’d like to see more from this team before giving them full marks just yet. A solid B for me on the season.
Spencer: I’d give them a B- for this season. The offseason moves of bringing in replacement level veterans made the beginning of the year really tough to watch but they rebounded well. There’s still what I believe to be a very large skill gap for the organization when it comes to identifying good NHL-calibre talent. The way this grade moves up for me this time next year is if Dorion proves he’s learned from his mistakes in evaluating NHL talent and acquires good, talented players this offseason.
Beata: I’m actually going to give them an A-. We knew going into this season that success would be measured based on player development, not on the team’s record. With that in mind, I think the Sens accomplished what they set out to do and a bit more. Young players were (eventually) given a chance to prove themselves, and they rose to the occasion. Midseason roster changes made the team younger and more skilled, while making room for more young players to join the lineup. We got a good sense of what the team is going to look like going forward, down to which players have the most chemistry with each other and which ones can handle the toughest matchups. On top of that, the organization managed to get through the regular season without an off-ice controversy, and won back a lot of their fans with a really likable team and a good social media presence. I can’t give them an A because there were a lot of really bad moves during the offseason and some frustrating player deployment issues in the first few games, but they did rebound from that, which is why I’m being a bit generous. A lot of the goodwill they’ve built up this season could come crashing down with a few bad roster moves and/or off-ice controversies, but just looking at this season, yeah, an A- feels right to me.
Ross: B. They exceeded expectations, though those expectations were very low. I think this is the last year they get that much benefit of that much doubt though; starting next year, anything short of making the playoffs and winning a couple games will be seen as a bit of a letdown.
Owen: I want to give the players a B overall but the management and coaching staff drag the overall organization down to a C. I still have confidence in the general course the team has taken so far. As others have said before though, let’s see how the organization handles the difficult part of the rebuild in cresting that hill from up-and-coming to actual playoff contention.
Ary: I grew up with the Ottawa Senators excelling on-the-ice from 1997-2007, and that’s the expectation that I have moving forward. This season felt like one where the team succeeded in spite of itself. If I can, I’d love to give the on-ice performance of the hockey team a B, my confidence in the coaching staff and management a C, and my optimism that they’ll “do it right” a D, unfortunately.
Nada: B+...I wish they hadn’t had that slow start and Dorion/ DJ Smith had played the kids more earlier but it is what it is now. This was one of the most entertaining seasons we’ve had in a while and now we begin to be more critical. Bonus points to DJ Smith and the organization as a whole for embracing Sens Sickos, it showed they really did try to make an effort to connect with the fans.
nkb: Two weeks into this season, we were staring down a full blown calamity: the team was legitimately awful, several of the organization’s best prospects were not even playing professional hockey and folks were wondering, not unreasonably, about DJ Smith’s job certainty. To go from there to where we are today, in about four months’ time, is a truly remarkable turnaround. Ultimately I land on a B-: by the end of the season, things where were they needed to be but we also can’t ignore the debacle of the first part of the year. This off-season is one of the most important in the franchise’s history: the Five Years of Unparalleled Success might depend on what happens next.