Let me preface this article by acknowledging the extent to which I expose myself to shame and ridicule here. The Ottawa Senators have missed the playoffs five years in a row! They haven’t fixed their defence! They don’t have proven goaltending! Contextually speaking, the Sens don’t look like a group poised for any individual accolades next summer. At the same time, I would argue that to some extent, the low expectations around this team almost lend themselves to the potential for some hardware—I’ll explain, I promise!
But first, remember how cool it was when Alfie won the Calder, and Paul MacLean won the Jack Adams, and Erik Karlsson won those Norrises? And remember how cool it almost was when Craig Anderson should have won the Vezina, and Mark Stone should have won the Calder, and Erik Karlsson should have won even more Norrises? I think we’re due, folks. And I want to hear your opinions on who will most likely end Ottawa’s dearth of individual awards. Personally, if I really squint my eyes and tilt my head sideways, these possibilities make the most sense in my mind, kind of maybe:
Pierre Dorion - GM of the Year
Let’s just start out as audaciously as possible. Putting it mildly, Pierre Dorion has had a rough tenure as GM of the Ottawa Senators. Even in his first season when the Sens went on their miracle post-season run, we threw a lot of shade at Dorion’s decision-making. We followed that up with five years of agonizing mediocrity and a sense that somehow for all of our patience, Dorion might not ever see this core reach its full potential. A lot of us had simply written him off as recently as the trade deadline. And then everything changed. For months, Dorion has done nothing but hit home runs. Without any hyperbole, we as a fanbase have never felt this kind of excitement for training camp during Dorion’s tenure.
When I said that the recent failures of the Senators could help their chances at garnering some awards votes, I meant examples exactly like this one. Expectations for Dorion had fallen so low relative to his peers that if this new and improved Senators team clicks and they somehow sneak into the postseason, you can bet your bottom dollar the writers will give Dorion more than just a few votes for GM of the year. And I think knowing the volatility of professional sports management in general, Dorion is aware that his fate lies at either end of the success spectrum. Either all of his moves pan out and he looks like the smartest GM in the NHL, or he watches from home next year. (I think that absence of middle ground has in part motivated Dorion to swing for the fences all summer long.)
DJ Smith - Jack Adams
I consider this one a slightly less audacious analog to the outcome I just described. In short, head coaches who can lead their team to the postseason after missing out the year prior tend to do very well with this award. As many have said before, the Jack Adams somewhat operates as the other Vezina trophy. Take a bad team, get it some lucky goaltending results, and you have coach of the year. If Anton Forsberg has the type of breakout that I believe him capable of, and that helps get Ottawa into a wild card spot, then Smith finds himself in the mix like the Paulrus via Andy before him. Should this award go to the coach who actually gets the best results out of their roster night-in and night-out? Of course it should. But this is real life. Good goalie plus bad team equals man award.
Jake Sanderson - Calder
I find the Calder just about the most fascinating award because while rookies have the advantage of a smaller pool of competition, they have to work against a rapidly ticking clock. You basically get one crack at this one and it has led to some interesting results in the past (Tyler Myers!). In the vein of Alfie, Stone, and Josh Norris, the Sens have a strong track record of rookie performances but after a couple of snubs, fans in Ottawa want vindication. Injuries notwithstanding, Sanderson has all the trappings of a rookie of the year candidate. If he doesn’t take it home then we can shift our focus to Norris trophies down the line but for now, this seems like a plausible candidate to end the drought.
Thomas Chabot - Norris
Speaking of the best defender in the league, let’s just start manifesting this one now. By his own standards, Chabot didn’t play his best brand of hockey last year and probably needs some validation this coming season. I can appreciate that the NHL has some superhuman defenders like Cale Makar who we can already pencil in, but Chabot has shown his own flashes of greatness in his youth and with a revamped lineup around him and another year of experience for himself and his peers, dare to dream. Close your eyes, imagine bringing Artem Zub with you to work every single day knowing he has your back through good times and bad. Now tell me you don’t already feel like employee of the year. I rest my case.
Tim Stützle - Selke
In a league with Connor McDavid it feels just a little absurd to expect a Senator to win any sort of scoring title or MVP award in the near future but the best defensive forward category leaves a lot up to the interpretation of the voter. Yes, it tends to bring out a lot of bias and complacency, but with more young writers climbing the ranks and the proliferation of fancy stats in hockey, we can only hope that this award occasionally goes to the forward who plays defence most effectively. And as luck would have it, the Senators just locked up a young forward who has already made leaps and bounds as a defender at the ripe age of 20. If Stützle can maintain his current trajectory in terms of defensive development then he could bloom into one of the premiere two-way centres in hockey (kinda like his draft profile suggested!). Maybe a Senator breaks out offensively and takes one of the scoring awards but the Selke has a niche, hipster vibe that fits better with Ottawa’s style.