Weekly Question: Was this a Productive Year for the Senators?

How do we measure progress during a teardown?

If you’re reading this then you’re likely at least as invested in this team as I am and probably moreso. You’ve committed beyond the point where any one player, coach, or manager can make or break your fandom. You’ve stood by your team through as many hard times as any one sports fan can be asked to by the organization they support unconditionally. And I want to ask you, in your opinion as a loyal fan, were the last twelve months productive for the Ottawa Senators?

And I ask you this not only rhetorically. I think you can make a strong case for both the argument that the organization has spun its tires for yet another lost year and the argument that the Senators made some tangible progress this season. I have wrung my hands about this nonstop since trade deadline day. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on how the Pageau trade relates to the Stone trade and I have read hundreds of opinions from both those who can’t suffer another minute of “the process” and those who feel like Ottawa might really be building something exciting.

On the negative side of things, Melnyk still owns the team, the team doesn’t have a plan for a new arena, and attendance is at an all-time low.We have the same boring uniforms, the in-game experience hasn’t improved, and the marketing feels lacklustre. The on-ice product has its problems too. The 2019 draft was one to forget for Pierre Dorion and his staff. The organization has tried to sell the fanbase on DJ Smith but we’ve seen that movie before with Paul MacLean and Guy Boucher. With Smith came the acquisitions of Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey, Connor Brown, and Tyler Ennis whose receptions ranged from lukewarm to frigid. Those veterans took roster spots from prospects and clouded Ottawa’s financial picture. Dorion also drafted unnecessary contracts for the likes of Scott Sabourin and Hubert Labrie while tossing away draft picks for warm bodies like Vladislav Namestnikov, Mike Reilly, and Matthew Peca instead of calling up players like Max Veronneau, Jack Rodewald, or Nick Ebert who got shipped off instead. And, of course, the deadline provided another opportunity to drive some nails into the proverbial coffin. Ottawa parted with fan-favourite, analytical darling, and all-around perfect fit Dylan DeMelo for a measly third round pick, before ripping out the team’s heart and soul trading Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and swapped Namestnikov for less then they paid to acquire the winger earlier in the season.

On the flipside, Melnyk has for the most part, stayed out of the public eye while he continues rebuilding his front office to restore relations with the fanbase. The first major victory for the organization came in the form of contract extensions for draft-mates Colin White and Thomas Chabot to keep the dynamic duo in town for the foreseeable future and challenge the notion that the Senators never sign their best players long-term. The Senators have also jettisoned almost all of their albatross contracts in recent years, giving themselves much needed cap flexibility as the next wave of stars players crests. And while we haven’t yet seen success on the ice for the parent club, the Belleville Senators have taken their rightful place atop the standings in their division, leapfrogging some talented groups in Rochester, Utica, and Syracuse along the way. Off the top of my head, I can’t name a key skater for Belleville who hasn’t missed time either with injury or on a call-up with Ottawa which makes this feat even more impressive. In terms of individual performances, Belleville currently has the two leaders in rookie scoring at the AHL level in Josh Norris and Alex Formenton. Logan Brown, Drake Batherson, and Rudolfs Balcers continue to produce over a point per game, with Erik Brannstrom and Vitaly Abramov not far behind. Joey Daccord currently has the highest save percentage among AHL rookies who have played over five games, while Kevin Mandolese leads the QMJHL in save percentage among qualifiers, and Marcus Hogberg has put up numbers comparable to veteran Anders Nilsson at the age of 25. Meanwhile at the University of North Dakota, Johnny Tychonick and Jacob Bernard-Docker have surpassed their points totals from last year while Shane Pinto has had almost a point per game in his rookie season. And then there’s the upcoming draft when Ottawa could potentially get at least one franchise-altering player and possibly multiple all-star calibre players with seven(!) picks in the first two round of what many laud as a historically deep draft.

So you tell me. Was this just another chapter in a long, dreadful story that always ends in disappointment? Or have we made progress towards something actually worth getting excited about?

Was this a productive year for the Senators?

Yes, the team is progressing towards relevance.284
No, the team continues to spin its wheels.29

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