The Ottawa Senators hit rock bottom in 2019 after trading away Mark Stone and not having their 4th overall selection in the draft. Since then, they’ve been slowly building their team from the ground up, and although the playoffs are far from a guarantee next season, there will certainly be expectations that they improve. With the team looking to improve and not just be a cellar-dweller anymore, we are beginning to see how GM Pierre Dorion wants to build his team.
It’s not just Dorion who has a vision though, as DJ Smith has input, as does newly-hired Pierre McGuire. McGuire’s 7-player profile for championship teams has been talked about before, and this is what is included in it:
Essentially what McGuire is saying is that every team that wins the Stanley Cup needs to have that formula. I think that’s pretty easy to agree with, although there are certainly many other factors that go into a championship. I’m not sure if Dorion is on the same page with McGuire about this profile, but it is interesting to think about how the current Senators players and prospects fit into this.
So let’s go over which players fit into his categories, if any:
1. Two Elite Centres
As with any of these discussions, it depends what you define as “elite.” Josh Norris played fantastically well as a rookie and was on pace for 51 points in a full season. That puts him in very good 2C territory but that’s not quite elite first-line centre production. He was amazing defensively, but he’ll still need to put up at least 70 points if he wants to be considered elite. It’s possible, but he might top out more as a weaker 1C or elite 2C.
After that, things get a bit dicey. The only other player who could fall into this category is Shane Pinto unless you still believe the Senators will move Tim Stützle to centre (they probably won’t). Pinto has had two excellent seasons at UND since being drafted and even had 7 points in 12 NHL games this season. He’s greatly improved every single season since his teenage years, so it’s possible that he kicks his game into another gear, giving Ottawa two great options.
However, it’s a lot to ask both Norris and Pinto to be elite, because even just one of them getting there would be incredible. In an ideal world, they’d be able to get someone even better, but those players don’t come around often, and a Norris-Pinto 1-2 combo where both of them are 60+ point players could still work. But this is one of their biggest question marks in the 7-player profile.
2. One Power Forward
This category is perfect for Brady Tkachuk. He’s shown he’s already capable of scoring 50+ points, plus I think there is some untapped potential for even more. Furthermore, he was 2nd in the league in hits with 248, 6th in PIMS with 69, and 1st in penalties drawn with 34, so he is an absolute menace on the ice. He easily fits the “power forward” description and is a great player to have in the playoffs. Tyler Boucher could be another player to add in this category as well if he progresses well and turns into an NHLer.
3. One Specialist Forward
I don’t like this category because it’s way too vague. A specialist could be a penalty killer such as Nick Paul, or it could be a skilled winger such as Tim Stützle. Since Stützle doesn’t fit into another category, I’ll go with him here. He’s a “specialist” in that he is easily their most skilled player and will be able to provide a level of offense that probably not many others can. He should be an elite player in his prime, so he certainly fits this model.
4. One Shutdown Defenseman
This seems perfect for Jake Sanderson. I think he will settle in as more of a two-way player, but he will most likely be the defenseman playing the toughest minutes. He will be trusted in all situations but more because of his defensive prowess. It’s true that almost every team has someone like this, and Sanderson has the potential to fit the bill. He still needs to develop further and become the player we think he can be, but everything looks good so far.
Artem Zub could also potentially be this player, but I don’t think he’s quite in that elite stratosphere.
5. One Elite Puck-Moving Defenseman
Thomas Chabot clearly fits the bill, as he is much better at moving the puck up the ice than he is defending in his own zone. His ability to create offense from the backend is extremely valuable, and there isn’t really anyone else in the system who profiles as someone potentially better offensively.
6. Elite Starting Goalie
This is obviously very up in the air, but the funny thing is that Matt Murray already has two Cups. However, he’s been very shaky in three of the past four seasons, so I don’t know if we can call him elite. Is he capable of stealing some series? Absolutely. But it’s hard to say if he’ll ever fully return to form. Other than that, Ottawa has potential starters in Filip Gustavsson, Mads Søgaard, Kevin Mandolese, and Leevi Merilainen, but they might not be ready right away. There is a decent chance one of these five will turn into a great goaltender, but there is also a chance none of them become impact players.
It’s hard to say, but all we can do is wait.
So the Senators still have work to do if they want to subscribe to McGuire’s theory, but we already knew they’re not done yet. I also find it fascinating to see how the Senators want to create their identity, as Trent Mann had a noteworthy quote:
We are starting to have a certain identity of how we want to play and what a Sen is. And what we want to be and how we’re going to play the game,” said Mann. “And when we go into a building, we want teams to know that the Senators are coming and ‘Oh no — here they come again. We don’t like playing the Senators.
At some point, they will have difficult players to play against like Brady Tkachuk, Alex Formenton, Connor Brown, Nick Paul, Parker Kelly, Austin Watson, Josh Brown, Nick Holden, Tyler Boucher, Egor Sokolov, etc. Almost everyone they acquire is a very strong competitor who is described as “tough to play against,” and it will be fun to watch them play and frustrate teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Senators gain new rivals over the next several years because of this.
I wonder what else Dorion believes he needs to add in order to become a contender and if that is part of McGuire’s thinking as well. Ottawa isn’t out of the woods yet and some key moves need to be made, but they’re at least on their way to contention.