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Ottawa Senators Mailbag, Part One!

Mailbag!

NHL: Florida Panthers at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we put out the call for questions for a mailbag and boy did the community come through. A lot of you apparently had a lot of questions on your mind! There were so many, in fact, that we’ll be running our answers in two parts. Part two will be tomorrow.

For all of those of you that submitted a question that wasn’t answered here or in tomorrow’s mailbag, I’m sorry and we’ll try to get to you next time. There was also something of a theme to several of the questions (who should the Sens trade for? What should they do with the seventh overall pick?) and so if you don’t see your exact question here, hopefully there’s another one that is close thematically.

Without further ado, here are your questions and our answers:

Question: When is it appropriate to start Offer Sheet season? —TheInertnet

Brad: If you want to know when it’s appropriate to start speculating about offer sheets, that is ALWAYS in season. For the teams themselves, they can start talking to potential offer sheet targets on July 12th but nothing can be signed until free agency opens at noon on the 13th.

Question: Who will be better when its all said and done: Jake Sanderson or Thomas Chabot? -THEDUDE29

Beata: STOP. I signed up to answer this question just so I could say: we are not having this discussion yet. Sanderson has not yet played a single NHL game. I know it’s fun to try to project his ceiling based on how he’s been playing in other leagues, but a lot of young defensemen struggle to make the jump to the NHL - yes, even top prospects. Meanwhile, Chabot has proven himself to be a capable #1 defensemen, is in his prime, and still has yet to play a full season with first-pairing calibre defense partner and reasonable ice time. The improvement he showed this season, especially defensively, should make Sens fans optimistic about the future on defense. For now, I’m approaching the Sens’ defense with the attitude that Chabot is the #1 defenseman of the future, and that as long as Sanderson turns into a solid top 4 guy, this team will be in a good place moving forward. If he’s better than that, great! But he doesn’t need to be, and we shouldn’t expect that of him — especially right away.

Question: Do you think the Sens missing the playoffs was bad luck combined with injuries or a team that is still missing depth and/or skill to compete? And if it is the latter, what is the one area most in need of improvement? — Righteous637

nkb: No one would ever argue with the fact that the Sens battled through more than their share of adversity this season, particularly when it came to injuries and COVID. However, the Sens finished 27 (!) points shy of the last play-off spot; they were not particularly close, and at no point in the season were they ever close. It’s very difficult to explain that large of a gap by misfortune alone, especially since several teams had it worse on the injury front.

In terms of what this team requires to qualify for the post-season next year, they need an infusion of skill beyond their Core Five (a name I just made up). Right now Ottawa has four forwards (Stützle, Tkachuk, Batherson, Norris) and one defenseman (Chabot) that I would consider to be strongly positive contributors in important roles on legitimately good teams. After that there are some useful players who can have a smaller role to play on a good team (Zub, Brown, Joseph, Formenton) but who are not moving the needle by themselves. The Sens desperately two to three quality difference makers both up front and on the blue line. The good news is that Ottawa has reason to hope Sanderson and Shane Pinto can be two of those types of players. Whether they’re ready to assume those roles next season will likely be the biggest determinant of Ottawa’ final position in the standings.

Question: How short of a leash does DJ have if they stumble out the gate this fall? — Northiceman

Shaan: We’ve seen coaches take talented teams and severely limit their success, names like Alain Vigneault and Peter DeBoer come to mind. Smith hasn’t shown that he belongs in that group, at least in part because he’s never had a talented team to work with (injuries to both White and Pinto leaving a hole at 3C this past year wasn’t ideal).

The expectations of his performance next season depend on offseason moves. If Pierre Dorion adds a winger who can really shoot the puck, as well as a decent veteran to play with Jake Sanderson, then there should be no excuses for Smith — a similar start to the previous two seasons could (and possibly should) result in his firing. If we instead end up with Stepan and Gudbranson 2.0, then nobody should be pointing the finger at the coach for another losing season.

Question: Who is in charge of the music in the dressing room? — Fab Five No 1 Fan

Ross: I thought this would be an easy question to handle, but it’s proven quite difficult to pin down. The correct answer seems to be that there is a rotating crew. We know that entering last season, Thomas Chabot and Colin White were the guys, picking a selection of rap, hip-hop, and occasional techno. A little more journalistic digging tells us that Tim Stützle works out to rap and hip-hop (“American, not German”), so likely contributes to this. Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris would put on Mr. Brightside, or maybe some Elton John. Nick Holden would fist-pump along to ABBA (or maybe put on the Safety [First] Dance?). And if ever things get a little stale, DJ Propser can always be there to pump things back up again.

Question: What are the pros and cons of buying out White and what is a reasonable projection for him if he is back next season? — DW19

Trevor: The pros are that it will save them $10.5M in real cash overall, plus in the first two years they will free up $3.75M in cap space, then $5.375M in the third year — which is quite valuable for a budget team. They will have $875k on the books for three additional years, but that’s not much at all. The Senators will need to begin paying players like Norris, Stützle, Pinto, J Sanderson, and hopefully any new players, so freeing up some space might be a good idea. The cons are that Colin White isn’t a bad player, and having additional depth is always a good thing. The Senators have had incredibly weak depth over the past several seasons, and nobody has ever said you can’t have four good centres (Norris, Stützle, Pinto, White). Although he hasn’t lived up to his contract or his draft status, he still ranked 8th amongst Senators forwards in Goals Above Replacement (1.4) on a per-game basis last season, ahead of guys like Austin Watson, Zach Sanford, Parker Kelly, Chris Tierney, Dylan Gambrell, Alex Formenton, and Adam Gaudette. If White is bought out, Ottawa will undeniably be a weaker team unless they use the savings to sign a more effective replacement. If he’s back though, I think there’s a chance he’s settled in to a consistent role as a 3rd line player who can give you 30-35 points and kill some penalties.