In case you haven’t been paying close attention to the standings, the Ottawa Senators now need a miracle to qualify for the post-season. The Sens are seven points out with just thirteen game remaining, and there are three teams between them and the second wild card spot. They would, at a minimum, need to go 11-2 — and even then, it would likely require some help to sneak in. If they were longshots at the start of the month, losing their last five games was the nail in the proverbial coffin.
Nonetheless, there are thirteen games to play, and this is a squad chock full of young players that could use all the experience they can get. Even if a post-season birth is now a dream, it would behoove the team to extract maximum value from this stretch run. Which brings us to this week’s question: can the remaining games in the Sens’ season be a success? What would that look like?
For me, the last thirteen games should be played a) to win and b) to figure out what to do with some of the young players and depth forwards. While Alex DeBrincat is the biggest question mark, by far, of the off-season, he has a six year NHL track record. Nothing that happens in the next thirteen games should have much bearing on how the Sens approach his impending restricted free agency. We know what he is. I also find it quite unlikely they deal him in the off-season since the goal is clearly to compete for the play-offs next year and virtually any DeBrincat trade will make the team worse.
The roles of Julien Gauthier, Ridly Greig, and, to a lesser degree, Erik Brännström, are very much up in the air. To my thinking, the Sens will likely be returning eight forwards and four defenseman with guaranteed roles: Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, Claude Giroux, Alex DeBrincat, Shane Pinto, and Mathieu Joseph up front, with Thomas Chabot, Jake Sanderson, Jakob Chychrun, and Artem Zub patrolling the blueline. Everything after that is subject to change and tinkering.
For my money, the Sens would do well to start Greig and Brännström in meaningful roles to start next year but they’re both players in whom the coaching staff does not quite yet seem to have full confidence. These next thirteen games are a great time to do some real evaluation. If Ottawa can find their way to an 8-5 record, and we can start to see the outline of the roles for the aforementioned support players, then I’d consider the stretch run a success.
What about you? What would make the last thirteen games a success? Is it even possible, or has the disappointment of a failed play-off hunt removed any positives?