It's the beginning of a new year, 2024, which means that people around the world are making proclamations about how their lives are going to be drastically different. Or sadly, drastically different for about a week. I always find myself thinking about what can be improved in the new year as it pertains to the Ottawa Senators, so I came up with five things that need to happen in 2024 if the organization wants to succeed:
Add Quality Depth
This is pretty vague, but I can't remember the last time the Senators actually had great depth throughout their lineup. It honestly might be the 2006-07 season, because those teams in the early to mid-2000s were stacked. One of the things that’s plagued them since then is a lack of useful players in the bottom-six and bottom pairing, and although they're not as important as star players, they can still be the difference between being a playoff team and not.
The past 17 years are littered with names like Josh Brown, Braydon Coburn, Derek Stepan, Mikkel Boedker, Matt Kassian, Zenon Konopka, and many others whom the Senators acquired, thinking they would be able to help their team. It seems they've never been able to figure out what makes a good depth player, especially when it comes to defensive play. Ottawa severely lacks good defensive awareness from a lot of their players, especially their forwards. They don't necessarily need another offensive threat in the bottom-six, but they need someone who can kill penalties and hold a lead.
I don't have any specific names because it's hard to know who will actually be available in a trade this year and who will make it to free agency, but there are always options out there. It'd be a cop-out to say it's too hard because helpful players are on waivers, can be had in cheap trades, and worst-case scenario you might have to outbid a little bit in free agency. Whatever the case may be, they need a much better supporting cast.
Coach Out Bad Habits
Jacques Martin is just the interim head coach right now, and who knows if he will stay for the 2024-25 season. Whoever the coach is though, they desperately need to change the way the team played under DJ Smith for years. It seems like almost every forward has too many defensive warts, and I refuse to believe that is 100% on them. Players can be taught better defense, especially with the skill that is on this team.
There are so many lazy plays that are made every game (just like last night), and they are mostly unnecessary. Every team and player will make mistakes, but they're much more frustratingly common in Ottawa. I'm not sold that Martin is the right coach for the next season yet, but my mind can be changed. If it's not him though, it better be someone who can coach better habits and a defense-first mentality.
Keep Adding to the Front Office
The Senators added Dave Poulin to the front office as a Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, making him one of the key decision-makers alongside Steve Staios and Ryan Bowness. Staios and Bowness' titles were increased as well, but all that really does is increase their pay and status. Along with those three, the Senators have Sean Tierney as Director of Hockey Analytics and Tim Pattyson as Director of Hockey Operations. Furthermore, Daniel Alfredsson and Cyril Leeder have been brought back, and Matt Nichol is the new head of Player Health and Performance. Owner Michael Andlauer has added a lot of good people to the organization since September; however, I'd like to see even more.
Staios becoming the GM in addition to the President of Hockey Operations seems a bit strange, and it probably means that either Bowness will grow into that role or they're waiting to hire a GM in the off-season when more will be available. When you look at a team that has an incredibly robust front office, I think of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sure, their playoff success has been minuscule, but they've been a top team in the league for eight years now. They have a President, GM, advisor to the GM, five assistant GMs, another senior advisor, plus seven people in research & development, 14 amateur scouts, and five pro scouts.
Ottawa doesn't necessarily need to go to that level, but another assistant GM would be good, plus they could add to their 11 amateur scouts and four pro scouts considering how rarely they draft from certain leagues and struggle to identify talent on other teams. I want to see the Senators become a team that collaborates well, not one that acquires players because their GM saw him once three years ago.
Draft for High-End Talent
While the Senators have obviously added a ton of young talent to the roster over the past few years, they don't really have much to show for the 2021-2023 drafts in terms of potential impact talent. Part of that is because they used picks to upgrade their roster, although some of those didn't work out. The prospect pool is incredibly thin right now, being headlined by the likes of Zack Ostapchuk, Leevi Meriläinen, Mads Søgaard, Maxence Guénette, Roby Järventie, Tyler Kleven, and Stephen Halliday. All of those players are interesting, but they should be in the middle range of a system, not at the top.
When you look at who is coming up to Ottawa next, they have some pieces that could be helpful, but they're limited. Meriläinen and Søgaard probably have the highest upside just because they're talented goalies, but beyond that, most of their prospects don't project to be top of the lineup players. And although I said earlier that they need quality depth on the roster, ultimately it's elite talent that wins you championships. It's fair to wonder if this current core is good enough.
The Senators have two 1sts, a 2nd, three 4ths, a 5th, and a 6th in the 2024 draft, and they need to prioritize players who have the potential to be game-changers. They haven't always done that in the past, and Trent Mann had talked about targeting players who fit their mold and projected to be NHLers rather than the ones with the most upside. It is never a bad thing to have "too much talent," because the worst case is you trade a player for other assets. With the way the roster is constructed, they could still use another top defenseman, plus Vladimir Tarasenko and Claude Giroux won't be here forever. The time is now to add some quality talent to the farm system.
Clarity on an Arena
This one is less clear, and I don't have a specific need here besides the fact that it'd be great to have final confirmation that a new arena will be built somewhere close to downtown. LeBreton always seemed to make the most sense, but it seems like other locations could work as well. As long as it's close enough to the city centre that makes it easier for people to get to games and it's a nice arena, then that's amazing. It's been years of talk about getting a new arena, and it seems like we're close to getting there, but it's not written in stone yet.
For the longevity of the franchise, they need this arena.
What other resolutions do you have?