First things first: if you're going to judge a team's defensive structure based on how they look against the Carolina Hurricanes, nearly every team in the league is going to disappoint you. If the Sens allow the same number of chances in the home opener against the Philadelphia Flyers, that's when we start worrying. Until then, I'm letting the early season good vibes continue to wash over me.
Here are five other thoughts that I've had recently:
On Depth Players Bouncing Back
Two of the most maligned Senators last season were forwards Mathieu Joseph and Parker Kelly, which was understandable in many ways. Joseph, after signing a 4-year deal with a $2.95M AAV, scored just 3 goals in 56 games, none of which came at even strength. Kelly, meanwhile, followed up a respectable 12 points in 41 games in 2021-22 with an abysmal 4 in 55, while significantly hindering Ottawa's ability to create offence while on the ice. Both had a goal and assist in the team's 5-3 loss to Carolina on Wednesday and were generally quite effective at using their speed. It's good to see some level of production from the depth forwards to start the year, but there's also reason to hope we see more of it with a bit more puck luck. It's basically impossible to do a worse job of converting on even-strength scoring chances than Ottawa did last season; you could say they're due.
On Rourke Chartier
Maybe it's because he had a strong training camp. Or maybe it's because the Senators literally couldn't fit Roby Jarventie's $900k under their salary cap. Either way, Rourke Chartier has been given an opportunity unlike any he's received before in his hockey career – and he's making good use of it so far. No points in the season opener, but he created a chance which led to Joseph's goal, and posted a team-leading 5-on-5 xGF% of 68.81%. He hasn't shown he can be productive at this level yet, and his best AHL season (25 points in 33 games) isn't much to write home about either. However, there's evidence of a scoring touch in his D+1 season with the Kelowna Rockets in 2014-15 – 46 goals and 34 assists in 58 games. If he can find a way to rediscover just a bit of that offence, he could carve out a few one-way deals and see his career earnings skyrocket. It's going to be an important year for him, and it's always fun to see a journey man get a real shot at it.
On the Top Line
It's always tough when you wait a full season for the next iteration of your favourite hockey team to take the ice, and their first game is on the road against a Cup contender such as the Hurricanes. An extremely losable game for most teams, including this year's edition of the Ottawa Senators. In the opener, Tim Stützle was the only top player to record a point, and even then, it was a rare instance of him not being up to par overall, as evidenced by a couple of minor penalties and a couple of costly turnovers. Even the best players have subpar games, though. We know what Stützle, Brady Tkachuk and Claude Giroux are capable of, but they won't break open every single game. What's encouraging is that Ottawa played a very strong first period, such that when the Hurricanes inevitably pushed back and took over, they were still in a position to tie the game up at 3. Too many times last season, we saw the team produce nothing outside of their top line and top power-play unit. With improved depth contributions, they'll have a much easier time winning the games even when the top line isn't dominant.
On the Cap Problems
It's safe to say Ottawa's salary cap situation isn't great right now. The Senators have $60k to sign Shane Pinto, and while it's difficult to get too upset about the contract being paid to Vladimir Tarasenko, we are starting to see the results of not managing the salary with sufficient foresight. Another symptom of a dire lack of cap space is that it severely limits a team's decisions in training camp. Maxence Guenette have a good camp? Not enough cap space. It's the same for Roby Jarventie and Jiri Smejkal, who both produced at a decent clip in the preseason.
There are moves Pierre Dorion can make to resolve these issues, but the number of teams that will be able to do business with him due to their own cap constraints is small – and none of them will be willing to bail him out without something significant in return. Even as someone who lived through the Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone trades, this mismanagement feels like it has the potential to be Dorion's biggest mistake yet.
On NHL Players Pushing Back
It's encouraging to see several NHL players push back against the league's decision to ban Pride tape, and while every player who's spoken out should be applauded, it's perennial MVP Connor McDavid who has a bit more clout than the rest. He's called the ban "disappointing", and I'd also like to see him follow suit to Flyers' forward Scott Laughton, who has said he'll don the tape on Pride night regardless of the ban. Mass action, especially from the most influential players, would force the league to backtrack on their decision, with the motivation being their biggest talent sending a message that members of the LGBTQ+ community are welcome in the hockey community. It's also worth mentioning that the players supporting Pride initiatives will only increase the number of paying fans, and therefore, player salaries. It's the right thing to do, but players should also be supporting these initiatives simply on the back of it being a worthwhile investment. Everyone should be invested in growing the game.