Ottawa Senators Off-Season Roundtable: The Celebration Edition
Things are going well...almost too well...
A mere twelve days ago, the Silver Seven staff gathered around a (metaphorical) table and pontificated on the state of the Ottawa Senators heading into the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, much has changed. So, with the earth shattering events of the last two weeks behind us, we come together once more.
Question: So….how’s everyone feeling?!
Trevor: I’m feeling incredible. The Senators are getting tons of praise, and opening night will be the most excited I’ve been in years. The past three weeks or so have been the best stretch of news for Ottawa maybe...ever?
Ross: Elated. These last couple weeks have surpassed my wildest expectations.
Owen: Like we’ve traveled back in time 20 years. I had completely forgotten this feeling.
Beata: About as good as I’ve ever felt about this team. It’s been fun!
Spencer: Overall? Awesome. I went into free agency with a hopeful but considered mindset on what Ottawa could accomplish. I had faith they’d TRY to make a splash but I didn’t actually expect them to make a splash. Welcome home, Claude.
Ary: I went to check when single-game tickets would be available for the first time in five years, so that’s saying something (P.S. It’s September 8th!). Thus far, this is the best offseason I can remember the team having. I think the only other free agent signing I was happier about was Dominik Hasek, and I don’t think the team has ever traded for a player of DeBrincat’s calibre before without giving up a player of similar status in return (e.g. Marian Hossa). It’s a fun time.
Shaan: Like I’m cheering for a real hockey team again. I haven’t felt like this since Game 6 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final.
nkb: It’s difficult to describe the tonal change over the last two weeks. For so many years, even during the play-off runs in 2017 and 2015, it seemed like there was something holding this team back, that there was a limit to what was possible. I thought I might never have the opportunity to write about the Sens when that wasn’t the case. That seems to have all changed and it’s impossible to overstate how incredible that feels.
Q: What’s been the best part of the last couple of weeks for you?
Trevor: It has to be getting Alex DeBrincat. Claude Giroux is a huge get as well, but DeBrincat is only 24 and could be on this team for years to come as a 40-goal scorer. He transforms the entire outlook of this team, plus my faith in Dorion was restored after getting such an elite player for not very much.
Ross: Getting DeBrincat, because it involved several things I never thought I’d see: Dorion coming out on the better side of a trade; good pro scouting from the Sens; no roster players leaving the team; and the best player on the market ending up with the Sens.
Owen: I guess the unconditional nature of our collective enthusiasm. It feels like we don’t have to temper our hope in the same way. Things have just happened smoothly like clockwork and that in and of itself feels remarkable.
Beata: Easily the DeBrincat trade. I was lucky enough to be able to cover the draft in Montréal, and I remember leaving my apartment after hearing about that failed Matt Murray trade, and bracing myself for the possibility that I was about to watch the Sens do something really dumb. I even posted a joke on my Instagram story about how I was going to find Pierre Dorion and tell him to trade for Alex DeBrincat... and then I changed it to “a good player” before posting it because DeBrincat felt so unrealistic. I couldn’t even entertain the notion. They must have finalized the trade sometime between me going through security at the Bell Centre and getting to my seat, because I sat down and immediately saw the trade. My first reaction was “that’s a fake account,” and it took me about a minute of scrolling to actually believe it was true. It just felt way too good to be a real trade. That shock and joy really set the tone for the rest of the week.
Spencer: The DeBrincat trade for suuuuure. I love the Giroux signing but to see Ottawa use their draft capital to pick a player of that calibre up?? That’s a new dawn for this franchise.
Ary: Thursday, July 7th. I started the day without many meetings so I was scrolling on Twitter and had enough time to see the potential Matt Murray trade leak, leaving me in a sour mood. I went away in the afternoon only to return to DeBrincat in the evening. I (obviously) watch the draft every year and it was so fun to follow the drama without worrying about the Senators for once.
Shaan: For all of the mistakes Dorion’s made in the past, the team has been in a position in the last few years in which they were a couple of moves away from competing. We were previously convinced those moves were never coming, and now that they have, it’s going to be a lot easier to cheer for them, as well as fairly judge Dorion.
nkb: The fallout from the DeBrincat trade was delirious joy but it’s been the lingering contentment that’s given me the greatest pleasure. It feels like we are seeing the start of something bigger than just the last two weeks. It’s been challenging to keep any semblance of optimism in recent years, but now that’s coming easily.
Q: Way too early prediction time: who leads the team in goal-scoring?
Trevor: DeBrinct will lead the team in goals with 37, but Josh Norris and Drake Batherson also reach the 30-goal plateau.
Ross: DeBrincat. He’ll be given prime minutes and thrive.
Owen: DeBrincat feels too obvious so I’ll say Stützle. He’ll have two seasons under his belt and come out ready to do damage.
Beata: We all know it’ll be a race between Norris and DeBrincat. With Cat and Timmy both in contract years and playing on the same line (with Giroux), I think DeBrincat leads the team in goal scoring. This is especially true if DJ continues to match them up against weaker competition, as he did with Stützle’s line last year. Bonus, more bold prediction: Stützle leads the team in assists.
Spencer: It’s gonna be DeBrincat. Norris will give him a run for his money but if DeBrincat plays a good chunk of the season with Stützle as we expect him to, he’s going to light the league on fire I think.
Ary: DeBrincat, with Stützle leading the team in assists.
Shaan: Alex DeBrincat will finish just shy of 40 goals, leading the team. Five other players will hit 20-goal seasons, with Josh Norris being the only other 30-goal scorer.
nkb: I’m going to go off the board here and say Brady Tkachuk has a breakout season, particularly banging home some rebounds on the power play and takes the crown with 38 goals. DeBrincat and Norris both crack 30 too, and the Sens have their best offensive performance in a long, long time.
Q: The big question: has Pierre Dorion done enough to make the Sens a playoff team next year?
Trevor: I’m incredibly close to calling them a playoff team. The most important thing they need to do is move Nikita Zaitsev, which is an addition by subtraction. They could still be fine if Jacob Bernard-Docker or Lassi Thomson take a step forward, but I’ll be very confident in their playoff chances if they get at least a competent right-shot defenseman. It doesn’t even have to be Mackenzie Weegar or Jacob Chychrun (who shoots left), but someone who is more of a sure thing.
Ross: It’ll be close. I think right now, the answer is no, they’ll finish about 5 points behind Boston/NY Rangers for the final spot in the East.
Owen: I think so. Even without another addition on D, they have internal options like Sanderson and Thomson, and I hope this overall organizational paradigm shift works its way down to coaching. Play your best defenders, and not the ones you pay the most money.
Beata: If the defense improves, then yes. Improvement could mean bringing in a new player, or it could mean prospects taking a big step forward, but I think everything hinges on the defense being significantly better this year than it was last year. If it doesn’t improve, then they’ll miss but only by a small margin.
Spencer: I don’t think I’m ready to say yes here but I think it’s close. If he can offload Zaitsev, we get closer. If he can offload Zaitsev and bring in that T4D in the realm of Chychrun/Weegar, then I think he has done enough to make the Sens a playoff team, yes.
Ary: I’m on the fence, and currently in the camp that thinks that Nikita Zaitsev is a bigger detriment to the team than the benefit that Claude Giroux brings. When you think about how veterans Nick Holden and Travis Hamonic are borderline NHLers who will likely line-up regularly on the team’s third-pair, and I think that’s enough to sink the ship on a game-by-game basis. I’m anxious about giving up a player of Ridly Greig or Roby Järventie’s calibre for a T4 RHD, and hope picks or some of the prospects on defence might be enough to shed Zaitsev and/or add another player.
Shaan: I’d say yes if they were playing in the Metropolitan Division. Unfortunately, the Bruins have continued to be a stubborn team with their veterans still playing really good hockey and shrewd drafting (Swayman, McAvoy). If Ottawa wants to finish ahead of them this year, they’ll either need an outside right-shot defense acquisition, or a big step from Lassi Thomson, Jacob Bernard-Docker, or dark horse Maxence Guenette. As far as a Wildcard berth goes, they’ll be competing with Washington and Pittsburgh, and despite having a weaker defense, their Top-9 is hard to match.
nkb: Despite all my earlier positivity, I’m of the mind that the Sens are still a couple of moves on the blue line away from seriously challenging for the play-offs. Unless something changes between now and opening night, the Sens’ right side will have Zaitsev and Hamonic playing nearly 2⁄3 of the minutes and that’s still a huge problem considering the calibre of competition Ottawa will be up against. Pierre’s done a lot of good things, but the job’s not done yet.