The Senators were expected to be bad last year, as the one team in Canada with absolutely no playoff hopes, and the result was… a fun team with young and exciting players that didn’t finish in last place and took a huge step in the right direction? Didn’t see that coming. Ottawa is still not good, but at least they are more enjoyable than say, the other Ontario team.
Offseason Additions: F Zach Sanford, D Michael Del Zotto, D Nick Holden, F Tyler Ennis (PTO).
Offseason Subtractions: F Evgeny Dadonov, F Ryan Dzingel, F Derek Stepan, F Artem Anisimov, G Joey Daccord, F Logan Brown.
The team’s likely future captain Brady Tkachuk is yet to be back after a long offseason of being a restricted free agent. He is the definition of a power forward in hockey, scoring goals while crowding the net and using his body as a weapon. Tkachuk scored 17 goals with 36 points. He had a nice 69 penalty minutes with 248 hits in 46 games. That is a pace of 25 goals and 363 hits over 82 games. The Senators need to sign Tkachuk, and soon. Josh Norris just about matched Tkachuk’s scoring production in his rookie season, and finished fourth in Calder voting. The product of the Erik Karlsson trade scored 17 times with 18 assists without missing a game. He does not have the amount of hits as Tkachuk, but Norris still is physical, averaging over a hit per game. Just like his line-mates, Drake Batherson scored 17 goals with a ton of hits, 102 for him. The six-foot-three Indiana native completes a line of young forwards who can score, but also scare the crap out of opponents. Connor Brown scored a career-high 21 goals in his second season as a Senator, including a league-leading five while short-handed. Sure, it did require a 17.1 percent shooting rate to get there. But Brown established himself as a legitimate scoring threat. Tim Stützle had an entertaining rookie season, although overall he was not exceptional. Punctuated by a hat trick, Stützle scored 12 goals with 17 assists in 53 games. The third overall pick in 2020 is just 19, so of course anything decent at the NHL level would have been progress last year. Ottawa extended Colin White for six years after a breakout 2018-19 season with hopes that his $4.75 million cap hit would be a bargain for a top-six center. However, White has quickly flamed out. He scored ten goals with eight assists in 45 games. The Senators just acquired big winger Zach Sanford as he enters a contract year. Sanford struggled last year, attracting the ire of many Blues fans. But he did score 16 goals in 58 games in 2019-20, so the goal scoring talent is there. Four of his ten goals in 2020-21 came on special teams. Alex Formenton was great in the OHL and in the AHL in 2019-20, so his rough 2020-21 was understandably disappointing. He had just four points in 13 games for the Belleville Senators, all of which were goals. In 20 NHL games, he matched that goal total with two assists as well. The first pick of the second round in 2019, Shane Pinto was dominant at the University of North Dakota. He scored 15 goals with 17 assists in 28 games before going pro. Pinto had seven points in 12 contests for the big club at the end of the season. Supreme defensive forward Nick Paul had exactly 20 points in exactly 56 games for the second year in a row. Five of his points were goals this year. Only Brown averaged more time on the penalty kill per game among regular Senators forward. Tied with Paul in that category was Austin Watson. Watson reached the 100 hit mark for the fifth year in a row despite playing in just 34 games. Watson also had ten points while averaging 12 minutes on ice per game. Chris Tierney scored at a second line rate in his first two seasons with the team, but he crashed and burned last year. Tierney had six goals with 19 points in 55 games. Tierney’s face-off percentage of 45.6% was his worst since his rookie season of 2014-15. Veteran Tyler Ennis returns to Ottawa on a PTO. He scored 14 goals with 33 points in 61 games with the team in 2019-20 before a trade to the Oilers. He had nine points in 30 games for Edmonton last season. Clark Bishop provides the team some center depth. He had five points in eight AHL games last year, plus three assists in 13 NHL contests.
Thomas Chabot had another good season, showing why he is the king of the Ottawa defensive core. He recorded 31 points with 72 blocks and 68 hits in just 49 games. You can definitely argue that Chabot was not worth his $8 million cap hit, but having him locked up through his prime is going to be huge as the Senators try to exit the rebuild. Chabot averaged 26 minutes and 17 seconds of ice time last year. That was second in the NHL by six seconds, behind just Drew Doughty. The Senators may have found something in Artem Zub. In his first NHL season, he managed to get a Calder vote as a defensive defender, which is not easy to do. He had a 51.32 GF%, as well as 70 blocks and 89 hits in 47 games. He signed a two year, $2 million per season extension in the offseason. Nikita Zaitsev’s contract really looks rough. In 55 games, he averaged 22 minutes and 44 seconds of ice time with a putrid 38.82 GF%. Somehow it was not the team’s worst. Zaitsev reached triple-digit blocks and hits, as he has done so in all five of his NHL seasons. Coming in on a two-year deal is Michael Del Zotto, a prime example of “he’s still in the league?!” syndrome. Del Zotto played in all but three games for the Blue Jackets last year, with 13 points and 125 hits. The Senators will be his eighth team in his 13th NHL season. Victor Mete was surprisingly waived by the Canadiens late in the season, and the Senators pounced. Mete was great in 14 games after the move, with two points and a 52.25 xGF%. He will have to beat out some veterans to get consistent ice time this year, but the 23-year-old passed his first trial. The main return of the Mark Stone trade, Erik Brannstrom produced at a good clip last season, with 13 points in 30 games, for a 35.5 point pace over 82 games. From a 21-year-old playing sixteen minutes a night, you will definitely take it. Nick Holden came over from Vegas in an offseason deal that was mostly a dump of Evgeny Dadonov’s salary. He is a fine veteran, shot-blocking defender who can play sheltered minutes well. Holden only played in 17 games for the Golden Knights last year, with two assists and 20 blocks as well as 28 hits. Remember when I said that Zaitsev didn’t have the team’s worst GF%? Yeah, Josh Brown was worse. In 26 games, he had a straight 35% ratio. YIKES. Brown did at least pass the physical defender test, with 40 blocks and 71 hits.
Matt Murray’s first season under an expensive four year deal was nothing short of disastrous. In 27 games, he was the league’s worst starting goaltender. Murray had an .893 save percentage with a 3.38 GAA as well as a GSAA of -11.0. The main goaltending competition will come behind him. Filip Gustavsson, acquired back in 2018 as a part of the Derick Brassard trade, was very impressive in his NHL debut. In nine outings, Gustavsson had a .933 save percentage with a 2.16 GAA. That’s not easy to do with the team in front of him. Anton Forsberg is a more veteran option. He played in eight games last year, with a .909 percentage.
Brady Tkachuk – Josh Norris – Drake Batherson
Tim Stützle – Colin White – Connor Brown
Alex Formenton – Shane Pinto – Zach Sanford
Nick Paul – Chris Tierney – Austin Watson
Extras: Tyler Ennis, Clark Bishop
Thomas Chabot – Artem Zub
Victor Mete – Nikita Zaitsev
Michael Del Zotto – Erik Brannstrom
Extras: Josh Brown, Nick Holden
Extras: Anton Forsberg
So the Senators may not have been pure awful last year, but they were still bad. They were a sixth place team in a bad division. This team could take the next step in their progression, but their veterans may actually hold them back. Murray and Zaitsev have been very costly to their teams in recent seasons, with most of those games coming for the Senators. They could easily play Brown and Holden over Brannstrom and Mete. If the Senators make the right choices, this could be a fun and exciting season while still being a non-playoff team. Where the two philosophies overlap is that neither will be playing competitive hockey in the Spring.