Senators in Enviable Position in Their Rebuild

With plenty of options and some pieces already in place, Ottawa is in an enviable position in their rebuild

***Editor’s note: As part of our Long-form Wednesday feature, we’ll occasionally be bringing in guest writers. The first guest piece this year comes from somebody who is probably familiar to most of our readers. — nkb***

(Note: It’s great to be back at Silver Seven for a guest post, I haven’t been writing since the summer so it’s nice to talk about hockey in this format once again.)

The Senators haven’t exactly been the most successful team of late.

They’re in the midst of a third season in a row where they will miss the playoffs, and this is finally the first time in a long time where there isn’t a feeling of impending doom. Although they won’t turn into contenders anytime soon, and outsiders may think everything is doom and gloom, the Senators are actually in an enviable situation in their rebuild. It’s strange, but I’m feeling better than ever about the future of this team due to the pieces and options they have.

Before we get into the players and prospects that are already in the organization, let’s take a look at their stockpile of upcoming draft picks.

They have 11 picks in the 2020 draft (including five in the first two rounds) and 10 in 2021 (with four in the first two rounds). If the season ended today, Ottawa would be picking 3rd, 7th, 34th, 39th, and 53rd. No team has taken two players in the top-10 since the Panthers did in 2002, and having five picks in the top 53 (with the 34th and 39th essentially being late first rounders) is almost unheard of. It doesn’t hurt that the 2020 draft is expected to be incredibly deep, with plenty of game-changers at the top of the board. It’s entirely plausible that San Jose turns things around and ends up making the playoffs, but Ottawa will still be most likely be getting a pick in the top-10 and top-20, both of which hold plenty of value.

Furthermore, it’s likely that they will be adding to their extensive list of draft picks— or at least they should be. They have eight impending UFAs of note, and four RFAs; with many of those players being trade candidates. Here is what I think should happen to each of them:

Impending Free Agents

UFAsRe-sign or trade?RFAsRe-sign or trade?
Jean-Gabriel PageauTrade (option to re-sign)Anthony DuclairRe-sign
Vladislav NamestnikovRe-sign (option to trade)Connor BrownRe-sign
Tyler EnnisTradeNick PaulRe-sign
Mikkel BoedkerTrade/let walkChris TierneyTrade
Dylan DeMeloRe-sign//
Mark BorowieckiRe-sign//
Ron HainseyTrade//
Craig AndersonTrade/let walk//

I’m quite set with what I think they should do for the RFAs, as Tierney seems very redundant to me, although there is a lot more grey area with some UFAs including Pageau, Namestnikov, and Borowiecki. I could see the argument either way for those three, as Pageau would likely net a sizeable return in a trade, Namestnikov is not quite an essential player, and Borowiecki might be blocking a younger player on the roster. At the same time, it’s probably good to keep at least one or two of them so that they have some veterans (especially Borowiecki due to his leadership capabilities).

The point isn’t to argue who they should keep on this list, the point is to show that there’s a very good chance Ottawa will be trading at least a few players in this table. Let’s say that Tyler Ennis, Ron Hainsey, Chris Tierney, and Vladislav Namestnikov were traded. There could be even more, but I can’t imagine Pierre Dorion moving more than three or four players. In this simple scenario, Ottawa could be acquiring four more draft picks—something like two 2nds, a 3rd, and a 5th. If they spread those out over the next two drafts, they will have 25 picks in 2020 and 2021. An absolute bounty.

Even if Dorion trades some of those players for something other than draft picks, they will surely be getting at least some more prospects or young players. Furthermore, as I’ve talked about, he isn’t forced to trade them either. He can choose to re-sign some of them and re-evaluate later in order to keep some shape to the roster. The take-way should be that they have plenty of avenues with these 12 players, and for the first time ever, Dorion has leverage in how he handles the next eight months.

Something else that needs to be emphasized is that not only do the Senators have tons of draft picks and options with their impending free agents, they have an incredible amount of depth at certain positions. Although have some clear needs, I can’t remember a time when they had this much forward and defense depth. Of course, not every prospect is going to pan out, but even with that caveat they are sitting in a good position.

I wanted to see what areas needed to be addressed, so I made a depth chart including players and prospects who I think could be worth keeping around beyond the next few seasons. Some prospects clearly won’t be here, but I wanted to include those who are on the radar. I put players into slots that I think they will end up in long-term, regardless of roster construction. For example, Logan Brown and Josh Norris cannot both be 2nd line centres, but I think that’s what they project to be. The darker the green equals more depth at the position, and the darker the red equals less depth. Here is what the chart looks like:

Obviously the colours are imperfect and you can quibble with some spots for players like Balcers, Brannstrom, and Batherson, but looking this far forward is more art than science. Also, there could easily be some trickle-down effect so although the bottom two spots on the right wing are very thin, if Batherson and Abramov both turn into NHLers, that could bump one of them down so that a 3rd line spot gets filled. There is no scenario where a future team is this young and they will of course have veterans mixed in there, but there’s no point in projecting who they will add later on.

Some takeaways:

  • Ottawa has a massive need for a 1st line centre and a 1st line right winger. That could potentially be addressed by drafting someone like Quinton Byfield, or Marco Rossi with Batherson also reaching his full potential.
  • They’re incredibly deep at 2C, 3LW, and 2LD. Even if they trade Pageau and Tierney, their long-term centre depth should be fine. The depth on the left side for forward and defense is very encouraging too.
  • They really need Jacob Bernard-Docker to turn into a top defenseman on the right side. He has the highest potential of their defense prospects, although perhaps Lassi Thomson can reach similar heights too.
  • Although there are lots of options at goalie, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will take over the future starter./

What does all of this mean for the future of the Senators then?

It shows that despite having some obvious holes on their current and future roster, they already have a lot of pieces who are either established NHLers or have a strong chance of becoming established. If someone such as Filip Chlapik does not work out on the 3rd line, then they can hope that Alex Formenton does. And that’s what is so great about their prospects: depth. Ottawa certainly still needs to add a few more high-impact players up front, and that’s not always easy to do. But they should be getting an elite talent in this upcoming draft, and then all of a sudden their situation will look even brighter.

Don’t get me wrong, the Senators still need more work. They will probably not be making the playoffs for the next two seasons beyond this one, but after that, I like their chances. This process is not a short one, and I sincerely hope the organization does not rush things like they did in 2011 because of how tempting a play-off appearance might be. It’s strange to feel so positive about the future of this team for once, but it’s perfectly valid to like where they are heading.

Now, it wouldn’t be a blog about the Senators future if I didn’t mention Eugene Melnyk, and that is obviously a potential setback. However, he was at least willing to shell out money for Thomas Chabot and Colin White, and there is a decent chance that he is out as the owner within the next 3-5 years. We’ve been saying that forever, but something has to give. I’m not going to worry about it right now though because I’m not going to let a billionaire ruin the fun for me to follow my favourite hockey team.

What we know is this:

  1. They have tons of prospect depth
  2. They have tons of draft picks
  3. They can get even more draft picks/prospects or keep some veterans they already have
  4. Veterans will be included somehow, but they don’t have to be a central part
  5. Dorion holds lots of leverage and can take this team in many different directions

I’m very excited to see where this next year takes us as their roster of the future begins to take shape.

Thanks for reading!

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